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 All characters in this publication are fictitious, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Galactic Coalition Academy Series

Vira

Episode Three

Copyright © 2017 Odette C Bell

Cover art stock photos: llicensed from Depositphotos.

www.odettecbell.com



VIRA

EPISODE THREE


Park has crossed a line – he’s turned Vira off. He’s destroyed her trust, and there may be no regaining it.

But something is afoot – something deadly. For the force itself is lurking beneath the surface of the moon, and it’s about to be unleashed in full.

Vira Episode three is the third installment in the four-part Vira mini-series. It is sure to please plans of Odette C. Bell’s Betrothed.

Chapter 1

Lieutenant Park

You know how they say there are consequences to every action?

Yeah, well there would be consequences for this action. Massive ones.

It took Lieutenant Park a hell of a long time to pluck himself up from Vira’s side. Her body was still. If you didn’t know her like he did, you’d assume she was dead. But she was just turned off.

Shit. He’d done it. He’d turned her off.

He kept his head locked up until the sight of that assassin in Force armor was well and truly gone.

He didn’t have any fear it would come back. Even if it did, it would be the least of his problems now.

With wide-open eyes, Park ticked his head down and stared at Vira.

He didn’t regret his decision. He’d done the right thing. But as soon as he flicked the switch that would wake her up once more, he’d have to deal with Hell. Because in one single moment, he’d lost the thing he’d been painstakingly growing for the past several weeks. Vira’s trust.

Shit. Goddammit,” he spat louder as he brought a hand up and punched it into the dirt by Vira’s still form.

He couldn’t wait any longer, could he?

Sure enough, as he jerked his head up, he saw ships starting to leave from the research facility.

He thought quickly. As quickly as he could right now.

He didn’t have the ability to turn off Vira’s armor. Only she could do that. She needed to do it. Right now.

So Park didn’t wait any longer. With teeth so clenched, he could’ve chewed right down to the bone, he jammed his thumb into the button that would wake her.

She snapped up.

Park bucked back, keeping his finger locked against the button. “Take your armor off. Put your swords away. Now. No time to explain. Vira. Please. You have to—” he began. He could hear the buzz of the ships overhead. Getting closer. Shit, they were coming in to land soon. They’d see—

He couldn’t see Vira’s eyes. They were obscured by her armor. He could see her swords, though. They’d dropped several meters to her side.

He waited for one of two things to happen. For Vira to completely ignore him, or for Vira to pluck up her weapons and treat him as a combatant.

Park had felt pressure in his life, but it had never been anything like this. This was fear the likes of which the human body wasn’t designed to feel twice.

Though it felt like an age as he waited for Vira to react, it wasn’t. It happened in less than a second.

She allowed her swords to retract, and her armor disappeared with a hiss.

Then she looked over at Park.

He looked back. She bared her teeth. “Do it again, Lieutenant. Turn me off.”

He didn’t know if it was a dare or a threat. But it didn’t honestly matter. He didn’t have any option.

I’m so sorry,” he said, voice a tortured mess.

She didn’t reply. He didn’t give her time, either. For the second time in the space of several minutes, Park turned Vira off as if she was just a machine and not a goddamn sentient being.

She had just enough time to make eye contact with him before she blanked out.

And that eye contact? It wouldn’t matter whatever happened in the rest of Park’s life. Wouldn’t matter what he achieved. He’d never be able to bring himself back from the brink of this moment. From that look of utter dejection in her eyes. It was the gaze of someone who would never trust you again.

Park stared at her perfectly still form as the sound of a ship’s engines powered overhead.

He forced himself to jerk his head up, to look at them. Then, using whatever muscular strength he could scrounge, he shoved a hand into the air and started to wave as if he was signaling them.

The entire time, his stomach sank. All the way through the bottom of the moon. Through the goddamn galaxy. He felt like a monster.

Just before that thought could completely undermine him, he clenched his teeth. Because he wasn’t a monster. He’d done what he’d had to. Vira had lost control. She’d gone after a combatant even when in doing so, she’d almost revealed her secret. Vira had always known that if she did, that she would be turned off. So Park… he’d just done what he had to.

He kept repeating that to himself as the cruiser finally came in to land.

