Part 1 – “The Korpes File”

PART ONE

YEAR 2596

1 — Teslem Station

An unexpected sneeze broke the silence.

Doctor Alys Santaro looked up and noted the lighting had shifted to night cycle. She checked the time. Nineteen hundred, already? Two hours had slipped by without notice, and only one member of her team remained. You always stay late. She smiled with almost maternal affection at the young man working across from her.

“Excuse me, ma’am.” Tech Nash X. Korpes apologized. He remained hunched over his digipad, focused on what he was working on.

She’d requested him by name for her design team, and it had raised more than a few eyebrows, but he was worth the extra friction. He was one-of-a-kind, not just in mind, but in looks.

Unlike the Korlo, who were xenophobic, the refugee population had embraced the concept of blending generations ago. Known collectively as Diasporan, the refugees encompassed the Ebo, Drakkar, Birlo and Tyran populations that had sought sanctuary in Korlune and Ankoresh. Throwbacks were a genetic blip that appeared among them, and they were the physical embodiment of their ancestors.

Until Nash, she’d never encountered a Tyran throwback. Her remaining staff was Korlo like herself. Amid his dark-haired, blue-eyed co-workers, Nash’s starkly pale appearance and green eyes were distinctly alien. Alys didn’t notice the differences anymore unless he stood up unexpectedly. He towered over everyone on-site by over a head.

Korlune Military Research and Development’s recombinant genetics department had been thrilled when Nash transferred to Teslem. The Rec-Gen labs considered getting their hands on any throwback an achievement. Tyran and Birlo were especially desirable. Nash worked as a Tech for her, three days a week, the rest of the time he was assigned to the Rec-Gen labs as an unofficial subject.

Nash’s fingers danced across the digipad in front of him. His eyebrows shot up, and he furiously entered in new lines of code.

It must be coming together. Alys recognized the expression of delight on his face and grinned in response.

“Almost done with that thruster upgrade, Tech Korpes?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s ready to go. When you have a minute, I’d like to show you the tweaks.” He didn’t look up until he finished the line of code and began compiling it.

She made her way over to his workstation and looked at the screen. The two-dimensional version of his work appeared, and he transferred it to the small hologrid.

“Walk me through your design.”

“I’ve modified the cowling and added new intakes here and here, to create a hotter burn. There was no way to get around the issues with the fuel lines without a complete redesign, so I added an internal Haloryn gel power supply as a backup system.” Nash looked up. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve already run a simulation. With these augments in place, it’ll cycle faster and reduce the vibration issues. I recommend that we swap out the old Sekk-Tech chipsets for the new ones manufactured by Harlo-Fyre. They’re made from tellium fiber fused with graphene, so they’ll withstand the energy loads without super-heating or fracturing. Their flexibility will also allow us to adjust the housing to this configuration.”

“Looks aren’t everything, Tech Korpes, and we don’t happen to have a supply contract with Harlo-Fyre.”

Nash flashed a shy smile then opened the drawer under his desk. “Perhaps the department should consider one. I discovered that this is what happens when you try to run that kind of current through the Sekk-Tech chipset for longer than an hour at a time.” He handed her a melted mass of plastic so she could examine it. “As you can see, they’re not going to work for this new build.”

“Simulation?” Alys grinned down at her assistant.

“The VR lab was occupied. Master-Mech Channing gave me the parts for that mock-up. “

“Impressive.” Alys pulled her digipad out of her pocket and booked the VR lab for the rest of the week. “You now have four days to run this new config through its paces. Log the results, so I have something to present at the next departmental meeting. If I order the parts now, can you have a prototype ready for me to demonstrate at the end of the month?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Nash went back to work.

Alys returned to her desk and brought up Harlo-Fyre’s site on her digipad. She found the reference numbers for the chipsets Nash had indicated and added them to her requisition order. She made a notation about the Haloryn cells under that.

“Can you think of anything else you’ll need?”

“Not now, ma’am. I’ll send the specs for the housing to Master-Mech Channing.”

Alys signed off on the form, leaving the team information blank. Nash had already managed to alienate important people on staff, and she’d learned that adding his name to any project drew negative attention. Such a shame. The wars end and the hate lingers with the radiation. Alys reflected on the fact that history was always written by the victors. It was moot. The discrimination against anyone with Tyran ancestry had become so institutionalized that it had its own status as a medical condition. Tyrandaiphobia. She couldn’t discount it entirely. For some, it truly was a negative pheromone response. For most, it was just a convenient excuse. State-sanctioned hate.

