hares-recovery

Echoes of the Past

Deep in the Council station of Terac Lun, the quiet hum of a holding cell’s force field snapped off with a pop. Jadyn’s eyes shot open as the noise roused him from his light slumber on the floor. Squinting at the ceiling, the reason why he was in jail returned to him.

It had still been worth it.

“About time…” Tari groaned, sitting up and rubbing her head. “I so need out of here…”

“Knowing Pakar, we’re not quite home free yet. ‹Lieutenant, are we free to leave?›”

A large brown bear blocked the opening of the holding cell, dressed sharply in the gray and green uniform of station security personnel. “‹You are to remain here for a time, Captain. She, however, will need to come with me for questioning.›”

“What’s he saying?”

“You’re going for a walk while I sit here and rot. Pakar just loves seeing me behind bars… Figuratively speaking, of course, since bars were deemed cruel and unusual when the modern force field was perfected.” Jadyn plopped back down on the bench and looked to the officer. “‹My friend here doesn’t speak a lick of Standard. She’ll need that white bracelet on the console if you want working translation for the interview.›”

“‹Ma’am, if you’d please step out of the cell and come with me.›”

Tari looked back at Jadyn for clarification as the bear gestured for her to move into the room. “Go with him and snag your bracelet. I’ll be waiting here when you get done.”

“Okay.” The vixen stepped past the threshold of the security field; as soon as she was clear, the bear tapped a panel beside the opening to reactivate the barrier.

“Plead my case with the warden?” Jadyn asked. “I’m sure Pakar just wants to scold us one-on-one.”

“Absolutely. I’ll make sure to point out the storm was entirely your fault.” Tari winked, picking up her bracelet on her way out of the detention center.

The door finally reopened after a quiet eternity of humming old folk melodies; Pakar stepped inside, a wild grin on her face. “Good morning! Sleep well?”

“Not in the least.”

“Just what I’d hoped to hear after your little stunt last night. Anything particular you care to say to me?”

“I slept on the floor.” He smirked, glancing at the carpeting. “It was more comfortable than the shelf.”

“I’ll be sure to have the padding removed at the next maintenance window.” The drekiran stabbed at the wall plate, discontinuing the force field. “Now that the formalities are out of the way, I’m sorry about leaving you down here so long. Completely slipped my mind I’d thrown you in here until about ten minutes ago.”

“Er… Really?”

“Where’s Tari, anyway? I thought I put you both in the same cell block.”

“A lieutenant with Security took her for questioning… Maybe an hour or two ago. Hard to say how long it’s been.”

“Odd… I didn’t send anyone to harass you two. Wanted that privilege for myself.” Pakar sat down at the console and brought up the access log. “Here we go, last entry an hour and a half ago… Computer, locate Lieutenant Eirnide Orsulan.”

Lieutenant Orsulan is not aboard Terac Lun.

“When did he leave?”

Lieutenant Orsulan left the station at 2537 hours via stepdisk transport to Darane Province, Veloria.

Pakar frowned, drawing up a personnel record. “Was this the officer you saw?”

“That’s the guy. Didn’t recognize him as one of the usual security staff, but I’ve been out for a while.”

“Came on while you were galavanting in the Sol system, by the look of his record here.”

“That’d do it. What time is it, anyway?”

“About 0900. His DNA imprint is registered on the lock as of 0732… Computer, verify - Lieutenant Orsulan departed at 2537 last night and has not returned to the station?”

Affirmative.

“Pakar… Where’s my bracelet?”

“Should have been right here. I left them both on the console.”

“Guess we’ll go the long way. Computer: open a priority channel to the VTC Serin.”

Several seconds passed before T’bia’s voice came out of the console. “Commander Halio of the Serin here… Who am I speaking to?

“Caller ID broken? S’me.”

Jay? Just where the heck have you been all night?

“Locked in a holding cell for raining on Pakar’s parade. Get a location from both my bracelet and Tari’s?”

Don’t tell me you lost those already! I just had hers made!

“Just do it.”

Quiet grumblings echoed on the channel while the AI worked. “Okay… This is odd.