Park had been in some pretty chaotic situations before. Hello, he’d been one of the only soldiers on the ground during the entire Circle Trader Incident. He knew what happened when people seemingly had the rug pulled out from under their feet. When a peaceful environment turned into a violent one in a manner of seconds. And he could see it now in the haunted gazes of the research facility staff as the cruiser landed and two crew jumped off. Only one was a member of the Coalition Army, and she was holding up a heckuva lot better than the archaeologist beside her.

Both, however, were armed.

The Coalition officer took a hard step toward him. “What the hell happened, sir? We have reports of an all-out war in the tunnels.” She suddenly jerked her head to the side and locked her gaze on Vira. The only thing Park wanted to do was shift around and block Vira from view, protect her somehow, but he squared off his jaw and took a hard breath. “Both members of the Artaxan Royal Family have been… assassinated,” he said, practically choking on the word. He didn’t elaborate.

The woman looked at him, her eyes wide. “By who? What happened? And what the hell did we pick up heading into orbit? The research scanners couldn’t make heads nor tails of it.”

Park stiffened. He didn’t say a word. His gaze cut toward Vira again. “… What did you pick up on the scanners?” he asked, hoping like hell his voice didn’t betray his fear.

The woman shrugged as she brought up a hand and tried to eke out the tension climbing across her brow. “Some kind of weapon, we think. A guy in armor, possibly. The energy signature was…” she trailed off and shook her head.

I saw it too,” he forced himself to answer, his voice a choked gurgle as his throat constricted to the point of a pin. “It was a guy in armor. I’ve never seen anything like it, though. He killed the Princess,” Park said, never letting his gaze deviate from the Lieutenant. “I didn’t see anyone else.”

He watched her with every single ounce of training he had.

He needed to see every micro movement of her face. Needed to judge the look in her eyes.

Park had to know if the research facility’s sensors had picked up more than one combatant.

He didn’t let his gaze dart toward Vira, even though he had to try with all his might to stop himself.

The Lieutenant gave another tense shrug. “We only picked up that guy too, sir. But what kind of armor was it?” Her voice shook.

Park forced himself to let out a breath. He didn’t make it loud; he didn’t allow his chest to shift out obviously.

Either the Lieutenant was a very good actor, or she wasn’t lying. The research facility scanners had only picked up one combatant.

So… there was hope for now.

But who knows how long it would last.

Because God knows what the Apollo in orbit had picked up.

Shit.

The more Park set his mind to this, the more he realized how screwed they were.

The Lieutenant kept a hand locked on her mouth for several seconds until her training won out and she took a hard breath. She also swiveled her gaze down to Vira. “Is she okay?”

Park forced a nod. “She was just knocked out. By the guy in armor. But… the Prince and Princess are dead.”

You—”

You don’t need to ask if I’m sure. They’ve been… mutilated,” he said after a long pause.

The Lieutenant blanched.

The guy next to her looked as if he wanted to throw up. Though you usually got hardened scientists on digs like this, you needed to be more than hardened to deal with whatever the hell was happening right now. It seemed like the Coalition was falling to pieces right in their very hands.

Which meant Park had to do something.

He straightened his back and nodded toward the open hatch of the cruiser in front of him. “You got any security staff in there?”

Just us. We’re on our way—” he began.

You don’t need to do a recon. I already told you what happened. You’re going to turn your vessel around and get us back to the research facility,” he ordered.

The Lieutenant looked at him, exasperated. “We need to go down to the tunnels to figure out –”

I already told you what happened. We have to evacuate the tunnels, block them off, and concentrate on figuring out where that hell that asshole in the armor went to. I shouldn’t need to remind you that he just personally assassinated two diplomatic members of a sovereign state. One of the most powerful sovereign states in the Coalition,” he added for effect.

The woman blanched.

She didn’t say another word as she stepped carefully to the side, allowing Park to shift past.

With the kind of sinking feeling in his stomach he couldn’t truly describe, he got down to one knee and hefted Vira up. Just before he did, he wondered if it would even be possible. Who knew how much she weighed, after all. She wasn’t a standard human. And considering the raw power she had on board, she could easily be as heavy as a cruiser.

But she wasn’t heavy. She was deceptively light.

It was the easiest thing in the world to pick her up and hold her in his arms.

And yet, at the same time, it was the hardest goddamn thing he would ever do.

She was completely motionless.

He… he understood why the Admiral had put that kill switch in Vira’s head. Of course he understood. If it hadn’t been there, this situation would have ended differently. But holding her completely unresponsive form was putting this ethical problem into stark contrast once more. Vira was technically one of the most powerful creatures in all of the Coalition, and yet, at the same time, she was weak enough that you could remotely turn her off and pluck her up as if she weighed nothing more than a sack of clothes.

