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Suxen takes a scalpel out. I find that I’m much calmer compared to last time, perhaps the fact that I didn’t spend a week in apprehension actually helped, or perhaps it’s simply because I went through this before, or perhaps hearing Aisha and Vikiana’s voice their worries or misgivings about what I’m going through was the support I needed.

Regardless, none of that helps with the pain when Suxen makes a long incision in my left shoulder but pain I can handle. She cuts my skin in a horizontal line, five centimeters from my collarbone to a little further than where my flesh ends and the symbiont’s begins.

The two organisms aren’t fusing, it appears that the two locations where the parasite’s tendrils integrated with the specimen’s flesh are anomalies, an action the parasite took because of debilitating injuries to its host as it didn’t do so for every injury.” Suxen notes. “It should be possible to design an experiment that induces this melding with a series of…”

Francis immediately transcribes the words on paper but the Director doesn’t keep talking even after he’s done so he throws her a curious look. The woman puts her scalpel down and takes the quill from her assistant, finishing the note by herself.

I would assume she’s being careful about what she says from before, or doesn’t want to reveal the process she intends to use. Either way, I don’t really care to know. A dark-orange mixture of my blood and my symbiont’s is oozing out of the wound.

Suxen walks back, in her right hand is a quill that she uses to shape flow segments in thin air, in her left hand is the book which she is using as a reference as she creates the construct by mixing numbers, symbols, and two dimensional geometrical shapes instead of the cubes, spheres, and tubes that I’ve generally seen.

While she does that, I decide to occupy myself, to test my method of escape in real conditions. I inject tiny amounts of flow into the trickles of blood running down my skin, not so much that it starts glowing but enough that it grows slightly darker.

Even if she spots it, I can just say I was trying to fix the wound. I try to make tiny blood-blades inside my blood but find out that I simply don’t have enough energy gathered to make it work even when I reduce the construct in size.

I switch to lightning constructs despite how useless they would be offensively, finding out that the only apparent limit to how small I can go is my inability to shape the minute details, likely from a lack of skill on my part.

It would be extremely wasteful to create such a tiny construct outside of what’s considered my body because manipulating flow consumes energy so I would burn several times what the construct actually needs to function just to create it. And the result would be so harmless I doubt I could kill an insect with it.

Suxen takes a handful of minutes to form her construct, when she appears to be done, I reabsorb the flow I injected in my blood for fear of her noticing if she probes my body with it.

I may have absolute control over flow inside what it considers my body but I don’t think I can mess with a construct I don’t know without her noticing that I am. The Director activates her construct and sends it through the incision she made earlier, as it is unnecessary for it to enter through there must be another purpose to the cut.

It makes me wonder, perhaps the reason Suxen failed to make any progress in usurping the Rykz’ access, apart from it being impossible, might be that the Princess simply blocked her attempts.

Suxen mentioned that she could keep me unconscious between sessions. If she was able to gather the data she needs when the subject is knocked out, I have no doubt she would.

It never ceases to baffle me that the Director would go so far as to provoke a war to try something she herself isn’t certain is possible, that she would feel it justifiable to sacrifice so many out of greed for knowledge. The pursuit of power is Cenwalh’s motivation, not Suxen’s.

I feel heat in my left shoulder, it isn’t uncomfortable but definitely unnaturally warm. Her construct is activating section by section, when one turns on, the previous one turns off. The temperature increases little by little.

I prepare to obliterate it, in case it suddenly turns a lot hotter, but Suxen retrieves it long before it becomes a problem and even before each of the parts have had their turn to activate.

She shuts it down, squinting as she inspects it. She must’ve noticed my gaze because her eternal, creepy, smile returns a second after I look up. She hasn’t done so before, caring none about my state of mind as she butchered me. It hits me that this might be a failed attempt to appear reassuring.

Remind me to cut block C’s funding, Francis.” Suxen says. “Being pressed for time is no excuse to be sloppy.”

She starts modifying the construct on the fly, cutting out whole parts of it to replace what was there with pure equations. By the time she’s done, the construct doubled in size and became a clunky mess of interlocked numbers, it doesn’t look half as streamlined as before.

