The operation was going well so far. The intel was good. They’d slipped past most of the guards, eliminating the few lone grunts running patrols or sneaking off to indulge in some vice. Mercs were so predictable sometimes. Even a few of the old tricks were enough to distract guards at critical points. There had been a couple close calls, but nothing outside standard mission parameters. It was smooth sailing for the most part. Par for the course.
“Stay frosty, Coonhounds. First objective is just ahead.”
The four-man unit made their way to the Comms room, sweeping the hallway as they went. Right on schedule, they arrived, two of them flanking the door, Specialist Redmond working his magic on the electronic lock. The light turned green and the unit leader gave a silent countdown from three, the four of them rushing inside with a single gesture. What awaited them inside stopped them in their tracks.
“Yeah, take it, bitch! You love it, don’t you?”
“Please, stop! I beg you!”
To their credit, Team Coonhounds processed the odd scene before them in record time.
“Look out!” The ape holding down the white vixen’s wrists was the first to die, reaching for his firearm before hot plasma went through his skull and boiled his brain. The croc took a moment longer, due to his natural armor and bestial rage from having his fun interrupted. He died with his pants down before he could fire off. Once the mercs were dead, Redmond locked the door before getting to work on the base’s mainframe, ignoring the dead, half-dressed reptile near his feet.
“Shit. Star Wolf never ceases to surprise with their depravity.” Captain Barnes sneered down at the two corpses, Field Medic Schaefer tending to their victim with a blanket and soothing words. “Figures they’d pull a hostage from the group for a little nookie.”
“Maybe not, sir.” Schaefer gestured the Captain over, lifting the vixen’s chin up with care to expose the collar around her neck. “That’s a Class Five Slave Collar. They only put these on those auctioned off to the highest bidders. Best security money can buy for your investment.” The medic shook his head, letting go as she jerked her muzzle away, the vixen shrinking further inside the blanket. She still smelled of sex and the foul stench of reptile pheromones. “For all we know, she’s the personal slave of Wolf himself.”
“No shit? But if that’s the case, why is she here?”
“We’re talking about Wolf O’Donnel here, sir. Maybe he thinks it’s funny to let the rank and file use her to blow off steam. Or she’s on loan. Who can say?” Schaefer laid a hand on her shoulder, despite her flinch, giving a heavy sigh. “Her family must have been in a lot of debt. I shudder to think what she’s been through.”
“Great. Love it when the op gets complicated.” Captain Barnes looked at the woman, at Redmond doing his job, and then down to the floor. His eyes closed for a moment before he nodded his head. “All right. Redmond, Schaefer, stay put. Keep her safe and get us the intel we need.” He gestured to the final member of the unit. “Mitchell and I will continue to the primary objective. The sooner we free the hostages, the sooner we can extract and let the Pitbulls blow this damn place to hell.” The others nodded. Barnes clapped Redmond on the shoulder before he and Mitchell left, the door locking behind them as they made their way further into the enemy stronghold. They maintained radio silence, trusting Redmond to watch their backs and keep their path clear.
It was quiet in the Comms room. The only sounds were Redmond working his magic on the base computer, Schaefer muttering to himself as he inspected his patient, and the unpleasant noises that fresh corpses tended to make. Time stretched on as the mission continued. So did the silence. On and on it stretched, filled with the tension of being surrounded by the enemy, with only a thin film of ignorance protecting the team from being crushed. A void almost as hard and unforgiving as space.
Since nature abhors a vacuum, someone had to fill it.
“So, Franz. Class Five Slave Collar, huh? Where’d you learn something like that?”
“My family’s from Macbeth.” Franz growled out the last word, his eyes glancing at the hated object around the woman’s pretty neck. “Corneria may be the dominant power in Lylat, but even they have their limits. Macbeth would never dare oppose them outright, but the greedy bastards at the top aren’t above using the bureaucracy to their advantage.” He sighed and almost brushed the back of his hand against her trembling cheek. “Things are improving, but they’re slow. Far too slow for people like our young friend here.”
“Damn. Guess she’ll get a chance at a better life once we’re gone from here.”
“She’ll have a better chance at it, that’s for sure. Corneria can play the red tape game too, and slaves tend to disappear before their masters can arrive to claim them. Or before the paperwork clears.”
“If she belongs to Wolf, probably best she vanishes before he shows up, if he dares. Still, a high-roller slave auction? Can’t imagine what you’d have to do to end up in one of those.”
