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Einherjar [Warframe AU]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Spiny, Aug 18, 2016.

  1. Spiny

    Spiny Making the rounds.

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    So this is an idea I've been kicking around since I first finished the Second Dream quest: a way to reconcile the 'new' mechanics of Operators and Transference with Valkyr's original (and wonderful) lore. It's set smack in the middle of the Orokin Era: before any of the events of the game, but after several Warframes had already gone into pseudo-mass production. I've also taken a few liberties with certain things established by SD, mostly where the canon is vague or inconsistent, but they should be self-evident and hopefully not too jarring. Updates should be forthcoming. Feedback is always appreciated. Hope you guys enjoy.

    Also, this should go without saying, but if you haven't played the Second Dream or at least gotten the gist, you'll probably be a little confused.


    I.
    Weapon, Body, and Mind. A Tenno is all these things. They are one and the same.
    Your weapon is your mind and your body.
    My sword chops the Lancer’s shoulder blade, wrenches through, pops free, and the newly one-armed Grineer reels back, spraying blood and spit and curses until I stab-twist-pull through his chest and he goes down flailing at my feet. Excalibur stomps on his throat and something goes crunch and he twitches once, twice, stops moving. It’s messy and ugly and slow but it works. Don’t need speed. Don’t need beauty. I just need results.
    Your body is your weapon and your mind.
    Three more Lancers to my right. Too many. I tense and Excalibur bolts, dodging past before they can move or shoot or think. I skid away and slam my back against the perfect-square-perfect-grey pillar jutting up from the ground, put it between me and them. Their guns bark, and bullets burrow behind my footsteps just close enough to make me cringe. Excalibur does nothing.
    The Grineer grunt and shuffle; even if I didn’t have a radar I would feel them move. Two on the left, one on the right. Teeth bared, weapons drawn. I count my breaths. One, two, three.
    Your mind is your body and your weapon.
    Excalibur doesn’t have much charge left, but I don’t need much. The first Lancer rounds the corner, and with an hissing-warbling-overheating-powercoil-crash the Exalted Blade cleaves him into writhing blue sparks. The other two step forward on either side, guns raised, and even as I’m carving through one’s chest— it feels so smooth, steel versus silk— there’s bullets slamming into Excalibur’s back one-two-three-four, making me flinch, wince, gasp. The last one rips through the shield and buries itself in an armored leg, throwing me off-balance. I stumble, curse, pray. Excalibur spins around and sidesteps the next spray of bullets and I try to pivot on the bad leg, feel it give, trip forward at the Lancer and watch the barrel rise toward my head...
    But then he’s falling back, gurgling, and the Blade slides up through his chest just as my charge runs dry, leaving Excalibur kneeling on a dead Grineer, hands clenched around fast-fading glints of blue.
    I breathe, long and slow, and Excalibur’s shields flicker back with a comforting hum. With gritted teeth, I stand, avoiding the bad leg, and walk unsteadily from behind the pillar, eyes darting back and forth, body tensed and ready...
    Nothing. The dull grey plane is motionless, lifeless.
    I relax. Excalibur stands taller, shoulders out, striding past the Grineer corpses. A smile pulls at my lips, a real smile, and there’s a sudden giddy boiling-detonite swell of hot pride in my chest, making my blood sing and my stomach tingle. I lock it in my brain for later, for insecurity, for hopelessness, something I can draw on, something to fuel me, and in that moment I am Trimma, slayer of Grineer, Trimma, avenger of insecurity, a wounded God surveying her domain—
    My radar blips.
    And there’s a FLASH and Excalibur is supine on the flat grey, limp and still, I’m reeling, gasping, tears pricking at my eyes, and through cracked and hazy vision I see the Ballista, her rifle slowly lowering, orange viewports hot and mocking from a hundred yards away—
    And I’m back, shuddering, drenched in sweat, hunched in the seat of my SL pod with saliva filling up my mouth like I’m zero-G nauseous. The walls are still dark, glass still opaque, generator still humming. All systems nominal, like I haven’t just taken a bullet through my— through Excalibur's head. Nothing’s changed. It feels odd to be in here like this. Almost voyeuristic.
    I close my eyes, painting black over black, and try not to think about it.
    A few seconds later, the lights flicker on, a soft-cool-don’t-panic blue, and a there’s a voice. Soft, calm, female, so perfect I can hear the careful emotional modulation dripping off it. Of course. I lace my fingers together and squeeze, watch the skin go from pink to red to white.
    “Enemies eliminated: nine. Enemies disabled: two. Cause of failure: massive trauma to impulse, reflex, and sensory systems via Vulkar round impact with first and third artificial cortices,” Cephalon Cidri says. A pause. “Time elapsed: four minutes and fifty-three seconds. Congratulations, Operator Trimma. You have new records for both eliminations and survival time.”
    4:53. Seven seconds.
    I feel my throat closing up. Seven seconds away from the solo-operations qualifier, away from an appeal to the Operator Council, away from freedom. Seven fucking seconds from a fresh start, a chance to push past the crushing guilt, the frustration, the helpless gnawing fury. If I had just put my back to the Oro-damned pillar instead of strutting around like I was invincible, if I had just checked my flanks one more time, if I had just been a little more careful, a little faster, a little smarter, if I had, always past tense, always hindsight, crystal-clear and crushing, had had had—
    “Fuck you!” I feel my hands shaking. I don’t care. “You— you put that Ballista there, the one time I was actually doing well! You knew I was going to make it. So you had to use a cheap shot to keep me in my fucking room, away from all the important missions— can’t have the world’s worst Operator on anything that might matter. Just keep her busy, keep her training, just keep telling her that if she really tries her best, she might get to— get to—” The words come in a burst, a shattered-floodgate-rush. I don’t stop until Cidri cuts me off.
    “My precepts forbid me from interfering with Operator efforts except in very dire circumstances,” she says, quicksilver-smooth. “A routine training session does not qualify. And even if those precepts were not in place, I have neither the wish nor the directive to intentionally sabotage your performance. Your failure is unfortunate, but it is also wholly your own. Accept that and you will be one step closer to achieving your goal.”
    “Fuck you.” A sob bursts out unbidden, and it’s a few seconds before I can talk again. “Just... just put me in again. Same presets.” I lean back against the pod, try— fail to relax. Whatever. The adrenaline will help me focus.
    “Due to your imbalanced emotional state, I am putting a one-hour cooldown on your Simulacrum access. I recommend you take this time to meditate and recenter.”
    “Fuck you!”
    “The cooldown is now two hours.”
    The SL pods are soundproof, so no one hears my bitter-hot scream of rage as it sinks into the padded wall. I’m counting on that, of course. It isn’t too early in the cycle; if someone was actually around to see me like this, to watch Trimma-the-weird-cripple-girl having a nice little breakdown over a Simulacrum run, not even Cidri would be able to shut the station airlock fast enough.
    I run a few more reps of scream-gasp-cry before I’m sated, then slump in my harness, sniffling, trying to rub the red from my eyes. At this point, if anyone was out there past that tinted glass, it wouldn’t matter if they’d heard me or not. One look would tell them everything they need to know. I’m a mess: suit twisted, out of breath, hair matted, face streaked with sweat and tears. I can feel that fucked-up cocktail in my gut, twisting guilt and doubt and hopelessness into brain-searing-wall-punch anger. The Trimma special, free with every failure. Come and get some, don’t be shy, Oro knows we’re never running low—
    Get a grip. I hiss a breath out through my teeth and slam the pod’s emergency release. There’s a warning beep before the lid bursts outward, slides across the floor, venting cold, sterile air into the Operator Bay. I step forward as it turns to steam and inhale, fill my eyes and nose and lungs with it, washing them clean. Cidri could’ve opened the pod for me, of course, but hitting it myself always felt better.
    “Please do not misuse the pod override, Operator Trimma. Repairing and reattaching the front panel consumes valuable station resources.”
    Good, I don’t say, wiping my eyes on my suit and stalking away from the pod. The bay doors open with a whispery hum, spitting me into Outwatch Station IV’s main hall. From here, it’s two minutes of gleaming white and polished gold and half-clenched fists and please-don’t-fucking-look-at-me until I’m safe in my room. Two minutes. I can make it.
    I start walking, rhythmic and purposeful, eyes welded to the floor. It’s so bright, fucking gleaming, throwing my reflection back in my face. I want to look away, but all the alternatives are worse, so I settle for staring at myself: cropped brown hair that never ever lies flat, dull olive skin, pinched-up face with sleep-bagged muddy green eyes and a thin-lipped mouth set in a near-permanent frown. The face of the Tenno, guardians of balance: tired, sullen, and fragile. “Striking,” people called it. Within earshot, at least. “Eye-catching.” “Intense.” Know what else is eye-catching? A mutant kubrow. Something to stare at, maybe even pity, long as it doesn’t get too close.
    I turn a corner, running on muscle memory, and suddenly I’m a half-step away from smacking into Seri. She stumbles back, a quick flash of shock on her face before it fades to a calm, easy smile. “Oh! Hey, Trimma.” The smile flickers, fades. Her eyes widen. “Are you—” No no no.
    “Fine,” I mutter, walking past her. Head low, eyes down. She doesn’t say anything, thank Oro, and soon I’m safe around another corner, away from that smiling face and big blue eyes. Seri is nice. Too fucking nice. Give me venom and bile over serene unblinking kubrow-pup affection any day. At least I know how to deal with the first two beyond ‘hope it goes away’.
    Almost to the quarters, now. A few more steps, a few more meters, and no more people. So close. I turn the last corner and slam my hand against the scanner, stepping inside the second the too-bright doors slide open. In here, everything’s a soft, muted grey, a stark contrast to the glitz and gleam of outside. I can hear the hum of life support systems above my head, under my feet, familiar and comforting. Safe. For now. However long ‘now’ turns out to be.
    My room is simple. Spartan, even. A door, a desk, some lights, a closet for my suits and the biocleanser pod where I’m supposed to sleep. And an integrated always-on uplink to Cephalon Cidri, but I try not to think about that. All the same grey, inoffensive and smooth. Some of the other Operators complain about the flatness, the cleanness, and drench their rooms in holo-panel color or do their best to copy the eye-searing luxury of the Old Orokin architecture outside. But I like the grey. It’s simple, functional, doesn’t have or provoke much emotion. Scratch out ‘functional’ and you have Trimma, for better or worse.
    I dim the lights to not-quite-off and lie down on the floor, resting my head on the balled-up jumpsuit left there from yesterday. The universe’s most pathetic and uncomfortable pillow. But it beats sleeping on bare metal, and it’s not like I can use the pod. Cidri tracks everyone’s access, and if you logged too many odd hours she’d report it to the Council, and then they’d start asking questions. I’d barely been able to convince them I was stable the first time. Don’t think I could pull off a second.
    My eyes shut, already adjusted to the almost-darkness of my room, and I imagine sinking through the floor, floating out into space, cold and dark and peaceful. With any luck, I’ll sleep through first mess and avoid any kind of interaction for another few hours. ‘Don’t talk to anyone’ is a pretty depressing goal, but at least it’s achievable. Unlike a lot of other things.
    Ambition should be tempered with wisdom. Cidri’s voice floats through my head unbidden, echoing in the void. Focus on what you can accomplish now. I clench my fists a little, but the magnesium-flare anger from before has cooled into comfortable numbness. It always does. Rage into anguish into nothing, reset and repeat. Another cycle, one out of Oro knows how many more...
    I try not to think about it. That always helps.
    ************
    “—ou are needed in the deployment room. You have three minutes to acknowledge this message, after which I can no longer guarantee your privacy.”
    I shift, wince, groan softly on the floor as I feel the dull pain in my back. Laying on metal for hours at a time does that. At least I’d managed to doze off.
    Cidri’s saying something, but I’m not awake enough to care. Sleep is judgement-and-obligation free, the one time I have to myself and only myself. Not ready to give it up just yet.
    “Operator Trimma. You are needed in the deployment room. You have two minutes to acknowledge this message, after which I can no longer guarantee your privacy.”
    Fuck.
    Fuck.
    “Operator Trimma. You are needed in the deployment room. You have one minute—”
    “Acknowledged.” It’s more a grunt than a response, but Cidri gets the message. I shove myself to my feet all at once, a sudden whipcrack of motion, let the headrush from standing up too fast pump blood back into my body. “Mirror.” Time to check the damages.
    The wall by my desk shimmers, turns reflective, and there I am, unflattering as ever. Suit wrinkled, hair matted, eyes still sunken-bloodshot-puffy. I try for a smile and pull off a dour smirk instead. As always. Won’t be a surprise, at least.
    “What’s the call for?” I ask, smoothing my hair as best I can. It does exactly nothing, but at least making the effort feels good.
    “Time-sensitive interception of a Corpus vessel bound for Jupiter. You will be fully briefed prior to deployment.”
    Time-sensitive. I tense a little at that, hating myself for it. Nothing like sudden, looming pressure to get the blood flowing. “Squad?”
    “You will be accompanied by Operators Feros, Seri, and Mar,” Cidri says, like polished silk, and I feel the sigh rush out my nose before I even realize what’s happened. The Council wannabe, the bright-eyed puppy, and the graphite butterfly, stoic and mysterious and graceful and so-perfect-even-blood-doesn’t-touch-her, the fucking bitch, basking in that unspoken superiority like—
    I count my breaths. One, two, three. “Requesting an exemption.” Wonder if Cidri’s sensors pick up my heart thudding in my ears.
    “Exemption denied. All other Operators are currently deployed.”
    All of them?”
    “Yes. There is no time to argue, Operator Trimma. Please proceed to deployment.”
    I bite down on a frustrated scream. Fine. Just keep your head down and don’t think about it. Mind, body, weapon. Just focus. Don’t fuck up. The same mantra for the last six years, for all the good it’s done. I let myself have one last sigh, nice and long and theatrical, vent my irritation like spent coolant. There. All done. Now, shields up, mask on, time to be who I’m supposed to.
    Operator Trimma stalks out of the living quarters, head held high, shoulders out, sunken eyes staring bright, defiant. Beaten down, but not quite broken. Still a Tenno, with a will of iron and a soul of silver. As I round the corner, I can’t help a rueful grin, making sure no one’s around to see.
    I might be useless, but at least I’m good at faking.














