Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 35

I'm about to blow your minds! lol 


I ducked my head, pulling my knees to my chest and burying my face against them. My throat burned, and I swallowed repeatedly. I’d tried to stay coldly logical, thinking everything through, convincing Deke and Captain, and keeping calm even when I’d been locked in waiting for my brain to betray me—and worse, betray the ones who’d set me free.  

Knowing it wasn’t going to happen set free all the emotions I’d tried so hard to suppress. My breath shuddered in and out, and a few tears escaped.

“It’s okay, Kohen. You’ll be all right.” Lakshou stood behind him and ran his hand across the back of my head. His long fingers brushed the ports.

Those synapses fired again, and whatever extra alien parts they’d shoved inside that helped me accept the advanced processes from the technology also embedded inside my brain were spinning through the things we knew, the fears we had, and the horrible possibilities.

“I’ve bonded with Captain. But the others who were rescued who have ports… did any of their brains change or were they still intact, ready to receive whatever signals are about to break through? Before, Captain said none of their scans showed any extra activity like mine. So… are they susceptible?”

Aparoe stood, shoving the wand into the machine and clamping the lid shut. “It’s a valid fear. I need to get back to Medical. I will leave you two to discuss this with Captain Querry and Deke.” Aparoe sighed. “I don’t like it, but Deke asked me to assess the species rescued on this latest mission to see if there’s any way to sedate them as a group. While I am not happy that it is fully safe for all, I do believe we have a sedative on board that can be injected into their air supply if the vents are isolated.”

“It’s possible.” Closing off their system controls to ensure that their level was secure was one of the modifications I’d helped make earlier. I’d thought Deke was paranoid but isolating their environmentals was possible.

Aparoe was gone, and Lakshou and I were hot on their heels when I froze. “Why did I believe you so easily? That this is all so easily stopped, so neatly foiled?”

Lakshou cursed in a language I didn’t understand. He turned and the rage on his face distorted his bifurcated lips. “Why can’t you just stop thinking and stop fighting for once? I told them, told them this wouldn’t work!”

“What?”

“That damn bond. First the technology failed, now the bond has made my influence too weak to hold you for more than a few seconds. I told them you were a liability; Querry might be taken in by your body and your broken innocence, but I just knew you’d fuck up our plans.” Lakshou pulled his arms out of his robes and the restraints glinted in the light. “I don’t have time for this.”

Shock stopped my heart from beating and the breath from entering my lungs as Lakshou ranted, but the sight of those cuffs broke me from my trance. The door had slid shut behind Aparoe, and we were alone… and Lakshou was the traitor all along.

How did we miss that?

“Time for Plan B.” Lakshou sneered. “You, I hope they cull.” His horns flashed blue, but he was too late.

Deke was a paranoid fucker, and he’d been worried about me. He’d gotten a monitor tracer from Aparoe and injected it inside me—and it would’ve gone off the attosecond my heart stuttered in realization that I was locked in Captain’s room with the alien who was potentially behind so much suffering and death.

“Why?” I asked in a choked voice.

“What? Tell you my life’s history, some great sob story of injustice against Central Command that Brox is helping me get even? Let you stall for time in hopes Aparoe tries to contact me and fails, then comes to find us? Or the guards come in?” He shook his head, and the shine around his horns grew stronger.

My arms fell to my sides, and the first smooth, relaxed breath I’d had since realizing the survivors might not have really been rescued after all made my chest rise and fall. Then another. I watched, eerily calm, as Lakshou glided closer. “No, I think you’ll calmly stand there and me give you this injection.” He pulled a hypo from his pocket.

“Your body will be immobilized and fastened to the wall with restraints. Easier to transport you that way. Once this ship is boarded, you’ll be taken back to a lab. The scientists will figure out where you failed, then they’ll cull you. Body parts here, there, whatever’s needed for the next experiment.