Alys had witnessed inappropriate outbursts from staff in the last year, but to his credit, Nash hadn’t responded. In fact, he didn’t seem to hold their reactions against them. Alys considered that a mark of exceptional character.

A beep drew her out of her thoughts and announced a waiting message on her digipad. She keyed in her access. Another tour?! Don’t these people have access to clocks? Alys sighed loud enough that Nash heard her and sat up.

“Something wrong, ma’am?”

“We’re about to have visitors, but there’s no reason why you should suffer too. Get out before you’re trapped again.”

The smile he bestowed on her was all the proof she needed of his gratitude.

Alys cut him off before he could say anything. “Shoo, they’ll be here any minute.”

Nash didn’t have to be told twice. He ducked out the side door and jogged back to his room. Time for some light reading. He absently slid the key card into the lock and stepped inside, ducking so he wouldn’t crack his skull on the header. The first thing that caught his attention was the clothes that littered the entrance way forming a random path into the room beyond. The distinctly feminine giggle made Nash sigh. His room-mate was seldom around, but when he was, he was never alone.

Okay, hint taken. Garry, I hate you, you lucky bastard. Nash withdrew discreetly, locking the door before heading to his favorite alternate reading spot.

Nash was halfway through the latest journal from Makondi-Core when his attention was drawn to an odd noise. The distortion made it hard to identify at first, so he put his head closer to the duct he’d climbed through and listened. This sections closed. What the hell? Someone was running down the corridor adjacent to him. There was a dull clang as the screen covering the ventilation shaft was shifted, and a small, frightened-looking boy invaded his sanctuary.

“Help me,” he mouthed silently.

Nash could hear pursuit; the footfalls were heavier and closing rapidly. He looked back at the boy, whose expression had become one of dread. I’m not the scary monster, for once. Nash winked and held his finger up to his lips, indicating that the little intruder should remain silent. He lifted the boy past him, placed his digipad carefully on the floor and edged closer to the opening. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Come out, Trent, if you know what’s good for you.” A hand appeared and grabbed a fistful of Nash’s t-shirt.

He put up no resistance and let himself be pulled out into the hall. Nash flashed a wicked grin as he stood and stretched to his full height. He then surveyed the group of boys before him and memorized the names on their tags. “Young, well fed — Excellent, I was starting to get hungry,” he reached out for the boy that had touched him.

The mob screamed in unison and fled.

Nash’s laughter drowned out all sounds of their retreat, but he waited until they were out of range before he spoke. “It’s safe to come out; they’re gone.”

“Okay.” The answer was small and hesitant. The boy emerged cautiously from the vent, cradling Nash’s digipad. He looked up and suddenly stopped; his mouth dropped open in shock. Nash hadn’t been standing when they’d first met.

“What’s your name, kid?”

“Davis. Uh, Assistant Mech Davis Trent, sir. Are you a giant?” The look of wonder on the boy’s face was priceless.

For an instant, Nash contemplated saying yes. “No, I’m not a giant. My name’s Nash.” He held out his hand and shook hands with the boy.” Let me guess. You’re part of the new trainee group that came in last week? No offense, but how old are you?” Nash couldn’t gauge the boy’s age. He looked like he was eight.

“I’m thirteen! Accordin’ to Mom, I take after Dad’s side of the family, and we grow late. I think I’m the shortest guy here, though. I’m shorter than most of the girls, too, and that’s embarrassin’, but I’m still a better Mech than any of them are. I kinda proved it already an’ that’s why I’ve got the fan club.” He paused; his giant was watching him with an amused expression on his face. “Somethin’ funny?”

“You’re from one of the Northern Diaspora, aren’t you?”

“I’m from Sarune! Hey, how’d you guess?”

“Accent.” Nash smiled at the little guy. He liked him. He held out his hand. “Can I have my digipad back, please?”

“Uh huh.” Davis looked briefly at the material Nash had been reading. “Just so you know, that Makondi-Core stuff isn’t as good as the latest tech from Harlo-Fyre. Someday I’m gonna work for Harlo-Fyre as a Master-Mech and oversee my own section and everythin’.”

Nash hoped he got his wish. “Good luck. Nice meeting you, Davis.” Nash wanted to go back to reading, but the tiny interloper didn’t seem to take hints well.

