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For about the hundredth time of the trip, India was subjected to the doom and gloom computerized warnings about entering this sector of space during a time of war. The automated voice worked its legalese throughout the passenger cabins of the vessel in three different languages, each repetition less convincing than the last. Anyone who had come this far wasn't going to turn back now.
India had been awake for hours, but remained silent while her Quebecois companion finished her sleep. Despite the younger girl's convictions that she was on her way to becoming a tough-as-nails mercenary, Sylvia seemed almost weightlessly frail against India's body. It was this out-of-place touch of weakness that had attracted India to the younger girl.
This predatory feeling was new. It was a gift from the McPhail corporation, given at the same time as the hardware implants, and physical modifications that made sleep largely unnecessary for her now.
While she kept still in the semi-dark of the cabin, India could feel these wonderfully new predatory urges pounding through her chest. In sleep, her young companion was helpless, and almost angelic in expression. Her amusing mixture of French and English, neither language spoken with competence, should have melted India's heart. This was exactly the kind of girl she would have fallen head over heels for in her college days.
But there were only traces of tenderness in India's heart. Mainly, the girl had been an amusement.
The sex had been rough and dirty, each session reinforcing India's dominance over the younger woman. And while Sylvia still did a fine job of projecting her mercenary exterior while in the public areas of the ship, when they were alone, the Quebecois girl was like a puppy-dog, anxious to please her new owner.
In some perverse way, it was this victory of spirit that pleased India more than any physical pleasure that came from sharing her bed. When the time came, and they reached port in the Shaw colony, India would cast the girl aside without remorse.
Somewhere inside of her, that detachment from emotion scared her. It was so unlike her. It was so ... McPhail.
"Morality can be a very dangerous thing, " India remembered the words of the McPhail head of covert operations, who's name eluded her right now. M-something, Mara or Maria perhaps. Truth be told, India couldn't even recall on which occasion she had heard those words, but she remembered the expression on the woman's face when she had delivered them.
Serious. Almost fearful.
And she remembered Hiroshi Nagato standing at the woman's side, nodding solemnly in agreement. It was this man who had overseen the implantation process. He watched sympathetically from the observation room while the porcelain-skinned doctor, Cue-Peg, cruelly made the illegal physical modifications without the benefit of anesthetics.
The tall doctor had paced around the room like a caged animal, toying with what live prey her captors had provided her. India could have sworn that she could detect the aroma of the doctor's arousal as she made those first painful incisions into her body. Each day that the sadistic treatments continued, India could taste the woman's arousal growing. Near the end, when she would black-out from the pain, India would awaken with that familiar taste fresh on her tongue.
At the time, the ordeal had been frightening. India remembered crying for mercy, and the twisted sort of smile those pleas would bring to the doctor's impossibly dark eyes. Looking back on it, however, there was no fear left. The time she had spent in that tiny room, strapped face-down to an operating table, felt like a fitting initiation to her life within McPhail.
That taste of sadistic pleasure remained with her too, and thinking about her time at the Macau research station always gave her a rush of arousal. India dropped her hand down beside the bed to find the leather belt she had left there after the previous evening's pleasures.
It was time for her little French girl to wake up anyway, and what better way to get her blood pumping than a little morning workout. Besides, there was still a tender area of pale white flesh high on the girl's inner thighs that hadn't yet tasted the leather.
India was glad she had saved a little virgin flesh for their last day together.
No one could say for certain why a place like Shaw colony was spared the ravages of war, while less than a day's travel away, the conflicts were waged openly. Some justified it by historical trends. Others called it dumb luck. Holy Moses preferred to call it the will of God.
However it was chosen, no one would violate the unspoken agreement that kept this port safe. It was just too useful to everyone involved. It was a place for mercenaries to be hired, and when the war was done with them, a place for remains to be shipped home. It was a gateway for armaments and refugees, a place for the tired to sleep, and a place for the scavengers to spend the spoils of war.
On this day, Moses spent his time touching up the paint on the outside of his small barge. Two new metallic patches had been added to the underside of the ship. Moses was hard pressed to find a shade of blue paint that would match the patchwork of other blues that had been added over the years. However, he spent more of his time meticulously cleaning and touching up the red and white emblem that donned the sides of the ship.
Through years of piloting in war zones, some would call it a plain fluke that the red and white shield emblem had never been struck by any kind of enemy fire. Moses preferred ascribe it to his close personal relationship with God.