“What’s that?”

Your bracelet is in airlock ‘A’ on level five of the central core. I’ve got no signal return from Tari’s just yet.

“Five-A… That’s not too far from here - J.T?” Pakar glanced over her shoulder; the fox’s tail was just disappearing out the door. A five minute jog later, she found him already in the airlock. He’d taken a seat on the deckplating, staring out into space through the small viewing windows dotting the outer pressure door.

“You okay?”

Jadyn shook his head and held up a datapad. “This was under my bracelet.”

“Let’s see that.”

Captain Tzeki.

As you have not grasped the suggestions left for you, I will make this stupidly simple for you to grasp: You are in the way. Councilor Galan, his wife, and the white vixen are my guests - safe, for the moment. Take the time to heed my prior advisements.

Further instructions shall follow.

— Khamai of the Nemaqi


Tarioshi groaned, her head throbbing painfully as she regained consciousness. The sterile off-white room reminded her of the holding cell she’d just left: a nondistinct box with one open wall. A bed - more of a shelf, really, just like the last cell - lay against the wall directly across from the doorway and the ensuing open space; an addition was a small bowl of assorted fruits along side a pitcher of water.

Her memory of how she’d gotten here was foggy at best. The bear had led her away from the detention center on the station… Seconds after the door shut, she’d felt a brief pressure on the side of her neck. Drugs?

“Ah, you are finally awake.”

Tari looked out the opening of the cell. A short, black-scaled lizardman wearing only a scarf gazed at her with a faint smile.

“Where am I?” she asked.

“A safe place. Allow me to welcome you aboard the GFIV J’Ruhn, milady. How do you feel?”

“Head is a little foggy, to be honest.”

“You required a second dosing of sedative during the journey. It will wear off in time. It will help if you eat something.”

Tari narrowed her eyes as she realized a missing accessory in her wardrobe. While the translation was still working, her bracelet was decidedly absent from her wrist. “How can you understand me?”

“The language code was stripped out of your communications device after its locator beacon was disabled. We cannot have the dear Captain tracing your whereabouts just yet, can we?” The lizard smiled slightly, bouncing the white hoop along his fingers. “Mmm… I must say, Terran English…? How absolutely droll. Strange that a pureblooded Val’Traxan would speak that natively and not a syllable of Kametian… Even more so that anyone in this quadrant would speak Terran so fluently and not be a Terran… At least, not obviously. I wonder what the Council would ask of our dearest Captain were they to notice this discrepancy, mm?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I possess a sample of your DNA from before you came upon that guise. Regardless of how you are presently cloaking your appearance and genetic fingerprint, you were most definitely from the Terran biosphere when I first encountered you. It would be difficult to prove to others at this juncture, certainly… But I can see by the look in your eyes that I am correct.”

Tari stood, padding toward the cell’s opening. A tingle swept over her flesh as she reached a glowing line in the floor, stopping her dead in her tracks. Recalling her overnight experiments in the previous room, she reached forward to probe the air. The sharp pain of an intense static shock shot up her arm as her fingers traveled past the line, forcing her to step back.

“I would recommend against doing that again,” the lizard suggested as she recoiled. “The field discharge is rumored to be bad for the complexion.”

“Whatever.” Tari dropped herself onto the bench, kicking back and staring at the ceiling. “Wake me up when it’s time for lunch.”

He cocked his head sideways, watching her. Indifference to her situation - as fake as it was - was clearly not what he’d expected. “What is your name, dear vixen? I seem to have… forgotten.”

“Tarioshi.”

“Tarioshi…” he repeated softly. “Lovely, lovely. I am called Khamai, Miss Tarioshi. It is unfortunate that we must meet under such circumstances, but Captain Tzeki is a somewhat bothersome Val’Traxan.”

“I don’t find him a bother.”

“No, I do not suppose so… The way you were looking at him over that lovely dinner several days ago… It is regrettable to separate the two of you, but I assure you it is for the best.”

Tari blinked, sitting up slowly. “What do you mean by that? You weren’t there.”

