Chom-X9, Secret Base
The thin atmosphere on Chom-X9 was still. It had been several days since the electrical storm, and the scent of ozone remained in the air, in patches.
Shaa hurried back inside, bringing a little whirlpool of dust with him into the airlock. It was safe to be outside for a short time. Time enough to experience the vastness of space, and marvel at how far he had come. But to stay too long meant to suffer the effects of the low pressure and the lack of oxygen. Of course, being Zhyn, he was a little more robust than other species might be. But still. It wasn’t something he wanted to push.
The second door of the airlock opened and he stepped through, stamping the sand and dirt from his boots.
“Sir,” one of his subordinates acknowledged him.
Shaa nodded to him, and then made his way through the utilitarian corridors to the meeting room. He pressed the keypad and strode in.
The four engineers sitting around the conference room table stood as soon as they saw him.
“At ease, gentlemen,” he told them, his attention on other things. He wandered over to the window, looking out over the wilderness he’d just come from, as they reclaimed their seats.
“Sir, we have an update on the-” one of them began.
Shaa turned, waving his hand to silence him. “In a moment. First,” he commanded in his domineering tone, “tell me about the other entry points to the base. How secure are we, structurally, without those secondary doors having an airlock?”
A couple of the engineers looked at each other, trying to decide what to answer. They seemed to agree on who was going to answer, and the older looking one spoke up. “Sir, it is safe for now; but over time, the pressure differential, and, of course, the use of the other doors, will put the surrounding structure under stress. We should look at putting in airlocks as soon as possible.”
Shaa grunted. “Sooner than the automatic targeting defense systems for the building?”
The engineers all nodded emphatically, as if he had asked them if Zhyn needed oxygen to survive.
Shaa sighed. “Very well. Have work started on them immediately. Do one at a time, though.”
The engineer on the far right took a note to make it happen.
Shaa seemed ready to get down to business. He turned his attention to the four of them, and sat down at the table. “So, what of the anti space missiles?” he asked. “Did the storm take any of them out?”
The engineers proceeded with their update, and Shaa took a deep breath, fighting to maintain his patience in dealing with the minutia of setting up yet another base from scratch.
Gaitune-67, Base conference room
Molly breezed into the conference room, her mind still immersed in the numerous projects she had been running. Plunking her anti grav mug of hot water on the table, she closed her eyes for a second, trying to call up the relevant file for the conversation she was about to have.
Why are we here, Oz?
Zhyn mission debrief.
Right. Thank you.
I’m going to ask him about that damn letter, too.
You go for it, Tiger.
‘Tiger’. Ha! I’m LOL’ing in my head at you, Oz.
I’m glad I can provide some amusement.
Molly sat down, opened her holo, and hit ‘Call Connect,’ ready for when the General came on.
She sipped on her hot water trying to remember the high she would feel when she would sip on hot mocha. Alas, since her body seemed to have taken to rejecting it, it had been a while since she had truly enjoyed the stuff,. It was as though the nanocytes just didn’t want her consuming mocha – and so, under Arlene’s suggestion, she had given it up.
Life has a way of taking away the things I love the most, she mused flatly as she waited in the empty conference room.
The holo cube in the center of the table popped out and unfolded, creating a screen that opened out against the wall on the other side of the conference table.
Lance Reynolds appeared before her in his usual military attire, with a half-chewed cigar in his mouth.
“Bates!” he exclaimed. “Good to see you alive and well.”
“You too, sir,” she agreed, quickly getting to her feet and saluting.
The General returned the salute, and nodded for her to sit back down. “I hear the mission was a success?” he prompted.
“Yes, sir. We took out all targets and escaped without causalities,” Molly confirmed.
The General looked pleased. “Very good,” he gruffed. “You did a good job.”
Reynolds flicked through a holoscreen that cast a haze between him and the projection that appeared on Molly’s side of the holo feed. “Yeeees,” he said admiringly now, “looks like you did very well, according to Oz’s report.”
Molly sat motionless in her seat, watching him review the report.
Eventually he sat back in his console chair, and scratched the side of his head, and then his nose. “You won’t have heard yet, but we just got word that the responsible parties were dealt with. The Justicar called me this morning, and explained the situation. It seems their armed forces commander was going off-book without the Emperor’s knowledge or consent.”
Molly’s eye twitched a little. As the General paused to take a breath, she jumped in. “Sir, I understand this question may be beyond my remit, but… do we believe that?
The General started, and removed the cigar from his mouth.
Molly continued with her concern. “I mean, are we to believe that story, or do we have reason to be suspicious? They have a lot to gain by using this commander as a scapegoat, and then just rebuilding, unsupervised.”
