amy pond

Author’s Note: This is a sequel series to Amy, Captured. To get the full experience, please read through that one first.



Hello again! Gotta tell you, readers: I am glad to be done with this chapter! After this one, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming; slightly shorter chapters with more focus on the canon characters. In fact, join us next time, when I unveil a couple more additions to the canon crew that I think you’ll enjoy. In unrelated news, this chapter should be released at or around the one year anniversary of Amy, Captured! Yay!



Thanks go to Isabel, Allyourbase and LogicalDreamer, as is usual. Those are some awesome people, right there. Votes, comments and feedback is entirely appreciated. Enjoy!



*******************



‘Where’s Mara?’



‘Taking Kana to the medical lab with Tsugi,’ Sander growled, his voice slow and halting, filled with rage. Walker got the feeling that it was a great effort for him not to leap the gap between them and throttle him with his bare hands. This delighted him.



‘If she dies, so do you. But you suffer first,’ Though the space between them was quite large, Sander’s attention was so focused on the grinning man before him, they might as well have been the only two people on the moon. His grip on the handle of the rifle tightened, and he couldn’t handle being in his own head anymore. Ever since discovering Kanaria, throat slit and bleeding out in Tsugi’s arms… Ever since seeing his Mara’s face, stricken and pale as she watched her sister dying, Sander felt as though some vast internal pressure had been building up through the entirety of his body. He was no stranger to this feeling; it was anger, pure homicidal fury, and it brought with it questions.



What had he done to provoke Walker to attack? How dare he invade his home, and hurt his friends?



Of course, he knew the answer to the first question: the last time he had seen Walker- also the first time he had met the feared serial killer- he had beaten him to within an inch of his life. This was something bound to stick with a man. Still, knowing that Walker was a dangerous psychotic helped a great deal in explaining… all this.



They were on a cliff overlooking the ocean, the only entrance to which was the single door behind Sander. Kana’s blood had seeped in from under it, a grisly reminder of the terrible scene he had had to walk through to get here. The Diamond Dust, the odd psychoreactive particles that suffused the air on Trismestigius, was out in force, filling the air and casting the scene in eerie blue light. He couldn’t help but think that this was all a setup, and not only because of Kana, but…



Because this was where Elsa was. Not literally, of course; whatever had happened after her death, his late wife’s remains were no doubt long gone. But Sander had marked this as her final resting place, where she could lie in peace, at least in his mind. The refuge for his memories, where he could go to remind himself why he was fighting this war. To reignite the fires of hate against the Doctor.



To that end, he had erected a headstone overlooking the ocean… the same headstone Walker was now leaning against, almost to the point of pushing it out from its moorings. The simple sight of that made Sander’s trigger finger itchy.



‘Oh, I never wanted your little programmer dead, Sander,’ Walker chuckled, the picture of calmness, despite the gun pointed at him. Those eyes… ‘She wouldn’t be much of a gift if she’d died. Didn’t she look beautiful, hanging in between that and life, though?’



Sander exploded. Vocally, it was only a tiny choked gasp in the back of his throat, but the rest of his body tensed for attack. He lifted his rifle, fired from the hip in a wide, scything arc, diagonally across Walker’s torso. Behind him came the whirring of machinery, and bright light, before the bullets tinkled out of the air, drained of momentum. A moment later the same light hit the rifle, tearing it from his hands and sending it spinning away over the lip of the cliff and into the ocean. Growling in frustration, Sander drew the pistol stowed in his belt, aimed and fired, only to have it suffer the same fate.



‘Jerry!’ He shouted, eyes burning with murderous intent. ‘Shut off the fucking zero point generators so I can kill this fucker!’



‘Jericho isn’t taking requests right now,’ Walker said, a tad smugly. ‘Marduk had some very specific instructions to fulfill, and he did rather well. I spent a long time setting this scene, Sander. I’m glad we’re both here, now.’



‘Okay, I’m going to say this as nicely as I can: what the fuck do you want?!’ Sander shouted. Really, shouting was all he had, given that he no longer had any weapons and, if he opted to physically attack Walker, he would lose. Badly. So he shouted, and it actually did make him feel a little better. Only a little.



Walker smiled that chilling smile again. It wouldn’t have been so bad, if only he would show any emotion anywhere else on his face. As it stood, it just looked like he wanted to eat you.



‘I think you remember the day I met you, Sander Hackett,’ He said, leaning back further against the simple black headstone, making Sander’s fists clench involuntarily. ‘I certainly do. You beat me a rather unsightly shade of black and blue, and that sort of thing leaves an impression. Or several. You punch hard, Sander.’



He laughed then, and this was even worse than smiling; at least with smiling Sander got the sense that Walker understood the basic concept. This laughter was plain ghoulish, an expulsion of sound that seemed to have nothing in common with human joy. Sander began to wonder just how twisted up inside the man in front of him was.



‘And that made you come here for revenge? It made you do this?’ Sander fought down the urge to attack. It wouldn’t help, it wouldn’t help…



‘Sander.’



Okay, voice in the mind. Dulcimer. Don’t react, don’t let him know…



I am communicating with you through the Dust. I have your back.’



Through the Dust? It can do that?



‘Revenge? Oh, you misunderstand me, Sander!’ Again, the awful laugh. ‘Do you know how long it had been since someone had beaten me like that? Been that angry with me? It was wonderful! Pure sensation! Nobody has ever hurt me the way you did! Your rage, Sander. I love it.’



Twitch, twitch…



‘What. The. Fuck. Does. That. Mean?’



‘I’m saying that I love you, Sander.’ Nothing on Walker’s face seemed anything other than completely genuine, which was actually more troubling than when he was hiding something.



‘Oh, and here I thought this wasn’t going to get creepier…’ Sander sighed to himself.



WALKER!’ The voice howled, slamming through the door like it wasn’t there. It was the sound of tortured metal and screeching machinery, yet it carried a disturbingly organic, familiar air.



Moments later, the door was torn from its hinges with a roar of true fury, thrown over the side of the cliff and into the sea. What walked through it was… not human.



And, well… It didn’t so much walk as sprint, eating up distance shockingly fast and booking it straight for Walker. Sander knew; it had to be Ren. He had recognized a distinct undertone in the voice, and the creature itself was clearly her suit, just alive. The armored plating roiled and flexed like living tissue, constantly changing and evolving, sprouting new tentacles and spines. The helmet and faceplate had completely changed, morphing into a reptilian face and jaw, set with rows of needle sharp teeth and four jagged, glowing white eyes set high on the head. The whole creature ran on all fours.



It was frightening, it was impressive, and…



It was quickly zeroed in on and caught in the same zero-point beam emitters that had so effectively disarmed Sander himself. It sat, poised mid stride, partway along the path to Walker, who leaned back further against Elsa’s headstone and laughed. Cruelly, only Ren’s legs and lower torso were rendered immobile; her head- the creature’s head- was still entirely conscious. Her helmet receded, actually rippling back along her neck like it was syrup, revealing her livid face.



‘Well, well, if it isn’t the freak!’ Walker taunted. ‘Good to see you’re still around. Mighty fine performance you pulled with my men, too. It’s edifying to see how you’ve finally managed to overcome those pesky limiter programs yourself, for a change. You look beautiful, in that suit. Too bad I’m only here for one guy.’



I’llkillyouI’llkillyouI’llkillyou!’



‘Oh, someone’s still a tad miffed at me for what I did on Uo. That was a fun day,’ Walker grinned.



What you did…’ Ren roared, the words barely understandable above her pure, blast furnace fury. ‘I’m going to RIP YOU APART WITH MY BARE FUCKING HANDS!’



********************



Seven years prior



Shikishima Team 01 mission log: 145



Team: C.O Captain Jae Hoshikuji, Squad 4, Subject Seven (Ren Syfte)



Mission Status: Package Secure, landing zone listed hot. Subject Seven en route to assist.



‘We’re getting fucking strafed here, Captain!’ Itazu leaned out from behind cover, just slightly, shouting across the gap, over the gunfire. He actually seemed angry at Jae, as though the C.O had been the one to put them into this situation, rather than, say, a combination of the enemy, and mission dispatch.



Though, admittedly, Jae could see why his subordinate wouldn’t want to be here, right now. A hail of gunfire was not an environment that was conducive to calm and relaxation. In fact, it was rather the opposite, a point that Jae proved moments after thinking it by jumping with an inarticulate shout as a bullet slammed into the dirt inches away from his leg. There were plenty of places he would rather be.



