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 All characters in this publication are fictitious, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Galactic Coalition Academy Series

Vira

Episode Two

Copyright © 2017 Odette C Bell

Cover art stock photos: licensed from Depositphotos.

www.odettecbell.com



VIRA

EPISODE TWO


Vira has stopped the attack on the Apollo, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a conspiracy afoot in the Coalition, and it’s one that could threaten all.

When Park and Vira finally arrive on the moon to begin their primary mission, they’re drawn into the assassination plot. But without any clue about who’s being targeted, they’re running out of time.

Worse. There’s something under the moon. A shadow of the Force. One that’s permeated every crack, crevice, and building. One that’s just waiting for the chance to rise. And when it does, there’ll be nowhere to hide.

Vira Episode Two is the second installment in the four-part mini-series. It is sure to please plans of Odette C. Bell’s Betrothed.

Chapter 1

Park

Vira, no, the bomb,” Park spat as quickly as he could as the bomb continued to vibrate through the room behind them. At the same time, he swore he heard the distinct sounds of a team trying to tear their way through the airlock entry from the corridor.

They had seconds. Less than seconds. But Vira didn’t even need that.

With movements so quick, Park couldn’t even track them, she wrenched the transportation device off Rogers’ wrist, typed something into the device, then thrust it behind her. It sailed through the air, slammed against the bomb, and created some kind of magnetic lock against it.

Park jerked to the side, eyes blasting wide. “No, what have you done—” he began, knowing in his heart of hearts that the sophisticated, once completely-hidden bomb wouldn’t simply easily be transported away.

He was wrong.

Just as the bomb engaged in full and filled the room with a specific kind of light, the transporter hummed into life, and the two disappeared.

It took Park several seconds to appreciate that the immediate threat was gone.

Then he swiveled all of his attention onto Vira. She stood there, looming over Rogers, her body floating so she could look him right in the eye.

Park could no longer see Rogers’ face, as his head was completely covered in the sophisticated armor of the long-range spacesuit. That didn’t matter, because Park swore he could appreciate Rogers’ expression. One of dumbfounded shock.

Rogers began to stutter. “What… what are you?”

Though Park’s body was still weak from blood loss, the adrenaline of almost being blown up gave him just enough strength to stagger across to Vira. He clutched a hand over his profusely bleeding arm, the fingers of his left hand so damn stiff, they could’ve been sticks of steel. “Vira… you have to get out of here – I can hear the security team trying to blast their way through from the opposite side of the door,” he thought to her.

She didn’t react.

“Vira,” he screamed out loud.

Vira brought a hand up, shifted her fingers to the side, and Rogers’ helmet disappeared.

That was all it took. Park knew sophisticated armor like that, more than well enough to appreciate that it was meant to be impossible to hack. The security codes that kept it in place were one of the best-kept secrets in the Coalition. But wasn’t Park forgetting something? Vira was a far more important secret, and from what she’d been telling him, she had access to all Coalition standard scanning procedures, shield modulations, you name it. So this was a walk in the park for her, excuse the pun.

But it was still the goddamn most dangerous thing she could have done. Saving the deck was one thing, saving Park was something else, but she’d just revealed herself to Rogers.

Now Park could see the guy’s face, he could appreciate just how shocked the bastard was. Rogers’ eyes were as wide as they could possibly be. Though the hermetically sealed environment of his spacesuit would’ve been able to wick the growing sweat from his brow seconds before, now his helmet was off, Rogers’ face dripped with sweat. The man shivered, too, but he never blinked. His lips wobbled and cracked open again. “What are you?” he said as he stared at Vira.

She simply looked at him.

Vira,” Park said through clenched teeth. “We need to get out of here,” he thought. “That security team—”

“Will not be able to make it through,” she answered out loud.

Great, she was blocking them too? This was it – it was over. There was no damn way Park was going to be able to hide this from the rest of the crew.

Despite the fact he’d just technically survived hell, he thought of it – the kill switch. He could barely move his right arm, but that didn’t matter – because he swore the sensations around the implant in his right wrist were still strong enough that he could feel the weight of the switch. Plus, all it would take was a goddamn press.

