“Again, I can’t tell you,” said Ortega, leaning back in the comfortable chair. Harold Zamona folded his hands with surprising ease considering the size of his gauntlets.
“Again, not surprised. Do you just not know that particular Astroguard secret, or is this more loyalty to the Astroguard?”
“Does it matter?”
Zamona flicked a switch on the arm of his chair, and it turned until he was looking out a window.
“Probably not,” he said. “I may just have to introduce you to one of the lenses.”
“You don’t want to do that.”
“Not really, but havin’ Captain Ortega leading the charge of a Dyson strike force would be a great PR move.”
“Actually, I’m not sure it’d work on me,” said Ortega. “I’m sure your methods are thorough, but between the Astroguard’s training and a few personal experiences I’d rather not dwell on there’s a lot I’m prepared for.”
“Please don’t tell me that you think you’re immune to mind control because The Soul Survivor’s tried it on you so many times. Brains don’t work like that, especially human brains.”
“Please… Doctor Rogers is good at just about anything he puts his mind to, but he’s hardly the best mind controller that I’ve had to deal with. For that I’d either say… Thezabl, Queen of the Zyrmizar, or possibly… Viceroy Wilbur O’Connell of Naran.”
Zamona looked over his shoulder, looking like a curious mountain.
“I’ve never heard of the Zyrmizar.”
“Hope that you never will,” said Ortega. “They’re more active near Glorien space. I don’t know how the Glorien people hold them off so effectively. Imagine giant space hornets with duck bills. Or… or sort of like a platypus with wings and a stinger.”
“Do you ever have anyone verify all these things you see Ortega?”
“More often than you’d expect, but less often than I’d like.”
“Okay. Okay, I’ll buy that you’ve seen these Zyrmizar. A suspicious person would think that you’re very skilled at making these things up for your own image.”
“Says the person who wants me leading a strike force because of how it’ll look in the propaganda game.”
“I’m a wrestler, a military leader, and the herald of my emperor. It pays to have an eye for spectacle.”
“And where is this emperor of yours?”
“Doin’ whatever he wants. He’s the Emperor. Probably relaxing, maybe watching a movie.”
“I think it’s weird that he doesn’t show up in any media anywhere. You say you’re concerned with PR and promoting the Empire, but no one sees him except in a shadowy silhouette from time to time. They see you. I don’t think there is an Emperor. I think it’s just Harold Zamona.”
“If it weren’t for the Emperor I wouldn’t have these gauntlets on right now. Good news for you, because otherwise I’d be tempted to rip your arms off for that.”
“Are you telling me you couldn’t rip my arms off even with those things? You’re touching that table pretty gingerly every time you put your arms on it.”
Zamona scowled and turned back to look at the window.
“Think what you want. Maybe you’re right that I shouldn’t put you through standard conscription protocols, but that just means I can use you for Plan B. B stands for Better in this case.”
“Better for public relations. The military would benefit if the public saw you in our patrols, but I think they’ll benefit even more if the public sees you as our prisoner.”