It didn’t seem right. Because it wasn’t right.

But that didn’t matter, Park forced himself to think. Only minimizing the damage mattered now. This mission had been a mistake from the start. It was time to get Vira home before anything worse could happen.

But therein lay a problem. Because right now, beneath the surface of the moon, the worst was happening. Park just didn’t know it.

Chapter 2

Park stood in front of the pod, staring at Vira’s still form within.

He’d managed to get her back to the facility. Better than that, he’d managed to contact the Doctor on the way. She’d cleared the path, secured an empty high-level lab, and managed to hide Vira inside without anyone knowing.

Now the Doctor furiously worked on a panel to Park’s side as he just kind of… stood there and stared. Though he’d mentioned this several times, it just… it didn’t seem right that she couldn’t move a muscle. If he didn’t know what Vira was, he’d assume she was dead.

Are you just gonna stand there all day staring at her? We both know she’s not going to wake up until you flick that switch. So stand the hell back and stop distracting me,” the Doctor snapped, her tone feverish.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that ever since the assassination the fear in the facility had hit a fever pitch. Though most of Park’s attention was locked on Vira, he could appreciate the facility was now at breaking point. And as its head, the Doctor was no different.

She was just holding on.

Have you managed to secure contact with Admiral Forest yet?” Park asked for what felt like the 50th time. And hey, maybe it was the 50th time, because rather than answer, the Doctor clenched her teeth together so hard, even from here, Park could see her gums going white.

He clenched his own teeth and forced himself to turn around. The Doctor was right. There was no damn point in Park standing here as if he was waiting for Vira to wake up. She wouldn’t wake up – couldn’t wake up until he flicked that button on his wrist. And though he’d gotten the urge to do it several times, he’d always talked himself out of it. Because the next time he woke Vira up, he knew for a fact she wouldn’t comply with his orders. The professional relationship between them was over. And the other relationship that had just been starting before the assassinations? Yeah, that would be well and truly over.

It would be best for everyone involved if he just transported her back to the Academy without waking her up.

For the thousandth time, Lieutenant, stand back from that damn pod. You’re distracting me. And right now, the last thing we need is for me to be distracted,” the Doctor spat. Her words weren’t just vicious. Hell no. They were teetering. It was the vocal equivalent of standing on a cliff, just waiting for someone to push you off.

Park opened his mouth to say something, to beg her to calm down. To appeal to her sense of professionalism, but he stopped. He could feel it, couldn’t he? It wasn’t just the assassination; it was like the entire moon had become infected by something.

The Force.

Park shook his head and went back to staring at Vira.

He wanted to wake her up to do two things. To ask her what she’d picked up during the fight – if she’d found anything useful that could help them figure out what was going on. And the other thing he wanted to do? Thank her. Despite the fact he knew for a fact she hated him now, he still owed her his life. When this was over and Vira was somewhere safe, he would thank her for that.

For now, he clenched his jaw.

But no matter how many times he did it, it didn’t make a damn difference to the tension racking his body.

The Doctor opened her mouth, no doubt to tell Park to stand back for the 10th time, but she stopped. She sucked in the kind of wheezing breath that told Park she’d just seen something on the screen that had shocked her.

She swore, the word vicious as it rang through the air.

For the first time since Park had managed to get Vira into this room, he finally turned hard on his foot and pulled himself away from her.

He took one quick step toward the Doctor. “What is it? What’s going on?” he demanded.

She didn’t answer right away as her eyes darted from left-to-right, her pupils as wide as two open doors.

Goddammit, Doctor, what is it? What’s going on out there?”

She looked up, her gaze vicious. “What’s going on, Lieutenant, is my facility is falling apart,” she spat each word. “The entire tunnel section you were in,” she forced herself away from the console, her movements jerky as if she’d suddenly had her limbs attached to strings, “has just collapsed,” her lips didn’t even shift over her words anymore. They couldn’t. They were so white and bloodless, she’d need medical intervention to move them again.

Park paled. “What? What do you mean the entire tunnel section has collapsed? It was fine when we left it—”

I mean that the seismic activity on this moon has suddenly increased tenfold,” she practically screamed at him as she threw her hands wide.

She wasn’t exasperated and frustrated anymore. She was right on the edge of breaking.

And Park wasn’t that far away, either.