“And I’ll get paid.” The hypo hissed and burned my neck as Lakshou hovered over me. My muscles locked tight, and I rocked against the wall. “That’s all your worth to me, a payday.”

“What will be left of you won’t be worth gathering up to mail back to your clan to scatter to the winds in a traitor’s pyre if you don’t get away from Kohen right now,” Captain roared.

Lakshou spun, his mouth parting. “How did you get in here?”

“Kohen is under my protection. Step away from him. Now.” Captain’s hands clenched around the weapon he raised. “Or you won’t even have pieces left for the pyre.”

“Calm down.” The restraints hit the ground with a muted thud as Lakshou stared wide-eyed at whatever Captain was holding. “You’ll kill us all with that.”

“Ironic, considering killing us all seems to be your plan.” Captain nodded once sharply.

Deke and a guard entered his quarters from the front door, like normal, and Deke held an identical weapon. “Use his restraints,” Deke said. His voice was rough. “You okay, kid?”

I blinked, the only thing I could do, and a tear leaked down my cheek. 
"Shit, Captain, he needs you." 

TBC (mind blown?!!)
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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 34



“Done, Captain.”

“Please step outside.” Captain stood in the middle of his lounge. He waited for Deke and Luca to leave.

“I’m sorry I’m kicking you out of your quarters.”

Captain shook his head. “I’m sorry I’m locking you in them. I really don’t think this is necessary, Kohen.”

He didn’t have the memories I did. The fear I could hurt him only grew stronger the closer we came to the central planets. “You don’t know that. Don’t make me watch it happen.” I didn’t want to become trapped inside my brain while my body moved outside of my control.

“Aparoe is going to bring whatever equipment is needed to scan you here. We’re going to settle this once and for all. Lakshou will come too.”

“Only if Lakshou can keep Aparoe safe. And you have to make sure I can’t make them let me out.”

“Deke’s made sure of all the security. He’s as paranoid as you are.” Captain stepped close to me and wrapped his arms around me. The warmth and comfort of his skin was just as amazing as the first time he’d come to me in my cell on the station. I couldn’t step away, even if I knew I should. “I trust you, Kohen. I know you’d never hurt anyone.”

“But I have. And if they get inside my head again, I wouldn’t have a choice. Before you rescued me, I didn’t want to live but I didn’t have any choices. You gave those back to me, and I won’t go back. This time, it would be break me.”

Captain made a sound in his throat and his arms tightened about me. “I just—” He broke off, and I buried my face against his neck. His throat worked, but he didn’t say anything else. Something about this was harder for him than it should be. I didn’t understand why he refused to believe I could hurt them, but I’d spent so long being weak; I’d be the strong one for both of us.

“You’ll just go be Captain and find out what the hell is going on.” I took one last whiff of the special spice of his skin and pressed my lips to the soft hollow under them. “I’ll be fine. Aparoe and Lakshou will make sure of that.” I’d pretend to believe him if it gave him some assurance so he could leave me.

“Should I salute you and say aye, aye, sir?” Captain said, a small smile finally cracking his stiff expression.

“Of course not.” I looked over my shoulder, but we were still alone. “Go, Everett.” It was still hard to say his name, but the way his smile spread more naturally across his face made it worth it.



Compared to my cell, my quarters had seemed spacious. Compared to my quarters, Captain’s seemed luxurious. Now, as I paced around his bed, then around his lounge, then his hygiene area, and back again it seemed much smaller than before. And every circuit took a few less steps.

The air inside the room stirred as I began my turn around the bed, and I rushed to the door to the lounge. Aparoe and Lakshou was already inside, and the door was already shut. How’d they do that? I hadn’t even heard the door open or shut.

Lakshou had his hands buried in his robes. His horns were glowing. “Interesting. The longer you bond with Captain Querry, the easier I can read you,” he said.

“Really?” I wasn’t sure if I liked that. Then again, maybe that meant he could tell if I wasn’t me. “So… I seem okay?”