Vira, your secret is the most important thing,” he tried in her mind.

“This man is planning an assassination,” she said.

Rogers’ eyes looked as if they were being pressed between two bricks. “Sorry? How do you know—” he began, but he stopped himself in time.

Park paled. “What? Who?”

Vira ticked her head to the side, and there was a robotic efficiency about it. “I don’t know yet, but I will find out.”

Park opened his mouth to encourage her to find out quicker, then he stopped and shook his head. “We have to get out of here. We have to…” he trailed off.

Shit? What would they do now? Rogers had seen Vira’s abilities – not all of them, but more than enough to prove that she wasn’t any ordinary member of crew. So what the hell were they meant to do now?

Park was not a murderer. A soldier, yes – he would do whatever he had to to protect the Coalition. Even if some of his orders seemed brutal, if, ultimately, they would lead to more peace, then he would follow them out.

What the hell were they meant to do with Rogers? If they allowed him to live, he would speak. Worse, he might share Vira’s secret with whatever the hell conspiracy he was part of.

But Rogers, it seemed, had other plans.

He jerked his eyes off Vira and locked them on Park. “You can’t stop us. No one can stop us. We’re everywhere, we’re everyone. And if one of us dies,” he said, his jaw suddenly twitching to the side and his eyes blasting wide with a particular muscular twitch, “another will rise to take their place,” he slurred the last of his words as his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

He’d just killed himself.

Vira snapped forward, tried to spread a hand over his head, but it was clear she was too late.

She swore, her voice punching through the room.

With an arm around Rogers’ back, she guided him down to the ground, still spreading a hand over his brow.

Park had no idea what she was doing. Maybe she was attempting to skim the rest of his dying memories, or perhaps she had the ability to bring a man back from the dead.

He reached forward with his good hand and locked it on her shoulder, instantly transferring his blood over her once clean uniform.

The move was enough to gain her attention, and she slowly shifted her head toward him. “I couldn’t save him. That neurological implant is sophisticated. It killed him just as it unshielded itself. He’s dead,” she added with needless clarification.

Park nodded. “It’s probably for the best,” he answered, even though it was a cold damn thing to say. “But right now, you need to get out of here. Transport away.”

“First, we need a plan to ensure that no one is suspicious about what happened here.”

“I will figure it out,” Park said. “Just get out of here. Now. Transport away to somewhere safe,” he began, intending to tell her to get back to her quarters, but then he stopped. “No. If you can, discreetly,” he began, but just as quickly as he began, he shook his head, realizing how wildly inappropriate his suggestion was. He’d been about to order Vira to flit through the ship, using her unique and un-trackable covert skills to figure out if there were more bombs and traps on the Apollo.

She straightened, either reading his mind or having predicted what he’d been about to say. “I’ll do that.”

“No,” he said through clenched teeth. “It’s too much of a risk.”

“And remaining on a ship that’s about to explode isn’t a risk?” she said pointedly.

She had him on that one. He slowly ground his teeth together, even though he swore he barely had the strength left to stand. “You have a point. But for the love of God—”

“I will be discreet. Now, wrack your mind to come up with a good explanation of this,” she said, her tone quick and efficient and suspiciously sounding like an order.

He didn’t pull her up on it. He just watched her as she began to walk right through the wall toward the maintenance service duct to the side. Just before she could go, for some damn reason, he staggered toward her, reaching a hand out.

She arched her head and watched him. “What is it?”

“Thank you,” he said. He made eye contact, too. And he tried to mean it, right down from the bottom of his heart. “Now get going.”

She stared at him, and though he’d previously told himself that he was good at reading Vira’s emotions, right now he had no idea what she was thinking.

Then her expression changed, however subtly, however quickly, and for just the tiniest moment Park swore he saw it. Trust. The beginnings of trust growing in Vira’s mind.

It was something.

He nodded at her and arched his head toward the service tunnel. “Good luck. Be—”

“Careful. The same goes for you,” she said as she finally disappeared right through the wall.