Aisha’s illusory face remained inexpressive throughout the entire process of Suxen fixing the construct but her real one shows how taken she was by what the Director did.

How much did you know about that construct beforehand?” Aisha asks, trying not to sound impressed.
“I gave them the basic formula.” Suxen replies. “They only had to create a structure to make it work, the incompetents.”

Aisha’s mouth gapes a little and she falls silent. I fear what this means for that woman’s ability to fight but if I’ve learned anything from Vikiana, it’s that there is a wide gap between being able to make a construct and use it effectively. Francis looks prideful, Vikiana seems not to care in the slightest if I go by the cold gaze she’s been maintaining on Suxen all this time.

Is it safe?” The Exemplar asks.

Yes.” Suxen answers.

Before Vikiana can mount any other objections, the Director sends her altered construct into the incision. I prepare to obliterate it in case she screwed up but it seems to go well, I don’t even feel any rise in temperature.

The construct lingers in my shoulder for a good ten minutes, again activating its sections one by one. It then travels down to my stomach and then to the back of my waist, likely to inspect the tendrils that fused to my muscles.

Do not obstruct or speak, specimen.” Suxen orders. “Stand still.”

I pause, not understanding why she would say so considering I haven’t been doing any of those things. When her construct suddenly starts making its way up my spine, I realize that is was a warning for that.

Why shouldn’t she? Is there any danger?” Aisha asks.

No, it’s an unobstructive scan but it is almost too precise so it gathers a lot of useless information on brain activity.” Suxen replies, sounding impatient. “At least it is useless to us because of how little we currently understand, I expect the records of this data will be very useful to future generations if they can make sense of it.”

I tense as the construct travels up my back. Only a few of its sections activate until it reaches the base of my skull, where one of my symbiont’s tendrils connects to my spine. Suxen proceeds to cycle all of the construct’s parts one by one.

The tendril wiggles a little and I hurriedly soothe my symbiont, feeling like this matters and repeating to myself that the last thing the Director would do is risk her specimen.

I cling to that thought even as the construct travels up to my brain, the fact that she just jury-rigged the thing is making it hard to be confident in the woman’s skills, Aisha called her a genius but she could have made a mistake.

My worries end up unfounded as Suxen finishes the scan without an incident, I don’t feel any rise in temperature or even a tingle, much less a headache. The oath I took to end this no matter what is pushing me to accept risks I would otherwise never take, I doubt I ever will in the future.

Suxen pushes Francis away to take his place in front of the table. She sets her leather covered book down and takes hold of her quill to start putting the results down on paper, occasionally glancing up at the hovering construct for reference.

She actually spends the next fifteen minutes writing, paying no attention to me. Francis throws me glances filled with glowering disgust, making me wonder how and why he is working in the institute.

I avoid thinking about it too hard considering that many of the possible answers are disturbing. The Director takes a vial of water from Francis to store the construct and spends a few more minutes going over what she just wrote.

Once done, Suxen takes a runic glove out of her pocket and applies it over the incision in my shoulder, quickly sealing it. I start thinking that, this time, it won’t be too bad but then Francis gives her another scalpel, one with a larger blade. Suxen turns to the two dead-eyed Numbers.

Four, hold the specimen’s wrist down, Six, blind the specimen and hold its left shoulder.” She orders.

A hand falls down on my mask, covering the hole through which I can see. I sense Vikiana and Aisha tense, the Exemplar sets her hand on her sword while the Shade slips one hand behind her back, starting to shape an illusion construct. It kind of worries me that I am not certain she’ll take my side if this turns into a fight.

What are you doing, Director?” Vikiana asks rigidly.

The woman doesn’t reply, my sense gives me a glimpse of her internal body temperature, the upper half of her head has grown hotter than usual. She approaches me with the scalpel, apparently aiming at my shoulder.

Suxen, stop!” Aisha exclaims.

