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Zenith Omega
Contrapasso: Side Story
Thu Jun 4, 2009 8:15pm
174.18.19.35

Contrapasso

Molting


Kievan Revolution, 21XX

Kiev was a nightmare of thunderous sound and brief flashing lights. The snowy field of Tutyaska Point had long been churned to mud that oozed red beneath armored boots. Buster fire and mortar shells screeched through the permanently overcast sky and everywhere men and reploids screamed.

Zenith adjusted her hood against a shower of mud and bloody bits as a mortar shell exploded down the trench-line from her amidst the 302nd Royalists. Glancing over at the smoking hole she grinned. It hadn't been her and it hadn't been the Ravens. That was what mattered.

“What're you so happy about lass? Next round's sure to have our name on it.” Charlie Witt muttered, rolling his god-awful cigar to the other side of his mouth. Usually Zenith would have responded with a scathing retort but not now. She felt too alive. Adrenaline was coursing through her body and she was surrounded by the best of the best on one side with an enemy she could hate on the other. Of course she was being paid to kill them but it helped that she had a personal reason on top of that. She would never forget how she had found Kit that crisp winter morning. The way her blood stained the snow a dark crimson. The tears frozen to her eyes. Oh yes, she thought, gritting her teeth, the Organization To Restore Equal Power, OTREP, had given the Ravens ample reason to fight them tooth and nail. No one hurt one of their own and lived to tell about it.

A sudden squelching noise heralded the arrival of Antigo, dressed as always in his dusky black armor, signature curve-bladed beamsaber sheathed just over his right shoulder in easy reach. “We'll go over the top with the next charge.” He announced. Zenith marveled at how cool his voice was. He never seemed to get mad or off balance. It was what she admired about him. What she hoped to learn from him. “Zenith, I want you to stealth out and hit them first. Don't get yourself in too deep. We'll be right behind you.” She nodded and loosened her kodachi in their sheaths.

Before Antigo could give further instruction a horn blared at the far left side and others quickly joined it. Leaping to her feet Zenith tore over the edge of the trench and activated her cloak and speed adapter at the same time; rushing across No Man's Land. Leaping across bodies and craters she was nearly the first to dive into the enemy trench dropping her cloak just as her blades licked out across two stunned reploids' throats.

When it was over she couldn't remember anything. Just a long stream of faces disappearing in explosions of blood and the sharp sting of near misses. The sudden loss of adrenaline hit her hard and Zenith drunkenly lurched away from the trench, now a mass grave, in a daze. She stumbled and fell to her knees in the bloody mud voiding her stomach. Crawling through her own vomit she continued on looking for somewhere clean. Somewhere that didn't smell like blood and death.

Antigo found her a half hour later shoved against the trunk of a tree, arms wrapped around her knees staring across the battlefield with empty eyes. She looked up at him for only a second then turned her eyes back to the victorious Royalist force watching as a reploid kicked a body over and pumped three shots into its chest screaming obscenities as he did.

“You did good.” Antigo whispered, crouching beside her. She instantly leaned in against him and loathed herself for it.

“So much...” She mumbled. “So much death.” He wrapped his arms around her and she turned her face against his blood-spattered chest plate as the first sob tore itself from her throat.

***

The barrack was the first decent place the Ravens had been billeted in for weeks. They still held the personal belongings of the dead OTREP soldiers but at least they were dry and clean. Working showers too. Zenith had been the first in line for those and taken a luxurious ten minute shower combing her fingers through her hair, picking out blood clots and wincing as soap slid into the shallow cuts on her arms and thighs. When she regretfully stepped out the next in line instantly shoved past her and into the still-on jet of hot water. No one was in any condition to admire another's naked form.

Dressing herself quickly Zenith headed for the mess. It was only after she had her tray and sat down that she realized the sight of the food made her nauseous. Shoving it away in disgust she exited the mess hall and simply wandered through the barracks. A hand caught her by the elbow and she turned, anger blazing and fading as fast as it had appeared at the sight of her commander's face. Antigo gently led her back to the mess hall and her untouched tray of food. “Eat. There's no telling when we'll have another hot meal.”

“I can't.”

“Sure you can.” Zenith's eyes narrowed dangerously but she grudgingly sat down in front of the tray and began poking at it. To her own surprise she was soon attacking what the cook claimed was beef stew. Antigo smiled. “See?”

***

It was late. She probably should have been asleep but instead she stood at the outer edge of a circle of Royalist soldiers. She watched in silent disdain as they cheered the two men circling each other in the center of ring of bodies. Each was bleeding profusely and one had a broken nose, the other didn't seem to be seeing very well from his left eye and yet both continued, their fists raised.

