Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 8
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
Following a vicious battle in the streets of Cirramorr, the Jump Cannon crew have returned to their mercenary ship, discussing who the Free Man Nation truly are. Now, Ulalo Nuragi, The Gentle Reminder, enters.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
Ulalo sat twisting her wrist round back and forth, watching the dim candle-light flicker against her coffee coloured skin. The child of African and Japanese parents she had always had a distinctive tint to her complexion, but the augmentations had taken things much further. They were necessary of course, but changing her pigment, as well as other features on a regular basis, caused the occasional flash of fright when she looked into a mirror. She had seen terrible things, most of them as the blood splashed against her own face, but it was difficult to get used to being a different person every three months.
She peered up from her desk and gazed into the mirror that sat in front of her. It was hitched to the dusty walls of her office positioned underground in one of Cirramorr’s puran spires. Her nose too had been flattened a little, and her eyes given a deeper slant along with thicker lips. They were subtle changes, but made to a face that had already been through plenty. To anybody who had been in the court-room on the day of her escape she would be unrecognisable. The nose and eyes suggested she might be from the China-Korea Union, but the darker skin tone hinted at the Philippines. It was probably too dark for both, if she was honest with herself, so she was pleased that all of the operations hadn’t ripped away any suggestion of her partly African origin.
Further modifications would be necessary though. There was no way to fake the identification procedures she would be subject to if captured. Changing her appearance was the best way to avoid association with her past while in public. Among her peers, however, she maintained her name and even taken on a new one. Her official title within the Free Man Nation was ‘The Gentle Reminder’, an apt name she felt, given that people of all species would still crumple up their foreheads when they looked at her from time-to-time. Ulalo was too proud of her achievements, particularly those which had landed her in front of the Inter-Species Courts, to desire that people forget about her completely.
Fortunately, her reputation was widely familiar throughout known space.
She had overhead some of the grunts talking one night; they were recounting a warning given to a petulant child they had witnessed at the markets.
“Ulalo will come and rip your arms off,” they had said. “She will scoop you up and take you away if you don’t behave!”
Truth was that she had done much worse, for much less. She had always been pre-disposed toward violence. While she understood that most saw her behaviour as abhorrent there was no good reason she could think of not to do the things she did. Blood was the most intoxicating thing. It was always so warm, and leaked down her hands as if it was caught in its own little time-warp. Blood was comforting in its own way. It was why she had liked working with korakian’s. As defiant as they could be at times, they had no qualms in setting bodies up to drain into a bathtub so that she could enjoy that warmth all over her. All of that was in the past now of course, at least as far as working with the korakians. After the Nation had broken her out of the court-room, it hadn’t taken long to come around to their way of thinking. It made so much sense, of course it was always the fault of aliens. She couldn’t remember a single violent occasion where a korakian, or a puran or some other form of scum hadn’t been present. In many cases the korakian’s had egged her on by cheering and shouting whenever she decided to kill. The Nation’s plan would bring her into normality, but she would have to use her urges to help them. It wasn’t time yet for her to be cleansed of the need to hunt and kill, so she would need to keep doing it until they returned to Earth. Right now, she had to track down the Jump Cannon and the escapee.
He wouldn’t have vanished from the dungeon had she been given proper warning. The more senior members of The Thirteen, the Nation’s ruling council which she was part of, had assured her that the Jump Cannon’s arrival on Pura was coincidental. Had they known that it was going to end up there in advance they would have given her more time to properly prepare her growing army in Cirramorr. As it had happened Ulalo, and the most experienced staff she had, spent the best part of two months away visiting a narcotics plant. Located days away on one of the Nation’s unnamed production planets, it was out of the way of the usual traffic. This not only helped them keep it secret, but it made it far more difficult to explain their hasty arrival on Pura. The guards at port had needed to be paid off. Fortunately, a plant within the Authority Complex made it easier to grease the right palms. She might have otherwise been forced to take a more aggressive approach. Ulalo had needed to rely on men barely out of training. She was sitting in her office within the re-education facility, where they coerced some of the more on-the-fence recruits. Most of their followers came willingly, but even those loyal men and women had demonstrated a distinct lack of discipline when they left the prisoner unattended. The Nation treated its members well, but she did not, regardless of rank. Dictated restraint had held her back. If she was allowed to enact punishment in the way she desired it would have been all twenty men and women that she would have garrotted, not just the three that she had been allowed to make an example of. It was fair, she supposed, since it was those three that had been on duty at the time, but one of the other men should have taken the initiative to execute them when they saw that the post had been abandoned.
