“I think you have all forgotten that I am the captain of this ship,” Captain said. He stood with his arms folded behind his back while the rest of us sat at the table in the conference room. He looked at each of us in turn.
I squirmed when it was my turn, just as Freska did. His steely-eyed stare was uncomfortable when I knew I was in the wrong. Danie sat and stared, but he didn’t know better.
He’d learn—even a machine could make an error. Maybe he wouldn’t feel what we did, but Captain would make him sorry somehow if he felt the need.
“My crew gathers information and provides that to me. Then I issue orders. Then my crew follows my orders. If I am not available, then using your best judgement is expected, but I do not like being disregarded.” His last words thundered, and I hunched my shoulders. “This ship, this crew, this mission, will only succeed if we can learn how to work together.” His gaze swept the table again. “All of us.”
Captain took a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly. He pulled the chair at the head of the table back and sat slowly, his back straight. “So, let’s ensure that we move forward properly, shall we?” His words were calm, but his voice held a bit of a growl.
“I’m sorry, Captain Querry,” Freska said first. “I should have—”
He held up a hand. “You have the least blame in this. I gave you the command of this ship and a mission. You carried it out admirably. Because of you, we know things and have a plan, of sorts.”
“Yes, but I found Danie. And with my gifts, I feel I should have known what he might do. I should’ve guessed he’d try to convince someone other than me, and Kohen would be the logical answer. I could’ve anticipated and stopped the conflict from happening.”
“By that argument, I know Kohen best and should have saw that he’d try to stop Deke’s purchase and redirect our course.”
I flinched. “I’m sorry. I should have asked first, explained.”
“Yes, but then it might have been too late. Deke… we both feel the sting of being used, being fooled. But we can’t take it out on you for trying to do what you think is right.”
Captain sank back in his chair. “And maybe, if I’d been thinking more clearly and objectively, I would have seen what Kohen has seen so clearly. But I think none of us are very objective right now.” He glanced at Danie who was watching everyone with his head tilted slightly. “Not even you, our A.I. friend.”
Danie frowned. “What do you mean by that, Captain Querry?”
“You watch us, but especially Kohen. I think you have questions and needs you don’t know how to handle. You are a machine, but also a living being. You may be evolving, Danie, like Freska thinks. But you do not know how to act toward other beings. You cannot take actions such as you did with Kohen. That harmed him.”
Turning to me, Danie blinked. “I did not mean to harm you.”
I wrapped my arms around my chest. “I know.” Still, he had. He’d brought up things I didn’t want to remember, but he’d also helped. “But you also prompted memories I’d forgotten.” I looked to Captain and he must have understood, giving me a nod. I explained about our course change, what I remembered about the Elite I’d been tasked to kill but failed.
“So, you think this one might be able to help us?” Freska tapped her fingers on the table.
“Maybe. If we can find him.”
“If that’s what the Captain orders,” Freska looked at him, waiting for his nod, “then I can make that happen.” She grinned and wiggled her fingers when I asked her how. “Oh, just a little skill. Gotta know how to ask the questions.”
Captain and I stood in the command center as we orbited the planet in the far-reaches of the Elite’s galaxy, just out of sensor range of the satellites ringing the giant. I shouldn’t have doubted Freska. As soon as we got into range, she’d used the ship’s A.I. system to slip into the planet’s network like a ghost.
We now knew even more about the Elite than even his parent probably did. If they had parents. Maybe they were cloned. They certainly liked their medical technology.
“Shuttle?” Deke asked. “We’ll never get the whole ship down there unannounced.”
The city Anyas Ober-Candro lived in was small. It boasted a spaceport, but only that didn’t see many full-sized ships other than scheduled supply runs or passage liners.
“I rigged it to bounce their sensors.” Freska stood beside the navigation console.
“Even with their advanced technology?”
“You know they almost exclusively use A.I.s to run their systems?” she asked. “Apparently their condescension isn’t exclusive toward humans. They look down on all beings, even the ones they program to be like them. All I had to do was treat the A.I.s like they were worthy of being treated, and I was given the keys to the kingdom.” Freska didn’t look gleeful like she’d sounded that one time on the comms. She sounded angry.
“Maybe we can teach them a few lessons,” Deke promised. He caressed the weapon at his right, but he bristled with them.
“Let’s go.” Captain turned to lead the way and Freska, Danie, Deke and I followed. Aparoe sent a large kit, and there was a team of security waiting by the shuttle, almost as well armed as Deke. One had combat medic training they’d refreshed with Aparoe on the last leg, just in case. Captain was covering all possibilities.
He turned to me when we sat, sliding his hand across the back of my neck, pressing our foreheads together. “Stay safe,” he whispered. “I need you.”
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