"The Salvation Army? " a woman's voice questioned from below. " I didn't think they showed up for this kind of a war."
"They don't," answered Moses, not yet looking down. " Between conflicts, I do transport runs for their Op Shops. Don't ask me why they call it an 'Op Shop'. It seems a strange name for a thrift store to me. When I'm out piloting in battle zones, I make an effort to send any salvage I can back their way."
"So you don't work for them?"
"It's a volunteer thing, really. I do my best to see that some sort of good come out of the evil we see here. Right now, I'm contracted to the McPhail corporation, media division."
"Good. Then you're the man I'm looking for."
Moses stepped down from the metal rungs that led up the side of the barge to greet the woman. She held out her hand.
"India Taggart, " she smiled with teeth perfectly straight and proportional. She was strikingly perfect, like those obscenely expensive women who could only be seen on newscasts and pornography, not that Moses would know about such things. He was half way through a handshake before he remembered how much paint was still on his hands.
"Damn, I'm sorry, " he apologized, and offered the woman a cloth. " I'm Moses Adams."
"No problem, " she assured him, with a wink. There was something just slightly contrived about the moment, and it gave Moses a chill. Everything about her manner and appearance seemed calculated, by the algebra of human emotion, to illicit warmth and trust. There was no telling how much of her was natural, and how much had been enhanced. He'd seen her type before, just never this ... good.
Even her name. India Taggart. It was just too perfect. It was a stage name. There was just a trace of ethnicity in her refined features that hinted of an Indian origin. Otherwise, her hazel-coloured eyes and full lips seemed as fashionable as the most recent list of the 50 most beautiful people.
Damn. He'd never seen such a piece of work.
"Why don't you show me around Shaw colony before we get going? It might be good for some background footage."
"Uh, okay. But could I give you a little advice?"
"The thing is, it looks like you're on a fashion safari or something, " Moses told her, not pulling any punches. " In your business, saying you're a war correspondent might carry some romantic Ernest Hemingway notions with it, but out here, you're just another target. Dressed like that, and, if you'll excuse me saying ... looking the way you do, you're a target worth taking."
India looked down at her clothing self-consciously. "What do you suggest?"
"If you're flying with me anyhow, you may as well just slip into a flight suit. As you can see, they're none too flattering. Tie up your hair, wear a baseball cap, and don't flash your pretty teeth to strangers. That ought to do it."
Twice before, Moses had taken on war reporters for the McPhail corporation. On other occasions, he had worked for competing media outlets. He had brought all of the reporters home alive, which is more than could be said for most freelance pilots that could be hired around here. Hell, most of these guys would already be planning how to spend the money they would get from selling a pretty thing like India into sex slavery.
Not Moses. That wouldn't be Christian.
India stripped out of her clothes in the cabin of the barge. She swore at herself silently for the mistake of wearing the stylish khakis to this assignment. It was a rookie mistake. Amateurish.
What bothered her most was the truth in what Moses had said. Despite a Harvard education, and all of the first-class information hardware that Hiroshi had installed in her head, she was still just an amateur at this. Right now, more than anything, she needed to rely on her survival instincts.
They were instincts so dark and strong within her now, that she could feel them struggling to take control. All she had to do was allow them.
They were frightening impulses, like the predatory feeling she had allowed to manifest in her relationship with her young friend on the transport ship. There was something unnatural in these feelings, but they were very much a part of her now.
"Fuck these, " she told herself, pulling away the tight lace panties, and push-up bra she was wearing. Cute and feminine wasn't what she was looking for right now. She replaced the bra with a more practical sports bra from her bag. She didn't bother with panties under the flight suit. No need.
Taking control felt good. India took a moment to wash away her make-up, and fix her hair into a pony-tail. A glance in the mirror told her that she looked younger this way, almost like she had when she first enrolled in Harvard. It was strange to connect herself to that girl, who had joined the political science department with such idealistic views. India felt entirely detached from those ideals now.
She tucked her hair through the back of a baseball cap, and pulled the rim down to shade her face. Still a bit girlish, but it would have to do for now. She headed back out to where Moses was waiting.
They walked together to a lounge near the docking center.
"Well, if it ain't Holy Moses, back from the crusades, " one of the other pilots kidded him. " And who's your sidekick? One of the Jeredites, I suppose. Or a nun from the Franciscan order, perhaps."
