Solis DeLacey has been captured by Kruath soldiers on the remote planet Urwald. She has also discovered that two of her crewmates aboard the Kyann ship she was assigned to, fellow Terrans Cartsairs and Hathan, are traitors working with the Kruath.
Hathan scampered to join his master, leaving Solis alone.
Callin? How could that be? How could a Callin be a traitor? The family name had been synonymous with honor, duty and loyalty going back to the pre-Commonwealth days.
A Callin had saved her life. It was because of a Callin that Solis was even still alive. And now this one wanted to… what? If he had wanted her dead she would be dead already? Why was she being kept alive?
Solis shuddered and pushed the thought aside.
Was Hathan telling the truth? Did Carstairs — Callin — want to take over the Commonwealth? Solis did not doubt that the Callin family could. They had enough of their members in key positions — positions of genuine power — all throughout the Commonwealth. If the Callin family wanted it, it would happen.
But the Callins had always been adamant that they serve the Commonwealth and not the other way around. The Callins always maintained that they were loyal to the Parliament on Kyann. They supported the democratically elected government in all things. Solis had never heard a rumble, not even a whisper of dissent.
Could that all be a mask for their real intentions? Or perhaps this Callin had gone rogue? But what would make a Callin turn from the family and everything it stood for? He had allied himself with the Hegemony? What kind of power did he wield?
Solis did not know.
Urwald’s sun was sinking below the horizon. Solis tried to stretch out her legs. She had been sitting with her back against the post for a few hours and her limbs were beginning to feel the inactivity. The binder cords would allow her only limited movement but she took advantage of as much stretching as she could. The big muscles in her legs ached. Between the mad flight through the jungle and sleeping on the rough ground her body was beginning to feel everything that had happened to her in the last night and day.
Her uniform was in tatters around her. The jacket was beyond saving so she discarded itl. Her sleeveless undershirt was relatively intact and served to cover her. Her boots were still in good shape but her cadet pants were mere strips of torn fabric. She tore away the tattered remnants. The material was tough but it eventually gave way under her hands and she was able to render them down to a rough pair of shorts.
The air was warm despite the onset of evening. Now that she had discarded most of her clothing she hoped that the night would not get too cold. She looked up at the night sky and saw Urwald’s moon — Monat — rising and full.
She thought about the ancient Urwaldian and his stubborn belief that all offworlders came from the moon. She felt a pang of sadness. She had only known him for such a short time but she missed the old being. She tried not to think about his death at the hands of the Kruath.
Something caught her eye. A light moving in the sky. She looked up. There were several small lights that were moving around near the moon. They seemed to be circling the satellite. One broke away from the others and veered downwards.
Strange. What could be causing that? Solis thought that perhaps it had been broken up pieces of the Kr’tk’tk that had somehow been captured by the moon’s gravity, but these seemed to be moving with some purpose. More Kruath support ships?
Before she could speculate further a dark shape stepped up and blocked her view of the moon. Solis squinted in the dark and made out a Kruath soldier looming in front of her. He was holding a short staff. Then a smaller figure stepped out from nehind the looming soldier.
“I need information” said Carstairs — Callin. “How much do you know? Are you part of the investigation?
Solis had no idea what Callin was talking about. She said nothing, merely stared up at him in mute incomprehension.
Callin stood without moving for a moment, then nodded to the Kruath soldier. The Kruath lifted up the shaft and activated a toggle. The end of the staff lit up and Solis could hear a high pitched whine coming from it, growing in intensity. The Kruath reached down with the glowing end and touched Solis on her exposed side.
There was a loud crack and suddenly her body spasmed. Pain flooded through her body like it was suddenly on fire. The Kruath took the staff away and the pain stopped, but Solis entire body was shaking. She could still feel every nerve end tingling like it was crackling with electricity. She slumped panting onto the ground.
After a moment Callin spoke again. “The pursuader does not cause permanent damage… at least not phyiologically. I am told, however that the emotional scars are quite… permanent. I ask again: Are you part of the investigation?”
“What…” Solis managed to gasp. “…what investigation?”
She heard the high pitched whine and again the Kruath staff touched her side and for a brief moment her body was aflame with agony. She was left panting and tingling on the ground again.
“Refusing to answer will result in punishment,” Callin said. “Wasting my time with denials will result in punishment. Are you part of the investigation?”
“I don’t know anything about any investigation!” Solis protested. Tears were streaming down her cheeks “I’m not part of anything!”
“Then why were you put onboard the Kyann Ship?”
Solis blinked. “It was a punishment,” she said. “There was an accident. A cadet was killed.”
Callin narrowed his eyes and stroked his chin. “Stephan’s girl? I heard about that. You were involved?”
Now the pain flared fresh inside her, worse than the fiery agony provided by the persuader. “She… she pushed me out of the way… It should have been me.” fresh tears coursed down her stained cheeks.
Callin narrowed his eyes. “An accident? Truly? I’d assumed it was a targeted attack…” he trailed off, lost in thought.
Targeted attack? Was Callin really that paranoid? “What are you trying to accomplish?” Solis blurted out, stifling a sob. “Why were you aboard the Krktkt??”
Callin snapped his fingers at the Kruath in annoyance. The Kruath activated the persuader. Solis’s body arced in an explosion of pain.
The pain stopped suddenly, but the explosion seemed to continue. Her body shook… or was it the ground? Solis opened her eyes and saw the Kruath soldier and Callin bathed in orange light staring in open mouthed shock.
Solis looked around and saw the bright plume of an explosion. an instant later the shockwave hit. Calin was knocked down but the Kruath soldier ran back towards the main camp.