     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2016
    alid610 likes this.
  2. Spiny

    Spiny Making the rounds.

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    II.

    I’m the last one to deployment. No surprises there. Seri waves as I trudge through the shining gold doors, her face bright, open, unassuming. Feros gives me a nod. Mar does nothing, refuses to acknowledge my presence; I’d be more worried if she had.

    The room is another dose of whiplash: all silver and grey and tasteful accents, like it's supposed to cool you off after your retinas got scorched from the hallway outside. Some chairs, some screens, a holopanel table in the middle, and the door in the far wall that leads to the Operator Bay. It's all there, etched somewhere behind my eyes. I'd spent less time in the deployment room than anywhere else on Outwatch IV, and every minute still managed to stick in my head like some kind of ooze, viscous and sticky. Too many bad memories.

    "Hello, Trimma," someone says. It's deep, rich, enunciated. Not an Operator voice. I blink, turn my head— and immediately stiffen to attention, suddenly very very far-too-aware of how disheveled and unprepared I look. Standing in the corner of the room, his monochrome robes soaking in the holopanel off-light, is Councilor Novis. He looks smaller than he does in his floating chair in the Conclave— that's probably half the reason they're there— but every other detail is the same: shaved head, dusky brown skin, always-neutral expression. A memory flickers into focus: Seri and I, years ago, whispering outside the Conclave after an evaluation. "Do you think he ever smiles?" she says, voice hushed and conspiratorial.

    I didn't have an answer then. I still don't. All things considered, though, Novis is one of the better Councilors who could be in the room, and by 'better' I mean 'doesn't actively despise me'. Well, he still might, but if he does, he isn't open about it. Cherish even the smallest blessing. Cidri's voice again, burned into my head, making me grind my teeth until it feels like there should be nothing left, until I'm fighting back a bubbling molten-lava scream—
    I count my breaths. One, two, three. The urge fades.

    "…ou fit for deployment?" Novis is— everyone is staring at me. Even Seri. Fuck. I glance around, eyes darting left-right-left like a cornered animal. Speak. Respond.

    "I— what?" I manage, my cheeks flushing hot. The model response to a question from a Councilor. For not-even-close-to-the-first time, I imagine sinking through the floor and floating away into deep space.

    "I asked," he repeats, voice slow and measured, "If you believe you are fit for deployment. You seem… distracted."

    "Oh!" I shake my head violently. It's desperate, it looks desperate, I know, I don't care. "No. I'm fine. Just… nerves. Won't be an issue, Councilor." Every ounce of sincerity I have goes into those words, and I stare at Novis, begging with my eyes. Don't do this. Not in front of everyone. Not again.

    A half-minute passes. Novis closes his eyes, re-opens them… nods. "Then we have no time to waste." He turns to all of us, and I feel a weight lift as his eyes move away from me. "There is a Corpus freighter currently en route to dock somewhere on the outskirts of Jupiter. It has no escort, it is moving extremely quickly, and it has been retrofitted with frigate-class weapons." The table flares to life, and a five-foot Corpus ship appears above it, spinning slowly. Novis waves his hand, and it shrinks until we're looking at the starmap, watching the tiny red dot inch its way toward Jupiter. "That alone would be suspicious, but Cephalon Cidri has managed to access the ship's manifest. It is carrying almost exclusively neuroptics components."