The thrill of watching her shift through metal – even though it was one he’d seen before – was enough to keep Park on his feet.

Then he remembered that the security team was seconds from blasting through the airlock and saving him.

He cast his gaze around, mind suddenly kicking into full gear as it attempted to come up with a plan as to how he – and not Vira the super weapon – had somehow done this and saved the ship.

Just when blood loss threatened to drive him to his knees and shut down his reasoning completely, he saw something shift slightly through the wall, and Vira’s head popped into view for just a second. “Don’t worry – I will hide all sensor readings. Just play it cool,” she said, and the exact way she said just play it cool made Park want to laugh. It was so damn cute. It was clearly something she’d seen on one of her numerous screens in her basement room, clearly something she was trying out for the first time.

Vira brought a hand forward and flicked it toward the airlock out into the hallway. “You have five seconds. Just play it cool,” she repeated. Then she disappeared.

He stared at the spot where she’d disappeared until, several seconds later, as if on cue, the door blasted off its hinges.

It sent an acrid bellow of smoke and gas pushing into the airlock, and Park had to bring up his good arm and clamp it over his head to try to block out the searing light and raking scent.

A second later, the sound of pounding, armored footfall met his ears.

As Park slowly brought down his arm, it was to the sight of a massive man in armor, and even though most men looked pretty much the same in armor, despite for their underlying physique, Park got the impression that he knew exactly who this guy was. It wasn’t just the way Jameson was holding himself; it was the particular tilt to his head as he stared from Park down to the dead Rogers on the floor of the airlock.

There were four other security staff members in full armor behind Jameson, their guns at the ready. While they maintained tense, ready, some would say fearful poses, in a second, Jameson relaxed, dropping his gun, shifting around, and letting it lock against the mag clamp along the back of his armor.

By now, the acrid gas that had been produced by blowing the airlock door off had been sucked into the atmosphere vents in the floor.

Though all Park wanted to do was fall on his face and succumb to his fatigue, he forced himself to stand. It was damn hard, but he knew if he gave in to unconsciousness, it would get even harder.

He had to pretend that he’d had the wits and strength about him to overcome Rogers.

Park took a rattling breath. “He’s dead,” Park said as he arched his head toward Rogers, the move taxing and instantly sending a woozy sensation pitching through Park’s head.

He pressed his lips together hard, realizing it would be a particularly bad look to throw up all over Jameson’s boots.

Jameson looked from Rogers, to his armor, then up to the hole in the wall where Rogers had pulled his stuff from. “What happened?”

It was either a testament to the seriousness of the situation or the fact that Jameson knew Park was a competent lieutenant – because even though Park was seconds from falling over, Jameson didn’t immediately order a med team in. No, Jameson needed answers, and Park could appreciate that.

This wasn’t just a little breach – this was a massive breach. This wasn’t just skirmishes in the mess hall – this was an armed, aggressive, fanatic team aboard a Coalition heavy cruiser who’d had enough access to completely undermine key systems.

This was terrible.

Park clenched his teeth. He arched his head toward the hole in the wall. “Rogers took me here. He opened that hole in the wall – just had to wrap his knuckles against the plating, and it fell right off. Inside was that armor.” Park pointed down to it. Though again, the move was seriously taxing and sent a pulse of heat all the way up into his jaw and across his sternum.

Park opened his mouth.

Shit.

There was one thing he’d forgotten to ask Vira. Though she’d confidently said that she would sort this out, and block all scanner readings, what about the bomb? Had they been able to pick that up? Had she left that in the scanner readings?

Park tried to hide his indecisiveness by swaying back-and-forth. And that wasn’t particularly hard, because it was becoming less possible to stand with every second.

For the first time, Jameson took a step forward, locked a hand on Park’s shoulder, and shored up his position as the man stared directly into Park’s eyes. “What about the bomb?” he said.

Rogers had some kind of transportation device. It was clear he was intending to use it to get off the ship. The bomb looked as if it had the yield to take out this entire deck, and Rogers confirmed that. He was going to use it as a distraction.”

“Then what happened?” Jameson snapped.

