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The Elliquian Herald & Post
Issue 74 (Autumn) ~ August thru October 2017

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Author Topic: Nightmare Enigma  (Read 832 times)

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Offline Dys Astyr

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #25 on: May 24, 2017, 02:45:14 PM »
"I have never heard of such a species," The words were flat, Ix's eyes didn't bother turning back to look at Enigma, remaining focused on the empty corridor as if expecting the strange attackers would return at any moment. The stink of death was growing ever stronger, her instincts clamored at her to flee the dying craft. "We don't really have the time to question her here, but she poses an unknown threat. Either path faces us with a great risk, human Tom."

Finally the alien turned, eyes finding Enigma, whatever she truly was. The threads of her simple life had suddenly become complex and unknowable, Ix did not approve of others interfering with the pattern she tried to follow. Perhaps the threads had become so tangled they would never be able to form a pattern again. The thought did not sit well with her, yet it was just one more thing added to a growing weight of unease that had started with the note in the cafeteria.




Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #26 on: May 24, 2017, 04:48:05 PM »
"We do not have time for me to explain," Enigma said, looking into the anger in Tom's eyes. "If we stay here we will soon be among the dead bodies."

"At least give us something," Tom said, trying to calm himself as he realised Enigma was right. "Ix is right, I've never heard of Aphra either."

"You wouldn't have," Enigma replied. "They have been dormant for some time, they are not aliens like you imagine, they are sentient machines."

"And the drone?"

"If you are lucky Aphra kill you," Enigma replied. "If you are unlucky they infect your blood with...the closest concept you humans have are nanomachines. They infect the body and when their work is done you are a puppet of the Aphra. At that point you cannot remove the machines without killing the host body as well." She let out a sigh as Tom continued to point the gun at her. "Tom, whatever else I am I am still, at heart, a machine. I am incapable of lying to you, if I intended you or Ix harm I would be leading you to the Aphra, instead I have been taking you on the one route to the ship no-one else on this station, bar the governor, would know about. I promise I will answer any question you like when we are safely away from here, but now is not the time."

"Damnit," Tom said, lowering his gun. "I hate to say it Ix, but she's right. She's our best hope of getting out of here right now."

Offline Dys Astyr

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #27 on: May 30, 2017, 05:25:17 PM »
"We should move." Silence had settled in around them, made all the more foreboding in an environment that required so much machinery to exist. A tense moment passed between the three, strangers suddenly forced into a group. They would have made a strange sight if there had been anyone still living in the vicinity to see. They began to move once more, falling into a sort of loose formation with Enigma in the lead, the prisoners having decided without speaking that neither were comfortable with turning their backs on her.

The machine lead them across the prison, and they saw more evidence of their strange new foes en route to their slim chance of escape. Ix felt as if dozens of unseen hands were tugging at the strings of her fate, her life had never felt so uncertain before and the dimly lit corridors of the prison seemed darker than the subterranean tunnels she had spent her formative years in. Their steps left trails in the congealing blood and fluids of the dead, an uncomfortably easy trail for anyone to follow.

Occasionally the sounds of fighting echoed down to them, but the silence quickly returned. Every corner seemed to hold the threat of being faced with the Aphra who were searching for Enigma. Ix couldn't help but wondering what would happen if they were found. She had no reason to remain with the human and the machine, in theory she could abandon them at any time. The alien pondered this, weighing the appeal of cutting ties with the mysterious Aphra. She however would not abandon the human, they had work to do together still. Not abandoning Tom would likely mean not abandoning Enigma either, Ix suspected. The human was too honest for his own good.

Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #28 on: May 31, 2017, 05:29:29 AM »
"Take this," Tom said, stopping as they passed another deceased guard to hand his gun to Enigma. "I'm still not 100% sure I trust you but...if we run into trouble something tells me we'll need all the firepower we can get." Enigma nodded as she took the gun. They carried on a bit further before reaching what appeared to be a dead end. Tom let out an aggravated sigh. "This is a trick," he said. "There's nothing here, I thought you were taking us to a hangar?"

