Rei’s Story Continues (Preview Chapter included)

Rei’s story continues in the Rogue Element series. It’s a direct continuation of the Chronicles of the Kathya, but can serve as another gateway into Rei’s world. Why another series when Rei’s story isn’t over? Well, for one (and not to drop spoilers too much), there’s a plot related reason for creating a second series. The second is that Rei’s story has reached a point that a new introduction might be a good thing for both characters and reader. I’m really excited for this new start and look forward to joining Rei and the crew on new adventures.

You can currently get Alliance of Outcasts at: Amazon| Barnes and Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Smashwords | Google Play 

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ONE

Footsteps thundered down the long, winding corridor. Panicked screams came from all directions, only barely discernable from the explosions that rent the air. Rei, Captain of the starship Yalitza, eased the door to her hiding place open to peek on the other side as the noises faded. She stretched like a cat before moving aside to allow the other occupant, her second in command, Yeke out. The taller man swung his rifle left, then right, before taking point. Rei rolled her eyes. Now that the bombing had chased them off there wasn’t another person for a few blocks, let alone in the building. It made perfect conditions to get what they were after despite the danger.

She strode past Yeke and positioned herself next to a doorway some distance from their hiding place. She looked around the corner only to snap back so she was flush against the wall, her eyes moved to Yeke. He glared at her for a moment before his expression mirrored the confusion in his cool, blue eyes.

“Three, maybe one more at least,” she breathed.

Yeke nodded, withdrawing something from the many pockets of his dark jacket. Rei slid back to let him have access to the doorway. A small cylinder was held tight in his palm. He looked over at Rei, who nodded, then turned away and shut her eyes. Rei heard the telltale clink of metal against metal moments before a bright light flashed across the inside of her eyelids.

When Rei blinked her eyes open Yeke was already motioning for her to join him. Eiha glowed around his hands. His power created a breeze that wove through the hall and into the room. The haze of smoke that still hung overhead slowly withdrew to reveal the still forms of the guards. Rei walked forward while the smoke continued to dissipate.

She nudged one of the motionless bodies on the ground with a booted foot. He rolled limply over. No blood or any other sign of harm. In fact, if she didn’t know better she’d guess the man was just asleep.

“Captain, I’m in their systems.” Aede’s voice came from their ear pieces.

Rei gave the air an exasperated look. “Does that mean we don’t need to be in this room we just had to gas the occupants of?”

“There’s someone in that room? Thought they’d all be escaping the attack.”

“Can you blame them? If the info is here…” Rei turned to face Yeke who shrugged. Her foot tapped against the floor while her free hand absently tucked her vivid red hair behind her ear. “Well?”

There were several minutes of silence. “I’m sorry, Captain.” Aede’s voice was quiet. “I can’t get in. That server is isolated from the others.”

“We’ll stick to the plan then.” Rei cut the comm. The building around them shook and threatened to collapse. Rei watched the lights dim and flicker back to full strength. “Have to wonder if we’re really as opportunistic as we claim or just stupid for being here while the rebels attack.”

“When else would we get this chance?” Yeke asked.

Dust cascaded down, coating them a in a fine layer of gray. Rei strode to their target, a massive console in the center of the chamber. Members of the inner council would gather around it. She knelt down; her gun was holstered while her hand prodded the underside of the controls. Yeke moved to stand between her and the door, rifle at the ready. Her fingers tripped a small, sliding compartment. She offered Yeke a toothy grin of victory while her hand fumbled around in one of the pouches on her belt. Her fingers found the edge of the crystalline chip Aede had given her.

The chip slid into the tray. Rei stood slightly to watch as all the data was copied over, her body rigid. So far it had gone smoothly, almost too smoothly for her liking. It made her uneasy, full of anticipation for the other shoe to drop despite everyone’s assurances. The plan had been insane, as Chia described it, at the very least. Rei had played the argument a hundred times over and over in her head in some meager attempt to make sure she wasn’t making a mistake.

 

“What do you have for me?” Rei swung through the doorway to the computer core, using the door frame to pivot.

“Something I think we’ve been waiting for.” Aede replied from the other side of the core. “Nekose is mounting a major offensive.”

“When aren’t they mounting a so called major offensive?” Rei folded her arms over her chest.

“It’s against Ireai, they’re targeting the Kahn’s own center of power.” Chia, the ship’s head engineer, informed her. “And Aede thinks that it might be beneficial to swing through while it happens.”

“What?” Rei didn’t even bother to hide her bewilderment at the idea.

“Hear me out,” the businesswoman raised a hand. “We need more information before we proceed. We need to know what they know about these treasures and their plans. How do the treasures fit? It’s something that’s bugged me for a while now. Plus, it never hurts to know what was fully done to you if we can. The nobles are a bunch of non-scientifics- anything on those servers will be in simple terms. All nice and neat.”

“And you want to break in while Nekose and every ship he has attacks?” Rei’s eyebrow rose.

“They’ll be too busy with the battle to worry about us slipping in and taking what we need.”

“We’d have to take the main ship in though. Our shuttle won’t be able to handle much bombardment.”

“Are you seriously considering this?” Chia demanded. “We’ll get blown apart!”

“Not if we do a fly and drop.” Aede said. “The ship can then take shelter out of the way.

“We’ll blow an engine or have a system completely shut down. Then, who knows when we’ll be able to get it back. That’s not even considering the fact we’ll likely be blown out of the sky before that! Why is it every time I fix something on this ship we keep trying to break it?” Chia stamped her feet. “And what will we gain? Information that’s just a repeat of what we’ve been told? This plan is insanity at its finest. If the worst doesn’t happen, then they’ll still be able to tell we were there.”

“We can and will take measures, Captain.” Aede protested. “I would just suggest sending a few volunteers, but I know better.”

“No, if we’re doing this than I go. I won’t ask anyone to risk more than they have to for this quest.”

Chia scoffed. “Insanity.” She muttered one final time before leaving.

 

The chip popped out and startled Rei back to her senses. She palmed it, reset the tray, and ushered Yeke back the way they came. “We have it Aede.” She hissed in her ear piece.

In the hall, she turned in place to make sure their path remained clear. By now, the sirens that alerted everyone to the danger were the only things breaking noise from the bombardment. Rei swallowed the fear that rose from deep in her gut, her feet firmly planted on the ground.

She felt warmth wrap around her hand a second before she registered Yeke clutching it tight and pulling her after him. She drew even, but didn’t pull away. The ground shook; threatening to send them both to the ground. Bits of plaster and broken stone cascaded from a crumbling wall. Through the new opening Rei could see two massive fleets meeting above the city while other ships made a desperate bid for freedom. Columns of smoke rose to blot the sunlight that filtered through the clouds. Her arm pulled taunt only to quickly fall lax.

“Rei?” Yeke’s voice had a hint of urgency she hadn’t heard before.

Rei kept her eyes on the ships above. Lasers cut through the invading force before they lay waste to the city below. Missiles and other projectiles smashed into what the lasers failed to destroy.