“Rogers thought I was down and out,” Park said slowly, coming up with a lie on the fly, “but I wasn’t. He also,” Park clicked his jaw from side to side, “tried to offer me a position in his conspiracy.” That part wasn’t completely a lie. Park could easily remember the look in Rogers’ eyes as he’d talked about the fact Park would have been a good addition into the mutiny.

Jameson stiffened, and all of the four other members of security who’d filed into the room did the same.

“Conspiracy?” Jameson questioned.

Park shrugged. “That’s all I know about it. They kept talking about… some kind of End of Days,” Park said carefully, realizing he had to measure his words here. He could not afford to talk about the Force, even if Rogers had known all about it. Plus, the Creyole in the mess hall had already mentioned an End of Days, so it wouldn’t be a new concept. “He kept saying that unless those of us who could in the Coalition rose up, we’d all die. He,” Park let out a mirthless chuckle, “said he recognized my skills. Offered me a place. That was all the distraction I needed.”

“To do what?” Jameson said, and either it was the electronic filter of his helmet, or… what? Was there a disbelieving note to his tone?

To be honest, Park was way beyond stiffening. He noted the fact, and if it weren’t for his blood loss and injury, he would have thrown himself completely into assessing Jameson, but for now, he shrugged. “It all happened pretty quickly. I think Rogers wasn’t nearly as trained as he thought he was. Don’t get me wrong – he had combat skills, but he was also,” Park brought up his left hand and shifted it over his head in the universal sign for crazy, “unhinged. I knew if I had a chance, I had to get him talking about this End of Days. The more he talked about it, the more unhinged he got, and the less he started to pay attention.”

“And that enabled you to take him on even though he was in full space armor?” Jameson pushed.

There it was again – obvious suspicion.

Jesus Christ, how much did Jameson know? Had Vira been wrong? Had she been incapable of blocking the scanner readings of the airlock?

Park could have spiraled into uncertainty and fear, but he just didn’t have the energy. Plus, he was starting to trust Vira. Who wouldn’t? For the love of God, she’d walked right through the wall, managed to transport that bomb out of here, and had saved the day.

So he had to trust she’d managed to alter those scanner readings, too.

Park’ allowed himself to sway back-and-forth again, more blood spilling from the injury to his shoulder.

“Shouldn’t we get him to the med bay?” someone asked, and Park recognized the voice as Lieutenant Walker. There was a strained, quick efficiency to his tone, and Park could appreciate where it came from. Walker would be kicking himself right now. Not only had he intervened when Vira had grabbed the wrist device off the Creyole, but a full-scale conspiracy had been going on on the Apollo, and Walker hadn’t known about it.

“It can wait,” both Park and Jameson said at once.

Park made brief eye contact with Jameson before he continued, “I got him to take his helmet off,” Park managed. “The more he talked, it seemed, the more he wanted me to see that look in his eyes.”

“Then what happened?” Jameson kept pushing.

Jesus Christ, just how suspicious was this guy?

Park took a deep breath. It was time to change track. “I deliberately became valuable to him.”

The key to winning conversations like this was adaptability, and it was time Park relied on his ability to pull novel solutions right out of his hat.

Even though Park couldn’t see Jameson’s face, he hoped like hell the guy looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“Perhaps I was capable of giving Rogers some information he required,” Park said discreetly. “I have, after all, been privy to many secrets over my time.”

“You mean you deliberately shared Coalition secrets with an enemy of the state?” Jameson said, voice deadpan.

“I shared what sounded like Coalition secrets. Though most of what he was saying was unhinged, some of it sounded plausible. I gave him what he thought he needed to know,” Park said cagily. “That’s when he asked me to join him. I told him I could give him the relevant transporter position to a nearby target of high-value to him.”

“What target?”

Park didn’t even have to think that hard. “The Metar Research Facility.” It was nearby, after all. Had experimental weapons, too.

“And you gave him the coordinates to this?”

