Tag Archives: Ensign Trell

Episode 165: Collision Corps

“They’re definitely panicked,” said Vince Flashman, checking the exterior camera. “Something’s come up. Their hijacked spaceship isn’t a priority anymore.”

“Great,” said Carmen. “We might not have to blast our way out of here after all!”

“Observers: unseen: probability.”

“Good point,” said Vince. “But from what little I can see, anyway… there’s confusion. Some shouting… must’ve been some sort of accident elsewhere on the ship.”

“If there’s a moment when you can’t see anyone looking in our direction, let us know,” said Carmen. She kept her hand on the emergency ramp control, a button located by a terminal with deactivated camera features, likely a parting gift from The Soul Survivor. She wasn’t sure if the all-but robot was still locked in the bridge or had already made some sort of escape that didn’t rely on conventional exits, but she didn’t care. Xorn’Tal waited by the emergency ramp itself, ready to literally leap over and through the exit as it opened. While he was probably the most fragile of the three racers, he looked larger and intimidating, and bullets or lasers searing off his vines was likely to be more temporary than it was for the two humans, things he’d pointed out while volunteering for the most dangerous part of the plan.

“Are we still clear on how this goes down?” asked Carmen.

“Cessation requested: asking.”

“Sorry, Xorn’Tal. Jumpy, I guess.”

“Same here,” said Vince, keeping his eyes on his functional terminal. “Even if no one’s looking, the odds of us getting on unseen a-… no one’s looking, now, now!”

Carmen punched the control button and the ramp began to open, its magnetic seals breaking and pneumatic machinery rapidly lowering a ramp to make a quick hole in the side of their vessel. Xorn’Tal leapt over the dropping plates of hull while they were still articulating into a form acceptable for humans to disembark. The plant-like creature marveled at the complete lack of eyes on the ship, with only a few guards and hangar technicians in a nearby shed-like control room, all frantically looking over a monitor that he couldn’t make out. There were interior weapons trained on the ship, but none were activating, likely thanks to being based on manual controls instead of computerized ones. Xorn’Tal raised a signaling vine, and saw the hallway stretching away from the hangar, just alongside the control room.

Carmen and Vince jumped over the still-lowering ramp, and the three ran, Xorn’Tal only outpacing the two humans by virtue of a head start. As they passed the control room, the sight of an ambulatory tangle of vines and leaves rolling by followed by two humans in brightly colored professional racer garb caught the eye of two soldiers who gaped at the sight. One lifted an arm to point just as they fell out of Carmen’s view.

“They saw us!” she said. “Hurry, find a place to hide!”

“Juncture!” said Xorn’Tal. “Path chosen: left: obfuscate!”

“Left, got it,” confirmed Vince.

The trio neared the branching path where the hallway was joined by another, and immediately collided into the two soldiers who were darting around the corner. The five stumbled over each other, tripped, and sprawled across the ground, with only the multi-limbed Xorn’Tal maintaining some semblance of balance.

“Captain!” shouted one.

“Don’t worry about me, Trell, run!”

The two soldiers leapt to their feet quickly, with one of them surging in the direction the racers had just come from. Carmen noted the oddity of not being immediately apprehended or killed, as Vince shakily rose.

“Hey, lady, we don’t-”

The soldier identified as Captain pulled a rifle from the receptacle at her back and clubbed Vince in the skull, sending the racer staggering.

“I don’t know what moral transgression you committed in your past life to deserve getting in my way now, but know that I’ve neither the time nor inclination to let the one unsecured ship out of my clutches when a hull breach has-”

Xorn’Tal surged toward the soldier. Carmen expected the series of vines to verwhelm the humanoid, but the soldier easily bent her arm into a hook, swiped it forward to clear a massive section of vines, and head-butted the revealed root-like structure that comprised Xorn’Tal’s body. Xorn’Tal tumbled back, rolling onto the floor instead of instantly righting itself due to the soldier’s tentacle-sweep.

