Etherno

Chapter 36: Morally Bankrupt

Onin held Kasai’s hand as he and the others listened to Ailah’s story. Kasai and Amaryllis sat on either side of Ailah, their arms wrapped around her shoulders.

Tannin stood up when she finished. “I’m gonna re-state the obvious. The Natas need to be stopped.”

Cerina smacked her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Ya think, really!”

“I’m really worried about this DNA infusion device that they have.” Onin drummed his fingers on the arm of the couch. “With that, they don’t have to go looking for the perfect host, or wait for one to grow. They can just kidnap anyone, of any race, and make a host with multiple gifts. Apparently without the use of someone with a sharing gift.”

“Yeah.” Tannin nodded. “Also, what’s a bio-syn-whatsit?”

“Bio-synthetic.” Aiden frowned. “Kinda like a robot, but with mostly biological parts. They’d be super strong, super smart, and the Natas might even be able to possess them.”

Tannin’s eyes widened. “Whoa, you have those?”

“No.” Aiden shook her head. “It’s theoretical. The Kagoshi have got some pretty advanced robotics, but nothing that advanced yet.”

Onin grimaced. “That doesn’t sound pleasant. Did they mention how far along they were with that project?”

Ailah shook her head. “Just that Nasal-head said he wanted to work on that project more if the DNA splicing thing didn’t work out.”

“Okay.” Onin squeezed Kasai’s hand before he released it and stood. “So, our priority list is to get the Natas off Nekotia, then track down this bio-synth program and shut it down. Agreed?”

“Oh, sure.” Cerina shrugged. “Track down a project with no leads that could be anywhere in the universe. Easy-peasy.”

Saija frowned at her. “That’s why we need to clean up the mess here, first.”

Ailah jumped to her feet. “I want to help.”

“You don’t have to.” Amaryllis put a hand on Ailah’s shoulder. “The whole super-powered host thing is our fault, and—”

“I want to.” Ailah’s eyes narrowed. “I owe them. They did who knows what to me and mom, and my sister…” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and pulled another sword out of nowhere. “I’m going shove this right up Nasal-head’s nose.”

“Hah!” Tannin slapped his knee. “I like her!”

Onin suppressed the desire to roll his eyes. “Anyway. Purona, do we have any other updates on Natas activity?”

Purona’s ears flattened backward, and she shook her head. “Nope. Totes silent. Sorry.”

“Okay.” Onin sighed. “Well, in that case, I suggest we all get something to eat and take a nap so we’re ready to go when they do pop up from wherever they’re hiding.”

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Ailah waited until most of the Gesarans had filtered out of the hotel suite’s common room, then she tapped Purona on the arm.

“Hmm?” Purona turned and smiled at her.

“Uh, you said they found my mom. Could I go visit her?”

“Oh, sure! Follow me!” Purona ran to the elevator.

It was only a few blocks to the hospital. Ailah fidgeted with her fingers the entire walk there.

Please be okay, Mom.

Purona flashed her badge to the guard at the door, and he let them enter. Ailah fidgeted with her fingers as they made their way to the third floor. Was her mom okay? The last time Ailah had seen her mom, that evil Natas woman had stabbed her. The image of her mother, bleeding and pale, the color drained from her skin and hair would haunt Ailah forever. She clenched her fists. Those Natas would pay—

“Here we are!” Purona stopped at room 347. “When I called ahead, they said she’s up for limited company, and we’re already cleared with the guards in the lobby, so you’re super to go right in.” Her left ear flicked. “Uh, do you want me to wait out here?”

Ailah nodded.

“Okay.” Purona bit her lip. “Uh, I think I’m gonna call my brother. I haven’t talked to him in a while.”

Ailah nodded absently. She gripped the door handle and took a deep breath. The vision of her mom covered in blood flashed through Ailah’s mind again. She shook her head. If a nurse wasn’t accompanying them, her mom couldn’t be that bad, right?

She took another breath, turned the handle and pushed the door open. The room was a standard hospital room. Walls a weird pale shade of green. A large window on the far wall. Flowers and a picture of Ailah’s whole family were on the window sill. Her mother was lying on the sole bed. Her chest was covered in bandages, and a large bandage was on her forehead.

Ailah’s mom looked up when the door shut behind Ailah. “Ailah!”

Ailah ran over to the bed, and her mom pulled her into a hug.

“I’m so glad you’re alive! The last thing I remember before waking up in the hospital was that woman attacking Silah. I asked the doctors and nurses, and none of them could find out anything about either of you.”

Ailah looked up at her mom. “The Natas captured me and experimented on me. I managed to escape. I don’t know what happened to Silah.”

Ailah burst into tears, and her mom pulled her into a hug. The whole story of all that happened to Ailah came tumbling out.

Her mom hugged her throughout. “I’m so glad you’re okay. And it sounds like you’ve made friends, too.”

“Mom!” Ailah jerked upright. “Evil aliens are attacking, Silah’s missing, and you’re focusing on me finding friends?”

Her mom shrugged. “You and your sister are what’s most important to me.”