Hell no. I told him a plausible lie about where it was, and the guy was greedy and stupid enough to trust me. He gave me access to his transporter so I could log in the details. After all, technically you require approved biometric scans to transport to the Metar Facility,” Park said, and that wasn’t a lie. “I got access to the transporter. And though it took a few seconds to understand it, I figured it out.”

“Then?” Jameson kept pushing.

It was obvious that the rest of the security team didn’t quite appreciate why this conversation was happening here, now, while Park was literally bleeding out on the floor. To be honest, he didn’t understand, either. Jameson could just as easily be questioning Park while he was en route to the med bay. All the staff in the med bay had high security clearance. And if Jameson was worried, he could tell most of the staff to leave and get robots to fix up Park’s immediate injury.

But Jameson was playing a game, and Park had no intention of backing out now. “The transportation device had a buffer. I managed to use it to momentarily disable and send a particle blast through Rogers’ armor. It was enough to knock him off his feet. Enough for me to grab the transporter, take it to the bomb, and transport the damn thing into space. By the time I came back to Rogers, he was coming around. I didn’t get the chance to question him. The bastard killed himself. Another one of those implants that the Creyole used in the mess hall.”

There. Crap. Park had done it. A plausible lie.

Jameson took several seconds to respond. He didn’t do it verbally, either. Instead, he shifted around on his foot, walked over to Rogers’ limp body, got down on one knee, brought out his hand, and started to use the sensors in his sophisticated armor to scan Rogers.

Park’s stomach descended with a clunk. Heck, the damn thing suddenly felt so heavy, it was as if it had created its own gravity pool.

Park hadn’t expected Jameson to scan Rogers’ armor this quickly.

But just before Park’s world could completely crumple, Jameson stood up and nodded. “Rogers’ armor confirms that it was overloaded by a particle blast.” He took a heavy breath. He also reached up a hand and finally undid his helmet.

Though Park wanted to say there was still suspicion playing in Jameson’s eyes, it was a far wearier emotion.

“Sorry for grilling you like that, Lieutenant – especially when you’re that injured. But we can’t be too careful right now.”

Park nodded. It was stiff. But at least it was a nod.

“Get this man to the med bay, now,” Jameson bellowed. “And take Rogers straight to one of the shielded science labs. We need to find out everything from his armor that we can. Has anybody finished going through his room?” Jameson was damn efficient as he kept snapping off orders.

Park happily let Walker guide him down to the floor as the security team called in a med tech. “Vira, if you’re out there – if you managed to change Jameson’s scans of Rogers’ armor, thank you. Now do whatever the hell you can to ensure they don’t find anything on his armor.”

To be honest, Park had absolutely no idea if Vira was close at hand. Hell, more to the point, he had no idea how far away Vira could sense thoughts. Was it an immediate thing? Did she need to be in the room with you? Or could she hear them all the way across the ship?

That was a particularly chilling thought, one that Park let distract him as he waited for the med team.

But though Park could allow himself to be distracted for a little, something was looming.

A conspiracy. One that seemed ready to engulf the Coalition.

But what was worse? Technically, it wasn’t his damn problem.

Chapter 2

Vira

She was quick. Efficient. She was made for this.

She transported through the ship, using her senses to detect the people in the rooms she was headed to. If they were there, she remained in bulkheads, service tunnels, or inside damn walls.

She kept herself shielded, continually manipulating the Apollo’s internal scanners to ensure that no one detected her energy signal.

It felt right. This movement, it made her feel free.

But more than that, it made her feel as if she were finally doing something.

She hadn’t left Park until Jameson had stopped grilling him. She’d been able to predict from her understanding of Jameson that he would be suspicious of Park. So she’d stuck around, interfered with Rogers’ armor, and waited until Jameson had seemed placated.

Then she made the requisite changes to Rogers’ armor remotely to ensure it backed up Park’s story.

Park… he was good, even though she wouldn’t tell him this. He was, as his nickname had suggested, adaptable. He’d managed to come up with a plausible story on the fly.

Now it was her turn.