She keeps approaching, angling the blade down to slice the base of the symbiont where the tendrils split out of it. I start shaping blood-blades inside my wrists but pause before cutting the skin beneath the shackles’ bracers as once I do that, it’ll be obvious that I tried to do something.

What?” She asks impatiently. “This is important, if the parasite merges further with the host, the specimen will receive an increased access which will make it easier to observe.”

You aren’t here to experiment, Suxen!” Vikiana explodes.

Are you telling me you are unable to gather the data as she currently is?” Aisha asks with a bit of concern.

Of course not.” Suxen denies, offended but still smiling. “But there are other considerations.” She pauses. “Wouldn’t you want to find out what will happen when the two evolve into something new?”

I don‘t.” The words escape along with a short, terrified, giggle.

I clamp down on myself to avoid slipping away from fear and doing something that’ll put everything I’ve done to get here at risk of being for naught, the killings I’ve taken part in pursuing peace would become senseless murders.

Aisha doesn’t answer Suxen’s question, it doesn’t even seem like she even heard it. Her true expression, beneath the illusion, shows her relief. Likely because the Director’s answer means the Shade doesn’t have to choose between me and her mission to obtain the data our Emperor seeks.

You obviously have all you need, Suxen. Take your leave.” Vikiana declares coldly, drawing her sword to half as she speaks. At least she’s sticking to her part.

Suxen’s traits show utter confusion at this aggression, it seems like she doesn’t understand why anyone would stop her from pursuing this, not even me. I’d almost laugh at the woman’s goofiness if she wasn’t so terrifying.

I can change the specimen, make it a being that could stand equal to the strongest titled Nobles beneath Kings and Queens, learn how to reproduce the process!” Suxen affirms with ardor. “It would take a mere decade or two of work which will reap untold benefits to dozens of projects. Maybe even less time if the data allows me to map the Rykz’ flow distribution and discover exactly how to increase the specimen’s access. One avenue that would solve the issue of time and duplication would be to find a way to inseminate the specimen, make a viable fertile hybrid. Can you not see all the possibilities open to us? The Rykz would no longer have any advantages over us if we could create.”

Suxen shows one of her rare spikes of emotion as she speaks the word with fervor in her eyes, it is evident to me that the woman has been touched by madness. The sheer insanity of her goals and the collateral damage she will cause by pursuing them boggles the mind.

I feel fear deep in my bones at the thought of this woman having free rein to experiment on me. I make the resolve to kill myself if such a thing were to happen. Yet, she isn’t even done, she points at me with her scalpel, swiping the air with it.

Specimen!” She exclaims. “I can make you more. A being of might until you expire.”

The mention of being more powerful manages to shake me as it is something I desire to be free, but I refuse to become even more of a monster. Yet, the temptation is there and so I must reply, deny it out loud for otherwise, I might be tempted to keep the arm later and ruin my future with Leomi.

I want to be human again!” I angrily shout back. “Not more of a monster.”

I’ve been called such many times.” Suxen dismisses, the air of confusion still present on her face. The woman doesn’t get it, unable to wrap her head around our refusal. “It is curious why some subjects would think some actions make a person less than human. Biology determines whether one is an animal or a human, yours is uniquely both because you are part Rykz Princess. Life is change, with every moment, every thought, every single movement, the person you were at that point in space and time dies. Relegated to the past while a new being is born. Consciousness is a cycle of perpetual rebirth. Embrace this and become other, the progenitor of a new species at humanity’s service!”

She seems to be trying to convince me, but the way she goes about it suggests she cannot comprehend that I would think of myself as anything other than a specimen as it is what I am in her view.

She doesn’t even await my answer and turns her back to me to face Vikiana and Aisha, proving that my capacity for thought appears to be merely incidental to her, my decision or opinion matters not to her after she’s said her piece.

What you’re suggesting to do is just short of treason, Suxen.” Vikiana growls.

The comment surprises me until I recall that her daughter is a titled Noble and her husband was a Count. She may hate some Nobles but she raised her daughter with a rosy image of it, her view of the system isn’t as bleak as mine.

