Just like that, I had let a corporate entity take me away. Lucere had paid for our drinks and motioned toward the door.
A flying taxi hovered outside, the driver motioning us to come in.
Once we were safely inside the taxi lifted off. After a few minutes, we were staring directly at the Eastern Hills Space Company campus, directly into their headquarters. Spread over a four-block section of the city and comprised of five buildings, the campus almost didn't fit in with its surroundings. Almost.
The building we were headed directly for was the secondary R&D building Marvin and I had planned to infiltrate later tonight. A hatch on the roof began to open as we approached, large enough to let the taxi land inside.
"That's our facility," Lucere said, moving her arm from around my waist to point at it, "We do lots of really cool stuff in there, but we're primarily a strike force."
"Why would Eastern Hills need a strike force?" Marvin asked, finally lifting his head from the window. He and I had never been in a flying taxi before, so he was getting as much of the view as he could.
"Likely something to do with discovering magic," I replied, looking into Lucere's eyes, searching for confirmation.
"Eilidh is right," Lucere said, giving me what I wanted, "but we aren't technically run by Eastern Hills. We are self-governing: we have power equal to the CEO and we take profits from the company before the board members get to siphon off their overly-large portions."
"And what do you do with those profits?" I asked pointedly.
"Well, each member of the strike force is awarded one share of it per quarter, which is a rather large chunk," she explained, "We also keep a discretionary budget, equipment budget, upkeep costs, and award shares on a per-operation basis."
"So this strike force is structured after runner groups," I noted, quickly adding, "At least financially."
"Yes," Lucere confirmed, "and similar goals as well. As runners, I'm sure you saw the data leaks from the Kai Heavy Industries dig sites."
"I remember being really impressed by the runners behind the leaks," Marvin stated, a look of fancy lingering on his face.
"It wasn't runners," Lucere said, a wicked grin spreading across her face.
"This strike force was behind the leaks," I stated as her implication started to make sense, "But why?"
As the taxi started a descent through the hatch, wind caught its large rotors and the whole vehicle jostled to the right. I started feeling uneasy.
"Letting Kai's digs continue unchecked would have destroyed something important to the planet," Lucere answered. She didn't betray any worry at all on her face, but her voice filled the air with sorrow.
Marvin blinked a few times. "Why would you care about that?"
"It is in the nature of our benefactor to care about this planet," replied Lucere, "even if we can't do terribly much to reverse the hellscape that it is now."
"Your benefactor?" I asked.
"Eilidh, our benefactor, the Deity responsible for giving us our magic."
"Our benefactor," I repeated slowly, letting it sink in. I was still in denial; it felt so absurd. Then my brain caught up. "Wait, deities are real?"
"Yes and no," Lucere explained, "It's rather complicated. Deities aren't the same as mythology makes them out to be. They aren't all powerful, nor are they capable of directly affecting the world. They can only interact via pocket dimensions and the mirror world."
"Mirror world?" Marvin asked, "like, the world behind the glass of the mirror?"
Lucere smiled."Exactly." Her smile was so pretty. The way it lit up her face made it contagious, until she started focusing on something I couldn't see and it faded into a scowl.
"What's wrong?" I asked her, lightly touching her face. In that moment, I had not a single care that the taxi just landed.
"Looks like we have a two for one deal going," she replied, focusing on me again. Her smile returned, but it looked like a tired smile instead of the genuine one I'd seen just a moment before. "One of our own was properly blessed by the Goddess, which means I'm trapped here for a month at least while they complete their transformation."
"A month?" I asked, "Mine's only a week, right?"
"Yes," she replied, "Theirs is a bit special of a transformation. You asked the Goddess, even if you didn't realize it. They didn't. They are a full mage while you're only a demimage. Now based on your purple effects, it's likely you'll be a little more powerful than the average demimage, as you can utilize magic even without your body being rebuilt."
"What's a demimage?" Marvin asked, a curious look on his face.
"Well, lets explain mages first," she replied, rubbing her temples, "I'm a mage; that means I have a full magical circuit embedded in my body, so I may utilize all of the magical energy around and within me. A demimage has a less powerful version of that same magical circuit in theirs. It means that demimages, while much more magically talented than an average human, can't ever really match up equally against a mage. The process of transformation is what reconfigures your body to accept a magical circuit. You following me on that?"
Marvin and I nodded.
"So I have to go through this process of transformation to get a magical circuit embedded into me," I noted, staring off into the distance as we landed inside the building, "and that magical circuit was given to me by a deity, in this case a goddess, because I asked for it?"
"That sums it up," Lucere said, kissing my forehead before hopping out of the taxi. "You coming Eilidh?"
"Yeah," I mumbled and scooted out of the taxi to stand next to Lucere.
"You are adorable, getting caught up in your head like that," she said, grabbing my hand and leading me into the building. I looked back quickly to see Marvin following us at a short distance. He smiled at me, showing how anxious he was about all this.
I found the door into the stairwell a little odd: no visible method to open it. Instead, it vanished as we approached and reappeared behind us. It was kind of jarring. Marvin was visibly gawking at it. I wasn't sure I wanted to try and figure it out.
