[The previous section of this story can be found here. The next section can be found here. If you are a new reader, the first section of this story can be found here.]
River took a breath. It was warm. The air, real air, rushed through her lungs. She opened her eyes and found herself seated on a secluded bench in sprawling urban green space. The bench was positioned alongside a brilliant marble walking path with lush, immaculately landscaped trees and greenery providing an even shaded coverage throughout the park. Several small birds could be seen playfully fluttering through the trees, and even a couple squirrels could be seen rustling through the bushes.
Bright beams of uncannily white light filtered through the gaps between the foliage, giving the park a glowing atmosphere despite the shaded verdant canopy. Beyond the treeline were colossal ivory-white geometric high-rise towers in all directions, glistening in the sunlight as a monument to a breathtaking antediluvian metropolis.
A woman's voice spoke from beside River, "Siltakos, planet Lejth. I had those same overwhelmed eyes the first time I looked upon it, as well."
River jolted a little in surprise and looked over to the woman sitting next to her.
She was an angel. There was simply no better way to describe the entrancing radiance of the celestial being seated beside River. She looked to be roughly a head taller than River and had a svelte build, but the regal toned form of a warrior goddess. Even more captivating, though, were her elysian facial features. She had silvery blonde hair and a flawless complexion so fair that she might as well be glowing. Like something out of a fairy tale, the woman had two enormous pointed ears protruding from under her gorgeous wavy locks.
River gazed into the woman's lustrous brown eyes and blurted unthinkingly, "Are you my guardian angel?"
The celestial returned River's eye contact with a piercing stare. She made a devilish grin and responded, “I might be. For your own sake, you certainly better believe that I am. Come, walk with me.”
River rubbed her eyes, still starstruck. River heard what was being said, but for some reason the movements of the woman's lips didn't match up to the words that came out of her mouth.
As the woman rose from the park bench, River took another moment to gawk at her stylish form-fitting outfit. Both River and the celestial woman were dressed in similar futuristic white skin-tight jumpsuits. The suits each had two large orange stripes running vertically along the outsides of the legs and then wrapping around to make an intricate orange pattern on the torso. They looked to be made of some sort of matte leathery material, but were significantly shinier than any leather River had ever seen before. There were assorted fabric seams and embedded metallic creases at varying intervals of the suits, and at the hands there were built-in dark grey gloves to contrast with the light colouration of the rest of the outfit.
River followed along beside the exalted woman and took in her suroundings. The stone path led them to a clearing with a large fountain that appeared to denote the centre of the park. River looked around curiously, "What is this place? It's all so beautiful."
The woman walked up to the fountain and casually leaned with her back to the railing to face River. "We are in a simulated rendition of Siltakos, otherwise translated to your tongue as Unity City. It's impressive in virtual reality, but it really is even more stunning in person. Our forebears, the Architects, built this city millennia ago for our people to inherit, and it has since become the crown jewel of the Unified Collaborative. It is one of the few untainted cultural relics left in this corner of the galaxy, and the last refuge of the alaja race."
Now that she mentioned it, the place did feel a bit off. Everything felt unbelievably real, but the park was uncannily devoid of any other people, despite the distinctly metropolitan setting. Now that they were in a clearing and could see the skyline beyond the trees, River observed the outlines of what looked to be hundreds of little ships flying all around among the giant alabaster skyscrapers. The city was clearly bustling, but there wasn't a single other humanoid soul to be seen anywhere in the immediate vicinity.
River awkwardly rubbed the back of her neck, "Sooooo... why am I here, then?"
The celestial responded solemnly, “I will be blunt. Our way of life is under attack, and my people are being driven to extinction by the same creatures that currently occupy your world. The Zeta Reticulans who took you captive? They're animals. You may not know it yet, but you are an asset to my people, and it is in your best interests to cooperate with our needs."
"What do you know about my interests? I..."
The woman stopped walking and looked River dead in the eyes, "I know everything there is to know about you, River. I know that you are a pathetic little girl who spends every waking moment standing in the shadow of the Mullins family name, desperate to be acknowledged or even just noticed by your all-too-important parents."
River recoiled in horror. Her voice wavered. "How..."
"How do I know that? I know everything you've ever known, and seen everything you've ever seen. I felt how your heart crumbled when your parents insisted you return to America to continue the family tradition of becoming a diplomat instead of letting you follow your dream of being a designer. You felt so alone, like no one truly knew or even cared what you wanted."
River's skin crawled. The ethereal inhaled and continued her scathing monologue. "And alien conspiracies? You never really believed; you just latched onto those as a way to cope, something that let you tell yourself that you were part of something important, something bigger. Don't tell me what I don't know about you, River. Well, guess what. It turns out you were right on the mark when it comes to aliens, at least. You got your wish to be part of something bigger, and now you're mine."
The transcendant witch was reading her mind... River tried to respond, but it took almost every ounce of her self control to keep herself from bursting into tears. She had never felt so violated before. It was like her deepest insecurities had manifested into the physical form of the angelic creature before her, mercilessly staging a calculated assault into the darkest depths of her mind.
The celestial ran her fingers through her hair triumphantly and smirked. "You know, the intel said that I'd be pulling an accomplished diplomat out of that Zeta ship. Looks like I ended up with you, the daughter, instead. And you, you I can work with."
River wasn't sure whether to take the statement as a complement or an insult, but she was fairly certain that the ambiguity was intentional.
The mysterious lady had put on a regal air that felt larger than life. She held out a hand to offer a handshake. "Now that we've gotten your introduction out of the way, I may as well introduce myself. Tejwira Fiir, Ejfosi Intelligence Bureau. Come, take part in restoring order to the galaxy as the Architects intended."
There was nothing more to be said. River took her hand.
Artwork created by me using Artbreeder and GIMP.