He took another solid step toward her, his knees jerking. “Tenfold? How is that possible?”

Her eyes were shimmering, either with tears or barely held back aggression. Maybe both. “You think I have the answer to that? We have to pump every single scrap of energy we have into our structural shields. And if the seismic activity continues… we’re going to lose this entire facility.”

Park took several seconds to just stare at her in shock. Then he finally forced himself to react. He clenched his teeth. “Then we abandon the facility now. Call the Apollo in space. Get them to prep transports—”

Have you forgotten your place?” she snapped. “This is my facility. And I refuse to abandon—”

Park made his way up to her so swiftly, he was surprised by the move himself. He slammed a hand down on the console beside her, never breaking eye contact. “Think. You’ve already lost this facility. Do I need to remind you what just happened?”

She looked from his hand up to his face. He could see the fear.

It would be the same fear that was reflected in his eyes.

They just stared at each other.

She finally took a quick step back, blinking hard.

Her teeth were still clenched, but at least she was breathing. She locked her gaze on Vira, brought a hand up, and pointed toward her. “I would tell you to wake her up, but there’s no way you’re going to do that, is there?”

He didn’t even bother to answer. He just made the kind of steady eye contact that told her short of the apocalypse, there was no way he was going to wake Vira up again until she was safely back at the Academy.

It took the Doctor several seconds to shake her head. She brought up a hand, collected it over her brow, and took a sigh. The kind of sigh that didn’t just shift her shoulders down an inch, but looked as if it was an earthquake that would undermine her body.

After a few seconds, she let her hand drop, and she looked at him. “Then you’re right. If we can’t get her to save us from the Force gathering beneath this moon, then we go.”

Park opened his mouth. He wanted to point out that the Force weren’t gathering beneath the moon. There was no evidence for that. Yes, he’d encountered an assassin in terribly sophisticated Force armor. And yes, the seismic activity of the moon had increased. That didn’t mean the Force themselves were getting ready to rip through the very rock, reach up a hand, and crush the Coalition.

He opened his mouth to say that. So why couldn’t he spit the words out?

We’re going to have to correspond with the Captain aboard the Apollo,” the Doctor said, breathing hard.

Do it,” Park said as he looked right at her.

He saw the Doctor tick her head down. Then in a snapped second, her pupils dilated. It was so damn quick, it looked as if the Doctor expected a hand to blast right out of the console she was working on and sock her on the jaw.

Park was close, and he didn’t need to get any closer to see the fear consuming her. “What is it?” he spat so quickly, his words were like whips.

Her cheeks paled as she looked at him. “The Apollo….”

What about the Apollo?” He turned around the side of the console, locked his hand on it, then leaned in.

Then Lieutenant Park felt like the world had been knocked out from underneath him.

Because the Apollo was under attack.

Not by the Barbarians, not by the Kor, not by the Circle Traders, not by some new enemy.

No. It was under attack by someone in sophisticated armor the Coalition had never seen.

Someone who’d come from the surface of the moon.

Park… couldn’t comprehend what was happening.

He jerked his head up and locked his eyes on Vira.

He only had one option.

He’d turned her off, stopping her from fighting that man. And now he had to turn her back on… right?

He clenched his teeth and locked his attention back on the console.

But the Doctor had seen where he’d looked. She suddenly reached over and locked a hand in front of him and looked right into his eyes. “You have to turn her on, Lieutenant. There’s no other option. The Apollo is being torn apart. You will have blood on your hands,” she spat.

Blood on his hands.

Blood on his goddamn hands.

That phrase kept repeating in his mind as, with pale cheeks, he again darted his head up and he locked his gaze on Vira.

He knew what his mission was. The parameters were crystal clear. Not only had the Admiral told him, but she’d reinforced his orders with every opportunity she had.

It didn’t matter what happened, he couldn’t allow Vira’s secret to be shared.

That was his top priority.

And it wasn’t as if Admiral Forest was incapable of thinking of dire situations. When she’d meant that it didn’t matter what happened, she’d taken into account all possibilities.

Even if a planet was destroyed, even if a Coalition ship and its crew were on the line, Park couldn’t act if it meant revealing Vira’s secret.

It was….

He heard the Doctor snarl beside him. “Do you really think her secret is worth that much? Plus, haven’t you thought it through? If that Force soldier manages to completely obliterate the Apollo, he’ll spread information about her. Heck, maybe that’s his endgame. Maybe he only intends to kill the crew of the Apollo to get to the long-range communication array. Think,” she spat, using the exact same voice he’d used on her several seconds before.