“We can’t bring the ship into this.” Rei muttered. Her hand went to her earpiece. “Aede, meet us in the main courtyard of this building.” She vaulted over the wall into a small courtyard. In the center, a tree that once provided a nice sitting area crackled and smoked. Rei’s hand fumbled through the channels until she arrived back at the one the ship used. “Foniac, we’re on our way back. Be ready to take off as soon as we get there.”

“We’ll get you, Boss.”

“No! Things have deteriorated here faster than we thought. Stay there. We’re coming to you.”

“Okay, Boss; you’re the one in charge, after all. Just take care in getting back, huh?”

“You bet.”

The comm went silent. Rei slid through a doorway which the door half blocked. Smoke slowly filtered through the hallway here, but most had dissipated. Regardless, Rei broke into a sprint, Yeke soon overtaking her. A corner came up fast. They slid around it without missing a step. Rei found her hand in Yeke’s once more, her second pulling her along when he deemed her pace too slow for his liking. The pull wasn’t much, but enough to cause her to stumble when it caught her unawares.

The pair wound their way through the empty halls; even the security stations stood abandoned. Aede burst through the doors just ahead of them, her long, dark hair trailing behind. “There you are!” she exclaimed.

“I thought you were going to meet us up ahead?” Yeke cried.

“Was, but that part of the building is gone. Looks like it took a direct hit.” The building around them shuddered and quaked just after Aede spoke.

“Well, if we don’t hurry we’re going to be next,” Rei looked around, unable to mask the concern from showing on her face.

Yeke pulled the two of them behind him. Ahead, the wall burst apart, though a quick shield from Aede protected them from harm. Rei withdrew to examine the path that was still unobstructed to find it rapidly filling with smoke. She glanced over her shoulder to see Yeke futilely trying to budge the rubble. Rei turned back. Flames had started to lick at the walls.

“Move,” Rei cried as she darted toward where the others waited.

“Rei, what?” Yeke withdrew, hands raised.

Eiha coated the surface of her right hand. She wound her arm back, before punching forward. The energy burst from her closed fist, roaring toward the debris where it plowed a path through. Rei wound up again, in case more clearing was needed. Her nostrils twitched in irritation as the smoke from the fire started to reach them. She punched forward, relief flooding her at the scent of fresh air.

The three wasted no time in getting through. On the other side, they vaulted over another broken wall into what used to be an alley before the buildings around it collapsed. Yeke led them toward a small delivery truck. After a couple of attempts Yeke managed to get it to start. Rei pushed him out of the driver’s seat, barely waiting for everyone to get in before she squealed the tires in her bid to get them to safety. Imperial boomed from speakers set up around the city, informing the population of the planned evacuation. Several shop windows were smashed completely, the shelves cleaned out.

“Opportunistic bastards,” Yeke muttered beside her

“Please,” Rei rolled her eyes. “If we didn’t have this to deal with,” she gestured to where she had tucked the chip with the files. “Then you would be out there looting with everyone else.”

“You know I would, but we both know the good stuff is long gone.”

“Then we should just keep moving, right?” Aede suggested.

Yeke fiddled with the radio, no doubt in the hopes of catching some news on exactly how bad things were, only to find static. Rei careened the vehicle around a corner. Her arms ached as she held the wheel despite the fact she had done very little physical activity. Bits of building and earth burst across the road, Rei swerved to avoid colliding with the debris. Yeke fell heavily into her.

“Watch where you’re going!” he cried.

“Oh yeah,” A fire cloud rose to their right. Rei threw the wheel sharply in that direction. The tires screamed, the sound buried under the collapsing building. She quickly corrected the vehicle and charged down an open side street. “Because I’m able to control where the explosions are.”

“Just get us out of here!” Aede shouted. The car rocketed forward on the wake of another missile landing. Then silence. They looked at one another with wide eyes. Yeke dove back to the radio search for information.

“Attention citizens,” Nekose’s voice dripped out loud and clear. “Unlike your former masters we know how to conduct ourselves in battle. Surrender to us and no further harm will come to you or your planet. Failure to do so will continue our assault. You have one hour.”

“Oh, how nice of them,” Rei quipped, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

The edge of the city was in sight. For a brief moment, Rei had a flashback to another flight; another planet they had left behind in the hand of the conquerors. They were in even less of a position to aid them now than they were then. She bit back the bitter taste in her mouth. Despite how she felt about the Dynasty and most who resided within it, she wasn’t heartless. The only consolation was that they were slowly getting into a better position to do a strike of their own.

“Boss, where are you?” The worry wasn’t hidden from Kuv’s voice.

“We’re in route, eta about ten minutes.” Rei replied.

“We’d like you in one piece if we can.” Kuv commented. “So don’t push your luck.”

“We don’t plan on it,” Yeke said. “Just have the cargo bay open when we get there.”

“We’ll be ready.”

Rei careened around the next corner, the force close to pinning them against the sides of the vehicle. The land around them rose and fell in gentle hills that were dotted with farms in the distance. The winding of the road allowed the car to vanish from sight unless the ships were tracking them via their sensors. Rei doubted that would be the case; even the Dynasty would be too busy to care about one wayward car. She slowed their pace. While urgent, they no longer were forced to brace themselves whenever she took a corner.

The slower speed allowed her to take in the sights of the surrounding countryside. There was enough distance from the city that the people were still attempting to go about their day. A few cast worried glances at the ships and smoke. Some tried to wave them down, though Rei ignored the gesture. They would find out soon enough anyway; the only thing Rei stood to gain from answering their summons was losing ground.

The endless farmland returned to wild fields. The road eventually dipped into a low valley with their ship, the Yalitza, nestled in the center. Rei accelerated the vehicle though she made sure she remained within some measure of safety. Once they were within running distance she slid to a stop, grabbed her bag and leapt out. Together the trio raced toward the open ramp where Kuv, backed by a small security detachment, beckoned them inside. Rei’s mouth twisted into a smile at his unwarranted concern, though this far into enemy territory Rei didn’t blame his caution. Anything could and would likely happen. And as her hand slammed the ramp controls a feeling of dread flooded through her like ice water.

As though answering her unwanted desire a loud explosion rent the air. Rei whirled around to feel heat and wind wash over her face. A loud plume of smoke radiated from the right side of the ship just before the door shut.

“What was that?” she heard Yeke demand over the ship’s internal comm. Rei swore she heard a faint alarm beyond the bulkhead.

“Nothing, nothing,” Chia’s voice quickly assured them. “Though I suggest we get out of here as fast as possible, though it might not be the fastest speed.”

“Why?” Foniac’s tone was sharp.

“Because you might be… well… you might be without one of the Ci engines.”

“What?” The cry was so loud Rei was certain the whole ship had joined in. She winced, then an eyebrow rose at the silent response. “Why, Chia? Chia, are you there?”

Regardless of whatever technical problem had just happened the ship began its ascent through the atmosphere. Rei motioned for the others to follow her. If Chia was going to go silent than she would just have to see what happened with her own eyes. She noticed this area of the ship was deserted despite normally crawling with engineers. Odder still considering what they had just witnessed. In the engine room, Rei quickly found her answers. Sparks and smoke filled the air from the farthest Ci engine. The connected components of the engine sat dark and powerless.