“Are you certain?” Khamai’s form shimmered silver and morphed into a familiar face - the Lotoran Councilor, Khristofer. It hadn’t been magic - at least, nothing that she recognized as such. Even Jadyn’s gifts had registered to some level on her senses. This was completely different - a purely physical transformation.

“Impressive,” she quipped sarcastically, crossing her arms over her chest. Regardless of his method, a simple shapeshift wasn’t anything special in her book. “Now, be a good boy and try on a set of lockpicks for size.”

“Lockpicks? How positively… Archaic.” He turned on his toes with an amused grunt, approaching the control console at the room’s center. His form reverted back to that of a reptile as he stopped to enter his handprint on a scanner. “Once I am convinced that you will not challenge my benevolence, you will be generally free to roam the ship. For now, I shall leave you to consider your situation. Good day.”

Tari watched in silence as the lizard left the room, picking up a piece of fruit as the doors shut. Lobbing it from hand to hand she considered the force field before her. A gentle toss and a cacophony of electrical arcing later, the formerly edible fruit had been reduced to nothing more than a smoldering pile of ash and carbon by the time it hit the floor on the other side.

“Definitely not good for the complexion…” she muttered, lying back down on the shelf.


Some distance away, Jadyn stared out the window of Pakar’s office observing ship traffic. The investigators had, as expected, been idiots. After asking questions that had nothing to do with the situation and collecting the data found on the pad, they had left to ‘file their report.’ He wagered he could find them in one of the station’s pubs within the hour if he went looking.

“J.T…”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Any lapse in security is my fault.” Pakar snorted. “There’s just more and more of these lapses as the weeks go on.”

“You’re fighting technology at least two centuries more advanced than you’re equipped to deal with. I don’t blame you. I blame him. More than that…” Jadyn growled under his breath, “I blame myself. I should never have let her go alone with someone I didn’t know. I know better than that…”

“It’s a moot point. Even if you had ‘known’ the officer, it could still have been one of the Nemaqi.” T’bia tossed the datapad on Pakar’s desk as she clicked shut her medical scanner. “If the cellular residue on this thing is any sign, this one is even better at playing mimic than the original. Not a perfect copy, but… Really, really close. Can’t believe someone created another one after all this time.”

“Okay, full disclosure. Who or what is this thing?” Pakar asked.

“The original was an accident created from a Val’Traxan biotech experiment five centuries ago.” Jadyn shook his head, stepping from the window and pacing the room. “He was one of the last products of our Health Ministry before we were wiped out.”

“‘It,’” T’bia corrected.

“That’d make you an ‘it’ as well, Bee.”

“‘He,’” the skunk capitulated. “Go on - let’s see how good your memory is.”

Jadyn grunted. “The premise of the so-called ‘Nemaqi’ research project was to find a rapid method of regenerating limbs and organs and the like. We could do organ regeneration already but growing the replacements took several days. They wanted viability for emergency replacement, no more than eight hours from request to delivery. Not everyone was a fan of implants for replacements even when they were biological in construction. So… They came up with this plan to start with a genetically neutral sample that, when exposed to other DNA, would instantly take on that DNA as its own. Voila, no rejection - it’s your missing… whatever you were missing.”

“What went wrong?” Pakar asked.

“The prototype developed sentience and promptly broke out of a lab complex. The creature, known to the public simply as ‘the Chameleon,’ possessed the ability to instantly become a clone of anyone he touched by altering the structure of his own DNA at his whim. Some residents, my family included, believed he possessed sapience and intelligence above and beyond simple sentience. Our argument was that he was protected under the same respect for sapience that gave every AI rights as a citizen.”

“How so?”

“Think about it,” T’bia interjected. “He was one of us. What is an artificial intelligence but a consciousness created by means other than natural or assisted organic reproduction? Doesn’t matter that his brain wasn’t as zippy as ours are. He was built from the ground up, just like me and the rest of my kin.”

“By that argument, every intelligent first-generation recombinant species is AI,” Pakar replied. “Like the Vulden.”