"None of the above, actually. You're just as ignorant as you look, Vic. India is learning to be a pilot. I've agreed to help her along."
"More charity work, or are you getting a little something in the way of compensation?" The half-drunk man leered suggestively.
"Shove off, Vic."
Moses led the way to a corner booth in the lounge. The seats and tables were red and yellow plastic, and it only took India a moment to figure out that this had once been a fast food restaurant. Part of the menu board still flickered above the counter. Today, the only nutrition served here was from the bottom of a beer bottle.
Perhaps it was a step up, nutritionally speaking, she noted ironically.
India scanned the room carefully, the hardware inside her head capturing every moment. It was expensive equipment that allowed her to scan and store information at this kind of resolution. She could later review and edit the images internally, only sending it back to McPhail in completed form.
The first thing that struck her was the absence of women. Sure, there were serving girls and prostitutes. But amongst the pilots and mercenaries, there were very few women at all.
"Strange, " she told Moses softly.
"Somehow, I thought there would be more women here. Anywhere else, more than half the union pilots are women."
"Some women come here to pilot. Not many stay. Some even come as want-to-be mercenaries. They're kidding themselves. It's a man's game being played out here."
"And they won't let us girls play along?"
"Oh, sure they will ... for a while. Look across from us here. See the young girl near the washroom doors ... she's new here. Probably just came in today."
The girl was much more familiar than Moses could have guessed. India could still savor the beautiful red marks she had given to the French girl's body this morning. India didn't bother to interrupt the pilot's narration, however.
"She's dressed for battle. It's all brand new gear. That's a lovely rifle she's carrying too. " The long barrel gleamed a polished black, and was slung around one arm. Yes, India remembered, Sylvia was quite proud of that rifle. She had saved for months.
"It's a shame, " Moses continued. " She's hooked up with Peter Koska, one of the darkest souls I've ever come across. Maybe she even heard about his reputation before coming here. The silly girl thinks she's a match for him. She want to be his protégé. His successor."
"And you don't think it'll happen?"
"Not a hope. It might take him a while, but he will break her. She's just an amusement to him, and he'll enjoy using her up."
India knew the feeling. A mild sting of guilt tickled at the back of her neck for her own role in corrupting the girl. There was a little taste of jealousy too. Maybe there was even an urge to protect the girl from her own folly. But India let these feelings pass until all that was left was an enjoyable throbbing of predatory arousal.
"One more question... " India started, for the first time really noticing the calm focus of her companion. His manner spoke of an intellectual life not visible in the other men here.
"That man called you Holy Moses. What's that about?"
"I've been known to try to save a few souls."
"But not today?"
The freelance pilot gave a half-smile, and glanced sideways around the room. "Nothing much worth saving today."
The loading dock here was cold. So very cold.
Environmental controls on this substation had been off-line for more than an hour. Moses could just about see the moisture in the air turning into a light frost on every surface.
Still no sign of India. Against his better judgment, she had gone in to survey the battle damage. He knew better than to try to hold her back. If he refused, she would just find another pilot who was more willing to serve her whims.
Moses didn't know where it would end. India seemed determined to see every ugly centimeter of this war. Twice before, she had gone off alone. The first time, it was in a refugee camp on Panama station. A human interest story, she had told him. Moses offered to come along, but India had refused. She wanted to blend in.
And she did.
When she later returned to the barge, Moses didn't recognize her for a moment, so completely had she adopted the clothing and manner of these displaced people.
The second time had been at a makeshift brothel near the front line.
"I can't tell you how awful a place like this can be, " he had begged her.
The cry of a young girl from within accentuated his point. The girl had probably lived on this station with her family, until the war came. Now her life was only worth the hourly fee she could charge before her body was worn out.
"All the more reason why I should see it first-hand, " India had responded. She stepped up close to Moses, and reached down inside of his flight suit. The close physical contact sent shivers through Moses' body.
"I'll take this," she told him, withdrawing his handgun.
He saw it in her eyes. Excitement. Arousal. Then she disappeared into the darkness and stench of the brothel.
When she had returned that night, she crawled into bed with Moses, too drunk to climb into her own bunk. She filled the tiny space with the odor of drugs and alcohol, and her body smoldered with the afterglow of sex. She had giggled to herself when Moses climbed out of bed and took her bunk instead. This was her idea of fun.