    After half a second of blank stares— even Mar seems bemused— Novis adds, "Warframe parts. Materials that could be used to make Warframes, at least"

    That gets the reaction he looked like he was expecting: Seri gasps a little, Feros frowns deeply, Mar cocks an eyebrow. The Councilor holds up a hand. "We have no reason to believe the Corpus have achieved anything close to Warframe technology. But the four of you will be intercepting that freighter." The starmap disappears, and we're back to the ship again, this time with a spot glowing on its back. "You will enter here and dispatch any immediate resistance. From there, you will have two options, contingent on the level of security inside the ship." From the corner of my eye, I see Feros lean in. Of course.

    "Option one is eliminating all Corpus threats, disabling the reactor from inside, and assisting in loading the neuroptics into nearby Orbiters before extraction. This is the ideal," Novis says. Feros' eyes are gleaming; I can practically feel him itching to get in Novis' good graces. Mar notices too; I see the corner of her lips twitch and a white-hot spike of hatred drives itself through my chest, making me physically shudder. Don't look at her, don't think about her, don't, don't—

    "Option two assumes superior resistance. You will fight your way into the holding bay, destroy as much cargo as possible, and be hot-extracted via Liset. Those components are valuable, but so are Warframes. We prefer the latter intact over the former." There's a pause as the words sink in. Novis stares at each of us in turn. "You will be in constant contact with either Cephalon Cidri or myself during the operation. Once inside, you will communicate your course of action as soon as possible. The orbiters will need time to get in position." The holopanel goes dead, and he leans back, expression unreadable as ever. "Is your objective clear?"

    There's a chorus of "Yes Councilor", and Novis nods. "Go to deployment. If you have any alternate loadout requests, inform Cephalon Cidri as soon as possible." As I stand, filing in behind Seri, he stares straight at me, eyes boring into mine. "Good luck, Tenno. Let the Oro guide you."

    "Swift of body, keen of mind," I reply, along with everyone else. My voice is dull and unenthused, but if Novis hears it, he doesn't say anything. Another mark in his favor. At this rate, he'd be my favorite.

    The doors to the deployment room shut, quiet as always, and no one breaks the silence as we walk into the Operator Bay, taking our places by our pods. The lid of mine is smooth and pristine, and I can't help a brief twinge of annoyance. I'd expected it, of course. Cidri isn't the type to leave things unfinished— and by 'isn't the type to' I mean 'physically can't'. Fucking Cephalons.

    The pods open in sequence, one-two-three-four, and I settle into mine before the lid has finished rising. The harnesses click into place, cinching perfectly around my legs, arms, torso, and the lid lowers, glass going opaque until I'm wreathed in blackness. I lean back, rest my head against the fabric of the seat, and try to relax.

    "Engaging Somatic Link."

    Cidri's voice sounds from the darkness. My scalp tingles, and I squeeze the sides of the chair.
    "Link open." A pause. "Councilor Novis has assigned you the Trinity Warframe for this mission, Operator Trimma. Please begin Transference."

    Assigned. Even now, the word stings like a cut, fresh and bleeding. No one else got assigned a Warframe. I'd asked Seri before; she'd just looked bewildered— and nobody was about to tell Feros or Mar they had to pilot a certain frame. No, as always, it was only me. Trimma the cripple, Trimma the fuck-up, Trimma-who-needs-to-be-told-what-to-do...

    I press myself back into the pod as hard as I can and count my breaths. One, two, three. At least they'd kept me on the mission.

    "Please begin Transference."

    On the fourth breath, I reach inside my head, let my mind drift away, and start pulling out the heat locked inside it. The prickles on my neck flare, twist, turn to needles in my spine, like tiny molten fingers. The dark around me flares red-orange-gold, throwing jagged shaddows against the lid, and my chest tightens as I pull the fire further, until I'm rising, lifting out of my head, veins burning, skin screaming, flames behind my eyes and my whole body is white-hot-roiling-starfire—

    And then the world snaps, folding down to a single point, and I'm in the armory, attached to a storage anchor, staring at lines of dormant Warframes through Trinity's eyes.

    "Transference achieved. Diagnostics complete. Beginning squad uplink..." Cidri's voice fades, and I steel myself. Transference was awful, but I'd take it over what came next every time. Not that it's my choice to make.

    "Squad uplink achieved. Four-way connection established. Your squad composition is the following: Operator Feros, piloting frame 'Excalibur', link rating one point six. Operator Seri, piloting frame 'Mag', link rating two point one. Operator Mar, piloting frame 'Ash', link rating one point one."

    I feel something in my throat, a throbbing lump that burns like bile, but duller. I swallow, exhale, brace—

    "Operator Trimma, piloting frame 'Trinity', link rating four point two."

    There it is. Four point two. Less than a single stage below manual control. Below— what had the Councilor said?— 'inoperable'. That's me. Trimma the not-quite-inoperable.

    Nobody says anything, of course. Not for a few seconds. Seri's too friendly, Feros is too polite, and Mar— Mar just knows that jabs about my piloting don't really hurt anymore. The wound isn't fresh, isn't bleeding, so she's lost interest. From that angle, at least.

    "Testing." There's Feros, his voice soft but so clear he might as well be next to me. "Everyone clear?"

    The rest of us give our confirmations. There's a soft click as the anchor lock releases, and Trinity takes a few tenuous steps forward, glancing around for the others. There's Seri to my right, her Mag shimmering green and blue, helmet alive with flickering stars. It tilts toward me, like it's staring, and the delicate Warframe gives a little wave. I roll my eyes from inside the pod. "You can just say 'hello'."

    "I was!" comes the reply, chipper as ever. Mag walks past me, beckoning, and Trinity follows, movements slow and measured. A few seconds later, two other figures fall in step behind, flanking us. Trinity glances back, and I almost snort with laughter: Feros' Excalibur looks like it's made from a chunk of hallway, white-on-blue-on-brilliant-shining-gold. It's the least subtle thing I've ever seen, and it only looks worse compared to Mar: her Ash is simple and reserved, jet-black with occasional hints of smokey grey. It looks good. Of course it does. It's Mar.
    Great endless Oro, I fucking hate her.

    I haven't bothered to customize Trinity. I have no reason to. There's no connection, no attachment, no pride. It's not like the others are sentimental about their frames, of course— well, besides maybe Seri— but they're close enough, functional enough to care about how they're perceived. They aren't shuffled from mission to mission, Warframe to Warframe, assigned whatever the Council thinks will do the least damage. They have power. Agency. The only thing I want.

    Feros and Mar don't acknowledge me or Seri, following at an even pace on either side. There's a hollow hiss as the doors on the far side of the armory open, one pair for each of us. Trinity's vision lights up, guiding me to the vaguely Warframe-shaped hole behind them, set into the belly of an Outwatch Liset. Time to fly.

    I realize, too late, that I haven't asked Cidri about weapons. She hadn't brought it up. I wonder if I've been assigned those, too. It seemed likely— Trimma the rookie, Trimma the trainee, too inept to make her own decisions. Better give her something simple, so she doesn't hurt herself…
    "Cidri, what are my weapons?" Might as well.

    The response is near-instant, like the Cephalon's been waiting for it. "Your Liset storage compartment is currently carrying a Braton-class automatic rifle, a Lato-class handgun, and a Bo-class combat staff."

    I almost forget to mute my comms before I laugh, high-pitched and strangled. Training weapons. The first three any Tenno learns to use. That's all they want to risk. All I'm worth. Unless—
    "Put the Braton back. Give me— give me a Boar." I blurt the first gun that comes to mind, remembering the weight against my Warframe's arm, the way it bucked and hissed and spat a solid wall of blue-trailed bullets. My fingers curl a little, and I almost smile.

    "It is past the time for loadout changes, Operator Trimma," Cidri replies. Of course.

    "Would you give me one if it wasn't? If I'd asked earlier?"

    A pause. I count the seconds with Trinity's steps, closing in on the Liset. Feros and Mar have already loaded, despite starting off behind me.

    "From my current assessment of your emotional state, you would not receive any benefit from me answering that question."

    I want to tear your coils out and watch them melt to slag, I don't say. "What does that mean?" Not as satisfying, but…

    "Please do not be deliberately obtuse, Operator Trimma."

    I don't reply. Trinity turns, arms raised, and SLAMS her head into place on the Warframe mount, hard enough that my vision flickers and a dull ache begins to throb behind my neck. It feels better than anything I could've said.

    As the mounting turns, I see Mag staring at me. Then it locks, and I'm suspended in the solitary confines of the Liset, with nothing to look at but blackness. The world around me shifts, rises, and I hear the muted hiss-vmm-thud of the airlocks shutting. Trinity shifts a bit as the Liset coasts forward.

    "Prepare for Void Tear entry. Estimated relative time: twenty-five solar minutes." Cidri's voice cuts away, and there's a sound like a hundred shields warping, tearing, failing, a guttural all-consuming hum, and I grit my teeth and shut my eyes as I'm pulled-shoved-squeezed and Trinity is swallowed up by ravenous gold light—

    And then it's quiet, except for my panting breaths and the low purr of the Liset. "Void jump successful. We are on course for Jupiter," Cidri says, voice tinny and distorted. As it fades, I realize why it’s silent: my squad comms are still off.