Once we were down two flights of stairs, Lucere made a sliding motion with her arm out front. The wall reconfigured itself into an entryway. The room beyond was a rather rapidly put-together medical ward, cots six feet apart along each wall and a decent path leading to a large machine with bed-like chambers along each side of it.
There was a man sealed in one of the chambers, ice and water covering him above his head. He had an air mask hooked up to him, presumably feeding him fresh air so he could breathe. Two women stood on either side of the chamber he was in.
"Welcome back, Manafed," one of them said, turning around to greet her, "Sorry your leave was cut short by two strays, but we'll get you through it as best we can, then you can have a month to yourself."
"Thank you Tamaki," Lucere said, giving a tired salute. She walked over to observe the man in the chamber, "this Young?"
"Yeah, they have been blessed by our Pale Goddess, though," Tamaki replied, "so we'll see how they come out, as She has never been a particular fan of men."
"Her aspects and domains prevent it," the third woman stated, "We all know that. We all know how this is going to go. She'll wake up and fight her new form for a week or so, then realize she's never been happier and everything will just click."
"They could have a different outcome, Davis," Lucere said, sighing deeply before turning back to me, "This is Eilidh, and her friend Marvin. Demimage and possible artificer, respectively. Tamaki, will you help me get our new demimage into a cryotube?"
"Yeah," Tamaki replied, turning to Davis, "you go get Marvin tested for artifact fitness and pair him up with a good partner."
Davis gave a salute and began walking toward the entryway. She stopped about halfway to it and said to Marvin, "You coming? Or am I going to have to pull all your memories and dump you on the street?"
"I'll come take a test," he replied, following her out of the room and down the stairwell.
"So what happens to me?" I asked, the room suddenly growing far too warm.
"You get in one of these cryochambers or your fever melts your brain," Tamaki said in the midst of preparing one. Lucere was sitting down at a desk on the wall behind the machine, taking notes and filling out paperwork.
"We're going to need to get you into virtual to start training," Lucere stated, not looking up from her paperwork, "You have the option to choose whether or not you get a neural implant now or later. If you choose later, I can get you into virtual using a neural crown now."
I laughed. "Right, as if I'd be the fool to pass up a freaking neural interface. Give me the implant."
She sighed, pulled out another form, and turned to Tamaki. "Commander, why the hell are we still doing paperwork when we literally have computers in our heads?"
"Because if we don't the archival department will kill us," Tamaki replied, motioning me to come over. Looking at me now, she finally said, "Come on, we don't have all day."
"Yes ma'am," I said, walking over to the chamber and clambering in. Its 45- degree angle was awkward to get in, but it was a nice resting position.
"I'm going to hook some IVs up to you," Tamaki said, holding a needle, "is that alright?"
"No," I said sarcastically, "Please just stop my brain from melting already?"
"Feisty," Tamaki said.
"And a great kiss," Lucere said.
"Oh," Tamaki said, curiosity on her face. She looked at me, "May I?"
"Um, sure I guess," I said.
Tamaki pressed her lips gentlly against mine.
There was that electrifyingly good feeling again.
I leaned into the kiss, a moan escaping from me.
"Okay girls." Lucere's voice shocked me. Did I seriously not notice her walk from her desk all the way here? "We need to prepare for surgery. Can we not make out until after it's done?"
"Very good kiss," Tamaki said, pulling away from me, a funny look on her face as she tried to calm down. I was sure I had a similar look on mine.
"You didn't even get the IV in her Tamaki," Lucere said, a tired look spreading across her face.
"Sorry," I said, reaching out to touch Lucere's jaw. Then I remembered. "Hey, you said you'd give me more kisses before we left the bar, and then we were both distracted by, um, magic stuff."
Her eyes lit up as she remembered, "Oh, yeah. I figured you didn't care anymore."
"Of course I care," I said, a little offended, "I liked kissing you."
Tamaki gave Lucere a look, "Well, looks like the new girl is going to fit in just fine."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, looking between the two women.
"You'll find out." Lucere leaned in and gave me a kiss. It was a quick kiss, but it felt just as good as the first time.
As she pulled away I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her into the chamber on top of me.
"You aren't about to get away with that," I said, panting with want. I pushed my needy lips against hers, kissing her as deeply as she'd allow.
Lucere pulled away after a second. "Listen: we have a lot to do. We can make out in virtual. I can even take you to a beach of some alien planet, if you want, but we have to get this done now before your skin becomes hot enough to burn me though your clothes."
I pouted at her, finally presenting my arm for her to put an IV into. I noticed Tamaki's face was as red as a cherry tomato, stopped pouting, and winked at her.
"I'm going to give you something to put you under while I implant you, okay? I need you to start counting backwards from ten," Lucere instructed.
"Okay, I'm ready," I said, "Ten." Almost immediately I could feel whatever she'd given me was slowing my brain down.
"Nine." Wow, this felt amazing. I was about to get the best sleep of my life.
"Eight." Tamaki moved closer. I smiled at her. Her lips were so pretty.
"Seven." Oh, I was starting to slur my speech, wasn't I? Lucere was finally standing over me. Her eyes were twinkling. She was beautiful.
"Six." Tamaki said something I couldn't hear. Lucere nodded.