She was scouring the ship, from bulkhead to bulkhead, from console to console. Heck, she even transported close to the insides of the engine core. Even though she could technically transport all the way into the engine core, it would be almost impossible to hide the movement. Though she could manipulate the ship’s scanners, her presence in the engine core would increase the energy tenfold, and there would be no way to hide that.

It didn’t matter. She let every single one of her extended senses push out as she searched for more weapons.

She didn’t find any more bombs. She found guns, though. More pin guns, experimental armor, and one or two communication devices.

She left them exactly where they were. Though it was tempting to grab them up and take them to Park, she would follow his order – she would do this carefully. She would simply tell him where they were.

She scanned them, though. And, despite her skills, disappointingly, she could find little. She could not access any stored messages. They had been completely deleted. There was no information left over that she could use to statistically re-create them, either. Obviously this operation was sophisticated enough that they took the read-and-burn approach to their communications, ensuring every scrap of evidence was wiped after a message was received.

This indicated one thing – that this conspiracy was far more sophisticated than she’d given it credit for.

She briefly thought about communicating with Admiral Forest and letting her know.

That wasn’t technically Vira’s responsibility. Plus, to do so would have unintended consequences. Though Vira was not fearful that she couldn’t communicate with Admiral Forest without anyone else knowing, if she did call Admiral Forest, Forest would no doubt end this mission. Not because of the conspiracy, but because Vira was obviously getting distracted and going outside her remit.

So Vira simply concentrated on her task as she continued to transport through the ship. It took her less than an hour to completely canvas every single system. She found several micro fractures in the outer hull, a number of inadequacies in the neural wire that ran throughout the entire ship, and any number of engineering mistakes. They would reduce the efficiency of the Apollo. She doubted, however, that they had occurred at the hands of the conspirators.

No, aside from the burnt communication devices and the banned weapons and armor, that was it.

It was enough, though.

For, combined with the little she’d been able to pick up from Rogers’ mind, it was worrying indeed.

Rogers and his co-conspirator had been planning an assassination.

Of who?

Why?

Where had their weapons come from? More to the point, who had they been continually communicating with off-ship?

And how had no one picked this up?

The questions kept swirling around Vira’s mind, and they were like hands pushing her forward. She continually wanted to do more, to push herself to the full extent of her skills.

But what more could she do?

When she got the desire to transport to the point in space where she’d transported the bomb, just to scan the residue to see if she could find out any more information, she clenched her teeth and stopped herself just in time. For some reason, as she thought about doing that, Park’s expression appeared in her mind.

He kept begging her to keep her secret, and though she was relatively confident that she could transport to the location of the bomb and keep her movements hidden, she wasn’t 100% confident. As soon as she left the Apollo, she would no longer be able to continually access their scanning procedures.

… So she didn’t do it.

She curtailed her own desire to help. Instead, she waited.

In her quarters.

She sat there on her bed, twiddling her thumbs. She let them roll and roll around each other as she stared at the far wall that led toward Lieutenant Park’s room.

It took another hour of watchful attention until finally he arrived.

She could feel him. Heck, she could sense him as soon as he entered the deck.

She couldn’t contain her excitement as she stood, floated quickly over to the wall, and pressed a hand against it.

Though all she wanted to do was burst in and be there, waiting for him as he arrived, she held herself in check. She reminded herself of the continual warnings Admiral Forest had given her. Vira had to be discreet. She had to be respectful of other people’s boundaries, too. She couldn’t invade people’s privacy just because she had something to tell them.

Though it was agony, she waited until finally he walked into his room and the door closed.

She let her hands shift through the metal, though not far enough that the fingers would appear in his room.

Should she wait longer?

Should she give him some time?

He was from a weak biological race, and presumably, he would need to process the emotional import of the experience he’d just had.

Should she—

Vira, I know you’re in your room. Just come over already,” he thought at her.

There was a limit to the distance over which Vira could pick up thoughts. The stronger they were, the more that distance expanded. The weaker they were, the shorter that distance became.

But Park had a particular ability to think as loudly as he could, and Vira got the impression that she would be able to pick him up even if he was on the other side of the ship.

She tried to control the natural smile that went to spread all the way across her lips as she finally pushed through the wall.

