“So you’ll tell Captain?” I took a deep breath and blew it away, trying to stay calm so Lakshou wouldn’t sense my emotions. I’d open that box I’d used before, the one that helped me survive my years in my cell, and stuffed all the things I couldn’t afford to think about inside it.
Including how much I wanted to talk to Captain myself.
But it was best that I didn’t. We hadn’t spent much time together before, so even though we lived just down the corridor from each other, it would seem odd if we spent a lot of time around each other. And we didn’t want anyone paying more attention to me than they already were, apparently.
“About what? Ss’merit asking about you?” Lakshou bent one leg and extended the other, and I tried to mimic him. “I can, but that’s not odd in and of itself. He’s a counselor for those we rescue. It’s very unusual for someone to be so segregated from the other survivors, but that station lab was different from the others we’ve raided. What they did to you was extreme, and you wouldn’t do well in a communal setting. Captain recognized that immediately, beyond your extensive medical needs at the time.”
I tilted my head. “Different? Like how?”
“We’ve never rescued so many people at once. And there were far more records than we normally find. Actual copies of surgical reports, test results, and then of course, there was you. The Brox Consortium rarely deals with humans. They are too well connected politically.”
“Well I certainly wasn’t.” I’d grown up with next to nothing on a poor planet chosen for colonization when it never should’ve been. The summers were so dry the land cracked into giant flat pancakes that were barely scrapable, and the acidic winter rains burned all but the hardiest of plants. My parents could barely feed us on subsistence rations and getting rid of me had to be a relief for them.
I couldn’t forgive them. Starving in that wasteland would’ve been better than what I went through.
“Hey, hey… Kohen? What is it?” Lakshou’s horns were glowing. The pounding of my heart and the bitter churning in my stomach slowly eased.
“Nothing. Just a memory.” They’d gotten stronger. I’d looked up a lot on the vid since I’d been freed. The planet I’d been born on, other species of aliens in the sector and surrounding sectors, the ones around the central planets where Captain said we were going. That reminded me.
“I’m being tracked by a Trepharo,” I said. “Does Captain have one following me?” If he was, it needed to stop.
“How could you possibly know that?” Lakshou straightened and focused all of his intense attention on me. “We don’t have a Trepharo as part of the crew, and we didn’t rescue one.”
“Yes, you do. They can mimic any form, but I know their scent. I’ve smelled it before.” It was a test, a particularly disturbing one. Trepharos had a specialty: virtual reality. I’d used the vid to search for species I’d come in contact with that I could remember, and this was one of the first I’d looked up because the memory was unusually vivid.
Nothing like seeing your insides on your outsides and feeling them plucked away one by one to stick with you in your nightmares, all while surrounded by that smell.
It was one of the reasons I was unsure if what I remembered was real or not. Trepharo technology was capable of fooling any race’s senses into believing what they saw, heard, even touched, was real. They hadn’t quite figured out how to handle scent though.
And I’d recognize that bitter spice they exuded anywhere. It was something from inside them, like part of their digestive system. Every time they breathed or opened their mouths, no matter what their form, that smell came out.
“If Captain doesn’t have one from the crew tracking me in different forms, and you don’t know of any that was rescued from the station… then there’s a stowaway on board, and it’s following me.”
And how could I trust anything? “Does this ship have a null field?”
“I-I don’t know. We’d have to ask.”
I jumped to my feet. “We need to ask. Now.” I half expected Lakshou to ask me why or to put me off, but he simply rose and grabbed his vid.
He sent a coded message to Captain. By the time he messaged back, I was about to jump out of my skin. I winced… bad imagery. I couldn’t go there again. It was a good thing I’d barely had any lunch because my stomach was churning.
Lakshou passed the screen over to me.
“What is it, Kohen?” Captain’s eyes drilled into me.
My mouth watered, and I swallowed convulsively as I explained about the Trepharo. “If you have a null field, you need to engage it to ensure they’re neutralized and lose their camouflage.”
“It had two forms today; I thought you had it following me.”
Captain blinked. “I wouldn’t do that except keep you safe. And I’d tell you first, Kohen, I hope you know that.”
I couldn’t say yes but didn’t want to tell him no either. “Please say the ship has a null field.”
“I’ve already engaged it. I also patched Deke in. He’s readying security teams to find the Trepharo as we speak.”
My knees sagged, and I sank down on a cushion. “Thank you,” I said, closing my eyes. I’d killed the Trepharo who’d tortured me, just like I’d been ordered to, but it had taken days to break free of the virtual reality prison it had locked me in.
I’d felt something was off since I first became aware of the horrid being, and I was glad I’d followed through on asking about it. Who knew what crew member it had been impersonating? I gasped. “What if he’s the one? Working with the Brox Consortium?”
Want some more flash?