Statistics on Teen Dating Violence - Verywell Family
Shedding light on the dark side of teen dating: dating ...
Dating violence compared to other types of violence ...
Teen Dating Violence Overseas - Pathways to Safety ...
Online teen dating violence, family and school climate ...
Teen Dating Violence Prevention: Cluster-Randomized Trial ...
During February, which is Teen Dating Awareness Month, there has been a push in the United States to raise awareness about teen dating violence. U.S. Department of Justice officials, educators and activists are prompting conversations about this often-hidden form of abuse among teenagers. Teens often tell no one about dating violence. Teen dating abuse and violence are happening everywhere to a startling number of teens. It's important for parents to know the statistics, the signs that your teen's partner is an abuser , what the cycle of abuse in a relationship looks like, and what to look for if you think your teen is being abused. OBJECTIVE:Teen dating violence is a serious public health problem. A cluster-randomized trial was conducted to assess the efficacy of Teen Choices, a 3-session online program that delivers assessments and individualized guidance matched to dating history, dating violence experiences, and stage of readiness for using healthy relationship skills. Violence, regrettably, is a matter also concerning the young. World Health Organisation (WHO) states that youth homicide victims (people aged 10-20) make up 43% of the total number of homicide victims globally ().Being young is also a risk factor for becoming a violent crime offender, while young women between the ages of 16 to 24 are most likely victims of partner violence (Rennison ... The aim of this study is to analyse relationships from the family and school context and online teen dating violence from a gender perspective. The participants in this study included 919 adolescents (52.4% girls), aged 15–18 years ( M = 16.12; SD = 0.99), who reported having or having had a partner in the last year. Teen dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner. The U.S. has characterized teen dating violence as an issue of national urgency, but it is prevalent throughout the world. A 2012 study concluded that victimization rates across Europe are comparable to those in North America,  and the World Health Organization reports that 42% of females in South Africa aged 13-23 report being a victim of physical dating violence.
The Most Impressive Planet: Entropy
2019.06.16 20:12 VoltstaggeThe Most Impressive Planet: Entropy
Previously: Ynt confessed his doubts about the Council’s efforts in Sol. Leanus is trying to relearn how to walk with the assistance of Black Room tech. Adriel thinks he has a cure for Alia. Healthy Growth suspects Zatacotora and the Iron Core of treason.
The Most Impressive Planet: Entropy
[For Diamond Eyes Only] [From: General Ynt] [To: Igna Xaioming Sophia] >> As per our previous agreement, here are the security codes necessary to access the Worldshaper. When the time comes, it will be important to act quickly. The deployment of TSIG forces in the vessel are unknown, so prepare to be outnumbered and outgunned. In the event that the hostages are not in the bridge, prioritize holding the bridge over rescuing them. Do not allow TSIG the chance to scuttle the ship.
>> You will not be receiving Council support during this mission. You will not be receiving extraction. Do not speak of this to anyone but me; no one else will know. Discuss the details only with your most trusted advisors and only in rooms with air gaps to the larger network. Deniability is paramount.
[3 Attached Files] In Magnus’s opinion, the moving van parked outside Catelyn’s Curios looked more like an armoured car more suited to carrying around heads of states than busts of heads of states. Workers with bulky augs were ferrying boxes to the car under the watchful eye of a redheaded woman in a pitch black suit. Nothing about it made it stand out from the ordinary in any way shape or form. It was just another antique store in a city whose people fetishized the past.
‘Catelyn?’ Magnus asked.
‘Of course. Who else would I be?’ the woman responded, with the hint of a smirk. She looked at him through her thick sunglasses, the black lenses a sharp contrast to her pale skin.
‘It looks like you’re closing up. Is there still time for an old Hound to offload some mementos?’ Magnus asked, hefting a small box he was carrying under his arm.
Catelyn’s eyes were unreadable through the black lenses. ‘There is always time for the past, I suppose. Shall we step inside?’
Catelyn led him through the store, passing rows of barren shelves as movers wrapped statues, sculptures, and other ancient relics in bubble wrap or shock gel. A harried-looking teen was hurrying around the store, making sure that the titular curios were not being harmed any more than they already were by the passage of time.
An innocuous wooden door in the corner opened into a palatial room. Empty picture frames and barren bookshelves lined the walls, sequestered within environmentally controlled cases to protect the valuable contents. Ornate light fixtures gave the room a soft golden glow.
