“Someone attracted the flame wasps to the crew with pheromones? How did someone get a queen’s scent?”
Aparoe shook their head, studying the screen in their hand. “This isn’t an attractant. The scent isn’t even flame wasp pheromones; they’re twisps.”
“What are twisps?”
“Stick-like figures that migrate in swarms. They consume organic material then move on, leaving behind barren paths behind them. Nothing can stand against them because they don’t seem to have any higher functions. They just… consume. They don’t even leave waste behind; anything they consume is emitted through vents on their backs. That is carried on the wind, warning animals in their path to flee. But the wasps live in trees they’ve tunneled out. Instead of leaving, they attack the twisp swarm.
“Flame wasps are predatory. They kill much larger creatures and harvest the meat, taking it back to the colonies. If they can kill enough of the swarm in one area facing their colonies, the twisp swarm will turn, following the pheromones of the creatures who are still living.”
Aparoe stood, holding out the scanner toward them. “Stand still. Let me scan you.” I froze and waited for her to finish. She moved from me to Lakshou. Captain was staring at me.
I looked down. My clothes were clinging to my body and had barely started to dry in the warm air. “What?” I asked.
“What made you go into the water?”
“Most things that fly don’t swim. And Lakshou said they didn’t like water.”
Aparoe looked up from the numbers scrolling across her screen. “That’s what saved you. Holldu’s pheromones are strong enough to blanket the entire hold. I’m guessing he was injected on the ship because the scans my medics are doing show traces of the threat pheromone on everyone, but it’s weak enough that it wouldn’t call down swarms of fire wasps even without the smoke deterrent.”
“You’re saying someone did this on purpose?” Lakshou asked.
“I am.” Captain scanned the treeline behind us. “Kohen overheard a conversation where it seemed like two crew members were planning to do something. I think this was it. All the rescued victims from the last space station were here. This could’ve killed everyone here.”
“Couldn’t it just have been a plot to kill Holldu?”
“Maybe. But there’s more going on here than I think we know. This isn’t like other times we’ve raided Brox locations and rescued people.”
Deke glanced over his shoulder. “This rescue order came from higher up. They made us take this ship and the larger crew. I don’t trust all of these people. Never have.”
Lakshou stepped forward. “I have to agree. There has been a low level of hostility from some crew members. I know I’ve worried about my sense of hostility coming from Kemit and some others, but I thought it was about the way I commune with my clients.”
“So…” Captain tapped his hand against his thigh. “We know someone is conspiring against us. Kemit—you recognized his voice, right, Kohen?”
I nodded. “But not who he was with.”
“Still, it gives us an angle to investigate. Lack of communication with the shuttles would explain the rescue, so no one knows that we know about their plan for the pheromones. We keep this close to our chest—original crew only. We’re going to figure out whose working against us and why.”
Deke grinned darkly. “Count me in.”
“My official reports will reflect the flame wasp venom was the cause of death. I’ve removed the pheromone results.” Aparoe began tapping at their tablet. “There, an encrypted file with the original results has been sent to your personal account, Captain.”
“Good.” He stared at me, then glanced at Lakshou. “We’re going to have to get someone closer to the other survivors.”
I didn’t have a good feeling about the way he was looking at me. He didn’t look happy, and I didn’t know why, but I knew I wasn’t going to like it.
“Kohen, you’ve kept your distance, especially since I segregated you on the crew deck and not with the others—”
“Because I’m dangerous,” I pointed out.
“Dangerous to those who want to hurt others. That is not why we put you on the crew deck. Look at what you’ve done so far. You’ve saved people, not hurt them. You’re a protector.” He pierced me with a look in his eyes that I couldn’t get away from, and I couldn’t argue with him either, no matter how much I wanted to.
“And we’re going to need your help again. I know you’re not comfortable with a lot of people, but we need you to start spending time with the others we rescued. It’s known that Lakshou is counseling you, so he can go with you. That will allow him to help assess the others without them being aware of it.”
I folded my arms, gripping my biceps. “But what about working with Luca?”
“You can still do that. We need your help, Kohen. I refuse to let someone sabotage my mission. If someone on this ship is working with the Brox Consortium, or worse, is working for someone in the government working with those sadistic power-hungry monsters, then I’m going to stop them. What they do is horrific. No one should have to suffer the things you and the others have, and I will do whatever it takes to stop them.”
I looked at him, Deke, Aparoe, and Lakshou. They were his crew. “Why? Why do you trust me? I could be part of the people working against you.”
Captain stepped up, invading my personal space, the spicy scent of his skin I’d smelled so few times before, swamped me. I sway, only just keeping myself from reaching out to him, to touch and feel him touch me. “Because I have seen the strength inside you, Kohen. No matter what was done to you, you are a good person.” He tapped his chest. “I can feel it in here.”
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