The room was filled with strange, glowing crystals that shimmered with neon-bright rainbows of energy. The shadows outside the colorful lights were untarnished by borders of dimmer light, remaining as black as any void that Captain Ortega had ever seen. Doctor Rogers carried Ortega’s stiff space suit over his shoulder until he finally deposited his recurring enemy onto a plinth of marble. Ortega watched the display on the inside of his helmet as it tracked the progress of the suit’s repairs. Thousands of nanoswitches and hundreds of servos needed to realign, as Rogers’ energy blast had somehow triggered the flight suit’s reboot process, something that would ordinarily only be possible with several dedicated minutes of intentional work. The fact that Rogers had discovered a secret vulnerability of the Astroguard’s flight suit was just another worrying tidbit that Ortega would have to add to his report about his mission when he escaped.
“What does the Dyson pilot know, Andrew?” asked Rogers, moving to a cracked geode. Ortega couldn’t see much of the interior of the crystal, but based on how Rogers was interacting with it it was probably a monitor or control terminal of some sort.
“Why do you care?” asked Ortega. “I thought that you didn’t think the Dyson empire was a long term threat.”
“Not for the long term, no,” said Rogers, tapping a crystalline protrusion. “But the Cypulchral Cloud lies within Morcalan space, and the Dyson Empire is what passes for a ruling government just at the moment.”
“He knows nothing, but his ship had some interesting data,” said Ortega. “I was examining it on our way here. Some of it might be useful to you.”
Ortega waited, but Rogers had nothing to add to that. He thought about his next words carefully. They had passed the need to trick each other into revealing plans dozens of altercations previously, and had moved to an unspoken barter system of sorts.
“I admit that I’m a little unsure of what’s happening here,” said Ortega. “You’re not needlessly violent or even remorseless, and you’re not greedy. Well… not unless you count being power hungry and megalomaniacal.”
“What does this glowing review of my character have to do with anything?”
“I’m trying to see your motive here. A lesser criminal would be here with the plan to finish what the alleged Terranda Xol started just to gain the energy without a follow-up. You also said that you were here to learn about yourself or something. What do you gain by coming here apart from the energy? What’s the next step?”
Doctor Rogers turned from the geode to look at Captain Ortega. He stepped closer to the plinth.
“The mechanisms that drive me have much in common with Pyrhian technology. But not modern Pyrhian technology. Their culture is older and far more varied than human civilization, and many alternate routes that their technology might have taken are lost to the ages. The pipes and electronics cobbled together within me are much like the Pyrhian technology that was said to exist during the age of Terranda Xol. And this station, this… mobile fortress of destruction, this temple dedicated to the fires of change and life and death, was their greatest accomplishment. I can learn more about why my soul was imprinted onto that original robotic shell so long ago, and remove the guesswork from transferring myself to future upgrades. I may even discover amazing secrets of mortality that could eliminate it from human life.”
“Noble,” said Ortega. “It really is.”
“So you see the value in my work?”
“I’ve always seen the value in the results you’re trying to achieve,” said Ortega. “But it never justifies the means you use to reach them.”
“Typical,” said Rogers, turning back to the geode. “Millions, possibly billions, are constantly dying, many in pain. Every moment my research delays hurts humanity, Andrew.”
“Assuming you’re correct,” said Ortega. “If you’re wrong, then you’re hurting people needlessly and adding to that total. You need to return with me to the Astroguard. I’ll speak on your behalf. Perhaps your research can continue as part of your sentence, without a Morcalan genocide.”
“Cretinous fool,” said Rogers. “The Astroguard’s leaders are not made up of people like you.”
“Not entirely, no.”
“Not in the majority,” said Rogers. “How many would side with me? How many ever side with you?”
“That’s not relevant.”
“We find the proposition laughable,” said Rogers, though in a voice that was not his usual sonorous tone. Ortega recognized it as the voice of Admiral August Tachyon. “Basing this research on the baseless myths of another culture does nothing to justify the belief that The Soul Survivor’s research would medically benefit anyone.”
“Admiral Tachyon is hard to convince of anything, yes,” said Ortega. “But-”
“The Frankensteinian goals of this plan suggest what we’ve already known,” said Rogers, this time in the voice of Admiral Gloria Vines. “Effectively, it reinforces The Soul Survivor’s madness, and his belief in grandiose goals that have more to do with flights of imagination than with grounded science.”
“The best case scenario from allowing this research to continue is that it would reveal the folly of The Soul Survivor’s plans,” said Rogers in the voice of Admiral Susan Planck. “The worst case scenario is that some other scheme is at work, and that allowing Rogers to research it would give him exactly what he wanted, thereby revealing our own folly, not to mention terminating all life in the Morcalan system if even a fragment of what he suggests is possible.”
“Your impersonations are impressive,” said Ortega. “You know that the admirals aren’t the only ones who would decide your fate, though. Return with me, and let’s undo this all. Hopefully we can leave in time to warn people about the Dyson Empire’s forces. People need to know how much more capable their invasion fleet is.”
“I’m not convinced,” said Rogers. “Tell me, how long do you have until that suit of yours repairs?”
“About five minutes,” said Ortega. “I’m hoping that I can convince you to not blast me again in four and a half minutes.”
“I’ll make it three, just to be sure that you’re not trying to give yourself some extra time to escape,” said Rogers. “Tell me, how did you avoid the hypnotic flash?”
“I didn’t,” said Ortega. “But my helmet was designed with a sort of counter-flash after this happened before. Five minutes after being on your side, my helmet flipped down and flashed its own pattern. It won’t be too long before it becomes standard issue.”
“They felt you were an effective field tester?”
“They had this crazy notion that I might get in a situation where it would be useful before anyone else,” said Ortega. “Unfortunately for me, they were right. Thanks for helping the field test, by the way.”
“I’m glad to assist,” said Rogers. “I’m surprised that you didn’t use the helmet to…”
Doctor Rogers trailed off and looked at the door. He looked back down at Ortega.
“You weren’t lying about how long you had,” said Rogers. “You didn’t think you’d need to lie.”
“True,” said Ortega.
The door to the crystalline chamber shattered, destroyed by Captain Calen’s Maelstrom Ray. The two Morcalan soldiers stepped through the door, their weapons lowered at Rogers.
“Time’s up,” said Calen.
“I’d surrender now,” said Ortega.
“Too late for that, Captain,” said Calen, walking toward Doctor Rogers. “You couldn’t talk sense into him. It’s time for us to try.”