A sudden feint from broke-nose ended the fight. As his opponent lunged broke-nose leaned around the blow and delivered a stunning right hook to his face followed swiftly with an uppercut that sent him flying backwards to slam against the asphalt. He struggled to rise then slumped back, unconscious. Cheers and groans erupted from the crowd as broke-nose flung his bloody fists in the air and let out a victory howl that was more animal than man.

A massive cyborg stepped into the center of the ring. Artificial light gleamed from his prosthetics and a hush instantly fell over the crowd of soldiers. Looking around himself the cyborg sneered. “None of you have the guts to face me?” He bellowed in Russian. He paused when his eyes fell on Zenith. “You're one of the mercenaries yes? Come to see how real soldiers fight?” Hesitant snickers passed through the circle of soldiers. Those that had seen her in the trenches earlier did not laugh.

Zenith languidly brushed her red bangs back from her eyes. “If this is how you fight it's no wonder you had to hire mercenaries to win this war for you.” The cyborg's face turned a bright red. Spittle flew from his mouth as he demanded Zenith meet him in the ring.

She was more than happy to oblige.

Side by side it seemed no contest. The cyborg towered over Zenith by at least two feet and against his ruddy flesh her synthetic skin seemed pale and sickly. The betting started immediately and the cyborg sneered at her. Both could hear the bookie give odds favoring him immensely. She calmly snagged an elastic band from the pocket of her trousers and pulled her hair back in a loose ponytail then rolled her shoulders and flexed her hands.

“Worried you'll break a nail?” The cyborg growled, mockingly clenched and unclenched his robotic hands just as Zenith had. She simply grinned and he snarled wordlessly at her lack of fear.

When all the bets were taken a slim soldier stepped between the two. “Keep it relatively clean you two and Boris? Remember. We're going to need every soldier on the front lines tomorrow. Don't go too hard on her.” Several men in the circle laughed and jeered while Zenith slid into a ready stance. The cyborg, Boris, popped his neck and brought his fists up. The bookie put his hand between them then snapped it up and got the hell out of the way.

The fight was short and nasty.

Zenith dodged below a punch that she was sure would have crushed her titanium-x skull had it connected and sunk her fist into Boris's genitals. He immediately dropped to his knees. Before he could even realize where that put his head Zenith smashed two devastating blows against his skull and he toppled over like a felled redwood, utterly unconscious. Sneering down at him the assassin whirled in a slow circle, taking in the shocked faces, enjoying the warmth of victory. She got so wrapped up in it she neither saw nor heard the gleaming metal arms until it was too late.

Boris roared and yanked her up against his heavily muscled chest, tightening his grip around her throat. Warning messages flared to life as black spots encroached on her vision. Zenith lashed out with her heels against his shins and knees wishing she'd worn her combat boots as her blows bounced off, completely ineffective. Gagging for breath that simply would not come she ripped at the cyborg's arms with her hands shattering her nails against the cold metal.

“Boris! Let 'er go!” The bookie roared as Zenith's face began to purple. “C'mon man. Y'got 'er.”

“Gonna kill this bitch!” Boris snarled back, tightening his grip. Zenith felt her larynx begin to buckle. The pressure loosened abruptly and she immediately inhaled a breath that burned against her throat. It took several seconds for her to notice the steady hum of a beam saber blade bare inches above her head. Twisting to the side she could barely see a black-armored figure, arm extended, next to her. She couldn't see the figure's face. She didn't need to.

Antigo.

“Release my subordinate.” Antigo demanded. His voice was deadly calm. It was what Zenith labeled his 'mission voice' in her mind. “Or I will remove your head.” The grip around her neck slackened then disappeared completely leaving the lithe assassin to fall to the ground. She only barely caught herself on her hands and knees and immediately began coughing. The commander of the Ravens kept his beam saber firmly in place as he held a gauntleted hand out for Zenith.

“Can you walk?”

Zenith grabbed his hand and Antigo pulled her to her feet. Never taking his eyes off Boris's apple-red face he flicked his beam saber off and lowered his arm. “We're leaving now. I would suggest you not attempt to attack me from behind.” Zenith covertly examined the crowd and felt the first stinging bites of jealousy and shame flare up in her. With scant few sentences Antigo had gained control of the crowd and completely defused the situation. Not to mention saving her own life.

Once they were out of hearing of the crowd, now dispersing quietly, Zenith shook herself free of Antigo's steadying grasp. “I c'n walk.” She growled hoarsely.