“That’s exactly right. Most people think of AI as intelligence exhibited by a computerized entity, but that’s only one artificial system of many for an intelligence to emerge and gain -“

“Tangent,” Jadyn called. T’bia glared at him, but fell silent; any argument involving AI rights was her favorite. “The governing council disagreed with our ‘minority’ view and took the medical ministry’s stance on the matter. The creature was a threat and needed to be contained. The Artisans’ Guild was ordered to assist in tracking and capturing him as a matter of planetary security. Technology proved generally useless for detection. Normal bioscans can’t pick him out when he’s someone else - for all intents and purposes, he is whoever he’s impersonating at that moment.”

Pakar frowned, scribbling notes. “That’s not good… He can take the form of anything he wants?”

“Organics only. He mimics DNA. He’d always limited himself to sapient beings when we were tracking him, although I’m not sure if that was by his choice or by some limitation in his metamorphic ability. Physical contact has to have been made at least once to sample the target’s DNA. As brief as a handshake, a pat on an uncovered back, whatever. Handling something of theirs wouldn’t contain enough genetic information to create an imprint. He shouldn’t be able to get a person’s memories and the like from a single contact. But I have to admit, Khris honestly seemed like Khris.”

“Khris is in their custody,” T’bia observed. “If someone built another nemaqi, they probably have a neural scanner on hand, too. He may be able to absorb a neural imprint from a probe to go along with the shapedance.”

“Any other limitations to his abilities you’re aware of?” Pakar asked. “He can only impersonate other people, and only after contact… What else?”

Jadyn scratched his neck. “Well… Unless he’s evolved beyond all scientific reasoning, his metamorphic ability can’t clone the things I do with the Art nor Tari’s own exotic gifts. He can only gain the strengths and weaknesses of a subject that are tied directly to their genes in some fashion.”

The Drekiran snorted. “And there’s only one person on our side without DNA to steal.”

“That’s technically incorrect.” T’bia grimaced. “You’re right in assuming he couldn’t actually become me. The DNA of my emitter doesn’t have a bearing on my appearance. With that mind… Please don’t put me in charge of anything right now. I’ve got enough on my to-do list without that responsibility.”

“All right, I won’t. I do need you as a fail-safe of sorts at the very least. Can you think of any way to fingerprint us so you’ll know if he’s taken our place?”

“I honestly don’t know. I couldn’t tell that Khris wasn’t Khris, but I didn’t know what exactly I was supposed to be looking for. I’ll go over the transport trace. Again.

“Do what you can. J.T.? You going to be all right?”

Jadyn shook his head. “Not until I can get that greasy lizard’s neck between my hands. In the interim, I’m really concerned about Tari’s well-being.”

“Tari’s resourceful. She’ll be all right.”

“After what she told me in the cell overnight… I’m not so sure.”

:: ::*

Tari turned over on her cell’s bunk, staring at the ceiling and munching on a piece of fruit. It tasted like an apple, smelled like an apple… The purple tint to the pulp had thrown her off, but hunger helped overcome the initial aversion. There wasn’t a lot else to do other than eat and wait. Sleep had so far eluded her, the shelf serving as both bench and bunk concealing any hint at finding a comfortable resting position.

As the pounding in her head lessened, an annoying low pitched hum crept into her senses. The more she’d tried to ignore it, the more persistent it grew. She’d kicked back, just staring at the ceiling and letting time pass, avoiding thoughts about the humming or her fatigue… Or the instinctive panic building in the deep recesses of her mind. There wasn’t a damn thing to take her thoughts off her unwilling incarceration. She could lie to herself, tell herself that she wanted to be here… But she knew her own lies far too well to fall for it. Her inner fox was starting to throw a fit and it wasn’t going to end well.

Had it been a Terran jail, escape would have been trivial. Pick a lock, shapeshift to a smaller form, abuse invisibility and the motion of guards, whatever appealed to her at that moment. She wouldn’t have even been in a jail cell if she hadn’t wanted to get into one. But here, in the middle of space… Where was there to go other than the ship she was sitting in? Even if she did escape the cell, she wasn’t familiar enough with the technology to attempt any sort of escape. T’bia’s crash course in ship operations was for the Serin. Nothing would be the same here.

