Author : S. Clough, Staff Writer

“Tash, stop right there.” Kal barked, raising his rifle, and aiming it squarely at his team-mate. Tash froze, and lifted her hands. She’d known this was coming, but it always caught her off-guard. The rest of the team had gone back to the lander to fetch some more equipment.

During Cat’s exploration of the outpost’s computers, they’d turned up a list of names: each one linked with a location deep inside one of the territories of the nearby polities. The files were touched with sakshan encryption methods: it didn’t take much to figure out that the research facility that they’d broken into was a sakshan outpost — and the list of names and places was a directory of intelligence operatives.

Kal, was the sharpshooter of the team, and was a pure-blood sakshan, with an impressive battery of combat-related headmetal. They’d found him broken and bleeding when they’d arrived to pick over the ruins of a particularly bloody border skirmish. They patched him up, discovered his skills with projectile weapons, and offered him a job. Once he realised command wasn’t coming back for him, he reluctantly took them up on their offer. In the years since, he’d loosened up noticeably, shaking off most of the comprehensive indoctrination that he’d been exposed to since birth.

His subconscious, though, still gave them some problems.

“Kal, don’t do this…”

“This list. Those men and women. If we sell their names, they’ll all die. Picked up and tortured and killed. They have families. This is stupid and futile and I won’t allow it.”

Tash bit her tongue. She knew that she couldn’t talk him out of it. He was visibly shaking: his rifle was rock steady.

“I won’t let you commit mass murder, Tash. I couldn’t live with myself if I did.”

“But you’d kill me?”

“If I had to. To protect my countrymen.”

“Kal, please. After everything we’ve done together — ”

“Just shut up, Tash.”

The silence held for forty seconds. Behind Kal, Frank (the medic-engineer of the team) was just sneaking around the corner, attempting to move silently. He was clutching a portable field generator that he’d modified for just such an occasion.

Tash took a step forward. Kal stiffened.

Frank stepped out of cover, and coughed. There was a clatter of bullets, and an ultrasonic whine as the field clicked on. Kal dropped to the floor, unconscious. Tash was clutching her arm, bent over andmuttering a steady stream of curses: blood was oozing between her fingers.

Grimly, they dragged Kal’s body back to the lander. A more subtle version of the field generator was hidden in the medical bay: the portable generator just induced a current in Kal’s implants, which quickly shut him down before he could sustain brain damage. With the generator in the med bay, Frank could purposefully manipulate Kal’s unconscious mind via the implants: he claimed it was like a first-person shooter, all exploration and twitch reflex. The point of it all was to reset their team-mate to an earlier state. Just long enough ago that he’d forget all about the mission, the list, and the betrayal. They needed him on top form.

They were well away from the outpost by the time Frank finished. Tash met him in the medical bay.

“Think you’ll be able to forgive him?” Frank glanced up at her.

“We always do, don’t we?” She stroked Kal’s hair, and sighed. “Every time.”


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