“Wait,” said Carmen. “Wait! I think we’re on the same-”

The soldier turned, running back down the hall but stopped at the sight of the second soldier returning.

“They were already moving,” she said. “Something tipped them off to-”

The captain held up a hand to silence the first, turned back to Carmen, and pointed.

“The same what?”

“Team,” said Carmen. “We’re… I think we’re on the same team.”

“Doubtful,” said the captain. “I’m Calen. Captain Calen, of Morcala.”

“Morcala,” growled Vince, standing and massaging his skull. “What are you-”

“That way!” shouted Trell, pointing down the hallway. “Hurry!”

The two soldiers ran around the corner and the racers took less than a second to organize their thoughts and follow behind.

Episode 139: Subterfuge

Ensign Trell groggily walked through the corridors of the Dyson vessel, following the footsteps of the aggravatingly chipper Alsafi. She’d worked out from the context that this Wraithstrike soldier not only qualified as an officer in Dyson’s forces, but that she’d also led the assault to take back Pilot Tan’s ship. She heard the boots of the two soldiers behind her, an extra escort that Alsafi continued to ignore as effectively irrelevant while she was around.

They entered a hall that contained holding cells similar to the ones that Trell had been held in earlier. Alsafi examined them like fruits in a grocery store, and eventually settled on one four from the entrance to the hall.

“Step right in, please,” she said, waving Trell toward the entrance. “This cell has all of the accommodations from your previous lodgings, but it should lack the structural flaw that allowed you to escape from it. Sorry for the inconvenience, and enjoy the rest of your stay!”

Alsafi vanished from view and Trell rolled her eyes.

“Move along,” said one of the guards behind her.

Trell took a step forward but heard an energy blast. Eyes widening, she jumped forward and rolled into the cell, moving her manacled hands between her and the commotion. She looked back and gaped at the sight of one of the guards standing over the other guard, a discharged blaster in her hand. As the smell of ionized air drifted toward Trell, the treacherous guard turned to face her and smiled.

“Captain?”

“The one and only, Ensign,” said Captain Calen, spinning and holstering her weapon. “At least since my duel with Captain Anthonial Calen. Help me with the body.”

Calen tapped a keypad on her uniform’s wrist, and Trell’s manacles fell to the floor with a clang. Calen grabbed the legs of the unconscious guard and, after overcoming her shock, Trell grabbed the hands and the two easily pulled the guard into the cell.

“Why are we leaving him alive, Captain?” asked Trell. “He’s a security risk this way.”

“He has a usefulness that’s earned him some extra time. If this cell’s monitoring vital signs and it detects an absence of healthy humanity then they’ll know you aren’t in it. If we keep this guard in here, he may yet fool such insufficient security measures.”

“I understand. How did you get here? I thought you were thrown into a secluded confinement after your previous escape attempt.”

“The volunteer that I found to serve out my sentence is, in actuality, another guard who had the misfortune of styling hair as I do. Her uniform fit me well enough, and mine hers. By the time she comes to, I expect she’ll be three hours into an eight hour interval without being checked. Her uniform’s allowed me to move about without suspicion. Trell, this military lacks any semblance of security or cohesion. It’s like an impressionist painting of what an army is like, but it fails to capture the soul of what an army is.”

“There were no security codes required?” asked Trell.

“There were.”

“Then how-”

Calen held up a tiny, concave piece of clear plastic. It glowed and periodically twinkled with light and had a red and brown smudge.

“Is that one of the cybernetic lenses?”

“Let’s just say that my incarceration understudy will need to invest in an eye patch. Though she might not’ve had time for investing anything if your plan had worked. That was some clever thinking, Trell.”

“Thank you, Captain. I… didn’t like it. I knew it would destroy you as well.”

Calen frowned and narrowed her eyes.