    I keep them that way the whole ride to Jupiter.

    ***********

    "We have reached interception range. Prepare for Void Tear exit and hot-zone insertion." The announcement pierces the focused silence of the Void, and I start, making Trinity twitch against the mountings. Then the world rips itself apart again, in reverse this time, and I feel the G-force pulling Trinity against the back of the ship, making my stomach twist. There's a buzz in my ear; Cidri's turned my comms back on just in time to hear Feros' "Everyone ready?"

    Ready for this to be over, I don't say. "Mm."

    "We are inside Corpus sensor range. Anti-detection systems have been engaged. Six hundred meters and closing."

    Something in the Liset whirrs, and I feel the too-familiar heft of a Braton on Trinity's back. The Lato and the Bo appear a second later, already strapped into place. I fight the urge to fire a clip into the ceiling.

    "Three hundred meters. We have not been detected. Prepare for insertion."

    I ball my fists, and Trinity tenses against the harness. The Liset tilts around me, up-up-up, until I'm not sure which direction Trinity is facing—

    And then the mounting flips and I'm staring into space, the Corpus ship a fast-approaching lump of black against an endless glaring orange-marbled eye—

    "One hundred meters. Releasing mountings."

    The harness snaps free, Trinity pushes off, and I'm sailing through blackness, watching my shields flicker as they soak in the vaccuum. The Corpus ship looms, closer, closer, and I barely notice the Liset peel away behind me—

    "Fifty meters. Do not deviate from your course."

    Space is quiet. Not station-quiet, not Liset-quiet. Endless-boundless-crushing quiet, enough to make you choke, suffocate, drown in the nothingness—

    I count my breaths. One, two, three. They're gunshot-loud, deafening, but they cut the silence clean.

    "Here we go!" Seri pipes up, voice giddy. My radar flickers into focus: Seri and Feros on the left, Mar on the right, four blue dots streaking through a field of stars.

    I'm close enough to see the details of the ship now: the ridges of the plating, the lights dotting the hull. The bow is a massive smooth block of glistening-heatshield-black, shoving through space like a cleaver, and the aft section is much smaller, jutting away from its center like two perpendicular ships had crashed, melted, fused.

    "Oro, that's ugly," Seri murmurs, and I almost smile despite myself.

    "Twenty-five meters. Prepare for impact."

    Trinity twists mid-'air', arms out, legs locked, head tucked inward, and I try my hardest to bite down on the panic rushing up my throat. So close, now. Just watch, focus, breathe. One, two—

    I slam into the side of the Corpus ship.

    Trinity rebounds, flailing, and for a gut-tearing half-second-no-second-no-two-whole-fucking-seconds I'm doing nothing but drifting through deep space, watching the smooth black hull rush by—

    Trinity's hands light up, flaring gold, catching a groove in the plating and stopping me with a sudden wrenching jerk. I take a few seconds to recover, breaths heavy and gasping in my ears.
    "Trimma! Are you—"

    "Fine. I'm fine. I'm fine," I say softly— to Seri or myself, I'm not sure— and Trinity pulls closer to the ship, hugging it like a lost lover. "Couldn't find a handhold." The excuse hangs for silence-stretched seconds, and as it goes on and on and on I almost wish I hadn't grabbed the ship at all.

    "You recovered quickly." Novis' voice crackles in my ear. I stiffen; so does Trinity. I'd forgotten he was even involved. "That, at least, is good. We are pressed for time. A more lengthy mistake will cost us the Neuroptics or the mission. You will be more attentive."

    "Yes, Councilor." The words come out thin, drained, lifeless. "I will."

    "Operator Trimma is currently positioned fifty-seven meters from rest of the squad. There is an external access hatch twenty-one meters to her northwest, which leads to a series of service tunnels along this side of the ship. Those tunnels eventually rejoin the main corridor system at several points along the bridge and cargo bay. The remaining three Operators are approximately seven meters from an airlock that leads directly into the cargo bay."

    Jeopardizing the mission before I've even entered the objective. I wonder offhandedly if that's some kind of record.

    "So if Trimma stays quiet, she can sneak through the tunnels and meet—"

    "No." Mar's voice is soft, level, emotionless, and Seri goes silent the moment she speaks up. "We'll come to her."

    My stomach clenches. There it is. Mar doesn't want to help, I know that much. But if helping means spotlighting my failure…

    "Diverting squad attention to rendezvous with Operator Trimma will delay the mission by at least twenty solar minutes."

    "We can't afford that," Feros says. "Trimma—"

    "I'll go myself." Feros huffs at being cut off. Mar doesn't sound like she cares. "You can start securing the hallways. I'm faster alone. We'll waste less time."

    "Or I can find my way back. I'm armed. I have a Warframe. I know what to do." The words ring hollow even as they leave my mouth. Images flash by: Trinity facing down a Heavy Crewman, Braton rounds bouncing feebly off its shields as it brings its laser to bear…

    "You have a Trinity," Mar replies evenly. "Not a combat frame. And you don't know the layout of the ship."

    "Neither do you!" My comms crackle with feedback, and I realize I'm yelling. I don't care. With every word Mar says, I wish I could tear the hull in front of me apart a little more.
    "This is my third raid on this class of Corpus transport."

    Of course it fucking is. I open my mouth to reply, but Novis gets there first, voice deadly calm.
    "You will not bicker during a time-critical mission. Find a course of action and execute it."
    I want to spit something back, to refuse, to argue. I want it so badly I can feel it throbbing at my head, an unstoppable urge, a physical need —

    No. Focus. Things are bad enough. Don't need to look any worse. "…yes, Councilor," I mutter. "Mar's plan is fine." Another victory for her. I try not to think about it.

    "A rendezvous with Operator Mar will take approximately fourteen solar minutes. Operator Trimma, I have highlighted the path to the access hatch. Please begin moving towards it." A shining blue line traces itself across the Corpus ship, leading up and to the right. I give myself a sigh before Trinity starts to move, limbs stiff and mechanical as they pull-stick-pull their way up the side of the ship. It feels like I'm an insect in a tank, crawling its way up the glass. Know your enemy, your body, yourself. Cidri says in my head, the words echoing from whatever training session. Beauty comes not from power, but grace. And bitter-hot resentment comes from having neither.

    The rest of the climb is uneventful— as uneventful as scaling the outside of a space freighter can be. There's the access hatch, outlined in soft blue. I press Trinity's hand against it, and the glow flickers as Cidri does whatever Cephalon trick makes it open. "Overriding in three, two, one…"

    The hatch snaps open, and I'm yanked inside before it closes with a whistling burst of depressurized air. Trinity tumbles across the floor, unable to find footing, and it's a few seconds before I force her to move, stand, look around—

    Two Corpus crewmen, staggering to their feet, rifles already drawn, rising. My blood boils, freezes, turns to lead— no. No no no. Focus.

    Trinity draws the Braton— fast enough? Please Oro fast enough, yes, barely, the bullets sending the first one reeling as the second takes aim, but the Bo catches his helmet, materializing just as I force Trinity's arms for the upswing. He staggers, cursing in muffled Corpus as I hammer the staff home, one-two-three, and he's on the ground, not moving, but the other's rifle is out and one-two-three-four bright blue shots clip past Trinity's shoulder, scorching the hull. I sweep the Bo around, slam it into his legs, he stumbles, grunts, doesn't fall until my Braton spits the last few rounds into his chest. The other one twitches. Trinity kicks his helmet hard enough to snap it back forty-five degrees. He stops twitching.

    I breathe.

    "Uh. Two Crewmen down. The hatch is…" Trinity glances left, right. "The hatch is secure." How long had it taken? Five seconds? Ten? The blood's humming in my ears already, pulsing with my heartbeats like it's been that way for hours. It feels good. Something to focus on.

    "Alarms?" Mar's voice. My breath catches. Fuck.

    "No signs of detection. They were alone."

    Mar says something else. I don't hear it. Trinity slumps against the corridor wall as I exhale, long and slow. "Moving." Her again. Trinity kicks the dead Corpus against the corridor wall.

    "Stay alert, Operator Trimma."

    "Yeah." The Braton suddenly feels heavy, but I ready it anyway. Fourteen minutes. Fourteen minutes until I can actually start my job. Fourteen minutes of sitting, waiting for rescue like a lost baby Kubrow.

    My teeth clamp down on my tongue, hard enough to feel the hot-salty-tang of blood pushing through the skin. It hurts. Something to focus on.

    I can make it fourteen minutes.
     
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  3. Spiny

    Spiny Making the rounds.

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    III.

    Mar shows up eleven minutes later. I've got Trinity backed against a corner, Braton ready to cover both entrances, when the air flickers and then Ash is there, close enough to touch. I jerk in surprise, almost pull the trigger, and sigh. She's been flitting in and out of my radar for a while, bouncing from point to point, closer and closer. Something to do with 'refraction fields', Cidri had said. Whatever it was, it meant I hadn't been expecting her, and I get to watch Ash fold his arms impatiently as I push off the wall, double-checking my Braton.