“Are you asking me if I think you’re about to turn into a mindless murdering Kohen-bot? Well, we probably won’t need these.” He pulled a pair of restraints out of his sleeve. “Ow!” Lakshou dodged Aparoe’s elbow. “Stop, I’m trying to make him feel better.”

“Stop trying to do it that way.” Aparoe scoffed. “We wouldn’t restrain you, Kohen, don’t worry about those. Deke just insisted.”

“I’m glad,” I said seriously. If I was a danger, I’d prefer they used the restraints.

“How about you let me do some scans, Lakshou stands back and keeps his mouth shut but reassures you, and we move on.” Aparoe held some archaic-looking equipment. “This is the best I could do. It’ll give us actual pictures on the screen of your brain, in two dimensions, but the thin layers will each show as a different image. Paired with the past 3D image, this should help reassure you that they cannot access the hardware install in your brain.”

“Do I have to lie down?” I glanced at the couch and away.

“No, you can sit.” Aparoe started bustling around. “I was surprised to find this kit tucked away, but I’m glad we have it. Try to relax, this takes longer than a scan.” The box Aparoe set on down thunked heavily on the arm of my chair. She held up a small tube. “Just a light sensor. Can’t hurt you.”

I nodded, then froze. “Sorry, do I have to stay still?”

“Yes, but I hadn’t started yet. Right. Now stay still.” Aparoe started at my chin touching every inch. They were right. It took longer than any scan I’d ever had.

“Let’s take a look.” Aparoe plugged the tube into the box, and the top lit up.

“Is that smart?”

Lakshou crouched beside of my chair. “This is a closed system device. No way for a signal to get in or out.”

“Okay.”

 Aparoe sifted through the scans. “See, here.”

I looked at the squiggles and the oddly squared off and regular shapes that didn’t look natural. They were broken in areas. “This is where we believe they sent the signal in, for lack of better word. But these filaments have invaded the hardware. Based on what the DNA, we believe these synapses are what have prompted your connection with Captain Querry.”
"Your bond with him makes you safe."

TBC
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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 33


