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Copyright © 2010 Tabico (firstname.lastname@example.org) All rights reserved; this story is not to be reproduced in any form for profit without the express written permission of the author. This story may be freely circulated only in its entirety and with this notice attached.
Spread out on the display table before her was a beige rainbow of documents, photos, vidlinks. Jane’s eyes flitted across them and she reached an index finger to drag an encounter report across the surface. She touched flexplas rather than paper; the entire collection was stored in a black memstone sitting at the edge of the display surface.
Her finger tapped at a dossier and a holographic image flicked into life above the tabletop. Arriket Den Vex.
She was beautiful.
Jane stared at her. She may have come from the same tube as Liandra Den Vos, but the similarities were few. Arriket was shorter, her hair a chocolate brown. She had a strong nose and dark, intelligent eyes. Where Den Vos was tall and athletic, Den Vex was curvier, although Jane didn’t doubt that either of them would be a challenge to fight. They both looked dangerous.
The door hissed as it opened.
Jane smiled at her visitor. “Perseus.”
“Cory, to you, Commander, always.”
Jane rose from the metal chair and embraced the other woman. “It’s been four years, Cory. It’s good to see you.”
“You too, Commander.”
“You know me better than that. It’s Jane, please.”
Perseus shook her head, smiling. “Old habits, too ingrained. You’ll be Commander to me until I die.”
“Suit yourself.” Jane sat back down in the chair, gestured at the one opposite. “Old stuff first, or talk about the assignment?”
“Let’s do assignment. What do you think?”
“It’s a strange one, I’ll give it that. Iquari? Mind-dominating lesbians who can control you with a long stare?”
“I think only Arriket Den Vex is a lesbian, Commander. I think the rest of them are straight. Probably. Liandra doesn’t give me the impression... well, she certainly doesn’t seem to be.”
“She’s a cool one, that’s for certain. But she knows what she’s doing.” Jane leaned forward and held up an initial finger. “First, she assumes that everyone on the station, with the exception of the xenos, is compromised and will be informing Den Vex of anything slightly out of the ordinary. Look at my arrival, coming in on a scheduled run under a different name, and now ensconced in a private room without meeting anyone. From what I’ve read it’s the same for you, Iglesias, and that Ops guy as well. I bet station security have no idea anything is going on. I wonder what the cover story for having the Station Master come down was.”
“He was meeting someone else. After he said ‘hi’ to you, he took up with some diplomat from Fiftan’s World.”
“Ah.” Jane gestured at some of the virtual documents on the table. “And she’s got regional—not station, not system, but regional—S&S personnel hopping to her bidding. Iglesias is not a small fish, yet he’s here under cover and on short notice as well.”
“Twelve of us, Commander, and I don’t think anyone has spoken with anyone on the station in person.”
“In any case it seems like a well set-up op, aside of course from the goal being to capture a genetically engineered super mind controller.”
Perseus leaned back. “I didn’t believe it either, but then I saw those vids. If this Arriket can do even half of that... she’s something. They’re something.”
Jane slapped her hand twice on the desktop, and it went dark. “Well, I have hours to review them. Let’s take fifteen minutes for old friends. I got your letter from Lightfall, but after that you went to... En Lai? Boruk?”
The door cycled behind Cory. Jane steepled her fingers, closed her eyes.
Four years. Perseus had done well for herself, moving up within S&S and then hopping to corporate security for Morgan Lee, and then back to S&S as a specialist. The same position Jane held, a hundred light years antispinward.
She deserved it. Jane had put bugs in the right ears, but Cory deserved every promotion she’d gotten. Everyone who had served onboard the Three Dog War had deserved promotion.
Those who had survived had mostly gotten it.
The door request chime sounded.
Liandra Den Vos strode in. Jane doubted she could do anything else, with legs like that.
“Den Vos. You didn’t mention a title, would you prefer one?”
“Den Vos will be fine.”