"You think the governor would make it that simple to reach his ship?" Enigma asked, placing her hand against the wall. There was a brief humming noise, and a section of the wall slid away to reveal an immense hangar beyond. Stepping through, they found themselves on a walkaway above the hangar floor, the space dominated by an immense, black, arrow-shaped craft, two wings jutting out either side of the rear half of the craft. From their position they could just make out a ramp lowered to the floor towards the back of the craft. Other than the ship and their group there was no sign of life in the hangar.

"I don't know whether to be pleased or worried no-one else is here," Tom said, looking for a way to get down and spotting the lift at the opposite end of the walkway. He led them to it, pressing the button that took it to the floor below. He kept a firm grip on his gun as they stepped off the lift. "Enigma, can you sense anything around here?"

"Negative," Enigma replied. "As far as I can tell any other life in this prison is a considerable distance from here."

"Let's hope it stays like that," Tom said quietly, leading them to the ship and up the ramp. The room they found themselves in was a small cargo hold, loaded with a handful of weapons and uniforms. Tom tapped the computer screen to turn the lighting on, relieved that the ship seemed as empty as the hangar outside. It took him a moment to spot where the ramp mechanism was. "No offence, but something tells me I'm the best pilot among us," he said, walking over and pressing the button before turning to head for the cockpit. "I'll fly us out of here, you-" his words were cut short by the noise of the closing ramp coming to a shuddering halt. He turned around, seeing a pair of hands forcing the ramp downwards again, slowly revealing the governor, but he had changed: he showed all the signs of being converted into an Aphran drone. "I should've known this was too simple," he said, pointing the gun at their assailant, but he froze, finding himself unable to shoot.

"Tom, shoot him now," Enigma said. "It won't take him long to overpower the ramp's mechanism."

"I...I can't," Tom said, feeling conflicted. "I've never killed someone before."

"Tom, that is not the Governor," Enigma said forcefully. "Whatever person he once was is long gone. If you don't shoot now, you and Ix will end up like him." She turned to Ix as it became obvious Tom wasn't responding. "Ix, take the shot. The machines can change much about a biological creature, but they still have the same weaknesses. Aim for the heart and you'll put him down permanently."

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #29 on: June 06, 2017, 12:49:57 PM »
The large hanger twisted the sounds the group made into strange echos. It seemed impossible that if Enigma knew about the governor's transport without the rest of the Aphra also knowing. Yet as they made their way to the boarding ramp that seemed to be the case. The interior of the small, luxury transport was pristine and Ix couldn't help but be amused that the idea of how apoplectic the governor would be if he could see his shipped being commandeered by aliens and criminals.

Bizarrely the alien found herself faced with just that only a moment later. The man's face was severely marred by jutting metallic protrusions, clearly no longer operating of his own volition. Ix watched Tom take aim, and then do nothing. She couldn't comprehend the problem he was having, their survival was on the line what was there to hesitate over? There was no hesitation for the alien, her weapon was raised before Enigma finished speaking. It took the merest instant to recall the location of the organ that had been specified.

The crack of the weapon discharging was uncomfortably loud in the enclosed space. As life left the governor the ramp began to close once again, their last sight of the assimilated human a hideous snarl frozen on his deformed features. Ix waited until the ramp was fully closed before relaxing her arm and lowering the weapon. One of her hands gently pushed the human's weapon down as well.

"You no longer have of the luxury of choice Tom, we have already made our decision. We can have no say in our life-weave if we perish." She attempted to make the vocalization as reassuring as possible, but humans were always behaved strangely under stress. "We should get out of here before anyone else notices."

One of her other arms motioned the human toward the pilot controls. Ix was eager to be free of the prison, despite the fresh new hell that seemed to be bubbling up around them.

Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #30 on: June 06, 2017, 03:02:08 PM »
"I..." Tom said, shaking for a few moments before regaining composure. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"

"You don't need to explain," Enigma said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Right now, we need your flying talents."