He had been lucky even to get back to the secure landing zone before the firing started; only now, they were pinned down. The area was too hot, and until one- or both- sides of the conflict were gone, their extraction vehicle would not be touching down. The last transmission Jae had gotten from Command had been a confirmation that “Subject Seven,”- why wouldn’t they just call her Ren, already?- was on her way.



Jae imagined her running- yes, she always ran, since she was faster than most of the transport options available- here, chewing up distance like nothing else, grinning like a madwoman. The action awaited, and she craved it. He just wished she’d hurry the fuck up, as it was only a matter of time until-



Oh yes. There it is.



To a man, the entire group swore out loud at the sound; the low droning thump of helicopters. Granted, in-atmosphere combat craft weren’t incredibly advanced for this day and age, but given that Jae himself was squishy and entirely bereft of all but the most basic of body armor, they would suffice for the task of reducing him to bloody shreds.



‘So, that’s the end of us, huh?’ Hirasawa said flatly, looking out over the five helicopters comfortably cresting the safety of their cover and directed their sights downward. There is a unique feeling one gets, when sighted down the barrel of a gun. It’s not so much seeing one’s life flash before one’s eyes, but seeing the rest of it; unfortunately, it’s often a short affair, and bloody, too.



‘Must be!’ Itazu snapped. ‘Unless that fucking Half hurries the fuck up and comes help us!’



‘You rang, Shotacon?’ Her voice rang out over the radio. At the same time, a missile detached itself from the underside of the nearest helicopter and sped toward Jae’s position, causing literally everyone affiliated with him to swear in the most virulent and wholehearted way.



‘I got it, I got it!’ Ren crowed, speeding out from the undergrowth in a sunset orange blur, stopping rigidly in front of Jae, as the missile approached, burning through the air in a dull roar of fire and imminent death. She repositioned herself, armor glinting in the setting sunlight, distributing her weight in a certain way. Everything about her, in that moment, signaled that something awesome was about to happen.



Booyah!’ She roared, bringing her heavy booted foot up sharply into the air, a deep, resounding clang hitting the air as it made contact with the underside of the missile. The entire projectile was forced upward, over her head, as her leg swung up, high in the air. It careened away, out into the treeline, eventually exploding some way away from the landing zone.



‘Oh…’ Itazu sighed. ‘That did not just happen…’



‘I know, I know,’ Ren said, helmet sliding back to allow her to wink knowingly over her shoulder at Jae. ‘I’m awesome. Now check this out.’



And she jumped.



Thirty vertical feet. Directly through the center of the helicopter that had fired on them.



There was the sound of screeching, tortured metal- and the screams of the crew- as the Ren-shaped bullet slammed into, then through, the windscreen of the chopper. For the woman herself, each individual action became itemized; arms forward to protect against breaking glass and metal, tuck the limbs in to avoid catching on anything particularly strong, then stretch out an arm like so to grab the stabilizing fin on the other side to swing around, planting feet against the side…



As her own motion stopped, Ren suddenly became subject to the swinging momentum of two halves of an expensive aircraft separating and falling out of the sky, while sparks showered down from the wreckage. Her entire world jerked and spun and dropped fast; she braced herself- essentially standing horizontally, gripping onto the side of the chopper as it fell, before jumping again.



This time, the unstable nature of her standing start meant that she couldn’t leap right through the next helicopter in line, only onto it. Her metal-shod shins slammed into the side of the nearest intact craft, causing it to lurch dangerously to one side, swaying in the wind. Down below, her crew watched incredulously as she cracked open the plated armor like it was a cooked lobster before drawing first the copilot, then the pilot, from within before dropping them out of the sky. They flailed as they fell, honestly looking more surprised than fearful.



‘Okay, it’s official:’ Jae shook his head. ‘Ren is using helicopters like piñatas, there is nothing more for modern weaponry to accomplish.’



They fell from the sky, one by one; screams and crashes punctuated with explosions. Some fell whole, others in pieces, metal and scrap falling like rain. They left deep craters in the earth, thud after sonorous thud, each one far more acceptable to Jae than the wet thuds of bullets through flesh that he had been expecting. He actually found himself smiling as they fell; he was very lucky to have Ren on their side.



Saki’s gasp snapped him out of these thoughts, and he looked up through the latest spinning dervish of wreckage-to-be to see that, as strong as she was, Ren simply wasn’t capable of making the jump between the rapidly falling chopper she currently stood upon and the next one. Worse still, two more were on the horizon, and Jae found himself calling out for her to stop, as she attempted the leap.



She had fallen too far, there was no way she would make it; in its attempt to escape her the nearest functional helicopter had risen to a safer altitude, and Ren’s leaping attack had landed her directly through the left side rotor. The blades screeched as they met the immoveable hardsuit she wore, screaming to a stop as Ren, noticeably shaking from the impact, struggled to right herself and climb atop the support strut that attached the rotor to the rest of the craft. Suddenly bereft of left side propulsion, the right side rotors spun on, sending the chopper into a steep freefall.



Ren’s vision blurred as she spun, swaying heavily on the spot. The damn rotor had hit her right in the face; as invincible as the armor made her feel, sudden impacts like that could still cause her head to slam into her helmet, buffers or no. A trickle of blood dripped down her forehead from near her hairline, and she barely caught the warning siren going off through her speaker systems before the first bullet slammed right into her head, the impact bashing her temple against the unforgiving metal of her suit interior. She went down hard.



Jae cried out in shock as the two remaining helicopters, strafing their falling comrades, got a bead on Ren and fired in unison, the twin high-velocity chain rifles attached to the noses of the craft opening up, lines of bullets lancing across Ren’s chest and up to her head. It was those last few shots that seemed to do her in, causing her to fall heavily and roll off the now perforated chopper as it fell.



Autopilot mode engaged: All personnel, retreat to a safe distance.’



The voice was soft and childish, but the sheer volume of the speakers made it resound through the air. Once or twice, when he had been able to coax it out of her- sometimes through less than admirable means- Ren had spoken to Jae about Shichi, the alien intelligence that was, technically, in control of her hardsuit-growing capabilities. This voice sounded pretty much like he had imagined Shichi, based on those conversations.



And now it was in control of the suit…



***************



Shichi was happy. He had never gotten to play like this before.



He had been happy before, when Ren let him jump to the helicopters. Ren did not like being in midair while wearing him, and so she usually just fired his guns. Shooting was nice, but jumping was better. Much more fun, to be allowed to punch and kick. Much more like before, in the times before Ren.



Shichi could not really remember those times that well.



The Doctors said that when Ren went to sleep, Shichi was allowed to play by himself. There were a lot of things Shichi was not allowed to play with, like Captain Jae and the rest of the unit, and when Shichi tried to play with things he was not allowed to, the Doctors hurt Shichi. But that did not matter now. There were plenty of things Shichi was allowed to play with. Big things.



The bullets had hurt him, but now Shichi was in control of the suit, and Ren was along for the ride. Shichi knew how to jump much higher than Ren did, and so he jumped to the helicopter that had attacked him first, and tore off its wings. No more flying for them.



He threw the wings at the other helicopter, because he was a good shot, as well as strong. Shichi did not get to play like this for very long, so he thought it was important to show off all of his skills when he was allowed. He even let himself fall with the helicopter, because he wanted the unit to see that he could walk out of the flames without being hurt too much. And Ren would be fine, which would make Captain Jae happy.



Ren liked Captain Jae, but she told Shichi not to talk about it. Still, Shichi liked making Captain Jae happy because of this. So, he would make sure Ren would be safe. Because he liked Ren, too.



Soon, his game would be over, and he would have to sleep. Still, Shichi did not mind. He had gotten to play, and that was a treat. He would have a story to tell Ren.



She would like that.



*************



Jae watched, warily, as Shichi walked out of the flames and wreckage, stepping briskly- if a tad stiffly- over to him, before saluting.



Mission accomplished. All hostiles eliminated. This unit will retire upon embarkation in a designated extraction vehicle. It is recommended that the pilot be given medical treatment ASAP: Pilot’s condition is stable, she had sustained a concussion but it otherwise functional. A call for extraction has already been made.’

It was almost like the thing was reading from a script. For all he knew, it probably was. Ren had told him plenty of things about the project that had made her… what she is. There were plenty of morally dubious actions that went into making a supersoldier like her, chief among them had been the straight up lobotomy that Shichi had received, in order to curb its more violent tendencies. It hadn’t all the way worked, and so numerous programs and strictures were added in on top of that, to ensure obedience and cooperation from the alien entity.



