Episode 58: Pressure in the Cloud

Pilot William Tan was thrown from the airlock onto the floor of Captain Calen’s ship. A helmet obscured his face, and his hands were fastened behind his back by a set of the Astroguard’s magnetic manacles. Calen lowered her Maelstrom Ray as Captain Ortega stepped in, just behind his prisoner.

“I wouldn’t expect you to treat war criminals so roughly, Ortega.”

“When in Rome,” said Ortega, removing his helmet. “Didn’t want to risk you thinking he was loose. Pushing him down meant he would be clear of any weaponry aimed his way.”

“You’ve a poor opinion of my senses if you think I can’t tell a prisoner from a boarder, Captain, and an even poorer opinion of my aim if you think you could protect him that way. Is our prisoner much use to us, or is he what passes for ballast in this cursed place?”

“He knows how to interpret the information I was able to pull off his computer,” said Ortega, removing a black cube from a compartment near his belt. “An active interpreter is more useful than a quick information grab, especially since the Cypulchral Cloud does things to sensors. He said he wasn’t able to shut his sensors off after The Signal took hold of his ship, so I’m hoping that they were thorough.”

Calen saw the black cube in Ortega’s hand and took a step back, eyeing it warily.

“What possessed you to bring something from that ship back here? I don’t want to risk my scuttler becoming infected with whatever spoils you’ve brought back. More than one tale of salvage ends horribly.”

“This is an Astroguard device, Captain,” said Ortega. “It was made with those kinds of situations in mind. All I need is a monitoring device, and I can use this to examine the data from his computer in isolation from your ship’s systems.”

Calen nodded, still looking over the cube from a distance.

“Permission granted,” she said. “You’ll do this under the supervision of Ensign Trell, though. Not to cast doubts on your techniques, Ortega, but I’ll trust a Morcalan engineer with field experience before I’ll trust the work of a team of technicians working from the safety of their own labs. Trell! Get in here!”

Moments later, the Ensign stepped out of the bridge.

“Trell, the good Captain’s got some information from the Dyson vessel. Help him to get to it so that there’s no chance of the data coming into contact with our systems. We’re playing with fire, today, and I’ll take no chances.”

“Understood, Captain.” Said Trell.

“Meanwhile, I’ve got a prisoner to interrogate,” said Calen. Before Ortega could react, her hand shot down, circled around the pilot’s neck, and slammed him into the wall.

“Wait!” said Ortega.

“No,” said Calen. “I’m sure you think you’ve gotten everything you can out of him, Ortega, and he may even believe he’s told you everything of value, but I insist on wringing our guest dry.”

“Can you at least wait until after Trell and I have more data from his computer?”

“What’s your name, boy?” Calen asked, ignoring Ortega. “I don’t like having strangers on my ship.”

A muffled response came from inside his helmet.

“Why’s he traveling without external speakers?” asked Calen.

“I turned them off during the flight over,” said Ortega. “Didn’t want him interrupting things before you’d had your say.”

“I thought he was being a little too polite for one of Dyson’s mongrels,” said Calen.

“Is that just a basic flight suit?” said Trell, looking at the prisoner’s outfit. “Those things barely have any insulation. Or heating. Captain Ortega, people can die from even brief exposure to space travel if this is all they’re wearing.”

“He’s fine,” said Ortega. “On the way over, my suit measured the temperature and pressure, and at this spot in the cloud it’s actually not bad. A little worse than the top of a standard planet’s highest mountains, maybe. He’s probably cold, but he wasn’t going to die.”

“That’s incredible,” said Trell, reaching over to the prisoner’s helmet and reactivating its external communications. “Pressure like that shouldn’t be possible in a gas cloud this size. Especially this close to the exterior. If only our sensors were working right now, I’m sure the data would be valuable.”

“-old, cold, cold, cold,” said William as the speaker on his helmet crackled to life. “Stop saying I’m fine, I’m cold, I’m cold.”

“We can hear you, Pilot Tan,” said Ortega.

“Good, then you know I need to warm up,” said the prisoner. “I went through blizzard training that was better than this.”

“You’ll warm up soon enough,” said Ortega. He looked up to see Calen nodding in surprised approval.

“What?” he asked.

“There’s a mean streak in you,” said Calen. “You hide it well. That’s a bit reassuring.”

“It can get the job done sometimes,” said Ortega. He walked closer and lowered his voice to a whisper.

“I don’t want you to sacrifice your technique here,” said Ortega. “I really don’t. But there’s something not right about this. Go easy on him during the interrogation.”

“Don’t go soft just when I’m starting to believe there’s hope for you, Ortega.”

“I’m serious,” he said. “There’s something off about him. Too calm. He’s practically a civilian, the way he acts. You might get something useful out of him, but I don’t think he’s worth getting blood on your hands.”

“Typical Astroguard morality,” she said. “You think he’s not dark enough to be worth getting blood on your hands. I may go easy on him for your sake, I may, but know that he’ll have to prove himself. My hands are primed for blood, Captain, and it’s up to him to see if he’s bright enough to be worth staying clean.”

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