“Fuck, Kohen, you ask some scary questions.” Captain had returned to his quarters, and Deke was with him. Neither one of them could seem to settle, and the space wasn’t big enough for one of them to pace, much less both of them. I curled into the corner of the couch, pulling my knees up to my chest and wrapping my arms around them.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Hey.” Captain sank down beside me. He put his hand on my shoulder, rubbing it up and down my arm. “We’re not mad at you. If anything, we’re mad at ourselves. I was once a soldier, so I know all about following orders blindly. I didn’t want to keep doing that, so I went into business for myself. When the contract job working for Central came up, I really thought I’d left that life behind. As Captain, I had access to more information, the right to know the mission parameters. No more blind faith.” He laughed bitterly.
“But that’s all I apparently had. Like Deke said, you ask scary questions—because we should have asked them ourselves. I should have been asking them, as the captain, but I failed.”
Deke stood rigid. “You have never failed us. When Command disbanded our troop, you took those of us who wanted out. Gave us a place. I wouldna made it as a civilian.” He looked down at his hands, curled into fists before he took a breath and slowly relaxed them. I recognized one of Lakshou’s techniques. “You kept us going. I know you got the shit end of the stick, following orders that meant people died when they didn’t have to, but you were never in deep with the higher ups. I saw a lot more, doing their dirty work. This sort of thing? A traitor using a civilian contractor with past military ties to secretly bring in sleeper agents to infiltrate Central? I should have seen that coming when the missions went so well before.”
“Deke, stop. I knew I shouldn’t have asked you to question the Trepharo or Kemit. You didn’t need that reminder, because that is not who you are. And it is not your job to—”
“How about you both stop trying to take the blame and start figuring out how the hell to fix it?” I blurted out.
I hunched when they both stopped and stared at me. I clenched my hands together and held on tight. “Sleeper agents?” I wanted to know more about that. “Like… me? People with stuff hardwired into their brain who can be given orders and be forced to comply?”
“Kohen, I told you, Aparoe said you’re safe. They can’t do that to you anymore.”
“But you don’t know. You can’t.”
“Aparoe could do some scans. The ship’s medical equipment isn’t the best, not as good as I expected on a ship this size, but you know you’d be safe with Aparoe. The rest of the rescues were given additional scans as a precaution since the flame wasp attack. The ones with ports, like yours, don’t show any signs of additional activity in their brain scans.”
“What if it’s something that isn’t activated until we get close? We’ve been out of communications range, remember?” I jumped to my feet. “What if it hits as soon as we get past this cloud thing? You need to put us in isolation!”
“Kohen, you need to stay close to me. It’s going to be—”
“No!” He couldn’t put himself at risk. Not for me. “Look at this.” I snatched up the cup I’d been drinking from, the warm metal crumpling like tissue. “That could be you.” Nothing they’d done to me before in the tests could compare to what I felt. I was the danger here, and he wouldn’t see it. “They could order me to snap your neck the next time we’re in bed. I tried to stop before and never could. But I’d still wrap my legs around your waist and moan, run my hands up and down your back until they reached your neck, and then it’d be over in a flash.” I looked away, not wanting to see the disgust, the knowledge of my past. “Don’t make me watch that happen,” I begged.
Captain stood, and I backed away. “No, don’t. Deke, put me in a cell. Something I can’t get out of. You need to isolate the others from the lab too, in case someone realizes you discovered something’s not right.”
“Kohen….” Captain’s voice shook. “You didn’t do that. You can’t blame yourself.”
“I know that!” Sort of. “I blame the people who had control over me. And you can’t be sure they won’t do it again. And until you do, Deke has to make sure I can’t hurt you. Lock me up, restrain me. Whatever it takes.”
“We can put out a general quarters order, and I’ll send a few of my men to guard the rescues, make sure they’re armed for whatever might happen.” Deke’s voice was grim. “But, Kohen, the last time you were away from Captain Querry, you went into shock from the bond Lakshou said you have.”
“I don’t care.”
“What if you dying hurts me through the bond?” Captain said belligerently. “Do you care about that?”
“Of course I do. But it’s not safe for me to be close to you.” No matter how much I wanted to burrow against him and feel his arms wrap around me, holding me close. At least I had his scent on the clothes I wore.
“You were okay when I left earlier. Maybe it’s because you’re here, in my quarters.”
“I can rig the door. We can get Priella and Luca to remove the vid panel and the handheld. Isolate all signals in and out of here and the quarters the other rescues are staying in.” Deke nodded slowly. “We have to consider this, Captain Querry. At least until we can rule it out.” 

TBC
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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 32




I curled up on the edge of the couch, my head on Captain’s thigh. I felt better when we were touching. He crafted messages that seemed completely normal, until he showed me the code he used with his contacts. Then I could decipher the hidden messages inside them requesting more information on the current council and political maneuvering among the military.

“Hopefully these will yield results. They’ll go out as soon as we hit non-shielded space, before I approve Kekillill’s reports, just in case.” Captain stood, gently lowering my head. “I need to go check on the crew that’s on shift. You can stay here, or I can escort you to your quarters, or you can come with me.”

“I’d like to stay here.” It was an easy decision. I didn’t want to see the crew or any of the other rescued victims. And I liked my small room, but I liked being in Captain’s quarters more.

“In that case, here.” Captain handed me his handheld vid. “I’ve queued up my reports from the other missions. I think it’s important that you know what kind of life my crew lives. See how the missions can go.”

“You can let me do that?”

“These are my private files. Nothing restricted. It’s not all good. If it’s too upsetting for you, you can stop reading.”