By the time she arrived on the other side, she was sure she’d been able to contain her enthusiasm.

Park stood there in the center of the room, his cheeks still pale, but the color back to the rest of his body.

Though he looked weakened to begin with, at her approach, a curious smile spread across his lips. “What, you’re actually happy to see me?” he pointed out.

She’d been hiding her expression, right? How had he—

“Don’t look like that. We’ve gone over this before, Vira – I can’t read your mind. It’s just…” he trailed off, shaking his head, obviously thinking better of pointing out whatever was on his mind.

“It’s just what?” she demanded.

His eyebrows peaked together. “You’re like a dog after a bone sometimes, aren’t you?”

She tipped her head to the side, her expression crumpling with confusion.

It did it again – lit up a specific kind of smile on his face.

Vira didn’t have that much experience with smiles. The Admirals, after all, hadn’t been her friends. As for her vicarious life through the screens in her room… it hadn’t been the same.

So she found herself watching Park intently, paying absolute attention to the way his blood flow shifted, to the way the micro muscles in his cheeks expanded and contracted.

He took a moment and cleared his throat. “Is there something on my face?”

“Ha? Sorry? No,” she answered.

Park chuckled in that private way that made it seem as if he were sharing a joke with himself. Then he quickly straightened. “Thank you. I mean, I assume that was you—”

“Who took down Rogers and saved the ship?” she asked innocently.

Park chuckled. Again it sounded… good. Listenable, if that made any sense.

“No, I mean, I knew it was you who saved the ship and took down Rogers – I was there, remember?”

She shrugged, not knowing what to say.

“I’m trying to say thank you for saving my ass with Jameson. You did… something to Rogers’ armor, right?”

She nodded. “It will be impossible for Jameson to scan Rogers’ armor and find out what truly happened. I have permanently altered the memory banks of Rogers’ armor to corroborate your story,” she said efficiently.

Park smiled. “Thank you,” he repeated.

“You’ve already said that,” she pointed out.

He laughed again. “I did, didn’t I? I was trying to emphasize it,” he explained.

“Oh,” she said innocently.

He chuckled to himself again.

Was she really that funny?

Before she could start to get defensive, Park straightened up again. He looked right at her. “Did you find anything?”

“There are no more bombs on the ship. I found several caches of weapons and armor. I also found communication devices. They have been burnt. Not literally,” she began to explain, “but the communications stored on them—”

He put up a hand. “I understand what burnt means,” he said. “I did go through the—” he began, but he stopped.

He’d been about to facetiously point out that he’d been through the same training as her, right?

For some reason he stopped.

He scratched at his right shoulder – the precise point where the pin gun had blasted through the flesh.

She locked her attention on it, then slowly let her gaze swivel to his face. “Are you in pain?” Even she could understand that there was something innocent about her voice.

He shrugged. “Not as much as I was before.”

“Oh. Will you… heal?” she said. She was aware of how stupid she was sounding, but she couldn’t stop herself.

Park shrugged again. “Yeah, I’ll heal. Do you not… get injured?” That curiosity was back in his eyes, burning like an eternal flame.

“I can become damaged,” she pointed out with a shrug. “I’ve been damaged many times,” she began.

“Do you… feel pain?” he pried.

She tilted her head to the side. Did she feel pain? She felt what she assumed was pain, but she had no idea how it compared to what a human would experience.

Her confusion was obviously answer enough, because Park shook his head and waved a hand forward. “It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to answer.”

She ignored him. “I do feel pain,” she continued. For some reason she felt it was important to answer him. Though Admiral Forest had taken her aside and warned her not to tell Park more about herself than was required for the mission, this didn’t seem wrong. This felt like… sharing.

That’s what friends were meant to do, a voice in her head pointed out. Then another voice immediately told her that Park was not her friend.

Though Park’s curiosity had been waning a second before, now it peaked.

I can’t compare myself to a human or another soft-fleshed race,” she began, “but when I feel pain, it feels like… explosions tearing through the affected limb. Sometimes it sears, sometimes it freezes,” she began. She wasn’t used to talking about her feelings like this, and she understood she sounded painfully innocent.

