Ara is brought into the fold, as Scarlet torments her with the news of invasion. Sequel to Shipping & Handling. Non-con mind control, enslavement, identity modification/erasure, interrogation, physical violence, dystopian themes. ~2200 words.
"Earlier today, our Leader Claws of Gold condemned the unprovoked attack on the AEV Soar by the Core Alliance, the third strike on Accord research vessels in the past week. Core Alliance ambassadors declined to issue an apology, and Accord leadership is discussing sanctions on the empire."
"Don't they do such a good job of it?" Scarlet asked, looking down from the holoscreen at the white-furred Assistant beside her.
"A good job of... what, Miss?" She replied, tugging nervously at her grey dress as her former home empire was mentioned.
"Of making a story that's good to listen to. We're just innocent researchers, our unarmed ships getting attacked by the vile warmongers of your former leash-holders. One of these days, we'll just have no option but to retaliate..."
The wolf whined under her breath, glancing up at the holoscreen for a second. The news program on looked much like the ones on her homeworld, with a neatly groomed reporter sitting behind a desk, dramatic imagery being shown behind them. Though, unlike home, she couldn't tell how much of it was actually truthful... "I'm not sure why you have to do that, if we're not actually doing anything..."
"The declaration of war has already been signed, and it's way above me. I'm just an Agent collecting intelligence."
The Assistant tried to focus on the news ticker on the screen, but gave up attempting to decipher the language. Accord script was far too new and complex for her to read, even if the chip in her head let her learn. Even the scraps of Common around the facility took her a few seconds to process, now...
"Come along, now, Ara. I have some things for you to deliver for me."
"Yes, Miss..." Ara replied with a small sigh. It's not like she had a choice.
"The markets slumped again today after the reported destruction of three Alliance battlecruisers in the mineral-rich C-23 frontier system. The ships were part of a detachment tasked with the protection of mining assets in C-23. Survivors say that they were ambushed by a 'large number' of unknown forces which 'did not attempt to communicate'. Despite the losses, a Core Military spokesperson announced that 'risk to populated Core systems was low' and that a 'full investigation' of the attack will lead to bringing the perpetrators to justice."
"And to think we'd have just overlooked your kind, if you hadn't landed right on our doorstep."
Ara considered growling, but wasn't sure if her vocal chords would even let her, anymore. Not that it was a good idea, within reach of Scarlet. "You hadn't even heard of us?"
"Of course we'd heard of you, but it didn't seem worth it. Only a handful of planets, that rarely means there's something worth taking. But since you extolled the virtues of your worlds..."
"J-just because I think we're good, doesn't mean we're deserving of invading!" Ara protested, remembering what she'd said about her home. She would have resisted saying anything, but it's hard when resistance is met with your will simply being switched off by the chip in your head.
"So, should I report that an occupation is a waste of time?"
"I... I mean..."
"It's too late to call the ships off, though, so if we're not occupying, we're removing a threat anyway..."
"How... how would we be a threat? If you don't attack us, we'd just leave you alone!"
"It's Accord doctrine that any independent space-faring empire is a threat, if left unchecked." Scarlet replied, leaning over the desk. "It's occupation, or annihilation. What would you rather see?"
Ara's gaze shifted away from the Avian in discomfort, thinking over what that meant. Either be wiped out, or live in subjugation under the Accord... She couldn't help but rub at the shaved patch on her skull, guessing that the same would happen to everyone she knew. "Occupation..." She replied, flattening her ears in defeat. Maybe the Accord's military power was as hollow as the news report she'd been showed, and the Core Alliance had a chance to fight back. She didn't feel too hopeful.
"Good. I'm glad you're saying the right answer." Scarlet glanced over at the clock on her datapad, giving the Assistant a little grin. "Oh, speaking of giving the right answer to things... I have some intelligence reports I need to gather from you. Come along, I'm sure you remember where you were taken last time..."
Ara jolted awake as the ship lurched forward, the sound of engines in sudden distress filling her quarters. She stumbled tiredly out to the bridge, holographic displays projecting across the wall-to-wall cockpit windows indicating some sort of system failure.
"Can't even get a nip of sleep..." She muttered, sitting down in the plush pilot's seat. "Ship, status report."
"Reactor operating within normal parameters. Navigation systems offline. Shields online. Propulsion systems offline. FTL system offline. Communication systems offline. Life support systems online."
"Great." The wolf leant back in her chair for a second, thinking about what could possibly be wrong... and from the view out of her window, she had to wonder where in the galaxy she had ended up. "Ship, run navigation diagnostics."
The holographic screen over the front window shut off and flickered back into life a few seconds later, displaying a screen of diagnostics before signalling an "OK".
"Ship, where are we?"
"Unknown. Planetary triangulation systems out of range. Star mapping in progress..."
"Well, then. Ship, run propulsion diagnostics."
"Main engine offline. Physical debris detected inside engine. Heat damage detected inside plasma chambers one, two, three, four."
"That can't be right. Guess I'll have to take a look..." Ara muttered under her breath as she stood. "Ship, prepare for extravehicular repair."
The ship, custom-built for Ara, was designed with her in mind. The ship was small and quick, with a large fusion reactor taking up all the space that the weapons that a more militarised ship would otherwise have. Being defenceless, it relied on speed, shields, and copious amounts of navigational intelligence to get through potentially hostile space. Right now, with the navigational system falling back to reading star charts, and the engines apparently damaged, she just had the shields to rely on.