You merely fear being replaced, Exemplar, superseded by those researches your kind looks down on.” Suxen replies offhandedly.

Enough.” Aisha intervenes. “This is turning into a pointless argument. How long do you need to prepare your array, Director?”

A week, two perhaps.” She answers.

End of the month.” Aisha nods. “We will directly show up at the institute when my asset has calmed down from this, inform your people.”

Very well.” Suxen nods. “I hope you will mention this conversation to our Great Emperor Rasaec when He wakes.” She manages to say that without sounding sarcastic but I can tell how little faith she has in Him who has protected the Empire for centuries. “The possibilities are truly endless.”

Francis picks up her book and quill while the Numbers form up around Suxen. The four of them leave without a word of goodbye. As soon as they’re gone, Vikiana walks up to me to unlock my shackles.

I immediately gather my constructs, storing them inside my body, it reassures me to have them available within me but it isn’t enough to stop the tremble in my fingers. I get up and hurriedly pick up my clothes.

You okay?” The Exemplar asks.

Fine.” I reply shortly.

She nods and steps in front of Aisha to block her sight of me. The Shade picks up on the rebuke and gracefully turns around to give me some privacy. I try to put my pants on but encounter some difficulty as my legs are about as drained of energy as I feel after the confrontation and the revelation on Suxen’s ambition.

We need to abort.” Vikiana speaks up.

Can I get a moment before we get into it?” I say tiredly.

The Exemplar nods. I adjust the hem of my pants around my waist and fit my sleeve glove on, securing the straps around my torso. I sense Tsek approaching the door so I quickly throw my shirt over my shoulders as I don’t want to have to deal with his libido on top of the rest. Luckily, this time around, he knocks.

Did it go well?” He asks through the door.

Relatively but give us a moment, Tsek.” Aisha replies.

Elizabeth?” Tsek calls out.

It’s fine.” I respond.

Alright, I’ll make rounds around the block.” He tells us, departing.

I remove my mask and direct the air construct to carry the scimitar to my left hand. The weapon slides out from behind the shelve and I seize it before dropping down on the chair. The Shade and the Exemplar are facing off so I simply take the moment of peace to cool down.

Suxen is going to do something stupid to obtain Elizabeth.” Vikiana says, addressing Aisha more than me. “This isn’t worth the risk anymore. I can’t assess whether it’ll work or not anymore because I barely know anything about the plan and do not know what the Director is liable to do.”

If she couldn’t work within the bounds given to her, she wouldn’t be in charge of the institute, Vikiana. Suxen knows that her ability to secure funding for her future research depends on her making as little waves as possible because the Rykz invasion puts her in a precarious position.” Aisha counters.

The data remains her priority since it threatens to ruin her if she doesn’t get it for the Emperor, and show Cenwalh she can deliver results. I’m still confident in my ability to get to Cetyz.” I speak up. Vikiana seems about to reply so I raise my hand. “Unless you have a different point to make, I need to think about my options.”

I pass under silence that there is no other choice for me to make than to trust in myself. I cannot even consider going back as I would return only to witness a murderous war between Rykz and humans, and perhaps even be sent back here with enough fighters to take the institute.

It would likely mean at least an entire month of slaughter while I travel along with the very real possibility that I could be spotted and ambushed on the way, not to mention the complexity of setting up the assault with almost impossible to hide numbers.

On top of that is Grikyz who will be pushing for an escalation of hostilities because of my failure and cowardice, Aisha who is unlikely to just let me go, Vikiana who will probably insist on getting her daughter out of the Rykz’ clutches.

No, I will move forward with the plan.” I declare despite my fear of what could happen to me. “If I die, it is a single life lost. It is not worth mentioning compared to the dozens who die every day as a direct consequence of Princess Cetyz’ captivity.”

Aisha nods in approval, her lean shoulders relaxing as the tension of waiting for my decision leaves her. I avert my gaze, finding that the more I pay attention to her, the harder it is to look away.

Vikiana is frowning. She seems to want to have a debate about this but I’ve made my decision clear and she can likely see that I am in no mood to entertain her shortsighted objections.

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