A restless slumber finally gave her a moment’s peace. An electrical pop! and the sound of shattering glass suddenly jarred her awake; she looked up in time to see sparks flying across the room, the acrid odor of burning plastic hanging in the air. A larger spark crashed into the panel nearest the exit; after a flicker of the room’s lights, the door slid tantalizingly open.

And the hum was gone.

Picking up the last piece of fruit, she tossed it past the now-dark line in the floor; it flew through without incident. The kitsune gingerly stepped up to the space that had given her a shock before, reaching forward to probe the air. Her fingers met nothing.

She took a breath and stepped over the line. Half-expecting to be electrocuted, she stood still for several seconds before cracking open her eyes and gazing around.

The room was definitely similar to the holding area on the station, although the architecture proved entirely different. Three of the holding cells extended away from the central console, including the one she had been in. A large charred area covered the wall to the left of her cell; a glowing control panel decorated a similar space to the left of the open alcoves.

… Too easy, she thought, peering at the wide-open exit. Taking a seat in the next cell over, she leaned against the wall and waited. Not five minutes later Khamai walked in. Stopping just inside the door, he looked at the black spot on the wall before turning his gaze in her direction. “Miss Tarioshi? Are you all right?”

“Given the circumstances, I think I’m surviving quite well, thank you kindly.”

“What happened here?”

“I don’t know. I was trying to get some sleep and then something blew up. The force field was gone after that.” Can you really make a test any more obvious? Amateur.

“My apologies for the trouble. As you did not try to flee when the field failed, I believe I can trust you not to attempt to leave when under less restriction of movement.” Khamai drew a metal bracelet from a drawer in the main console and lobbed it to her. “Put this on, please.”

“What is it?” she asked, turning the silver hoop over in her hands.

“This is similar to the bracelet you have already used, albeit somewhat less sophisticated. It will allow the computer to keep track of where you are on the ship. Consider it the price of receiving freedom to wander. You are welcome to remain in a holding cell if you choose not to wear it.”

Tari nodded, placing the bracelet around her left wrist. Khamai gestured to the hall; Tari padded out slowly and gave him a polite nod as she passed.

Outside the room was a long, curving hall. There wasn’t much more to it than that; dark gray carpet, gray walls, and a translucent white ceiling brightly shining from within. It was the dictionary illustration for ‘spartan.’ The corridor stretched on in both directions, occasionally interrupted by a door or an intersection with other hallways, before curving out of view. A stepdisk lay embedded in the floor at the nearest intersection.

“You may wander as you please.” Khamai stepped out of the detention room, pausing a moment before the vixen. She hadn’t really realized how short he was - having to look down to meet his gaze was peculiar. Usually, she was the one looking up. “There have been quarters opened for your use. The AI can point you toward them when you are ready. My rules are simple - act as you would wish a guest to act in your home. If you attempt escape or sabotage, you will quickly find yourself back in a cell - one where the field will not fail so easily.”

“I do have one question.”

“Yes?”

“When are you going to let me go?”

“That, Miss Tarioshi, all depends on the dear Captain.” Khamai smiled slightly, turning and walking down the hall. Stepping onto the disk, he vanished in a blink of light.


“Nothing yet?”

Tyshed,” T’bia cursed under her breath, spinning in her chair. “Jay - No. For the seventy-fourth time, no. There’s no mail, no calls, no couriers, no smoke signals. Nothing whatsoever.”

“I’m sorry, Bee… I just… I’m worried.”

“I know. I am too. I didn’t realize she had that sort of problem to deal with. If she would have said something, I might have been able to concoct something for it.”

“Toy’s trace pan out?”

“Ended at a hacked communications relay outside the heliopause. He’s taken a crew to check the unit, but I already know they’ll find a Val’Traxan communications node hiding inside.”

“You psychic now?”

“Bitter much? Come on, Jay. You know I’m doing everything I can. The best I can offer you right now is to wait and trust me. We can’t do anything that would endanger Tari, Khris, or his family. Little steps.”

“I know… I just feel so… so…”

“Powerless?”

“Yeah.”

