"Distress call from Talon Mede. Origin: Keystation. Target: Darkstation," Analik repeats. Again. "Attack on the Medes at Darkstation."
Stephanie Forrester scowls. She has heard about the alert twice now, and if all is in order, so has her captain, Sergio Haus. She should be telling him, warning him not to go into that sordid, sorry mess of a planet with its orbiting stations. She's a Talon and a part of that sorry mess of an ethnic war. Perhaps the Human Alliance Council underestimated that fact when they assigned her as pilot to the class-H—minimum crew military spaceship with a personality—Analik. Perhaps they forgot a spacer was a spacer was a spacer, and there she is, gritting her teeth again against that d— alert blaring on her panel.
"Is something wrong?" the navigator, Rayanne, asks quietly, tilting her head in that calm appraisal that's always so d— right.
Stephanie launches herself out of the pilot station and heads back toward captain's quarters. "Always is," she mutters and nearly bumps into Sergio coming out.
"Stephanie, you're with me," he says before she has a chance to even start. "We're taking origin."
She so rarely uses that word that it halts him where he stands, and he stares at her blinking.
"I'm a liability. I'm a Talon."
His immediate once-over makes her realize that he has completely forgotten what she looks like by now in the four years she has spent as his pilot. To him, she is Stephanie, nothing more or less, but now, he sees the red hair; the high, angular cheekbones; the slender build and light, lean muscles of low-grav. She sees that he is wondering how he ever missed it.
Sergio sets his jaw grimly. "Take Tyreke,"—their Protections officer—"and I'll handle communications from up here."
He really doesn't get it. "You don't walk into an alert on Talon Mede," she tells him, frustrated. "That's what the militancy is for. In bad case, the military."
Sergio nods. "They're taking target. Now, let's get moving."
She remembers the sirens from her childhood. They greet her with all the allure of that ancient Greek myth, intoxicating, pulling on her blood and making her sluggish. Stephanie reacts as all the Talons have been trained to react: the mere hint of sleep sets her adrenaline rushing and her senses into high alert.
Stepping into Medea is stepping into danger, and Alliance badge or no, she finds herself raising her stunner into ready position and traversing the shadows built along the station's edges instead of the steady pathways cut straight to their destination and filled with the thick, steady brightness of pulsing sirens.
Tyreke is thickly-muscled and tall, but he mirrors her movements, following behind her as if he is not dangerous and an official Protections officer of requested Alliance aid. Stephanie tries to see Keystation through his eyes and is suddenly startled at the strangeness of it: there are no people. Stephanie knows they are sealed into their own quarters, but it is a distinctly Talon Mede practice. Sirens work as well upon the Medes as upon the Talons, and the wailing cries draw them closer to not only their contact's beacon, but also the internal security bay where an invading party can be readily slaughtered with AI-run weaponry.
When they reach the open bay, she hesitates, freezes just outside the sensor array. Tyreke takes the lead and flashes his Alliance badge into the visible communications hub on a side-panel. A heartbeat passes, then the wailing mutes into something tolerable, something that does not beat through Stephanie's blood, and a slim, dark-haired Mede appears from inside the security station. She is flanked by guards with their black sashes and shortened robes, and her hand gleams with wet silver.
Tyreke sidesteps so the Medes can see them both. It is an error, uncalculated, unconsidered. Stephanie is visibly Talon, and the Mede woman recoils when she sees her. A guard shies, raises his gun, and fires.
Stephanie takes the hit in the knee, and pain explodes through her entire leg, but she goes down soundlessly, teeth gritted, falling the way she was taught and stunner at the ready. She forces herself to notice every detail in sharp relief, the blur of Tyreke's heavy-grav reflexes launching him at the guards and disabling both with a sharp crack of his automatic butting one and the firing end aimed squarely at the other's head.
The woman draws her skin-colored hand to her mouth, as if stifling a scream. Tyreke stares at her.
"We are Alliance officers of the HAC Analik." His tone is flat, but accusing.
Stephanie leans one hand, her clean one, against the wall and forces herself to stand. The bloody hand clutches her injured knee. "State cause," she grits out.
The woman flinches.
"State. Cause." Stephanie's badge is high enough now that there is no mistaking it. She may be Talon, but she is here as traitor, on behalf of a Council neither ethnicity cares much about.
The standing guard opens his mouth as if to speak, but is silenced by an uplifted hand.
"I am Kayda, artificer of glass," the Mede woman finally says. She is young to hold a position requiring such skill. "A Talon on Darkstation was permitted the other half of the silver and holds important information about the glass." Flatly, "I assume they attacked our seller of glass at the viewing today to gain the half I wear."
D— it. It's a bloody silver disc of nanobots on that skin. Typical Talon work to have it turn to second skin when things go bad. If Kayda's the artificer, she should have been selling glass and her theory on cause is probably valid. Stephanie nods to Tyreke, who steps away and lowers his gun. "This needs to go to the Alliance," she says.
Kayda raises her chin. D— those Medes and their pride. "No."
"Militancy then," Stephanie hedges. She's getting lightheaded and her palm won't be enough to staunch the bleeding pretty soon. "They're at target. Give me the silver and I'll pass it to them."
Tyreke turns to Stephanie, incredulity written across his features. "We should return to Analik."
Stephanie glares at him darkly. They don't have a choice, and he should know it. "We're going to Darkstation."
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