Ailah sighed. “Love you too, mom.” She clenched her hand into a fist. “I’m going to make those Natas pay, though.”

“Ailah.” Ailah’s mom placed her palm on Ailah’s cheek. “If you’ve been given power, use it to help people. Don’t let vengeance consume you. You’ve always had a great sense of humor. When your dad died—” she paused and wiped a tear from her eye. “There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. Then you’d come in and do or say something to cheer me up enough to keep going. Those aliens are hurting a lot of people, not just us. Be a light. Keep finding the humor where you can. Make friends. If you feel you have to fight, fight for the Right.”

Ailah nodded and her mom pulled her into another hug.

There was a knock on the door, and a nurse poked her head in. “Um, I hate to interrupt. Your mom’s been asking about you and your sister since she woke up, but it’s time for another dose of medication, and the doctor wants visits to be kept short. All appearances to the contrary, your mom’s really weak and does need rest.”

Ailah’s mom squeezed her hand. “I’ll be all right. Visit me again soon?”

Ailah nodded. She turned back again when she got to the door. Her mom smiled and waved at her. Ailah waved back and stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind her.

“Is your mom all right?” Purona cocked her head to the side. “You look happier.”

“Yeah.” Ailah smiled.

dragon

Tannin sighed from where he was stretched out on his back on one of the couches in their hotel suite’s common room.

“Sheesh, again!” Cerina chucked a small green rubber ball at him from her chair across the room. “Knock it off, all that sighing is driving me crazy.”

Tannin caught the ball with his left hand. “I can’t help it. I’m bored.” He bounced the ball off the wall in front of him.

“It has been kinda quiet the last few days.” Saija lay her back in the middle of the room. She sank her toes into the carpet.

“Yup.” Tannin bounced the ball off the wall again. “No news on the Natas. Amaryllis and Ryogin have been hiding away on the Potato. Onin’s napping. Don’t know where Aiden is. Kasai and Fu-chan are off sparring.”

“Who?” Cerina asked.

“Excuse me.” Tannin tossed the ball to her. “Lady Ailah of the Hadala kinset.”

Cerina rolled her eyes and tossed the ball back to Tannin. “Why can’t you just use her name.”

“Too long.” Tannin bounced the ball off the wall again.

“This is boring.” Saija raised her artificial leg into the air and turned it this way and that, examining it. “Feels like there’s something we could be doing to help.”

“Oh?” Cerina raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”

Saija shrugged.

Someone knocked on the door. Or fell into it. Either way, someone or something banged on the door.

Tannin jumped off the couch and sprinted to the door. “I’ve got it!”

He skidded to a stop in front of the door and yanked it open. Purona was on the other side, carrying four full bags of food.

“Hi!” Purona handed Tannin two of the bags. “I stopped for food on my way back from the office.”

“Sweet! Thanks!” Tannin headed to the kitchenette with the food. “Did you find out anything else about the Natas?”

“No.” Purona’s ears drooped to the sides. “No news on that front. And here I thought it’d only take a few days to chase those scum off our planet.”

“News, hey, that’s an idea!” Cerina grabbed the remote from where it had fallen off to the side of the couch and turned on the holoprojector.

“Hey—” Purona paused mid-step on her way to the kitchenette. “Where is everyone?”

“Out, in varying senses of the word.” Tannin said.

“Huh?”

Tannin could almost hear Cerina’s eyes roll all the way from the kitchenette. “He means Onin’s out, as in asleep. The others aren’t here.”

Cerina quickly re-capped where everyone else was for Purona while Tannin put away groceries. Tannin finished his chore and re-joined the others in the common room.

Tannin flopped down onto the far couch. “Anything interesting on the news?”

Cerina shrugged. “A new mall opened, some guy we don’t know got some kind of medal for redesigning a monorail station.”

Tannin made a face. He didn’t care about either of those things. A woman with rainbow colored hair was on the next news segment.

Tannin sat upright in his seat. “Woah. Is that natural?”

Purona shrugged. “I dunno. It can be, but it’s rarer than calico. Most of the rainbows you see are dyed.”

“This is a weird planet,” Cerina muttered.

A door clicked shut behind Tannin.

Onin shuffled out of his room, still in his bathrobe. “Hey, what’s everybody up to?”

“I’m not going over the list again.” Cerina crossed her arms over her chest.

Tannin picked the ball up off the floor and threw it at Onin, who ducked. “You’re up awfully late. I was even up before you today!”

“Yeah.” Onin yawned. “I’ve been using the downtime to send out a lot of servitors to look for the Natas.” He yawned again. “And that’s used up a lot of energy, so I decided to get some sleep while I could.”

Tannin nodded. “Can’t fault that logic.”

Onin plodded over and sat on the couch next to Tannin. “What’cha watching?”

“International news,” Purona said.

Tannin turned back to the holoprojection. The newswoman was talking about unrest in some unpronounceable district. According to the map, it was south of them.

“Heh.” Tannin pointed to the screen. “Good thing you’re not there, Onin. You’d never catch up on your sleep with all that unrest.”