“Almost a refreshing change, isn’t it?” She patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll get you a pad with all Chameleon’s data and what I think this ‘Khamai’ jerkoff is capable of.”

“There’s more?”

“I couldn’t tell Pakar everything, just in case he does have a portable way to copy people’s memories. You, on the other hand, don’t have a mind to steal.”

“Har, har. You have a way to pick him out?”

“On my own out here it won’t be easy, but I’m working on moving it to ‘doable.’ The AI Net could have found him within a few hours back home but we withheld that info from the ruling council. Just had to look for someone that was in two places at once.”

“Wonder why they didn’t think of that.”

“They did. We convinced them it wouldn’t work due to logistical issues.”

“Didn’t anyone ever stop to think about how much power you guys actually had?”

“From time to time. We’d shut them out of everything so they could see how their lives would be without us around. It’s pretty hard to raise discontent when doors don’t work right and stepdisks ignore you.” T’bia turned her attention back to her console. “It’d probably be best if you stay dirtside and try to think of business as usual. Maybe stop by the store and work for a while, lay low, things like that.”

“You mean, distract myself with everyday, mundane tasks, and keep my nose out of the Council’s business.”

“I didn’t want to word it like that.”


Tari stared out the gigantic windows of the ship’s common hall for a time, gazing at the starscape beyond. Unlike the time she’d first spent on the Serin, nothing in the view outside was familiar. No matter how many times she tried to connect the visible stars she couldn’t find a constellation she knew. It was a mild comfort to create new patterns and name them silly things, but it still didn’t feel right.

In her brief time walking the corridors of the ship, she hadn’t so much as seen another soul after parting ways with her ‘host.’ The J’Ruhn felt large - not so tremendously huge as the spaceliner, but a great deal bigger than the Serin. The common hall she found herself sitting in had been meant at some point to accommodate a number of people all at once. Long tables flanked by benches lined the area in neat rows, reminiscent of a school cafeteria. A set of replicators sat along the far wall opposite the window, while hallways and lifts to other decks connected with the sides of the room. Two stepdisks decorated the forward corners of the hall.

The illuminated ceiling, some five meters overhead, felt much like that of the Serin’s lighting - similar to sunlight. The shapes and curves of archways and corridors had all been eerily reminiscent of the little starcutter as well. The spaceliner and the station had been distinctly different in their stylings… Perhaps the J’Ruhn and the Serin shared an interior decorator?

That’d make no sense… Unless…

“Hello there!”

The vixen glanced up from her study of the window as the voice echoed in the hall. On the far side of the room, just disembarking a lift, a raccoon lady - Lotoran, she reminded herself - a Lotoran fem gave her a friendly wave. Tari returned a hesitant smile, standing as the woman approached.

“How are you doing?” the raccoon asked, a smile lighting her muzzle.

“Could be better.”

“I hear that. I’m told you’re another of the ‘houseguests.’ I’m Karmen.”

“Tarioshi.”

“You mind company?”

“Uh, no, not at all.”

“Thanks.” Karmen sat down, sipping at a steaming mug of tea. “Truth be told, I’ve been going a little crazy with only Khris to talk with. Khamai and Sanusin really aren’t that talkative.”

“Sanusin? I haven’t met him.”

“No? He’s the ship’s AI.”

“There’s no other crew?” Tari asked.

“Apparently the ship doesn’t need one to keep things running. It’s just the two of them.”

“A ship this size for five people… Wow.”

“Technically, we number seven. I gave birth to my first two pups… maybe two weeks ago?” She snorted. “Not that it’s terribly easy to keep track of time here… They’re running on a weird day-night cycle. Thirty-two hours or something silly like that.”

Just like Jay’s homeworld… Can’t be a coincidence with this architecture. “Congratulations, though - Wait… Is Khris a representative on the council?”

“Mmm-hm.” Karmen’s golden eyes lit up. “Oh! Do you follow the Council proceedings? We haven’t heard anything at all from the outside since we were abducted. News would be a blessing.”

“How long have you two been here?”

“Oh…” Karmen sighed thoughtfully. “I was three months pregnant when they brought us here… So, five or six months.”