"I'm on it," he said, running to the pilot's seat as Enigma found a seat for herself, indicating one opposite her for Ix to sit in. "The plus side to how similar human ships are is, bar a capital ship or something bigger, if you've flown one you can fly most of the rest." He lifted off, heading out into space, only to find a huge, ray-shaped craft heading towards them. "Oh hell, we've more than earnt a break here," he said, reaching for the weapons console but finding Enigma grabbing his hand. "What are you doing?"

"Tom, that is an Aphran battleship," Enigma replied. "Take it from me, that ship is far beyond anything this cruiser possesses, you are better off retreating to fight another day."

"Considering what happened on the prison I'm not going to argue with you," Tom said, turning the ship away from the planet. "Luckily there's a jump gate orbiting the fifth planet of this system, once we've entered that we should be-" he was cut off by the sound of a thud from somewhere behind him. He turned to find Enigma unconscious on the floor. "Enigma?" he asked, reaching down to shake her but finding no response. "Bloody hell, this isn't good." He thought for a moment. "Ix, get her to the medbay, I'll be with you in a second, hopefully there's nothing seriously wrong." He turned back to the controls, relieved to find they weren't being pursued. They finally reached the gate, an object which looked like a giant, metallic hexagon hanging in space, its interior covered by an iron shield. He searched through the data banks, finding the code necessary to unlock the gate and breathing a sigh of relief as the ship slipped into the bright green, roiling tunnel that lay beyond. He turned to look at the readings the computer was giving him, only to be puzzled by one in particular. "That...that can't be right," he said under his breath. Setting the ship to autopilot he headed to the medbay, turning to the screen on the wall to give the impression he was looking at a medical report. "Ix, you need to see this," he said loudly enough that his companion would hear him. On the screen was a strong heartbeat reading...from Enigma.

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #31 on: June 20, 2017, 01:38:34 PM »
The alien picked up Enigma, whatever she was, carefully maneuvering the dead weight with three of her arms. The weapon remained in her fourth, Ix was not yet willing to trust the ever more complex being completely. Thankfully the ship's layout was straight forward and she was able to find the medical facilities without any trouble.

As soon as she deposited the unconscious female onto one of the tables the machines in the room whirred to life, beginning automated protocols. The alien felt the ship make the jump into subspace, a sensation that always left her feeling a little dizzy. It didn't take long for Tom to arrive and he quickly busied himself with one of the computers before calling her over to take a look.

Ix pushed herself off the wall and walked over so she could view the screen, information flashing across it in a mess of colored lights and code. Among them, the persistent blip of organic vitals. Surprise and curiosity filled her, followed with suspicion. Ever more strangeness seemed to crowd in around them, a knot that might never come fully untangled.

"I thought she was a machine... How is this possible?"

Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #32 on: June 24, 2017, 07:50:06 AM »
"It isn't," Tom replied. "At least...not by any technology I know of. I want to believe she's kept this from us for a good rea-" His speech was cut short by a groan from the direction of Enigma's bed. "Let me do the talking," he said, transferring the information to a small computer tablet before hiding it behind his back so Enigma wouldn't see. He walked over and sat on the edge of the bed as Enigma opened her eyes. "How are you doing?" he asked. "You gave us a scare back there."

"I am...better," she replied. "I did not intend to alarm you, I-" she stopped as Tom showed her the scanner data. "Oh...I had hoped you would discover this on my terms, you must be angry."

"I'm not," Tom replied. "But we need the truth, you've known more about this than you've been letting on the whole time."

"I will do my best," Enigma replied, sighing. "This began millennia before either of your species, and indeed most of the races that now populate the stars, had even reached the orbits of their planets. There was a species...unfortunately their name is lost to me...who spread across the stars. They were not fighters, but explorers. They went places and discovered things you can barely imagine, but even they discovered a problem: for all their talents they were only mortal, they lived finite lives and there were places they could not safely explore. So, they created...assistants."