And now she had disappeared into the twisted corridors of this embattled mining substation, while the systems failed one by one. The heavy equipment in the loading bay could be heard groaning and crackling with the sudden temperature drop. Soon, it would become too cold to survive. Every agonizing minute brought the temperature closer to the point where it would kill.
One more minute, Moses told himself three times.
Until what? He wasn't going to leave her here, was he?
Finally, he caught sight of her. India was running towards the ship from a connecting passageway. A trail of tiny white crystals swirled through the air behind her, the vapor in her breath freezing instantly.
Running? Not smart. The cold would burn her lungs something fierce. Nonetheless, she scrambled up the metal rungs, and collapsed into the semi-warmth of the barge's cabin.
"We have to..." India puffed. " ... go! Now!"
The athletic brunette held herself steady against the exit hatch as Moses began to fire the thrusters. The heavy wheels of the barge locked and skidded on the icy floor of the loading dock. It was going to be hard to maneuver into the air lock.
"Jesus, you're taking too long, " the girl gasped.
"Easy. If I don't do it right, we won't be leaving at all."
The barge skidded to a crooked stop just past the inner doors of the air lock. The machinery that controlled the locks ground into their noisy chore. Moses sat motionless, waiting for the right moment to be able to clear the outer doors.
"Go, " India urged.
"Go, goddamn it!"
When he finally hit the engines again, India fell backwards into the base of the bunks. One of the wheels knocked against the outer lock door as it pulled open, jarring the barge into a minor spin that Moses corrected without letting up on the thrust.
India scrambled to her feet again when Moses steadied the craft, and pulled herself up onto the navigator's seat.
"It's going to..." she began, but the substation revealed its secret before she could give warning. A flash of light was followed by the first wave of explosion debris. A rain of debris clattered against the barge's hull. Glittering bits of metal filled space around the barge, sweeping outwards faster than the barge could accelerate.
A few more impacts jarred the hull of the barge, as some of the larger remnants of the station knocked against them.
Finally, as the debris field scattered out further, Moses removed his shaking hands from the control panel. He looked to India for explanation, but she was too busy pulling away her flight suit to appraise her wounds.
"Where did you get that, " he nodded to the large thermal coat she was presently shedding.
"I took it from one of the casualties on the sub-station ... it looked warm."
"And your wounds?"
"He put up a bit of a fight, " India showed her perfectly straight teeth in a chilling smile.
Moses shook his head in disbelief. " You took it from a survivor?"
India shrugged. " As you can see, " she said, waving her hand at the debris floating past the ship, " he wouldn't have been a survivor for long. Help me with this cut, will you?"
The cut on her side was deep. Moses was almost glad of it. If she felt no remorse otherwise, she would at least bear a scar for her immorality.
Much like everything else about her, India's body was sculpted to perfection. She stepped out of the flight suit and leaned against the wall of the cabin while Moses checked the wound. Her tight belly rose and fell rapidly as she worked to catch her breath.
"You'll walk away from this with your body intact, " Moses assured her, pressing gently against the wound with a gauze pad, " but I don't make any guarantees about your soul."
"Are you waxing religious on me, Mo?"
"I just don't see how you could do it, even to a dying man."
"I would have died in there if I hadn't. You could see how cold it was getting. Jesus, my face is still numb. If it would make you feel any better, I could've lied to you about it."
"You're changing on me, India. You're a different person every day. I can't even keep up with it."
Moses struggled for the words to explain it to her. It was like watching the moods of the ocean. Maybe the anger of the storm was always there, under the surface, but it was so easy to forget in the moments of calm.
The words wouldn't come. It didn't matter. She understood what he meant. He could see it in her eyes.
India leaned against the wall as Moses tended to her injury. He set the medical kit on the floor, and bandaged her from his knees, trying hard not to inhale the perfume of her body. She stroked his hair absently as he worked on her.
"You didn't have anything to do with the explosion, did you?"
She was silent for a moment. " No, " she answered finally, but without much effort to conceal the lie.
The lies were always there.
India knew from the start that Moses wasn't fooled. In truth, she didn't try very hard to convince him. There was something comforting in the pilot-seat sermons he would share with her when he was suspicious of her actions. He talked to her about morality, and spiritual life, and all those abstract topics she had left behind in first-year philosophy. She could make herself agree with every answer he gave in those moments. Praise the lord, and all that.