Static filled Magnus’s ear as she shut the door and cut off all communication channels in or out. Had it not been for the fact that this meeting was arranged, he might have been worried.
‘Tudor revival?’ Magnus asked, looking over the decor of the room.
‘Third wave Tudor revival, from the 2120s if you enjoy specifics,’ Catelyn said. ‘Guaranteed authenticity.’
‘Don’t see that too often,’ Magnus said with a whistle as he set his box on one of the few clear spots on the table between two leather chairs. ‘Anyway, lets talk business. You’re Azrael, right?’
She nodded. ‘Adriel found a cure for Alia,’ Azrael said, sitting opposite Magnus. She still didn’t remove her glasses. ‘There will be risks, of course, but he is confident in his plan. Our part of the deal has been dealt with.’
‘And we have our meeting with Otric scheduled. I suppose that’s that.’ Magnus felt as though he was underselling the gravity of the situation.
‘It is indeed.’ She checked her watch. ‘We’ll need to spend another few minutes in here so it doesn’t seem too suspicious. Do you actually want to sell me anything?’ She cast a look at the box.
‘If it’s not too late to get them packed up.’
Azrael shook her head. ‘It’s not too late. Everything outside is worthless, or close enough too it. The real valuables left a long time ago. What do you have?’
‘Funeral mask of General Thuno, funeral mask of General Deyu, funeral mask of General Ko, an intact genecoder from the 2250s, and then a few more funeral masks,’ said as he laid the items out one by one.
‘Lot of masks.’
‘Grabbed them when Ogdai-Caesar’s dune walker was attacked. Figured someone would start asking around for them, but it has been a few years and no one cares. So, here they are.’ Magnus had hoped someone would come looking for them.
‘I had heard of the attack. The numbers were not pleasant.’ Azrael put on a pair of gloves and started examining one of the masks. ‘You must have been lucky to make it out alive.’
‘It’s become something of a trend for me.’
‘My condolences. I sympathize.’
Magnus blinked at that. Receiving compassion from a centuries old assassin was not a comfortable feeling. ‘Do you?’
‘Yes. Before the Black Room we were soldiers. We buried our fair share before immortality exacerbated the issue.’ Her expression was unreadable, as bereft of emotion as the mask she held. ‘It is difficult to live when others do not. Difficult to rationalize what separated you from them. It happens so often that you begin to wonder if it’s fate. It wears the soul down.’
‘It sounds like you speak from experience,’ Magnus said.
‘I never was one for fate or “Chosen Ones,”’ Magnus said with a dismissive wave of his hand. ‘If fate decided that the person who should survive is a third rate Grave Hound from a second-rate cohort then I question fate’s judgment. There’s no greater purpose. I was just luckier or more talented; it doesn’t matter which.’
Was that the assassin projecting onto him? Alex had mentioned that Azrael was one of the oldest members of the Black Room. Nations had born and died during her lifetime.
‘Not every chosen one needs to give a sermon on the mount. Some just need to write it down.’ Azrael delicately placed the mask down on the table. ‘500 credits for that one.’
‘Deal,’ Magnus said. While they weren’t short on cash, he didn’t think Alex would be happy asking Yansa for money in case they ran low.
‘You were being serious about wanting to sell it?’ That seemed to surprise Azrael somewhat. ‘By Grabthar’s hammer, what a deal,’ she muttered.
‘Yes. Why?’ Most of the mementos Magnus had collected over the years were meaningless to him. He never met Thuno, Deyu, Ko, or any other of the legendary generals of the cohort. They were just names on a wall. Even if they meant something to someone, they clearly didn’t mean enough for that someone to search out their death masks. Might as well make the generals do something good for one of their soldiers.
‘We dug up your record and personality file from your time in the Hounds and it suggested that you are the kind of person who wouldn’t enjoy working with people like us,’ Azrael said, picking up another mask.
‘”People like us,”’ Magnus said. The phrasing set Magnus’s mind on edge, as though the Black Room were mundane and their disagreements were of simple matters that could be overlooked. As though their differences came down to something as trivial as beliefs in destiny. ‘No, I don’t enjoy working with terrorists.’
‘Yet here you are, taking our money and services for Alia.’ Azrael looked at him over the rim of her glasses and just for a moment Magnus caught the sight of inhumanly red eyes.