He didn’t have to tell me that. I’d existed in that cell, other than when they were testing me, for years. I couldn’t have put a number on the eternity that felt like, until Captain and Deke had when they rescued me. People who were willing to make someone do the things they made me do…?

They were capable of anything. Everything. I watched as Captain moved purposefully around his quarters, changing into a formal uniform. The snug fabric hugged his body, leaving no loose cloth to get snagged onboard the close quarters on a spaceship.

“I’ll be back soon, Kohen. Use the vid if you need to get in touch with me. If you have even the smallest difficulty breathing, you page Aparoe and then me, okay?”

“I will.” I didn’t want to feel that suffocating darkness ever again, but I wasn’t ready to face the crew either. Most of them probably had no idea what was going on, but I couldn’t shake my fear that the Trepharo, Kemit, or Ss’merit had done something more than just that one attack. There had to be plans within plans within plans; the only way I felt safe was to hunker down and seclude myself.

That I could do it in quarters surrounded by the Captain’s scent was even better. From the beginning, I’d only felt comfort with him. As soon as the door sealed behind him, I lifted the vid. I was curious about his other missions; what had his crew done to free other victims?



The thought of some sensationalized story, the type told over cheap, homemade alcohol that burned more than it intoxicated, was far from the truth as I read Captain’s accounts of his missions. Pages of dossiers on station blueprints, scientists, guards, rescued survivors, and experiments gone wrong outweighed the short pages of battles to overcome the resistance and save the poor people being tortured in the Brox Consortium’s bid for power.

It made for some dry reading, but I faithfully flicked through every page, scanning and reading while some light music Captain must enjoy during his short leisure time played in the background. It was the only thing that kept me awake.

But Captain and Deke were right. This mission had been different. First, Captain had never been ordered to take a bigger ship before, or the augmented crew he had to use to run it. The Brox Consortium had their arm of the galaxy, but they wanted the center, the rich planets that were part of the Central government and lacking in most defensive capabilities.

What they didn’t lack was the funds to pay for soldiers or mercenaries from more outlying planets where violence was a way of life. So the rich and powerful stayed rich and powerful on the backs of loyal soldiers and those who respected the credits above all else.

It made me sick. They were willing to do anything. Looking through the files, though, I couldn’t find any other notes about the ports some of us rescued on this mission had. Those were different.

No on else had the extensive experimentation on their brains and bodies like I had. Worried about what would happen when we passed the radiation barrier, I focused on the mission reports post-rescue. I flipped through report after report.

A frown creased my forehead. “This can’t be right,” I muttered to myself. Captain didn’t seem like the type of man who’d just shove his problems off on someone else. I paged him on the vid.

“Are you all right, Kohen?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I’d forgotten he’d warned me to contact him if I felt like our separation was hurting me. “But I had a question about your reports.”

“Okay. What is it?”

“After you returned to Central space, you and the crew were debriefed, then went off-mission. But the victims were taken for readjustment, you said? I think someone told me they are helped to go home or to start new lives.”

“Yes.” He looked at me expectantly, his face blank.

“Did you ever actually follow up with any of them? Do you know for sure that happened?” 

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter Thirty-one




“It doesn’t help when you provoke her,” Captain said.

“She hates that the head of security has more say in the mission than she does as your second. She acts like I’m some newbie in the ranks, not a commander in my own right.”

“She’s new.”

“And that right there’s the problem.” Deke leaned forward. “This mission has always been different. The orders came down the pipeline instead of in person. You had to take this ship and a good third of the crew is new.”

“They work for Central Command, just like we do.” Captain held up a hand. “I know, I know. That doesn’t mean they only work for Central Command.”

“Obviously, or we wouldn’t have a murderer on board. Or a stowaway like the Trepharo.”

I shivered and leaned toward Captain. He let me, and I inched closer until our legs and sides touched. Deke watched, but I avoided looking in his eyes, and he didn’t say anything.