“Let’s get two things straight, Trell. You did what you thought was best for our military aims, and while I might have suggested a different course of action, nothing you did came from a heart of malice or mutiny. You did well there. More importantly, you’re a fool to think the destruction of a ship like this would be enough to stop me from living to wreak my vengeance in the name of Morcala. Now… let’s get you a uniform.”

Episode 133: Defusion

Captain Ortega flipped the final switch.

“Lookin’ good, Mac!”

The grizzled, but cheerful, engineer who continued to stand just behind him was unnerving. While he had initially welcomed the presence of an actual engineer, specifically one trained in power generator subsystems and energy distribution management, he’d considered it to be a good sign. Unfortunately, the engineer had been interested in seeing how Ortega would go about the process, and almost seemed more interested in pointedly withholding information as a way of making the process an educational one. Ortega hoped that, at the very least, the engineer would be willing to stop him from doing something destructive or deadly.

He glanced at the capacitance meter, currently displaying a ninety-eight percent charge.

“Think it’ll hold?” asked Ortega.

“I dunno. Do you?”

“I’d really like your professional opinion,” said Ortega, trying to stay patient. “We have two percent left to… I mean, one percent left to make sure it won’t discharge.”

“Then let’s hope you’re right, Mac.”

“Andrew,” said Ortega. “My name is Andrew. Or Captain Ortega.”

“And my name is Frederick. Freddy Waylay. You know, I knew an Andy Ortega back when I worked at New Lima, do you think you’re related?”

“Probably not, but you never know. It’s always possib-”

The capacitance meter ticked forward to one-hundred percent. Ortega took a deep breath and stepped back. After a second, another display came to life displaying a booting procedure that quickly cycle to a system maintenance panel. Ortega exhaled, as did the many armed guards behind him.

“Well then,” said Ortega. “I guess we fixed it. Assuming the generators were synchronized, I’m guessing the other teams were successful too.”

“Great!” said Freddy. “I knew you could do it. Never doubted for a second.”

In the distance, Ortega could hear the sounds of other small crowds of people uttering quick cheers. The ship wouldn’t be destroyed, at least not in this fashion. He turned back to Freddy, nodding.

“Thanks for the confidence. It would’ve helped if you’d been more direct, though.”

“Would it?”

“Very much so.”

“Are you sure?”

“Y…yes?”

“I doubt it,” said the engineer. “If only three of these generators had been fixed, the rest of the ship’s systems would’ve been unaffected. The folks at the other stations wouldn’t have let us down.”

“Isn’t it better to assume that they might not be able to and make sure that our job is done well?”

“Well of course. That’s why I’m watching you, isn’t it? And besides, now you know how to fix this kind of problem again in the future.”

“Captain Ortega?” said a voice behind the Captain, cutting off his line of questioning with the engineer. Ortega turned to see the new speaker, and felt relieved to see Alsafi, carrying her observation crown at her side and revealing her face and hair. She was grinning, clearly relieved.

“Did everything turn out all right?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Well… effectively. One of the generators didn’t get completely fixed, but with no other generators linked to it the ship’s own fail-safes were enough to stop it in its tracks. There was some smoking, a little fire, but it was contained. Nice work. Glad to see that the action figure’s not all hype.”

“I hate those things.”

“Yeah, me too,” Alsafi said. “Totally. I mean, it’s just a money grab capitalizing on you.”

“Well, most of the proceeds go to charity. I’ve just always been weirded out by the eyes. They’re… off.”

“Oh! Yeah, okay, I get that. Cool. Guess it’s a good thing they made them, then. Gotta help the… charities. All the charities. Anyway, you’ve been called up to an audience with The Herald.”

“Zamona?”

“Yeah, that guy,” said Alsafi.

Ortega looked at the ground. Still unconscious, Ensign Trell continued to lie on the ground, motionless. He looked back up.

“I’m not sure I like that idea,” he said. “I’m not keen on going back in that cage.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Alsafi.

“Really?”

“Totally,” she said. “After how you got out of that last one, we’ll be putting you in a different cage entirely.”