“Chia,” Rei made sure her tone carried her displeasure at how the earlier conversation had ended.

“I’ll have it going again momentarily.” The Ornis’ furred ears were visible just above one of the engines, moving along in a smooth motion as she spoke. “There was no need to alarm you I just didn’t want our ace pilot to blow things up more.”

“As though I haven’t heard that before.” Rei’s arms went across her chest. “And just what exactly blew up now?”

“Nothing exploded per-say, we just… overloaded.” Her face fully appeared. Dirt and grime streaked red cheeks. Dark eyes shone among the dullness it cast over her skin. “I need more tubing here!” she barked to the room in general.

Engineers scrambled to obey the command. Rei found herself knocked back against Yeke to clear a path for them to work. She noticed for the first time that somehow they had lost Kuv’s men, not that there was much room for them here anyway. The requested tubing appeared in Chia’s hand and she vanished. Rei could hear creaking and clanging on the other side while everyone in the room held their breath. Chia’s head reappeared.

“Muscles!” her gaze fell on Yeke and Kuv. “Get over here and hold this in place so I can secure it.”

Several of the engineers looked uncomfortable. “But surely they’ll break it…” one, Rei couldn’t see who precisely, asked. “That tubing needs a gentle touch.”

“It also needs a bit of force to be put in place.” Someone else commented

Kuv and Yeke ignored the debate, pushing past the crowd to aid Chia. Rei was tempted to follow behind, but only thought she’d be in the way. Aede slid up beside her. “While they finish here, should we start to go over the information we took?”

“Yeah, we should get right on it, shouldn’t we?” She looked in the direction she knew the others to be. “Come up when you have this fixed.”

Rei knew they would obey despite the muffled replies. She motioned for Aede to follow. Together, they made their way through the silent halls until they were once again facing the transparent hallway that connected the main part of the ship to the secondary section that housed a stairwell and the bridge. When someone crossed it they could look down and see the ship beneath them.

“Go on in ahead of me, Aede,” she passed the other woman the chip she had downloaded the information on. “I’m going to check in with the bridge before we get too invested.”

“Yes, Captain.” Rei shook her head as they parted ways. Typically, her crew was more than willing to be informal with her, using her title in a teasing manner. At the same time, there were moments like this where the word carried weight she wasn’t sure they meant.

On the bridge, all hands had their noses pressed to the screens in front of them. Foniac’s yellow eyes darted from the readings on her screen and the window. Rei came to a stop just behind the pilot’s seat and waited. From Foniac’s posture she could tell that leaving was being problematic. They were moving so slowly she could make out each swirl of the clouds around them.

“Are we going to make it?” she asked softly despite her desire to allow Foniac to concentrate.

“We should, unless Chia has another thing she overloads today. I told her the cloak wasn’t needed, but did she listen?”

“Why did it overload, did she say?”

“She didn’t tell you?” Foniac reached up, slammed a button with an elbow and then pulled a lever down hard. Her fingers danced across the buttons in front of her before they gripped another lever at her side, knuckles white despite the green of her skin. Flames blanketed the window before flickering out to reveal the stars.

“Of course not,” Rei smiled when the pilot slumped back in her seat. Her hand didn’t leave the controls. Rei turned to the room at large. “Please tell me our snail pace didn’t get us caught.”

“No, ma’am. We were lucky,” A young man replied, his hand rested upon his headset, which was bulkier than what most of the crew preferred. In his case, it was necessary as he lacked the cartilage to secure the type like Rei used. “They were too busy fighting one another to take us into account. I am picking up a transmission from General Nekose, however.”

“Let him blabber on, no doubt the Dynasty didn’t give in.” He nodded in confirmation. “I didn’t expect them to but still…”

“Where are we off to, Boss?” Foniac interrupted.

“Find us somewhere to lay low for a while. We’re in no position to go charging across the galaxy quite yet, though I might ask Aede to look for something to tide us over.”

“Will do.” Immediately the bridge sprang into action, heads hunched back over screens while suggestions flew wild. Rei was about to leave them to it when Foniac’s voice rang out again. “Do me a favor though, Boss?”

“What is it?”

“Can you see when I might have all my engine power back?”

“Why does everyone act so afraid of Chia?”

She could feel the eyes in the room collectively fall on her. “Not afraid really; just no one is ever able to get an answer but you.”

“I’ll see what I can get for you. Should be soon.” Rei gave them a half salute and strode out.

~*~

Aede was already deep in the well of information when she entered her office. Rei gave the Primal Spirit a loving pat as she threw herself in the chair beside it. Pure white, it stood out against the dark shadows of the room. Much to her relief, it had returned to full health despite having used a good portion of its strength to save them on a Riate planet they had investigated recently. Rei turned back to Aede who continued to read the screens in silence.

Well, at least someone recovered from all this, she thought, an image of Aede’s grandmother flashing through her mind. Her blonde hair shone in the invisible sunlight while clouded eyes looked on with more knowledge than they should. Since the old woman had left the living Aede had worked with a purpose that was unrivaled to anything Rei had seen. Most of the crew, including Chia, had taken it upon themselves to watch over her in Grandma’s stead, but it hadn’t altered the behavior.

“This is interesting,” The woman in question drew Rei out of her thoughts.

Rei stood and made her way over to the edge of her desk. She rested her hands open palm on the surface, claws coming out just enough to tap if she so chose. Regardless of her interest Aede made no further comment. “Well?” Rei asked at last.

“Oh, sorry. Got caught up reading.”

“I noticed. Was going to help wade through it, but you looked like if I came up too fast I might launch you through the ceiling.”

“Anyway, apparently a lot of the nobles know about you.”

“Oh?” Rei’s eyebrow rose. Curiosity burned within her despite her misgivings.

“Yeah. And it goes beyond the inner circle. There’s no less than a few hundred entries per year from where you came up during their meetings.”

“That much? Why?”

“Well, besides your fugitive status some apparently weren’t too sure about this pet project of the Kahn’s. Not that they would say that to him, I bet.”

“But, of course!” Yeke’s voice boomed from the doorway. Chia and Kuv flanked him briefly before separating to sit around the room.

“Please tell me you fixed that engine before you came up here, Chia,” Rei said.

“Of course I did, and if you don’t believe me ask these two!”

“No need, I believe you. I just didn’t want to deal with an irate pilot.”

“Why would she be irate?”

“Because you made her job ten times more difficult than normal. Why did it overload anyway? She mentioned something about you trying to cloak the ship.”

Chia’s ears visibly drooped along with the fluffy tail on her behind. This close Rei noticed that the fur was still uneven from where it had been burnt off during their raid on the starship Laio a few months ago. The effect lent to the pitiful air around her. “Well… as you know I wasn’t comfortable coming here.”

“So the whole ship heard,” Kuv quipped.

“Well, I wanted to make sure we weren’t detected when we left so I went to activate the cloak during the take off procedures.”

“Wait, then we wouldn’t be able to see the ship when we came close!” Yeke exclaimed.

