Go read Box: Detach instead!
I stepped through the warp gate directly linked to outside of the war room, letting the familiar sensation of rushing wind cover me, signifying my instantaneous travel from the surface of Earth back to the Lyosa, likely hovering in orbit somewhere close to the sun. Again, I was not privy to that kind of information, since there was no need for me to ever know.
The switch from a sunny earth day to the dim yellow glow of the warship took me a few seconds to adapt to, but is was less disorienting than if the Raixiens were to try it. I doubt either of them had ever warped before, though it was their people that first developed the technology. Though, perhaps they would surprise me just like they had so many times before. I had not expected them both to make a decision so soon after what they had went through with us, but it was a pleasant surprise in the end.
Two Losac soldiers clad in full crystal armour stood silently to the sides of the warp gate, unarmed and uncaring as ever. I paid the lifeless soldiers no mind as I searched around the warp room for the Aerilosac responsible for them. If there were Losac soldiers, then an Aerilosac must be around to control them. I spotted a lone man sitting behind a console, and he rose up to salute me with a finger over his right eye.
"Where is the Commander?" I said in Losarien. I had not understood why Leki and Lyla laughed at my pronunciation, because clearly, this Aerilosac did not find it funny. In fact, he seemed so afraid that he barely was able to speak at all.
"The Commander is currently in the war room. Shall I guide you to them?"
I held up a hand and walked past the soldier and outside of the warp room. "There is no need. I know my way."
Vigilant and astray gazes followed me as I meandered through the halls of the Lyosa, feeling the entirety of the crystal-crafted ship pressing onto my body. Every piece of segmented metal that made up the warship was, in some way, infused with the crystals, and thought it was faint enough that I could not grab a solid hold on it, it came off as oppressing to any Aerilosac on the tracker end of the spectrum, like Lyla. The walls illuminated yellow faintly, so the Lyosa needed no external light source. The crystals themselves were enough.
It was strangely peaceful as I walked towards the war room where Larius usually resides in. I could recall soldiers marching up and down the wide corridors as a child, always heading off to somewhere important, never resting in their duty to keep the crystal warship intact. As I passed by the final gate, the hundreds of crystal growth gardens showed themselves behind thick one-way windows. Tens of dozens of Aerilosac were patrolling the rows of crystals, tending for them with utmost graciousness. Those Aerilosacs were part of the Agricultural Division on the Lyosa, and they were the best even among the five warships.
From the looks of it, they were working more feverishly than ever before. Why were they cultivating such large batches of crystals?
There was no need for this much if Larius planned to conquer Earth.
I was about to enter the war room when the walls opened up on my left, and I grimaced when twenty young Aerilosacs fiddling with crystal shards ran out. The golden haired children all jumped as one with widened eyes and came running at me with their crystals in hand. Many of them I recognized, having mentored several of them on crystal techniques and forms, but it was still difficult trying to muster a smile for them.
"You are back! And your guard is here, too" A girl in the back of the gathering crowd, one I guessed was around eight to nine years of age, shouted and pointed at someone behind me with their crystals. The children - and I - craned my head to behind me to see Lyla standing there surreptitiously, and she waved at the children merrily.
Immediately, many of the younger ones disbanded from the main group and charged at my bodyguard, jumping on her with crystals and essentially grounding them to dust with overwhelming excitement and playfulness. They started chanting in Losarien, an inside joke between my First Officer and the children that I was not in on, so I shook my head and pressed my hand on the door to the war room again.
I felt a light tap on my shoulders, and turned around to see two of my former students, Lena and Leya, grinning proudly and holding their obelisk shards up high for me to see. They were twins, very unnatural among the Aerilosac, and ones that I was once entrusted with to teach. They seemed to have passed their tier tests, and excelled at it too, judging by the impossibly bright shade of glow in their obelisk crystals.
"We did it! We surpassed everyone else!" They tip toed on their feet and smiled even wider, which made me blink. Their synchronized movements reminded me of... something. Or someone. I could not remember, so I simply feigned surprise on my face and took both of their obelisks to gently twist them in my hands. They were extremely well cut, the surface almost too glassy and smooth. Lena and Leya were both prodigies, and it scared me a little bit. The new generations of Aerilosacs were frighteningly powerful.
"Well done. However, you still cannot take me on." I teased them, and the girls jumped up and down, tugging on my shirt and pointed to the right wall where a new hole had now opened up. "No, it is impossible. No one can defeat me!" I boasted loudly and pompously, which made them even grumpier and determined to duel me.