But that was a lie too. India could make herself believe anything, or nothing at all, depending on how useful those beliefs were to her at the moment. In the company of Moses, she would enjoy the silent moments in spiritual contemplation with her morning coffee.
In the brothel, she had enjoyed the wicked taste of cruelty as she abused the body of some unfortunate girl for her own pleasure. On the sub-station, adrenaline burned in her lungs when she took a man's life for the first time. Destroying the station gave her no guilt. It was simply a convenient way of concealing the McPhail corporation's questionable financial interests in the sector.
In the end, India had trouble knowing what she really believed herself. It change from one moment to the next, according to her goals at the time. And right now, her goal was a good beer buzz, and the comforts of another body in her bed.
It had been two months since the last time Moses brought the barge back to Shaw colony for repairs. It had been nearly six months from her first time on this station, and much had changed.
Or maybe she just looked on it with different eyes now. No, it was definitely changing.
"Hey sweetie, " she told the serving girl. " Bring me another two and join me for a drink."
For one thing, India didn't recall there being such a tasty young woman serving drinks in this out-of-the-way tavern near the financial district. The girl probably came in with the latest wave of opportunity seekers, ready to cash in on the financial boom of the dwindling war effort. She seemed out of step with reality here. In fact, the entire Shaw colony was a contrast to what was happening all around it. In the heart of the war, this colony was seeing prosperity.
The tavern had been mostly empty the last time India visited. It was just a quiet place to sit back and splice together her footage before transmitting back to McPhail. Now the place was full, both of patrons, and the restless energy of a boomtown economy.
Talk was everywhere. The war had made ruin of most of the settlements in this area of space. There was talk that the fighting would end soon. There was talk about rebuilding, and all of the financial opportunities that would come along with the effort.
But then, that was the whole point, wasn't it?
The serving girl slid into a chair across from India. " You're India Taggart, aren't you?" she asked with a sly smile.
"Wow. I knew it was you. I saw some of your reports before we moved out here. I'm Flea. I mean, Felicia, but most everyone back home calls me Flea."
"New Holland colony."
For some reason, the mention of the place gave India an unsettled feeling. No matter. This was going well. The girl seemed impressed. And more than willing to share a couple of drinks.
A moment of doubt crossed India's mind. The girl was innocent.
The moment was brief. As much as Moses preached to her about decency, there was a dark part of herself that always guided her the other direction. Recently, that part had taken a shape in her imagination. The face was clear. It was McPhail's director of covert operations, a woman with dark, intense eyes. Laura ... or something. No, it started with an M. India wondered why she had so much trouble keeping the name in her head.
India didn't remember exactly when she had met the woman. The memory of their conversation was disjointed. Perhaps they had never even met. But the memories were there nonetheless. It was this woman who had ordered the implants that had so changed India's personality. It was this dark-eyed woman who had left her at the mercy of the pale doctor at Macau colony. And despite the vagueness of her recollections, India felt connected to this woman. Almost like a sister.
The "M" woman spoke of morality as a curse. It was a curse which India could feel the complex electronic devices of Hiroshi Nagato suppressing in her own mind. The expensive devices fed her impulses unobtrusively, through the margins of her imagination.
Why? A part of it must have been to make her an effective agent. Yes, there was that. But there was more too. India felt like she could understand the motives behind her employers a little bit, in those calm morning moments alone with Moses on the barge. It would come to her eventually.
In the meantime, her appetite for this girl won over any doubts. It wasn't a long seduction. India had no time for that sort of thing. If she was going to be back to the battle lines before this war ended, they would be leaving in the morning.
"Where are we going?" Flea asked sweetly, holding India's hand as she led.
It was a good question. India could well afford accommodations in the more expensive districts of Shaw colony. But her arousal was leading her elsewhere. She was taking her prize back to the place she had called home for most of her days since being re-born. She was bringing Flea back to the barge.
When in this kind of predatory haze, India rarely paused to question her own motives. The only naughty explanation that popped into her mind was that she wanted to show off her victory to Mo. His holiness would be shocked, of course, and India would hear about it in the coming weeks, but right now, the extra thrill of corrupting this girl in the bunk atop his seemed worth the sermons.
It was late in the loading docks when India and Felicia scrambled into the blue Sally Ann barge. India's body was already warmed by hours of flirting and dirty thoughts. She pinned the younger girl against the wall of the cabin, and sharpened her appetites by teasing Flea's lips with her tongue.
