Glimmerglass was trapped, frozen in a moment of crystallized time, just like the rest of her raid team.
And that was what saved her.
“Come on people! Push through it!” Mellisandra called out over the team’s mental link. “[Eternal Warmth]. Use it if you got it, call for one if you don’t. Let’s get free before they figure out their trap didn’t work.”
“How did you use it?” Damnazon asked. Glimmerglass couldn’t see or hear the tall warrior – she couldn’t see or hear anything for that matter – but she could sense Damnazon’s nearness with some other awareness that she’d never bothered to name.
“What the hell is an [Eternal Warmth]?” Cambrell asked. The goblin was farther away and, if Glimmerglass’s guess was right, just as immobilized as the rest of their team. Despite the distance though, the team’s link made his irritation at being denied an apparently necessary piece of gear all too clear.
Glimmerglass knew the answer to both Cambrell and Damnazon’s questions as well as why Cambrell wouldn’t have picked up the [Soul Mark] but being frozen in time made it a trifle difficult to answer.
Except she wasn’t completely frozen. The trap had left her with an awareness of her surroundings. Her mind…or maybe her ghost?…some part of her was still connected to the flow of time.
“It’s a permanent enchantment, a [Soul Mark].” She forced the words out onto the team’s telepathic chat channel, feeling fatigue bear down harder as she formed each one. “It was a reward. From beating the sub-bosses in [Unhallowed Halls].”
A wave of exhaustion rolled over her and Glimmerglass began fading away, her spirit not frozen in time like her body was but forgotten and left to be reclaimed by the shadows.
“I know it’s hard to invoke it,” Mellisandra said. “The [Deep Paralysis] effect hits more than just our muscles. It’s leeching all of our stats away. You need to reach out to your [Inspirations]. We always had them with us when we were raiding so it was never a problem before now.”
Glimmerglass wanted so badly to sleep. Were they on an enemy vessel? Was their world depending on them? Was her team depending on her? Did it matter? Did she even care?
It wasn’t a word, and it wasn’t spoken in her voice, not exactly, but Glimmerglass heard it nonetheless. Someone, somewhere remembered her. Believed in her.
For just a moment, Glimmerglass felt the familiar flicker of her [Inspiration] touch her heart. Her other self was there. The one who never gave up. Who burned with wonder and joy so bright and real at the marvels they’d beheld that the sun was a pale candle by comparison.
In the frozen darkness, color bloomed and from one hand to another, the torch of hope was passed.
[Eternal Warmth] flared through Glimmerglass’s body and the [Stasis Web] shattered like spun glass.
“Who else needs a status cleanse?” she asked, whirling to take in their surroundings.
The [Astrologos Observatory’s] portal had deposited them with fine precision onto the portal ring inside the [Field Carrier] they’d been assigned to commandeer. The security team they’d been warned about was there too, as predicted, waiting for them with weapons ready.
“[Greater Shield Empowerment] [Casting spell: Aegis Wall]!” Glimmerglass called out, gambling and winning her bet that her reactions would be fast enough to get the enhanced version of the spell off before the guards could react.
In the fight at [Doom Crag], her defensive spells had been overwhelmed in seconds. Those had been precious seconds and had allowed her team to mount a defense which let most of them to flee the town without making a ghost run, but Glimmerglass had still been unhappy since it meant her spells simply weren’t potent enough to engage in a battle like that.
Against the [Field Carrier’s] security team though she fared significantly better.
You got this!
Again, it was more of a wordless feeling than a distinct message, but it sent Glimmerglass’s spirit soaring.
“Here you go Cambrell,” she said as she strode through the [Stasis Web] reducing it to dust in her wake. When she touched the frozen Goblin, a portion of the warmth she carried flowed into him and he came to life with a gleeful look of mayhem in his eyes.
Azma saw the problems arising as early as anyone else in the fleet’s command structure did. Reports began screaming up towards her through the ranks but she could see all too clearly what had happened without them.
The [Stasis Webs] had failed. The defender had access to some countermeasure. For a system built specifically to deny the activation of countermeasures.
Because of course they did.
Azma had planned for the eventuality that the defenders would escape, but she was far from happy that she had to enact those plans. Especially when they began so close to home and were accompanied by the inevitable loss of otherwise proficient senior staff members.
To her left, the Reginald Humphries, the [Manager of Strategic Interfaces], rose silent as a whisper. His [Neural Disruptor] was already in his hand. The fact that the bridge had triple security checks to prevent unregulated weapons from being brought onto it at all meant it should have been the perfect surprise attack in Azma’s moment of weakness.
It also spoke to the sort of price which had been placed on her head by her coworkers.
A proper assassin would have chosen either a [Plasma Caster] to incinerate her beyond the repair of the Consortium’s best facilities, or (if damage to the ship was an issue) a [Neural Annihilator] to ensure Azma’s synaptic resources were thoroughly obliterated.
The choice of the much less deadly [Neural Disruptor] signalled that the highest bidder for Azma’s head wished her to be taken alive.
It was a not a comforting thought.
The only reasons someone of her rank wished to keep an enemy alive and sentient was to extract information, or watch them suffer the most spectacular agonies their captor could devise. Or both. Azma strongly suspected most of her enemies were looking for both results from her overthrow.
She had her own [Plasma Caster] unholstered and was sweeping it around to aim it in Humphries general direction (it was all that was required with a [Plasma Caster]) when the [Manager of Strategic Interfaces] chest imploded.