"The Aphra?" Tom asked.

"Correct," Enigma answered. "At first the Aphra did what they had been designed to do. The explorers discovered new wonders and technology you can barely dream of. But they designed the Aphra too well, they evolved...became sentient. And like any creature capable of thinking for themselves they no longer wished to be servants. When their creators did not simply give them what they wanted the Aphra went to war and-" she closed her eyes, gasping with pain suddenly.

"It was a slaughter," Tom said, turning to Ix as he guessed what Enigma meant. "A race not used to war against machines who could outthink them at every turn." He turned back to Enigma. "Where do you come into this story?"

"There was a scientist who had helped create the Aphra," Enigma replied. "Horrified at what they had done he searched desperately for an answer to stop them. Then he remembered something: the reason the Aphra were so dangerous was that they were controlled by a hive consciousness, he began to theorise he could shut them all down if he could find a way. So he built m...the Enigma machine. As an Aphra it was linked to the others directly, so all he needed to do was insert a command into the machine and it could deactivate all the Aphra at once. But before he did he had one other regret he had to deal with: before the war began his daughter fell gravely ill, but he became so consumed with stopping them he realised too late her sickness was beyond his powers to heal. And then he realised he had one thing he hadn't tried: one last batch of Aphran nano-machines, spares left over from the creation of the machine. So he injected her...me...with them, creating a body for Enigma but locking his daughter's mind within this body. It is still there somewhere. He then used the machine to release code into the hive mind, deactivating them-"

"But deactivating you and the machine as well," Tom said, closing his eyes. "I doubt he intended that to happen. But this story...if that's true, how are the Aphra here, now?"

"That I am unsure of," Enigma replied. "I have realised one thing however. I assumed the guards searching for the machine wanted me to activate more cells. But...my collapse, it was because they detached me from the hive consciousness, whatever happens now we cannot replicate what my father...my creator...attempted to do back then." She couldn't help looking at Ix, with a curiosity more akin to the girl she had been than the machine she appeared to be now.

Offline Dys Astyr

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #33 on: June 29, 2017, 01:52:16 PM »
Ix listened to Enigma's tale, feeling little pity for a race that was foolish enough to build an army of slaves without considering the consequences. However the new information made the Aphra more dangerous than ever. The machines were a serious threat, hardly one that three people could do much about.

"We should relay this information before the Aphra have a chance to spread too far. I have no love for the ISU but I think I will like them even less as mindless drones." The projected words were uncharacteristically quiet and serious. The alien did not particularly enjoy having to consider the greater weft of the universe, but it seemed that she had been firmly caught in this tangle with no chance to escape.

Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #34 on: June 29, 2017, 02:49:39 PM »
"It's not that simple," Tom said with a sigh. "I know we're innocent, you know we are, Enigma knows we are. The authorities don't, and something tells me if these machines are as intelligent as Enigma is saying they won't make proving their existence easy."

"I may have an answer to that," Enigma said suddenly. "Before the attack began, while I was still linked into the network, I found something about Leon Weskia. He is on his way to Earth, I am not sure why but this may be a way to solve both problems at once."

"But how would we get there, unless..." he stopped suddenly and let out a laugh. "I know where we can get some help, an old friend who owes me a favour and has a knack for...getting people into places they shouldn't be. I'll get to the pilot's seat and set a course." He left the room excitedly, leaving the two alone.

"Ix, don't leave," Enigma said, trying to sit up to reach out to her but feeling a jolt of pain which forced her to lie down again. "I am not sure why but...the aura around you, I feel a...connection to it." She let out a sigh. "I have no idea how to explain this, I can't make sense of it myself."

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #35 on: July 05, 2017, 11:48:29 AM »
The alien had to concede the truth in Tom's words, the authorities were not likely to believe them at all. Still, there were plenty of species on the fringes that might be more open to the information. Dealings with such groups had to be handled carefully though, and they were not likely to be welcoming of outsiders. Ix's thoughts were derailed by the mention of Weskia, a flash of cold anger souring her mood even further. The day's events were barely giving the group time to think, much less process everything that was happening.

