â€œShuttle Victory, this is the RDF Grace of Ledaal. We just picked up a hell of an explosion â€“ whatâ€™s going on down there?â€
â€œThis is Corporal Kaltos, Commander. Itâ€™sâ€¦ weâ€™re returning immediately. Mark this planet for quarantine. We have fatalities.â€
The crowd bunched around the comm station gasped and muttered. Commander Traken blinked in surprise. â€œFatalities, Corporal? Do you have wounded?â€
â€œNo wounded.â€ The reply was faint. â€œThree dead. And one survivor of the survey ship.â€
â€œAnd the captain?â€
â€œGave his life to stop a monster.â€ Everyone fell silent, looking at each other. The commander lowered her head, then toggled the comm. â€œUnderstood, Corporal. Weâ€™re opening the hatch. Welcome home.â€ She turned off the toggle, and looked to her right. â€œEnsign Jamis, draw up a map to the nearest Wyld Beacon. I want us making best possible time to Crowâ€™s Landing.â€ She paused, sweeping the bridge with her gaze. â€œAs for the rest of youâ€¦ Doctor Landis, meet the security team at the docking bay. Everyone else, get back to work!â€ The crowd dispersed quickly in the face of her glare, quickly heading through the hatch and outwards. Doctor Landis, walking briskly down the spacious corridor to the lift, found herself matching steps with Lieutenant Ryland. He shook his head, stepping into the lift with her.
â€œStrange days, Janela. I canâ€™t believe that the captainâ€¦â€
â€œI know.â€ The lift fell silent for a moment. â€œIâ€™m going to have to cancel tonight, Tamar. Iâ€™ll have to look over the survivors. And you know the commanderâ€™s going to want a briefing.â€
â€œIâ€™ll wait up.â€ Ryland smiled faintly. â€œBut donâ€™t push yourself too hard. I imagine a lot of people are going to want to talk to you â€“ itâ€™s almost two daysâ€™ journey back to the trade lanes. Thatâ€™s a lot of time for not a lot of people to be thinking about loss.â€ He sighed. â€œI wonder who else made it?â€
â€œIâ€™ll prepare a report for the ship.â€ The lift stopped, and Landis gave her lover a quick kiss before stepping off. â€œGet back to work, you slacker.â€
She was rewarded by a brief smile before the doors slid shut.
At the shuttlebay, she found the shuttle already docking, and waited until the doors were shut before entering. Although the shipâ€™s powerful ships should protect them from any stray Wyld fragments, it was always better to be safe; Imperium policy was very clear on that point. Afterwards, she stepped into the shuttlebay, meeting the three people stepping off of the shuttle. â€œCorporal Kaltos, Private Gallen. Andâ€¦â€
â€œGalas Indira.â€ The womanâ€™s voice was faint, but she drew herself together to give a bow to Landis.
â€œSheâ€™s a New Realm surveyor. They broke a monster out of its shell.â€ Corporal Kaltosâ€™s voice was harsh, and Indira withered under the comment. Doctor Landis swallowed.
â€œAnd thatâ€™s what killed the others?â€
â€œYes.â€ Kaltos turned to Gallen. â€œIâ€™m going to make my report. Think you can escort the woman to the brig alone?â€
â€œThe brig?â€ Gallen raised his eyebrows.
â€œYes, the brig!â€ Kaltos glared at the woman. â€œSheâ€™s New Realm, Gallen. Weâ€™re not leaving her meandering around a military vessel.â€ He paused. â€œItâ€™s the commanderâ€™s decision, of course, but as the head of security, thatâ€™s my order. Got it?â€
â€œYes, sir.â€ Gallen took Indiraâ€™s arm gently. â€œThis way, maâ€™am.â€
â€œOne moment.â€ Doctor Landis held up her arm. â€œIâ€™ll be stopping by shortly to take a look at her, Private. In case there are any injuries that might not be obvious.â€
Indira smiled slightly. â€œThank you, maâ€™am. Thatâ€™s very kind.â€
â€œStandard procedure, miss. Especially if youâ€™re a prisoner of war.â€ Doctor Landis smiled, turning back to Kaltos and Gallen. â€œAnd Iâ€™ll want to talk to each of you after your debriefings. Youâ€™ve just been throughâ€¦â€
â€œIâ€™m aware of procedure, Doctor.â€ Kaltos swept past her. â€œYou donâ€™t need to quote it to me. Is two hours enough?â€
â€œYes, that would be perfect.â€ As Kaltos stormed from the room, she sighed heavily, looking to Gallen. â€œAldarus. How bad was it?â€
â€œBad.â€ Gallen looked away. â€œIf youâ€™ll excuse me, Doctor, I have to take the prisoner to the brig. Stop by in half an hour â€“ thatâ€™ll give you time to look over the corporalâ€™s report.â€
â€œOf course.â€ She sighed, watching the two of them go. She imagined that fairly soon, she would know just how bad it had been. But at least it was over know.
Back in his quarters, half an hour later, Kaltos Vedar let the door slam shut behind him. His future was unfolding before him, and it wasnâ€™t pleasant.
He had failed. They had faced a threat, and heâ€™d fled with his legs between his tail. Never mind that it was the Captainâ€™s orders. Gallen was probably already painting a picture of him as a coward. And for what? A spy? A useless spy whose information was about a world that they wouldnâ€™t return to?
Kaltos crossed the room, standing in front of the mirror. His head was pounding, filled with whispers at the edge of his hearing, and whenever he closed his eyes he could see Parnâ€™s corpse, stuck to the engine like a broken toy. Dead. Just like all of them. And the truth sickened him. When it came down to it, heâ€™d given up. He hadnâ€™t expected to survive. Perhaps if he hadâ€¦
With a shout of frustration, he slammed his fist into the mirror. It shook against the heavy wall, cracking into a thousand spiderweb lines. Blood dripped from his fist, painting his faceâ€™s reflection in a fractured light.
They have destroyed you.
It was true. Attached to a failure like this, his future was ruined. His dreams of a command, of glory and prestige, ruined. All because the Captain wouldnâ€™t leave enemy soldiers to die. And why?
All things must die.
Everything. It wasnâ€™t as though it was even important. No tactical value. Just a foolish decision by a foolish man.
But the crew would stand by his decision. It would be those that couldnâ€™t save him that would feel the pain, the disgrace.
They search for a reason to hate you already.
Gallen, talking back to him. Doctor Landis, subverting his orders. No one gave him the respect that he deserved.
Kaltos broke off. In the mirror, the blood was pooling into a small hole in the cracks, forming a bloody symbol that seemed to sit atop his forehead. Why not get revenge? He had nothing left to lose.
Finish the symphony.
Almost unwillingly, he reached down, his fingers wrapping around a shard of broken glass. He raised it, looking at himself in, seeing it gradually coat itself in blood. Vaguely, he realized that he was bleeding too much.
Your life is too strong. Weaken it. And then accept the power.
It was the most reasonable suggestion in the world. Power. It was what he had always wanted, wasnâ€™t it? To show them that he was no weakling. That he deserved respect. And fear.
With a single, vicious motion, Kaltos plunged the shard of glass into his skull. Dark strength surged through him as the mirror shard pushed into his skin, and he collapsed to the ground, falling on his hands and knees as he vomited blood onto the floor. Around him, the silence of his quarters was filled with whispers, a hundred voices murmuring a dark truth. And as the blood stopped flowing, and the mirror shard fell blackened and twisted to the floor below him, steeping in and drawing away the blood, he looked up. And he smiled a fang-tipped smile.
Power was his.