To repeat, morally dubious.



Not that Ren herself seemed to mind…



*************



‘Were you waiting for me this entire time?’



‘Well…’ Jae rubbed the back of his neck in thoughtful contemplation. ‘Yeah, but in my defense you were only out for like twenty minutes. Half an hour, tops.’



‘It was over an hour,’ A nearby nurse helpfully corrected, without looking up from her work.



‘Yes, thank you for that,’ Jae snapped, looking away as Ren started grinning at him. He’d never been able to withstand that “Ha ha, you have emotions,” grin she sometimes gave him. It always made him think that she didn’t, which was something he knew -hoped- was untrue.



‘An hour, huh?’ That grin…



‘What do you want from me, Ren? You’re one of my men…’



‘Just one of the guys?’ She cocked an eyebrow. ‘Eh, Sir?



She crossed one leg over the other, thighs rubbing together languorously. It was an action designed to grab his attention, and she succeeded at that, causing one of those rare instances where Jae looked away, hands twitching nervously in his lap. Ren enjoyed the fact that she could still get to him like that; it was a way of redressing the balance of power, in the wake of, well, of all those times he had her on her knees.



Theirs was an adversarial relationship, but it was a relationship nonetheless; they had been nominally together for going on five years now. Not that anyone else knew it; Ren would never forgive herself if she was discovered getting too close to the boss. For whatever reason, Uo military culture tended to retain some highly archaic notions about gender. Ren herself was only barely the exception to the rule because… well, hardsuit.



‘I think I know better than most that you are not one of the guys,’ Jae winked, laden with meaning. It was Ren’s turn to look away, ‘Now, are you getting out of that bed, or what?’



‘I dunno, what if I want to lie in a little more, Sir?‘ She grinned.



‘Wasn’t asking, really,’ Jae grabbed her hand and pulled her upright, frowning slightly as she swayed dizzily. ‘Come on, soldier. We’ve got work to do.’



He led her from the med bay, ignoring her half-voiced whines and protests; she never got quite enough sleep, he knew, but he also didn’t care. Frankly, her lack of sleep was her own doing, a kind of imposed insomnia that led to her staying up for hours, communing with Shichi in an effort to understand the alien creature that had taken up residence in her body. It was understandable, but at the same time… There were undoubtedly things that the research division didn’t want her to know. Prodding around like that might not be healthy for her.



He worried, he really did.



‘What kind of work are you talking about there, boss?’ Ren asked, once she regained her feet.



They were out of sight, away from the rest of the base… Good. Jae turned, wheeling around fast enough that he caught her by surprise- or at least, she let him catch her- and pressed her against the wall so hard the sound echoed down the hall. His hands were at her shoulders, fingers gripped just hard enough to hurt a little. His eyes bored into hers.



By now, he was familiar with this struggle; both Ren’s own internal one, and the external one between he and her both. Her mismatched eyes flared with the old fire, the indignation and flat out anger Jae had become so very familiar with, over the years. At most times, he had gotten it down to only a momentary glare; his own eyes never left hers, challenging, steady and unmovable. Like staring down a wild animal, waiting until she found her place and, yes, looked away. It would only be for a second when it came, a slight flicker of surrender, but it had never failed to come yet.



Ah, there it was. That tense little shiver at feeling his hands on her, that momentary lapse as her eyes darted away, before refocusing on him, shining with a different emotion; defiance, as opposed to rage. He had beaten the monster inside of her again.



‘Ah, so you understand,’ Jae smiled gently, winking at her. He leaned in, face closer and closer to hers. She worked as hard as she could to suppress the tremor of desire that ran through her. Damn him! He knew, he always knew, exactly how to make her react. How did he always know?



‘C’mon, tough girl,’ He grinned, mouth so close to hers. ‘Give it up.’



She knew that, no matter how close he got to her, he would never take that final step and just kiss her, already. That was for her to do, something she had to give. Hard as she tried, she could never stop herself from blushing as she swayed forward, opening her mouth to him, allowing him to taste her. She found herself pressed against the wall, so hard, hands shaking, clenched into tight fists. It was always so hard to relax, in these first few moments; Ren hadn’t forgotten just how public this particular display of affection was, and her eyes slid out to the side to watch for approaching interlopers that might spoil their fun.



The seconds stretched out into eternity as he held her there, in view of anyone who cared to look, tongue probing her mouth. Her heart thudded in her chest, a fact that made her more angry than anything else; why, after all these years, was he still able to get under her skin so easily? Why was this so… so-



Ah, fuck it…



She could allow herself this one moment. Throwing caution to the wind, Ren closed her eyes, letting herself melt into him, hands reaching up to grip at his back, possessively. Just a moment, just a moment.



She found herself gasping a sharp breath as he pulled away, sliding a hand up between her legs, pressing against the heat that he found there. Don’t move, don’t speak, don’ even fucking react…



‘So, are we taking this to your room?’ He smiled slyly, hand between her legs, just hard enough to cause a little discomfort. A little mean, a little rough… Damn it.



‘Yes,’ She hissed, looking away. ‘Yes, fine! Fuck it!’



‘Oh, I will,’ A toothy grin, a little dip of the head to kiss her again, just gently. More possession than force, ‘Believe me, I will.’



And he was gone. He expected her to follow, didn’t even look back to be sure. The problem was… As sorry as it was…



‘Fuckin’ smartass…’ Ren growled, falling into line behind her Captain.



**************



His feet tapped lightly on the floor of her room as he entered, snapping his fingers without even turning around. He had done so right as she crossed the threshold after him, and it caused her to stop in her tracks, sliding the door closed and thumbing the electric lock. This was a part of their routine, but that didn’t make it any easier. He turned to watch. Harder still.



At the door, everything that she was in the outside world stopped. She was no longer Subject Seven, no longer the Guardian, no longer really Ren, at least not in the way the normal people saw her. And this had to be seen; her teeth ground together, she blushed but kept her eyes firmly, defiantly locked on Jae’s, as she popped the button on her shorts even so. They fell away, sliding down her long legs, followed quickly by her boxer shorts. She felt his eyes on her exposed body, but steeled herself against the embarrassment, stripping off her shirt in a single, fluid motion. Her mismatched eyes challenged him as she regained eye contact.



This was it. She had always felt bare around him, exposed in a way she couldn’t quite put into words, but this was… something else. He saw her scars, he had seen her get most of them, and saw beyond them. She could see the adoration in his eyes, tempered by an odd, cool feeling, and she almost couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t bear the indignation of being told to strip and kneel, the humiliation of what he did to her… and how good it felt.



Her heart thudded in her chest, and she obeyed his silent instruction, borne to her knees by the weight of his expectations, looking up at him as though she were looking at the sun; briefly, in fear of being burned by his gaze. She feared she would expose too much.



Jae went for her bed immediately, dropping heavily onto the thing like he owned the place. It was that cocky assured confidence that got her, every time. Still, his eyes never left her body and the fact was, it made her feel… human, she guessed. Wanted. Her cheeks burned as she did it, but she crawled after him, eyes downcast in a desperate attempt to hide from him. Yet even so, even so, she struggled to be enticing, sexy, feminine in a way that was utterly alien to her. Without knowing why.



Finally, after what seemed like miles, she reached him, settling back on her haunches and giving him her eyes, defiant and steely. This was a part of it; couldn’t let him see weakness, couldn’t even let him know she wanted it. Treat it like a challenge, like the slog of basic training. Show him she was strong enough, even on her knees.



‘I still can’t get over seeing you like this,’ Jae said softly, running a hand down her cheek, the action making her flinch. ‘Never thought we’d make it this far. But, oddly, you make for such a fun little slave,‘ He pronounced the word with the kind of relish that made her squirm. He was loving this, she was sure, ‘So today I thought we’d try something a little more dramatic. Care to take a guess?’



‘Run out of ideas yet, Sir?’ She answered flatly, eyeing him with only a small degree of mistrust. These kinds of things, her little “dates,” with Jae, with regularity over the years. He’d never steered her wrong, no matter how she fought or argued; in fact, resistance was part of the fun. But he’d never hurt her, not seriously. He’d never broken the trust, which was… new. Oh, he pushed her, absolutely he did. Almost to her limits sometimes, if she was being entirely honest. It had become a point of pride; she could take anything he dished out, goddamn it.