Ara walked into the small room containing her "life support". Her regeneration pod was laid horizontally against one wall, the curved glass top showing the padded bed inside, pipes and wires leading to a large steel cylinder beside it. The chrome and glass sarcophagus was what she would be reconstructed in, conciousness restored from a backup, if something were to happen to her physical form. It also happened to double as the control chamber for her EVA-capable android -- the lithe, wolf-looking robot sitting in its storage chamber along another wall.
"Ugh, hopefully I can get this fixed quickly..." She said, remembering the out-of-body feeling that controlling the android gave her. But, unless she wanted to spend a half hour clamboring into a spacesuit, and increasing the likelyhood more things would go wrong, it was her only option.
The mental linking with the android felt like one did when getting engrossed in a book, or video game -- you saw everything, heard everything, but it wasn't quite happening to you. Ara shrugged off the strange feeling for now, the android body she was controlling stepping out of the storage chamber. She was able to see herself -- her organic body -- laying in the closed regeneration pod, eyes closed, body in a temporary stasis whilst the android was in operation. She leant forward to look over herself, the mild urgency of the situation fading for a second as she noticed something printed on her pilot suit. There was a barcode, a familiar one, and... some writing above it? It was... hard to read, garbled... what was it...
--- Ignore it, tell me what happened next. ---
She walked out to the airlock, pressing the button and stepping inside. The android had a control range of at least a kilometer, far more than enough to get to the engine and inspect it. It was also fitted with small propellant thrusters, allowing some level of control in the vacuum of space. As the airlock began to open on the other side, Ara had to remember that she didn't need to breathe, and to not panic as the artificial gravity faded along with the oxygen.
Pushing herself away from the airlock, she floated into the vacuum of space outside her ship. There were small notches from the airlock to the behind of the ship for her to grab onto and pull herself along, which she directed herself to by the inbuilt thrusters. Small blue sparks danced along her fingers, as she was in fact holding onto the energy shield, not the ship underneath. This wouldn't be a problem by the time she got to the engine, as it was impractical to build a shield that didn't interfere with the thrusters. Pulling herself along, she eventually saw the nozzles of the thrusters, pieces of metal debris floating around them, as if something had exploded.
"Ah, fuck." Ara muttered, fearing that something catastropic had happened. The ship's AI said that engines one to three were out, but if four was able to be brought online, she could at least limp herself back to the nearest neutral spaceport...
She lost her train of thought when a bolt of plasma suddenly exploded beside her head. Her head snapped towards where it came from, seeing nothing. Did she imagine it?
"Ahhhh, fuck..." Ara exclaimed, seeing a flash in the blackness of space, before a string of plasma bolts started hitting all around her. She started scrambling towards the engine -- maybe she could override the safeties, get engine four going, and escape, but only if she... hurried...
Ara stared blankly at the sparking end of her arm, another string of plasma bolts catching her. The android didn't give her a pain reaction, so it wasn't until she tried to grab with her missing limb that she noticed, losing her grip, and floating from the ship. Enabling the thrusters, she tried to push forward, towards the engines, but nothing was happening. Nothing was moving. She couldn't turn her head, use her other arm, move her legs... then everything happened at once. Plasma bolts slammed across her robot body, the force slamming her against the ship like a children's toy. She was still 'conscious', the shattered parts of the android still operating, but the shock of what was happening preventing Ara from disconnecting. The last minute her mental link recieved was of a combat ship a hundred times the size of her own pulling up along beside her ship, a small boarding craft leaving it, and connecting to her docking port. The next thing she felt was the mental link being forcefully severed, awaking in a daze in her pod, a large Avian figure stood over her with a weapon trained on her head.
"Up." They demanded, in Common.
She couldn't move to obey the command, not back in control of her own body yet. The Avian obviously grew tired of the lack of response, and the butt of their rifle was the last she remembered seeing.
"Ughhhh..." Ara shook her head groggily, trying to turn over onto her side and go back to sleep. It took a few moments for her to realise she was in fact strapped down in place, opening her eyes to try and find out where she was. The shine of a spotlight directly in her eyes was a quick reminder of where she was -- an interrogation chair, in the basement of the Ministry. As the lucid dream faded, and she was brought back to her unfortunate reality, she realised what was happening. "Do... do you have to do it this way..." She groaned, the sedatives still making her mind foggy and body heavy.
"You said you didn't want it to hurt." Scarlet said, standing from her comfortable interrogators chair with a cloth, cleaning up some of the wolf's drool from its chin.
"But you said the chip meant I couldn't lie anymore... what's the point in this if I'll just answer whatever question you give me..." Ara whined, trying to shake off the feeling.
"I have to follow protocol." Scarlet replied, with a little grin. "Plus, it would be a shame if you didn't get the whole experience, wouldn't it?"
"Of, what, being drugged?"
"Well, yes. I have some other ones here, if you're interested."
"Ugh, no..." Ara replied, blinking in the light.
"No, thank you, Miss..." The wolf replied, laying its ears back. "Can... can we stop for now?"
"Of course not. The chip can only read your thoughts, not your memories directly, so we have to do it this way."
Ara glanced at the wire-bound book in the Agent's hands, with hundreds of sticky notes poking out the top. "Then... what's that, Miss?"
Scarlet turned the book's cover towards herself. "Nothing you need to know about. Besides, I booked us a long session in this room."
"What... what is a long session?" Ara asked, dreading the reply.
"Three days, including cell time."
Ara closed her tired eyes, groaning. "I guess I don't have a choice in the matter, do I?"
"Fine... but can I ask something?"
Scarlet stopped for a second of thought. "I can't guarantee an answer, and I'm supposed to be doing the questioning, but... sure."
"What was on my suit, when I was in the pod?"
Scarlet gave a little chuckle. "Your name, Ara. Have you forgotten you had one already?"