Award or Death?

The door to Alathea’s room swung open, revealing a corridor as dark and foreboding as a black hole with a penchant for melancholy poetry. She raised her head, contemplating the cosmic symphony of absurdity that had brought her to this point—the grand finale of her Ghola escapade.

“This must be it, the thrilling encore of my existence,” she mused to herself, imagining the universe donning a top hat and tails for the occasion. Gholas, she reasoned, was like the space-time equivalent of a screwdriver—they served a purpose, and once that purpose was fulfilled, they ended up in the cosmic toolbox, waiting for the next DIY project.

With a resigned sigh, Alathea stood up and straightened her robe, considering it her ultimate fashion statement. “Well, if I’m going to meet my doom, might as well look fabulous doing it,” she quipped, a touch of cosmic humor in her voice. After all, in the grand absurdity of the universe, even impending doom could use a dash of style.

As she made her way to the door, Alathea couldn’t help but wonder if Mother Superior had a sense of humor, or if her DNA sampling technique was merely her way of telling a cosmic knock-knock joke. Either way, the cycle of Ghola's life and death seemed to have a punchline, even if Alathea wasn’t quite ready to laugh along just yet.

Alathea approached the door, standing there for what felt like an eternity, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the corridor. Lo-and-behold, near the opposite wall, Mother Superior lurked in the shadows like the mysterious custodian of cosmic secrets. Alathea nodded in acknowledgment, receiving a cryptic smile and nod in return. A galactic game of charades, perhaps?

“Why is Mother Superior lurking in the shadows like a cosmic ninja?” Alathea wondered, her mind doing somersaults in the black expanse of uncertainty. Was this part of her cosmic punishment, an avant-garde penalty for daring to advocate for the Terrans?

Mother Superior stepped forward, shedding a fraction of the shadows that clung to her. “Your friend Neo and his group joined up with AI and formed resistance against us. Seems like a life like a data repository for twenty years and the death of the cancer is more acceptable than the freedom the Empire is offering.”

The revelation hung in the air, a peculiar blend of cosmic irony and unexpected twists, leaving Alathea to ponder the complexities of resistance in a universe that loved to keep everyone on their toes.

“Do I have another thrilling task awaiting me?” Alathea inquired, a spark of hope flickering in her eyes.

“No more tasks for you. Consider your shift officially over. Now, come along.” Mother Superior made an abrupt left turn and set off with a sense of purpose.

Alathea was quick to catch on and hustled to keep pace. Nimble for her age, Mother Superior Jessica might have been shorter, but she possessed a briskness that would make a cosmic speed walker proud. Alathea mused, “Who knew Mother Superior had such a sprint hidden beneath those robes? Maybe she’s been secretly training for the Intergalactic Marathon.” The universe, it seemed, always had a way of surprising even its most seasoned inhabitants.

Alathea’s eyes darted around, desperately searching for an escape route as if the cosmic labyrinth itself held the key to her survival. She yearned for life, and in her frantic gaze, she found no solace.

Her attention fixated on the back of the old woman leading the way—the formidable Mother Superior, a venerable hundred and fifty years of cosmic wisdom. The corridors seemed devoid of exits, as if the universe itself conspired against her. Mother Superior stepped into an elevator, turning to face Alathea.

Under the piercing gaze of those blue-within-blue eyes, Alathea felt as if her thoughts had transformed into elusive shadows fleeing from the light. Mother Superior, the mind-reading maestro, was well-versed in deciphering the subtle nuances etched upon her face, perhaps even skimming the surface of her very thoughts.

The old woman’s question cut through the silence, a sly inquiry that seemed to echo in the confined space. “Does the Litany offer any solace?” Mother Superior’s voice hung in the air, a cosmic challenge that left Alathea suspended in the interstellar ballet of uncertainty.

Alathea blinked, contemplating the venerable woman before her. The Litany, a mantra that had proven as effective as a space heater on Pluto, remained unsaid. She stopped saying it five deaths before. But she didn’t wish to share that. Opting for the demure nod, she lowered her head, as if acknowledging the cosmic absurdity unfolding around her.

The elevator doors slid shut, enveloping them in a confined space that seemed to echo with the interstellar symphony of impending doom. Alathea assumed her designated spot, following the unspoken rules of hierarchy even in the face of what felt like a cosmic comedy sketch. Mother Superior’s demeanor resembled that of a guide leading a companion to a tactical briefing, an oddity not lost on Alathea.

As the elevator descended, she couldn’t help but steal a glance at the woman’s back. The absurdity of the situation struck her—here she was, being led to what felt like an execution, yet the atmosphere suggested they were on their way to a casual brunch or a friendly chat about the latest cosmic gossip.

Taking a deep breath, she fixated her eyes on the floor. There is nothing she can do. Yes, she is more than a century younger than Mother Superior, but she knew there was no point in fighting. She was deep in the Bene Gesserit's null sphere. There was no way out alive.