“Wow. Wish I could be of help… I’ve only just recently become acquainted with what’s actually in this area of space. Don’t know a lot of what’s been going on.”

“Ah, an immigrant from outside the Aligned Worlds?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Hum…” The raccoon gave her a once over. “The only vulpinoid race like you that I’m familiar with from outside of Alliance space are the Val’Traxans…”

“You mean Jadyn? We’ve been living together for the last month. I think I’m being used as leverage against him.”

“I’d assume so. Heck, with our host’s metamorphic skill, we kind of figured he’s stood in as Khris in Council sessions for some reason.”

“Well, I do know that’s happened. I’m pretty sure he tried to blow up Jay’s cabin as Khris, and I think he made an assassination attempt on the Speaker too.”

“What?” Karmen’s ears laid straight back in horror. “Is Nesoli all right?”

“The last I’d heard was that he was going into surgery with T’bia and another surgeon.” Tari bowed her head slightly. “I’m sorry I don’t have more than that… I’m really in the dark yet…”

“That’s all right. Even bad news is better than being cut off altogether. Listen - do you mind coming back to our cabin and telling Khris what you do know? It’d be better if he heard things from you.”

“Sure, I can do that.”


The black-scaled lizard flipped idly through a book of pictures, listening to Tarioshi and Karmen over the communication system. Though the vixen was correct that he had been in the form of Khris on several occasions, he had not been the one to shoot the Speaker. More importantly - this was the first he’d heard of the attempt on the Speaker’s life.

“Sanusin.”

“Yes, Khamai?”

The lizard turned a page, not looking up. “Why did you try to kill the drekiran Speaker?”

“After analyzing your request, I determined that firing at him with a projectile weapon that would pass through the normal protective barriers was the most prudent way to accomplish the task.”

“I asked that you see to it that the Speaker was distracted for a brief time. I do not wish him dead.”

“And so he is not. The weapon discharges were calculated to place the Speaker in intensive care for a period of time. Under the proper medical care he will make a complete recovery.”

“Whose medical care, Sanusin?” the lizard probed, briefly looking up from the book to glare at the ceiling. “What calculation was that based on? Did you stop to consider that, in comparison to the vast medical and genetic knowledge in your database, the technology of the area is barely beyond rubbing dirt into lacerations?”

The AI was silent for several seconds. “I appear to have made an error. However, it would also appear that the Speaker was assigned the AI of the VTC Serin as a surgeon, now that she herself has recovered. Her database of medical technology should match or surpass my own as she was active long after I was archived. None the less, the most recent public records show that the Speaker is recovering well after several hours of surgical work.”

“Lucky for you. I am beginning to understand why the Val’Traxans decommissioned you. If your replacement was at all cooperative, I would put your files back where I discovered them.” He flipped a page, glancing over the next set of faces in the images. “There will be no more errors. Understood?”

“Understood. Are you looking for a specific DNA pattern in the book your progenitor kept?”

“Not particularly. More browsing for my own amusement… He gathered a number of interesting - Hm? What is this?”

The lizard’s fingers traced the edges of a photo of a brown and red vixen; a red ‘X’ sliced through her image, only the hastily scrawled word ‘courtesy’ in the margin serving as explanation. Briefly flipping through the rest of the pages, he turned back to the image.

“This is the only photo in the book tagged as such… Do you have a record of who this vixen may be?”

“A moment… I have located her record in the Artisans’ Guild roster downloaded from the Serin’s datastore. Lopiakuen Melichanni Lynaras Gochikah. Female Val’Traxan, born 25 Emile, 2401. If alive, which is unlikely, she would be three hundred and sixty-four years old, VT.”

“But why would he strike out this pattern…?” Khamai inhaled, touching the center of the image and absorbing a copy of the genetic information bound to the page. “The imprint seems intact and viable…”

“I do not know why he would deface a record he himself placed within his archival notes. Do you not possess the memory? This appears to have been done some time ago.”

“I have no recollection of this defacement. Mmm… In any case. Prepare a message for the Captain and request the files. Give him four hours to respond.”


 

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