“Freska. It’s good to hear from you. It’ll be even better to get out of this shuttle. Is your location secure?” Captain sat in his chair, and I sat in a chair at an unused station nearby.
“It is. It might not be for long though, sir. We’ve been pursued by Frijul’s and Elliard’s conspirators because we discovered something significant.”
“Oh?” Captain’s eyebrows rose. “And that is?”
“I’d rather tell you in person, sir.”
“You’re afraid a system you control might be intercepted or spied upon?” Captain had looked surprised before, but now he was flat out shocked. I tilted my head, watching him.
“Call it an overabundance of caution. You’ll understand.” Freska glanced sideways. “We’ll see you soon.”
The shuttle bounced through the atmosphere as we navigated through the clouds toward the surface. It wasn’t nearly as harsh as Mackinack, thankfully. My stomach was especially thankful. The shuttle’s dampeners weren’t nearly enough to compensate for those wind forces without tossing us around considering how many people and cargo we were carrying.
Nothing like heaving through the sky like a fat-bellied beast, which we’d be if the shuttle could actually bulge at the seams. We’d run into Luca who’d been good-naturedly listening to Priella complain. She’d flushed and saluted at the same time, making Luca chuckle as he lazily saluted as well. I was glad they were both in the crew that came with us, though. I’d gotten surprisingly attached to them.
“Sir, we’re here. Hail the ship so we can board?”
“I’m absolutely certain… Yes. There.” From the front viewport the ship was rapidly growing larger, filling it. A gaping hole opened in the side of the ship.
“I didn’t realize the ship Freska took was so big,” I said.
“Me either. I think she’s been making improvements.”
“To a ship?” I must have looked skeptical.
One of the crew at a station turned. “Freska can do things with metal and mechanics that are like magic.”
“Magic isn’t real.”
Captain reached out and touched my hand. A spark of our earlier resonance still clung to him, or me, or maybe it was both of us. When we touched, the aura around us flared and I could see the colors. “Oh, isn’t it?” Captain cocked an eyebrow.
“Well….” Chemicals, nerves, venom… I could quote those, but I knew what he did—there was a connection between us that defied explanation. Our age difference, the way we’d lived our lives, everything between us should’ve been a barrier, but still we were stronger and better together than apart. “Okay, fine. She can do magic.”
We were finally parked inside the ship and the pressure equalized as the airlocks opened, and we all breathed a bit easier knowing we weren’t crammed in to a virtual coffin hurtling through space. Maybe that was how all non-spacers felt.
A delegation met us as we trooped off the ship. Captain and I led the way, and after we got out of the way, several security team members trotted inside to find Deke and his captive. Freska wasn’t taking any chances apparently.
The others were taken to quarters or duty stations, but Captain and I were led to a large meeting room. Freska was standing in the middle of the room, a table with several seats ringing it between her and the door. She saluted and then stood still while Captain stood in the doorway.
Hovering behind her was a being.
Human, or humanoid in appearance, though I couldn’t see anything specifically alien about him, he seemed off to me. Perhaps it was his rigid stance, ramrod straight with his arms at his sides. The being’s pale gray eyes studied us, glittering in the low light.
“Captain Querry, I would like you to meet Danie.”
“Hello, Captain.” His voice was low, quiet, and calm. Nothing about him betrayed his nerves, which, in and of itself, was odd. And I didn’t like that he just called him captain.
“Querry,” I said. “His name is Captain Querry. And my name is Kohen.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said politely.
I stared at him. He talked like he was out of some old vid or something.
“Sorry. I’m trying to teach him better vocabulary and slang, but you know how processors are; they tend to latch on to the first thing they learn.”
Danie sighed. “I told you, I am not a processor.”
“And I told you, with the best scans I could do without a better lab. We do know your brain and central nervous system are made up on connections and fiber options.”
My mouth dropped open. “His… what, now?”
Captain stopped nearly to the table, and he swept his arm behind him to corral me closer to him. “Explain,” he demanded.
“I think we had such dedicated pursuit, not because we have Frijul, but because we have him.” She tilted her head toward Danie. “He’s what I think they were trying to make with Kohen but failed.”
“And just what is that?” My heart was racing and cold sweat dripped down my spine. The worst spilled out of my mouth, but I desperately wanted to take them back. I didn’t really want to know.
“Captain Querry, I am what is known as an A.I. My makers are going to be very angry that I am not where they left me.”
“I had to take him, Captain,” Freska said. “He was plugged in. Like… hardware. I had to know how, why.”
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