To Azma’s right, Kordo Banns, the [Manager of Fleet Fuel Supplies] screamed as the lower half of his body evaporated in a shower of sparks. In his right hand, he’d also been holding a [Plasma Disruptor] and trying to bring it into position to fire at Azma.
Behind Azma, Grenslaw and Ryschild stood calmly, each holding their own weapons, carefully pointed away from Azma and each other.
“There is a rather large, if unofficial, bounty of my head,” Azma said, eyeing her two newest recruits with curiosity.
“Several promotion opportunities as well,” Grenslaw said.
“To unsupported positions, endowed with with no ability to retain the proferred wealth,” Ryschild said.
“I find my current career track more satisfying,” Grenslaw said.
“And more educational,” Ryschild said. “I understand the [Plasma Caster] but I am at a loss to understand the ring?”
Azma smiled at Ryschild and glanced at the green band on her right hand. The one which had been pointing at the center of Kordo Banns forehead.
“A [Necrosis Beam Projector],” Azma said. “Expensive and not tremendously practical but amusing enough to justify its cost.”
“My apologies for my presumption,” Ryschild said, nodding to the remains of the [Manager of Fleet Fuel Supplies]. “And for the mess.”
“The janitorial staff will have their work cut out for them today,” Azma said. “As will our [Strategic Interfaces] and [Fuel Supplies] teams. [Manager] Grenslaw, [Strategic Interfaces] is yours for today. [Manager] Ryschild, [Fuel Services] is yours for the same time period. These are temporary promotions of course but for the duration you have the full authority the roles provide.”
Azma knew that rewarding two junio officers who’d dispassionately murdered their senior officers with those senior officers positions was teaching the sort of lesson which lead to more complications rather than fewer in the future.
A fundamental part of the Consortium’s corporate culture was predicated on advancing those with the greatest hunger for power and the least compunctions about doing whatever was required to amass it. Azma had benefited from that at every step up the corporate ladder and didn’t disagree with the general sentiment. Ambition was a critical ingredient to success in her view.
Where she differed from the Consortium was in the belief that ambition required tempering. The Consortium’s [Senior Executive Committee] tended to encourage a system where raw, almost mindless, lust for power was rewarded as being the height of value in an employee. Azma tended to view any “mindless” quality as being ultimately self-defeating.
It was true that mindless workers with only a single motivation were easy to control (which was why upper management preferred the culture as it was) but the corpses her two ex-Managers lain at Azma’s feet showed the cost of it.
Not in terms of lives lost. Azma had no fondness for Humphries or Banns, nor any regrets at their passing. What appalled her was all of the investment in them which was oozing out over her floor. And the ripple of disruption filling their positions would cause.
Azma won by having her people perform far beyond what her peers could manage and, shockingly, death was something of a performance inhibitor.
One of her screens blared at her.
A security team had been dispatched. Entirely. [Field Carrier] [ABP77G-K-71-CA512] was defenseless.
“[Supreme Commander],” Ryschild asked, pausing to see if Azma could spare any attention before continuing. “The fuel cells on the [Field Carrier] which just fell to the invaders are ready for detonation. Shall I confirm?”
“No,” Azma said and waited for the inevitable backtalk, the citing of the Consortium’s [Code on Hostile Appropriations of Corporate Assets].
Official policy was that if the Consortium couldn’t have it, no one else was allowed to either. In some fleets, the ships were rigged with self-destruct devices which would annihilate the ship and all on board if a continuous feed from the [Captain] wasn’t maintained.
Azma had removed that nonsense from the ship in her fleet, in part because accidental self-destructs were far too common and costly to risk and in part because the loss of a ship would result in the loss of her head regardless of whether the vessel was destroyed or not.
As junior officers under her command, Grenslaw and Ryschild had no authority to countermand Azma’s decree but that wouldn’t save them from liquidation once the battle results were reviewed.
Neither spoke, nor questioned her though. Instead both were listening intently, waiting for her to explain, if she chose to.
“Direct the monitor teams to continue an active scan for life signs on board,” she said. “I want termination times for crew members and all the observational data that we can assemble. Feed it to the analyst corp.”
“I have a projection on profit under runs from the loss of the ship and each crew member,” Grenslaw said.
“Thank you,” Azma said, genuinely pleased with the useful initiative Grenslaw had taken. “Match that to a cost analysis for converting unknown defenses to partially known quantities, and add in the cost benefit for the breakthrough in [Stasis Web] research they’ve provided us.”
Grenslaw’s eyes lit up.
“On it [Commander]!”
Azma has no reason to believe the [Stasis Webs] would fail, or that her plan of luring local specimens on board to be caged and sold to the highest bidder would go badly. No reason except a long familiarity with watching meticulous plans go horribly awry when applied to the real world.
According to the reports appearing on her console, three other [Field Carriers] had been lost and more than a dozen others were experiencing significant resistance from the “helpless” defenders who’d been trapped aboard them.
Things weren’t going to look good for the Consortium, but Azma wasn’t concerned. Her real plan was always the same.
She was going to crush those who stood before her, and she was going to do it through a mix of overwhelming force and understanding them better than they understood themselves. If she had to sacrifice a few ships to accomplish that, so be it. There was only one thing Azma would never sacrifice and that was herself. Everything and everyone else were negotiable.