“What can I do for you? I haven’t had a chance to completely review the documentation. Women keep walking in my door.”
“You’ve gone over the plan, though?”
“I have. I’ll let her pick me up, we go back to her rooms, Chandrasekhar sets off the pseudo-emp, you come in and stun her. Seems straightforward enough, although you can understand if it makes me feel a little exposed.”
“Of course. I just wanted... Commander, do you mind if I speak informally?”
“I prefer it.”
Den Vos folded her arms behind her back, faced one of the artscreens on the wall. Currently it was displaying a nightwood forest, ferns beneath tall trees with obsidian-black bark.
“Commander, I really... I have been trying to stop Arriket Den Vex for years. This task approaches the personal with me.” She turned to face Jane. “For the last two years at least she has been in unAdvised space, out in the rejectionist worlds and the fringe colonies. With her power she was effectively out of our reach. We only discovered that she had come here, to Nish’luhok, purely by happenstance.”
The tall woman turned back to the artscreen. “In a certain way it was good luck; we had no informants here, no agents for her to turn and question. I put together this operation in three weeks and until we landed here, there was nothing and no one to give the game away. Now, of course, every moment is a chance for her to discover that something is afoot...”
She smiled without facing Jane. “A chance encounter in a hallway, some station resident whose most important goal in life is now to please Arriket becoming suspicious of people he hasn’t seen before... I’m so close, Commander, as close as I’ve ever been. It’s hard to be patient.”
Jane nodded. “I have been wondering—why do it this way? Using me to get into her rooms, you coming in personally... why not gas? Or seal the bulkheads? Or a sniper rifle?”
“Her systems security is top grade; Arriket has a small crew of slaves she keeps on a permanent basis, and at least a couple of them are some of the best systems engineers we know. Attempting to override any station systems anywhere near her would only warn her that we were here, and that’s what we’d need to do if we wanted to tinker with the air quality. As for just shooting her...”
Den Vos gave Jane a long look. “There aren’t enough iquari for us to cavalierly mark one for death, Drake. Even a rogue. I need to take her alive.”
“And if you try to seize her in public,” Jane observed, “there’s no knowing how many people will suddenly be on her side.”
“So it’s going to come down to you against her. Woman to woman.”
“It has to. But I will have the hole card.”
“Assuming I’m not her slave at that point.”
“Indeed. I have read your dossier, Commander. I have less than no desire to have you fighting on her side. But she shouldn’t suspect you—if she did, she wouldn’t take you back to her quarters. And she won’t dominate you quickly, she’ll seduce you. You only have to get into her room and signal us; if I thought there was any chance she’d dominate you before then, I wouldn’t have settled on this plan. It would be handing her the most dangerous weapon on the station.”
“Aside from yourself.”
Den Vos looked at her, but made no reply.
Jane pursed her lips. “Well. It’s certainly different than any assignment I’ve taken on before.”
“That’s saying something, Commander.” Den Vos crossed to the doorway, which slid open. “When I saw that you were in the Nash sector, and I saw your record, I would have moved heaven and earth to have you. You are my best asset in this operation.” Den Vos gave Jane a long look, then turned away. “I have some things to check on. I will let you get to the records.”
“When is go time?”
“When the time is right. Depends on her movements. Within a few days. Be ready. And thank you.”
Jane watched her stride back out. The door cycled closed.
A soft, insistent beeping cut through her concentration. Jane reached to swat at her forearm, then leaned back in the chair and stretched.
Cory had been right. If half of this was accurate... it was something.
Arriket Den Vex was a mind slaver.
The domination only took a moment, and as far as Jane could see it wore off maybe an hour or so later. But for Arriket, her iquari domination was only the start. Like a spider with stunned prey, Arriket took her victims back to her lair, and that’s where she wrapped them up. Brainwashing devices. Will-breakers. Drugs, machines... a couple of times the iquari had seized one of Arriket’s hideouts, and the devices they described were...