Jae grinned as he retrieved something from his back pocket and showed her, hanging it from his fingers in front of her eyes. Ren very pointedly didn’t gasp; there was only a deepening of her frown, a slight widening to the eyes that betrayed the whirl of emotions that swept through her. Jae could see it, read it as clear as day.



‘Ooh, we’re like that, are we, Sir?’ Ren remembered herself just in time to get back to teasing him, though the question was genuine. She really hadn’t connected what she and Jae did with any form of fetish…



Though it should have been obvious…



‘Yup,’ Jae leaned back, the collar swinging from his fingers. ‘Just think of it like the pips on your uniform, Ren. Just another indicator of rank.’



‘I…’ She trailed off. That thing made her belly knot, and in seconds, she realized why; up until then her submission had no symbol, just passion. The desire to find an ideal strength, something to make her bow. But now he was asking her to always be the weaker. To always worship. Rather than fight. To finally surrender. Something she’d been trained not to do, as his fingers caressed her chin, as she looked up at him. Her eyes almost asking the question themselves: “Are you sure?”



‘What do you say? Are you ready?’ His voice was soft, now, as he realized the commitment inherent in this act too. As momentous as it must be for Ren, the sheer challenge that would come in constantly exerting his control over her would be an exhausting one, and yet his hand shook, as if it wanted to ring her neck with this collar, to mark her as his. Looking into her eyes, confronted with the actual, physical, concrete proof of what was coming, he very nearly put the damned thing away.



But Ren, infuriating, bloody minded, brilliant Ren… She grinned at him, sharp teeth sparkling, pressed her chin down against his hand, challenged him with her eyes, ‘I’m ready… Sir.’



Jae smiled, taking his hand from her chin and tousling her hair, ‘Good girl.’ As she craned her neck he slid the black leather around it, clasping it tightly on her throat. Her name was embossed there, just under her chin; this was her collar. it was significant just for her and her captain, nobody else. ‘What do you think?’ Jae asked. ‘Fits well?’



Nobody else would see it, nobody else would see it…



The surrealness of the leather around her neck was felt in every extremity of her body, tingling on her skin. Her instincts and training told her to be in control of the situation, but at this moment, it was like the edge of a precipice. She knew what she could do, how she could alleviate the watery nervousness in the pit of her stomach, to take the reins and walk a more comfortable path, but as usual that was defied by her feelings, that excitement that came with throwing herself over the edge. That thrill-seeking drive. It was like nothing else, she couldn’t replicate it, it took her to places she hadn’t known to exist before she met him. The trepidation in his eyes excited her more, and other than her desire for challenge, the animal inside her came alive too. It was too tight. ‘It does, Sir.’



And then came the paroxysm, the little spasm of defiance that proved that, collared or no, owned or no, she was still Ren, ‘Now what else you got?’



He giggled, a silly little sound at Ren’s rebelliousness, ‘Shut up, Ren.’ He tousled her hair, and she gave her usual wide, toothy grin even as she dipped her head. Both knew this kind of peace wouldn’t last, especially not when they got into the swing of things and Ren got… energetic. But it was nice to pretend they were both normal people, if only for a moment.



He stood, moving around behind her as she stared straight ahead, as she had been taught to do over so many months of initial play. Her fighter’s instincts told her to follow him with her eyes, and even though she found it appropriate that she put him on the same level as an enemy, she fought it down; she had learned to pick her battles with her Captain.



This became a little harder as his hands descended, sliding down the long curves of her shoulders, caressing down to her breasts. The Captain loved her breasts, a fact that Ren herself wasn’t wild about; there was a reason she bound them, after all. The moments that he touched her were the ones that conflicted her the most; it got her going, but at the same time felt almost like a denial of something innate to her, locking away what she really felt in favor of physical pleasure. She leaned her back against him, hard, making him sway.



It was important he knew that he couldn’t beat her entirely.



She cried out as, rapidly, he gripped her nipples between his fingers and twisted viciously, bowing her body forward in a lewd prostration. She growled angrily once she caught herself, and the unexpected nature of the discomfort wore off; she could handle pain. It was the way it flooded her in a hot wave that she couldn’t handle.



‘I knew you weren’t paying attention,’ Jae’s voice slipped into her ear. Finally, he released her nipples, making her exhale sharply at the sudden rush of blood to those particular extremities, ‘You’re too easy, Ren.’



‘Fucking… damn it, Sir,’ She growled, shoulders twitching dangerously. Shichi was silent, as usual; Ren knew that all the little impulses she was experiencing, all the tiny triggers that told her to attack, were coming from her. And she tamped down on them, one by one.



‘The pain,’ His hand slipped lower, fingers encircling her… Oh god. ‘Is only temporary. But you’ll remember what comes next.’



That same unyielding pressure, this time against the seat of her pleasure, right between her legs. It exploded through her; white stars in her head and a flood of heat against his hand. She buckled, a long, shuddering snarl ripping itself from her throat as she fell forward, pretense collapsing for but a moment as she pulled away from the blistering, agonizing sensation between her legs. Her cunt throbbed, as the bare skin of her back found itself against the bed’s cool sheets.



Fuck!’ She breathed, shoulders shaking in something between laughter and tears.



‘I know, it hurts,’ Jae shrugged, not skipping a beat. ‘Did you like it?’



‘N- I don’t…’ Ren stopped, grasping feebly for a word, any word that would get her out of saying… ‘Y-yes. Sir.’



‘Good girl,’ She flushed with embarrassment at his vague condescension. ‘Now, get back here. We’re doing it again.’



Walk away. Just leave. You don’t have to put up with this. Not again…



‘Yes, Sir,’ She said, nodding despite herself. Her eyes flickered with red rage, but more and more this was being revealed as merely a front. She couldn’t even look at him as she crawled back into position. Her body shivered as his fingers trailed down her body, slipping back down between her legs. His thumb and forefinger pressed gently against her cunt; lips and clit all within the reach of…



Fuck!‘ Ren growled as he clasped her most sensitive place roughly, her entire body shaking in pain. She gritted her teeth, exhaled steadily through her nose as he persisted, discomfort rippling through her body. Why was she letting him do this to her?



On and on it went, pain washing over her in waves, making her see stars. Her body roiled with it; even through it all his fingers were pressing on her clit, and she felt herself moving slightly, grinding her hips against his hand, against the acid pleasure building through the mists of pain. Fight it, fight it… Don’t give in.



She made no effort to hide her relief when he released her this time, the breath leaving her lungs as she relaxed, entire body unwinding. She panted, teeth grinding in irritation as Jae laughed, apparently incredibly amused at her pain.



‘Oh my,’ Behind her, he grinned, and Ren could feel it prickling the back of her neck. Jae lifted his hand from between her legs, letting it… oh, hell.



His fingers glistened in the light, his smile turning smug behind her, ‘You really do like this.’



‘Sir,’ She tried to make it sound like nothing at all, but the truth was, her body was on fire. Her pussy throbbed, ached with desperate, conflicted need. She couldn’t decide whether she wanted to fuck him, or fight him, in this moment.



‘Say it, Ren.’



‘I…’ A deep, shuddering breath. ‘Fuck it: I like it, Sir. And you know that, so are you happy now?’



‘Pretty much,’ Jae shrugged. He stepped a little closer, and she could feel his hardness pressing into her back, ‘Care to guess what we’re going to do now?’



‘Oh, I think I know,’ Ren deadpanned, squirming as lightly as she could. She knew.



‘Bend over the bed.’



Ren couldn’t help but smirk at this; no matter what he put her through, at the end of the day she knew that he always wanted her like crazy. Oh, there were times when he had abstained and left her without the kind of satisfaction his inventive little mind could provide her, but she always understood: he was leaving just as frustrated as he left her. There was a considerable amount of joy to be had in the knowledge that the little shake in her ass never went unnoticed.



‘Like what you see, Sir?’ She challenged, bent over with a toothy grin. Honestly, she was looking forward to this; at least she was familiar with getting fucked. She knew what was expected of her.

‘Yes,’ Jae’s simple candor didn’t even make her uncomfortable anymore. He had a habit of treating her body like his territory, which, well…



Shit. Shouldn’t be thinking like that.



Still, she grunted as his fingers slid roughly, deeply into her, stretching her abused pussy like it was nothing. To him it undoubtedly was, but Ren found herself writhing with the sensation of it; the rippling waves of hot, uncomfortable pleasure. It felt good in the worst way possible. And… fuck did it ever touch something deep inside of her.



