“Captain Itsu to the cockpit, please.”
There was no acknowledgement, but moments later there were two klanks against the hatch. I buzzed him in.
I looked back over my shoulder, past the captain, at the squadron seated in the cabin, and then nodded at the co-pilot’s chair. He made his aggravation known but still took the seat as I reengaged the hatch’s electronic lock. I popped off my helmet and set it aside. “Let’s take this offline.”
He pulled off his helmet, and I was taken aback by his mismatched irises; his left eye was a light hazel, almost golden, while the right was just half a shade lighter than pure black. Of course, I had been expecting this—counted on it, in fact, to easily confirm his identity—but it was striking nonetheless.
“What’s your name, Aviator?”
“Leo Bastian, Aviator Second Class.”
“Where you from, Aviator Bastian?”
“Everywhere, I guess, but I was born on New Yukon.”
“Yeah? How’s the weather there?”
“Pretty good, mostly, but—”
“I don’t give a flaming fuck about the weather on New Yukon. I’m leading my team into hostile territory in less than an hour. If you have a point, fucking make it!”
Good. Get emotional; it’s distracting. I was getting even less out of the chit-chat than he was, anyway.
“I know someone who works in intelligence.”
Itsu’s wild eyes narrowed. “Me too,” he hissed. “It’s the fucking Corps, everyone is in intel.”
“He was interred here, on Divinity. Outpost Broadwater. Three years.” Now I had his attention. He sat back, shoulders drooping slowly like leaky hydraulic jacks.
“Bullshit. No one’s ever gotten off Divinity outside a body bag.”
I kept my hands on the controls and my eyes forward, watching the blue ripples of hyperspace pass overhead and fade to red. “That’s how he did it, actually, but that’s not important right now. He told me something about how they treat POWs down there, and given your…situation…I thought you should hear it.”
I paused for a reaction but he didn’t offer even a micro-gesture, so I kept going. “They would put three guys in a cell together and then tell them that one of them tried to defect. When the defector was dead, the others would get some sort of reward; sometimes a hot shower, or an extra meal, or a little natural sunlight. Doesn’t really matter what it is. It’s just a trick to see how they react. See, once two guys gang up on the third and beat him within an inch of his life—and it would always work, given enough time—the guards would break it up and remove the odd-man-out. Not sure what would happen to the other two, but the one guy… They figured that by his peers’ own assessment he was the most likely to give something up, so they’d let him heal just so they could break him down again, see what he might know.”
The blue and red streaks lapped over the ship in contemplative silence.
Captain Itsu finally spoke up. “This isn’t a rescue mission. We’re here to sabotage and demoralize, and then get the hell out.”
“I’m aware, Captain.”
“Then why are you telling me this?”
My eyes were locked on the navigation gauges. One more moment. Wait for it…
“Out of respect. Call it a professional courtesy,” I said. I pulled the shuttle out of hyperdrive and nosed hard into Divinity’s thick, stormy high atmosphere. The shuttle kicked around with all the grace of a train derailment.
I flipped up three plastic covers and threw the red levers beneath them, and then pressed the confirmation button beneath the word scuttle. The cabin separated from the cockpit, jettisoning the whole squadron several dozen miles above the planet’s surface. No need to use the detonator; gravity would take care of the rest.
Itsu was slow to react, but the horror on his face told me when to fire the tranquilizer loaded in my sidearm. I was firing across my body while piloting a pissed off enemy shuttle, so my aim was a little compromised. The dart hit him dead in the eye—the golden one, on the left.
He went down hard, and I kicked his unconscious body into the underfoot storage, which was already cramped with the dead aviator already inside.
I activated the transmitter, high-band.
“Outpost Broadwater, this is Operative Harper, inbound on vector 2-9 on a commandeered enemy shuttle, wing code Bravo-Bravo-4-6-4-7. I’ve got one wounded captured on board, Captain Itsu of the Imperial Corps. Please prep receiving.”
The sun was coming up over the mountains. It was good to be back.
“Copy, Harper. L-Z is clear. Meet you there.”