Behind her, she knew that Moses was still awake. He would pretend otherwise, of course, but he cared too much. He would never be able to sleep until he knew she was all right. Now she could feel his eyes on her, and she enjoyed the sensation.
This was as much for him as for her. He couldn't help himself, India knew. In their time together, it was unavoidable that he had been treated to a show of her body now and again. In fact, India made sure of it. Maybe it was a mischievous reaction to his sermons. She loved to see him blush when she caught him looking.
Now she was providing a little more to look at. Felicia was a beautiful girl. Perhaps she was a bit skinny, but India liked her girls that way. She continued to explore the girl's mouth with her tongue while she roughly pulled at the clothing that separated their bodies.
Before the implants and physical modifications, India had never explored her own sexual dominance. Beginning with the Quebecois girl, Sylvia, on the trip over, and developing over the following months, India learned that she was quite an aggressive lover.
"Oh my god, " Flea moaned through clenched teeth when India dropped to her knees, and began to explore the folds of her pussy. India teased the girl's clitoris with her long tongue, and gave her just enough pleasure to keep her pliant. With the right balance of alcohol and arousal, this cute naive girl would do anything.
Flea's reaction was just as audible, in the form of a yelp, when India rose to her feet again, and twisted one of the young woman's hard nipples between her fingers. " Follow me, " she order, pulling the captivated girl towards her bunk.
"Hands on the bunk, " she ordered. Flea bent forwards, placing spreading her arms to either side of India's top bunk. It gave India a wonderful thrill to know that this young girl's body was only inches away from where Moses was pretending to sleep in the lower bunk. Felicia wouldn't know it in the darkness of the cabin, and India had no intention of spoiling the fun.
The commands were silent now. India guided the girl to parting her legs and bending forward. India stood close behind her, and caressed her smooth ass before taking the first slap. Flea jerked a little, but stayed in place.
A natural, India thought to herself. By this time, her blood was heated with lust, and she could barely hold herself back. Another gentle touch, and then another sharp blow with the flat of her hand. India dipped her hand lower between the girls thighs, and reached forward to find her wetness. The bar girl squirmed at the touch. Everything was perfect.
With her left hand, India took hold of the back of her lover's neck. It was time for the real punishment to begin. The sharp report of flesh on flesh sounded repeatedly in the small space of the cabin, each blow louder than the last.
Flea stayed in place, frozen in the reporter's grip. India could feel her body jerking with each new touch from behind, and knew the mixture of pleasure and pain the girl must be feeling. For India, it was the feeling of dominance ... the taste of control. India wondered if Moses could taste it too. He seemed so good at reading her feelings.
Finally, when the girl began to whimper a little, India eased off, and slipped her hand between Felicia's thighs again from behind. The heat and wetness told her exactly how much this girl enjoyed the game. This was going to be a good night.
India patted the girl on the bottom, gently this time, urging her upwards into the top bunk. Once the girl was up, India began to pull away her own clothing. One more little show for Moses, before an evening of sounds to fuel his imagination. India's head was already spinning with new ways to corrupt this simple girl. And Moses would be forced to hear the whole thing. Yes, it would definitely be a good night.
' It's nearly nightfall here on the Philadelphian peninsula of Sudbury colony, where today we have seen an almost complete collapse of the Republican armed forces. This heavily populated colony, located on the outer margin of the disputed territories, is believed to have been the final stronghold of Republican support. Military analysts are predicting a quick end to the hostilities in this region. '
The high resolution images seemed out of focus through the smoky haze that settled over the pock-marked landscape of this battlefield. Moses watched with amazement as the images were streamed in almost real time through the communications equipment installed in the barge. He didn't know how she could process the images and add her commentary so quickly after arriving. There wasn't even a trace of unsteadiness in the view as India climbed over the rubble in the streets.
' It's hard to believe that this was so recently a prosperous urban center, ' India narrated, with a sincerity that could almost have fooled Moses himself. ' Mercenary forces swept through this heavily populated area, seeking out units in the Republican military which had taken shelter in the city streets. Civilian casualties number in the tens of thousands. '
The footage was raw and explicit. Moses could hardly watch as India took a close-up view the corpses of those who were caught in the crossfire. Sporadic weapons fire could be heard in the distance, lending the illusion of personal danger to India's reporting. In truth, Moses knew that her safety was assured.
