“Reactor back online, Captain,” said Ensign Trell, watching the green and yellow glow from behind the fighter-ship’s protective field. “All reactor elements deneutralized.”
“Wonderful,” said Captain Calen. “I’ll go dark. Your power signature will stand against stricter analysis.”
“It won’t do anything for the… ‘window problem,’ though.”
“No,” said Calen. “We’re still vulnerable to visual inspection. My last trace indicated that a few other vessels were drawing nearer. Once your systems are active, you’ll likely have hailing frequencies waiting for you. Captain Ortega and… our friend are on their way back.”
“She’s going to kill me,” said Tan, his voice coming through Ortega’s communicator. With a little effort, it had been possible for Ortega and Calen to make a better spacesuit for Tan to wear. At first Calen hadn’t wanted to waste the time or effort, but Ortega pointed out that the previous suit had only barely worked thanks to the insulating properties within the Cypulchral Cloud. Tan’s survival was linked to theirs, and as such Calen eventually relented.
With a better suit, though still a rudimentary one, Pilot Tan had been released into space with Ortega there to guide him back to his own ship or, as Calen had put it, to ‘ward against treachery.’ Captain Ortega felt that Calen’s expectations of subterfuge were warranted for once. Tan had indicated no obvious hostility toward them, but he definitely maintained some degree of loyalty to the Dyson Empire. Besides, Tan’s suit didn’t have magnetic boots to make the walk easier, so he’d need the help.
“She may,” said Ortega, slowly stepping from the edge of the Scuttler to the edge of Tan’s vessel. “She hasn’t yet, though. I do think that if you keep helping us, she won’t feel the need. She’s violent, but I don’t think she’s murderous.”
“How well do you know her?”
“I met her about half a day before I met you.”
“You two go way back, then.”
“Ages. All kidding aside, it’s true that Morcalans are sincere when they threaten murder, but I’ll be around to make sure that doesn’t happen. If you just follow through with the plan, you should be fine.”
“So that makes you the good cop to her bad cop in this ploy to make me turn traitor?”
“That’s how it’s turned out,” said Ortega. “The difference, though, is that Calen and I aren’t on the same team, and most good cops are working with the bad cops. It’s not an act. Or at least… not as much of an act as it should be. I do approve of this operation, but I don’t approve of Calen’s tactics, or her alternate plans. She’s been a good host, though, letting me wander about when a different captain might have just tossed me into the brig.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that you can reason with her as long as you meet her midway. Before the threat of the Dyson Empire became so apparent, my priority had been getting back to the Astroguard with Doctor Rogers in tow.”
“The Soul Survivor?”
“His name is Doctor Silas Rogers. But yes, him.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course,” said Ortega, stepping around a protrusion of the outer hull as they neared the airlock. “Events from his personal accounts of the disaster match known details about himself from before the incident.”
“What if he was just a robot who got confused? A robot who happened to know a lot about Doctor Rogers?”
“No evidence suggests that to be the case,” said Ortega. “Even if that was the case, though, it wouldn’t change how Rogers saw himself.”
Ortega swung his leg into the airlock with a practiced step, grabbed Tan’s hand, and helped Tan to step through. He firmly set his feet on what would soon become “down” once the airlock began its cycling process, something that happened quickly enough to make him think that Trell was eager. The door behind them closed, and air began to filter into the small chamber.
“Doesn’t he see himself as the Soul Survivor, though? The mental instructions from when he brainwashed us all were pretty clear on that part.”
“Valid point,” said Ortega. “Odds are good that that’s simply a delusion, though, since he still remembers his old life. Now… let’s get you inside.”
As if on cue, gravity kicked in and Tan stumbled. Ortega was prepared to catch him and prevented it from turning into a prat fall on the floor.
“You must do a lot of this,” said Tan.
“Not as much as you’d think. I get the sense that you were rushed through your training. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take too long to get your space legs.”
The door in front of them clanged, shook visibly, and spiraled open to reveal Ensign Trell.
“Just in time,” she said. “The messages were starting to get threatening. We need you in the communicator’s chair, right now.”
She grabbed Tan’s arm and pulled him down the hall. Ortega jumped into place a step behind them. The ship had more interior space than the weaponry-laden Scuttler, but it was still a short run before reaching the “bridge”, a narrow area that barely qualified as more than a cockpit. Trell pushed him into the chair, stepped to the side, and pulled out her laser blaster.
“What’s that for?” asked Tan.
“Incentive not to double cross us, prisoner,” said Trell. “Don’t worry, I won’t need it if you play along.”