“I was going to wait until you were aboard! Notice the overload didn’t happen until we started to take off.”

“Anyway, you were saying, Aede?” Rei interrupted further debate.

“Right. Where was I? Oh yeah, according to this many, while they wanted to win wars, weren’t exactly comfortable creating what they dubbed to be a “super soldier”. They were even more uncomfortable with the fact that it had already been started. There’s talk of how to keep things in check, apparently that’s where the emotion inhibitors come into play…” Rei sat down on the arm of one of the couches heavily. “The more interesting thing is that they are divided on how to deal with your escapes. It’s no real surprise that the crowd that wanted you controlled now want you destroyed. Simply put, they fear your power and what you can do without their leash. The rest want you back to fight, probably because they’re losing the war.”

“Not surprising,” Rei rolled her eyes, but her gaze fell to the others. “Anything else?”

“One more thing. I found the list of what exactly was planned. Apparently, as a concession for the project to continue it was given to a group of advisors. That way they could see exactly what was taking place and pull the plug as soon as they deemed things had gone too far. Of course, that’s not saying everything made it.” Aede flipped through some more information. “Chia, do you think you or your friends could look at this? It gets surprisingly specific.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, with the Captain’s permission, of course. I suggest we stop in before we move on to our other business— that way while we’re parading around the galaxy they can tell us what we’ve missed.”

Aede turned back to the screens in front of her. “So much of this just confirms everything though. Subject attained from Eiha-less world… gene therapy for numerous purposes… stability problems… discomfort…”

“We get the picture, Aede.” Rei said quickly. She stood, not eager to rehash everything that was done to her for the hundredth time. The only real consolation prize was that at least some new information came from this haul. It was almost as though someone in the universe was playing a cruel joke to keep it just out of reach. “We’ll keep going through it in a second, but we need to address the other issue hanging over our heads. We still need either a new grab or Raite treasure to chase down.”

“Well, we have the one we grabbed from the rebel soldier.” Kuv pointed out. “We could investigate that one.

“Rei said it was still quiet.” Yeke told him. “I’ve been investigating on my own, but so far I haven’t come up with much as to why this one’s different. Of course, these things aren’t exactly spelled out, but there should be a hint.”

“Perhaps another one  will give more information.” Chia suggested. “We are on a time clock aren’t we?”

“Are we?” Rei asked. “Unless the Dynasty or Nekose’s rebels have any more idea where they are, then we’re fine.”

“We really need to come up with a way to spy on them,” Chia mused.

“I might be able to come up with something.” Aede said. “It might be traced back though, or at the very least it’ll increase our risk of it.”

“That might be our best bet. Come up with something just in case. In the meantime, we need a more comfortable plan.”

“So grab and go?” Yeke suggested.

“Grab and go,” Rei said after a few moments of consideration. “After we give this info to Chia’s friends that is.”

“Good, good,” The Ornis clapped her hands. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make sure those repairs held.”

“I’ll let Foniac know the new plan.” Kuv turned to Yeke. “We sparring later?”

“Yeah, I want to make sure everything is stowed first. We got distracted when Chia blew the ship up.”

“I’ll leave this up for you to look at, Captain.” Aede informed her once the room was clear. “I have a few ideas on how we might find out what they know and I’ll get you a list of ships that would be profitable to us.”

“Don’t overdo it.” Rei told her while mentally making a note to check in. “We’re in no real hurry.”

“I’m not. I’ve been looking at them in my spare time, but haven’t come up with a definite list.”

“Well, if you’re sure.” Aede gave a slight bow and left. Alone with the spirit Rei turned toward the computer. She took one step toward it, then another before turning back with a small smile. “Aede already gave us the highlights, right?” she asked the spirit. It chirped in confirmation. “Well then,” She turned off the program before setting the machine to sleep. The chip with the information ejected into her palm. “This can wait until morning. If we happen to casually walk in we might get to see Yeke get his butt handed to him by Kuv. What do you think?” The spirit slipped down with feline-like grace. The tails buffeted her pant leg. The bark it gave was so particular Rei was certain it was laughing. She gave the head a ruffle. “I think so too.”

~*~

Aede was already deep in the well of information when she entered her office. Rei gave the Primal Spirit a loving pat as she threw herself in the chair beside it. Pure white, it stood out against the dark shadows of the room. Much to her relief, it had returned to full health despite having used a good portion of its strength to save them on a Riate planet they had investigated recently. Rei turned back to Aede who continued to read the screens in silence.

Well, at least someone recovered from all this, she thought, an image of Aede’s grandmother flashing through her mind. Her blonde hair shone in the invisible sunlight while clouded eyes looked on with more knowledge than they should. Since the old woman had left the living Aede had worked with a purpose that was unrivaled to anything Rei had seen. Most of the crew, including Chia, had taken it upon themselves to watch over her in Grandma’s stead, but it hadn’t altered the behavior.

“This is interesting,” The woman in question drew Rei out of her thoughts.

Rei stood and made her way over to the edge of her desk. She rested her hands open palm on the surface, claws coming out just enough to tap if she so chose. Regardless of her interest Aede made no further comment. “Well?” Rei asked at last.

“Oh, sorry. Got caught up reading.”

“I noticed. Was going to help wade through it, but you looked like if I came up too fast I might launch you through the ceiling.”

“Anyway, apparently a lot of the nobles know about you.”

“Oh?” Rei’s eyebrow rose. Curiosity burned within her despite her misgivings.

“Yeah. And it goes beyond the inner circle. There’s no less than a few hundred entries per year from where you came up during their meetings.”

“That much? Why?”

“Well, besides your fugitive status some apparently weren’t too sure about this pet project of the Kahn’s. Not that they would say that to him, I bet.”

“But, of course!” Yeke’s voice boomed from the doorway. Chia and Kuv flanked him briefly before separating to sit around the room.

“Please tell me you fixed that engine before you came up here, Chia,” Rei said.

“Of course I did, and if you don’t believe me ask these two!”

“No need, I believe you. I just didn’t want to deal with an irate pilot.”

“Why would she be irate?”

“Because you made her job ten times more difficult than normal. Why did it overload anyway? She mentioned something about you trying to cloak the ship.”

Chia’s ears visibly drooped along with the fluffy tail on her behind. This close Rei noticed that the fur was still uneven from where it had been burnt off during their raid on the starship Laio a few months ago. The effect lent to the pitiful air around her. “Well… as you know I wasn’t comfortable coming here.”

“So the whole ship heard,” Kuv quipped.

“Well, I wanted to make sure we weren’t detected when we left so I went to activate the cloak during the take off procedures.”

“Wait, then we wouldn’t be able to see the ship when we came close!” Yeke exclaimed.

“I was going to wait until you were aboard! Notice the overload didn’t happen until we started to take off.”

“Anyway, you were saying, Aede?” Rei interrupted further debate.