Reynolds took a breath and placed the tobacco stick down on the console in front of him.
“Hmmm…” he said thoughtfully. “I took him at his word. He’s always proven to be an honorable man in all my dealings with him in the Federation.”
He paused, thinking for a moment. “But it’s a fair question. Tell you what, Bates,” he said, leaning forward again and poking at his screen. “How about I send my reports for you and your team to look over? Then you can share your thoughts with me, and include your… intuition.”
Molly’s gut tightened. She had the strange sense that she was being tested. “Of course, sir.” She hesitated, not quite knowing how to ask her follow-up question.
The General recognized her facial cues of concern, and paused, giving her space to speak.
Molly took a second and then frowned. “Am I to assume that you’re wanting something more than just a standard tactical analysis?”
The General’s face broke into a bemused smile. “Why, yes, Molly. I’m asking for your personal opinion… Based on data, but, also, I must admit, including any hunches and feelings you might get.”
He paused, considering what to tell her. “Arlene has informed me of your progress. It seems that even though your Vision Quest was cut short, you still proved to be quite the student.”
Molly felt her cheeks flushing and hoped the General didn’t notice. She couldn’t tell if she was feeling put on the spot to perform, or whether she felt proud of her new abilities. It was all just a little overwhelming. “Erm. Thank you, sir,” she said tentatively.
“I think,” she added quietly.
Lance chuckled and picked up his cigar, before poking the screen again. “Okay, those files should be with you now,” he told her. “I’d also like you to continue working with Arlene for the foreseeable future. She assures me you have talent, and that her methods are helping…” He flicked at his screen, “And that you’re still having some difficulties.”
His eyes scanned from side to side, reading other pieces of Oz’s report. “Looks like you got yourself into a hairy situation on the surface.” His forehead broke into a slight frown. “Good job Royale was there with you.”
Molly felt instantly embarrassed. She lowered her head. “Yes, sir. I got lucky. It won’t happen again.”
Lance was looking at her again. “Yes, hence my request for you to keep on with Arlene. I’ve known the woman for years. She is the best at this realm stuff…” His voice trailed off as he contemplated the direction of the meeting.
He seemed to get another thought, and so did Molly. They both started to speak at the same time, and then stopped.
“Sorry, sir. Please…” Molly gestured with her hand, allowing him to speak first. She placed her hand back in her lap, hiding it under the table, as she also tried to hide the storm of emotions that she’d been awash with since the meeting started.
The General sat forward. “I was just going to suggest that it might be worth you and your team coming over to the ArchAngel for a visit—given that you’re now part of the larger team.”
Molly’s face lit up. “Seriously?”
Lance was smiling the grin of a twenty-something who had just scored a hat trick. “Yes, of course. Besides,” he told her, “there is still much you need to learn to be effective out in the field. Plus, I have some people I want you to meet.”
Molly nodded enthusiastically. “I think we’d enjoy that. Very much.”
“Good,” the General said firmly. “I’ll have ADAM set up the details, but let’s make it sooner rather than later. I have one particular team member who doesn’t tend to stay put for long periods of time. I’d hate for you to miss him.”
“Of course, sir,” Molly replied. “We’ll make it happen.”
There was a slight pause in the conversation.
The General tilted his head. “So, what were you going to say?”
Molly remembered her trail of thought. “Ah. Yes. I was… er… I was going to ask about the letter. From Bethany Anne.”
Lance grinned a Cheshire cat grin again, clearly enjoying the situation. “Right. Yes. You’ve completed the mission. How about you have a look at it when you get here? Then you’ve got something to look forward to.”
Son of a bi-
That’s your commanding officer!
Bite me, Oz. Besides, when did you go all company-boy on me?
Oz’s chuckles reverberated in the lower edge of her skull.
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes at Oz, not wanting the General to misinterpret the move and think she was reacting to him.
“Very good, sir,” she conceded politely. “As you wish.
The General placed his arms on the console, looking satisfied. “Good. Right, I’ll see you soon then, Bates. And see if you can’t persuade Arlene to take the trip with you. I’m sure there are folks here that she’d like the opportunity to catch up with.
He nodded his goodbye, and then clicked off the call.
FROM MICHAEL >>> This is IT! (Provided everything is going correctly) we will have RETRIBUTION released to Amazon tomorrow morning (Central Time US) and then we wait…
Hopefully not for HOURS 🙁
I hope your weekend is going FANTASTIC, those fans who are here in the Texas Area are dry and not hurt by the hurricane and generally speaking, life is treating you well.
For those asking, “yes” this book has the letter from Bethany Anne in it.