Some of it looked vaguely familiar from reports of stuff in use during the Corporate Suppression, but none of these things had been used openly in the last century. Even the rejectionists wouldn’t tolerate it. Brainwashing made everyone nervous. And Arriket was apparently very, very good at it.
Jane stretched again, looked at her arm. Her suit was telling her that it had been long enough since her last sleep cycle, and it was time for another. Jane’s ship-time was currently close enough to the middle of the night station-time that she could segue into matching it with relative ease.
She sighed, and looked back down at the pictures. There were patterns here, patterns within patterns, and Jane drifted away, out of her eyes and into the thoughts behind them.
Slaves. Arriket took women, enslaved them... in some cases remade them totally, leaving a new mind in the original flesh. Ninety-plus percent of her victims were women. She took new ones on a regular basis... was it fun? Probably. A source of income? No, not a single sign that she sold them once she was finished with them. She just let them go, drifting back out into the galaxy to make their way as though Arriket hadn’t been providing them with their every thought for two, or four, or twenty—twenty!—years. Most of the time she even provided them with funds for a fresh start.
Why would she do that?
There were documents here on just over a hundred women, and nine men, who were known former slaves of Arriket. If ‘former’ was even applicable. ‘Remote’ made more sense. If you met any of them in everyday life, with Arriket far away, you’d never know that they were her creatures.
Arriket’s major source of income was theft, sort of—people just gave her money. Rich people gave her a lot of money. Pure domination. She could walk into a bank and walk out with whatever the teller could give her. Savvy financiers hid the money for her; clearly some of her permanent slaves knew their way around the banking network.
On the run, though. More than thirty years. Liandra had said she was over a hundred years old. With modern rejuv no one got old, but the human brain started encountering problems it wasn’t designed for at about one hundred eighty. But for genemods? Meant nothing. Some of the other ZNC mods—those who hadn’t been wiped out—were almost three hundred. No data on iquari lifespan.
Why was she doing it? Probably enjoyed it. New places to see, people to meet and enslave. Meet, enslave, and fuck. She’d keep the valuable ones, enjoy the others until she wanted new candy. Leaving behind “friends” everywhere. Not at a rate fast enough to take over much of anything, though. She didn’t appear to place any value on brainwashing people of rank or influence. Not building a secret empire.
She was careful. Sent her slaves ahead of her, laying the ground, checking for traps. Kept on the move. She knew she was being hunted.
Jane felt her mind turn, seeking a different angle. Why were the iquari after her, anyway? This Compact of theirs? Apparently they were immune to each other. How did Arriket threaten them? Or the Advisory Board?
Half the reports involved Liandra Den Vos directly. How long had this been personal? Only a hundred iquari, the dynamics could be like a secondary school. Then again, this was her job. Not finished yet, not for thirty years.
Jane stretched, her eyes closed...
She leisurely opened her eyes. Den Vos had reappeared. The door chime had not sounded, Jane was certain.
“I could sleep,” Jane replied.
“Then do. I need you to be fresh.”
Jane waved a hand. “In a bit. What bring you back around?”
“Checking on your progress. Do you have any questions?”
“Where’d she learn to brainwash people? Above and beyond the domination, she seems to be a master with technologies that have been illegal to even mention for decades.”
Den Vos pursed her lips. “She learned them from us. Given our talents, we iquari have been... studying the human will for a long time. Under Board supervision, of course. And Arriket has gone much, much further than we ever did. She’s been perfecting the creation of obedient slaves for a very long time now.”
“I can see that. Liandra...”
“Why are you after her? What prevents you from just ignoring her?”
“Because, Commander, she’s a threat to all of the iquari. At some point, the general human populace will learn about what she is doing. What she has done. Say a journalist breaks into the S&S network and reads these dossiers. There is no possible outcome that I or my kind can benefit from. We can only live our lives in any sort of normal, relatively free way, if no one knows what we can do. And the only way for no one to know, is for us to never use our powers. We all agree on that.”
