October 20th, 4233
United Terran Concord
It was hard adjusting to a new routine, and so Goldstein was already awake when Liberty’s pleasant contralto spoke up in his cabin. “The time is 0530. You have 4 new messages, 0 high-priority messages.” Jacob set his shaver down, running a hand over his chin. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. Power reserves aboard the dying Liberty had been at a premium and the crew’s hygiene had suffered as a result.
Things had not been much better aboard Covenant; most small appliances needed adapters to hook into the Necro power grid – expensive nanomorphic systems might be rare in the Concord, but they didn’t exist at all in the League. With Engineering having more important matters to focus on then getting shavers to work, personal maintenance had taken another blow during Covenant’s frantic efforts to reach Concordat lines.
Jacob had been working on a beard that added new definitions to the word ‘scraggly’ and it felt good to be rid of the itchy chin fur. He’d overheard some of his female cadets talking about how glad they were to be able to shave again, which was more than he’d ever needed to know. Humming to himself as he wiped his face with a towel, it was amazing that only the simplest of amenities could feel like heaven. Even if they were provided by the Concord.
Thinking of the Concords made Goldstein’s good mood sour. They’d mentioned that Hyperion Prime Command Base was set up to meet the needs of his crew, even graciously setting aside several levels of the planetoid’s decks for the weary League crew’s exclusive use. Goldstein hadn’t begrudged his runts or his officers this reward; even a Concord military base – especially one as old, large and important as ‘the hive’ – had better quarters then many League civilian outposts did. The CB had multiple gymnasiums, pools, holosim chambers, theaters – all the necessities to keep a crew from suffering cabin fever and every frivolity that the wealthy Concords could tack on.
The League couldn’t afford to have such luxuries on their ships, either financially or practically. Despite the advancements they had over the Concord in some areas, a League vessel was still at a disadvantage against a Confed ship of equal displacement. The League’s most shameful defeats had occurred when their fleets had engaged Concordat forces on equal footing. Even today, much of the League Navy’s warships sacrificed internal volume for larger, more inefficient weapons and power systems simply because they couldn’t replicate the Concord’s more capable tech.
Space was not that great a concern on a planetoid over three hundred cubic kilometers, and even here the Concord’s self-indulgence was present. Not that Goldstein was too proud to admit that some of the League’s problems with the Concord stemmed from simple jealousy. Though damned if he or any other ‘Empty’ would ever admit that to a Concord. He also knew why Admiral Foraker had been so gracious with the offer of lodgings; the fewer League personnel were aboard Covenant, the easier it would be for the Concords to steal everything that wasn’t nailed down. It was why he hadn’t moved out.
Oh, he was sick of this ship, of its blood-coloured hallways, of the stains and char that still marked where the men and women under his command had died, of the hewn-open decks where construction teams had remodeled the interior, installing their own systems over damaged or outmoded xeno technologies. Of the indefinably alien taint to the air, no matter how many times it was run through the atmospheric processors. He wanted to be off this ship and enjoying the amenities the station had to offer. But as much as he hated Covenant, he would never, ever let it be taken from him. Too many had died for it, too many sacrifices, too many promising lives. Too many sons and daughters who would never see home again, of mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives who would not even have a body to bury, their loved ones atomized, ripped to pieces or blown out into space.
The Concords might hem and haw, cajole, threaten or demand, but they would never take Covenant from him; that ship was a promise he owed to the dead and it was one that he would fulfill, or die making the attempt.
Ensign Jonathan Carson hated monitor duty. It was supposedly the plum of the security office and he knew he should be grateful for getting slipped into the rotation, but that didn’t change the fact that it was boring. There were only so many times you could watch someone, no matter what they looked like, go through the Lefu’s version of tai chi was before it became commonplace.
Still, for the last two days there’d at least been a break in the routine. Captain Singh from the Warlord had been transferred to Security and had taken over all concerns regarding the prisoner. Apparently the brass was finally fed up with the pilot’s lack of cooperation, because new orders had come down. Sleep deprivation had begun. Carson could already tell it was working; the prisoner was increasingly agitated. Enhanced senses could be a curse; the high-pitched sound that kept jarring her awake was only audible to the Lefu and some lower animals.