“Right. Where was I? Oh yeah, according to this many, while they wanted to win wars, weren’t exactly comfortable creating what they dubbed to be a “super soldier”. They were even more uncomfortable with the fact that it had already been started. There’s talk of how to keep things in check, apparently that’s where the emotion inhibitors come into play…” Rei sat down on the arm of one of the couches heavily. “The more interesting thing is that they are divided on how to deal with your escapes. It’s no real surprise that the crowd that wanted you controlled now want you destroyed. Simply put, they fear your power and what you can do without their leash. The rest want you back to fight, probably because they’re losing the war.”

“Not surprising,” Rei rolled her eyes, but her gaze fell to the others. “Anything else?”

“One more thing. I found the list of what exactly was planned. Apparently, as a concession for the project to continue it was given to a group of advisors. That way they could see exactly what was taking place and pull the plug as soon as they deemed things had gone too far. Of course, that’s not saying everything made it.” Aede flipped through some more information. “Chia, do you think you or your friends could look at this? It gets surprisingly specific.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, with the Captain’s permission, of course. I suggest we stop in before we move on to our other business— that way while we’re parading around the galaxy they can tell us what we’ve missed.”

Aede turned back to the screens in front of her. “So much of this just confirms everything though. Subject attained from Eiha-less world… gene therapy for numerous purposes… stability problems… discomfort…”

“We get the picture, Aede.” Rei said quickly. She stood, not eager to rehash everything that was done to her for the hundredth time. The only real consolation prize was that at least some new information came from this haul. It was almost as though someone in the universe was playing a cruel joke to keep it just out of reach. “We’ll keep going through it in a second, but we need to address the other issue hanging over our heads. We still need either a new grab or Raite treasure to chase down.”

“Well, we have the one we grabbed from the rebel soldier.” Kuv pointed out. “We could investigate that one.

“Rei said it was still quiet.” Yeke told him. “I’ve been investigating on my own, but so far I haven’t come up with much as to why this one’s different. Of course, these things aren’t exactly spelled out, but there should be a hint.”

“Perhaps another one  will give more information.” Chia suggested. “We are on a time clock aren’t we?”

“Are we?” Rei asked. “Unless the Dynasty or Nekose’s rebels have any more idea where they are, then we’re fine.”

“We really need to come up with a way to spy on them,” Chia mused.

“I might be able to come up with something.” Aede said. “It might be traced back though, or at the very least it’ll increase our risk of it.”

“That might be our best bet. Come up with something just in case. In the meantime, we need a more comfortable plan.”

“So grab and go?” Yeke suggested.

“Grab and go,” Rei said after a few moments of consideration. “After we give this info to Chia’s friends that is.”

“Good, good,” The Ornis clapped her hands. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make sure those repairs held.”

“I’ll let Foniac know the new plan.” Kuv turned to Yeke. “We sparring later?”

“Yeah, I want to make sure everything is stowed first. We got distracted when Chia blew the ship up.”

“I’ll leave this up for you to look at, Captain.” Aede informed her once the room was clear. “I have a few ideas on how we might find out what they know and I’ll get you a list of ships that would be profitable to us.”

“Don’t overdo it.” Rei told her while mentally making a note to check in. “We’re in no real hurry.”

“I’m not. I’ve been looking at them in my spare time, but haven’t come up with a definite list.”

“Well, if you’re sure.” Aede gave a slight bow and left. Alone with the spirit Rei turned toward the computer. She took one step toward it, then another before turning back with a small smile. “Aede already gave us the highlights, right?” she asked the spirit. It chirped in confirmation. “Well then,” She turned off the program before setting the machine to sleep. The chip with the information ejected into her palm. “This can wait until morning. If we happen to casually walk in we might get to see Yeke get his butt handed to him by Kuv. What do you think?” The spirit slipped down with feline-like grace. The tails buffeted her pant leg. The bark it gave was so particular Rei was certain it was laughing. She gave the head a ruffle. “I think so too.”

~*~

“So I have an idea.” Chia announced from the doorway to Rei’s office about a week later.

Rei held up a finger and continued with the status report from Yeke she was reading. In a move of bureaucracy, he and Kuv commonly messaged her reports of both ship activities and general things of note. It was nice, as much as it amused her, since they were as far from a so-called proper ship as one could get. It also made sure that what very few things Rei didn’t keep a tab on herself reached her notice.

She turned the page of the report, ignoring Chia dancing from one foot to the other at the edge of her vision. Apparently Aede confined herself to her work rooms, though Yeke assured her she was being taken care of. He hadn’t been able to get why she had done it, only that it seemed to be important. Time to drag her out of there. She would do it to me. Well, if Yeke doesn’t beat me to it.

“Yeah, Chia,” she said aloud.

“I thought you never get done with that.” She hopped into a chair that faced Rei’s desk.

“Well, I did. So what was your great idea?” Rei decided it was better to cut her off before she had a chance to continue.

“Well,” Chia leaned forward, eyes bright, “We need more intel on where the Riate hid these damn treasures and my friends need a safe place to work. Let’s face it, while they’ll be able to clarify everything in that data it’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered where they’re at. If we drop them at one of these lovely Riaten cities… Well, I imagine you get what I’m saying.”

“What makes you so certain they’ll be willing to move? After all, they seemed pretty happy when we left them.”

“Their recent messages have hinted at Dynasty encroachment. It seems they are trying to gather their scientific might together again in search of an advantage in this war. Or at least, that’s the common theory. How much of it’s truth and fiction remains to be seen.”

“And you think that they’ll especially be keen on it since they’ll be a target because they’re looking at prize Dynasty research?” Chia nodded. Rei sighed and leaned back before she continued. “It is the likely scenario. It still surprises me that somehow Nekose’s group managed to keep their experiment a secret. At least, that’s how I think the fact that there is another like me is such a surprise to the Dynasty. I think they would have stepped up their work years ago had they known there was another success.”

“That is more than likely. You’re distracting me from my brilliant idea, however.”

“You’re certain about them moving?”

“The risk and an ancient city with untold secrets and barely any real chance of being bothered while they research? Yeah. They’ll go for it.”

Rei sighed. “I won’t deny we need the help. They’re proving to be worse ghosts to chase than my parents at this rate. We’re at the limit of our knowledge and ability. And we can’t afford to search every Riaten city or outpost out there.”

“So, you’re saying I can invite them to be dropped off, right?”

Rei’s mouth twisted as she mulled it over for a few moments. “I might regret it, but why not? They have the most knowledge about these types of things out of all of us, and have been trusted with my most precious secrets. Not allowing them this chance to help would probably be an actual disservice to us.”

“That’s what I thought!” The glee in Chia’s voice couldn’t be more evident. “I’ll let them know right away. That way when we get there they’ll be ready.”

The Ornis leapt out of her seat and out the door. Rei let out the breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. She turned her attention back to the abandoned report, then paused. A hand rose to her ear. “Rei to Yeke and Kuv. Come up to my office. I wanted to discuss your reports.”

“On our way.” Yeke’s voice sounded out of breath.

Kuv and Yeke both entered the room shoulder to shoulder. Rei had moved to stand in front of the desk, half sitting on a corner. Both men usually were pristine in their appearances, shirts tucked in with shoes and belt buckles shined as though an inspection could happen at any moment. Now, however, the shirts were untucked and loose. The pants they wore were patched and worn. They took seats with an easy silence, leaning back in perfect sync.