Much like Jae himself. Ren caught herself quickly, realizing that she had arched her back in a disgusting display of enthusiasm. The captain was chuckling behind her, just to make sure she was under no illusions as to whether or not he had seen that, ‘You’re far too easy to play…’



She knew what he was going to say next; it wasn’t going to go over well. Come on Jae, a little slack? Just this once?



Slut.’



Fuck! Just get it over with already! Stop fuckin’ toying with me… Sir!’ Ren stared steadfastly ahead, but in truth her body was roiling. A minute more, a second… She wouldn’t be able to take it. Not today. Not with the collar around her neck.



But she got the feeling Jae wasn’t going to play around today either. Usually he was one to take his time, make her scream with almost clinical precision, keep her dangling until she begged, the fucker. Of course, when it finally happened… Sparks flew, but she would never admit that out loud.



‘Eager girl, is she?’ She felt him move up behind her, the sound of his zip dropping sending a shiver down her spine. It was an odd sense of eagerness; on the one hand, there was a reason she kept doing this despite the conflict it raised in her. On the other, Jae did his best to turn her into a whimpering, begging wreck during these moments, and he succeeded far too often for Ren’s liking. Still, she pressed back against him, admittedly eager for his touch.



Her lips curved in a genuine smile as she felt the heat of his hardness press against the inside of her thigh; it felt good to be able to do that to him. She did wonder how long he was going to tease her this time, as he ran the tip of his cock across the lips of her pussy, feeling a bit of her wetness touch him. She didn’t even feel conflicted about that. Wanting this? Not something to feel odd about.



‘We’re going to try something new, Ren…’ He put on that voice; that soft, unbending voice that slid under her skin like a needle. She shivered.



‘Sir?’



He shifted his weight, lifting himself up… she felt his length graze the soft curve of her ass, his fingers gently, firmly parting her cheeks…



Ren growled, practically feeling his smile prickling on the back of her neck. She gritted her teeth and spread her legs wider, giving him greater access; a silent acceptance of this new challenge. She lifted her heel, pressed it down onto the flat of his corresponding foot. An easy message: bring it on.



When she tensed at his bulk moving up against her, his hand gently stroked the back of her neck. He spoke, and for once it only sounded vaguely condescending to her ears, ‘Don’t worry, Ren. I’ll go slowly.’



‘No,’ Ren answered, the word breaking quickly from her lips, oddly strangled. Her mouth curved upwards into a manic, energetic smile, ‘Fuck that. Go fast. All at once.’ She laughed, a quick, harsh bark, ‘Show me what you can really do, Sir.



She found her smile fit rather well; she felt insane. Like she was tumbling, flying downhill, nothing could stop her. Not reason or fear or anything. She feared nothing. She was invincible; Ren the Butcher, the Guardian, Subject Seven. She could take anything her captain could dish out.



Even after all this time, what she was doing was crazy. The Uo military culture was such a boy’s club, the only reason Ren had been accepted into such a high position was her adaptable genetics. If she got caught in this position, if this got around at all…



But that was part of it, wasn’t it? The risk, the sheer thrill of this man’s hand on her neck, his collar ringing her, weighing her down. The focus it brought, so like the fight, the brawl, the kill or be killed clarity when the rage fell upon her mind, hot and thick like blood and bone marrow. The screams, echoing in her mind like battle cries. Adrenaline flooding her system with the dizzying, heady vertigo of utter indestructibility. This was exactly like that, only without the expectation of control, just the soaring feeling. Sex and death.



Delicious.



‘You asked for it,’ Jae said softly behind her, shifting his weight. She gritted her teeth in the scant second she had before he pushed. He broke right through her, straight through her initial resistance, completely into her. She snarled through her teeth, the pain burning like a brand. Ren had an odd relationship with pain, and here, with him… It sent a hot, wet rush flooding down between her legs. She buried her face in the sheets to avoid showing Jae the reflexive tears that sprang to her mismatched eyes.



‘Ren?’ Jae’s voice wasn’t soft or reassuring, merely questioning. The years had made him highly attuned to what she could take, and the noises she was making weren’t ones that required he stop and make a more detailed check, but it couldn’t hurt to stop and make sure.



‘Keep going,’ She grunted, sliding her hips back against him, filling herself just to experience it, to break through the pain and start feeling what lay beyond it. She caught herself automatically, adding, ‘Sir.’



Jae had always known when to be rough, and this was one of those times. He speared into her, causing another pained exhalation as she slowly became used to the sensation. It was in moments like these when she could truly focus, push her attention away from the outside world and focus inwardly; right now the world contained only herself and the man inside her. Her soldier’s instincts dulled, then fell away completely; she stopped cataloguing every sensation, turning it over in her mind and taking in everything that they implied, and instead began to feel in the moment. The dull burn of his cock as it pounded in and out of her ass, and the attendant ripple of confused, sticky pleasure between her legs, the sweat on her body, the scrape of Jae’s pants on her upper thighs, were more real to her than any weapon she had ever wielded, any enemy she had ever killed… anyone else in her life.



Her body moved on its own, spreading her legs as wide as they could go and relaxing her weight down onto the bed, allowing Jae the run of her body. Things were more comfortable like that, and it wasn’t long before her grunts turned into liquid, silken moans. Ren had always hated the way she sounded during sex; all the roughness in her voice fell away, everything she said or vocalized rang oddly feminine in her ears. She was as slick aurally as she became between her legs.



Jae of course loved her “I’m getting fucked voice,” as he called it, and had once remarked that he felt quite privileged to hear it. Not that that stopped him from teasing her about it, taunting her viciously during the act itself, often just at the moment she tipped over into orgasm, his voice ringing through her ears as her body was aflame. It was… intense.



Her legs twitched, her back arching to allow more of him into her. She began to relish each impact of his hips on her upturned ass, though she kept her face buried in the bed so he couldn’t see her. She was practically biting her lip to keep from crying out.



‘C’mon!’ She growled, voice muffled but panting hotly. ‘T-that all you got, Sir? Harder!



‘I think you’re liking this a bit too much, Ren,’ How did he always sound so composed when he was doing her? Like she’d had no effect on him at all, ‘It’s a bit surprising. Never would have thought the famous Ren Syfte would take it up the ass so easily. I know some people who’d love to know that particular piece of information.’



He was only teasing, of course he was… So why did his words ripple through her body, boil through her like acid, send her higher and higher? ‘Fuck you!’ She panted, unable to sound even slightly tough like this; bent over, open, red faced and moaning, taking whatever he gave her like… Like a…



Like a good slut. Oh fuck…



‘No, no, Ren,’ His voice was so soft, it made her shudder. Oh no, oh no, no, fuck; she knew what was coming. Don’t say it. Don’t do it. Please don’t do it, not now. She wouldn’t be able to take it, not with his dick in her like this…



‘I think you’d rather we fuck you,’ That voice, that fucking voice.Slut.’



Shit.



His hand swung forward, slapping her ass with all the considerable force that his toned muscles could muster. The sound of his palm hitting the softly muscled curve of her- oh no, please no- penetrated ass filled the room, and she finally cried out, yowled in a dizzying mix of pain and pleasure, eyes snapping open.



Oh fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.



She had to say it, didn’t she?



The collar was around her neck, she could smell the leather, feel the pressure of it tight around her throat, heated by the warmth of her body. Well worn, sitting there for long enough, symbol of who she was before this man. Standing tall on the battlefield; Ren the Guardian. Here, in this room with Jae? A million miles away; Ren the Collared. His slut, on her knees, taking every stress he could dish out with a special kind of pride in her submission. The question was, which was the more challenging role?



The question was… Which was the real Ren?



Can’t hold out, not against that…



He kept spanking her roughly as she cried out, the words running together, in a desperate, trembling stream of sound, ‘Permission to cum?!’



‘Excuse me?’ Jae slapped her ass again, harder this time. All through it, he fucked her like her body was the only thing that mattered, his tool for getting off. The problem was, the agonizing truth was that he was right; everything in her screamed for more of him. She was acutely aware of the blazing heat of his length in her asshole, his hands beating her ass, her nipples rubbing against the roughness of the sheets with each inward thrust… She needed to…



‘Permission to cum Sir?!’ She quavered. ‘Please?’



‘Count it off, soldier!’ Jae barked. She knew this game well, and as frustrating as it was, she held on, even as the reminder of the position she held in the outside world tugged the string from her ears to her dripping pussy. Fine! Fine, anything!