“Except Arriket. Every day she remains at large, all of my people are at risk.”
Jane stood up. “Well. If we won’t be taking action soon, I’m going to get some sleep.”
“A fine idea. You’ll find cots in the room on the left.”
Liquid black eyes in a beautiful face.
Jane gasped and opened her eyes. The room was dark, the ceiling panel emitting light enough only for black and white vision. She was on a cot, one of two in the room; the other was empty.
She turned to face the door. It opened, spilling color into the room. A silhouette framed itself in the light.
“Perseus. What’s up?”
“Den Vos wants to see you, Commander. Things are moving.”
Jane rolled to her feet. “Time?”
“Just shy of seven, station.”
“Can I splash my face?”
Perseus nodded. “Head’s around the corner, left.”
Jane went to the restroom and washed her face. The station air smelled like sweat and grease, but they had good water, she had to admit. She wondered if she’d have time for a shower. Maybe after she spoke with Den Vos.
The door cycled, admitting her the room she had first been briefed in. Perseus was there, and Director Iglesias. They were watching Den Vos, who was standing next to a woman tied to a chair. The woman in the chair had straight dark hair and skin the color of well-creamed coffee. All-orig human blend. She was perturbed but didn’t seem particularly frightened.
“I tell you,” she said in accented English, “you must have the wrong person. I am here on business, my registrations are entirely in order.”
“I am certain that they are, Doctor Farjani. That is not why you are here. Commander,” Den Vos said, turning her attention to Jane. “Meet Doctor Rose Farjani. Eight years ago, she became one of Arriket’s slaves.”
The door closed behind Jane. She walked towards the woman in the chair and her captor.
“I don’t-” the woman said.
“We don’t know why she’s here,” Liandra said. “We picked her up as she was leaving Nish’luhok on the regular flight to Welles’ World. The shuttle’s already gone, we don’t think Arriket has any reason to suspect that we took Doctor Farjani.”
“Why’d you grab her?”
“To find out if she knows what Arriket is up to. And since we had her, I wanted you to meet one of Arriket’s slaves. To understand, in a personal way, what she turns people into.”
“Look,” the bound woman said, “I don’t know who this ‘Arriket’ is, but I’m just here to-”
Den Vos turned, and lowered herself down onto her haunches in front of the chair. She was staring into Farjani’s face. “Look into my eyes,” she said, and there was—something—in her voice...
“I...” the woman said quietly. She shivered.
“You are Rose Farjani,” Liandra said, her voice strange and deep. “You will tell us the truth about everything. Lies will not enter your mind, you will speak only the truth. You are calm, and happy, and relaxed. You will answer our questions freely and with pleasure.”
“Yes...” Farjani whispered, her eyes wide.
Den Vos grunted as she stood back up; the room was silent. Jane watched her intently, but as she looked at Jane her eyes were their usual inscrutable grey.
“Commander,” Den Vos said in a normal voice. “Any questions?”
Jane looked at the woman in the chair, who was smiling somewhat vacantly up at Liandra.
“Doctor Farjani, are you Arriket Den Vex’s slave?”
The woman in the chair turned her head to look at Jane. “Yesss,” she replied, smiling.
Jane hesitated. “Please describe your relationship with her in more detail.”
“I am her slave,” Farjani replied. “Her property. Pleasing her is the reason I exist. She owns me and I obey her without question.” Her voice had a dreamy tone.
“How did you become her slave?”
“She met me in a club on Untoward Station. She dominated me with her iquari mind powers. She took me back to her ship, and she remade my mind. Now I am her slave.”
Jane looked over at Den Vos, who gave her a bland look. She looked at Perseus, who was watching with wide eyes. The Director seemed equally dumbstruck.
“Why were you here on Nish’luhok?” Den Vos asked her.
“Arriket sent to me a message. She instructed me to bring her several types of drugs. Do you want to know which ones?”
“Maybe later. Arriket is still here?”