Even after all this time together, Rei wasn’t sure of their exact history, just that they had been acquaintances in the army. Both shared a dislike of general treachery, but both had a strong sense of duty. How she had drawn Yeke to her when she escaped was a mystery, but what made Kuv come on board was even more so. Regardless, she didn’t pry. Prying just annoyed people and made them more closed off in her experience. They waited for her to speak with patience that rivaled the most dedicated monks.

“So it seems we’re getting our own dedicated research team to anything Riate.” Rei began.

“What?” Yeke blinked. “When did this happen.”

“Oh about,” Rei glanced at the time on the computer, “a little less than an hour ago. Chia suggested the idea and I thought it was worth a shot.”

“Who would be a part of this team?” Kuv asked. Rei could already see his mind at work debating the measures he wished to take in order to ensure the security of the ship and crew.

“Chia’s friend— my tailors.” She gestured to her overall appearance with a wave of her hand. “Apparently they’re willing. The Dynasty is coming too close. And let’s face it, they’re an asset in getting the project going again if their involvement with me is found out. Enough of one they might be in legitimate danger.”

“Still, they’d be alone with little ability to get supplies. Would they make it?” Rei didn’t blame Yeke for his doubts. Scientists were hardly the first people you thought of when you were talking about roughing it for potentially months on end.

“They could work on the ship I suppose. We’re always in need for someone with their skills. At the same time, we can’t chase down every whisper of information we discover nor can we stay for weeks ourselves. We’ve tried that; it doesn’t work. And it especially doesn’t work with a ship full of people used to moving constantly.”

“That is a valid point, and they have worked with us before.” Kuv ran a hand over his chin while he thought it over. “We’d need to make sure the supplies they bring with them are untraceable. We can’t afford to have the Dynasty or Nekose’s group know that we are investigating this in depth.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged. There’s another benefit; between them and Aede perhaps they can come up with something that might make all our systems more secure. Which brings me to why I called you here. You both mentioned in your reports that she seems a bit… obsessive might be best to describe it.”

“Fairly accurate,” Yeke said. “Like I said Aede’s toying with something, but I can’t figure out what. She’s annoyingly elusive whenever I try to see.”

“Between the both of us, we’ve established that she’s been up late most nights and early to rise, though she’s eating. It should also be noted that some of the crew are a bit uneasy. The near capture and fight have made things hit close to home. At the same time, no one’s talking about leaving since you were more than willing to throw yourself into the fray.”

“So we’ve held off mutiny a bit longer,” Rei commented dryly. “I’m not sure if I’m relieved at this point or annoyed at delaying the inevitable.”

“You have to have more faith, Rei.” Yeke replied. He reclined in his seat. “We’re what? A few months out now without any major incidents since then?”

“Only because we’ve taken caution to the extreme.” Rei protested. It made no sense, but she couldn’t shake the feeling the crew was only biding their time until they jettisoned her off the ship. Even if that feeling made no sense at this point. “So what are your suggestions?”

“These people aren’t soldiers,” Kuv said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t give them a sense of security of being able to defend themselves. That will help a lot in the grand scheme of things.”

“You want to add those who want it to your training programs.” Yeke said.

“I’m not aiming to turn them into one of my security forces. But some basics probably wouldn’t hurt at this point, if they’re interested.”

“While he’s training up the troops I might suggest we do something else on the fun side of things.” Yeke suggested. “He’s right though, the security will help make the adults feel at ease.”

“What do you have in mind?” Rei asked, intrigued.

“I have a few thoughts, but I wanted to feel out the general idea first.”

“You mean you want it to be a complete surprise for everyone,” Kuv corrected.

“I’m going to regret this, but go ahead with whatever. So long as you don’t blow a hole in our hull or come back with some weird automatron we should be okay. Just… keep it reasonable.”

“Reasonable is my middle name.” Yeke grinned.

Rei sighed. “Says one of the men who repeatedly crashed our vehicles due to racing around the cargo bays.”

“That last time was Chia’s fault. She formed the wall of Eiha we crashed into.” Yeke sat straight in the chair.

“Because you were racing in the first place.” Rei shook her head. “Anyway, that’s one worry at least started on, what about our workaholic businesswoman?”

“Why don’t you speak to her, Captain?” Kuv suggested. “If I might be so bold you both share the tendency to focus on work in times of distress or sorrow. You also share loss in common.”

The last sentence was said in almost a whisper. Fiara’s smiling face flashed through Rei’s mind, hesitant hope shining in those hazel eyes. Her dark brown hair blew about the face in a halo. She drove the image from her mind only to have it replaced with her parents, holding each other like posing for a picture. This image lessened the pang of guilt she felt, but replaced it with the flame of hot anger. She extinguished the flame. There were too many questions regarding their involvement in what had happened to her. Too many to give in to it.

“I can try,” her voice betrayed her lack of confidence. “I’ll let you know what I find out, hmm?”

~*~

Rei stuck her head around the door frame and peered into the room. Aede was hunched over a long bench, the only light the one above a large pile of random computer parts. She stopped just inside and waited. Occasionally, the other woman would move, but her focus remained on the task at hand. A long sigh escaped Rei’s lips. She had been putting this off as long as she could. Every time she went to check on Aede after the discussion in her office the other woman was nowhere to be found, but Rei took it as a good sign. The reports from this week, however, had informed her otherwise. Which was why she found herself here.

Come on, you’re the Captain for goodness sake. Why is this so difficult? Deep down, she already knew the answer, but pushed it from her mind.

“Aede,” she murmured. When there was no response she tried a bit louder. “Aede.”

The other woman jumped. A piece of crystal flew from her hand. Rei caught it with her Eiha. “Captain! I didn’t expect you down here so late!”

“I was in the neighborhood.” Rei handed the escaped crystal back. “Chia and her friends summoned me, but I saw your light on.”

“Ah, they’re already on board?”

“We just docked a few hours ago. They’re getting the last of their supplies rounded up, then we can take off again. They also just informed me that they wanted to get started on the data right away.”

“Which is why you’re not exactly eager to get down there.”

“Ah, how well you know me.” Rei took a seat on the other side of the bench. “As much as it’s somewhat nice to get to the bottom of these things and know exacts, I don’t like having to face it.”

“Who would? I don’t envy you, that’s for sure.” Aede reached for a large segment of machine nearby. “Every time you want answers you have to dredge up the whole painful experience it seems. I know some of it can’t be helped, but still.”

Rei watched her purple gaze fall to the item in her grasp. She slowly took the piece of machine and lined it up with the portion already on the bench. She connected the bits of wire that dangled from each piece together. Then, like a surgeon making an incision, Aede lined up the pieces to make them whole. Once together, she took tiny screws and slowly tightened them in, a faint trace of Eiha holding them steady while she worked.

“So what is it?” Rei finally dared to ask as the last screw started to tighten.