"We can take you! If we combined our ages together, we will be twenty, which is four more than your age!" Lena cried.
"That is some terrible mathematics. I am severely disappointed at the both of you. Show me your teacher and I will duel him instead," The girls giggled, and I patted their shoulders soothingly. "I will come back to visit you later."
"You said that the last time, and you left for three months!" Leya complained, and that stopped me from trying to get into the war room. I looked at the twins and dipped my head down, placing a single finger over my right eye.
"I will return within the next hour. This oath I swear."
"He promised. He will come back." Lena whispered into her sister's ears, but I pretended to be focused on something else and let her have the victory for now. Leya nodded happily, and they both bowed. "See you!"
"See you," I said, glancing back at Lyla playing with the children with their crystals in the back. I did not know why she was here, but I was going to leave her outside the war room regardless.
I threw the doors aside and slipped in quickly so that the children did not see the interior of the room. Cold air billowed out from above, and I was once again drawn in by the crude crystal layout of the otherwise would-be regal design of the war room. Etched and carved out obelisks protruded out from every section of the wall and roof, acting like the chandeliers on Earth, presenting the room like a millennium year-old cave. Apart from the stalagmite-like crystals, there was a single rectangular table in the middle of the room, while an oversized chair sat at the far back.
Standing at the opposite end of the table was Larius, and by his side were two other Aerilosacs, Commanding Officers of the Medical Division on the Lyosa. I frowned unpleasantly at the two of them, before moving forward to address the Commander directly.
"Losar. You have returned. How is it going in your Division?" Larius' calm yet patronizing tone stirred something up within me, but as usual, I reminded myself that if all went well, his power and position would be mine soon.
"It is going well, Commander. The insurgents have all been neutralized, and the reconstruction efforts are going nicely."
Then, why have you come here? My inspector would have arrived at due
I studied Larius from the bottom up. He never took off that dark-golden armour in front of us any of us. Something about his hardened and cruel face made me want to recoil away, but I held my stare all the same. He was one of those Aerilosac that believed that strength was all that mattered, and it was that belief that was going to drag the entire warship through another conquest soon enough.
Each conquest against a worthy civilization held massive casualties to the already fleeting Aerilosac population, not to mention the amount of crystals dispensed for the battles. With the crystals used in each conquest alone, the mothership and the Lyosa could be powered for another decade or two. Still, the High Council allowed him to remain Commander due to his inevitable victories, plus the technology and combat experience that we gained from the battles. Not once has Larius lost, and that was apparently all that mattered to the High Council. None of the other warships does what he does, which egged at me constantly. There was no need to fight at all, then.
On top of that, his control over every bit of the Lyosa had always rubbed off of me.
"What is your question, Losar? You may speak freely."
There he goes. Acting like a benign and caring leader.
"My first question has something to do with you, Commander," I started, carefully choosing my words in case I let something slip.
"Why was it that you decided to test me with an insurgency?"
I resisted the temptation to laugh when the smile was wiped off Larius' face.
He remained staring at me while I kept on my deadpan face.
Then, he shrugged and stood up to walk back up to his throne.
"It was not just you, Losar. All the other Divisions had been tested," he said as he trudged up the steps, and I took a seat on one of the chairs that the Commanding Officers were sitting on before I arrived. "But I am curious. How did you figure that out?"
Larius chuckled. "You did notice."
"I had never installed that camera in my warehouse. You were monitoring the insurgents and me while pretending not to know anything. Were you curious about what would happen?"
That was something that had bugged me even after we exchanged stories with the Raixiens. While the security footage had all been accidentally destroyed after I blew up the warehouse, I remembered that the thief was only caught on camera due to the 'false' official blueprint of the warehouse. The thief, whether he was an insurgent or an outsider, did not know the existence of the camera because he simply was not informed. And if he was not informed, then it could not have been a camera that I had installed. Simply put, no one realized that there was an additional Larius had placed until three days ago.
And then there was the matter of Larius so easily sending Aerilosacs down to clean the battle up. They came down at an abnormally fast pace, and that was because they were ready for it.
"I was. Were you able to suppress the insurgency because of the camera I placed?"
"Yes, it was largely due to that. In that case, why an insurgency? You could have recalled me to run through my tests again."
Larius waved a hand as he leaned back on his throne lazily. "Tests are useless, you and I both know that. How you react and how you deal with the insurgency is what I really cared about. And you passed it. Well done."
"Was it at least difficult convincing the older ones to work against me?"