Perhaps only being allowed to kill three of them was The Thirteen’s way of starting her mental transformation a little early. Ulalo didn’t want to kill for a living all her life, it was hard work, so she should probably be appreciative of their efforts. She might keep it up as a hobby.
She flipped over the panel that lay face down on her desk and flicked through the plans that had just been finalised. It was a solid tactic, although she didn’t like the part that said she had to stay on Pura. Her hatred for alien life made her own very uncomfortable on the planet. Whenever she was positioned at one of the more private facilities, there was rarely any need to be around non-humans. Sure, most slave workers weren’t of Earth origin, but the suffering they endured in open sight made their presence far more palatable. From time to time she would indulge her urges and take one away to one of the torture rooms. Observers never had the stomach to last more than fifteen minutes inside with her, but she had fun regardless. Torture was always fun; the comforting warmth of the blood running down her chest, constant and safe.
Ulalo stood up, swung her arms back behind her and then forward again, slapping her palms together as she continued to examine her reflection. The darker skin tone really did suit her, she might have them accentuate her African heritage next time. Unhooking the jacket that rested on the back of her chair, she assumed her role as a commanding member of The Thirteen. It felt comfortable despite the fragility that being a part of the Nation had inspired within her confidence. When she looked at herself in the coat, dark green with blue tubing around the pockets and seams echoing Earth’s perfect palette, there was a sense of family that she had never really experienced. Her position of command, represented by old-world insignia that she didn’t entirely understand, had been unanimously voted in favour of. That was provided you excluded the member she had been commanded to secretly execute in order to take her place as part of The Thirteen.
She headed out of the room, swinging the wooden door open and out to meet the assistant that stood waiting outside in the dimly lit corridor. He was a strong man made meek by his obsession with her. His name was Ultra, although she never used it. It had seemed fun to fuck him once, and she had hoped that a false feeling of conquering her might have made him less pathetic. Sex didn’t bother her, even if the act itself was disgusting, but it was disappointing that her rotten little servant had only seemed to become more feminine and grovelling following the incident.
“Good morning, Gentle Reminder,” he said. It was only correct that he used Ulalo’s proper title. “I hope you slept well. I would have very much liked to have shared your bed again, but...”
She snapped, having no patience for this shit in light of the Jump Cannon’s departure. She struck his head against the wall, long razor-sharp finger nails cutting into the skin of his cheek. Held in place, she spat directly into his eye and smacked her knee into his groin. She ground it in, watching him squirm as she sneered.
“Understand this, queer,” Ulalo hissed, watching tears forming in his eyes, making her hate him more, “I have killed most of the men I have slept with. Were it not for the Nation you would be lying gagged, underneath your mother’s floor boards, castrated and bleeding slowly to death.”
Ulalo quelled a grin as he tried to bubble out an apology worthy of his life being spared. He failed, not unsurprisingly, but the rest of The Thirteen wouldn’t appreciate having to dispose of a body, nor replace the another assistant. He was her third after all. Unhooking her fingernails from his face, she eased her knee out of his crotch, feeling him soften a little and slide down the wall. The heel of her boot clicked down onto the ground. She let go and waved a hand to prompt him to continue with the days business. They started walking again.
“Ahem, apologies,” Ultra choked back his fear. “First on the agenda is an inspection of new candidates. Our time is limited however, your morning meeting with the rest of The Thirteen will shape your next few weeks. I’m sure you and they will sort things out with the current situation.”
Ulalo turned on him again, this time slicing her heel down onto his own boot, puncturing the leather. Even through the metal sole she could feel the point slide into one of his toes. He squealed but Ultra’s natural strength kept him upright as she wriggled it in. So much better than sex.
“Do you think it acceptable to pass judgement on The Thirteen’s capabilities? Good or bad?” She was being rhetorical. “Leave me, I won’t need you for the rest of the day.”