“It’s that device we talked about that will let us listen in on the Dynasty and the rebels about the Riaten treasures. If it works properly, it’ll scan any known comm frequencies for a mention of them and then record whatever is said. Well, when someone’s not manning it themselves.”

“Smart, but won’t they be able to trace it back to us?”

“I have the signature disguised depending on where the transmission comes from. If they trace it, they’ll think we were supposed to get the message. It’s not foolproof by any means, but it’ll have to do for now. I might actually employ Chia’s friends myself to see if they might have a better system, though I’m in no real rush to do so.”

“Impressive. Between this and Chia’s friends I don’t feel like we’re fighting the clock so much. In fact, we might pull this off after all. Thanks.”

“Always a pleasure,” the tone sounded sincere enough, though, there was a shadow that flashed in Aede’s eyes. “Now I just need to find us a good target and we’ll really have an edge.”

“That can wait a little bit,” Rei wasn’t about to let her charge into another project if she could help it. “We have to drop our new passengers off anyway.”

“It’s no problem.”

“Aede.” Rei raised her voice a bit more. “You’ve done more than enough for now. It can wait until morning.” A wave of sadness washed over Aede’s features. “What’s wrong?” Rei asked.

“Nothing!” Aede quickly turned away. Rei stood and made her way around the bench until the other woman had no choice but to face her. “It’s really nothing.” She forced a smile.

“Aede, you’re talking to the reigning queen of avoidance, though you’re giving me a good run for my money in taking over. Talk to me.”

“There’s not much to talk about,” Aede sighed. Rei could tell even that sentence was offered with severe reluctance, but she held her ground. “I’m just keeping busy is all.”

“So you’re working at all hours.” Rei leaned heavily against the workbench. “Weren’t you the one who got after me when I did that?”

Aede’s cheeks puffed in and out with each deep intake of breath. No one spoke; Rei was certain she had blown getting any more information out of her. Her mouth turned downward, just shy of an actual frown. Aede’s hand absently moved to gather the items on the work bench and Rei knew her time was growing short.

“When Fiara died…” she said it so quickly the words were almost one. “When she died… I thought I had lost it all. It felt like the day I discovered them gone. Worse really, since there was no hope to get her back. So I did what I couldn’t back then; I ignored it. I thought about everything but her and them. That way I could keep the illusion there was a possibility of finding them all alive for as long as I wanted.”

Rei let her words sink in. When there was no response a soft sigh escaped and she pushed off the bench. She hadn’t meant to say it, but in looking for anything to coax Aede to talk, she drew on the only things available. Each step was a struggle to keep her legs from propelling her at full speed back to the safety of her office or quarters.

“So how long did it take? I know we all tried to do get you out of it, but it didn’t really seem like we were making much progress.”

Rei froze at the door at the sound of Aede’s voice, then slowly turned back. “It was actually after we were reunited that I really snapped out of it. Don’t get me wrong, some of what you said before did manage to get through my thick skull. At the same time, my problems were easy to ignore. I had to stop these damn treasures from being taken. Then, I was captive and separated from it all. I threw myself at that soldier like I did because I once again had nothing to lose— my fantasy was gone and so was the ship.” She leaned against the door frame. “Once I was back, I realized I was being dumb and, like I said, snapped out of it.”

“So I have no hope then, huh?”

“I’m a bad example,” Rei admitted. “I’m telling you don’t do what I did. Don’t just float along until something shiny manages to animate you for a while. Realize that we’re there for you, and if you can’t right now do it a lot sooner than I did. If you don’t, I hope Grandma comes back to haunt your ass.”

Aede let out a dry, sorrow filled laugh. “She would too. She never let one of us stay down on ourselves for very long if she could help it. I so miss that… I miss her. Things are too quiet, too lonely.”

“Me too.” Rei felt her mouth turn upwards ever so slightly. “She never did have any problem telling you that you were being stupid either. I remember when Yeke and I had a falling out, which according to her put the whole ship out of balance. I have a feeling that was her way of telling me just that.”

“More than likely, though she probably would insist it was true.” A lone tear slipped down Aede’s cheek. “I thought I had prepared myself for the possibility and then we cleansed the power… I thought we won. That’s probably the worst, feeling like I let her down.”

“You didn’t let her down.” Rei replied quickly. Perhaps too quickly if she were honest with herself. “Grandma loved you. You could never let her down, Aede. All she wanted for you was to have a good life.”

“I can’t shake the feeling that I should have done more…”

Rei took two long strides to close the distance between them. “Don’t go there, Aede. I’ve been there. The what ifs and maybes never lead to anywhere good. Grandma knew what she was getting into when she kept her abilities. She wanted to be useful, or what she saw as useful, so she kept them. You did everything possible to try to cure her, and she knew that.”

They fell into a silence, a silence that was both thoughtful and mournful. “I hope you’re right, Rei. I hope you’re right.”

“I know I am,” Rei put a hand on her shoulder. “Say, I’m in no real hurry to meet the scientists, and no doubt Chia wants to chat with them. Why don’t we go up to the Drunken Inventor and continue this conversation there?”

“I suppose I can spare a moment or two.”

“Great,” Rei looped her arm through Aede’s. The other woman quickly retrieved her device and tucked it securely under her other arm. “Remember when…” she began as Aede shut the door.

~*~

“So where were you!” Chia demanded angrily from the doorway to Rei’s office. Rei’s head shot up to spot the engineer flanked by another Ornis and two, much taller figures. All the newcomers were clad in colors that represented their fields of study; though the coats that they had worn when they had first met on Bruatin were nowhere to be seen. Rei wondered if the color was more a coincidence given their status as refugees.

“I got caught up in a discussion with Aede,” the unspoken apology was more toward their guests than Chia. “We lost track of time.”

“So why do I hear that you two were in the Drunken Inventor until it closed last night?”

Rei sighed. “Because that was where our discussion took place, Chia. Seriously, you act as though I avoided you on purpose.” She stood and made her way toward the others. “Welcome aboard, I appreciate you helping us out on this. As much as we’ve been able to learn on our own, it’ll definitely speed things up.”

“We’re glad to help out.” Mikal, the old head of medical research on Bruatin, replied. His beard and hair were more grey than the last time Rei had seen him. “You definitely have presented us a unique case.”

“Well, forgive me for saying, but I hope this doesn’t add any more.”

“Why not?” the woman, Alexis, chuckled. “You don’t want these two asking endless questions?” she extended a hand. “It’s good to see you again, Captain.”

“You too, and I must say no, it’s not exactly on my list of priorities. I get enough questions from Chia.”

“Hey!”

“Where is the information you wished us to examine?” the other Ornis, Thrio, asked.

“Here.” Rei held up a chip. “You can use that,” she pointed to a personal computer upon her coffee table.

Chia seized the chip and inserted it into the computer. The scientists huddled around her like people seeking warmth from a fire. Rei moved so that she was on the other side of the screen and waited. As one their eyes scanned the words and figures contained the chip, only turning the page once some unseen signal had passed between them. That, or they really were automatrons. Each page was given careful scrutiny, as though it held the key to unlocking a great scientific secret.