Episode 129: Chain of Command

The assembled guards looked from Captain Ortega to Alsafi, unsure of how to proceed in the face of his grave pronouncement. Alsafi realized she had become the object of scrutiny and held up her hands.

“Whoa, hey now, why’s this my call?”

“You’re the highest ranking person here, ma’am,” said one of the soldiers. “Captains outrank Lieutenants, especially Wraithstrike Captains.”

“One of the reasons I joined the Wraithstrike unit was to get out of the command chain, you know,” she said. “Okay… Ortega, I’m gonna trust your reputation here. We need to get people who can disarm these… generator bomb things.”

“I think I can handle this one,” said Ortega. “You’ll want to get whatever engineers you can while you figure out where the other ones are.”

“Right… probably just the ones she would’ve passed between her cell block and here. I’ll coordinate those efforts. Four of you… actually, six of you, stay here with Ortega. Captain Ortega, you will stop this generator overload and then remand yourself into the custody of these soldiers who will escort you back to your cell… back to a different cell, actually. Is that how you use remand?”

“I hope so, that’s how I use it.”

“Great,” she said. “Come with me, the rest of you. Actually… I’ll take this alone, sorry. All of you, watch Captain Ortega.”

Without even a flash of light, she vanished. Ready for the spectacle this time, Ortega heard the faintest rush of air and felt a gentle breeze as she vanished. The Wraithstrike method of teleportation didn’t mask itself from air displacement effects. Probably not a big tactical advantage, but he filed the information away for his report on the situation later, if he survived long enough to file it.

“Get to work,” said the guard who’d spoken to Alsafi, pointedly aiming a rifle at Captain Ortega. “One of you get his energy blaster. And keep an eye on the other stunned prisoner.”

Ortega nodded, leaving the blaster on the ground and turning to the terminal. Ensign Trell had been thorough, but there were only so many ways you could sabotage a power generator if you intended for it to generate enough power to cause malfunctions rather than just shutting it off entirely. She’d probably built in some redundancies in the event of discovery.

Someone, somewhere, finally turned off the alarm, but a different alarm sounded, one with less urgency but more implied dread.

“All available engineers near the cell blocks, report to the nearest power generator stations,” said Alsafi’s voice over an intercom. “Ship destruction imminent if you don’t comply. …the two of you looking stunned in the break room, put away your card game and start moving, we really don’t have the time for this. All of you, get going.”

Ortega went over what he saw Trell’s hands do in his mind, and thought about all the similar overload count-downs he’d dealt with before. Ideally an engineer would be along soon to fix anything he did wrong. He glanced at the capacitor readout display.

Forty-Six percent.

Episode 128: The Starting Point

Ensign Trell made her adjustments to the power generator, linking it to the network she’d created between all the other units she had modified. As she finished the change, she heard a hum behind her.

“I will.”

Trell turned to see Captain Ortega, holding the weapon she’d knocked out of Alsafi’s hand. He was aiming it at her, and powering it up.

“Will what?” she asked.

“Stop you. You asked who would stop you.”

“Right,” she said. “Sorry, got lost in the work for a moment. Captain Ortega, we have a chance to destroy this ship. If we don’t take it now, then we lose our chance to fight back against our enemy.”

“Your enemy is Emperor Dyson, not the conscripts who’ve been subjected to neural coercion. Destroying this ship will barely weaken the Dyson Empire, will end lives unnecessarily, won’t help us to actually stop him, and kills your Captain. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of any hearing or committee investigating actions like this, believe me.”

“By the Morcalan rules of war, I’m well within my rights,” she said. “And by international law, attacking enemy vessels, even through sabotage, is an acceptable act even if the crew is known to not be acting of their own free will during an invasion attempt. This isn’t a war crime.”

“That doesn’t make it right.”

Trell turned back and smiled.

“And so we’ve hit the breaking point, then? I figured you always found a way to do things by the book, Captain Ortega. I suppose this situation is a bit much for you.”