The pressure of keeping the screams of pain had made him puff air through his lungs, expanding his skin and forcing more blood out of the cuts she had already inflicted. It was satisfying to watch him cry dark red tears, they streamed down his cheeks and along his neck. More satisfying was watching him hobble away from her, the metal heel removed from his toe, trying to maintain a sense of dignity even though his time in her servitude had already disposed of it. The corridor was quiet, she was sure that people avoided the routes she took in the morning. When he had passed around the corner Ulalo ducked down and swiped a finger along her heel. She scooped up the red liquid that had spread up the shiny stainless steel. Dunking it into her mouth, her tongue wrapping around and even under her fingernail, every last bit was tasted. It was exquisite.
Onwards then, without the nuisance of constant accompaniment. She circled around the underground maze, boringly familiar in its layout, and headed toward the training area. The base was so dull, lacking many of the the amenities that her life of criminal activity made her so used to. Showers sputtered, and the kitchen gear guaranteed terrible food. The facility wasn’t even heated particularly well. These problems and the drab brown walls, optical lighting carelessly slung over hammered-in hooks, were all consequences of how quickly it had been built. The Nation owned the land, and the spire that stood on it, but that hadn’t made it any easier to construct the facility without the authorities noticing. Not everything could be explained away or bribed under the carpet, certainly not when they had built the place, well before Ulalo had been part of the Nation.
She could at least appreciate the irony of there being a Free Man base underneath a completely non-human structure. Nicely out of sight, just how they liked it.
Passing through the archway of the training area, Ulalo saw twelve men and seven women lined up ready to greet her. They had started with around thirty, the optimum number based on her capability to ship people to the facility without alerting the Authority Complex. A single transport ship, essentially scrap metal, was crashed into a lake outside the range of Cirramorr’s detection systems – roughly two-hundred-and-fifty clicks outside the city limits. It was seen as the Nation’s first test, surviving the crash and then making the lengthy trip without medical treatment for the unavoidable injuries. If you made it through the trek, it was a simple jaunt through a back-door weakness in the peripheral turrets. They designed to regulate access of hostile wildlife into the city, but readily mistook humans for beasts.
The blind spot was only seventy centimetres wide, and entirely unmarked of course, so that had taken care of a few of them. By the time they made it to the facility, the group was down to twenty. The last fatality was at her own hand. A husband had watched his wife’s head disintegrate when the turrets got her. He was still weeping by the time they had been given medical attention and allowed to wash, so she decided to use him as an example. One of them would needed to be used anyway, but the weakness was a perfect example of the type of insubordination Ulalo was unwilling to accept. When they signed up, although there was no binding contract to speak of, they had promised ‘all physical, mental, and emotional power’ to the cause. Hubby didn’t have any to offer, and should never have pledged.
Ulalo scanned the group. Her intensive training on top of the journey to the facility had left them scarred and beaten. While she hadn’t needed to go through it herself, reputation earning her a free pass onto the ruling council, she knew she would have made far less fuss than these idiots. One seemed to have lost control of the right side of his face, which was amusing. Probably only good for non-combat roles, the rest looked slightly more capable. Taking her place in the middle of the line she gazed over their heads, hands behind her back still rubbing the bloody residue between her fingers.
“You might expect me to congratulate you all,” Ulalo began, “and you may feel that you deserve such congratulation. I would advise that if you want to progress any further within the Free Man Nation that you empty such conceited thoughts from your mind. We are here to achieve one result, and none of us deserve much more than our lives until we attain that result.”
“The Free Man Nation seeks human purity on Earth, and human absence from the rest of space, known or otherwise. For years this species struggled and toiled to venture further, to know more life and to absorb their technology and culture. This is a mistake, the only outcome being that we have lost what it is to be human. Imagine the great human achievement that would have been possible had we spent those energies on making ourselves better. Imagine the disease we would have cured, the species of animal we would have preserved and the works of art we would have crafted were it not for our need to interfere. Imagine how much better the lives of your ancestors would have been were they not forced to compete with alien life.”
Ulalo paused for a moment, letting her words sink in. Ulalo's volume had increased as she spoke, spittle flicking out onto the man who stood in front of her. There was a rise in his trousers. Why did they find her obvious hatred so appealing?