“Do you know how long she will be here?”
Farjani’s brow furrowed. “Mistress Arriket does not tell her slaves her mind. We are slaves. We obey. Mistress Arriket makes all decisions.”
“Could you guess?” Jane asked.
Farjani shook her head. “Probably not long. My impression was that she had the things she came for... except for a new slave. She wants one.”
Den Vos looked at Jane. “We’ll need to act soon. As soon as one of my lookouts tells me that she’s on the prowl, you’ll go in, Commander.” She looked at Doctor Farjani, still smiling vacantly. “Any more questions?”
Jane looked at Farjani, still smiling vaguely, tied to the chair. Slowly, she nodded.
“Rose, do you love Arriket?”
She smiled broadly. “Oh, yes. With all my heart.”
Jane looked at Den Vos. “Let me take a shower and get dressed. Fifteen minutes.”
“Do it. I have some more detailed questions for our friend here.”
Jane left the room.
Fifteen minutes later, Jane returned to the briefing room, hair damp, feeling twice as comfortable and three times as awake.
Farjani was gone, as was Den Vos and Iglesias; only Perseus was still there, leaning against a wall.
“Where’d they go?” Jane asked.
“You look good, Commander,” Perseus observed. “You may be able to kill a lizard in three blows, but you look good enough to lick right down to the candy center.”
Jane gave her a wry look. “We may be discovering my candy center sooner rather than later,” she joked, but her heart was pattering. “Where’d they go?”
“They took the doctor to a ship. I get the impression she’s got a rendezvous with some more iquari.”
“She does,” Den Vos said from the doorway. They turned to face her.
The iquari shook her head. “There’s no such thing. An eager slave is all that she is, Commander. There’s nothing else in her mind to deprogram to. And we don’t... reprogram. We’re just going to ask her some more questions. We won’t hurt her. Of course, she was smuggling drugs into this station, several of which are highly illegal. So after we question her, we’ll release her to S&S for prosecution.”
“She was doing Arriket’s bidding,” Perseus pointed out.
Den Vos shrugged. “Legally that makes no difference. We’ll hand her over to S&S as soon as we’re done, she’ll probably land in a regional jail hub. That’s if they can muster any evidence; I’d consider anything she tells me to be ‘under duress’. Still, if you know someone was smuggling, you can usually dig up some surveillance video or traces of the drugs in their belongings.”
“So you can’t just have her locked up using Board authority?”
Den Vos shook her head. “Not how we operate.”
“You know,” Jane said, “you iquari seem to be a lot more concerned with principles than most other agents of the Board I’ve met.”
Den Vos gave her a smile. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Now then, Commander, I’ve been informed that Arriket has left her rooms, dressed to kill, and has headed for a nearby club called the Whirlpool. The one we anticipated. Are you ready to make your appearance?”
Jane’s mouth went dry.
“You look hot, Commander,” Perseus said. “I’d take you home.”
“You already did,” Jane said to her. She nodded at Liandra. “Yes, I’m ready.”
“Good. Remember, just be yourself. If you approach her, her alarms will go off. Don’t look for her. You... she’ll notice you. Beautiful, capable, the way you carry yourself... you’re just her type. Let her approach you. Make small talk. You shouldn’t need to make anything up, she won’t have heard of Commander Jane Drake.”
“And if she dominates me?”
“She won’t, not in the club. It will be flirting, word games. Odds are she will invite you back to her rooms. That’s what we want. Go with her. Let her settle in, flirt some more. She’ll definitely want to dominate you before sex, so don’t let it go more than ten minutes. Here’s the ‘go’ button, keep it on your person, tap it when you’re ready. Chandrasekha will set off the pseudo-emp. I will be in the room within ninety seconds, and I’ll take care of her.”
Flirting with Arriket wouldn’t be a problem, Jane was thinking. Not a beauty like that. Not with what lurked in her eyes...
“No,” Jane replied. “Let’s do this.”