Reality gut-punched Park, and he practically staggered back.

Because the Doctor… she was right.

He had no more time to waste.

Taking a staggering step to the side, he brought his arm up and locked his fingers just above the point in his wrist which would turn Vira back on.

One more breath, then another.

Then finally, with a wince as if he expected to be struck, he did it. He jammed his thumb into the button.

He woke her up.

It happened immediately. She didn’t need to rouse like an ordinary person. It wasn’t as if she was being dragged back from the brink of sleep. No. She was literally like a machine. One second she was off; the next she was sitting as the pod opened.

Neither he nor the Doctor had commanded the pod to open. Nope. Vira had done that herself.

Without a word, she pulled herself out of the pod and stood.

She faced him. She didn’t blink.

Why bother pretending to be human anymore?

Why bother pretending to be anything but a pissed-off superweapon?

Park forced himself to take a step forward, and he softly rounded a hand into a fist as he did. He tried to make eye contact, but he couldn’t. Staring into her eyes was like falling into the center of the sun. “Look,” he said, his breath stuck in the top of his chest, “I’m sorry. But… I had to do what I had to do. If you’d continued to fight that man, you would have been seen.”

Ignore him. You have new orders,” the Doctor said as she marched around her console, her brow slick with sweat but her eyes narrowed in determination. “That man you were fighting has attacked the Apollo. It’s critical you stop him.”

Vira did nothing. She didn’t even bother looking at the Doctor.

Vira just locked all of her attention on Park.

Finally, finally he pulled his gaze up, and he locked it on her.

He felt sick.

Worse than sick.

It was a sensation the usually arrogant Park had no experience with. Because it was one where he had to face up to the fact he’d completely lost someone else’s trust.

Don’t get him wrong – Park was a loyal man. And any loyal man knew the costs and the benefits of trust.

He’d trusted the Academy his whole life.

And yet, trust wasn’t something he’d ever freely given. Taken?

Absolutely.

But if there was one person in this galaxy who was even worse at giving their trust than Park, it was Vira.

And from the look in her eye, she would never give it to him again.

Park took another step toward her. “The Doctor’s right… you need to… you need to go and save the Apollo. I—”

Would not have to save the Apollo if you hadn’t turned me off,” Vira said blankly.

There was no affect in her tone; there was no emotion on her face. Again she looked like a machine.

But at the same time, Park swore she somehow looked more human than ever.

Because this was all an act.

Right?

Inside, Vira was hurting.

I’m sorry,” he thought to her. “I really am. I did what the Admiral would have wanted me to do. You know what her orders were before going on this mission. You know revealing yourself—”

The Admiral could not have predicted this. We did not predict this, either. Now there is a man out there with Force armor – armor I have never seen the likes of. And he is currently assailing the Apollo. Trust me when I say that despite their countermeasures, they will have no chance against him. He will kill them,” she said flatly. “Unless I stop him.” She spread one of her hands to the side, and her swords suddenly formed.

She kept looking at him.

It was clear she was waiting for his final order.

Shit, she was waiting. Why?

Because she knew that even if she got far away from him, he’d still be able to activate the kill switch and turn her off?

God, she was like some toy. A tethered dog, maybe. Or a soldier in a box.

It was that last image that really got to him.

It sent a truly sick feeling sailing through his gut.

He shook his head. “Go. Save the Apollo. I’ll… do what I have to here. But,” he closed his eyes hard, “still keep in mind that your secret is the most important thing. Keep in mind that once the Force find out—”

Who I am, there they’ll be after me. But that Force soldier will tell them. You made a mistake, Lieutenant,” she said flatly.

Even though there was relatively little affect to her tone, it was still the worst thing he could have heard.

It didn’t feel like he was sick anymore – he felt like he was about to die.

He looked up at her and made no attempt whatsoever to hide either his expression or his emotions.

He let them all fall out, knowing she would be able to sense them.

He wanted her to sense them.

He needed her to know how much this decision had affected him. He still looked her right in the eye. “I did what the Admiral would have wanted me to do. If you’d continued to fight the Force soldier, every single person in the research facility would know about it now. Currently, no one does apart from the Force soldier himself. And if he’s been busy fighting the Apollo, maybe… maybe that means he hasn’t been able to spread the message yet.”