Rei found her arms wrapping themselves around her middle as though it would calm the churning her stomach was doing. Her mind raced from possibility to possibility without her able to stop it. Maybe they had actually only scratched the surface and something a lot more sinister was lurking deep within her DNA. Something that might mutate later and reveal itself. Something that could once again put the ship in danger.

“This is interesting. I suppose you know a great deal about it.” Mikal said at long last. “That the changes they had in mind were designed to create a soldier to perfect their warfare. They wanted something that was unsuspecting, but powerful enough to issue near total devastation. That is what these two sequences were designed to do…” He pointed at a graph Chia displayed for them. “The appearance of your Eiha through your scars is an unintended side-effect I believe. Perhaps caused through a miscalculation of the serum. Or even a byproduct of it.”

“This data confirms that there is no going back,” Alexis took over. “The changes are so ingrained in your DNA that removing them would cause a complete breakdown of your genetic structure. We can alter them like we have, yes, but total removal is out of the question.”

Rei swallowed hard. She had figured that was going to be the case. “Anything else?”

“The behavior modifications are slight. I never would have thought things like loyalty or a sense of duty modifiable by genetic means, but they tried. There are several different methods mentioned within the contents of these reports. And yet, there is no mention of success.” Mikal replied.

“Which you can take a couple of different ways.” Thrio crossed his arms and gazed over at Rei with a critical eye. “The first is that it never took to their satisfaction so they had to keep trying. The other is that it failed, but they had to put something in the report to the nobles.”

“Is there any way to tell?”

“Not without knowing exactly how you were before you were in their… care, for a lack of a better word.” He replied. “It could be whatever traits you’ve experienced are just a part of you. And since you have no available kin…”

Rei nodded slowly; his choice of wording not unnoticed. She wondered just how much Chia had told them about her family.

“If you would like,” Alexis spoke up. “We can keep taking a look and let you know if we find anything else.”

“I’d appreciate it. While I feel like we have a good summary now I don’t want any nasty surprises.”

“Very well. Now, why don’t you tell us about what you want us to research? Chia told us a bit, but she was rather vague.” Mikal gave her engineer a pointed look.

“How much do the three of you know of the Raite?” Rei asked. Her elbows rested on her thighs; the bone dug in as she put her weight on them.

“They’re bedtime stories the primals tell around campfires. Supposedly they were among the most advanced in the universe until they met their downfall. Very little remains.” Alexis said.

“A pretty good summary.” Rei stood, suddenly feeling the need to stretch her legs. “Let’s just say they’re more than bedtime stories. For the past few years the Dynasty have been actively chasing Riaten relics to use against their enemies. Treasures that we were contracted to deliver; though they were never meant for them to have.”

“Who were they meant for then?” Thrio asked.

Rei had to commend them; for people who thought the Riate were simply stories they were quick to come around. “They were meant for those worthy of the knowledge, as deemed by the relics. I’m not sure how it works. It could just be an affinity, or it could be something else entirely. I have a feeling they know,” she gestured toward the data that was still visible on the screen, “but it’s not like they will tell us that.”

“So what of these treasures? Chia tells us you broke all ties with the Dynasty.” Mikal said.

“We have,” Rei replied. Her hands folded in front of her. “But that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped looking for them ourselves. I’m sure you understand that some things shouldn’t ever find themselves in their hands.” A soft sigh escaped her lips. “I suppose I should explain a bit more. You see, when we uncovered the first treasure there were some unintended… side effects.”

“She has more Eiha than she used to. It’s as if her natural stores have been increased, though I have yet to determine by how much. Yet being the key word.” Chia said. “So far, though, it’s harmless minus a bit of an adjustment period.”

“Regardless, I haven’t heard of anything doing that before.” Mikal’s long fingers ran up and down his chin rapidly. Rei could see the wheels of his mind churning. “Then again, I’ve also never heard of anyone from an Eiha-less race gaining the power before; so I suppose anything is possible. Am I correct in guessing that you wish for us to see if we might find any more information at one of these sites?”

“Yeah, I do. I don’t like the lack of information and while there might be more in the files we took; we need to explore all avenues available. The more of an edge we have in this situation the better it is for us all. So far, besides myself. There is only one other who can activate the treasures. But that number has a chance of growing if they’re successful in altering anyone else.” Rei crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“Why not just leave them where they lie or hide them better?” Thrio asked.

“Call it a hunch, but I feel there’s a reason the Dynasty is so obsessed with them. And it’s the same thing that’s drawing the rebels into the search. We just haven’t found what it is yet, but not seeing what they hold might hinder us.”

“My guess is if that reason is here the information you’re looking for could be in the overly technical data. Hidden in plain sight.” Alexis suggested.

“So where is our destination?” Thrio asked.

“A bit off the beaten path.” Rei turned on the holographic map from the computer core. “As far as we know we’re the only ones with this handy thing. It’s how the galaxy looked during the time the Riate were around, but Aede and Chia have modified it to have modern landmarks.” As she spoke the map changed to account for her words. “We visited this planet just after our last encounter with the Dynasty and rebels.” She zoomed in on a particularly bright star. Up close it was a vivid blue, like the entire surface was one giant ocean. Deep green clouds swirled across the surface, though, despite appearances, it was quite pleasant. “It’s just another city, but we were only able to explore a portion of it.”

“Anything overly nasty on it?” Alexis asked.

“Nothing we experienced,” Chia replied. “I’d still watch out, but most of the wildlife looks pleasant enough. And no one will disturb you since it’s already been searched.”

“And they didn’t investigate deeper?” Mikal asked.

“We saw no reason to suspect they had.” Rei said. “There was no sign of the treasure and that’s what they’re after. I’m personally surprised they didn’t blow it up, but that’s a thing for another day. Like Chia said, they have no reason to go back so we’re sure the location is safe— or at least as sure as we can be. Like I said, we only managed to explore a portion before we had to go. But Chia figured you could use the vacation.”

“That we could.” Mikal agreed. “And to tell you the truth, I am curious to see what all was lost when the Riate fell. The procedures they might have perfected, but didn’t make the transition…” Rei smiled at the light in his eyes.

“Well then, I’ll tell Foniac to set course, if you’re all agreeable.” The scientists nodded as one. Rei thrust out a hand to each. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“Why don’t you all go down to my workshop? I’ll catch up in a moment.” Chia said and shut the computer down. She handed it to Alexis. “I need to bug the Captain about some of the improvements we’re planning.”

Rei felt the bottom drop out of her stomach at Chia’s words. “Improvements…” she murmured.

The scientists took their leave quickly. Chia turned toward her with a large grin. Rei braced herself. “Thank you for this.” Chia said once they were gone.

“Huh?”

“I think you’ve actually helped Mikal. I haven’t seen him that enthusiastic about research in years. I wanted to thank you for that. The opportunities haven’t been plentiful in ages and he’s not exactly in the younger years of life. You’ve given him a bit of a gift.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Chia flashed one last smile, then announced to Rei’s horror. “Don’t think though that we won’t bug you for improvements soon. You have a snap team on board for a while. I have to take advantage of that.”

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