‘Desperate times. If someone else has a cure for the incurable then I would gladly throw you under the bus,’ Magnus said. Azrael set down the mask. ‘For now, I will tolerate you. It’s my duty to my friends.’
‘That’s how it starts,’ Azrael said, her voice growing distant. ‘You grow so tired of surviving and you start trying to change fate. You lower your standards for success. It’s not about saving the world, a nation, or even a hero, you tell yourself. It’s about trying to save a single person you care about. A nobody in the grand scheme of things. And somehow even that seems beyond you. That’s why you are willing to go along with Alex’s deal to save Alia. You’d rather compromise your morals than lose another person.
‘The world can’t be saved, Magnus. You know this. That’s why Alex found you slipping through your days in a haze of combat drugs. Because when Ogdai-Caesar went up in flames all you managed to recover were some death masks.’ Azrael placed the masks back into the box. ‘But you want to be proven wrong. That maybe it can be changed for the better. Maybe you don’t need to move on again. Maybe fate is malleable. Maybe you can save someone. Just one.’
‘I’m not trying to change the world,’ Magnus said, scowling at her.
‘Not yet. But soon,’ Azrael said with a thin smile. ‘When it comes down to it, you are a good person and once you know that you can save one person you want to save another. And another. And another. Is it so bad if you need to debase yourself to do so? All lives being equal should mean that it is a noble sacrifice. What do your morals matter when it means Alia can go home to her mom and niece? What do your morals matter if sticking to them accomplished nothing but an empty house and a box full of funeral masks?’
‘You should stop talking,’ Magnus growled.
‘No one can stomach failure forever. Not me, not my family, and certainly not you. It drives you to extremes. If it wasn’t Alia it would be someone else. You would always find another lost cause to believe in,’ Azrael said.
The room felt far too small.
Azrael’s eyes seemed to bore into him from behind the sunglasses. ‘Tell me you wouldn’t do anything to save Alia, whatever it takes. Tell me, that after a lifetime of being powerless, you would be willing to let an incurable disease kill another daughter.’
The punch was instinctual. Azrael saw it coming, and almost managed to dodge it. But Magnus was faster. He was always faster. Her glasses shattered, flecks of plastic lenses flying as Azrael and the chair were knocked backwards. Magnus leapt over the table, lunging for Azrael’s throat. She rolled out of the way, and a jackhammer kick sent him stumbling.
Bouncing to her feet, she followed up the kick with a flurry of blows that came sent him reeling as the superhuman strength caught him off guard. Magnus saw an opening and lashed out with a strike at her leg, forcing her to bounce back to avoid being knocked over. That small window was all he needed to draw his pistol. Alex would be angry with him for this, he thought in the back of his mind, but he didn’t care. She had done worse. He was entitled to his anger.
Azrael saw the gun and lunged for it as Magnus pulled the trigger. Blood exploded from her palm as she grabbed the barrel and yanked it away before sending an uppercut into his gut. Her aim was clean and hit him where he didn’t have augments to protect himself. It felt like the strongest punch he had ever taken, and his breath left him as quickly as his footing. He hit the ground hard and looked up to see another fist headed for him. There was the scent of ozone in the air and the floor next to Magnus exploded.
The detonation left his ears ringing and he twisted his neck to see the deep crater where her fist was buried in the floor. Splinters of wood were scattered everywhere, and Magnus could see clear as day where the reinforced metal plates underneath the insulation were crumpled like tissue paper. The flesh of her hand was smoking as though a layer of water had been flash vaporized. A genetic Ether pulse gauntlet, he thought. If her fist had connected with his head there would be nothing left except a red smear on the ground. Azrael had spared him.
He spat at her. ‘Fuck you.’
‘Character becomes actions becomes fate, Magnus,’ she said. ‘We can’t escape ourselves. Accept that. If it wasn’t Alia, it would have been someone else.’
He threw another punch but it was wild and uncontrolled. Azrael blocked it easily. She released her grip on his collar, and opened her smoking fist to let a crumpled bullet drop to the ground. Walking over to the desk she grabbed a box of tissues and threw it at Magnus.