She simply looked at him evenly. “That’s a big maybe.”

He took a hard breath through his clenched teeth. “Yes, it is. Now go—”

You will come, too,” she said.

She didn’t waste any more time.

She transported over to Park, wrapped an arm around his middle, pulled him close, and then transported away.

That was it. No warning.

Park’s brain didn’t even have time to comprehend what was happening.

Though Vira had a great range when it came to transportation, she couldn’t transport directly from the research facility into the Apollo. Instead, she had to space jump until she got there.

In one single jump, she went from inside the research facility to a thousand kilometers above it.

But Park didn’t die.

As she reappeared, her armor had already jumped over her body, and at the same time, she’d produced some kind of shield that had sealed in the atmosphere and heat around Park.

He didn’t have time to scream her name.

In another second, she transported, then she kept doing it until he finally caught sight of the Apollo.

But even that didn’t last. Just like a flash in his mind, like a memory of a dream, it passed.

Then?

They arrived.

Into a broken corridor that was twisted as if somebody had grabbed it up and scrunched it like a piece of paper.

Without a word, Vira dumped Park.

He hadn’t been expecting it, and rather than stand on his own two feet, he dropped down to one knee, panting like a wild animal.

What… what just happened?” he asked uselessly, even though he already knew what had happened.

I brought you with me to the ship. So that you can check that I follow your orders,” she said, voice sarcastic. “And so that you can be close to me when you turn me off again,” she added.

Vira, look, you know I’m sorry. I know you can read my mind. So look inside my thoughts. I give you permission to dig as far into my head as you need.” He took an impassioned step toward her, getting in her way just as she reached forward and grabbed one of her swords in her cast-iron grip.

He couldn’t see her eyes anymore – her face was completely obscured by her armor.

He didn’t care. He looked at her with as much passion as he could manage. “Look into my mind. You’ll see what I’m feeling. All of it,” he added in a choked breath. “I did what I thought was right. And at the time, it was right.”

For a second, she didn’t move.

He would have given anything to either read her thoughts or see her face. No, who was he kidding? From the day he’d met Vira, he would’ve given the world to read her thoughts. It was one thing to have her prying into his consciousness to pick up what he was thinking, but he needed to know how she really felt, too.

It seemed to be the key to the super-weapon. At least, the key to no longer thinking she was some mere weapon.

Vira finally took a step away. “I suggest you get to the bridge and explain to the Captain what’s about to happen,” she said.

Park just had a second to pale.

Then there was a flash of light, and Vira disappeared.

He waited a single second, then he turned hard on his foot.

This was happening. This was really happening. The whole galaxy was about to know who Vira was, and it would be up to Park to minimize the damage.

Chapter 3

Vira

She… she was angry. Or was she sad? Or did she feel betrayed?

She just didn’t have the emotional experience to understand what was going on with her.

But it was emotion. Raw and powerful. Unlike anything she’d ever felt.

She’d undergone psychological training at the hands of the Admirals. They’d tried to make her into a hardened weapon that would never doubt itself.

But there was a problem. Because right now she was doubting herself more than ever.

Though she knew she had to focus on the game – though she knew she had to fight off the man in the Force armor before he could do more damage to the Apollo, she couldn’t strip her thoughts from Park.

From the raw emotion he’d felt for her just before she left him in the corridor.

It was those thoughts that distracted her as she transported through the ship.

She appeared in engineering, hovering close to one of the cores, and the desperate, scattering crew stopped and stared at her.

But before anyone could do anything, she transported away.

Before she did, she grabbed up a bomb the Force soldier had left close to the cores. She wrapped it up in her arms, transported out into space, left it there, then transported back to the Apollo.

This was battle.

Frantic.

No time to think. No time to question. An ordinary human mind wouldn’t be able to comprehend what she was doing now. She wasn’t just tracking down the Force soldier. She was continuously scanning the ship looking for other threats. Because it was clear that the soldier had known that she would come here to protect the Apollo. This was less about destroying the ship and more about capturing her.

But she was prepared for this.

She kept a constant lock on not only the Apollo’s systems, but on ship communications too. She used it to triangulate the location of the Force soldier and yet keep a continuous lock on the health of the crew, too. She saved everyone she could, transporting in at the last moment to rescue two engineering crew from a tunnel that was seconds from collapsing. Then she ported into the mess hall and stopped a fire before it could kill a science officer.

And yet, all the time, her thoughts were on Park.