That didn’t stop Park from looking like he was riveted to the spot.

She became so distracted by his expression that she stopped.

He cleared his throat. “I guess that’s kind of like a human. Though possibly not as intense,” he said.

She shrugged.

And then silence descended. She’d heard members of the Academy talk about awkward silences on her screens. She’d never experienced one until now.

There was much she could think of saying to him, but nothing felt right.

Park played with his jaw, then suddenly shook his head. “Wait, go back to the weapons. You said there are more weapons on the ship?”

She nodded. “They are only small weapons – nothing that could threaten the Apollo. I have gone through the Apollo’s systems, too. I found several microfractures along the hull, several issues with the neural wiring, and some systematic inaccuracies in the calibration of systems such as propulsion and gravity.”

Park paled.

“However, I do not think any of these issues were due to the conspirators. Just poor maintenance.”

“Oh,” he managed. “So no other signs of sabotage?”

She shook her head. “Though this is only an impression, I believe the conspirators did not have the Apollo in mind as their target. I believe the Apollo is nothing more than a means of transportation to their goal.”

“You talked about an assassination back in the air lock. Did you manage to pick up anything from Rogers? Do we know who’s going to be assassinated?” he asked, words getting quicker with each breath.

She shook her head. “It’s my belief that the weaponry I found on board would aid in that assassination. But, unfortunately, due to the systematic burning of every communication the conspirators received, I do not know more.”

Park swore. He brought up a hand and pressed his stiff fingers into his brow, letting his short nails snag against the skin.

He looked stressed.

Should she offer him a drink? A neck massage? She’d heard other members of the Academy do such things when they complained that their friends were stressed. But she didn’t want to suggest them in case he laughed at her again.

She clasped her hands in front of herself and let her gaze slide toward the wall.

Park rubbed at his eyes. “This is what we’re going to do – you’re going to tell me where those weapons and that armor is, and we’re going to discreetly come up with a plan to find it. I take it you’ve taken an inventory of it? If we don’t find all of it, we’ll be able to assume that there are more conspirators on board.”

“I have not taken an inventory – I can’t forget,” she said simply.

Park’s lips twitched into a grimace. “That sounds kind of horrible. But as long as you’re sure you remember where all the weapons are, I guess it’s time to go flush them out. Then,” his jaw stiffened, “we’re going to need to find out if Jameson is one of them.”

“One of who?”

“The conspirators. You said that the thing that alerted you to the Creyole in the mess hall was the fact that he was inefficiently blocking his thoughts. And Rogers was blocking his thoughts, too, wasn’t he?”

She nodded.

“Then doesn’t it make sense to assume that Jameson is one of the conspirators, too? You should have seen the way he grilled me in the airlock. There I was, practically bleeding out, and all the guy cared about was my story.”

Vira pressed her lips together and thought. “We require more evidence in order to condemn him.”

Park opened his mouth quickly, a snapping movement to it. It was obvious he was about to tell her off, but then he just as obviously thought better of it. He shook his head. “I know you probably don’t appreciate this, but us weaker races have to rely on our gut instincts from time to time. And right now mine’s telling me that Jameson has a whopper of a secret.”

“I am aware of what a gut instinct is – but I have been told never to use them,” she said.

Park’s lips did it again – twitched into this specific kind of frown. She didn’t know what it meant. Was that him feeling sorry for her?

Why bother?

She was what she was. A creature who’d been designed for a very specific task.

Again a silence spread between them, but this time Park didn’t allow it to last. He shook his head hard. “You tell me exactly where all those weapons are. When does your duty shift start?”

“In approximately six hours.”

“Shit. I’ve been told to take the rest of the day off. I want to be part of the team that tracks those weapons down, though. How do we—”

“Does this not provide us with an opportunity?”

“Sorry?”

“I know where those weapons are. I know how many of them there are. I am now also attuned to them. If they are moved, I will know,” she said competently.

Park looked impressed. For half a second, until he hid it with a cough. “So you’re saying we just wait and see what happens?”


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