She floated in an isolation clone vat, every sense deprived of stimulation. Mental layers of worry, stress, and endless to-do lists melted away as her entire being began to relax.
She floated for what seemed to be hours, though it was hard to have an accurate gauge of time- and that was the point of the exercise. To free herself of every exhausting thought until she was left with nothing but a relaxed, clear-headed state of being. Only then was she able to delve deep into the recesses of her mind and pull out the submerged memories that'd had been blocking.
It was an enormous task; to piece together the fragmented memories from several clone scans after various poddings over the previous years. Doctor Witwer was also able to incorporate other memories, ones that had been left behind on the mind-scans of her clones before coming a capsuleer, scans that her Sani Sabik Father had created and stored. Witwer was able to meld the pieces together in one clone, though it was up to Shalee to pull them out of her subconsciousness and then make sense of them.
It was easiest to do without distractions, without the constant stream of everyday thoughts combined with the incessant stream of chatter while in pod. She needed focus, and the sensory deprivation clone vat gave her that.
Witwer's voice pierced the darkness, "I want to take you back to where we left off. Two years ago."
"You said you were on a public transport ship to Jita?"
"Who were you with?"
"Scatha and Scorpion."
"Where were you going?"
"To Jita Four, to the Summer Blink Casinos."
"What do you remember next?"
She searched her memories, forcing herself to piece it together. It was there, just jumbled and out of focus.
"You can do this, Shalee. Focus on one thing only, and let the other parts fall into place. What do you see?"
"The exit ramp."
"Look in front of you."
The scene within her mind shifted. She stared ahead, into a sea of people, then latched onto the two Sebiestor teens who had departed the transporter in front of them.
"What do you feel?"
"Why? What is happening?"
"We are being watched. I don't know how I know, just a feeling."
"Let it come. Let the memory play out. What happens next?"
"Scatha buys me a red dress in one of the shops. I change out of my militia uniform. He has me drink something- it has a tracking agent in it. He says it is undetectable by scanners, though only lasts six hours."
"How do you feel now?"
"Scared. Pretty. I like the dress."
"Ah, the truth serum is working." Witwer chuckled, "Continue."
"We leave the shopping district. I go into the casino...I've never been here before in person, only in holo-form. I place a bet at one of the tables."
The memory played through her mind easily. The casino lights pulsed and sparkled. Holographic gambling boards suspend overhead, flashing a few times before disappearing, replaced with a new prize to bet upon. It was wildly beautiful, the overwhelming waves of colors and sounds engulfing her. Getting caught up in the collective excitement was too easy. She laughed as a Caldarian scooped her up and swung her around, bubbling with joy over the transport ship he'd just won. She placed a bet at the table he was playing at, then another. She blew through billions upon billions of ISK in the matter of minutes, all in an attempt to get their attention.
She smiled flirtatiously, trying to hide her nervousness as a BLINK employee lead her into a plain room with a long table covered in masks. "Choose one, please," he requested.
She walked the length of the table, taking her time; admiring the quality of the masks, most were fairies and monsters from fables. Other's had more meaning. There were a few pirate bunnies and skulls. Some were pure gold, some emerald; the color reminding her of the Gallente space station.
Each of them worth more than most people acquired in a lifetime, no doubt.
Butterflies tumbled in her stomach. She knew this was some sort of test; but what kind? And then she figured it out...she hoped, at least. She lifted an ivory colored eye mask that resembled the one Faliin had worn. A Sani Sabik ritual mask. It would que the attendent to take her to the Blood Raider party.
He nodded to her as she placed the mask over her eyes. Her red hair tumbled about her shoulders in loose curls. The mask did little to hide her true identity, and that is precisely what she wanted.
She checked the time, just before being ushered into a lavishly decorated room of blood red and gold. She had just under five hours to draw Faliin's attention.
"What happens next?" Witwer asked, prompting her to continue with the memory.
She sucked in a tremulous breath as she forced the memory to play out. "I enter the Blood Raider party. The music is loud, pulsing through my body. The-the room is red. All red."
"Focus on one thing."
"Alright," she said softly as she searched the memory, finding one person in the room to bring her entire focus onto. Normally the exercise would help her calm down, but this time it had the opposite effect. Her heart thudded wildly, "I'm afraid."
"What are you focusing on?"
"Him. It's him. He's here." She started to hyperventilate. "He hasn't seen me yet."
"Tell me about him again."
"His name is Faliin Oreen. He is their leader- the one who abducted us from our pods. He is a Blood Raider."
"Look around the room. What else do you see?"
"Lots of people- they all have on the white masks. They are laughing, drinking, and gambling. Some are..."