    "Lead the way," I say, before Mar can tell me to follow. It's the little things.

    Ash turns, steps, sprints down the hallway, so fast he's almost around the corner before Trinity starts to move. I grit my teeth, push off the wall, the extra momentum letting me just barelycatch up— until Mar pushes off another wall and vanishes into the maze of fans and service plates. At least she's still on radar.

    We cover the way back at a breakneck pace. Ash weaves between the corridors, dances past fanblades, a silken wind. Trinity grabs corners to round them, shoulder-checks walls, a crashing rock. Mar says nothing. She doesn't need to. It speaks for itself.

    As we run, I hear snatches of chatter from Feros and Seri—mostly her, sometimes him. Red dots pop across my peripheral vision, appearing and disappearing faster than I can track. Gunfire echoes through the walls: Corpus lasers, Excalibur's Soma, Mag's Simulor. Getting close. Ash's dot stops, turns. I round another corner just he kicks the vent away, leaps out into the ship proper, and I hear a—I hear two Crewmen die. Three. Four. The only guns that fire are theirs.

    Trinity clears the broken vent, up and over, and I land in what looks like an engineering room. Ducts, chairs, consoles. Five dead Corpus scattered across the floor in oozing pools of red. Door. Closed. Ash. Gone.

    "Hey. I'm, uh… almost there. Moving now. How're you holding up?" I say. Trinity pulls out her Braton, walking towards the door.

    "Doing fine," Feros says.

    "Great! They barely scratched us." Seri's reply is peppered with Simulor shots, distant and warbling.

    I nod, accepting. They're the tools, after all. The doers. I'm insurance. The walking battery.

    "Mar?" Feros again. I stifle a groan. "Status?" A pause.

    "No damage."

    Trinity shoulders through the door and takes off at a run.

    The ship is open, sterile, straightforward. Black and blue and grey. I follow my radar through the halls, checking every entrance, every corner. I don't need to—Mar's obviously been through already. The only things left are corpses and the slagged-out husks of sentry drones.
    "Approximately 40% of the crew has been eliminated. Comms activity shows no sign of detection. Well done, Operators." Cidri says, sounding just the right amount of proud, the right amount of pleased. Don't pretend it was a group effort, I don't say. The blue dots are close, now. Another room or two.

    Trinity picks her way across another roomful of broken bodies and more-broken robots, keeps her Braton half-raised as the wide-mouted door slides open, catches an arc of searing laserfire across her shoulder, jerks away—

    "Fuck!" I hiss in pain, forcing a breath out through my lungs and Trinity's back against the wall. More shots flit past, one-two-three. The air shimmers and sizzles in their wake. How? 'No sign of detection,' Cidri had said. I lean around the door and blindfire, and a second later I'm rewarded with a screeching buzz. Oh. Sentries. Of course.

    "Robots," I half-yell, firing another burst as Trinity's shields recharge. My radar pings red: four dots, closing fast. Should've checked earlier. "Might be pinned."

    "On it!" Seri chirps. A blue dot peels off and starts zigzagging back towards me. "Mag's getting low on charge, though. Could you—"

    Oh. Right. The only reason I'm here.

    Before the question finishes, Trinity ducks around the corner, snaps a hand out—four birdlike drones turn in unison with a beep-hiss-screech, guns glowing— and something flows through her arm, forcing the nearest one to the ground with a ringing burst of hollow blue. I yank her back behind the doorframe just before the hail of laserfire, hear the pulses, one-two-three, feel the charge I've just expended flow back in like water.

    "Thanks!" My radar blips, friendly this time, and one of the drones warps-twists-tears itself in half, pieces bouncing across the floor. The next two have time for a single shot each before a Simulor orb shocks them into husks, bzzt-twitch-dead. One left. Trinity steps into the room and levels her Braton at the fallen drone, holding down the trigger until it bursts into blue. In the far doorway is Mag, patting her Simulor as it reloads with a hum. "Taken care of!" Seri says, her Warframe beckoning. Trinity gives a stiff nod. Emptying my rifle at the robot lying on the ground isn't really celebration-worthy. At least Seri can kill things.

    "Trimma, Seri. There's a roomful of Corpus to our north. Mar's already dealing with the outlying corridors, so the three of us should coordinate. Blitz them all at once." Feros' voice cuts into my thoughts, sharp and demanding. "I'll take point. Get over here."

    "Good plan," replies Seri. It is good—tactical, rational, and lacking any kind of involvement from Mar— but I'm not about to say that over comms.

    "Yeah. Moving." I force Trinity into a sprint as Mag spins a neat 180, following her through the door into another corridor of bodies. Well, this one's more like pieces of bodies. Seri's work is just as recognizable as Mar's, but that's where the similarities end: there's no clean cuts, no precision, no subtlety here. Corpus are slammed into walls, hanging from the ceiling, bits of broken metal scattered along the floor. It isn't brutal, really—I've seen brutal, there's a lot more blood— just… enthusiastic.

    Enthusiastic. There was Seri, in a word. I smirk a little as Trinity kicks aside a chunk of drone.

    Excalibur is waiting for us at the next junction, Nikana out, head held high. The hard-white freighter lamps reflect off his inner plating, making him shimmer and glow, so bright I see a hint of bloom on the edge of Trinity's vision. How had they not seen him, running around like an Oro-damned spotlight? I almost shake my head in disbelief, but manage to stop before Trinity does it too.

    "All right," Feros says. Excalibur steps up to the door. "I'll go in first, draw their fire. Seri follows up, keeps them busy. Trimma stays back and covers us. Clear?"

    "Got it!" Mag makes a fist, and the air around it warps and ripples.

    "Yeah." I say, flat and noncommital. Stay back and cover us. Like I can really do anything else.

    "On my mark. Three." Mag and Excalibur shift, tense, raise their guns. Trinity walks behind a stack of crates, and I do my best to make her look prepared.

    "Two." I tense too, let my muscles tighten. Here we go. I try not to let the fear gnaw at me. Just like the Simulacrum, minus my Warframe being shot and killed. Hopefully.

    "One." Sparks play along the doorframe as Excalibur jabs his hand into the console. Mag follows, a second later, and then it pops open, revealing a spacious room of robots and Corpus troops. They turn, shouting garbled words, and a hundred things seem to happen in slow motion, like the universe is skipping, the minutes measured in bullets, not seconds—

    Excalibur dashes forward, faster than a blink, and there's a ringing-singing-crash as his Exalted Blade forms in his hand, shining like the walls of Outwatch IV. It severs a Crewman's head, blood arcing upwards in a spray of gold-flecked red, and then the glowing Warframe sidesteps, twists to avoid a volley of lasers—and another Corpus follows, slumping forward on the ground, and then another, cut clean through by a twisting sword-slashed echo, slicing through the air—

    Mag leaps in next, finds a place on some scattered barrels, and four screeching drones are wrenched to the ground, slamming into the walls-floor-ceiling in so many battered pieces. A heavily-armored Crewman shouts, shoots, screams as he's lifted upwards, a rippling sphere of magnetism expanding around him and making nearby bullets arc and curve, drawn to his head and chest. He twitches and twists, then drops to the ground. I hear Seri's "Out of charge!" and respond automatically, mechanically, forcing a crewman to the ground as he's wreathed in blue—

    Excalibur's already across the room, carving through Corpus like they aren't there. His shields pulse and flicker, eating a few bullets, but he doesn't stop, and I hear the Crewman's screams turn tinny and distorted as they're reduced to shards of golden light. It's beautiful to watch, in a strange way. Like choreography. A dance.

    I swallow a lump of something hot and gnawing and try to focus.

    Trinity moves forward, her limbs awkward and ungainly compared to the polished grace of my squadmates. Be careful. Don't fuck up. She takes cover behind a steel crate, I flinch as a laser arcs past, trying to watch every part of the room at once.
    Seri gasps over comms. I don't see Mag, but I see the dot flicker red. "Trimma—!" Her voice is urgent, strained. Trinity leans out, pops a Crewman in the head, one-two-three shots before he drops, and before Seri can say anything else I breathe in…

    Trinity lifts her arm, coils a fist, slams it to the ground, and half her charge surges out into a gleaming beacon, spiraling upward, flaring out into a shockwave of protective energy. Seri's dot goes from red to blue, and her relieved "thanks!" fades into the background as a Corpus laser round hits me, bouncing of my shields and the faint traces of green still swirling. It barely hurts, barely feels like anything. I smile, faint and drawn, but it's there. That was something, at least.

    Time seems to stutter back to normal as the Corpus die, one by one. They go down in waves: sliced through by Excalibur, twisted and thrown by Mag—I even manage to get a few more with Trinity's Braton— they fall and scream and die, less every second, until we're standing in another room of blood and scrap.

    Excalibur sheathes his Blade, the golden glow fading to fluttering traces. "Another room down. Probably the biggest one so far. Mar?"