The McPhail corporation.
That's all anyone needed to know. Those official credentials had landed them without a scratch in this horrible scene. Now, the reporter moved in closer to the transport vessels of the mercenaries who had destroyed this place.
' All that's left now is for humanitarian forces to move in and render aid to the victims of this most recent atrocity. Above, I can hear the relief transports of the McPhail corporation moving into position. These mercenary forces are reluctantly re-boarding their vessels, taking with them what few valuables they could salvage from this broken land. '
The images responded to India's dark commentary with a wide, darkened shot of the heavily armed men as they loaded their gear aboard. Moses watched the images float by on the screen inside the barge before they were shot back towards civilization. There was an art to this. Moses could feel India working her magic to fill the digital stream with emotions.
It was all bullshit. Maybe no one else would ever know it, but Moses knew. Even in her darkest moments, Moses could read every emotion. It was a skill he had practiced too well, and he sometimes wished that he could abandon.
She was enjoying this. The excitement. The rush.
The screen shot tightened up now, focusing on one of the last groups of mercenaries to leave the scene. Moses recognized the leader. Peter Koska. His men worked together, loading some of the heavier pieces of salvage on board their ships. Amongst them was the girl. Moses remembered her.
On the first day he met India, he had seen this girl too. He had speculated on her fate in the war zone. In this chance meeting, he hoped desperately that he had been wrong about her, but the screen images spared no detail. The young girl wore no weapon. Koska proudly wore her rifle now. She walked nearby him, still trying to play the part of his lieutenant, but her belly was swollen with his baby now, a symbol for all of the other men about who she belonged to.
Her eyes caught India's for a moment. Moses could feel the moment thought the video screen. The young mercenary girl blushed with embarrassment at her condition, and dropped her eyes to the ground as she followed Koska into his vessel.
' It will be hours before the final casualties are counted. It will be even longer before we know the full extent of the destruction on the Sudbury colony. In a battle over territory, it's hard to imagine that this could be considered a victory. Reporting for McPhail Media, I'm India Taggart. '
Almost on cue to the ending of her report, Moses could hear the roar of the McPhail fleet descending on the battle zone. While the corporation officially maintained neutrality in the dispute, this peaceful stance could hardly be seen in the massive display of military force in this operation.
"My lord, " Moses said to India through is headset. " For humanitarian aid, they sure seem armed to the teeth."
He could see the men moving in through the video display from India's position. She hadn't bothered to terminate the connection to the barge after the broadcast. The images that were coming across now were only for his benefit. The McPhail troops were in full combat gear, and began to secure ground positions with military style accuracy.
"Take it easy, Mo, " India responded, with none of the sentimental tone of voice she had used in her news report. " We're authorized to be here. They won't fuck with us."
"Nonetheless, maybe you should come back to the barge now, and we can get out of here," Moses urged, not believing for even a second that she would heed his advice.
India chuckled. " The sight of blood getting to you, Preach? Hang on a few minutes ... I want to see some of the salvage effort."
"Salvage... ? I thought this was supposed to be humanitarian aid..."
For a moment, it looked like Moses was right. The soldiers began to gather the live casualties in a central area. India moved in for a closer look at the action. McPhail medics could already be seen moving through the bodies, hard at work assessing the injuries.
But something was wrong. Moses could feel it. Once the actual field surgery began, Moses was faced with the awful truth. These medics weren't dispatched here to save lives. They were here to salvage organs. One by one, the medics picked through the injured, sedating them long enough to make a quick removal of undamaged organs.
Moses' heart rose to his throat in disgust as India sent every bloody image back to the cockpit of the barge. Why was she showing him this? He didn't need to ask. He already knew. Just like the previous week when he had witnessed her show of dominance over the young girl on Shaw Colony, India was enjoying her moment of twisted exhibitionism. She knew how it would affect him. She knew.
The screen flickered black and then green as Moses shut down the monitor. Breathing heavily, he held his hands in his lap, and wondered what to do next.
This forced the issue. For weeks ... hell, for months he had seen what India was becoming. He had prayed silently for the strength to hold onto her. But now ... this was too much. Moses knew the answer. He threw down his headset, and began to work the controls of the barge. The engines began their low howl into action.
"You can't leave me now, Mo, " India was right behind him. She had come in so silently, it was almost inhuman.
"How did you... ?"