‘Think about what I said,’ she said, not looking at him. ‘Remember that we helped you when no one else could.’ Time until summit: 43 hours, 25 minutes, 12 seconds Take one step. That is all she needed to do. It was easy, Leanus told herself. She did it with the cane, so going without one should be simple, right? Just lean forward a bit, think of walking, and the implant in her spine would do the rest. She rubbed her legs, cursing that she couldn’t feel them. They were thin and atrophied, strapped to a deceptively sophisticated exoskeleton. It was easy. The supports would take all her weight, they would do the moving, and all she had to do was direct them.
Grabbing the support rails, she pulled herself off the stool. Leanus took a deep breath, then another, and willed herself to walk forward. She had barely let go of the rails before she regretted it. Her legs couldn’t hold up her weight and they’d break and she’d fall and she had to hold on or else-
Had she screamed? Leanus hazarded a look down to see herself standing, feet planted firmly on the floor.
‘Did I do it?’ Leanus said, gasping for air as though she had been held underwater.
Adriel tried to smile. ‘You were close. You lifted up your foot.’
‘Damn it!’ Leanus said, slamming her fist on the rail. It had seemed so natural when using the cane, but without it she felt as though she was back to square one. It had been demeaning to ask Adriel to come back and help her.
‘It’s progress,’ Adriel said.
‘It isn’t,’ Leanus grumbled. The summit was getting closer and she wasn’t getting better fast enough.
‘Just remember that the braces will automatically stabilize you,’ Adriel said. ‘This is just a mental block because you haven’t walked in a while. It’s just something to get used to. Keep calm and try again.’
Something to get used to. Leanus took another deep breath to try and keep herself from snapping at him. Being crippled wasn’t something you got used to. No matter how comfortable she got with the augments the Black Room provided her, she would never be whole again. She could never go back to her old life. No matter how good she could walk, it would never be the same. There would always be the moments when the lack of feeling in her lower body reasserted itself and she became acutely aware of the missing sensations. There would always be the need to make sure the braces were powered. There would always be the difficulty in putting on clothes. There would be a hundred small things that wouldn’t do anything but remind her of how she was broken. Adriel didn’t understand; he could never understand. No matter what happened to him he could always just jump to a new body and be right as rain. She clenched her fist again.
’Give Leanus a break.’ Psychopomp’s voice broke Leanus out of her dark thoughts. ’It has been a long day.’
‘And we’re running short on time,’ Adriel said and Leanus took another deep breath. ‘We have to make this work or else...’ he trailed off, his eyes unfocused and brow furrowed as though recalling a bad memory.
’All the more reason not to burn ourselves out so close to the deadline,’ Psychopomp countered. ’Go look over the plans for Alia’s treatment again. Make sure we have backups in case things go poorly. I’ll take over here.’
Even though he was oblivious to his awful bedside manner, Adriel could at least tell when he was not wanted, for which Leanus was thankful. He gave Psychopomp a quick nod and left the two of them alone in the sterile, windowless room. The old doctor took a seat on the other side of the rehabilitation centre and stared at Leanus. Once again he was in a different body. This one much younger and slimmer than his previous ones, but still possessing the same pale blue eyes and empty gaze.
‘I won’t be ready in time,’ Leanus said, forcing herself to sit back down on the stools. Even if the exoskeleton wasn’t cooperating, she could still use the rails to move. Somewhat. The extra weight wasn’t helping. Yet another burden to bear.
’Perhaps. Perhaps not,’ Psychopomp said with a shrug. ’It is difficult to reacquaint yourself with a sense you lost. Once you take one step the next will come naturally.’
‘Speaking from experience?’
’Many experiences. Some of them are even mine.’
The way he said it almost sounded like he was making a joke. Leanus didn’t laugh.
‘Have any of your experiences involved trying to stop a war between superpowers?’ she shot back. His cordial attitude did nothing to damper her boiling distaste for the entire Black Room.
’A few times, yes.’
‘And how often were you successful?’
Psychopomp’s face twisted into a grimace. ’Not enough.’
‘Then let me focus on trying to walk again,’ she spat at him. ‘It’s a bit tricky when you’re fucking paralyzed. I’ve got a job to do and unlike you, I can’t just skip over to a healthy body the moment I stub my toe.’
’The negotiations are meaningless,’ Psychopomp said, bluntly. ’Your presence or absence won’t change the outcome.’