    It's a few seconds before she replies: "I'm fine. Outside the reactor." A pause. "Dropping comms."

    "What?" Feros and Seri, simultaneously. I snort in disbelief. "Why?" he asks, aiming for 'stern' but hitting 'whiny'. "What if—"

    "Tight security. I need to focus." Mar cuts him off. "Don't worry."

    "I will reactivate Operator Mar's communications if she is in need of assistance," Cidri chimes in, and I hear Feros sigh out his teeth.

    "Fine. Cidri, how close are we?"

    "*91% of Corpus personnel have been eliminated. The remainder are stationed in either the bridge or in the reactor. The ship will be in transmission range of Jupiter stations in eleven solar minutes."

    I stiffen, hear Seri inhale sharply. It was going to be knife-edge close, and of course, as always, it all hinged on Mar.

    "All right," Feros says, breaking the silence. "No time to waste. The ship's clear, more or less. We should hold the cargo bay." Mag and Trinity nod, and we take off through the blue-lit maze of metal. Trailing behind Excalibur, I don't feel quite as outclassed as I had with Mar, but every footstep, every pivot, every twist and jump is a reminder. We're fast, you're slow. We're graceful, you're not. We're Tenno, you're an imitator. Loud and clear, over and over, beating into my head as Feros and Seri clear a staircase effortlessly in a single rolling jump and Trinity lands heavily, stumbles again…

    I try not to think about it.

    In a few minutes, we're at the cargo bay, a massive room stacked floor-to-ceiling with metal shelving and filled with glossy black containers. The only sounds are our steps on the metal and the constant hum of the ship. It's still, almost eerie, the few guards that had been stationed already lying motionless. Throats cut, legs slashed. Mar's work.

    Trinity leans against one of the shelves and waits.

    We spend the next few minutes in not-quite-silence. Seri jokes, makes small talk, and Feros and I manage to actually coordinate for once and shoot her down. After the third time, Mag retreats, arms crossed, somehow looking pouty despite not having a face. I'm grateful for the quiet, but I can't help a smile. How she managed to make a Warframe display that much emotion, I'd never know. I force Trinity up from the shelving, walking after her—

    The lights go out, all at once. A low roar reverberates through the ship, making Seri yelp. It starts loud, deafening, then fades until I can hear my breaths inside my pod. One, two, three. I shiver.

    "Reactor down." My comms hiss, and Mar's voice returns, quiet and confident. "Moving ba—" Her voice catches, and there's a gasp, a grunt, then silence.

    Ash's dot flares red.

    "Mar!" Fero's voice is tight. "Mar, what's going on? Trinity, heal her!"

    I blink inside my pod, struggling to process. Mar had... had she? It doesn't seem possible, doesn't seem real. Time slows, oozing forward. I hear Feros shouting, Cidri's voice, force myself to move.

    Trinity coils a fist, lifts it up, and slams it down. Another beacon bursts from the floor, exploding outward through the ship as I feel my charge reserves go dry, and Ash's dot flashes, red-blue-red-blue-black.

    Seri gasps. "Oh, Oro…"

    "Operator Mar's Warframe is incapacitated and losing vital systems. If it is not revived within three solar minutes, I will forcibly disconnect her Somatic Link to prevent immediate brain death." Even now, Cidri's voice is calm, glassy-smooth. A timer appears in the bottom-right of Trinity's vision, ticking down, and I feel panic clawing at my stomach, pulling me away from the ship and everything else, panic mixed with a hot flare of guilt and vindication, looping around each other, choking me out until I can't move-listen-speak-think—

    I count my breaths. One, two, three. I can feel 'my' body again, move 'my' limbs. Awkward and graceless and slow, but I can. I need to. I do.

    "Move." Feros says, and Trinity runs.
     
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  4. alid610

    alid610 NEEERRRRD!!!!

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    Yay a warframe fic.

    Just gonna read it now but props for writing it
     
  5. Spiny

    Spiny Making the rounds.

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    Thank you!
     
  6. Spiny

    Spiny Making the rounds.

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    IV.
    The corridors pass by in skips and blurs, well-polished fragments. Stairway here, airduct there—the only constant is the timer, ticking down. Two minutes now, and still a while to go. It's going to be close. Too fucking close.

    We round a corner in succession, Feros-Seri-me, and Trinity almost slams into a massive, bulkhead-like door. Shut tight, but it's the only way through. Feros curses under his breath.

    "Security is tighter here," Cidri says, voice artificially clipped. "Manual override required." Even she sounds urgent.

    Excalibur reaches out a hand towards the door console—then jerks back, surprised, as Mag practically elbows him out of the way to do the same. "Let me," Seri murmurs, already deep in concentration. The holopanel flickers rapidly, streams of garbled text flashing past, and the door opens with a rumbling hiss of steam. I half-glance at the timer as Trinity sprints forward yet again. Two seconds. It had taken Seri more time to push her squadmate out of the way than it had to hack that door. If the training panels Cidri had made me try were any indication, I took twice that long on a good day.

    I force Trinity faster. Don't think about it. Just focus.

    "Nice work," Feros says, in grudging approval. Mag nods, ducking down to dodge a blast of supercooled air from an exposed vent. "You never told us—"

    "Never asked," Seri shoots back, her usual chirpiness blunted by anxiety. "Mar, don't worry, we're almost there!"

    No reply. One minute left. I try to push Trinity faster and actually manage to slow down as she almost trips into Mag.

    "You are approaching Operator Mar's last known position." A pause. The sudden screech of a broken door makes me start even as we push past it. "There is an unidentified biomechanical signature approximately three hundred meters away. Be careful."

    "Bio… " I can hear the worry in Seri's voice. "Do you mean—"

    "Further data still pending."

    She grunts her acknowledgement, and we slow, just enough for me to catch up behind Mag. Thirty seconds.

    The next corridor is long, wide, low-ceilinged, enough that Trinity can't see the other end. The emergency lights don't help, painting everything in an bloody glow and making shadows twist and writhe on the alloy-plated walls. Excalibur moves forward, hand on his sword, and for once I'm grateful that Trinity's last.

    We cover the corridor fast. Scared-fast. Trinity scans around while I half-focus on Ash's radar dot, trying to match it to a shadow, a shape. Fifteen seconds—

    There.

    Ash is slumped against the wall, unmoving, the red light throwing wraithlike shadows across his armor. Trinity tenses, sprints, covering the rest of the ground even as something swells in the pit of my stomach, roiling and bitter. Am I really about to—

    No. Don't think. Focus. Do.

    Excalibur and Mag fan out behind me, weapons up, postures low. Trinity leans over Ash, fingers splayed, and— for just a moment— I pause…

    Then I feel her tense—not me this time—as the crackling burst of green dances from her fingers, coiling around the other Warframe's body and throwing more jagged shadows along the wall.

    "Void core reconstitution thirty percent complete."

    I stifle a gasp, not at Cidri's voice but at what's below me. The rezlight's bright enough that Trinity can see the damage now, and it's… bad isn't a strong enough word. Ash's chest is ruptured-torn-shredded, deep rents carved straight through his armor and into the grey not-muscle, the shiny not-bone. One arm is twisted at an stomach-dropping angle, and the other is just gone,torn away a few inches below the shoulder. Trinity shudders— from me or stress from the rez, I don't know. Probably both.

    "Sixty-eight percent complete."

    The rents are closing now, weaving back together with a sinuous hum. I try not to look, watching the shadows on the wall instead. Rezzing's always put me on edge—the way Warframes self-repair reminds me of Infested. Too squirmy, too bulging, too... organic. It gives me shivers every time.

    "Eighty-nine per— Signature closing fast. Prepare."

    The rezlight flickers as my breath catches. I've practically grown up with Cidri, her too-smooth voice etched inside my brain, but I've never, ever heard her cut herself off.

    My radar blips—

    And a horrible warbling scream rushes through the corridor and I hear Seri gasp and there's a ringing in Trinity's— in my head, bashing out against it AGAIN-AGAIN-AGAIN like thousands of burning bells, forcing me down until the rezlight twists-flickers-almost-stops—

    "Shit!" Feros' voice jolts me back. I can feel the sweat on my face as Excalibur leaps in front of Trinity, Exalted Blade bursting to life. He brandishes it, washing the room in gold before something slams into him, so fast Trinity can't track it, and his dot flares red—

    "Core restored."