“Probably some medical trauma. My guess is she worked up in the northern mines. Her species makes her an ideal worker for the cold. Or more so than others.” Franz muttered soothing words as he did his best to earn the trust of the young woman, careful not to touch her despite his instincts screaming at him. “Same sad story over and over. They get injured, either in an accident or in a wild beast attack. The family, living on scraps, can’t afford the treatment they need. So, someone comes and makes them an offer.” The vixen had stopped trembling, her breathing slower and much more steady. He guessed he must have come close to the truth. “Either they refuse and the victim dies or lives for years as a cripple. Or they accept a huge debt. A debt that can only be paid back over several lifetimes.”
“Or by selling their own flesh and blood into slavery.”
“More or less. These days, it’s more common to only sell those who are of legal age. Even on Macbeth, selling kids tends to be frowned upon.” Franz looked over to his compatriot, the hacker sparing him a glance. “Even Andross, the stinking ape, wouldn’t let them do it. Not unless he personally approved. Something about wasting precious resources.”
“Sure sounds like him. Remember that lab we found on Zoness near the end of the war?” Redmond fought the bile rising in his throat. “I still get nightmares from that shit. Nothing deserves to be experimented on like that.”
“No argument here. Least Wolf isn’t some mad scientist. Wait, hold on,” Franz said, leaning behind his patient and pulling the blanket down half an inch below her collar. “Looks like she has some cybernetic implants in her back.”
“Really? Holy fuck, man! No wonder she’s wearing a Class Five, huh? Bet Wolf was one of the few people who could even afford her starting price.” Redmond laughed and shook his head. “What, is it fused into her spine or something? What the hell happened to her?” He went to turn around before frowning, leaning close to look at something on the screen. “What the hell? Franz, you seeing this?” A grunt was the only reply he got. “There’s a program running in the background. Small, but it’s using a lot of CPU cycles.” He leaned in closer, a bad feeling growing in the pit of his stomach. “What do you suppose ‘Operation Parlor’ is all about?”
The screen flickered for a moment. Then a giant, pixelated spider with the head of Leon Powalski, Wolf’s right-hand psychopath, filled the screen, demonic laughter booming from the speakers. Redmond’s eyes went wide.
Then he heard the body hit the floor. He jumped up and whirled around, pulling his weapon on the one enemy in the room, the one they never suspected for a moment. The one that had killed Franz, her moves so swift and silent the poor medic never saw it coming. The one that was now standing before him now, stark naked except for her slave collar, a small needle held in her delicate black hand.
The vixen who’d been playing them from the beginning.
“You! You… bitch!” She cocked her head at him. “You killed Franz! You weren’t getting raped, were you? Just an act! You knew we were coming!”
“You? No.” Her words were empty of emotion, her face betraying the barest hint of…
“Who did you expect? Star Fox?” Redmond’s hands trembled as he held her at gunpoint. She looked unconcerned for someone facing the snarling face of a man who had every reason to kill her. “You’re too small time for… for…” He blinked, his vision going blurry. His hands trembled more and more until his blaster dropped from them. “What… what did you… do…”
“Master will be so disappointed.” She walked up to the trembling canine, pushing him over with a finger, staring down as he began to twitch and foam at the mouth. “He was looking forward to torturing his rival and killing his team. And instead, he gets you.” She shook her head. “Corneria’s finest, skilled in infiltration, extraction and assassination. A prize, but not the one he wanted.” She sighed and stepped over him, entering the password for Leon’s virus to regain control of the base systems. She saw the other two were almost to the final part of the trap, a large room whose blueprints had been changed to look like a series of holding cells. In truth, it was spare cargo space with several gun emplacements and field-ready fortifications set up for the perfect ambush. Dozens of grunts waited in the dark, ready to mow down the intruders. They might get a chance to surrender, if they didn’t do anything stupid. But it didn’t matter either way. Even if Master would prefer survivors to interrogate, he’d be disappointed that her plan hadn’t managed to snare his real prize.
“Who… who are you?” Redmond coughed, barely able to breathe as his lungs started to shut down.
“Hmm?” Her head tilted again. She sat in the rolling chair and turned to face him, exposing herself with not a hint of shame. “Still alive? Maybe I’ll give you the antidote and ask Master if I can keep you.” She pulled out another needle and tested it for air. She showed no hurry to save his life. “If not, I’m sure we’ll find some use for you. Leon does miss his private lab on Zoness.”
