“Ensign Trell to Captain Calen. Come in, Captain Calen.”
Trell waited by the auxiliary communications array in Tan’s ship, sending a second hailing frequency to the Scuttler, ten minutes after the first. Her first instinct had been to open the hailing channel from the pilot’s seat, but remembered that a sudden call from Dyson’s forces might require a faster response from Tan that could interrupt her work. Her work at the moment, though, was calling her Captain, and she wasn’t receiving a response.
She walked from the auxiliary communications array to the ship’s dining chamber, a room even smaller than the Scuttler’s. Tan sat in one chair while Captain Ortega, still in his Astroguard flight suit, stood next to him.
“Trell!” said Ortega. “All wrapped up with Calen? I was just telling our host about-”
“No time for pleasantries,” said Trell. “Something’s wrong. I can’t get in touch with the Captain.”
“She’s not responding again?”
“Not at all,” said Trell. “She might have been occupied with some business the first time, but not for this long.”
“That’s starting to get suspicious,” said Tan.
“No, the first time was when it was suspicious,” said Trell. “If it happens twice, it means something has gone wrong.”
“Okay, let’s not jump to conclusions,” said Ortega. “Calen’s probably fine, but let’s play it safe and proceed as if she’s not. Could there be an issue with our communication’s array? Or with hers?”
“I ran a diagnostic the first time the message didn’t get through. We’re fine.”
“You were using the auxiliary array, though,” said Tan. “Could that cause a problem? Maybe communicating through the primary array at my station-”
“A problem like that would’ve been found by the diagnostics,” said Trell. “I checked.”
“Good,” said Tan. “I can’t count the number of times that I was sure I had a problem and there was just something unplugged.”
“Working from the primary station is also a great way to be caught on camera if your friends in the empire call,” said Trell.
“What are the odds of a communications glitch on Calen’s side?” asked Ortega, intervening when he saw Tan’s eyes narrow. “Have we sent any communications successfully since the simulated explosion?”
“Yes,” said Trell. “Nonverbal signals from computers mainly, but yes. Besides, if there was an error on that end, I’d receive a notification here. This is just a case of a channel getting to its destination but not being opened.”
Ortega tapped the wall with one of his hands. Usually he’d chalk up a situation like this to simple errors. This time, however, he had to factor in everything he knew about Captain Calen and everything he knew about the ways that problems occur in wartime espionage missions. A feeling began to creep up on him that he’d felt more often than he could count.
“Two quick questions,” he said. “First, you’re absolutely sure that Doctor Rogers wouldn’t be able to get out of that shipping crate?”
“Those crates were designed with the quick imprisonment of enemies in mind,” said Trell. “That includes abnormally tech savvy ones like your great enemy. I wouldn’t think his helmet would have regrown by now, though.”
“I don’t think it would, but he’s always creating improvements for his body,” said Ortega. “It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he’s developed a faster repair system. I don’t think he’s a factor, but I like being sure… Tan, can this ship detect where people are?”
“I think so,” he said. “Why should we do that, though? We’re all here, and you say that the Soul Survivor’s not involved.”
“He’s not the only villain in the galaxy,” said Ortega. “Tan, have the vessel scan for other entities. Trell, do you think-”
With a bang, a panel in the ceiling burst down and into the room prompting a yelp from Pilot Tan. A woman in a black stealth suit with a six-eyed observation crown leaned down and into the room, holding a green neural pulse pistol aimed at Captain Ortega.
“No more time for subtlety,” she shouted, pulling the trigger and firing an emerald burst of light.