Rohtik Spoigan examined the small device confiscated from one of their most recent albeit reluctant recruits, acutely aware of its owner’s indignation as he did so. Its elliptical shape fit his hand comfortably, metal case cool yet somehow alive, as if checking him out in some weird, covert way. He set it back on his workdeck cautiously, not trusting it. For all he knew it could kill him.
“You can either tell me what this thing does and how it works, Professor Denale, or join others who have defied command,” he said coldly.
The young woman on the other side of his gleaming stone-topped workdeck met his gaze with a look of contempt rarely seen in either gender. Her blazing eyes, emphasized by short dark hair, high cheekbones and anger-flushed olive complexion, possessed an intensity which charged the air, evoking a reaction unlike any he’d experienced before.
“As you well know, I’m lead scientist of this expedition which you so rudely detained,” she stated, matching his tone. “Kill me and my knowledge goes with it. Clearly you’re unfamiliar with Esheronians, General. We don’t fear death. It surrounds us on our world. Dying is but part of life. The end of one cycle and start of another. To die without honor is by far the worser fate.”
Her words echoed in the marble chamber, as cold as its polished walls, something about her demeanor sending a chill up his spine. Never had he seen such strength and determination in the face of such formidable odds, especially in someone so young, as near as he could tell probably not much more than twenty. That combined with the knowledge she had was certainly a testimonial to Esheron’s education system. He made a mental note to study their culture more thoroughly so they could learn how to instill the same in Integrated youth. With an army with as much integrity as she displayed, they could conquer the galaxy.
“So you have no problem condemning the rest of your team to the same fate?” he asked, eyeing the small device, then cautiously picking it up once more. “Over this?”
“Over anything that could benefit your insidious cause,” she replied, stoic posture unchanged.
“You realize, of course, that our own people can reverse engineer this device with no assistance from you or your team. You are, indeed, dispensable.”
“As we all are, General,” she replied, eyes unwavering.
He shifted his attention back to the small metal case, wondering what secrets it could hold worthy of claiming its owner’s life, much less the entire entourage. He examined every millimeter again, finding no distinguishing marks, means for activation, or any clue whatsoever related to its function other than the odd feeling that it was somehow intelligent or even alive.
Was it his imagination or was its surface getting warmer? Vibrations, at first subtle, then demanding, followed, until he thought it would leap from his hand. He set it back on the workdeck’s stone surface, mesmerized as it repeatedly faded from view then reappeared. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, and instinctively leaned back cautiously as again he met the woman’s icy gaze. Her expression had evolved from ironclad resistance to a defiant smile, one that bespoke genuine amusement as the object evaporated, leaving not the slightest trace of its existence behind.
“Where’d it go?” he asked, flabbergasted.
“Home,” she replied, still smiling even as her eyes bespoke successful retaliation.
For a moment he retraced the day’s events, seriously wondering if the entire experience was a dream, and braced himself for her to likewise disappear. She didn’t, convincing him the experience was real yet failing to remove his consternation. Disappearing entryways and other illusions created by energy fields were commonplace, but he’d never seen a piece of hardware do so before. Either it had passed into another dimension, making it multi-dimensional, or converted from mass to energy, a feat typically requiring lasoclear reactions to achieve.
Gradually control returned as he scrutinized the female before him with different eyes. Her black hair framed remarkably delicate features including a straight nose, deepset eyes the color of lemitini cocoa and full lips which continued to maintain a satisfied simper. Never had he seen such strength residing in such an attractive and delicate package. He’d always been impervious to female wiles, viewing women as weak and inferior or at best a nuisance, but this one was indeed a different breed.
Admittedly he didn’t know much about Esheron besides the fact Woeyel hailed from there, the paternal half of Brightstar’s heritage as well. Troy was certainly correct in thinking the likes of them could be their greatest asset or most formidable opponent. That integrity factor was what consistently got in the way, however. But like gravity, there was more than one way to use or reverse it to one’s advantage.
Deciding upon an alternate approach, he leaned back in his chair with folded arms, gaze fusing once more with hers but this time with an entirely different frequency.
“Good one, Professor,” he admitted, punctuating it with a rare smile. “I’m impressed. Obviously your naterra has achieved a level of technological expertise that ours currently lacks. I’ve never been to Esheron but you’ve certainly piqued my interest. How would you feel about likewise going home?”
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