“You have passed basic training, but the real work begins now. Your new supervising officers will be in shortly to issue you with standard gear. I do not operate an open door policy, I have a zero tolerance disciplinary procedure and I never want to hear your problems. The only though that now occupies your mind is that you are stuck on this infested hole of a planet, and you need to do everything you can to create a pure new Earth. Free for man and only for man. Am I understood?”
“For the Nation, For The Gentle Reminder!” came the uniformly loud response.
Spinning on her heel Ulalo marched back out of the training area feeling good about herself. Being made to participate in the training and to do these motivational talks was intended to help her practice non-extreme responses to human failure. It was working. One of them had a lace untied and she hadn’t even wrapped it around his neck. She had tolerated similar behaviour when she worked with the korakians, but these were humans. They should aim to be better.
Her walk to the boardroom was mercifully short, although standing through Ultra’s toe had made her heel a little wobbly. The bone had bent it. The grey under-skin she wore, black straps worming their way around it, was comfortable and cool. Everybody else was sweating in their issued robes.
Ulalo liked it that way, as did The Constant Admonition. The Reminder felt the need to keep The Admonition happy, it had been her that recommended Ulalo for The Thirteen in the first place. More than that, her smile felt good.
The boardroom was cold, her skin prickling briefly before her light grey suit, laced with white tubing, regulated her temperature again. She couldn’t see the walls or the ceiling, everything other than the sim platform was bathed in blackness. It stood out, a circular platform glistening with light. Ulalo had never had access to sims growing up and had little time to enjoy them before joining the Nation. This one had taken her to so many wonderful places and allowed her to inflict the most imaginative cruelty. A thing of beauty inside a maddeningly dull maze. The Constant Admonition appeared first.
“Hello Reminder, how are you?” The Admonition smiled, it felt so warm. Ulalo had to keep herself from returning the look.
“I’m well, Admonition, I hadn’t expected anybody for another few minutes.”
“Yes, well I thought we could have a quick chat before the others arrive.” The Admonition spoke with such a pleasing authoritarian grit, despite her slight appearance. “You are expecting to journey to Earth after we have taken the prisoner back into custody, yes?”
“Correct” Ulalo responded.
“I think we should meet, in person I mean, and discuss the future,” said The Admonition, a glint breaking the sternness of her voice. “I would like that. It seems odd that we haven’t met, given you recommended me to the others.” Ulalo was barely keeping it together, this felt intimate,
“Yes, well you’ve certainly made an impression,” stated The Admonition, suggesting a little surprise to accentuate her point, “on me in particular.”
Their conversation was broken. The other members started flickering in. One after another they filed in, stepping onto their own platforms spread across space. Ulalo had only met a few in person. The Admonition’s offer appealed far more.
“Good, we’re all here.” The meeting started, His words punctuated by the sense of entitlement that His position carried with it. “I had expected that a few of us might have been late. Extra work has been produced thanks to the mistakes made on Pura.”
The comment was directed at her, and it cut Ulalo. Their opinion mattered, they made her part of a family. More importantly, they had given her power within it.
“I have arranged for progress to be made following the Jump Cannon’s planned activity on the surface of Seeon,” He continued, full of confidence. “This should see them floating adrift, at which point we will intercept and regain control of the situation.”
“The Gentle Reminder.” He looked directly at Ulalo. “You may be further required prior to the subsequent operations on Earth. I trust you will have adequate time to prepare a ship should we issue one?”
“Yes, Sir” said Ulalo.
“Good, that is all. For the Nation!”
“For the Nation!”
* * * * *
"Test subjects should be aware that while the projections that follow can not harm you in themselves, idiotic tactical moves may result in physical injury. The sim wishes to make all participants aware that diving from cliff-edges, trees and moving vehicles is not advised where not completely necessary. The ground may be closer than it appears."
Disclaimer information from the common training assessments used by the military and mercenary forces. It was added following an incident in which a gravitational glitch caused a test subject to land on his head, compacting his spine, when he attempted to dive from a simulated waterfall. Unfortunately, the sim failed to initialise the weightlessness of the water, instead responding to his manoeuvre with the force of concrete.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Nine of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)