“Be ready to blow that ship out of the sky.”
Ensign Trell looked over her shoulder, surprised at Captain Calen’s order. The Captain sat in her chair, watching the view screen intently. Calen noticed Trell’s scrutiny and sat up straighter.
“Is there a problem, Trell?”
“No, Captain. I was just surprised.”
“That ship is a representative of the Dyson forces, and no matter what our guest believes that makes the ship’s crew party to the conquering of Morcala. Our home, world, and culture were all taken from us today, and I’ll taste vengeance eagerly at the first sign of any treachery.”
“Captain Ortega’s out there, though,” said Trell. “He’s almost reached the Dyson vessel. Destroying it now would kill him.”
“He knew the risks when he volunteered to suit up and fly over there. And don’t forget, Ensign, that the Dyson vessel’s not the only one over there capable of treachery.”
“Do you honestly think Captain Ortega would betray us?”
“He might assist the vessel in eluding us. Ortega knows how we feel about this act of mercy, and that any act of resisting on the part of the Dyson vessel’s crew would make it no longer worth our time to answer this distress call. If the legends about Captain Ortega are true, he would rather help a criminal like that escape than face certain death at our hands.”
“And if he escaped alive, we would be the villains of that story,” said Trell. She looked back at the view screen and saw the image of Captain Ortega’s rocket pack pushing him through the Cypulchral Cloud, nearly at the Dyson vessel.
“There’s no shame in being the antagonist in another’s tale of glory, Trell,” said Calen. “You’ve got a long career ahead of you, so it’s best to learn that lesson quickly. But we must strive to be the heroes in our own glorious tales. Captain Ortega and the Astroguard aren’t our steadfast allies, and their values differ from ours in many ways. Power up the weapons.”
Captain Ortega drifted through the outer airlock door, grateful that whoever built the vessel had designed it to accept the basic entry commands most well known throughout the Angelor Republic. Either that or the pilot of the vessel had altered the commands to make it easy for him to get in. Few had more experiences with far-flung human technologies than Captain Ortega, and fewer still had more experience with alien vessels, and he’d expected from the beginning that the Dyson ships were primarily made using local parts. The Empire was presenting itself as a foreign force that was gradually assimilating the cultures it conquered, but everything Ortega had seen of it so far seemed just a little too “local.”
A red light signaled the start of the cycling process, and Ortega promptly activated the magnetic locks in his boots so that he wouldn’t crash to the floor when the gravity turned on. Cycling the air and repressurizing the room happened quickly, and soon the door to the true interior of the ship rolled open. A man with scraggly black hair and a clean cut beard stood on the other side, wearing a simple uniform with a Dyson Empire symbol and a shaky smile.
“Oh, thank you!” he shouted. “I can’t believe it. I was certain that I’d be drifting through this horrible cloud forever.”
“Glad to be of service,” said Ortega, still wearing the helmet of his flight suit. “I want to point out that this isn’t exactly a friendly rescue, as you’ll be taken into custody as a prisoner of war.”
“I guessed that,” said the man. “I didn’t think Morcalans took prisoners. But judging by your uniform, you’re not Morcalan. Unless there’s some sort of partnership between them and the Astroguard.”
“Nothing more than a few non-aggression pacts,” said Ortega. “I should warn you that the other two people with me are Morcalans, though. They’re eager to have your head for what the Dyson Empire did to Morcala.”
The man grew quiet and drummed his fingers together. Ortega looked at his demeanor, curiously.
“I actually don’t know what happened out there,” said the man. “I came into the system running into the cloud. What did we do, exactly?”
“The Dyson Empire successfully convinced the Morcalan armada to surrender. Officially, at least. Knowing Morcalans, there are probably all sorts of ragtag pockets of resistance forming.”
“Wait, we actually did it?” said the man. “That’s amazing. Between you and me, I didn’t think Morcala would fall.”
“Your troops eventually fell back,” said Ortega. “Then some sort of… weapon was pulled into play. What was it?”
“What was what?”
“The weapon,” said Ortega. “It temporarily blacked out the sun, and destroyed dozens of Morcalan vessels.”
The man became quiet.
“I’m really not supposed to-”
“You’ll talk,” said Ortega, lunging forward and causing the Dyson soldier to leap back. “I’ve got two angry Morcalans back at the ship, and they’re going to need something. We’re going to be taking your computer and all the information on it, but that’ll take time to process. What won’t take time is you telling me about the weapon, this dangerous super weapon that’s allowed Dyson to steamroll over every system he’s invaded. You’ll tell before I reach the limit of what the Astroguard’s interrogation techniques allow, or you won’t have the time to tell the Morcalans before they start their interrogation techniques. Take this offer now, soldier, it’s the best you’ll be getting.”
“Right,” said the man. “Right. Sorry. I’m not used to this whole… prisoner of war thing. Right.”
“Let’s do this right,” said Ortega. “I’m Captain Andrew Ortega of the Astroguard, officially interrogating you, and yes my suit is recording this conversation. Your name please?”
“I’m Wi… wait, Andrew Ortega? Are you th-”
“Yes. That’s not important now. Name?”
“Pilot Wilson Tan, non-conscripted soldier of the Dyson Empire.”
“As far as I know, the empire’s not needed to enact its conscription protocols yet. I’ve only encountered volunteers and robotic or computerized soldiers so far. I joined up about a month after Dyson conquered Mancala.”
“Why’d you join up so readily?”
“The money was good,” said Tan. “It pays better if I die in action but I’m trying to avoid that, much as I’d like my folks to cash in. And Dyson’s rule hasn’t exactly been too bad.”
“No, it’s almost identical to how it was before. We’re using the same money, keeping most of the same politicians in charge… from what I’ve seen, he’s hands-off.”
“You’re not worried about the potential changes that might happen after he’s taken over more territory and stops focusing on the war?”
“Of course I am. There’s not much I can do about that, though. Every time I hear about a resistance movement or some counter-invasion, it never goes anywhere.”
“Naturally,” said Ortega. “Now that we’ve got the basics cleared up, you’re going to tell me about that super weapon, the thing that blacked out the sun. What was it?”
Pilot Tan hesitated and thought carefully about his words. Ortega raised an eyebrow and tilted his head in the direction of the airlock. Wilson wasn’t sure if Ortega was referring to the hard vacuum mere feet away or the Morcalans back at the ship he’d come from, but either way he continued.
“What you just saw was The Emperor’s Eye.”