Leanus’s eyes narrowed. ‘No. I’ve seen the news. Tensions are at an all time high, so I can’t afford to wallow in self-pity.’ She spat the words out in anger. ‘People are at each others’ throats and soon someone will do something that-’
’Exactly. Someone will do something. But who?’ Psychopomp asked, getting up from the chair. ’There are countless uncontrollable variables that are unaccountable. This is not about preventing violence, it is about putting on a show for the right people. The absence of a single secondary actor won’t change the script.’
‘You’re not even going to try?’ Leanus said, hauling herself to her feet. ‘You’re just writing off this entire solar system as a lost cause?’
’Yes. A bell will always be rung,’ Psychopomp said. ’Entropy is a societal process as well. The careless will spill a secret. The angry will throw a punch. The emperor will end a kingdom. Someone will fear the Djaio. It is always and only a matter of time. Mutative processes in societies inevitably create disorder and unrest, a cancer of the noosphere.
‘The galaxy at large has been wary of humanity ever since first contact spilled us across the stars. Ynt fanned the flames of discontent at the trial. The Council raised tensions when they shot that man and started riots on Terra Nova. Adriel did the same at Planath Dome, as did Alex and you when you revealed the events behind Terra Nova. A single negotiation won’t change the fact that conflict is inevitable. Nothing can stop that.’
‘Bullshit. Nothing is inevitable,’ Leanus said, stabbing an angry finger at the doctor. ‘We have an opportunity here to undo more than a year of wrongdoing and I won’t sit it out.’
‘If it were easy to save the world I wouldn’t have spent years hiding from it,’ Psychopomp said, sighing.
‘So why even bother with the whole fucking charade then?’ Leanus shouted, throwing her hands in the air. ‘If nothing matters and you can’t change shit, why are we even here?’
’Because I want to be wrong,’ Psychopomp murmured. ’Maybe, just once, entropy can be reversed.’
‘So fucking act like it can be!’ Leanus said, leaning forward. ‘I lost my legs because of your species and your damn problems, so I’m not going to sit here and listen to some pessimistic immortal bitch about how hard life has been for him!’
’I’m a realist,’ Psychopomp said, weakly.
Leanus’s anger finally boiled over. She stormed over and slapped him across the face. Only after did her palm connect did she realize what she had just done, staring down at her legs in shock.
‘Like I said,’ Psychopomp said. ’The first step is the hardest.’ Time until summit: 41 hours, 46 minutes, 29 seconds They think they have a cure, Alex signed to Alia. It’ll be a tricky operation with a long recovery time, so Adriel wants to hold off until after our meeting with Otric. More time to rest after and more time for them to prep.
Her hands were moving so quick that Alia had to ask her to repeat herself. It seemed almost impossible to believe. Just a little while ago she had been staring down a terminal diagnosis, and now Alex was telling her the impossible had been accomplished. The Black Room would save her life. The people responsible for Francis’s death, who tortured innocent civilians, who killed Alex’s family- those were the people who would save her life.
It was not the kind of news one would expect when making breakfast.
‘Are you sure?’ Alia said, then cursed herself for speaking aloud.
‘Yup. I looked everywhere,’ Alex said. ‘We have almost no ammo anywhere. I am astonished this happened, because I am normally on top of this.’
Alex insisted that when they were in the Echo they stick to sign language for anything concerning the Black Room, in case one of Elias or Yansa’s men bugged their ship. Magnus had swept the kitchen alone several times and found nothing, but no one was convinced.
‘Can I put in a request for a special order?’ Alia said, before switching over to the sign language of the Grave Hounds. Sorry.
‘No. We’re running low on cash, so unless you have a few extra thousand credits you aren’t telling me about it’s just going to be a boring resupply,’ Alex said. No worries. I should have eased you into it.
‘Well, in that case I’ll have to throw out my wishlist.’ This isn’t something you could have eased anyone into.
‘Keep it. If all goes well, if we survive, we’ll be quite well off after this. Perhaps well off enough to not have to work again. I mean-’ Alex stared at her metal hands, faking the voice of one who just broached an uncomfortable topic. ‘At least, however long you have left. I’m sorry... You’ll help save a lot of lives. It’ll be dangerous, but what isn’t?’ Adriel tells me that it isn’t a sure thing. There is a chance you won’t survive.
‘I’m willing to risk it,’ Alia said. ‘We knew this would be a dangerous job going into it. I’ve made peace with it.’ I’m already going to not survive, so that’s not much of a drawback.
