“Look here, another reference to an Operation Eclipse,” said Captain Ortega. He tapped the screen of the CryptoBrick, selecting the reference and tagging it. “We should try to cross reference it all, figure out what it is. It’s mentioned a lot, but generally only as a secondary priority. Captains having to defer authority to people acting in accordance with Operation Eclipse, all data regarding operation eclipse is to be delivered to superior officers without analysis, different tactical plans for when Operation Eclipse is enacted… but no actual references to what it is.”
“The heuristic analysis noted that, too,” said Ensign Trell. “There was a related search result, too. Operation Eclipse relies on Phoenix Circuits, technology that’s meant to be destroyed if any vessels are captured. I’ve never encountered the term before, and can’t guess why it’s so secretive.”
“I’ve heard of it before, but probably in unrelated contexts. People like naming things after phoenixes. So that’s two mysteries. A technology we’ve never heard of, and an operation that we don’t have any clues about.”
“My guess is that it has something to do with whatever made our sun vanish.”
Ortega’s eyes grew wide.
“Of course,” he said. “That makes sense. I mean, your sun wasn’t gone, we saw a faint sliver of it. How did I miss that?”
“It’s the prerogative of captains to miss fine details as long as they can delegate that task to subordinates while they focus on their own grand designs. You’re lucky that this is my job for now.”
“I suppose I am,” said Ortega. “I’ve not had an actual crew for a long time, not ever since AstroGuard made me a special operative. I should request one.”
“On Morcala, you would demand one when you knew you were ready.”
“We do things differently in the Astroguard. Speaking of different cultures… do you suppose Pilot Tan’s craft might still have Phoenix Circuitry?”
“His standing orders were to destroy it if his vessel was captured. Being boarded by an enemy while your vessel is incapacitated certainly qualifies.”
“You know that, and I know that, but did Tan know that?”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“We found it by pouring through his computer data,” said Ortega. “Between you and me, I got the impression that he wasn’t given much of a military training. Even if he was told that order, I think that his experience in the cloud could have easily shaken him enough to forget to check the protocols, especially since he was limiting computer use while the Cypulchral Cloud’s signal was interfering with his ship. It’s worth a look.”
“I’ll run it by Captain Calen,” said Trell. “She won’t want to delay our time in the Cloud any longer than we have to, but taking a chance to understand the technology of our enemies may give us an edge that she’ll value.”
A soft chime came over the loudspeakers. Trell’s head darted in the direction of the noise, though Ortega was just confused.
“What’s that? It doesn’t sound like an alarm.”
“It’s a notification of a course correction being made by the captain,” said Trell. “Made from her station, not mine.”
“So she’s activated some non-essential computer features that I deactivated while we’re in the Cloud. Probably not risky, but… not the kind of action she’d take. Even if she thought it was worthwhile, she’d just use my station instead of going to the trouble of making it accessible through her station. She’s not patient in the face of emergencies.”
“Plus she’s supposed to be interrogating Tan.”
Trell frowned. She rose and walked to the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I haven’t heard any screaming,” said Trell. “We should have heard something by now.”
“Wait, you mean she was actually planning on torturing him? I thought she was just… threatening it.”
Trell remained unresponsive, instead walking out the door with a grim determination. Ortega winced and ran after. Trell wasn’t running, but her brisk pace and the small amount of space in the scuttler meant that he only caught up to her as she opened the door to the bridge. Captain Calen turned in her chair to look at the two as they entered, and William Tan cheerfully waved from Trell’s seat.
“What is… that Dysonite doing at my station?”
“I think the Emperor decreed that we’re Dysonians, actually,” said Tan. “A shame, too, since Dysonite has some pop to it. Sounds like dynamite.”
“Captain?” said Trell. “Our prisoner is at my station.”
“Leave Ensign Trell’s seat, Tan,” said Calen. “Trell, it was necessary for the moment. You were occupied analyzing his computer, and we needed to make course corrections. Tan’s piloting skills are exemplary, and his calculations allowed my course corrections to stay on target.”
“Are we going deeper into the cloud?” asked Ortega, looking at a monitor. “No objections, mind you, that’s likely where we’ll find Doctor Rogers, but were we done here?”
“We’d investigated the distress call, rescued the survivor, and retrieved the information from his computer. There’s nothing left to do.”
“Actually, Captain, there was one more reason we had to stick around. I’d like to search the Dyson…ian ship more thoroughly, and Ensign Trell thinks it’s at least worth considering.”
“We have greater concerns, Ortega,” said Calen. “Our destiny lies before us, and we’ve got to take you to your destiny within.”
“Are our scanners on?” said Trell, almost pushing William Tan out of her chair. “Captain, this is dangerous.”
“The scanners, though limited, will make navigation easier,” said Calen.
“Won’t that risk our own system’s contamination due to the signals in the cloud?” asked Ortega.
“We will, but we believe The Signal isn’t hazardous when handled properly,” said Tan. “I forgot to turn off my cybernetic overlay lenses when I was shutting down the rest of the systems on my ship, and we received a message. The Signal is being manipulated intentionally, now, it’s not just an engine of random chaos. By opening ourselves up to The Signal we’ll allow ourselves to more readily reach the one controlling it.”
A furious glare crossed Ortega’s face. He spun to the wall and kicked it angrily.
“Who controls it?” asked Trell.
“Doctor Rogers,” said Ortega.
“The Soul Survivor!” said a booming voice over the bridge’s speakers, almost at the same time as Captain Ortega. Moments later, the speakers crackled and a more reasonable voice sighed. “Ortega, you clod, that introduction was mine to make!”
“You’re predictable, Rogers,” said Ortega. “Predictable to a fault, and the only other known entity in the Cypulchral Cloud. It’s not hard to figure out.”
“He needs our help further in, Ortega,” said Calen. “We can lend him assistance. This should also help you to apprehend him.”
“That won’t happen,” said the speakers. “But the tenacious Captain Calen is correct. I do, in fact, need your assistance.”
“Captain, we don’t need to help an enemy of the state, especially when we have the situation with Morcala to deal with.”
“I think you’ll find that both Captain Calen and the pilot are very suggestible at the moment,” said Rogers. “Suggestible to me, at least. The cybernetic lenses that Dyson gives to his soldiers will apparently make it very easy for me to operate within this empire of his, short lived though I expect it to be. As you know well, Ortega, where there’s an output there’s a risk. Though by the end of this sentence, it won’t seem quite like a risk to you anymore.”
Tan gasped in surprise and the cybernetic lens in his eye flashed again. A bright glow filled the room.