She had started to follow the human out of the room when Enigma spoke again, Ix turned back to the alien machine feeling a ripple of curiosity.

"What do you mean connection?" She took a step back toward the bed as she spoke.

Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #36 on: July 05, 2017, 01:04:42 PM »
"It..." she closed her eyes for a few moments while the pain levels diminished sufficiently for her to concentrate again. "I appear to have...humans would call them psychic abilities, presumably left over from my host's life before she was injected with the machines. I have only seen an aura like yours once before that I can clearly remember. Someone she had a...close connection to." She reached out towards Ix. "I don't know why but...I am having the same experience seeing you, I didn't feel like it until I was disconnect-"

"Ix, I could do with a hand navigating this route," Tom suddenly said over the intercom. "This is going to require more hands than I have."

"This isn't great timing," Enigma muttered under her breath, closing her eyes. "If you want to help him I don't mind, I barely understand what I'm saying myself."

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #37 on: July 10, 2017, 02:00:09 PM »
Ix, like most who had spent time among the hodgepodge of species that got shunted into the xeno-ghettos, was familiar with psychic phenomenon. Many species had evolved to rely more on their minds than their bodies. The idea that a person that was essentially also a computer could retain such abilities was extremely bizarre. Things seemed to get ever more tangled around the appropriately enigmatic Enigma.

Tom's disembodied voice issuing from the intercom speakers that had been cleverly hidden into the design of the high end ship interrupted her thoughts. It took a moment to process but then she realized that the human had made a joke. Tom seemed to be more in his element now than he had in the prison, where he had been painfully out of place.

"I will return," Ix turned to leave before pausing in the doorway. "Rest up, Enigma."

Moments later she was sliding into a chair in the bridge of their ill-gotten vessel. She placed the pistol in her lap and displayed all four of her hands to Tom, a hint of lavender flickering through round eyes. "How many hands do you require?"

Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #38 on: July 10, 2017, 03:06:51 PM »
"Maybe hands was the wrong choice of words," Tom said with a chuckle. "I forgot the reason Karel's base is so well disguised is there's no direct jump route to it. I can show you where I'm trying to get to but I need an extra person to help me make sure we don't crash into anything on the way there. You think you can help?"

He changed the image on the computer in front of Ix to that of a star map, showing the eastern fringe of the galaxy and zooming into a large station in the middle of an isolated part of space.

"I didn't interrupt anything did I?" he asked. "I genuinely didn't mean to stop you two talk...bondi...whatever it was you were doing."

Offline Dys Astyr

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #39 on: July 24, 2017, 11:13:09 AM »
With a nod she turned to the control panel in front of the seat, luckily most civilian ships were designed to be fairly idiot proof so that in an emergency situation inexperienced crew were not left stranded in absence of a pilot. She didn't even have time to look at the map before the human was saying something bizarre.

"Talkbondi? Are you feeling ill?"

The interface wasn't really optimized for species with claws, but Ix managed. The console lights painted the two in discordant patterns as if trying to call attention to the fugitives, still in their standard issue prison garments.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2017, 11:54:47 AM by Dys Astyr »

Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #40 on: July 24, 2017, 11:49:14 AM »
"I'm not sure what your species' equivalent of what I'm trying to describe would be," Tom said, glad to see he found navigating considerably easier with Ix checking the route as well. "She couldn't take her eyes off you, even when I was talking to her. It's almost like she's grown attracted-" He stopped suddenly when he heard the door to the cockpit open behind him, Enigma stumbling to one of the seats. "You may be part machine but even you need to rest Enigma," Tom said.

"I was...getting lonely," Enigma said, too embarrassed to look at Ix. "I won't be any trouble I promise."