“That’s your mistake, then,” said Ortega, taking aim with the weapon. “The Astroguard protocols aren’t my limit for doing what needs to be done. They’re my starting point. You have two seconds to step away from the generator.”

Trell looked from Ortega to the gun and back. Fast enough to take even one of Captain Ortega’s experience by surprise, she reached back, input the final change without even looking at the access panel, and jumped at Ortega with her metal pipe as a readout on the power generator began tracking the unit’s capacitor charge. Ortega reflexively pulled the blaster back instead of firing, and grabbed the incoming pipe before it could connect. Trell punched with her free hand, connected, and sent Ortega staggering back. She reached for the weapon while he was disoriented, but he twisted it away and regained composure quickly.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m going to need this.”

“Why?” she said. “It’s done. The machine’s been activated. Unless you’re willing to keep fighting for the entire duration of the countdown… time that we SHOULD spend racing for an escape pod… then there isn’t-”

Ortega fired the blaster. The beam hit Trell and she screamed, dropped the pipe, and fell to the floor. Ortega ran to the generator’s terminal and inspected Trell’s changes.

“There they are!”

Ortega looked down the hall and saw Alsafi, or a similarly dressed Wraithstrike soldier, leading a small cadre of guards and running to meet them. Ortega raised his hands at the sight of the weaponry. He waited for them to draw nearer, and cleared his throat.

“You didn’t even run?” said the Wraithstrike, using a chipper tone that told Ortega that this was still Alsafi. “Geeze, I know escape’s impossible, but-”

“My friend here just rigged this ship to destroy itself,” he said. “We need to disable it.”

“What?” she said. “How? That power generator couldn’t-”

“She’s created some sort of network between at least five of them. She thinks that the combined power overflow will destroy the ship. I’ve seen a lot of self destruct sequences, and her theory might just play out like she thinks it will. This capacitor’s already over twenty percent charged if the readout’s any indication, and I’m guessing the others’ll be progressing along just like it. We need to find the others and reverse what she’s done, otherwise there won’t be a brig that can hold me on this ship anymore.”

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.”

Episode 117: Morcalan Morse

ANY WORD FROM THE CAPTAIN

Captain Ortega tapped the phrases into the pipe behind the wall panel he’d managed to remove. He was growing more convinced that all of Dyson’s most visible technology was refurbished from other common sources, but less convinced that it was a slapdash job. The pipe had been there as he’d expected, but the panel had been reinforced. Astroguard had written manuals on how to escape from common cell structure designs like this, but the redesign would have been enough to thwart most who only had knowledge from the manual to work with.

As one of the most frequent consultants on the writing of such manuals, however, Ortega was ahead of the curve in the latest trends in escape artistry. He’d almost electrocuted himself on the first three workarounds he attempted, but the fourth allowed the panel to pop out of the wall without, he hoped, tripping any sensors.

NO

The terse reply from the other end was coming either from Ensign Trell, or someone who was very creatively imitating her without any difficulty. Ortega had tapped instructions on the bar that would have been audible to anyone in a mostly silent room, and he’d used some of the most common universal code patterns, ones derived from the ancient Morse Code patterns from Earth’s military and naval history. Trell had responded after he’d been repeating the instructions for twelve minutes, using the nearly-compatible Morcalan variation on the pattern. Ortega reached for the pipe and tapped again.

JUST RETURNED FROM ANOTHER DOCTOR DEBRIEFING

He thought about the message and resisted the urge to drum his fingers on the pipe. He decided to wait rather than add anything, as early attempts to incorporate STOP or punctuation into the messages using their two different codes had caused issues. Similar issues resulted when he tried to remember how to use Morcalan Morse, and Trell was either unwilling to switch from the Morcalan standard or had never been trained in the more commonly accepted ones, he wasn’t clear on that.

CAPTAIN GONE FOR TEN MINUTES

Ortega nodded and tapped his reply.

