The blast of emerald energy arced from the intruder’s neural pulse pistol, striking Captain Ortega’s unprotected head before the suit’s danger-recognition features could activate the flight suit’s helmet. Ensign Trell watched the Astroguard captain fall to the ground and heard the sounds of panels quickly opening and rapid footfalls. She jumped to the door of the galley and tapped the door’s control buttons, causing it to slide shut just as another cysuit-clad intruder came into view. Trell punched the door’s locking feature to keep the new figure out and spun around to see the first assailant already on the ground and taking aim with her pistol. Trell jumped at the intruder, grabbed the wrist of the arm with the weapon, and shouldered the attacker into the wall.
Trell slammed the arm again the wall four times, stopping only when the attacker dropped the weapon. She pulled back her arm and launched it into the side of the intruder’s face, an act that loosened the observation crown on the woman’s head.
Too late, Trell registered the sound of the click and the whir of an energy weapon building a charge. She looked over her shoulder to see Tan, nervous and shaking, firing the neural pulse pistol.
“Hail Dyson,” said Alsafi, leader of the Wraithstrike Beta team, concluding her call. She turned back to Tan, smiling. She removed her observation crown now that it would no longer help with the call, revealing her unobstructed face for the first time. Her black hair was naturally cut short to accommodate the bulky headgear that was common among the special operations units of most major governments, group that Dyson wished to join.
“That went so much better than I expected,” she said. “When the scatterport-glitch split our party, I was sure we were done for. I still can’t believe that I took out Captain Andrew Ortega!”
“I know, right?” said Tan. “He really saved me from the Morcalans. I swear, those two would’ve killed me by now if he hadn’t been playing diplomat.”
“I kinda feel bad about it,” she said. “I’ve got a little action figure of him at home.”
“Seriously?” said Tan.
“Moment of weakness,” she said. “Honestly, it was just a repaint of a Captain Mayday figure. Enough about that, though. Commander Sanchez was surprised to hear that there was an Astroguard Agent here, and she’s conferring with the Emperor’s Herald to see if this changes anything. From what I’ve heard, Captain Ortega’s a more or less free agent, not really attached to any specific commissions or posts for more than a mission or two at a time, the only exception being the occasional seasons spent as a field instructor for their academy.”
“He wasn’t working with anyone,” said Tan. “His mission was just to capture The Soul Survivor, and once he finished that he started helping the Morcalans. He didn’t have much choice, really, but he wasn’t exactly eager to get away from them once he knew more about how effective our forces were.”
“It’s exciting, isn’t it?” said Alsafi. “I was worried that the system after Morcala would’ve been more prepared for us, but with the upgrade the Emperor installed we should be able to get anywhere we want, whenever we want to get there. Well, anywhere Dyson wants to go, at least.”
“Yeah,” said Tan. He leaned back and watched the ceiling, despite the amazing display of stars in the nearby window. “I’ve gotta say, I’m not sure I’m cut out for the war effort. I like helping, I do, but this is nerve wracking.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” said Alsafi. “As soon as we stop pushing out, the empire’ll probably be able to afford getting more regular recruits with fewer conscripts. And nobody’s gonna doubt your commitment if you step down after this first series of battles. I mean, you helped me take out Captain Andrew Ortega.”
“I suppose I did,” he said, smiling. “It seems strange, though… he’s normally one of the good guys.”
“I think he’s still a good guy,” said Alsafi. “He’s just opposing Emperor Dyson, that’s all.”
The cybernetic lens in Tan’s eye flashed more of its array of subliminal suggestions, just as it did for most of Dyson’s forces. Tan nodded.
“You’re right, of course. We’re not going to be hurting them, are we?”
He looked down at the still unconscious bodies of Captain Ortega and Ensign Trell, gently tapping Ortega’s shoulder with his shoe.
“I doubt it,” said Alsafi. “They’ll probably just be imprisoned for a while, something that’ll make sure that they don’t do any more damage after their brains get back into gear.”
“Good,” said Tan. “Didn’t much care for the Morcalans, but Ortega was nice. Besides, if we killed prisoners we might be the bad guys here.”
“Right. Anyway, prepare yourself for a communication from Commander Sanchez. She has some questions for you, and then we’ll need you to go back to the Morcalan vessel.”
“Just wrapping up a few pieces of the investigation. Besides, I wanna be there when they uncrate the Soul Survivor.”