She tried to maintain a mental connection to him, but it was costly.

Too costly.

And yet, she could still feel the shadow of his emotions. The sheer force of the way he’d looked at her. The desperation, too.

Park had wanted her to believe him more than anything. And she’d… never experienced anything like that.

And yet, at the same time she needed to hold onto her anger. As he had treated her like nothing more than a machine.

A weapon you could turn on and off. All of that stuff about him trying to earn her trust? It had just been a smokescreen. Something to make his life easier for him, but not her life easier for her.

And she did have a life.

You know what you didn’t do to people who had lives? Take control of them without permission.

Her teeth were clenched as she transported outside of the bridge, her head darting from left-to-right as she attempted to pick up the location of the Force soldier.

She knew for a fact that the visual scanners of the bridge were locked on her and an image would be relayed to the view screen.

People would be staring at her.

They would be wondering what the hell she was.

They would be questioning.

They would be doing exactly what Admiral Forest had been trying to prevent.

But this was the right thing to do.

Because yes, Vira understood the importance of keeping her secret locked away until the time to fight the Force came. But there was a problem. When would the Admiral know that the time was right?

How long would Admiral Forest let the Force’s continuous incursions into Coalition space go unanswered before the Admiral finally used her trump card?

And what if it was too late?

The fact of the matter was that the Admiral wasn’t here, and Vira was. She wasn’t just a weapon. She wasn’t just a set of hands that could transport and hold her subspace swords. She had been trained to assess situations, and she had the ability to access and process more raw battle data than a heavy cruiser computer.

In other words, she could make her own decisions.

Why didn’t people respect that?

She knew for a fact that if Park was here right now, he would point out one thing – they did respect that, but that wasn’t the point. The point was Vira had to respect what other people thought, too. Because of her power, she had the ability to make decisions for a lot of people at once, and if she went only on what she thought, she robbed them of their power to choose, doing to them what they were doing to her.

But that’s….

She transported into the armory, grabbing hold of a security officer just before he could be shot right through the middle.

She threw him to the side and saw him roll until he struck the opposite wall.

But he was alive.

She sprang forward, transporting, bringing her swords with her. She used them to chop right through an automated security drone that the man in Force armor had programmed to attack the crew.

One single slice, and it was completely obliterated, its constituent molecules splitting apart, never to be remade.

She transported through the door, pivoted in the air, slammed her feet against the wall of the corridor, then transported again, just as a blistering ionic pulse slammed past her hip.

Even if it had struck her, it wouldn’t have damaged her.

She dodged another blast, then came at another security drone, grabbing her arm around its middle and slamming it into the wall. She used enough force that she didn’t just crumple the drone, but she bent a massive section of bulkhead almost in half.

She could see the crew.

They could see her.

The fear in their eyes.

Didn’t they realize she was saving them?

She transported again.

This time to the accommodation deck. The lift that serviced the deck had just been cut from the magnetic manifold.

There were four crew on board.

They were screaming.

She heard the screams, felt the fear. The desperation of the fact that this would be their last moment. More than that, the realization that they wouldn’t be able to help the rest of their friends.

… Their loyalty to the Coalition. With all its foibles, with all its mistakes, with all its everything.

Their loyalty to each other.

In one swift move, she managed to grab all four crew at the same time, and she transported.

She arrived in the corridor right outside the lift. She deposited them and then transported away without even bothering to see their expressions.

She reentered the lift just as it hit the bottom of the shaft and exploded.

Metal buckled and crumpled against her as an explosion ripped through the small room.

Atmosphere blasted around her as fire licked at her form.

It couldn’t touch her.

But the thoughts whirling in her head? They could.

That loyalty. On their faces, in their minds, flowing through their hearts. They all thought this would be their last moment, but they still felt it.

So why couldn’t Vira feel it for Park?

She… couldn’t forgive him, right?

Because he didn’t deserve her trust. And her trust had to be her greatest weapon, because it was her greatest weakness. Whoever she trusted, she would follow.

If she followed the wrong person? If she dared to allow herself to follow the wrong orders?

So many people could die.

Why hadn’t Park appreciated that?

She could’ve prevented this attack on the Apollo if only he had trusted her.

That thought sank hard into her heart and twisted, almost like someone had wrapped a tourniquet around her chest.

She transported again.

She knew she couldn’t keep porting around the Apollo, saving crew and fixing critical flaws and systems.


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