"Convince them? There is no need to convince them when I have power. Would you have kindly asked your subordinates to jump on a task even though you hold the power?" Larius laughed, placing his other arm on the armrest of his throne.
Of course I would. That is called being a leader.
"For my second question, how are the other Divisions doing? Had they fared as well as I did?"
This was important as well. It would be terrible if the Commanding Officers had all fallen other than me.
"Lidner was the only one that came out of it unscathed. Laeer also survived, but he lost a great deal of his laboratory and his Compound, just like you. However, Leyar's Division is still in heavy conflict within themselves. I would advise no one to approach the Hong Kong Division. Let her resolve the issue herself."
I grimaced. The Division I had least expected to succumb to the insurgency was Leyar's Hong Kong Division. Her Division had the highest number of Aerilosacs and the largest compound amongst all of us, but they were still fighting? I was under the impression that Leyar had an extremely tight grip over her subordinates. I had also been counting on her to back me up with the most support, so this revelation was news to me. At least Laeer and Lidner were still holding up.
Larius examined my face. "Is it disappointment I am sensing?"
"Of course not, Commander. I did not think Leyar would be thwarted. I must ask, though, what conflicts did you brew in the other Divisions?"
"For you, it was the arrangement of the theft. For the Peru Division, it was a test of brute force. For the Iceland Division, a test of environmental hazards alongside the insurgency. For the Hong Kong Division, a test of structural integrity."
"What does that mean?"
Larius smirked. "It does not concern you. Now, do you have any more questions, or will you take your leave?"
I did have more questions. Was I going to get replacements for the Aerilosacs that were insurgents? Were the other Divisions going to get the same treatment?
But I could not bring myself to ask. That would be too pushy of me, and I cannot have him suspect that something was up. I needed to stay low until the Chicago Divisions recovers from the battle, recruit the other Commanding Officers without Larius knowing, and then I can get a little more direct with him.
I shook my head.
"No. That is all."
"Good. Return to your Division and focus on the reconstruction for now, and continue your previous duty of overseeing the transports in and out of America."
"You should take that bandage off your arm. I doubt it is still wounded."
Ah, right. I had forgotten about all that. As the doors slammed shut behind me, I held up my right arm and began to peel away at the bandages. They had itched for so long, but I had not paid much mind to it until Larius mentioned it. The holes in the side were still open, and I could hear the children laughing and talking over on my left, so I made my way over to them while I tore out the rest of the bloody bandage.
My forehead pulsed the moment I set my eyes onto my crystal-pierced arm.
The wound I had suffered from last night had fully healed, but the itch was not from that. There, lining the entirety of my forearm, was a single word etched into my skin with long crystal shards.
I groaned and lost my balance immediately, stumbling into an Aerilosac passing by. He looked at me strangely before he recognized me, and he kept on hurriedly walking while I covered both of my eyes with my hands. There was an unimaginable throb on where the crystals were pierced onto my flesh, though I had never felt it before while it was under the bandage. I tried to not focus on the words itself, but that only brought on a larger pressure that was building up in my ears.
In a fit of frustration, I dug my nails into my arm and ripped out the crystal shards, then flung them at the walls of the hallway with full force. I heard the shards crash and explode as it likely did more damage that I had intended it to, but I could not care any less about that. The pain was infinitely more distracting, and memories began flooding into my head after another ten seconds of me stumbling forward in a daze.
No, this was all wrong.
There were three Raixiens.
Rivin and Samantha, the siblings, and one more. Roya. That was his name.
It was like waking up from a dream, knowing how silly you were and how warped your reality was. At the time, back when we were exchanging our stories, I felt it, too. I had dismissed it because Rivin offered up another story.
But that was not what happened. I remember it now. Everything that happened. The thief was the other Raixien, not some random insurgent. Rivin only managed to survive because he was not acting alone. He had a twin with him.
Why did I forget?
And why did Rivin try to convince us all otherwise?
Did he remember as well?
"Yo, you finally remembered. Took you long enough," a voice said from behind me, and I whirled around to see who was there.
There was no one.
"Do you believe me now? I'm real, and I'm here," it whispered from behind once again. This time, I did not turn around. Ghosts cannot be seen.
"What do you want? Who are you?" I demanded, slapping my own face with my bleeding arm.
"Me? No, you got it all wrong. It's not about me." The voice switched from my left ear to my right in an instant, and chills instantly shot up my spine. "It's about you, and what you want."
"What... I want?"
"Yes. And oh, I'd love to talk more about this with you, but you should take a break first. Go on a date."
