“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.”
Want more flash?