‘It’ll be fine,’ Alex said. ‘We have a solid team here.’ I have confidence in Psychopomp at least. ‘Yansa and Elias may be a bit... off, but Magnus vouches for them and I trust his judgment. All we need to do is kill one of the most important men in the solar system.’ And even though Psychopomp is a monster, he gave his word.
‘What are you thinking of doing after this?’ Alia asked. ‘You never told me.’ And I’ll trust your judgment.
‘I didn’t plan this far ahead,’ Alex said, slumping into her chair. ‘I was so focused on Dumah, and now that he is locked up in Yansa’s cage... I might just go find a small place far away from Sol and try and forget everything that happened. There’s no family left to go back to, so why bother staying here?’
Alex was big for a human, well over six feet even outside of her armour, and her augments made her like a brick wall, yet in that moment she seemed small and empty. The cold fire that had so often filled her was spent, and the legendary warrior was replaced with a mishmash of metal augments and flesh held together by little more than old bolts and bionails. There were bags under her eyes, her once short hair was now knotted and unruly, and the faded scars from the augment surgery crisscrossed over her skin as they traced lines along her biological muscles and nerves.
And you? What are your plans with your new lease on life?
That question gave Alia pause. How was she going to explain this to her mother? Just walk into her house and claim the terminal diagnosis wasn’t so terminal? They would never forgive you, a small voice in her head said. They needed you there when your brother died, but you ran away. Like a coward.
Go back to my family. No matter what, she had to do that. They deserve to know.
Of course. Keep the details close to your chest, though. Alex emphasized each of the words as she signed them. Nothing good will come of telling them about the Black Room.
I am well aware.
Good. Alex paused for a moment. Is there anyone else you’d want to see? Some old friends you haven’t caught up with? Coworkers? Any exes maybe?
No, to all of them. Alia stumbled over the proper hand motions as she responded. There is not too much there.
Guess it’ll be time to make some new old friends.
I will have a few coworkers that I’d want to keep in touch with. Unless you and Magnus plan on cutting me off the moment I quit.
You’re not getting rid of me that easily. Alex smirked.
For a moment Alia almost believed her.
Is there something wrong? Alex asked, furrowing her brow.
I don’t want to die, Alia said, trying to avoid her friend’s gaze.
Alex knelt down in front of Alia, putting a hand on her shoulder. You won’t, she signed.
But then what? If somehow I manage to survive, what will I do? I don’t want to go back to being a cop. How can I? There’s nothing for me there anymore.
Then don’t. There’s plenty of options. Do something else, Alex replied, her hands faltering as she tried to find the right words.
Alia’s hands were shaking as she replied. You always hear those stories about people who cheated death and have some life altering epiphany. They realize what they have been missing, change their lives and live happily ever after. She took a deep breath. Where’s my epiphany, Alex? I’m staring my death in the face and I don’t see anything. Just more of the same. I don’t think I can do anything else.
Concern flitted across Alex’s face as Alia struggled to give voice to her thoughts. Of course she should be concerned, that small voice whispered. She moved heaven and earth to save the life of someone who doesn’t even know what they want to do with it.
If I do make it, how can I ever put myself in the line of fire again? It would be cruel to my mother, my brother’s family, to survive a terminal diagnosis and then die to a junkie. Alia wiped at her eyes, trying to stem the tears. But how can I not? There’s nothing else for me. I’ve never even considered what a life outside this would look like.
I don’t know either, Alex signed back. When you join the Grave Hounds they make it very clear what the life expectancy is, and they remind you of it so often that you get forget what it is like to look forward to something. Even after getting out, I never knew what I wanted. It was always about revenge, or making it through the day. I lost what made me, me. And now I don’t know how I can get that back. But we can figure it out. Together.
I’d like that, Alia replied.
Just remember Alia: I’ll never let you die. Alex smiled weakly. Never. Time until summit: 39 hours, 12 minutes, 55 seconds Lial slipped through the streets of Europa City like a ghost. A few people sent glances his way, but none lingered long. He was just a bored soldier wandering around during his time off. Just one of many.
He had lost the Black Room tails some time ago. They had been good, but Lial had help. The other him was a useful decoy and observer. Beyond that, the promise of being resurrected into a new body upon the moment of death meant he didn’t need to concern himself with any guards, even in hostile territory.
But while all human worlds were classified as hostile territory, for the purposes of mission debriefing, his rendezvous would be somewhat more dangerous than average. Not because of his counterpart’s combat prowess. Far from it.