Ignoring him, she turned back to the screen, operating the controls with one hand. Team Pitbull had her concerned, but a quick check proved that the new suicide drones Leon had given her worked like a charm. Only one intruder had managed to plant a charge before being killed, and the computer had already dispatched a bomb squad while Team Coonhound’s hacker had been distracted by the virtual machine hidden within the mainframe. She gave a soft moan as she imagined how Master would reward her for this. And punish her. She bit her lip as the last two intruders neared their destination, the anticipation keeping her on edge. Right on cue, she opened the doors for them, a dim hologram luring them inside. Then the doors closed and it disappeared, giving them only a moment of confusion and alarm before the lights came up. She frowned. The grunts hadn’t opened fire. From the camera’s audio, she heard the one in charge order them to surrender. She didn’t have time to feel disappointed though. The intruders didn’t respond at first, keeping stock still as they began to realize just how fucked they were. The tension built with each passing second. She leaned in, eager for the climax, begging at least one of them to try and be a hero.
She got what she wanted.
Captain Barnes almost got two words out before Mitchell started shooting. He managed to kill a handful or two of grunts, the sheer firepower of his own homemade arsenal punching holes in the fortifications. The Captain had just enough time to dive flat to the floor as plasma and hot metal flew over him, dumping their energy into anything unlucky enough to stand in their way. It was brief, violent, and intense. Giving a cry of victory, the vixen shuddered in her seat, watching as Mitchell was torn apart before, like her, he slumped down, finally spent.
“Iron and Silver, that was hot!” She panted, trying to catch her breath, watching as the grunts captured Barnes, marching him off to the real holding cells. A slight smile broke out on her lips, wagging her tail in satisfaction. “Mmm. I love it when they go down hard.” After a brief moment, she cleared her throat and sat up straight, smoothing down her fur before regarding the intruder, her demeanor going still and stony once more. “Now. Should I keep you or let you die?” She looked down at the man at her feet, who had somehow managed to keep living despite the toxin ravaging his nerves. It was impressive. Not many had survived this long. Leon would want her notes. She considered him for a moment, then nodded. She knelt down and gave him the antidote. At first, he didn’t react. Then he gasped and retched, curling up on his side as his lungs started working again. His limbs still shook though, and he had a severe twitch.
“You will have permanent nerve damage. There is no known treatment. Master will not waste resources on a cripple, so don’t expect much more than a rope to drag you around. Easier to keep you like this.” She cocked her head as he muttered something under his breath. “I’m sorry?” She leaned closer, perking her small ears.
“You didn’t… answer… my question…” She cocked her head the other way. Then the merest ghost of understanding passed over her face, her mouth opening just enough for him to see.
“You wish to know who I am?” He gave an attempt at a nod. “I see. Very well.” She sat back into the chair, her demeanor changed, looking like she should have been wearing a pant suit in a meeting of corporate executives.
“I am nothing and I am everything. My past life is gone. I signed it away, along with my name, so that I could live. Or at least, that’s one reason I did it.” She gestured to Schaefer’s corpse. “Your friend got that much right. The other was because of Master. Because of Wolf.” The vixen began to blush, her breathing picking up in speed. “They say he too lived on Macbeth. That he worked in the mines with his family, living on ore and scraps. Yet he escaped. And while not everyone sees him as a hero, I did.” She shrugged. “Call it a school girl crush. Bad Boy Syndrome. I might have cared once, but I no longer do. The fact is any life where you control your destiny, even if you become a villain, is better than working the mines on Macbeth. Leagues better than the mines I worked in, ever since I was big enough to haul a minecart.” She reached over her shoulder. “Then it happened. One of the frost hunters, a ferocious beast that rules the frozen wastes, attacked the mine I was in. Despite the tight security, they’re smart enough to find the weak points, and the rest is left to their sheer strength and endurance. It takes a lot to kill even a small one. This one wasn’t.” She turned the chair, then exposed part of her back to him. Despite his hatred, Redmond gasped. Three large diagonal scars ran across her back from right to left. They intersected an artificial spine augmentation, no doubt the only reason she could still walk. “It killed my parents first. First my Dad, yelling at Mom to get me out of there. It didn’t even slow down. Mom was next, pushing me out of the way just before it tore into her. The gunfire was so loud, I could barely hear her last scream.” Her finger traced idly over the tip of the highest scar. “Despite my fear and grief, I got up and started to run away. That was a mistake. It ignored the guards and made a beeline for me. Fleeing prey. By sheer luck, I tripped just as it swiped at me. I felt searing, hot pain lance through my back before it went numb. My memory fails me after that. I don’t even know if I blacked out, only that I awoke in the hospital.”
