“I’m impressed,” said Doctor Rogers, turning back to the geode display. “I didn’t expect such acting from Morcalans. Typically they only play the role of an idealized version of themselves.”
Captain Calen narrowed her eyes and flicked a switch on her Maelstrom Ray. The device charged, issuing the sound of a higher power level, one midway to its valence setting.
“You’d do well to face me when you speak ill of me and mine,” said Calen. “Ortega says you’re nearly impervious to any killing blow thanks to that suit you call a body, but I’ve never seen the suit of armor I couldn’t break.”
“Calen, calm down,” said Ortega. “Let me talk to him. I hadn’t quite gotten to-”
“I’ll sign to the Farthest Fleet before you talk any further, Ortega,” said Calen. “You’d try diplomacy on an earthquake and haggle with a forest fire to talk it down to a copse. I’ve had enough of your talk, oh legendary captain, and think that your monster hunt needs to end now!”
Trell kept her laser blaster aimed at Doctor Rogers, but her eyes flickered from their quarry to her captain, and then back to Ortega.
“Captain, perhaps our guest has insight here-”
“No, Trell, not this time,” she said. “Captain Ortega has captured and lost this great enemy of his for years, and I’m beginning to suspect that it has less to do with the skill of his adversary than his own incompetence.”
“I won’t have you besmirching the name of Captain Andrew Ortega of the Astroguard,” said Doctor Rogers, turning in place. “He may be a cretin, a fool, and a meddlesome idiot of the highest caliber, and he might also set boundless records for stupidity, but he’s the only one who’s ever apprehended me.”
“Not anymore,” said Calen.
“Any failure to keep me incarcerated is on the part of his superiors,” said Rogers, pacing closer to Calen. “The Astroguard’s facilities are staffed by clods even greater than he. Anyone who doubts Ortega’s abilities must therefore be fools greater than they. In fact…”
“Don’t!” shouted Ortega, interrupting Calen as the finger on her trigger twitched.
“And why not?!” asked Calen.
“He’s baiting you,” said Ortega. “He knows something we don’t, either about this location, his position, or your weapon. He’s trying to lead you to the point where you’ll fire, which will trigger… something. It’s generally a stalling tactic he uses when he’s honestly not sure how to proceed, but knows that he’ll need a quick distraction to get into a better position.”
Doctor Rogers’ metallic body twisted at the waist to glare at Ortega, and the crystalline jar at its top bubbled furiously. Calen growled.
“Trell?” she asked.
“It’s possible,” said the Ensign. “I don’t know what this room is doing, but there’s a lot of ambient energy here, of a lot of different types. It’s possible something here would nullify the… unique behaviors of your Maelstrom Ray, or redirect them.”
“Then let’s not waste time,” said Calen. “Trell, give me your weapon. Shackle this beast, so that we can drag him back to the scuttler. We’re overdue for escaping this cursed place, and as soon as we’ve stopped the madman from working his will we’ll be able to take our leave.”
“Don’t be so sure,” said Rogers. “It’s curious to me that you don’t have a full party assembled… I take it your pilot was left behind?”
“Ortega didn’t use his fancy helmet on him,” said Calen. “He said it wouldn’t be useful until we could be sure that you wouldn’t just reuse his cybernetic lens against him. Then he stopped me from blinding the fellow.”
“A sensible suggestion on Ortega’s part,” said Rogers. “But not, I fear, an intelligent one. The Dyson soldier is still my dear friend, then, and as such the messages I’ve been submitting ever since you two interrupted my chat with Andrew will have been acted upon.”
“What messages?” asked Ortega.
“They don’t translate directly to a spoken language, electromagnetic transmissions of universal symbolism being what they are,” said Rogers. “But know that unless you all surrender to me now, unconditionally, the Pilot will fly away from this space station, and out of the Cypulchral Cloud, leaving us stranded here until the end of time.”