When Aeryn came to, her transport pod was adrift in space. The control display was dim, but not dark, and the taste of the air informed her it was still being recycled. That meant there was still enough energy for basic life support. It was hard not to wonder how long this condition would last, but it became infinitely easier the split-micron she noticed another vessel on her chart, one that definitely wasn't Moya.
There was not enough time to send a pulse beacon home before the strange vessel disabled all her systems and started reeling her in. All the while, a message flashed over her chart in luminescent red letters. The translator microbes rendered it as, YOUR WORLD SHALL BE MINE.
Oh, yotz. Not this again.
A squad of six arrived to retrieve her. Despite the likelihood of her being starved, dehydrated or injured, whoever was running this ship had no intention of giving her the benefit of the doubt. Aeryn almost felt a sliver of grudging respect, or would have, if she hadn't been shackled and surrounded by armed guards. They wore no helmets, so she could see that they looked like Nebari males, but with curious-looking horns protruding from their hair. Though the exterior of their ship was painted red, the internal corridors were featureless and silvery white.
There was little else for Aeryn to observe during the march to the throne room. It could not be called anything else. If there were controls, maps, or other navigational necessities, she could not see or recognize them. A huge, throne-like seat dominated the room, and the ceiling was impractically high. This throne was occupied by what seemed to be the female of the species, though of course one could never be certain. Covered in yellow metal rings, she was otherwise uniformed quite like her foot soldiers.
"Greetings, alien, from Her Imperious Condescension, ultimate ruler of Alternia and all that surrounds it, conqueror of galaxies, and Empress of a thousand sweeps!" The announcer of her titles stepped back and took his place beside the throne.
Her Imperious Condescention rose from the throne and regarded her with impassive yellow eyes. "What manner of being are you, and what is your home planet?"
The cuffs precluded Aeryn from crossing her arms. "You first."
The yellow eyes narrowed. She gestured at the herald at her elbow and said, "I am Empress of trollkind, from the planet Alternia. Your world shall soon be mine."
"What do you mean by that?" said the mighty Empress, obviously scandalized.
"Look," said Aeryn with a smile, "it's not your fault. Your lines are perfect, I've just heard them all before. I'm sure if you'd gone anywhere else in the galaxy, they'd be terrified, but we've just gotten out of a huge, bloody, interplanetary war. I doubt anyone in this sector will be impressed by your theatrics. I'm certainly not."
A large yellow fork-like apparatus materialized in the Empress' hand, and she leveled it at Aeryn's face. Despite its ludicrous shape, the weapon's three prongs were quite sharp.
"Identify your species and your planet of origin at once, alien," snarled the Empress. "Cooperate, and you may survive the devastation that is sure to come. Refuse, and I shall cull you, and extract the information from another."
Aeryn looked her flat in the eye. "I've survived worse."
The soldier holding her left arm coughed, and Aeryn nudged him with her elbow as far she she could.
"I used to be like you, you know," she said.
He wouldn't stop coughing, and in a moment he was doubled over, his hands on his knees.
"Captain," said the Empress irritably, leaning her culling fork on the floor by her side, "dispose of this inferior, please. I have told you how I feel about lowbloods in my throne room."
"At once, Her Imperious Condescension," said a woman standing by the door. She snapped her fingers and barked something in a language that the microbes couldn't decode. Two of the other soldiers grabbed the third under the arms and half-marched, half-dragged him out.
"See?" said Aeryn, gesturing at the leaving soldiers with her cuffed hands. "Half of your boarding party just left because one of them has a cold. Not very impressive for a conquering fleet, you know what I mean?"
The Empress blinked. "Are you quite mad?"
"Possibly," said Aeryn. "Why?"
She shook her head and turned again to the officer in the blue-marked uniform. "Captain, fetch me your top interrogator. Let us see if the people of this sector are amenable to psychic probing. And place this one in the brig."
Aeryn couldn't suppress her good cheer while the three remaining soldiers marched her out of the throne room. Perhaps she ought to have been more concerned about the psychic interrogation the Empress had promised, but she was finding it hard to feel moved to fear.
The half-squad stopped in what seemed to be a featureless corridor like any other. Two of them kept a firm grip on her arms, and the third fiddled with a bunch of keys. A seam appeared in the wall, which turned into a crack, which turned into an open door. The key-holder was pointing at the cavity of a cell when his blank expression slipped at the same time as the pressure on her right arm. In a moment there were two soldiers left, staring at the slumped corpse of their peer.
They looked at her as though she was somehow responsible. Naturally, she took the opportunity to kick them both in the face and run down the walkway as far as her legs could carry her. She didn't stop to check or wonder if they were following, or try to navigate the indistinguishable halls. If there was one thing she had learned in her time with Moya, it was run first, strategize later.
She was alive now, and almost free. A door would present itself, or else she would kick one out of the wall. Business as usual.
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