    Ash vaults to his feet with a whipcrack-hiss of static, half-stumbling as he tries to steady for his missing arm. "Back," Mar says, sounding irritated. The one-armed Warframe draws a dagger, glancing around, but I don't have time to relish her discomfort. A few steps away, Excalibur's pinned, writhing underneath another Excalibur?—no, the shape is different, too low-slung and beast-like, and the pieces of him are there but they're wrong, forced into odd places, strange angles, like a Warframe with broken arms and legs bent back and made to move again—

    "Trimma!" Trinity spins just as Mag catches Not-Excalibur with a point-blank blast of force, the same blast I've seen dent Crewmen into solid alloy walls, but the thing just hisses, only shoved away a couple meters. It settles back on its misshapen limbs, coiling them to pounce, and Feros barely rolls out of the way as its sharpened front legs slice through the floor with a rending screech, leaving sparking trails of molten metal glowing in their wake. Seri gasps. "We need to—"

    "Objective updated. Escape at all costs. Lisets inbound for the nearest access hatch." Trinity's vision flares, and a blue line snakes out behind her, heading back out the corridor. I turn to run and stumble back as Not-Excalibur leaps at Ash, forelimbs shimmering with heat, and he just barely dodges, so-close-too-close—

    "We can kill it." Mar's voice is cold. "Four to one."

    "Your objective is escape." Cidri replies, a ripple in her usual smoothness. Ash rolls, twists, leaps up and sticks the wall, his outline rippling black as three shuriken ping-ping-ping off Not-Excalibur's armor. It stumbles and screeches, legs slashing upward, but he's already gone in a puff of smoke.

    "It won't let us run." Ash blinks in, throws another volley, blinks out, and I wince as my comms crackle.

    "You will not jeopardize this operation any further." Novis' voice is seething, almost enough to scare me if I wasn't already full of more adrenaline than blood. Mar doesn't reply, but I see Ash's dot flicker back behind me, heading for the door.

    The thing turns to Trinity and then it's there, a breath-catching flare of pain exploding through her-my-our shoulder as its front legs cleave apart her armor. Trinity trips, stumbles, somehow doesn't fall, and I throw her towards the door, head down, running blindly on Cidri's trail of blue. Mar says something, then Seri, back-and-forth, needling— but I can barely hear them over the blood in my ears and the ringing in Trinity's.

    The line curves and so do I, lurching against the wall and throwing my Warframe's good arm out to catch it, pushing faster, blindly faster.

    Turn sprint trip-stumble-gasp-turn— was it really this big on the way in? I'm pushing Trinity's limits and already halfway over mine, and I feel a twinge through our link as I hop yet another prefab staircase, the Transference going fuzzy, quivering, frayed—

    But I still don't stop, running on raw animal fear, faster than I've ever been, even as shadows prick the corner of Trinity's vision— Excalibur or Mag or Ash or the Thing come to tackle me and rip me apart, I don't know, don't care. The blue line is what matters now. Faster. Focus. Faster—

    Trinity almost runs into the Liset mounting, and I do an awkward twist to get her arms and legs where they should be, staring out at some kind of maintenance room. I see my squadmates round the door, one-two-three, and feel a sudden nauseous-giddy thrill of satisfaction— I'd been faster!—before the Thing rounds the corner just in time to catch another point-blank push from Mag. It doesn't stumble, barely stops, but it's enough, and the other three leap forward as my mounting flips around, locking Trinity in the silky blackness of the hold.

    The Liset pulls away, so fast I feel the mounting shake, and I hear one more fragment of the burning-ringing-scream, enough to make me grit my teeth—

    And then everything twists, and world rips apart and turns to gold.




    The trip back home passes in a stretched-out blur of looping thoughts. Every time I push a mistake out of my mind, another rises to up, shoving each other down for a place in my head. The failed approach, the slow, shame-filled climb up the ship, following behind Mar, always steps behind, never keeping up… and even when those fade, I'm left with the Thing, the not-Excalibur, the screeching mass of sharpened pain bolting after Trinity, legs sparking against the floor. What was it? Some Corpus project? A reject prototype? A mutant? I swallow, shuddering. Oh, Oro… was there an operator somewhere, sitting behind that thing, seeing through its eyes as it screeched and cut and killed?
    I try not to think about it.

    "Prepare for Void Tear exit and docking with Outwatch IV."

    Cidri's void-distorted voice makes me start, enough that Trinity kicks the inside of the mounting. Thank Oro. I'm not sure how long we've been in transit—time never works right in the Void, anyway— but I know I can't take much more of being alone in my head. I'd almost considered turning on comms a few times, but listening to Seri chatter and Mar snipe at me would have been even worse than listening to me berate myself. Not by much, but…

    The mounting bursts into stark gold light, washing over Trinity like a hungry wave. I force her to relax—force me to relax. I'm so tense it feels like a jolt from the Liset will snap me in half.

    Soon the light fades, and I feel the Liset moving again, belly tilting upwards as it locks into place, chnk-chnk-cnk. The mounting shudders, rotates, unlocks, and it takes a few seconds before Trinity starts responding again. She walks unsteadily into the armory and I see the three blue dots follow up behind me, walking ahead—

    Trinity stops.

    Excalibur's chest is shredded, curling strips of armor hanging from where the thing must've sliced across his chest. I can see the melting, the burn marks. Mag's helmet is cracked, flickering, and she's half-walking half-limping, leaning on the gold-plated Warframe for support. Somehow, Ash looks the best out of the three of them, despite the twisted hole where his left arm should've been. Because I'd saved him. Because I'd saved him and then ran instead of helping my squad, keeping them alive, helping them fight like a real Tenno, like someone who can—
    I count my breaths. One, two, three. It wasn't my fault. Cidri had said 'escape.' I had escaped. They had escaped. It was fine.
    If I keep saying it, maybe I'll believe it.

    I force Trinity forward and follow Cidri's directions to an anchor, my movements practiced, mechanical. Another squad passes by—Rhino, Mag, Nova, Loki—and I half-look away, like my shame is somehow reflected in Trinity's helmet. The anchor rises up with a hum, and I push her back into it, restraints locking in place as she's lifted slightly off the ground. With Trinity's head locked forward, I see Seri's Mag gives a little wave to her doppelganger, who pauses for a moment, turns, waves back. My comms are off, but I can hear her giggle in my head anyway.

    The other three walk past, none of them sparing Trinity a glance. I watch them go until they're out of her field of vision, forcing myself to relax. They're just tired. They don't hate you. You did your job. Everything's fine.

    If I keep saying it…

    "Preparing to disengage Somatic Link." Cidri's voice is a welcome distraction. I nod, forgetting Trinity's head is restrained, and feel the heat inside my head flare and spark. "Please revoke Transference."

    Getting out of a Warframe is nothing like getting into one. Instead of a lightning-crackle scream, it's just a breath, an exhale, a sigh of relief. I shiver as my skin tingles, twin stars blooming behind my eyelids, red-orange-gold, and feel the rush of heat going out, not up. When my vision clears, everything's familiar: the pod, the darkened glass, the generators, the echo of my breaths. For a few seconds, I shut my eyes, focus on nothing but nothing. Then the lid lifts away and my harness pops and I open them, pushing myself out into the soft light and hard edges of the Operator Bay. I hear the others, catch them in the corner of my eye, but I don't stop, don't look, just walk.

    What would I say? 'Sorry for running and leaving you to die?'

    "Operators, please head to the deployment room for debriefing."

    I bite back a curse. Of course. No rest yet, not before I sat around a table with the three other people forced to rely on me and listened to all the ways I'd failed.

    My legs feel heavy as I trudge towards deployment, but I walk fast anyway, in front of the others, and pray to Oro it'll be over quickly. Right now, I just want to sleep, to strap myself into the soothing blue of the biocleanser and pretend the universe doesn't exist for a cycle or two.

    I sigh, glaring at the perfect-shining-grey of the floor, and walk a little faster.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2016
  7. Spiny

    Spiny Making the rounds.

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    V.
    "…lacking coordination…"

    "…cannot afford another loss…"

    "…infighting, competition, bickering…"

    "…you will focus on the objective, and nothing else…"

    "…operation was an utter failure."

    An utter failure.

    Novis' words hit me in waves, but I'm so caught up in my own thoughts only the sharpest ones get through. He sounds angry, I know that much, that kind of seething tarry anger that sits and waits and bubbles up and burns. Feros is nodding, eyes downcast, Seri looks scared, and Mar, Mar is sitting rigid, eyes dark enough to be yawning holes in her face. Every so often, she glares at me; every so often, I make sure I'm looking away. She's angry too, but where Novis' is roiling hot hers is breath-catch cold, quiet and sharp. She'd be getting back at me, I knew. Always did.
    I try not to think about it.

    At long last—minutes or hours, I'm not sure—the debriefing ends. Cidri keeps Seri and I for a while longer, peppering her with questions about the Simulor's performance, possible improvements to the prototype, other things that I tune out. Then she leaves, and it's my turn. Cidri lectures me with the same Tenno quotes I've heard so many times before, chopped up and rearranged, as Novis stares down his nose at me. I stare out somewhere past him, eyes not-quite-downcast.

    "Discipline… "

    I know.

    "Find yourself and project that self through…"

    You think I don't try?

    "Strive to excel against your peers…"

    You think I don't get it?

    "…performance does not improve, we will be forced to…"

    I know, I know, I fucking know—

    Wait.

    I look up, almost staring at the still-silent Novis before flicking my eyes towards the safer option of the dark screen. "Say that again?" I keep my voice flat, as neutral as I can.

