// 2023-11-03 // by Neon

Evolved Diplomacy

This story is part of a short series of stories originally written for paricipation in the Infinity Shattergrounds global campaign. The other story in this set can be found here. Special thanks to William Crites IV for writing the section depicting his ominous commander Nine. I just loved how terrifying and imposing that character is— what a great scene! Evolved Diplomacy

Labyrinthine alleys of flickering holographic billboards glimmered in the light drizzle of rain. Night had fallen in the coastal city of Huaqiao, and the cover of darkness would lend itself well to the covert operation underway.

Viyan Yousefi tapped a control on her neck and activated her thermoptic camouflage. Navigating the dimly lit pathways that crisscrossed the facility’s outskirts, she dodged surveillance drones that buzzed overhead like mechanical vultures. She slipped through the shadows, melding seamlessly into the darkness between the gentle orange glow of sodium-vapour lights distributed between the various outdoor walkways.

Gunfire erupted in the distance– they were not alone here she thought to herself. Operating independently under radio silence, Viyan had no way of coordinating what the rest of the squad was seeing. But, with any luck, she would not need to. She knew her mission, and she was not about to let a little scuffle get in the way.

Raindrops fizzled into a sort of diffuse static as they pattered on her transluscent camouflage and it almost looked like an angry cloud of haze as Viyan ran across from one building to the next, homing in on her target. She checked a scanner on her wrist and stopped near a cargo container.

Viyan's objective is in sight.

BEEP BEEP, her scanner pinged. This was it. She ran up to a maglock keypad at the door of the container and shimmied that front casing off to get to the maintenance port. Viyan pulled a small gray device, an electronic dataspike, out of a pouch on her waist. She reeled out a retractible cable from one side of the dataspike and plugged it into the universal data port on the maglock. The device flashed a couple times with debug information scrolling down the readout screen, and then the maglock chirped as it slid open.

Viyan smirked and slid the cargo container door open. But her smile did not last… the container was empty– the researcher she was here to extract, a supposed defector , was not here. Instead, an exotic looking weapon-looking gadget of alien origin. And it was pointed directly at her.

There was a brief loud coil whine and then a loud SNAP as the device discharged and Viyan felt a gust of wind rush past her. Her camouflage fizzled and burnt out as her skin started to burn and itch.

“Fuck, fuck…” Viyan stumbled and hobbled backward away from the cargo container, dropping her weapon and rubbing at her face.

She heard shouting in the distance and, realising that her camo was out, looked over to her right and saw a masked figure in the distance. She felt dazed for a moment and her eyes were watering, but she squinted and tried to make out the silhouette of the man shouting and pointing at her.

Except, that creature was no man. But he had just pulled a rocket launcher off his back and aimed it in her direction.

“Oh FUCK….”

Viyan shouted and lept for cover, but her body was thrown back in a wave of heat and pressure before she even hit the ground.

An ominous captor...

Viyan awakened… a door opened and slammed shut as she slowly blinked, her back straightening reflexively. Still dazed, she looked around, only to realise that no one had been at the door. Deep breaths. But the breath wasn’t Viyan’s. The cold tingle of hot air brushing against the back of her neck. Something slid across the ground, scratching against the clean metal floor as it moved closer and closer. There was a soft cackling, echoing off each wall.

The dark voice, now standing behind Viyan, spoke calmly, “Tell the Shogun, this is a message from me, Malignos three of Noctifer No.9, Should the alliance between the others continue without you, you will be left behind. I would advise that your employer accept our assistance. Openly, or not.”

She felt a hot sting on her neck, then the sound of pressurized air past. The enormous dark form walked past her, somehow still mired in terrifying darkness and difficult to make out despite being right in front of Viyan, as he cackled and slammed the door behind him.

Viyan Yousefi in Shasvastii captivity

Given her injuries, Viyan wasn’t sure just quite how long her stay in captivity was, but she was treated well, given medical attention, and soon back on her feet. She couldn’t help but think to herself that despite the ominous appearance of her captors, they were actually quite civilised.

Soon after she was back in walking condition, she was transferred several times, first through an O-12 prisoner exchange, then later released to a civilian private hospital in Huaqiao.

Curiously, her first visitor was a Japanese ambassador. “Your employer declined responsibility for your care, but in Greater Japan, we reward loyalty to our cause. Consider your recovery costs a gratitude for your decisive action that allowed us to retreive the operation footage and intel package you obtained for us directly from your cube.”

Viyan began to speak, but changed her mind about what she was about to say, “That is excellent news indeed. I am honoured by your kindness.”

It was certainly some kind of news, as to the best of her knowledge, Viyan did not have a cube.

Assets created using DALL-E 3 and GIMP.

Thank you for reading and I really hope you enjoyed it. I’m especially proud of this story because it got called out in praise by Corvus Belli during the campaign:

And last but not least Neon asks the question that's bound to be on the minds of many after the armistice with the Combined Army. When you are saved by the Shasvastii and sent back, can you trust you are yourself?