Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“You will release our brethren or we will kill a prisoner every nemet, starting at Rabender.”

I hate hostage takers. After a list of fatal failures longer than you can live to read, they still think that they will be the exceptions.

Jemelli Lurdan flumphs down next to me, our battered copy of Edgebaston’s ‘Religious Cults of the Twenty-Fifth Century’ clutched in two of her turquoise pseudopods. Despite the ban on printing, we have to have this. Computer glitches have cost more lives than bad decisions.

“Nemet: the Faustian base chronological unit. Corresponds to fifty-three minutes eighteen seconds. Rabender: the last devotional ritual of the Faustian day. Starts in one hour forty minutes.”

I turn my head to look over her squat form at Stormcatcher Quill; its feathered Mohican is laid back on its vaguely equine head. The featureless pink eye globes are dull, indicating some very serious calculating in progress.

Every one of my team has a non-combat, non-enforcement speciality that allows us to function when technology is not available. We are Lead Hostage Remediation One for that reason.

“Their religion does not permit deviance. Surrender, negotiation or failure are classed as such.” Vestor Adam has arrived, his yellow robes ragged but somehow appearing more pristine than the finest ambassadorial garb. His face is obscured by a Tragedy mask today; unfailingly appropriate as always.

Time to summate: “LeHRO! Break it down for the Magistrate.”

“Officer Lurdan. The Faustians emanate resolve, commitment and fervour backed by anger. No option.”

“Officer Quill. The Faustians have fortified, trapped and fully shielded the liner, in addition to bringing military arms. Access would have to be by assault. Optimal estimate is sixty-eight percent casualties. No option.”

Vestor removes his mask to reveal the tears running from his reddened eyes. “Officer Adam. Faustian articles of faith forbid any interaction that could lead to peaceful resolution. No option.”

My turn: “Captain Holden. The Faustian behaviour is full-profile for fanatical action. No option.”

The Magistrate hums as it communicates with the Adjudicator for this sector. A chime precedes the verdict: “No option. Proceed.”

I open a channel to the fifth member of the team. “Officer Liddle? Please expedite a ‘No’ option.”

“Yes, Captain Daddy.” Our shocked silence makes her giggle seem louder. Callie-Ann identified me uniquely!

I open a channel to the liner. The Faustian leader is there, eyes gleaming with fervour and looted cognac.

“This is Captain Holden. We have considered your demands.”

His grin reveals pointed teeth. “So you will comply?”

I shake my head and feel tears of rage and guilt well up. “We do not negotiate with hostage takers. Surrender or die.”

He laughs. “Die!”

I look him straight in the eye. “As you wish.”

I see realisation dawn just as the screen goes blank. The shockwave rocks our ship. As the tremors subside, I feel the soft thump as Callie-Ann’s padded cell returns to its insulated bay.

Shields are useless against telekinetics, but telekinetics are always insane. The stronger they are, the madder they are. Callie-Ann is special, having been rescued from kidnappers at the age of four. She hates hostage takers and becomes functional with homicidal tendencies when dealing with them. If only she could do things on a smaller scale.

Today she spoke to me. Tomorrow she’s twelve. By the time she’s twenty we could actually be rescuing people.

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