The elevator doors gracefully slid open, revealing the emptiness of the hangar adorned with a solitary one-seater ship—the same vessel that the Bene Gesserit favored for solitary cosmic escapades. Alathea blinked, her gaze fixed on the familiar spacecraft. It was the ship that had propelled her through the task, boasting that charming little folding engine that had become her celestial companion.

“It’s yours,” declared Mother Superior, her tone carrying an unexpected twist that jolted Alathea out of her mental meanderings.

“What?” Alathea spluttered, surprised by this cosmic curveball.

Mother Superior chuckled, her laughter echoing through the emptiness of the hangar. “Yes, I know you were convinced we were gearing up for a grand finale. But that’s not the Bene Gesserit way. You did a commendable job,” she gestured toward the ship, “and this is your reward. Take it and soar to whichever cosmic corner tickles your fancy.” The revelation hung in the air, an unexpected denouement to the cosmic drama that had unfolded. As Alathea stood there, contemplating the ship that now awaited her, she couldn’t help but marvel at the unpredictable whimsy of the universe.

A strangled chuckle bubbled up from Alathea’s throat. “And where am I supposed to go? As a Ghola, I’m not exactly waving around a handbook of rights in this cosmic society.”

Mother Superior nodded sagely. “True enough. Inside, you’ll find a note with safe coordinates. Venturing into the cosmic abyss might just unravel a new chapter for you.”

Alathea stared at the ship before her—a small vessel that now held the promise of life’s continuation. Her gaze shifted to Mother Superior, their eyes meeting in a silent exchange. The old woman’s smile, while enigmatic, seemed genuine. The cosmic gift appeared too good to be true, yet there it was—a ticket for a fresh chapter.

With a reciprocal smile, Alathea nodded back at Mother Superior, then turned her attention to the diminutive ship.

Doubt crept into Alathea’s mind like a shadowy specter. What lay within that ship? A slow-acting gas designed to usher her into the cosmic afterlife with maximum discomfort? Her thoughts darted back to Mother Superior, who maintained that serene smile—an expression Alathea had known all her life. Jessica had a penchant for cruelty, a trait that oddly aligned her with Duke Ninan Anjila. Birds of a feather, cut from the same cosmic cloth.

“Before I embark on this suspicious joyride, there’s one thing that’s itching my brain—what’s on that ship?” Alathea questioned, her tone veering between curiosity and suspicion.

Mother Superior’s smile persisted. “Your vivid imagination never disappoints. But no, it’s not a concoction of agony. It’s a pathway to a new journey.”

The cryptic assurance did little to assuage Alathea’s apprehension. “And what about Neo? Any tips on managing his newfound rebellion?”

“No need for advice. His actions, unfortunate as they are, maybe a blessing in disguise. With him out of the picture, Duke and I can proceed with the expedited extermination of the remaining Terrans and kick-start our fast-track terraforming.”

Alathea furrowed her brow. “And what’s the plan for dealing with the AI?” The cosmic chessboard seemed to evolve with each move, leaving her struggling to anticipate the next twist in the intricate game.

Mother Superior nonchalantly shrugged. “It’s impotent, especially with the new toys we whipped up during that Duncan Idaho fiasco.” Her smile broadened, a wicked glint of cosmic triumph dancing in her eyes.

Alathea nodded knowingly. The delicate dance between Gholas and AI was indeed a treacherous waltz. With a last glance at Mother Superior, she steeled herself for the uncertain voyage that lay ahead and stepped purposefully toward the waiting ship. The cosmos awaited, and Alathea was ready to confront the unknown, armed with coordinates, uncertainty, and a ship that held the promise of a fresh interstellar chapter.

Alathea’s step grew firmer as she approached the petite spacecraft. The door slid open, and she entered the shadows within. As the door sealed behind her, she braced herself for the anticipated scent and taste of impending poison. Yet, to her surprise, the air remained unchanged. She turned toward the cockpit, peering downward to where Mother Superior had stood moments ago, only to find the space empty — the old woman had already made her way to the hangar exit.

With a wary gaze, Alathea surveyed the control board, discovering a small note affixed to it. She sat down in the only seat and plucked the note, revealing nothing but coordinates—exactly as Mother Superior had promised.

“Maybe,” she mused to herself, “there’s truth in this after all. Perhaps this is my cosmic accolade.”

Before she could dwell on the notion further, the ship jolted, a sudden movement that caught her off guard.

“Hah.” A mirthless chuckle escaped Alathea’s lips. The Bene Gesserit wouldn’t let her off the hook so easily. No, they had likely carefully orchestrated a curated horror show, one they believed she deserved, rather than allowing her to navigate the cosmic expanse randomly. She closed her eyes and leaned back, contemplating the impending ordeal.

Alathea had undergone the full Bene Gesserit training multiple times in her various lives. The prospect of torture held a unique insignificance for someone accustomed to the rhythm of life and death. If the cosmic torment became unbearable, she reasoned, she could simply halt her own heart. Until then, she might as well brace herself for the peculiar horror that Mother Superior Jessica had deemed fitting for a Ghola. The interstellar theater of pain and resilience awaited, and Alathea was poised to play her part, guided by the script written by the unseen hands of cosmic puppeteers.


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