As he slipped through the back streets of the city, the landscape began to shrink and compact itself as he left the more affluent sections. The soaring towers that caressed the great domes of the underwater metropolis gave way to smaller towers, which gave way to shops and parks, and finally to residential housing. The neighbourhoods looked similar to the ones you’d see on any other habitable world, save for the fact that their sun was a series of massive overhead incandescent lamps on a timer. Never let it be said that humans didn’t fill the dark with light.
His meeting was located in the centre of one of these satellite domes which stuck off the main hubs of the city. Traffic dropped dramatically the farther out you went. Due to Europa City’s location, it was infeasible to create too many connections between disparate domes. The fewer connections the easier it would be to sequester a dome in the event there was a leak. Drop one of the multi-meter thick blast doors in the connecting tunnels and the residents of the dome could drown while the rest of the city stayed dry. A practical, pragmatic solution.
Slipping through quiet streets full of rows of house aping the styles of long dead empires, Lial came to a small park where his counterpart was waiting. The Oualan was lounging on a concrete bench next to a concrete table, artificial wind blowing through her crest of feathers. Genetically perfected trees cast her in the shadows of the fake moonlight and she gave no notice that they saw Lial until he sat opposite to her on the bench.
‘Glad you could make it,’ the Oualan said. Her all-black outfit could be considered exotic at best, with the fabric almost matching the colour of her fur and feathers. Black filigree outlined every seam, and the idea of a single unified layer seemed to have been anathema to the designer. A thick black band covered one of her eyes, arabesque stitching forming entrancing patterns. It was meant to catch the eye, and draw people in. Lial had seen similar outfits on models, actors, and diplomats. An ironic choice, he supposed. The only irregularity was the long, baggy sleeve on her right arm, and the glint of metal beneath the cuff. All in all, nothing about it suggested her true allegiances.
He recognized her as one of the numerous low-level diplomats who swept in with the main forces, the remoras clinging to the greater creatures. Even the smallest parts of the ecosystem could find themselves in places of importance. Lial recalled that he had seen her in the background of the negotiations between Orbital Shipyards and the Council representatives.
‘Are they waiting?’ Lial asked.
‘Do you even need to ask? They cleared their schedule for you. They always will,’ the Oualan smiled, pulling a small pebble from the folds of her robes and passing it to Lial. He slipped it into his ear as the Oualan removed the black band over her eye.
Adriel was right that the Council lacked the ability to perform augmentations to the same extent of humans. The technology and legislative boundaries meant that most prosthetics could only be an mediocre -at best- replacement for their biological counterparts. However, implementation was a far simpler matter.
The mechanical eye stared back from the Oualan’s socket, it’s black lens fixated on Lial. Lingering scar tissue from the augmentation procedure marred her otherwise unassuming face. It would have been far simpler to implant the camera in a necklace, or just hold it, but the symbolism of the location was important to the observer. The pebble sighed, and the Oualan’s posture shifted, ever so slightly, her right hand twitching.
A third presence joined them in the park. Something ancient. Something cold.
‘Lial,’ Zatacotora whispered into his ear. It had been so long since Lial had heard their real voice that he almost didn’t recognize it. They didn’t sound like one of the most dangerous people in the galaxy. It was smooth and gentle, each word more of an exhalation than a pronouncement. Gender neutral and bereft of any sort of accent, they fit in on every world and belonged nowhere.
‘I expected the usual host,’ Lial said. Did they choose an Oualan to meet him here because they were the same species?
‘The usual host is still on Mónn Consela,’ Zatacotora said with a dismissive wave of the Oualan’s right arm. ‘They are making the rounds. Deflecting suspicion. Attracting attention.’
Even though the park was empty at this time of the night, Lial could almost see Zatacotora looming behind the Oualan.
It was a ridiculous notion. Zatacotora couldn’t loom. They haven’t been able to for decades. They were far away, their body cocooned within the heart of the Repugnant Conclusion, a metaphorical prison made literal. Their days were spent in a sterile vault, every sense linked to one of their many hosts somewhere in the galaxy as they dragged their life out longer than nature ever intended. They never moved, never slept, and, if rumours were to believed, never breathed. Bodily functions had been outsourced and automated as Zatacotora cut away every extraneous process to leave only the mind intact. They were alive in definition only, clinging to existence like a leech for as long as science and sheer willpower would permit them.
