“War’s over,” said Commander Cotton.
I’d never seen her so grim. I remained laying on my cot, having long ago learned how far I could push against the power dynamic between us, even as our relationship evolved into one of mutual understanding if not respect.
“Well then, congratulations. What was the final nail?”
“Your acting-chief executive was killed in a capture attempt. She was fleeing the Libertas system, heading for the gate. Probably trying to get to Intercrus.”
“Probably, yeah. Safe assumption.”
Cotton remained in the doorway to my cell, her shoulders drooping, weighed down like wet clothes on a hanger. There was more she wasn’t saying.
“Guessing it’ll be a few weeks before word comes down on how to handle us?” I asked.
Cotton’s gaze fell immediately to the floor.
“No,” she said and then took a deep breath. “In light of recent developments, Unital’s Board of Directors held an emergency meeting and passed Critical Resolution 7-12 without a shareholder vote. Among other things, it contains a provision for all prisoner vessels to abandon cargo and return to the headquarter system.”
Prisoner vessels only had one kind of cargo: people like me.
Cotton produced a cigarette carton from her jacket and shook it beside her ear. “Only one left,” she said, and tossed me the carton, and then a lighter. “As a professional courtesy, officer to officer. I don’t have enough for your whole squad. When you finish, someone will be by to escort you to the airlock.”
I hadn’t seen the outside of this cell in over 5 years. Cotton was just a JG back then. We’d built up a sort of rapport, and she knew without a doubt that I didn’t smoke. Wouldn’t smoke, even now. Especially now. I mean, I’d come this far; why spoil a perfect record?
She turned without another word and headed off in her usual hurried way, and the door sealed behind her.
I thumbed the carton dumbly, my fingers numb. They could have saved a lot of trouble for everyone if they’d just spaced me at the start. Fucking corps. The carton lid fell open and the cigarette peeked out. Looked funny.
I flipped over, turning my back to the door and facing the wall, and removed the cigarette. Angular black lines formed a strange pattern on the hand-rolled paper. I unrolled it.
It was a map of a freighter. The Rahvan. It was a map of this freighter.
The paper was wrapped around a small tube—maybe a nice metal pen—with a pointed end fixed to it with some kind of resin. Cotton just gave me a fucking shiv.
I hadn’t killed a single person—shareholder or civilian—before my unit was captured, and now the war was over. And if I ever wanted to see home again, I had to start killing now. Fucking unreal.
I didn’t want a cigarette, but I could use a drink.