Cerina sighed. “She means fighting, you moron.”

Onin leaned forward. “What are they fighting about?”

Purona’s ears drooped. “Well, that’s a kinless district. They’re probably fighting over food, or randomly beating people up just because they’re poor.”

Tannin looked over at Onin and they both shrugged.

“What?” Onin pinched the bridge of his nose. “I think I missed something.”

“Yeah, like what’s a kinless district?” Tannin asked.

“Well,” Purona bit her lip. “Kinless are people who don’t have family, for one reason or another. We try to help them, but some people are too proud to accept charity, and others just don’t want to work. Some of them are criminals or former criminals that can’t get work and harass the other kinless. And some of them, I don’t know—” She shrugged. “I don’t know everyone’s story.”

“Hey.” Saija tapped her lip with her index finger. “According to the news report, there’s more ‘unrest’ than usual for the region for this time of year. Do you think—”

Tannin jumped up. “Ah-ha! THAT’S where the Natas are hiding!”

“Really?” Cerina kicked his leg. “You’re starting to sound like a wack-job conspiracy theorist. Just ’cause something bad happened, it doesn’t automatically mean the Natas are behind it.”

“True.” Saija bit her lower lip. “But this does fit the Natas M.O. Find an out of the way place, build up a force, and throw things into chaos while they take what they want.”

“Good point.” Onin stood and strode towards his room. “I’m going to get dressed. Round up everyone else.”

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Onin dressed quickly, but everyone else had already returned to the hotel by the time he had finished. It only took a minute or so to bring Kasai, Amaryllis, Ryogin, Aiden, and Ailah up to speed on what they’d found.

“So—” Onin pointed to the map on the holoprojection. “I suggest we head down there and check out the situation. It might not be the Natas, but it’s better than sitting around here doing nothing.”

“Wait.” Tannin raised his hand. “That’s pretty close to the ocean. The last time we went to the beach, the Natas attacked.”

“Beach trip. That’s a perfect cover, then,” Saija said.

Ailah’s eyes narrowed. “If it draws out the Natas, all the better.”

“Hmm.” Ryogin frowned. “Purona, might the government consider it meddling if we took a mission like this without permission?”

“Hmm.” Purona flipped through something on her phone. “It probably depends on how things turn out.”

Aiden put a hand on Purona’s shoulder. “I’m not sure about the Nekotians, but the Kagoshi would definitely see this as interference. Sadly, they’re still not convinced that the Gesarans aren’t working with the Natas.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Cerina leaned in close to Aiden’s face. “What idiot would work with those foul things!”

Onin grabbed Cerina’s shoulder and gently shoved her backward. “For one, you forget about the cultists back home that did. Two, put yourself in their place. If we only saw an alien species that was possessed, we’d probably be pretty suspicious of them, too.”

“I’ve got some good news, too,” Aiden said.

“Oh?” Onin turned to look at her.

“Yeah.” Aiden settled into the couch. “The Kagoshi sent an ambassador to Gesara a while ago. And I’ve just received news that Gesara has sent one back to the Kagoshi.”

Onin raised his eyebrows. “That is good news.”

Tannin snorted. “I just hope the ambassador they sent isn’t as personable as Captain Di—”

Cerina smacked him.

“Hey!” Tannin rubbed his arm.

“All right!” Onin stepped between them. “Let’s let the diplomats do their thing, and we’ll do ours, okay?”

Cerina crossed her arms and flopped down onto the couch. “Yeah, whatever. So what do we do in the meantime while we’re waiting for the Natas to show up?”

“I can just take you to the beach, if that helps?” Purona looked back and forth at everyone. “We’d have to go through the kinless area if we take the mag-lev, anyway.”

Onin stared at the map. He’d like to stop the Natas as soon as he could, but, looking at the bigger picture, it was important to maintain good relations with the Nekotian government. He’d like to have the Kagoshi be more helpful as well, but he wasn’t a diplomat. He shuddered. The worst thing would be to have the Natas, Kagoshi, and Nekotians mad at Gesara.

“None of us would get in trouble for going to the beach, right?” Onin asked.

Purona shook her head. “Nope! I’m supposed to be showing you around anyway.” She covered the side of her mouth with her hand. “There’s rumors going around that Gesarans are stuffy like the Kagoshi ‘cause all you do is work. I don’t believe that, but I think a beach trip would be a super good idea!”

“Woo!” Tannin ran to his room.

Ailah blinked. “Where’s he running off to?”

Saija shrugged. “Probably off to get his swim trunks.”

Purona giggled. “Even on the super-fast mag-lev it’ll take us four hours to get there. I was thinking we could leave tomorrow morning?”

Ailah pursed her lips and turned to Saija. “Couldn’t that portal thing get us there faster?”

Saija started to sigh, then caught herself. “Sorry. I can only portal to places I’ve been before.”

“Okay. Everybody rest up tonight, and we’ll hit the beach tomorrow.”

A vision of Kasai in a swimsuit popped into Onin’s head. He decided a cold shower was in order before he got packed.

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