"Having sex, I think. They are behind silk curtains but I can make out their silhouettes. The air smells like sex and blood."
"Do you feel you can continue or do you want to stop here?"
"I can go on."
"Very well. Take it slow. And remember, whatever you see can't hurt you now."
"I know," she said as she let the memory start to play once more. "He glances at me. He recognizes me. He moves through the crowd; he hasn't taken his eyes off of me."
His mouth twisted into a smirk, "Lady Lianne." His hand curled around hers and she allowed it, forcing herself to play the part.
"You know me?"
"Your beauty is renowned across the Bleaklands. Imperial, haughty, and deadly. Let's just say I am a fan." He pulled her closer and slid his hand along the small of her back. "And I knew your Father."
"You flatter me..." she waited for his name.
She smiled, "A pleasure."
"Oh, I promise you, it will be."
She laughed, as if flattered by his attention.
"Shall we go somewhere quieter where we can talk? I promise to behave," he whispered against her ear.
"I don't see why not."
Shalee groaned as she shifted in the water, forcing down the feeling of being trapped.
"Are you alright? Your pulse is elevated. Do you want to end the session?"
"No. I want to finish this. I want to remember."
"Where are you now?"
"He has taken me to a private room. We are talking. He buys it, or so I think. And then he hits me. I try to run, to escape, but he blocks the door. He grabs me by my hair. His hand is over my mouth and-and I can't breathe. I'm choking! I'm trying to fight him off but I can't! I pass out."
Witwer's tone was sympathetic. Soft. "We don't have to do this now, you've already recovered a lot today."
"No. I have to finish." She sniffled, "I wake up somewhere else. I don't know where. Oh God. Oh God, I am chained. He's going to kill me. He's going to drain me..."
"Pause. Look around. Describe it to me."
She forced herself to review the scene clinically, without any emotions. "I'm in a stark white room. Chained to the floor, but I can move some. There is a glass wall. I want to see what's out there. I crawl towards it...oh God. It is a blood farm. I can see...thousands of clone vats. And then there are bodies. Rows of them. Suspended by chains, being drained. Some ...some of them look like me."
"What happens next?" Witwer asks gently.
"I don't know how long I stay there, looking down. Hours, I think. And then Fal comes into the room.
He's not saying anything, just moving closer and closer. He-he has a c-ceremonial Sani Sabik blade. He's...oh no. He's going to cut me."
"You are safe, okay? It's just a memory. He can't hurt you now."
"He raises the knife..he's teasing me. He gets off on my fear. He wants me to scream. He wants me to beg for mercy but I wont. He kicks me. I wince, but I don't scream. I don't cry. And then he jabs the blade into my shoulder. I'm crouched, trapped between him and the glass wall. It hurts, the pain is streaking down my arm. He pulls the blade out and licks it- his tongue is split."
"I lunge for the knife. I think it surprises him. I manage to slam my hand against it, forcing it against his face. It cuts his tongue and mouth, and my hand. Blood is dripping. He wraps his hand around my throat and ...I think I am going to pass out but then a violent explosion roars behind us. The glass shatters and the impact throws Fal away from me, slamming him against a wall."
"You survive. How?"
"The chains keep me in place."
"What caused the explosion?"
"Orbital bombardment. They found me. Scorpion is bombing the blood farm."
Glass littered the floor. Dust and debris floated in the smoky air. A cacophony of screams and explosions roared, but she couldn't hear it. The explosion jarred her hearing. She felt like she was watching a holo-reel in slow motion, with no volume.
Desperately she tugged at her chains, trying to free herself as another explosion rocked the building. She screamed out, the sound lost to her. Her body ached. Bruises covered her skin, pierced by shards of broken glass. She tried to crawl her way to Fal, who was passed out and bleeding from his nose and the cuts around his mouth.
The door pushed open; light and smoke flooded the room. Scatha was there, calling her name. He found the keys on Fal's slumped form, then released her from the chains.
Fal groaned as he came to. Shalee grabbed the ceremonial blade from the floor and lunged at him, stabbing the metal into the side of his neck. He slumped to the floor. She pulled the blade out and ran it across his throat for good measure.
The blade fell from her hand, blood splattered across the broken glass.
"He's dead. We have to go," Scatha came up beside her. "Can you walk?"
"Yes," she said stubbornly, just as she crumbled to the floor.
Scooping her up, he carried her through the fiery maze, and out a side door, into the fresh, night air. Coughing, she buried her face against his chest as he carried her to a waiting shuttle. "Breathe. Just breathe."
"How do you escape?"
"Scatha...he's there. He finds me. He saves me."