Episode 127: Where Loyalties Lie

Alsafi’s energy blaster built its charge, taking only moments but feeling much longer to Captain Ortega. Just before the discharge, he heard a clack, as if from two blunt objects colliding. The ominous hum stopped, Alsafi shouted “Hey!” and Ortega heard the distinctive sound of an energy blaster hitting the floor. He opened his eyes, already moving to stand.

Ensign Trell swung a steel pipe at Alsafi, who was stumbling back over her own feet. She tripped and hit the ground, reaching for the blaster that was well out of reach. Trell jumped toward her fallen enemy. She pulled the pipe over her head and brought it down, only for Alsafi to vanish an instant before impact. Trell’s pipe hit the ground and she instantly entered a defensive stance, slowly turning in a circle to look around.

“She has some sort of short-range teleportation technology,” said Ortega, stepping out from behind the power generator.

“I can see that,” said Trell, still looking. “If she didn’t, she’d be dead right now. I hate it when people run from a fight.”

“Trell, I don’t think you had to try to kill her.”

“No, YOU don’t have to try to kill her,” said Trell, stopping and looking directly at Ortega. “You’re a statistical outlier. Anyone else with your ideals would have been killed dozens of times by now. I’m not going to rely on your methods when they increase our risk of recapture. Right now, someone knows we’re out of our cells and we have to stop her before it complicates things.”

A high pitched-tone sounded, receded, and sounded again. In the distance, voices could be heard responding to the sound.

“I think we’re too late for that,” said Ortega. “She must’ve transported to some place where she could raise the alarm.”

“We’ll need to move fast, then,” she said.

Ortega nodded and ran to the hall as Trell ran to the power generator. Ortega ran back.

“Trell? We’ll have Dyson conscripts heading this way soon, and we need to save Captain Calen.”

“No time,” she said. “But there’s still time to destroy this ship.”

“What? How?”

“I’ll create a feedback loop through this generator.”

“That generator doesn’t have the power to do that,” said Ortega. “Believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of ship sabotages. I’ve CAUSED my fair share of ship sabotages. This generator has neither the output nor the lack of safeguards to-”

“Put all generators like this together, though, and?”

“It… still wouldn’t be enough, would it? At best you’d disable most ship systems, and likely none of the ones meant for core operations.”

“Yes, but then you wind up with excess power,” said Trell, ripping off a hatch on the side of the generator. “It all has to be shunted somewhere. These generators can help to mitigate such problems when working together, but if someone knows what they’re doing and spends some time operating on them…”

“That’s why you took so long getting here!” said Ortega. “I thought you were caught or lost. But… you still couldn’t have gotten to them all.”

“I should only need the five I’ve been able to get to,” she said. “With any luck, this ship and everyone on it will be dead in less than three minutes.”

“Trell, we can’t do that. Most of these conscripts aren’t themselves right now.”

Trell continued to cross wires and move circuitry. She looked over her shoulder, only slowing her work rather than stopping it.

“And who’s going to stop me?”

Much earlier, on another world…

Zack entered the Azar’s suite, and saw his client staring out the window, staring at Ravelar’s sunset. The blue and orange glow of Ravelar’s late afternoon sun made Azar’s tan more noticeable than it might have been on a world with a Sun that humans thought of as more “traditional.” Zack’s tan would have been visible anywhere without needing unconventional light sources, but he was naturally quiet enough that Azar hadn’t heard him enter.

Zack reopened the door and closed it again, louder, and Azar turned around.

“Zack!” he said. “Good to see you. Sorry for interrupting your dinner.”

“No problem,” said Zack. “The live show isn’t great tonight.”

“Really? The fire juggler? I saw the show last night, and thought it was good.”

“Juggling’s not my style,” said Zack. “How can I help you?”

“I received some information from Harry today. He informed me that there might have been an oversight in our operations. A conflict of interest.”

“Did he now?” said Zack. He tossed his hat onto a cushion on one of the two sofas in Azar’s room and sat next to it. “Well, I’m sure whatever he’s done is fine if we just clear it up. Unless you’re talking about me, of course.”

“Oh, you’re aware, then?”

“No, but I assume Zamona wouldn’t care about it if he’d found dirt on himself, and I know he didn’t find anything on Barris. I looked. I’m the only one left.”

“Zack, your work for me has been… amazing. I don’t know if I’d still be alive if not for you.”

Zack shrugged.

“I do what I can. BristleCorp might’ve settled for putting you in the poorhouse, though.”

“And they still might. Zack, were you aware that the Desperate Measures Agency is a subsidiary of BristleCorp?”

Zack leaned back in the sofa and narrowed his eyes, giving the question a lot of thought.

“Yes,” he finally said. “I knew it was relevant, but I didn’t want to worry you.”

“I see,” said Azar. “Zack, finding out about it from Harry wasn’t exactly calming.”

“Sorry. The Desperate Measures Agency is good about keeping agents from interfering with cases. I felt the conflict of interest would actually help you. The DMA wouldn’t hire any assassins or detectives to look for you since I was on the case.”

“And it’s certainly worked out that way. Zack, I would have liked to know this sooner. There won’t be any more surprises like this, will there?”

“I doubt it,” said Zack. “I’m always gonna have secrets though, Azar. I can’t think of any that’d matter to you, but secrets keep me working.”

“That makes sense. Still… if the Desperate Measures Agency takes too close of a look at you here on Ravelar, it may tip my location to them. Even with me as an unlisted client.”

“I doubt anyone’d pay that much attention to me, but it’s always possible.”

“Have you considered taking on any other assignments here on Ravelar?”

Zack smiled and nodded.

“Azar, I do believe that I’ve been a bad influence on you. That’s borderline devious.”

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