    "If your operation performance does not improve, we will be forced to resort to drastic measures to ensure the security of Outwatch IV and the protection of the Origin System."

    An open threat. That's new. I almost smile. "Understood." Novis' eyes glitter as I stare dead into them, flecks of gold playing around the edges. I don't blink, and neither does he, until I finally push myself to my feet and turn to leave.

    "You would do well not to test us," Novis says to my back. I don't turn around. "Don't forget who you are sworn to serve."

    Like I ever could, with how much you lord it over me, I don't say. "I won't."

    The door shuts behind me, whispery-smooth, and I walk back through the hall, shunting the last hour out of my head. My biocleanser pod was waiting, a nice 12 hours of oblivion. Just a couple hundred steps—real ones, not the unsteady half-stumbling advance of my Warframe—and I'll be free.

    I weave through the slow-pumping veins of ivory and gold, dodging Council overseers and other Operators' eyes, and in a few minutes I'm back at the quarters. I sigh in relief as I make it inside, eyes soaking in the soft smooth gray, washing away the outside shine…

    Mar is there, waiting for me.

    She's leaning up against the wall near my door, glinting graphite eyes flat-but-sharp, all at once. As I move, they blink, focus, zero in like twin scopes. Target locked. My neck prickles.

    Her body doesn't move, her face doesn't change, but none of it needs to—she knows, I know, she knows I know she knows, it's the same fucking dance we've done so many times before. Time to play my part.

    I stalk towards my door, shoulders high, posture like I'm cut from steel. She's leaning up between my and Seri's door, close enough where I'd have to shoulder past her to get in. Not that that's happening. I get closer—six meters, three, one— and she doesn't budge, gaze never straying from my face. I take a step towards the threshold, another, three—

    One hand cobra-snaps around my throat as the other grabs my shoulder, shoving me back against the wall. I gasp, wince, suck in barely half a breath around Mar's piercing grip—how was she so fucking strong?—and kick weakly, aiming a few at her chest until her knee bars mine to the wall, digging in beneath my suit enough to bruise. She stays there for a moment, eyes set in a black-hole-deadlock stare, boring through mine into the wall behind me, and then she twists-pulls-shoves and I'm thrown away, slamming my hip as I land heavily on the floor. I stay there, not bothering to get back up. She isn't about to leave.

    "Get up." Her voice is frostbite-cold, all the emotion clipped away, but somehow it still seems angry. "Get up and apologize."

    Apologize?

    I know my part. I know where this is supposed to go, what I'm supposed to do, how to minimize the pain, wash it from my mind. I've done it before, so many times—I know, and in that moment I don't care. Mar's words are flint on steel, striking fire, that familiar snapping gnashing sparkburst fury. I look up at her and glare.

    "For what?" I don't move, except to prop myself up on one arm. "For you fucking up?" Now I'm standing, fists clenched, blood hot in my face,neck, heart. Mar doesn't seem to notice. Her eyes haven't left mine.

    "You ruined our insertion. You didn't know your Warframe or your weapons. You put your had down and ran the second you could, and your dead weight made us fail. You aren't an Operator, you're an entitled little girl who wants to play with guns."

    My jaw tightens. She's cutting deep, drawing blood everywhere at once. It's humming, pulsing, ringing in my ears—

    "I bet you wish you had a gun now. You'd kill me. Or a Warframe to use, so you could tear me up and burn the pieces. That's all you think about. You want to kill everyone here and burn down the station, because then you wouldn't have anyone to point out how useless you are. You can't control your anger, or yourself, or your Warframes. You don't even want to try. You're worse than an animal. Those get trained."

    The fire flares.

    I push off towards Mar, feet hitting one-two-three, fists balled, swinging up—

    Something hits my knee and throws a spike of pain through my leg and I gasp, trip, stumble, and then the world skews sideways and stars flash behind my eyes and my head slams against the floor, hard. Fuck. Fuck.

    I gasp-pant-blink, staring at the smooth blurry shapes above me. There's a deep, throbbing ache that runs all the way down to the root of my skull.

    "Get up," Mar says. I don't move. Her shape detaches from the wall, looming over me, and there's another spike of pain as her foot digs in just below my kneecap. It hurts, but everything hurts, so I don't feel it as much as I should. She slides it further, pushing the little nub of bone somewhere it absolutely shouldn't be—Oro that's painful— I take a ragged and unsteady breath and let my palms hit metal, lifting me to all fours. Things are clearer, now, enough that I can see Mar's face, impassive as ever. She takes a little step back and motions for me to stand, like it's that easy, and it takes a few seconds but I manage it. I'm panting now, fists clenched, forcing back the stupid fucking tears pricking behind my eyes.

    She steps forward, cool and graceful, and I don't even flinch as one of those pale hands smacks the side of my face, enough to jerk my neck back and leave a fat red mark. Mar hits me again, once, twice, and finally, with a shove to the solar plexus, I'm leaning shakily against the wall as she moves away. Dismissed.

    "They'll put you down soon," she says softly, walking away. I choke down another swell of tears, staring at the floor, and stay there for a while. My heart beats in my ears, thump-thump-thump, keeping time with the low throb of my head, hips, shoulder—it'd be faster to pick out the places that don't ache. They'd heal, of course; a half-hour in the biocleanser would be enough. Mar isn't stupid; she knows lasting damage is enough to force the Council's hand. But this? This is just pain. Something to process, catalogue, overcome. That's what they'd tell me, if I went to them—Cidri, Novis, anyone. That's what they had told me. Another thing to shove out of my head, like I didn't have enough.

    The quarters door glides open, and I duck inside my room, sinking down to the floor. The last thing I want is more stares, frowns, questions. Just need some time. Let the hurt leech out, soaking into the grey. Focus. Breathe.

    I fold my legs beneath me, scooting to the rough center of my room, and let my chest rise like a wave, rolling and steady.

    An unclear mind is a lock on your potential. Meditation is the key.

    For a Real Tenno, maybe. I'd never seen the point, despite the endless hours of wall-staring Cidri had put me through. But I don't want the comforting oblivion of the pod just yet. No, I want—for once— to think. Maybe this will help.
    My eyes flicker closed. Why? Always the same question.

    Why me? Mar had never been friendly—the thought itself is alien, bizarre— where the other Operators got ice, I got venom. Even Seri, bubbly and saccharine, had never gotten more than a couple biting words. From the moment we'd run our first mission, years ago—Mar hadn't even seen methen, just my Warframe—she'd been out for blood, frigid and relentless. It had started small: soft, needling whispers, knowing glances, 'volunteer' sparring pairs that ended with me flat on the dojo floor, her knee pressing on my neck. I'd been stupid, then. More stupid than I was now. I'd pushed and yelled and fought—like an animal, Mar's voice hisses in my head. A twisting knot of rage coils through my stomach, and I zero in on it, ripping-smashing-shredding it to pieces until there's nothing left. Be numb. Be calm. Just breathe.

    I don't fight now, not really. Not the way I had, with every wound open, bleeding, painting my feelings across the fucking wall. The embers are there, burning and choking, but I don't let them flare. Easier that way. Better that way. Just don't think about it.

    I take another long, slow breath. This is why meditation doesn't work—every time, I slip into another fiery spiral of my own self-doubt and failure. Not something I like doing too often.

    But at least I'm calmer now, more flexible, instead of rooted stiff and oxium-brittle. Everything still hurts. I pull myself back to my feet, using my desk as leverage, and half-limp towards the biocleanser pod. It opens, and I fall back against the padding, lying limp and watch the world outside go from a square to a rectangle to a glittering sliver. Then the sliver fades away, the gel rushes in, and Everything is Nothing.


    When I wake up, the world is glowing, fading slowly from deep-space black to dull gray to soft white. I lay back in the void, adjusting to moving my limbs again, and world splits in half as the biogel drains away with a sloshing hiss. Back to the land of the living, too soon as always.

    No. Wait. I step out of the pod, shaking chunks of gel off my suit, and check the holopanel. Four hours, forty-seven minutes elapsed.

    Not much can interrupt a BC pod once it's begun stasis. I try to remember the list: reactor failure (lights on), active hull breach (no alarms), imminent boarding attempt (still no alarms), or—

    "Operator Trimma, you are needed in Research Chamber 31-Sinai. You have two minutes to acknowledge—"

    Right.

    "What the fuck does Research want?" I mumble, brushing the rest of the gel off and stretching out my limbs.

    "A new Warframe prototype has entered the field testing stage. As part of this testing, all Operators must attempt to engage a Somatic Link with said prototype."

    My stomach sinks, lead-block-heavy. "Requesting an exemption."

    "This is not an optional test."

    I want to take you apart and crush each piece to silicon and sparks.

    "Sure." I nod mechanically, walking out into the hallway's unflinching shine. "Right."
     
  8. Jsyrin

    Jsyrin Registered Loser

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    Oh this is interesting. Definitely watching this. There aren't enough Warframe fics out there.