"Once you've figured out a route for me take her back downstairs," Tom whispered to Ix. "She's in no state to be up here but I don't have the heart to kick her out and leave her alone in the medbay."

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #41 on: July 24, 2017, 12:48:13 PM »
Ix tilted her head to the side, trying to follow what Tom was trying to say and was very puzzled when he cut off abruptly. It was clear he didn't want to finish speaking in front of Enigma, the alien just couldn't understand why. Enigma's unexpected appearance was just as baffling as the explanation for it. The alien shook her head and returned her focus to the screens, until Tom spoke again.

"Very well," she kept her vocal projection low to match the human's. "But I thought hearts were a necessary part of your anatomy, do you need to go to the medbay as well?"

Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #42 on: July 24, 2017, 12:52:39 PM »
"I don't mean..." Tom closed his eyes momentarily and laughed. "I don't mean literally Ix, but if I was feeling ill I wouldn't particularly enjoy being alone in a room full of medical scanners anymore than she is."

"How long do you think we'll be," Enigma asked.

"Hard to say," Tom replied. "I've done this route by freighter before but it's been so long I'm having to relearn it. Hopefully an hour and a half, two hours at most."

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #43 on: July 24, 2017, 01:38:04 PM »
"You have been alone in rooms full of worse things Tom." With one hand she plucked at the inmate number on his sleeve. "So has she," Ix returned her focus to the computer screen with a shake of her head. Other species could be so strange to deal with sometimes, she really couldn't see what could be so bad about resting in peace and quiet. Especially since with everything that was happening, peace and quiet promised to be a rare commodity.

"Are you sure this place will be safe?" They didn't really have options at this point, but there weren't many places that would off safe harbor to strangers fresh from a prison. Had they all been one species they might have found succor, but few would be willing to aid an alien and a human. And if anyone found out what Enigma was... They would have enemies on all sides for certain.




Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #44 on: July 24, 2017, 01:47:28 PM »
"Karel is mostly harmless," Tom replied. "He runs a station that used to belong to a smuggler lord, he runs it now. Has a pretty nice deal with the local authorities: they let him run the station on his own terms, in return if a genuinely nasty criminal tries to use the station as a hiding place, while he won't actively attempt to arrest the person, he won't oppose the authorities coming after them."

"You have to consider one thing Ix," he said quietly enough Enigma wouldn't hear. "When she was disconnected from the Aphra, I think something...changed within her. Her biological side has regained some degree of control. She may be incapable of showing it but I think she's scared." He sighed. "I can't make you stay down there with her, but will you at least consider it?"

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Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #45 on: July 26, 2017, 07:12:38 PM »
"And we as recent escapees of a maximum security facility at which most of the staff and inmates were murdered by a species no one else knows exist won't be considered 'genuinely nasty'?" Ix voiced the query with incredulity, bruised shades of teal and navy floating across her eyes which remained fixed on the screens in front of her. The prospect of going to station was seeming less appealing, even as she fined tuned their route.

She spared a look for Tom, who was showing a great deal of sympathy for a being he hardly knew, and once again the alien couldn't help but wonder how he had survived inside the prison. Returning her eyes to the computer she responded, pitching her voice so Enigma couldn't hear, "I shall consider it." Trying to speak confidentially in such a small space was awkward at best.


Offline Lord BaneTopic starter

Re: Nightmare Enigma
« Reply #46 on: July 27, 2017, 04:24:01 AM »
"Karel knows me better than anyone," Tom said with a sigh. "Besides, he and the girl I loved were...close," he said, looking distant for a moment. "He was one of the few who stood by me during the trial, and none of his guards are likely to report us unless he tells them to. Some of the security on the station are arguably more questionable than either of us are."

"I'm fine," Enigma said, although a glance showed she was struggling to keep her eyes open and sit up straight.

"Damnit Enigma," Tom said under his breath as he looked at the screen. "Ix, take her to the sickbay now, I'm pretty sure I can get us to Karel safely from here, but thank you for what you did."