“And… easy choice… right?”
“There was no choice.” She turned to face him again. “Any chance I had at choosing my own destiny was dead. As dead as my parents. Even if some good-hearted soul had paid my bills in full, I would have just ended up back in the mines. Many people do if they have no family and refuse to be a slave.” A smile grazed her lips. “But I saw no point in returning to a life that was already over. As I saw it, I died in those mines. I even convinced them to alter the records and destroy all the pictures they had of me. Cheap, by their standards, and a small difficulty.” She smirked. “Not compared to my demand to sell me direct to Star Wolf. Even they were afraid of him, and Corneria would have come down hard if they’d tried. It took some convincing, but I agreed to their auction in the end. They said they’d try to send word to him, but couldn’t guarantee anything. In truth, I don’t think they tried at all.
“But he showed up anyway.”
She shivered and closed her eyes, licking her lips.
“You have to understand. I don’t let my mask slip often. While at the auction, I was as cold and unmoving as you saw me today. Even when up on stage, when my heart began to quicken at the prospect of him being there, I showed nothing. I didn’t even look out over the crowd, staring at nothing. I knew he’d be impossible to miss amongst the sea of rich snobs with their trophy wives and concubines.” Her eyes left Redmond, staring up as her face began to take on a look of rapture. “And I was right. It wasn’t even my turn when he barged in, kicking the doors so hard one of them flew off and injured several bystanders. He sauntered in like he owned the place.” Her eyes took on a glossy sheen as she cried tears of joy at the memory. “He was there! Wolf O’Donnel! He was there for me! And no one could stop him. This time, it was him making the offer, and they were the ones who couldn’t refuse. He would take what he wanted. It was by his grace alone that he paid them anything.” She took a moment to compose herself before looking back down at her captive audience. “He even paid more than the starting bid. No one dared to outbid him, of course, but he kept bumping it up, keeping his eyes on me, watching my face light up as the price went higher and higher. They finally got him to stop. In the end, he paid my debt twice over. It was expensive, yes, and some questioned his purchase. But I didn’t. It was not my place. I was only happy that he chose me. And I vowed to be worth his price, down to the last decimal.”
“Why? Why would you… live with that… monster?”
“You still don’t understand.” She crossed her legs and folded her hands in her lap. “It’s simple. My destiny was destroyed. Gone. I could no longer choose for myself. So, if my destiny was to be chained to another’s,” she said, giving a slight smile, “why not to the destiny of one who made his own?”
“That’s crazy. He… he doesn’t really care… about you.”
“That doesn’t matter. None of it matters. All that matters now is pleasing Master and gaining his approval.” She gestured with her needle. “As it turns out, even pleasing him beyond the bedroom turns me on. Fucking, killing, stealing, kidnapping, flying, whatever. So long as Master approves of what I do, then I am content. And when I complete a mission to his satisfaction,” she said, taking a moment to stifle a moan and rub her legs together, “I know he will reward me. Take me as his own. Like the animal he is. Like the bitch I am.”
“You’re… crazy! Insane!”
“Doesn’t matter. This is my life now. A ghost, a cypher, a zombie. A being directed by a will not my own. I am nothing, for my old life is ash and dust. I am everything, for that is what I will do to please my Master.”
She got up off the chair and knelt next to him. Redmond tried to inch away from her, his trembling no longer just from nerve damage. She leaned over him, staring down into his face, her eyes filled with calm madness.
“You ask who I am? I am nothing. I am everything. I am Star Wolf’s secret weapon that no one knows about. I am the one who will tear Star Fox apart and rape their leader in front of ours if he asks it of me. I will give Master what he wants even if it destroys me.”
She leaned closer, her breath tickling his whiskers, ignoring the stench of urine coming off of him. Then she said the last words that he would ever hear from her.
“I am Blank. But don’t bother memorizing it.” She stood up as large fans cycled the air in the room, cleaning it of the neurotoxin that had incapacitated Redmond. Not a moment later, the door opened, a squad of grunts on the other side. Blank smiled down at their captive. “You won’t live long enough to tell anyone.”