“Orders are orders. And ours were to infiltrate the station and rescue the prisoners there.”

“On a station in a system that’s barely even mapped. How did Intelligence know the Brox Consortium had a lab operating there? Why send us on this ship when there were at least two other crews on ships with enough firepower and space to do the same job?”

“We’ve talked about this before. We have the best track record for successful retrievals.”

“Exactly. Retrieval. My teams had next to nothing to do. We secured the victims in the cells, brought them on board, cleared the station and grabbed files. No guards. No scientists. The station’s security systems were easily cracked.” Deke made a face. “All of them, offered up on a platter. Why? What’s the goal?”

“Getting the Trepharo on a central planet? They’re even more dangerous than I am,” I said quietly. “On a ship this big, the null field would be too much to run without cause. Luca showed me the ship’s power cells and the schematics for the systems. A smaller ship doesn’t have that problem.”

“But you would’ve been in close contact with them as part of the rescued group. You would’ve picked them out, just like you did yesterday.”

I shrugged. “Maybe not. You have more room on this ship. And in the suit, I was shut down. If you hadn’t rescued me, and I hadn’t latched on to you?” It was one single moment, the fact Captain came to my cell, that he was the one who rescued me.

“We would’ve gotten you out of it.” Captain rubbed his hand along my back.

“And if you had? Without someone touching me? What would’ve happened?” I pointed at one of the ports in my head. “Would I have survived?”

Deke raised his eyebrows, and Captain hesitated. “Look.” Deke spread his hands and leaned forward. “What it comes down to is this. Do you trust who gave you the orders to raid the station? Were they giving us orders to help Central or are they working with Brox? Did we take a weapon away from the Brox Consortium or are we bringing it straight to the people who are standing in their way?”

“Those are very good fucking questions. Did the Trepharo have any information that might help me figure out the answers?”

My stomach churned every time it was mentioned, but I swallowed and held on to the present, focusing on the touch of Captain’s body against mine, the heat of his palm resting against the base of my neck. I wanted to hear this, needed to.

“Not a whole lot. I believe it was camouflaged as the crew member Kohen didn’t know that he heard talking with Kemit. The plan with the flame wasps was intended to send the ship straight to Central Core. To investigators. Higher ups. People who gave us the mission who’d want to figure out what went wrong and how you’d fucked up.”

“So then it’s a plan to infiltrate the central planet.”

“Maybe. Or they wanted us to bring it in and they’d issue orders then.”

Captain’s body was tense against mine. “So, really, we have no fucking idea who the Trepharo is working for, what it was going to do when it got to the Central planet… nothing.”

“Maybe Kemit will prove more malleable,” Deke said. His voice was dark, and I shivered. “There is evidence Ss’merit has been… friendly, with the Trepharo as well. I do not know if that was as part of its cover, or if he is part of the plot, but we will find that out. His actions are suspect too, especially with his interest in Kohen.”

“I don’t like using you this way.” Captain rubbed a hand over his face. “We are not equipped to deal with spies. We put down resistance, capture and detain, and rescue.”

“But we need answers. The Trepharo is too damn strong. Kemit is human. I can work with human. I had a team following him since we detected the Trepharo. I’ll have them take him in now and report back to you as soon as I have something concrete.”

Deke stood and saluted. He turned and stalked out of Captain’s lounge, already intent on his duty. If nothing else, I was comforted by his willingness to do whatever it took. Maybe it was just loyalty to Captain, but it felt sort of like he was protecting me too.

“What now, Cap—”

“Everett,” Captain reminded me.

My breath caught. I licked my lips. “Everett,” I repeated slowly. “What now?”

“Now I craft my own messages. I have contacts outside of Command, a few palms greased in dark corners. I’ll make sure you’re safe, Kohen. Don’t be afraid.”

“Just me? What about all the people the Brox Consortium could hurt?”

Captain squeezed my neck. “On this ship? You are the most important thing to me.” 

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