“How tall are you?”

Nash looked down at the boy, annoyed, then realized that he was only curious. “One-point-eight-five meters.”

“There must be a lot of bulkheads and doors in this place that give you headaches. Is everyone in your family that tall?”

“No. I’m the tallest.”

“I’ll bet you and me are the tallest and the shortest people stationed here! That’s funny! Just proves that we were supposed to meet. What’cha doin’ now? My group isn’t scheduled to begin anythin’ until next week, and I don’t really want to go back to the dorms ’cause they’ll be waitin’ for me. Thanks for scarin’ them, by the way, I really appreciate it. Do you have a brother or sister? What Diaspora do you come from?” The relentless surge of dialogue only stopped when Nash started to laugh.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who talks as much as you do! How can you do that and not stop to breathe?”

“I’m sorry. People tell me I talk too much all the time, but I can’t help it. If I’m botherin’ you, I can go.” Davis stared up at him with his big blue eyes, silently begging Nash to let him stay. It worked.

“I’m getting hungry. How about I buy your dinner, and you tell me a bit about yourself?”

Nash led him to the main cafeteria and listened to Davis as he told him not only his entire life story but vividly outlined his master plan for getting into the private sector. He’d never encountered someone with this much enthusiasm and found it both mesmerizing and exhausting.

“You’ve got a lot of ambition, Assistant Mech Trent. I wish you the best of luck.” Nash finished the last of his meal and got up to leave.

“So, what do you do here?” Davis smiled up at him.

“I’m just a Tech in Weapons Development.” Nash pushed the chair in.

Davis rose, frantically searching for a way to continue the conversation. Nash recognized the starved-for-attention expression on the boy’s face and saved him the effort. “Would you like a private tour, Davis? Teslem station is the largest training facility in Korlune.”

“Would I? You bet! Y’know, I didn’t think anyone here was friendly, ’cause when I first got here it was all so formal, and we use our last names instead of our first or just our tag numbers. You’re the first person to talk to me, or ask me my name and not read it off my ID. How long have you been here?”

“Working for KMR and D, or working in this place?”

“You’ve worked other places, too? I didn’t think you were that old. Oh, sorry.” Davis bit his lip, thinking he’d just offended his new friend. Nash laughed.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m nineteen, so to you I probably am old. I’ve worked in a lot of other facilities, but it’s not as impressive as it sounds.” Nash winked. “Rumour has it I’m a troublemaker, and hard to get along with. This is the longest I’ve worked anywhere, to be honest, and I’ve only been here a year. Being seen with me might not be good for your reputation, Davis. Still want that tour now that you know the truth about me?”

Davis didn’t miss a beat. “Nineteen? That’s only six years older than me and whoever said that crap about you is a caluvah vex. You just spent a bunch of your free time hangin’ out with me when you coulda spent it with your friends or your girlfriend.”

Nash grinned at the use of the Diaspora slang. It had been a long time since he’d heard the term ‘son-of-a-bitch’ in slang. The language differed from site to site, but the swear words remained universal.

“Do you have access to the Mech-Bays? I’d really like to see them! I’ve heard that they’re big enough to house five, full-sized Bethune transports, with room to spare. Is it true that their domes can open to the surface, completely? I’ve never been topside before. Are we allowed to go outside?”

“For the record, topside is overrated — it’s beautiful, green, but remember, everything up there wants to kill you. You’d need an envirosuit to last a day.” Nash shuddered, remembering his last excursion. Weather. “The Mech-Bay you’re thinking of is at Farel Station — I was stationed there a couple of years ago. Given how poorly designed the Bethune was, I’m surprised that there are five left in service now. Honestly, they should just leave the remaining ones out in the rain and redesign that monster.” Nash grinned at the boy. “The Bays here aren’t quite that large, but they’re far more active. Right now, they have three of the Lentarin engines in for servicing, so you’ll get to see military trains up close — if you’ve never seen one before.” Nash indicated that Davis should follow, and led his charge through the main concourse to a set of maintenance stairs.

“Why didn’t we use the lifts?” Davis asked, noting that they’d walked right past them.

“I’m going to sneak you in. This is the easiest way.”

“Are we gonna get in trouble for this?” Davis slowed down and looked for security.

