This is a follow-up to Deliverance, a short story explaining why Ange des Larmes left the Khanid Kingdom so abruptly. Hopefully you will not need to have read it to understand what is happening in this story but it may help offer some background.
“I shall take your silence as a wish to remain on formal terms. A shame really, we have had such good conversations in the past. I should very much hate to have to have a conversation on different terms…”
The implied threat hung in the air. Ange knew what she had to do. It was her honesty in her intentions that got her into this mess. It sure as hell would be the only way out…
“Commandant, I made a contact within the PKN and was going to take those slaves to Jita IV-4 to help…”
She was cut-off by the Commandant’s stare. His mouth still turned up at the corners – Ange could never quite bring herself to call it a smile as that would imply happiness instead of Sadism – but his eyes were cold and grey. Lifeless almost. It sent a chill down her spine and made her forget that she was the nigh-immortal capsuleer whilst he was an ordinary man. A man with a enchant for torture but just a man nonetheless.
Sertan turned to look at the guards that were stood at ease either side of Ange.
“May we please be excused for a while. Twenty minutes is all it should take at most.”
The taller of the two on Ange’s left nodded towards his superior and then both men snapped to attention, turned 45 degree to their right before clicking their heels together and heading toward the door.
“Oh, and Sah-lieutenant…”
The blonde guard stopped and turned to Sertan. He was clearly attempting to remain emotionless but his shoulders and jaw had tensed up and his eyes grew wider belying his apprehension.
“Capsuleers generally don’t scream in the way mere mortals as yourself would so please refrain from your usual hobby of listening in at the door. Remember what happened to Noud?”
Ange had never seen such a tall, brutish man turn that pale that quickly. She was sure she saw his knees buckle slightly as he nodded to the Commandant. The junior officer started to speak but his voice cracked and he could only bring himself to mouth something incomprehensible before hurrying out of the room, locking the door behind him.
“Now Miss Allier.” Sertan stood up from his desk and slowly unrolled a black cloth with silver trim onto it, smoothing down the fabric as he did so. Inside we a number of highly polished tools – knives, scalpels, drills, hooks. He picked up a small scalpel and walked around the table towards Ange as she braced herself for what was to come.
“Where were we?”
She checked the directional scans again as she thought of the name-plate of the ship – RKN Deliverance. Had she been rescued but Fate or had she been ordered into it? Still no Khanid ships. Were there any even in the Nohshayess constellation? She had, obviously, avoided Khanid Prime but Kihtaled, Ipref, Agil, and now Bukah…
Her neocom flickered as a channel opened and that face filled the screen. The face she expected but hoped would not find her. The corners of the mouth turned up.
“Why hello, Miss Allier. It is very good to see you again.”
Sertan picked up a scalpel and examined it as he brought it up to his eye level.
“Do you know why I like this?” He brought his right hand up to the blade, gently resting his index finger on the tip. A blob of blood appeared from it almost instantly.
“It is the tool of ultimate precision. A few cuts in the right places and all your blood will be on my floor within minutes. Although I’m sure that won’t impact you as you will have backed up a clone.”
Ange squirmed. She had had a conversation with an officer in the RKN a mere couple of days before where she joked about how she never kept clones up to date when out of pod. Clearly bad news travelled fast.
“But you…” He pointed the blade towards the capsuleer’s heart. “You are a blunt instrument aren’t you, Miss Allier? You have never learnt subtlety. In fact, your training in CODE. took whatever sharpness you had and rounded off the edges. You can only attack. In person. In conversation. In combat.”
“Get it over with. Torture me. Kill me. Whatever it is you’re planning to do. Just do it already!”
“Torture you? Kill you? No… I have a much better idea for you.”
“I was impressed at how you managed to get my Sah-lieutenant involved in your little escape plan. Sending all my naval ships after a capsuleer matching your description jumping from Sazre to Badivefi whilst you go the other way? That was somewhat inspired, madame.”
Ange was confused. Since her interrogation she hadn’t had contact with anyone, let alone an officer in the RKN.
“But don’t worry, Balacan is now at my leisure.” Sertan said. And with it, for the second time that Ange had ever seen, a real smile crossed his face.
“I will see you again, Miss Allier.”
“Let me tell you what happens to traitors, Miss Allier. Sah-lieutenant Balacan – the tall chap you just met – does not listen at my door because he has a fetish for torture as he proclaims publicly. No, he is spying on me on behalf of the Ministry of Internal Order. He will soon feel the impact of a clever cut but there are some times where one also needs a sledgehammer.”
Sertan smiled. It was a genuine smile. Fatherly almost. It unsettled Ange more than any blade or threat he had ever made. His grey eyes flickered with affection.
“You seem surprised, Miss Allier but one must always hedge one’s bets, don’t you think? I, myself, have two employers for that very reason. One is my King and the other… well, you will meet them soon enough.”
Sertan sat casually on the desk, scalpel still in hand, as Ange remained frozen in place – stunned that the man she knew as purely one dimensional turned out to be quite so chameleonic.
“He would very much like you to go to Venal and find out why capsuleers are poking their nose about in Guristas business. My employer is very interested in their actions but you shall need to learn to be a subtle as this scalpel.” He placed it gently back onto the black cloth. “Maybe work for a while for the MIO. Maybe work with the Angels for a while or, hell, even the Sansha. Just don’t be a slave to your impulsiveness and charge right in.”
He paused, looking down at the capsuleer sat before him. Whilst she had always had a slight frame, she seemed even smaller sat, shocked, on that chair. She had seemingly withdrawn into herself, gazing off into the middle distance. His smile dropped as he realised he pitied her and that was not why she had been chosen for this task. No, he wanted her defiance. Annoyed, he brought her eyes back in contact with his own by snapping them in front of her face.
“If nothing else, slave, consider this your chance for true deliverance. You will not get another.”
The Commandant moved behind his desk, sat down and carefully rolled the tools of his trade back up. He re-adjusted his uniform and licked the blood from the end of his finger. He tapped at the holoscreen to the side of his desk, irritated.
“Send Balacan back in. She has told me everything I need to know.” Sertain sat back into his chair and brought his hands together in front of him as his junior officer walked through the door.
“I will see you again, Miss Allier.”