Which made sense to him.
The cord flipped in front of Natalya’s eyes, almost faster then she could follow. She kept bouncing on the gymnasium’s deck, skipping rope. There was a tightness in her chest, one that didn’t have as much to do with her morning-long exercise regime as she would have liked.
She’d been going through some of her possessions and found an old photo of the ‘Sinister Six’. Tommy was, of course, front and center, trying to get the photographer to zoom in on Natalya’s breasts. She remembered putting him in a headlock and making him shout ‘Uncle’ in front of the other middies for that. It still hurt to think about him, but the emotional wound was no longer the angry, bleeding sore that it was. She hadn’t seen in him over a year and now she never would again. There were too many faces like his.
Taken by the Evea’shi. By the Lefu.
You are Enemy. That is enough.
But why, goddammit! Why is that enough?! We never did anything to you or yours! Her concentration faltered for a moment and she missed a jump, nearly tripping over the rope. She dropped it, wiping the sweat off her forehead.
She didn’t feel like exercising any more.
“Good morning, Lieutenant.”
Lieutenant Agatha Bates nodded in deference to Captain Singh. “Good morning, sir.”
“What do you have for me?”
The Intelligence officer consulted the ever-present datapad cradled in the nook of her arms. Asija couldn’t remember seeing her without it. “It’s only been two days, but the Tier 1 regime appears to be having some effect on the prisoner’s faculties. Given the differences in physiology and neural anatomy, it’s hard to draw a straight comparison between extant data and our results. I would like to gauge the effects in an interview session. As well, this new report from Medical was circulated.” Her ‘pad spat out a flimsi which she handed to her superior.
Asija skimmed the information, nodding. “Interesting, if true. All right. You’ve got your questioning session.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Natalya halted, turning to face the person who’d called her, frowning when she realized that it was the Empty captain. She wasn’t at her best right now; fresh from the showers, she was still in her civvies, her dark red hair pasted to her scalp and down her back. Still, she couldn’t ignore Goldstein. Brushing her bangs out of her eyes, she straightened. “Yes, Senior Captain?”
“I was wondering if I could walk with you for a moment, commodore.”
“Of course, but I was just on my way to back to my ship.”
Goldstein fell into step besides the tall Concord officer. “I haven’t been able to get an estimate on when Covenant will be allowed to head back to League space.”
“I was under the impression that you still needed repairs.”
“Yes, but our main systems are fine. It’s mostly tertiary functions, and we can take care of those ourselves.”
Natalya blinked. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what this has to do with me.” The bangs over her left eye slid back down over her forehead and the young woman hid her irritation as she brushed them back over her ear. “I’m not assigned as your liaison.”
“All we need is to top up our supplies, which I’d expected to have been done by now. It’s like your personnel are dragging their feet. I’ve been trying to get in touch with your Admiral Foraker. As you said, you’re not our liaison, but Commander Penningworth is curiously hard to get a hold of. As are your admirals Foraker and Hunt. I heard that you and the station commander had a working relationship and I was wondering if you could mention this issue to him.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Natalya promised, though she doubted that there was much truth to the Empty’s concerns; Hyperion Hive had lost its primary repair and construction facility and the hive was refueling, repairing and re-supplying the survivors of BG 97 from its own reserves. Even a planetoid didn’t have limitless materiel; she’d already heard several Supply staff complaining about the hive’s dwindling supply caches. Despite Covenant’s value as intelligence asset, the cold equations demanded that the vessels that were more tactically capable get first dibs.
“I and the League would appreciate that,” Goldstein replied coolly. “My personnel and I are not ungrateful for what the Concord have done for us, but you should bear in mind that we didn’t have to come back and warn you about these Necros – we chose to. That ship belongs to us, commodore. We’re the ones that bled for it, not you. And I will not allow it to be taken from us. If you like, you can pass that along to your superiors as well.”