“Only if we’re caught. I don’t plan to be. Do you trust me, Davis?” Nash turned to face the boy but only had to wait a few seconds for the answer. The boy nodded his head quickly, his expression conveying complete trust.

Nash thought back to his first week on site and who he’d trusted. “I’m a crap role model, aren’t I?” The question was rhetorical. He knew he was about to make an impression that would last a lifetime. It mattered. Do this by the book, Nash.

“Change of plans. C’mon.” Nash approached the main doors to the hangar and spotted the man he was looking for near the entrance. He grabbed the tiny boy by the wrist and dragged him through the security check. “I have to speak to Master-Mech Channing about stuff.” He flashed his ID and a smile, counting on the fact that everyone knew who he was, even if it was only by description. The guard nodded, disinterested, and waved him through the checkpoint. Nash lost no time in closing on his target.

“Sir! May I speak to you for a moment?” Nash’s stride was hard for Davis to match and he was forced to jog or be dragged.

The Master-Mech turned and waved them over. “And what can I do for you today, Tech Korpes?”

“I’d like permission to take someone on a quick tour of the operations here, but first, let me introduce you to him. This is Apprentice Mech Davis Trent. Davis, this is Master-Mech Channing. Everything you see in this bay is under his direction, and at some point, you will be, too.”

The grizzled Master-Mech stretched out his hand, “Pleased to meet you, Trent. Welcome to Teslem.”

Davis shook his hand, dazed. “A pleasure to meet you too, sir!” Davis could barely contain his delight.

“Is it convenient for me to show him around the Mech-Bay, sir — ?” Nash’s digipad beeped, indicating he had a message. “Sorry, I need to check this.” He turned the device on and read the note. New file received. Interview scheduled for tomorrow at twenty-one hundred. Collect and review.A dark frown crossed his face. Another one? Fuck. “Davis, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go. Would you mind if we do this another day?” Nash looked over at the Master-Mech quickly, “With your permission, of course, sir.”

“You go do what you need to do. I’ve got some free time; I’ll take care of the tour,” Master-Mech Channing looked down at the tiny boy. “Unless you mind the substitution. Do you, Assistant Mech Trent?”

Davis shook his head. He turned, but Nash was already on the move. “Catch you later?” he called after the tall blond.

“Sure,” Nash answered, but his mind was elsewhere. When will they give up?

“Tech Korpes, take your seat.” The voice over the intercom directed.

“Why? This isn’t going to take long.” Nash preferred to stand and pace to wear off the nervous energy that had built up. His stomach knotted uncomfortably when saw the time. Less than five minutes until she arrives.

At the age of seventeen, every Diasporan became eligible for the Pairing Protocol. Prospective matches were chosen based on genetics, interests, and a host of other elements. There were provisions in place to reject a potential, or veto as it was more commonly known, but most found the arrangement completely to their satisfaction. It was rare that someone used all three of their vetoes.

People were granted leave to go home for their interviews. The fact that Nash’s weren’t left room for gossip. The truth was, he hadn’t been granted leave in the six years he’d worked for Korlune Military Research and Development. His interviews were always held on site, in rooms identical to this one. The team of observers watching from behind the one-way mirror, the microphones and security on standby were also a standard feature.

Nash looked around and did a visual check. Nothing new. He glanced up at the lights, knowing that they made him appear even paler than he was. Everything necessary to scare the living daylights out of anyone sensible.

“Sit down, Tech Korpes.” This time the voice was feminine and seemed familiar. Nash tried to place where he’d heard it before, but couldn’t.

These first meetings never went well. While the atmosphere played a part in their failure, he knew his file played a larger role. Every potential was sent a copy to review. Nash had to concede that even he’d been put off when he’d gone through it. The references it contained were mostly taken out of context, and it read like the diary of a psychopath. He was mystified by how they kept finding matches. This would be his twenty-third first introduction, but he already knew that it would fail. The fact that there had been twenty-two rejections prior pointed to a trend.

“Sit … down,” the male voice demanded.

“If she’s read my file, she already knows I’m tall.” Nash stopped himself before he launched into a rant and sat down. He’d caught himself this time. The last thing he wanted was to be transferred from Teslem for insubordination. He adopted a neutral expression as he focused his attention on the sound of the wall clock, counting down. It’ll be over soon.

The door to the room opened, and a young woman entered, then froze when she saw him.

Shock? You saw my picture. What were you expecting? Nash couldn’t claim the same. He hadn’t even bothered to open the dossier they’d supplied on her. He didn’t see the point anymore.