‘Ten!’ Always down from ten, like in the physical training regimens. Exactly as far as you could go, then that little bit beyond it. Even if it killed you. She clenched her fists, gripping the sheets tightly to her, determined to beat him.



‘Nine!’ He spanked her again, the pain radiating down to her fizzing clit, her hips unconsciously grinding against him as her woefully unfilled pussy trickled warm, sticky juice down her thigh.



‘Eight!’ Entire body trembling, unable to keep up with the relentless pace of Jae’s pistoning cock, still helplessly fucking back against him. Even though that made it so, so much worse.



‘S-seven!’ Slipping, slipping…



‘Six!’ Keep it tight, keep it together. Don’t slip, don’t let him get to you… Don’t cum. Whatever happens, don’t cum!



‘F-… oh fuck! Five!’ He always had to make it harder… His fingers slid up, wetly into her cunt, curling through those little pressure points that only he knew about. Her back arched, she swore violently, a shudder wracked her body, tipped her closer to that edge. No, no, no!



‘Four!’ Fucked in both holes at once, mind blank, filled with pleasure, burning need, ripping through her.



‘Three!’ Trembling, shuddering, sweating…



‘Two! Fuck!’ Close, dangerously close. All she wanted… All she couldn’t have, was the release of climax. Not yet, not yet. Harder, Jae!



‘One! Now, Sir? Please?



‘Do it, my slut,’ He was tensing himself, through the haze of arousal she could feel him getting closer…



‘Your slut!’ She cried. ‘Oh, fuck!’



It was over. She was crying, she was cumming, ripped apart and tumbling over the edge into orgasm. Her whole body was in seizure, out of control, sweating and shaking. She hated him, she loved him, she was screaming: more, more, more! He was stiffening behind her, filling her ass, the sticky heat of his cum spilling inside her; she loved it, she loved cum…



Ren the Collared. That was the answer.



He kept his fingers inside of her as his cock slid from her ass, leaving her to moan with whatever voice she could muster as he collapsed on the bed beside her. He fingered her through several trembling, groaning aftershocks before pulling out of her completely, showing her his glistening fingers as she wiped the tears from her eyes. Demonstratively, he licked his hand, tasting her before offering her the same opportunity. She opened her mouth without protest, tongue lapping at his fingers, eyes locked on his, vulnerable and open, all the little battle lines in her head crossed, completely.



When he pulled her to him, wrapped his arms around her, she didn’t struggle.



‘So, that was fun?’ Jae seemed to be simply commenting, but the upward inflection in his voice belied the question he was asking her. She buried her head in his chest.



‘Uh huh,’ Ren stretched languorously. ‘Though I might not be sitting down properly for a while.’



Ren had her room set up close to the science division labs, ostensibly for her safety, should anything suddenly go wrong with Shichi, but actually so that her handlers could keep tabs on her, should she go rogue with countless dollars in military hardware. She didn’t really mind; at least her quarters were quiet and out of the way. This place was full of activity twenty four hours, and it never really shut down or anything. In this place, the pair was allowed a moment of pristine silence to recover, broken only by the low drone of the air filters.



‘You know,’ Jae said eventually. ‘We have a briefing in a little while.’



‘Can’t we just stop being soldiers for a little while?’ Ren sighed, not looking up. ‘My head’s still kind of fucked up, and besides that…’ She trailed off uncomfortably.



‘What’s up?’ Jae sat up, cocking an eyebrow and straightening up his clothes.



‘I might seem like a badass, but I’m still a person,’ Ren looked away. ‘And I know you’re smart enough to know that. I shouldn’t have to say it.’



Jae stood, swinging his arms to loosen his muscles. Ren frowned; she herself was still a heavily breathing, sweating mess- just the way she liked it- but Jae was always so together and composed. She felt like she had just run a marathon, but he looked like nothing had happened at all. Aside from his light, tranquil smile, she would have been hard pressed to see any indication that they had just had a moment together. How did he do that?



‘Yes, I’m aware that the mighty Ren is a person with feelings, just like the rest of us plebs,’ Jae grinned, tossing her the bundle of clothes she had left by the door. ‘But I also know that she knows about mine.’



‘I’m not saying it first, Jae,’ Ren shook her head, smiling helplessly. That smile was an uncanny ability that Jae had; on numerous occasions she had left after one of their dates angered beyond reason, and he had always followed her. Always known the words that would make her smile like that.



‘Well, neither am I,’ Jae almost laughed. ‘Let’s face it, Ren: we’re not normal people. Maybe we don’t need to say that. We both know it, right?’



‘I’m not so sure about that…’



This time, Jae did laugh, ‘Well, when you put on your big girl panties and become ready to say the words first, I’ll be right the fuck here. I’ll even promise not to give you too much shit about it. Now come on. It’s mission time, and this one’s time sensitive.’



Ren sighed, both from the sudden introduction of yet another job, and the lack of resolution. Again. How many times had they danced around those four little words? Jae made a big deal about understanding her, about knowing what she really wanted; didn’t he understand that she couldn’t say it first? That it was impossible, a line she couldn’t bring herself to cross? If he’d just goddamn said it himself, it’d ease the strain on her mind no end, but Ren got the idea that he enjoyed the tension leaving it all unsaid produced.



He could be a hard man to live with, when he got like that.



‘Alright, what-the-fuck-ever,’ Ren rolled her eyes. ‘What are we fighting now?



‘It’s what was in that intel hub we stole on that last mission. You’ll never believe it,’ Jae grinned, eyes bright. ‘We’re going after a man in a little blue box, kiddo.’



**************



‘A man in a blue box,’ Itazu said flatly, trudging step after step across the soft, heavy dirt.



‘A man. In a blue box,’ Ren agreed flatly, turning on the spot and walking backwards. ‘With a little bowtie. Dude, I don’t have any fucking clue, any more than you do. Why are we after this thing again?’



‘And why are we walking?’ Saki added.



‘We’re walking because it’s just over the top of this hill and we don’t want to be tipping our hand with noisy air drops,’ Jae sighed, tired of having this conversation. ‘And we’re here at all because that blue box gives off some really weird readings when it phases out of reality.



‘So we’re going to find him, and kill him,’ Ren grinned sharply. This was territory she was much, much more familiar with. ‘What I like.’



‘Yeah, I got the feeling that’d interest you, you freak,’ Saki grinned, prodding Ren with her elbow. The action turned out to be ill advised, given that Ren was wearing her hardsuit at the time.



‘What do you want from me?’ Ren shrugged, as Saki winced and rubbed her elbow gingerly. ‘I didn’t get here by playing nice, y’know?’



‘Which doesn’t exactly make it better,’ Hirasawa said sagely. In a way this was true, but despite the constant low level teasing, the squad no longer considered Ren the hardened killer they had once seen. Early on, she had been treated like a kind of directed weapon; Jae pointed her at whatever needed killing, and then the entire team hoped she didn’t backfire.



Now at least, she was a person. The years had softened both sides toward the other; the originally harsh adversarial atmosphere had yielded to a kind of god natured wariness. It wasn’t entirely trust; the squad wasn’t totally clear on what Shichi was, or what his influence over Ren really was, and simultaneously Ren was so careful with her cultivated image that she was always a little on guard, but it was something. Better than it had been.



As they crested the hill, the entire team froze as one, their radios blaring to life. Just as suddenly, the noise stopped; it had only lasted a few seconds, but years of drills had made them all very familiar with the sound.



‘That’s the emergency tone for Shikishima, Sir,’ Saki said, more an observation than a request for direction.



‘I know, but it’s stopped,’ Jae shrugged. ‘It’s weird, certainly, but it’s probably just a glitch in the system. Now, we’ve got a mission. Remember that?’



‘And I’ve got visual confirmation,’ Ren deadpanned. ‘Blue box, just like they said.’



And then she tapped it, rapping on the door just above the handle. In all honesty, she couldn’t see why a special forces team had been sent to investigate the damn thing; it looked entirely too retro. Wooden, in fact. The reports had all said “phased in and out of reality,” but that seemed very farfetched, now that she was actually in front of the thing. The writing at the top of the thing- in English- marked it as a “Police Box,” but even that seemed a little much for such an ignominious device.

‘… Can I burn it down? It’s made of wood,’ Ren deadpanned. ‘We came here for something that’s wooden.



‘I… Would prefer it if you didn’t,’ Came a voice from within, as the door cracked open and a floppy-haired head peeked out. ‘I mean, I do live in here.’