“That was a stupid thing to do.” Her commander noted, sheathing his beam saber.

“I had him.” Zenith snarled defensively. “If he hadn't'a cheated I'd be collecting my credits now.”

“There's no cheating in those kinds of brawls.” Antigo replied quietly. “He would have killed you and no one would have cared.” Zenith rolled her eyes to hide the thrill of fear that raced down her spine. He was right and she knew it. Even though the Ravens and the Royalists were on the same side there was no sense of camaraderie between the two forces. The Ravens, being mercenaries, felt themselves superior to the Royalist soldiers and the Royalists in turn resented them for it. She knew that and still she had gone among them in some idiotic effort to prove her superiority. The fact that she had done the exact opposite rankled and apparently visually so because Antigo gave an amused snort.

“Quite the firecracker you are.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Zenith shot back, eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“It's a compliment.” Antigo said, a grin sliding across his face. “I like my Ravens to have fire in their gut. Keeps them going when things get tough.” She glanced at him and saw no sign of a jest on his face.

“I lost.” She admitted finally. “And I don't imagine that'll do anything for our reputation.”

Antigo shrugged. “You performed well where it counted most.” The memory of the trenches earlier flitted to the forefront of her mind and Zenith shuddered but tried to hide it. She must not have done a good job because the Ravens' commander continued. “War is ugly Zenith. The ugliest thing on the planet and its what we're built for. But you...you could pass for anything. If you want to get out of this business I won't stop you.” She immediately shook her head.

“This is what I want. It's what I'm for.” She said, her voice thickening with emotion. “I need to fight...to feel alive.” Antigo quirked an eyebrow.

“There are other ways of feeling alive.”

Zenith looked at him then nearly jumped in surprise as his hand traced up her arm to her shoulder. Suddenly her back was to the wall and he was very close. She stammered wordlessly then went quiet as Antigo placed a finger against her lips only to replace it a moment later with his own. The kiss, her first, seemed endless and when they finally parted she felt as though her knees were jelly and a hive of bees had taken up residence in her stomach. “W-what was that?” She gasped, blushing intensely.

“A kiss.” Antigo canted his head to the side. “Have you never been kissed before?” It took several heart beats for Zenith to admit she hadn't. “Ah.” Antigo kissed her again and this time she responded clumsily at first then with greater enthusiasm as he pressed his armored body against hers.

It seemed to take only seconds for the two to reach Antigo's quarters and once inside Zenith threw aside all her inhibitions. All she knew was that his lips felt like the sweetest thing against her own and she wanted more. More than she knew existed. Strange personality subroutines activated within her subconscious and she started fumbling with the clasps to his armor. It took seconds for his armor to fall away and hardly longer for him to maneuver her to his cot.

***

It had snowed the night before coating the battlefield in a crust of icy snow. Zenith hardly felt the cold. Somewhere to the left of her one of the few remaining trees groaned then exploded with a sound like a gun firing. Grinning she closed her eyes and leaned back against a barrel of fuel lost in memories of the night before.

“Oi. Got a light?” She snapped her eyes open and looked over to see Charlie Witt standing next to her. He gave her a knowing wink and waggled his unlit cigar towards her. “Damn cold today innit?”

“I...hadn't noticed.” Zenith replied, absently snugging her hood closer about her face. “And I haven't got a lighter no.”

“Ah well.” Charlie replied philosophically. “Probably for the best.” He plucked his cigar from his teeth and examined it for a moment before again looking at the assassin's face. “Heard about last night.”

Just like that the pleasant warmth in her stomach vanished replaced by shame. “I would'a had him.” She muttered, crossing her arms.

“Sounded that way.” Charlie agreed. “Y'never can trust these Russkies. Backstabbers the lot of 'em. Hell, look at what we're here doing. Fighting a damn civil war. They can't even get along with themselves.” He thumped a hand down on her shoulder pauldron. “Don't take it too hard girlie. We all make mistakes now and again.”

“He doesn't.” She didn't have to explain who 'he' was. Charlie shook his head and Zenith saw something flicker across his face.

“He did. A long time ago. Gotta remember girlie, Antigo's been around quite a while. Served in the first Mav War.”

“That long?” She asked, a little shocked. He can't be THAT old...can he?

Charlie hawked and spat before nodding. “Ayep.” Looking out across the field he sighed and once more examined the cigar in his hand. “Well. You take care. Remember to pay attention to what's going on out there not-” he tapped a hard finger against her temple “in there.”

Zenith growled something uncouth and lowered her hand towards the hilt of a kodachi. The human just laughed and slogged off shouting a “good bye” over his shoulder.


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