“It looks different than I remember,” said Commander Sanchez, staring through the view screen. “I saw The Soul Survivor on the news once. The dome had a different curvature.”
“According to Captain Andrew Ortega, The Soul Survivor had a knack for reinventing himself,” said Pilot Tan. He stood on the bridge of the Morcalan Scuttler. His briefing on his own ship had gone well, but according to Commander Sanchez they wanted his insight into the vessel. Most of his information wasn’t anything that the Wraithstrike teams couldn’t figure out on their own, but he was able to identify the storage crates that contained the disassembled pieces of The Soul Survivor’s robotic body. Alsafi stood next to him, holding up the sturdy dome that Tan had identified as what passed for the “head.”
“Can I keep it?” asked Alsafi, holding it up to the light.
“The Emperor’s Herald says no,” said Sanchez. “The Emperor has an interest in unique and potentially useful technologies, and the still undocumented mechanisms within The Soul Survivor’s body count. Besides, even if it was the policy to allow Wraithstrike team leaders to keep trophies of this sort, that honor would fall to Wraithstrike Delta’s leader, not you.”
“Aww,” said Alsafi. “Stupid Delta team… Paul gets all the fun.”
“All the hypothetical fun, at least,” said Sanchez.
“The Soul Survivor can reactivate easily,” said Tan. “I don’t know how it all works, but Captain Ortega was adamant that no moisture be allowed in or near the helmet. I’m not sure if that warning stands when the helmet is removed from the body, but Ortega remained concerned about The Soul Survivor’s capabilities even when he was firmly in custody in the storage crates.”
“Your warning is appreciated and noted,” said Sanchez. “I will pass it on, and it will almost certainly be ignored. The Soul Survivor is to be interrogated If filling the jar with liquid is the way to do it, then it’s the way it will be done. We have rooms shielded from transmissions and researchers who don’t use the cybernetic lenses, though, so they won’t be at risk for the… ‘epileptic hypnosis’ that you described. It seems that traveling with Captain Ortega exposes people to outlandish scenarios.”
“The alternative was waiting, possibly forever, to be found in the Cypulchral Cloud,” said Tan. “It was worth the risk.”
“Plus talk about a war story,” said Alsafi. “Stranded in a hostile, uncharted region of space, the only hope of rescue being your enemies, contact with an ancient alien vessel… we should put this in our recruitment vids.”
“It does have all the right elements,” said Sanchez. “Just enough of the horrors of war to be exciting, and not enough to scare off recruits. Speaking of the horrors of war, you’ve both got ships to get back to. Wraithstrike Delta’s leader will drop you off on his way to bringing in this Scuttler for examination and possibly use during the second or third wave should they be necessary.”
“Stupid Paul…” said Alsafi.
“You need to get up, Captain,” said a voice. “I need some information.”
Captain Ortega groggily realized that he could think thoughts. His brain was still trying to reaffirm itself after the neural pulse, but he only had the dimmest recollection of that. He opened his eyes and took a moment to recall how to interpret visual stimuli. He was in a small meeting room. A metal table was in front of him, and he was sitting in a chair. He shook his head and looked up, seeing a familiar face on the other side of the table.
The man was tall enough that Ortega’s initial instinct was that he wasn’t even a human. He had dark skin and unbelievably thick muscles, especially in his arms. He wore a uniform that was cut to fit loosely on him, indicating to Ortega that the figure was not truly a part of the military structure but had a great amount of influence within it, a detail that wasn’t obvious from their previous view screen encounters. He also saw the massive gauntlets that the man war, as if he was a prisoner.
“Zamona,” he said. “Nice to meet you in person. It’ll be a relief not to end our conversation with you trying to blow up a ship that I’m in.”
“Yes, I do apologize,” said Harold Zamona. “Our first meeting didn’t give us a chance to get acquainted. I had a war to monitor and an Emperor to represent. That modified Morcalan science vessel needed to be destroyed. Imagine my surprise, then, when two days later I receive a transmission indicating that a self destruct sequence has been activated, and one of the faces captured by the ship before it explodes is yours. I looked up your record then… have I bitten off more than I can chew with you as a hostage?”
“Have I?” said Ortega. “I’ve not had time to look you up, but Doctor Rogers knew who you were, and seemed a bit star struck.”
“Yes, the… ‘Soul Survivor’ as he calls himself.”
“His name is Doctor Silas Rogers.”
“Mine is Harold Zamona, but sometimes people still call me The Iceberg. Old names can stick around.”
“He’s delusional. Calling him that feeds into his delusions.”
“I can respect that,” said Zamona. “I’ll be sure to instruct the technicians to only refer to him as Doctor Rogers when we wake him up for his interrogation.”
Any remaining grogginess left Ortega immediately. He tried to jump out of his chair, only now realizing the magnetic restraints that were holding his arms and legs in place.
“You can’t!” he said. “He’s deactivated, don’t risk waking him up. He needs to be firmly contained in a prison before he’s awakened, and only one with special containment procedures.”
“All precautions will be taken,” said Zamona, waving a gauntlet-clad hand dismissively. “We don’t intend to underestimate him. For starters, his apparent ability to hack the cybernetic lenses worn by many of our troops has been taken into consideration. The procedure will take place entirely within a network dead zone so that he can’t reach beyond the confines of the room, and the researchers will not be wearing the standard lenses.”
“I’m glad you think you’re taking precautions,” said Ortega. “He’s too smart, though, and he has technology in his body that are decades ahead of anything else.”
“Not decades ahead of us,” said Zamona. “Our Emperor is a brilliant scientist.”
“Perhaps a brilliant technologist,” said Ortega. “Everything I’ve seen other than the cybernetic lenses is just a reworking of an earlier technology, and the lenses themselves are based on a number of other pre-existing technologies. It’s impressive, definitely impressive, but not ground-breaking… except, perhaps, the Emperor’s Eye and the Virellium Wave.”
Ortega watched the Herald’s eyes carefully. They narrowed. There was a definite reaction to the names. If Zamona knew he’d been in Morcala for both events, was the reaction to the names themselves being known, or a reminder of just how much Ortega had seen?
“Incidentally,” said Ortega, trying to move on, “I’m sure you’re aware that cybernetic implants… which would include the lenses… designed to give subliminal suggestions to their users is a violation of a number of interstellar conventions. Conscripting soldiers is also generally frowned upon, especially in the Angelor Republic.”
“I’m aware of both facts. I’m also aware of the fact that conscript-based armies tend to have a higher likelihood of insurrection and mutiny, but we’ve been fine so far. Captain, I need to know what the Astroguard knows about Emperor Dyson, and what their intended plan is.”
“As far as I know, he’s just a matter of concern that they’ll prepare for,” said Ortega. “War with Morcala was likely as close as he could get to Astroguard jurisdiction without direct intervention. As soon as the public becomes aware that you can apparently make an entire armada jump further than any recorded single vessel, they’ll become very active in stopping you.”
“Good to know. Final question: will you assist us in waking Doctor Rogers, and making sure that he doesn’t trick us during his interrogation?”
Ortega hesitated. He didn’t want to do anything that might help the Dyson Empire, and an uncontrolled Doctor Rogers might be just the sort of wild card that could help to destabilize whatever Dyson was planning next. On the other hand, there was always the chance that unpredictable chaos might be favorably directed…
“Absolutely,” said Captain Ortega. “He’s bad enough without whatever you people would do to him.”