Soldiers tended to be a jittery lot, when it came right down to it. They had to be; in a world where fighting for one’s life was routine, danger could literally be around every corner. Being unprepared or unable to take that killing shot had removed more of Ren’s friends from her personal equation than she cared to remember.



And so, when the odd, bow-tie wearing man with the decidedly British tinge to his Japanese stepped out from behind the thin wooden door of… whatever the box was, he found himself at the business ends of the favored weapons of each and every Team 01 soldier. As usual, Ren’s were the most impressive.



‘Ooh my, you are a well armed lot, aren’t you?’ The man nattered, apparently unperturbed. ‘Well, you can put them down, since I won’t be staying.’



‘Identify yourself!’ Jae barked, the barrel of his rifle trained right over the man’s heart. He smiled brightly as he eyed the coldly glinting metal.



‘Hello,’ He said, with a tiny wave. ‘I’m the Doctor.’



‘Doctor?’ Saki said flatly. The younger woman was pure Japanese, all the way through; she’d never spoken anything else, and so the English word sounded stilted and awkward in her mouth. ‘Doctor who?



‘Well, that doesn’t matter, really,’ The man himself said, rolling his eyes. ‘Like I said, I’m not staying. I’m kind of searching for a friend that I seem to have… misplaced, and certain highly scientific processes led me after one of the folk who helped to misplace my friend. I seem to have gotten to her a tad early, but I wish to assure her, she will regret the choices she’s going to make.’



‘The fuck?‘ Ren pointed to herself, frowning at the Doctor’s sharp glare. ‘You talkin’ about me, Limey?’



‘Oh, you figured that out! Good for you!’ He clapped condescendingly. ‘And you’re wearing biomechanical body armor, judging from the slightly squishy quality of the substrates, I’d assume… spontaneously generated metal compounds from some form of in-body symbiote? Bear in mind, I’m no expert.’



‘Listen, fucker-’ Ren wound up, raising her guns.



‘Oh, don’t waste your bullets, I was just leaving,’ The Doctor sidled back behind his door, closing it slowly, glaring out at Ren. ‘Catch. You. Later.’



As the door closed, Ren growled, ‘No, you won’t.‘ She didn’t fully understand what had happened there, but she wasn’t about to let some asshole in a bowtie threaten her like that.



The group remained grimly silent as the blue box shifted out, groaning like a coin caught in a vacuum cleaner as it did so. A single person was one thing, but there would be little point in firing on something that so clearly didn’t want to be anywhere near the spot it currently occupied.



Besides, they had no idea whether their guns would do anything to that damn thing at all. The mission would have to be reported back a failure.



‘Well, that was strange,’ Jae heaved a sigh as the ship faded from view completely. ‘I’m going to enjoy writing up the paperwork on this one…’



‘Look on the bright side,’ Itazu shrugged. ‘We can go straight home, and nobody tried to blow us up like last time, now did they?’



Ren leaned silently against the nearest tree, turning up the opacity on her helmet’s visor so she could be alone. Well, she was never really alone with Shichi floating in her blood, but this was as close as she got, these days. She frowned as her interior Heads-Up Display lights clicked on, flooding the interior of her helmet with warm orange light, matching the color of her hardsuit. She started thinking.



What the hell had that been? Time travelers weren’t completely unheard of on Uo, but it was true that they usually avoided this time period of it like the plague. That was ominous in and of itself, but it wasn’t like regular non-temporal travelers came here much anyway; not since the Terran government had issued those travel advisories warning against the civil war.



And as a completely different matter, never before had a time traveler spoken directly to her like that. Especially not with some weird fuckin’ prophetic wisdom about regretting future choices. What did that even mean-



Her mind fell silent and still, her eyes flicking up to her visor, wide and slightly panicked.



Her HUD had entered emergency mode.



‘Hel-lo!’ An unfamiliar voice drawled in her ear, as a tiny viewing window opened up in the corner of her visor, displaying a grinning blond man, waving manically at whatever camera he was broadcasting from. ‘We’re going to have a little talk! To that end, I’ve disabled your incoming and outgoing audio and visual feeds. I want you to concentrate on me, okay?’



‘Who the hell are you?!’ Ren growled, not recognizing the man from the science division. ‘What’s going-’



‘On? Oh, I’m going on! Walker Ichihara’s the name,’ The stranger babbled. ‘See, you might not know it, but there’s a little room on the outskirts of Shikishima that’s staffed twenty-four seven with some top notch brains. And some controls for various elements of your suit. Cool, huh? I thought so: when I heard about it, I delayed all my plans just to come find it. You’re so interesting, Ren Alexei Syfte…’ Those last words came out sharp and dark, a little jab to cement just how much he knew; Ren never gave out her full name.



It was then that she realized that her suit was dead; literally dead, inert and frozen on the spot. This had never happened before, and it made a watery thin wave of panic sweep up Ren’s spine. In a very real sense, the suit was her; losing control of it would be like losing control of her skin.



‘What are you doing?’ She growled, trying to keep the rising dread out of her voice.



‘Well, I found a rather interesting array of big, threatening looking buttons, just sitting here behind a locked and guarded door,’ Walker turned to a bank of controls. ‘All of them connected to the server that controls all the restraint functions on that wonderful little suit of yours. All the limiters on your weapons, all of the internal intelligence’s cognitive locks, and, oh yes, even your autopilot.’



That feeling of deep, abiding dread only increased. Of course she had always known that Shichi required a certain degree of offsite processing to keep him under control, but she had always separated that knowledge from her conscious mind; thinking about someone else having access to those parts of her would be highly unsettling to have to deal with, day to day. There was nothing she could do to change things, at least, not until the technology used in Shichi’s control and upkeep advanced, and she had been assured that was being worked on.



And now someone else was sitting in her control room, poking at all the buttons.



‘Now, where was that specific button I wanted… Ah, yes, there she is…’



Suddenly, her suit whirred back to life; a hundred thousand tiny organic motors and artificial muscles starting up. Her visor flooded with light, swirling test patterns and marching rows of figures quickly giving way to a view of the outside world, bordered by a peculiar red pattern that, if Ren tried her hardest, she could recognize. She had only seen it once, when they were testing the system, but she knew-



‘Autopilot mode engaged,’ Shichi chirruped in her ear, through her helmet microphone. ‘All personnel, stand clear!’



‘What are you doing?’ Fear rippled through Ren’s voice unopposed, as parts of her she had always relied upon betrayed her. The suit began moving on its own, straightening up and turning, laboriously, toward her squad. ‘What’s going on?!’



‘One more little adjustment…’ Walker whistled to himself as the tapping of keys filled her helmet’s speakers. ‘There we go!’



One by one, her squadmates, trusted allies and the closest thing she had to friends, became painted in the red light that, in her personal world, meant a hostile target. When the light hit Jae she gasped, the sound choked off by the constriction of her throat, as her heat pounded in her chest and, slowly, her hands began to move.



‘Hostile targets sighted! Preparing ordinance!’



‘Wait, no! No, no! Shichi, stop it!’ Ren yelled. ‘Stop it, I’m right here! Listen to me!’



‘That’s right, panic for me,’ Walker grinned, leaning back in his chair. ‘I came all the way out here to see you dance, spent quite a while setting the stage just right… The least you could do is sing nicely for me too.’



‘Stop it, for God’s sake, stop it!’ She growled at him as her wrist mounted guns slid silently from their armored caches. ‘Why are you doing this?’



Fun.



She knew, then, what she was dealing with. She knew the name, of course; most people knew who Walker Ichihara was. It was hard to forget the name after seeing pictures of his handiwork, but now was the first moment she understood the kind of person she was talking to.



And she knew he wouldn’t stop.



‘Guys…’ Her voice came very close to a sob as Shichi targeted Itazu with both guns simultaneously. They were all just standing there talking, if she couldn’t warn them… ‘Jae… Run!



She didn’t even know if they could hear her. It was entirely possible that her outbound communications array was still disabled. She could be alone in her head, for all she knew. But she had to do something. Besides, they definitely knew what was happening as the crack of gunfire ripped through the air, and Itazu fell.



‘No, no, no! Stop it! Fucking stop it!’ Ren pulled uselessly at the controls, as her suit glided gracefully forward, taking Saki by the throat in one hand and squeezing, flesh and bone giving way under the cold, mechanical strength. Her entire body swung around, ‘Jae, get the fuck out of here… It’s not me, run! Fucking RUN!’