ANOTHER ESCAPE ATTEMPT

He resisted the urge to add a regular question mark, even though he was certain that Trell would be able to interpret it.

NO SHE HAD JUST RETURNED FROM ELSEWHERE FOR THAT AND WAS PUT IN THE CELL OPPOSITE FROM MINE BUT NOW SHE IS GONE AGAIN I DONT NOT KNOW WHY

Ortega looked over his shoulder. He was certain that he had a camera pointed at him even if he couldn’t see it, but the empty cells on the other side of the hall were the only things he could see. He reached for the pipe to tap again.

SHE MIGHT HAVE GONE TO ANOTHER DEBRIEFING LIKE MINE TO HELP EXPLAIN THE DOCTOR

WHICH DOCTOR

DOCTOR SILAS ROGERS

SOUL SURVIVOR IS EASIER TO TAP

Ortega smirked. He disagreed, but he was using a slightly different system. Trell was likely just taunting him to kill time.

SOUL SURVIVOR IS NOT AN IMMEDIATE CONCERN I CAN TALK YOU THROUGH ESCAPE IF YOUR CELL IS BUILT LIKE MINE BUT THE SHIP IS DIFFERENT THAN THE ONES IVE PLANNED FOR AND AN ESSENTIAL PART INVOLVES LOSING OUR TAPPING ABILITY

UNDERSTOOD

ASSUMING ALARMS DONT GO OFF WE CAN MEET AT WHAT I HOPE WILL BE A MOSTLY UNUSED CORRIDOR JUNCTION BUT IF ALARMS START WE WONT HAVE THE OPTION

He paused. After a minute, Trell started tapping again.

AFTER ESCAPE WE NEED TO FIND THE CAPTAIN AND SABOTAGE THIS SHIP AND HOPEFULLY DESTROY OTHERS, IN WHICHEVER ORDER IS MOST REASONABLE

Ortega frowned. He didn’t like the idea of destroying an entire ship if people were on board, but Trell could be reasoned with on the fly. Calen probably couldn’t, however, plus the Dyson forces had clearly entered war-time mode, and as such war protocols were on the table. Potentially mind-controlled conscripts weren’t necessarily fair war-time targets, though. With all those considerations on the table, it was also true that his chances of escape would improve with Trell’s assistance. He reached for the bar and tapped it again.

AGREED

Episode 97: Triumphant Rescue

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.”

“Why?”

“Just wrapping up a few pieces of the investigation. Besides, I wanna be there when they uncrate the Soul Survivor.”

Episode 96: Enemy Engagement

“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.

Episode 95: Wraithstrike

The explosion was little more than a flash grenade, a special effects prop made from emergency flares, fuel, and some spare parts to add an electrical kick. As Captain Calen released her Scuttler’s hold on Tan’s vessel, it provided absolutely nothing to the backwards drift that allowed the two ships to separate, appearing from a distance to resemble a celestial arthropod releasing an unfinished meal. It looked impressive, though.

***

“As you can see, I’ve almost finished the repairs,” said Tan. “The Morcalan vessel didn’t latch on as firmly as it might’ve. It’s an inefficient attack, one that almost requires the assistance of the other ship to pull off.”

Ensign Trell narrowed her eyes and shook her energy blaster in a manner that fell just shy of threatening. Captain Ortega smiled, getting the sense that Trell was finally growing to the point where she could tolerate Tan’s quirks. Commander Sanchez saw neither of them as she stared from the view screen.

“I see definite improvement,” she said. “The repair team is near enough, though. Do you believe you can truly finish the work on your own? Every ship’s participation is useful for making the initial strike more debilitating to our enemies.”

“I think it’s better to not waste their time,” said Tan. “If we get them back to the ideal position in our formation to do the most good for the rest of the fleet, it’ll help us. We’ve got a tight schedule, after all. I might be late to the party but I’ll definitely be there before the first wave of attack is over.”