"Uh, Commanding Officer?" A hand lightly tapped at my shoulders, so I jumped and flung a blade of crystals at the new arrival. Lyla jolted and ducked to avoid getting chopped in half, then tackled me from below. I held my ground and resisted her attempted takedown, so she continued to wrap her hands around my waist to try to bring me to the floor. While she was heaving and grunting at my impossible weight, I took in a few deep breaths to calm myself down. I would have shot myself if I had killed Lyla just now.
I pried her hands off of my waist and pulled her back up to eye level. We made eye contact for quite some time, but I was a master of the staring competition. No one can defeat me, and true enough, Lyla started to squirm and blush at my intense gaze.
"Why were you talking to yourself?" she squeaked as she tried to get away from my eyes. I held her still in her place, which I realized could have been seen as a bit too forceful, but I needed to know something.
"First Officer Lyla."
"There was a pursuit of the thief after you encountered him at the church, no?"
"Yeah, of course- Wait, no." Lyla blinked. "What do you mean? We didn't pursue anyone. Samantha just ran from me after she realized who I was."
Something strange is happening again.
I had questions now, and they were not about any Aerilosac.
What were the Raixiens hiding from us?
"Nope. Just one of them," the voice cackled.
"If I tell you, it'll be no fun. I'll also be breaking an oath, so... yeah. But don't worry about that! Have fun for now!"
How could I have fun when you are here? Who are you?
The voice did not respond after that. Lyla studied me from every conceivable angle while I stood there like a dummy, feeling the pain starting to recede from my head. I looked down at my arm to see that the wounds had closed itself already with absolutely no scars, and I flinched. Then, I looked at the wall where I had flung the shards out of vexation.
There was no damage to the wall either. It was like I had imagined the whole ordeal?
But I knew it was not something of my own mind. It did happen.
Talk to me.
"Hey, Losar?" Lyla suddenly spoke in a softer tone, leaving behind the exuberant persona that I had grown to expect. This was the sign that I had to pay attention to her, no matter what.
"What is it?"
"Are we going to go on a..." She fidgeted with her hands behind her back and kept her eyes far away from my face. Underneath the pale yellow glow of the Lyosa, her perfect shoulder level length hair seemed to glimmer. It looked amusing, to say the least. She never used to shine like this before. Perhaps her casual Earth clothes also had something to do with it? It was then that I realized I was wearing casual clothes, perfect for a certain event. "On a calendar?"
I snorted. "A calendar? What on Earth are you talking about, First Officer? We do not have the time to be worrying about such nonsensical things."
Her lips twisted into a sad little corner, and that was when I also realized that I might have made the wrong move here.
"Oh, but I thought..." she trailed off and did not get to finish her sentence. As much as I wanted to laugh, she started to back away and head back to the children. "No, it was part of the trick to deceive the insurgents, I get it now. I'm sorry for troubling you."
She then broke out into a full sprint, but I took forward in a dash, using the crystals in my pockets to push me at full strength. I might have also been a little nervous myself, since I flew out of control with my crystals and appeared in front of Lyla before tripping over my own legs. I cursed as I fell over onto the floor, slid like an ice-skater for several seconds, before coming to a stop a few meters away from her.
Well. That was certainly too much strength for a simple boost in speed. I really wanted to try out the suits now.
Without getting up from the floor, I propped my head up and gave Lyla an awkward half-smile, half-leer. Lyla started to freak and tremble, which made me wonder if I made the worst decision in all my life with that face.
Then, she laughed.
And I did, too.
I pushed myself off the floor, and with the fastest speed I could possibly muster up without slipping, I slid in front of my First Officer and offered her my apologies with a bow of my head. She slapped my face unexpectedly, and though it did not hurt a single bit, I allowed myself to move along with the momentum and pretend as if it did something. I deserved it for trying to play it off like it was nothing. I already knew of the strain between her and her father, and so did every last Aerilosac in this universe, including the High Council. Toying with her feelings like that was unsavoury of me, and I knew it. I felt like a horrible person.
I spoke before she could. I could at least make up for it by asking again first.
"Do you want to go on a date with me?"
The words felt wrong coming out of my mouth.
There was still things we needed to do.
But like the voice said...
I could do with a break. Just a short one.
Lyla gulped before nodding her head timidly. Just as she did when I first asked her yesterday morning.
It was kind of adorable, and I had to fight the urge to smile again. It would be unruly and creepy, now would it?
"Then I have the perfect plan for a date."