They had started out by yelling at her, silent faces contorting in rage and shock as their voices failed to reach her. Ren was a thousand miles away, locked in a metal coffin, forced to watch as it slaughtered her friends. When they ran, her allies, her targets… she followed.



The image of Jae’s back as he fled from her, eyes cast over his shoulder and filled with grim determination to get away, then fear as she closed in, would haunt her nightmares for years. There had been whole years where she had tried resolutely to forget his face, and the shock that ran through her arm as she slashed at his legs with the knife he had given her, his name etched on the blade, burning through his flesh, sending him stumbling to the ground. His blood spattering her visor as Shichi swung the knife up.



Sometimes, when she was alone, she could still hear the scream that ripped out from her own throat as she did that.



*****************



‘Walker, are you there?’ Her voice was dull and dead, as she sat among the trees, bent and buckled with the force of her attacks. She hadn’t taken the return of control of her suit well.



‘Yes! I’m right here!’ Walker’s voice buzzed through her. ‘Oh, that was wonderful!’



‘Walker, shut up,’ Ren said. ‘I want you to know something, Walker.’



‘Yes?’



‘I’m coming for you, Walker Ichihara. You’re mine.



‘I sincerely hope that you do, my beautiful, beautiful…’



That smile, eating away at her across the distance. Soulless. Empty. Her prey. All that mattered…



Monster.



******************



Present Day



Location: Trismestigius



‘I’ve been waiting for this day, Walker,’ Ren snarled, teeth audibly grinding together. ‘I’d almost given up hope of ever finding you again.’



‘You look well, Ren,’ Walker said calmly, idly thumbing a knife that he seemed to have pulled out of nowhere. ‘Of course, you were pretty upset the last time I saw you, so what do I know?’



‘Jericho, let me out of this thing,’ Ren’s eyes remained fixed on Walker, as if to look away, even for a second, would cause him to disappear. She wasn’t letting him go, not again.



‘Jericho’s not working,’ Sander said flatly, staring straight ahead. ‘We’ve been played.’



‘Besides which, I’m not here for you, Ren,’ Walker said. ‘I’m here for him. Sander, she’s still got that lovely little knife on her. Take it.’



‘What for?’



‘Well, I’m certainly not going to kill you unarmed, am I?’ He waved the tip of his own knife through the air. He’d always felt very comfortable with blades, no matter how outmoded they were as a weapon. ‘Take the knife.’



The problem was that there was no other way out of it. Sander wondered exactly how long Walker had been watching them, waiting and planning, building his scenario. How long had it taken him to circulate rumors that Sander Hackett was still alive, just enough to tempt Vesperia’s finest out into one last hunt? How long had he been watching in silence, scheming and building up to this? Now, he was trapped, and he’d walked right into the damn thing because he’d been too angry to think straight.



If he took the knife, Walker would try to fight him, and he would win, no doubt. Sander had only won last time because he’d had the benefit of surprise and a sturdy cloaking device. In a stand up fight, the man with the most experience won and Sander, for all the self defense classes his father had made him take as a teenager, didn’t really have the mettle to take down a man who killed for fun.



But walking away was no option either, given Walker’s control over the base’s defense systems. He could simply freeze Sander in place and kill him at his leisure. Not a comforting thought, but there it was…



Really, all he had left was Dulcimer’s one sentence promise of assistance. Did he trust the Dullahan enough to gamble his life on that? Not like he had much choice.



He stepped forward, avoiding Ren’s eyes as his fingers reached for her shoulder sheathe. She struggled as much as she could, pulling away as far as the zero-point beam that encircled her would allow.



‘Sander, don’t you dare! Don’t you fucking dare!‘ She roared. ‘He’s mine! I have to be the one to kill him!’



‘I’m sorry, but we don’t exactly have a lot of options here,’ He answered softly, the rage burning in her eyes telling him all he needed to know; there was nothing he could say that would make this better for her. Silently, he pulled the knife from the sheathe and held it as delicately as possible. It had weight to it, it was a weapon made specially for someone who would actually know how to use it. He’d never noticed the writing engraved on the blade before, even though Ren had a habit of toying with the thing when she got bored.



He didn’t know what made her so insanely angry at Walker, but he could tell, it was a hate than ran deep into her bones. Sander didn’t want to be around immediately after this was all over, even assuming he was the one who would survive this. And that was quite a leap to make.



‘Sander, don’t do this, it has to be me!’ Ren’s eyes flickered, almost close to pleading, which was surprising in itself. ‘I have to be the one to do it. Please!’



He turned his back on her. It hurt to do so- both for who he was turning away from, and who he was turning to face- but it was the only option he had. Even if he found some way to get out of this, it wouldn’t just be him. With Kana out of the picture there would be no way to get Jericho back to himself in any kind of timely manner, and there was simply no way of knowing how many of Walker’s soldiers were still out there. And it wasn’t like Walker himself would simply leave his crew be if Sander decided to jump ship now. He had to do this.



‘Just so you know,’ He said, sighing and raising Ren’s troublingly large knife. ‘If we fight, I’m gonna lose.’



‘I know,’ Walker nodded. ‘But I’m not asking you to win, I’m asking you to fight. I know you’re angry about what I’ve done to the programmer, about what I’ve done to her sister over there… And how all of this is affecting your little girlfriend. My former conquest. Show me that rage, Sander Hackett. Let me feel it.’



As the two approached each other, Sander began to realize just how little room to maneuver there was up here. When he had built Elsa’s headstone here, he hadn’t considered this place from a convenience standpoint; in his mind, nobody but he himself would ever come here. Even seeing Walker and Ren up here was a violation, as though they were intruding on something deep within him. He wanted to finish it just because of that, though he knew where it was probably going to go.



‘Come on, come on,’ Walker hissed, under his breath. ‘Hit me!’



Sander swung with the knife, but it was a half-hearted thing; he’d never fought with a knife before, and he was honestly of the opinion that Walker’s invitation was just a petty trick to get him within arm’s reach.



‘No,’ Walker admonished, as Sander’s swing terminated and his arm returned to the compact fighting stance he had been trained to use. ‘Use a little passion. I carved up your friend like a damn roast! Try to kill me!’



Sander’s teeth ground together as he swung again, putting some genuine force behind it. Walker laughed, stepping easily to one side and grabbing Sander’s arm, pulling him in. Pain blossomed just under his ribs.



‘Oh damn,’ Walker sighed, stepping away from Sander’s next misaimed attempt at cutting Walker. ‘I seem to have gotten too enthusiastic again. My apologies, Sander. I know you wanted this to go on a little longer.’



‘Okay, yes. Getting stabbed, probably should have prepared myself a little more for that,’ Sander groaned through gritted teeth. It seemed like a shallow cut, but it hurt like hell and bled in rather unsettling amounts. What hurt more was the shape of the future he could see in that cut; there were more coming.



‘Sander, I’m a little disappointed!’ Walker rolled his eyes. ‘I came all this way, planned this out so well, and this is the best you can do? I’d hoped for so much more.’



‘Yeah, all that’s still really… Oh, I don’t feel like small talk with a maniac anymore. Fuck it,’ Sander sighed, blood seeping through the fingers he kept clasped to his chest. It was very hard to think straight with an open wound and the prospect of more in the immediate future.



Still, as Walker stepped in with a flourish and a chuckle, clearly enjoying this far too much, Sander made another less than enthusiastic slice with his knife, hoping against hope that whatever it was that Dulcimer was planning wasn’t, in fact, merely a stress induced hallucination and would happen soon.



‘I love you, Sander,’ Walker said softly, laying in with the blade of his own weapon. Sander exhaled sharply as the point dug into his shoulder, frighteningly deep. This time, the pain was positively paralyzing. He snarled with bestial fury, his target within arm’s reach for the first time; it was an unfortunate opportunity he wasn’t going to waste.



‘We are not friends!’ Sander growled, throwing his balled fist up into Walker’s jaw with enough force to send the man spinning away, knife sliding out of Sander’s shoulder as he did so. The blade of his own knife caught the madman on the arm as they separated, biting into the flesh and drawing blood.



Okay, that cut to the shoulder was a bad one, that’s gonna bleed. Getting woozy…



Sander, I’ve figured it out,’ Dulsie’s voice clanged through his head. ‘Let’s do it.’



‘Whoa!’ Sander straightened up suddenly, blood dripping between his fingers. ‘That’s an interesting sensation!’

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