She continued to stare. Even with the stricken look on her face, she was cute. Her Ebo heritage showed in delicate bone structure.

Nash had never seen anyone with hair that long, and he decided it was her best feature. Jet black. Wow. It almost looked blue under the harsh lights, and her dark skin reminded him of coffee. She was the night to his day, opposite in everything except for the shared green eyes. Amma would have looked a lot like you when she was young. The memory of his grandmother made him smile.

The smile was not returned. The young woman looked at the large one-way mirror. “I can’t do this,” she turned and left.

Nash looked at his watch and raised his left eyebrow dramatically. “Under thirty seconds! She just set a new record.” He looked over at the mirror and asked, “May I go?” He didn’t wait for an answer, he stood and left the room. The rumor mill will have fun with this one. His stomach rumbled as he picked up his pace. Something to eat before I go to ground. Nash took the corridor that would lead him to the cafeteria and lost himself in thought.

“I didn’t hear any screams this time; still single, Kor-piss?”

“Daniel. Hal.” Nash kept walking. Nash felt his hackles rise.

Two young men fell into step alongside, and when he showed no sign of slowing, Daniel cut out in front, bringing Nash up short. “How many vetoes does that make now? Twenty-something? How do you deal with knowing that every woman you meet thinks you’re a freak? How do you live? If that happened to me, I think I’d go topside and just let nature take its course.”

Drop dead, both of you. Nash stepped around Daniel and continued his trek.

Although the cousins both had Birlo ancestry, Hal was as much of a throwback as Nash was. He matched Nash’s pace. “I’ve heard a rumor about you, Korpes — “

“It’s probably true.” Nash lengthened his stride.

Daniel jogged to keep up, leaning in so Nash could hear him. “So, you’re confirming that all who’ve met you cite ‘extenuating circumstances’ when they turn you down?”

“Yep. Women take one look at me and swear off men for life. Well done! You’ve solved the mystery, and you’ve hurt my last feeling. Now, run along and celebrate this with your pack, while it’s still fresh.” Nash started counting his steps to distract himself. He only got to six.

Hal grabbed Nash’s shoulder and spun him around to face them. It was the first time that he’d ever touched Nash and an ancient response to the challenge resonated in both young men.

“It’s rude to leave a conversation in the middle of it — “ Daniel paused, sensing the sudden tension. His eyes narrowed.

Nash glanced at the hand that was still touching him and resisted the urge to break it. Something of his intent crossed his face, however, and Hal retracted the offending appendage. Too late, though. Blood spoke to blood, and the challenge remained.

“Apologies. I was unaware this exchange constituted a conversation. I’ll tuck that quaint Birlo factoid away for future use.” Nash took a deep breath to calm himself and regretted it. Gods, Hal, you stink.

Hal’s lip curled in disgust. “You reek, Korpes. Don’t you ever bathe?”

“What?” Daniel sniffed the air looking confused.

Nash’s muscles tensed, anticipating action and he savored the adrenaline rush as it coursed through him. The primal part of him loved fighting. Pheromones. It’s only a chemical reaction. Walk away. Nash stood glued to the spot as the primitive part of him warred for control. He counted to ten and intellect won. Nash willed himself to start moving and turned away.

Daniel snaked out in front again, a new barb poised on his tongue. He was felled by a swift punch to the sternum.

Nash spun to face Hal and indulge his primeval self.

Teslem’s Detention Center was on the level below the main concourse, in the older section of the station. Nash had spent the night in a security cell for putting the two Mechs into the Med-Bay. Per the chief medical officer, they’d be there for several days. The Birlo throwback, Hal, had sustained the worst of the injuries and would require a complicated surgery to repair his right hand. Nash sat on the bunk, staring at the floor. He heard the security door beep but didn’t look up. Two people entered, speaking in low tones.

Alys approached the narrow cell. “Nash?”

“I’m sorry if I’ve caused any problems for your section, Doctor Santaro. Please, accept my sincerest apologies.” He couldn’t look up at her.

Alys looked Nash over. “Was he scanned or treated for injuries when he was brought in, Captain?”

“My shift just started, ma’am, I’ll check the records.” The man began the file search, then looked over at Nash and grimaced. “Gods, he’s a mess.” The beep drew his attention back to his digipad. “Nothing has been logged, ma’am. The report states that he didn’t request aid or complain of any injuries — “ The captain frowned and shook his head. “Someone’s ignored procedure. I’ll be right back.” He went in search of the duty roster.