The doors to the monitor station hissed open and Carson only spared a peripheral glance. Despite being located in a restricted area, the cramped booth got its share of visitors – BXA personnel requesting copies of the day’s recordings, OMI spooks who’d watch sessions with the prisoner and a few curious crewmen, bending regs a little just to get a glimpse of the Lefu pilot.
The Security officer did a double take as he saw the rank bars on the visitor’s right breast, coming out of his chair to salute the unfamiliar flag-captain. Sergeant Janine did the same. “Sir.”
The officer returned the salute, looking past the ensign and his NCO counterpart at the banks of video screens. “Ensign. Sergeant. Take a walk.”
Janine shot Carson a quick glance, but the ensign wasn’t arguing with a flag officer, even if he thought he should. “Yes, sir.”
As the two personnel vanished out the door, Asija stepped into the cramped security station and keyed open a comm line. “Lieutenant. Please proceed.”
The Marines at the entrance to the cell block regarded the orders Lieutenant Bates had handed them with a certain degree of reluctance. Foraker had made it very clear that no one, unless specifically authorized beforehand – especially not certain Commodores named ‘Archer’ – was to be allowed in. However, the young Intel officer had appropriate clearance. One of the guards scanned her wrist over the door, the lock recognizing her implant.
“Thank you, corporal,” Agatha replied as she and her Marine escorts stepped through into the cell bay.
Arykka looked up as she heard the faint ssht sounds of the brig’s outer doors opening and closing. The murmurs grew louder, but were sharper then she was used to. Darker. As soon as they had started preventing her from sleeping, she’d expected something like this. She was not a Weaver, she didn’t know how the Fleet’s intelligence corps extracted information from their prisoners, nor had she had never cared to find out. Her job was to slay, not talk. She suspected that the most recent visitors combined the traits.
She faced the new arrivals, drawing herself up proudly and bared her teeth in a feral grin.
Bates’ stride hesitated a moment as the Lefu flashed a predatory smile towards the officer and her party. She’d seen the security tapes that showed the enemy pilot reacting to personnel through the soundproof walls of her current home, but it was still unnerving to experience it for herself. Corporal al-Rinad took up station outside the cell, turning the forward wall from a one-way mirror to a window. The Lefu’s gaze shifted slightly, taking in Bates and her accompanying soldiers. The Lieutenant met the pilot’s ice blue eyes unflinchingly, smiling thinly as she saw the glimmer of fear in them.
Now, it’s your turn to be afraid, you little savage.
Arykka backed away as the forward wall to her cell opened, a door parting where there had been only seamless metal before. She curled her fingers into claws, assuming a defensive posture as two of the Enemy’s Sectators stepped through. Though tired, she was still clear-headed enough to recognize that these were not bearing the bulky versions of power armour that she’d that she’d seen on some. These Sectators’ – ‘Mah-reens’ – armour was sleeker, smaller. Imposing enough.
Almost a fair match, then.
“I’m sure no one’s planning to take Covenant by force,” Natalya tried to point out.
“As I recall, the Concord said the same things about our worlds,” Goldstein retorted. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t find that assuring.”
The commodore tried not to grit her teeth. “Senior captain, I can understand your frustration. But Hyperion Hive is still trying to recover from a devastating assault from the Lefu. I… acknowledge your reasons for distrusting the Concord, but we still have dozens of damaged ships and stations and are trying to rebuild before the next attack comes through, which is likely to be sooner than later. I will bring your concerns to the admiral’s attention, but I can’t promise that-”
Pain, deep and dark and bright and sharp and hard raced through her, she could feel herself convulsing, she could hear herself screaming, feel her legs kicking blindly as someone pulled her away and someone else was screaming and someone else was shouting and she didn’t know which was which or who was where, if it even mattered, she couldn’t feel anything but the pain and her limbs wouldn’t obey her and something inside her was howling with pain, with the need to lash out, to kill and something else was shrieking for it to stop and she didn’t know if both voices were hers or only one was and God, please God, just make it stop make it stop make it stop…