‘On to the matter necessitating this meeting,’ Zatacotora said, casual as could be. ‘Healthy Growth is suspicious. Paranoid. Delusional. Conspiracies of the Iron Core betraying the Council. Of the Secretaries being misled. Some Iron Core agents have been moved from overseeing Generals Zan’le and Ynt to Healthy Growth. This is a formal request for Hunters to be present on the Northern Cross to ensure that Healthy Growth attempts nothing untoward. The Iron Core is stretched thin digging at the myriad roots of TSIG and is unable to divert sufficient resources.’
‘It will be done,’ Lial said, maintaining his composure at the revelation that one of the Council’s main representatives appeared to be suffering a mental break. Stress was expected; anything more was not.
‘Good. A list of elements to be removed has also been prepared,’ Zatacotora said, offering Lial a small slip of paper filled with identities and suggested manners of deaths. To say it was comprehensive was an understatement. The targets ranged from security guards, to minor politicians, to even members of the Council’s own forces. Many of them seemed completely inconsequential, and Lial doubted the list was as discerning as it should be. ‘Healthy Growth is to be included, but the Iron Core will deal with him at a later date. Prioritize Lillian Yansa, Elias Malik, their allies and dispose of them at the earliest convenience after the negotiations.’
‘Any particular reason they deserve top priority?’ Lial asked. There was the obvious fact that they stole crucial information from the Black Room when they assaulted the Undergrave, but unless they had several experts in genetic engineering with decades of experience on hand it seemed unlikely they would be able to make use of it any time soon.
‘Healthy Growth promised them an entire Torch World for their assistance,’ Zatacotora said, their gentle voice spitting the words out. ‘A monopoly on such a crucial source of Ebnesium could slow production of warships in nearby systems. An unacceptable source of leverage for Elias Malik and Lillian Yansa against the Council. It will be easier to cover up their deaths in Sol than elsewhere.’
‘The Hunt will watch for opportunities. I expect the Iron Core operatives attached to them to do the same,’ Lial said, slipping the paper away.
‘The Iron Core would do no less,’ Zatacotora said, placing the Oualan’s hand over her chest. ‘What is the status of the Black Room?’
‘Scattering to the winds,’ Lial said, mouth twisting into a thin grimace. ‘It will take some time to collect the disparate elements, but rest assured that the key players have been secured and the rest are far enough away that they won’t be caught in any crossfire.’
‘Fantastic. Meeting Psychopomp will be a wonderful experience,’ Zatacotora said, a note of pleasure creeping into their voice. ‘The work here is almost complete. All that is left is to deal with TSIG and begin the slow integration of humanity. Lial and Zatacotora will be praised in the hidden corners of the galaxy. As good a fate as any for those who have given their existence to a society that denies them.’
That was the first time Lial had ever heard Zatacotora express anything close to a desire for a legacy. It was also the first time an integration of this magnitude had ever been conducted.
‘Are you at all afraid that matters may go poorly?’ Lial asked, staring into the Oualan’s false eye as though it may offer him insight into the being that stared through it.
‘Concerned? Yes. Afraid? No,’ Zatacotora said with a slight shake of the Oualan’s head. ‘War may erupt tomorrow and everyone in this system could die screaming, but that is nothing to be afraid of. Fear is a response to the unknown, and nothing is unknown. War is known. Every horrible act, every weapon, every soldier, and every tragedy is born from a person. A person can be understood, analyzed, predicted, and killed. Understand the people, understand the future. And there is nothing in the endless emptiness but people.’
‘How optimistic,’ Lial said dryly.
‘It is fact,’ Zatacotora stated.
‘It’s veracity doesn’t change the fact that people have been the cause of every one of our misfortunes.’ It was hard to contain his animosity at Zatacotora, and Lial couldn’t claim it was because they were inefficient. Far from it. It was because Zatacotora was the worst kind of zealot: the one whose belief in themselves was only matched by their belief in their cause.
The Oualan’s right hand clenched and she raised her eyebrows with a wry smile. ‘That failure is shared,’ Zatacotora hissed.
‘Never claimed it wasn’t. But remember this: our primary goal here was to convert Psychopomp and his ilk. The Hunt’s accomplished that. The secondary objectives are-’
‘The Filter is the Iron Core’s,’ Zatacotora interrupted. Continued
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