Trell blinked. Something seemed off about their prisoner’s comment. She couldn’t say what it was, but the flow of conversation seemed wrong, and it gave her a sense of deja vu, as if she’d heard this conversation before.

“Very well,” said Commander Sanchez. “I expect you to be not just up and running, but combat ready in time for the strike. I’ll be altering your position to be in the final rush of fighters during our first wave instead of the third. That should help to accommodate any unexpected issues you have during your final repairs.”

“Understood, Commander,” said Tan.

“Hail Dyson.”

“Hail Dyson.”

The screen flickered off and Tan breathed a sigh of relief.

“Nice work,” said Ortega. “I think we’re just about in the clear to live through this.”

“Right,” said Tan. “What’ll you do now?”

“Hadn’t thought that far ahead,” said Ortega. “Trell, do you think Calen would be amenable to flying the Scuttler by Veskid? I could probably take advantage of their throughwave network to get a message to Astroguard Command. They couldn’t speak back to us easily, but it could let them know more about the nature of the Dyson threat and get them ready to respond.”

“Probably not,” said Trell, watching the pilot carefully. “But it never hurts to ask.”

***

Captain Calen paced from the Scuttler’s miniature galley back to the bridge. She trusted Ensign Trell to keep the prisoner on task, and to keep Captain Ortega from intervening unnecessarily. She had grown wary when the Dyson Empire’s repair vessel drew near, but it didn’t do more than get close enough to scan Tan’s ship for repairs.

She reached the door that led back onto the bridge, and paused at the sight of an unusual system message flashing at Trell’s station. She started to approach it, but when she stepped through the archway she saw the two black-clad soldiers standing on either side of her, pressed up against the wall to avoid visual contact until it was too late.

Their uniforms were cybernetic stealth suits, topped with observation crowns that both increased their vision and obscured their faces. It gave them the appearance of having six eyes, as three lenses could rotate into position for either eye to give different visual effects depending on what the environment called for. The suits were standard fare, but tweaked with the strange scientific flourishes that Calen was beginning to recognize as the Dyson Empire’s handiwork. The combination of unusual head-gear and cybernetic touches on the body gave the impression of an alien skeleton or shadowy mutant insect’s exoskeletal husk.

They had the undeniable advantage of position, equipment, and surprise, and if their prey had not been Captain Calen the attack would have worked flawlessly. Calen’s wild reaction allowed her to grab the arm of one of the intruders as it lifted a green neural pulse pistol, twisting it to the side to cause the weapon to fire harmlessly into the other side of the room. She continued the arm twist to spin the victim behind her, just in time for the second pistol to fire, striking the intruder and causing an instant loss of consciousness. She tossed the dead weight into her second attacker, but he jumped to the side.

“Spies and saboteurs!” she shouted. “You waste an ambush and must face me alone. Who trained you to throw away advantages like that? By the dread engines of the Farthest Fleet, you’ll suffer at my hand and be sent back to your precious emperor as the secondary payload of a bone missile!”

The intruder didn’t respond but instead fired again. Calen was already moving, easily sidestepping the blast before he pulled the trigger. She grabbed his weapon, pulled it from his hand, and lowered it at the surprised assailant.

“You’ve no training,” she said. “No training, no advantage, and no hope. I’ll give you your last words, because after this insult to the concept of weaponry puts you to sleep I’ll ensure that you never wake again!”

The third assailant, stepped out of the hallway, and fired at Calen. She never saw the attack, and spasmed furiously. She stilled suddenly and for a surreal moment it seemed as if she remained conscious through an act of furious will. She toppled forward an instant later, and the two remaining intruders breathed a sigh of relief.

“Wraithstrike Team Delta reporting full insertion,” said the third intruder as the broadcast channel opened through his suit. “Scatterport-glitch occurred resulting in one casualty, non-lethal. Vessel secured.”

“Copy that, Wraithstrike Delta,” said the voice of Commander Sanchez. “Await further instructions.”