Nash’s eyes grew wide with alarm. “It’s okay. Really!”

“Will you tell me what this fight was about?” Alys had seen black eyes, bruises, and the odd split lip on Nash before, but this was by far the worst he’d ever looked. It was evident from the digi-feed she’d viewed that the others had been aggressive, but he’d thrown the first punch.

“I — Is that an order, ma’am? I’d actually prefer not to talk about it; it’s personal.”

Even through the injuries, she could see he was embarrassed. “Given how often you look like this, yes, it’s an order.”

Nash opened his mouth to begin, but the captain’s return spared him. Alys held up her hand, indicating that he should remain silent while he was scanned.

“It’s just a field-issue scanner. Sorry.” The captain moved it over the more obviously damaged areas on his face and then down his chest. “You did a good job on resetting your nose. A couple of your ribs are cracked, there’s a fair bit of soft tissue damage throughout your abdomen, but I’m not getting any alerts about internal bleeding. Your system seems to be handling it. I’d heard that Tyrans were indestructible, guess now I can say I’ve seen proof. Still, I think you should swing by the Med-Bay and get a professional opinion. The night crew is going to catch hell for not checking you out — “

Nash went white and cut him off. “No, please don’t. It’s my fault. I told them I didn’t need to be checked, I’m not in pain. I don’t want to register a complaint or generate any further trouble for anyone. It’s all good, I’m okay. Can we just let this whole thing go, please?” Nash squinted up at the man. He began to shake. “Please?”

“I can’t let them ignore basic procedures like this.” The captain’s tone softened, “Sorry, kid. If I were to let this go, the next time my squad is reviewed the shit would hit the fan. It’s all on record. Detainees are to be sent to the Med-Bay if there’s any reason to suspect they’re injured. You were pulled from a fight that sent the other two to the Med-Bay. Kiddo, you’re one big bruise. This time it worked out, you lived, but the next guy might not be so lucky. I don’t need another internal affairs investigation on my record.”

They’re going to blame me for this. They’re going to think I said something. Nash paled. It didn’t pay to have enemies that could carry weapons. All suppression guard were Korlo, and while the bulk of them weren’t from important houses, they all had ‘Rank’. Being reprimanded because a Diasporan prisoner complained was a slap they would not forget. He felt sick. I’m dead.

“May I take him now, Captain?”

“He’s all yours, Doctor Santaro. For the record, neither of the Mechs pressed charges. I doubt they’ll cause you further problems, directly.” He smiled at Nash. “Tech Korpes, a word to the wise. Keep your head down for a long while and stay out of trouble for longer.”

Nash nodded mutely and followed the Master-Tech out of the holding area.

Alys didn’t say a word to him until they were in the lift and heading up to her section. “This is going to appear in your file.”

“Yes, ma’am, these incidents always do.” It was a reflex response. He was mentally reviewing his new collection of enemies.

“You don’t care?” Alys frowned at the tone. She’d not seen this side of her assistant before.

“Of course I do, but I don’t have any control over what they choose to put in there, do I? I can’t change it, can I? It’s done.” His frustration added a sharp edge to the tone, which he instantly regretted. “Sorry, ma’am. I appreciate the fact that you’ve helped me.” Nash paused, reflecting on the other incidents listed in his file. “Are you going to transfer me now?” He felt numb as he waited for her answer. It had taken far less provocation in the past.

Alys paused the elevator. “Do you want to be transferred, Tech Korpes? I thought you liked it here?”

Nash turned to face her, his voice breaking as he spoke. “Ma’am, I’m sure you’re aware that this is the longest I’ve been anywhere. It’s been a rare privilege to work with you and many of the others, but it would make things easier for you and the rest of the section if you transferred me now. Trust me, after last night’s incident, I can guarantee that this is going to escalate. I’m sure the story has already spread and — “ If any charges are laid, the suppression guard will find a way to get even. He felt sick again.

“Answer the question, Tech Korpes.”

“No, ma’am, I don’t want to be transferred, but that’s — “

Alys cut him off. “Good, I was beginning to think that I’d just wasted my night. Just so you know, I fought to keep you. That battle’s done and won.” She reactivated the elevator.

Nash leaned heavily against the wall, he was exhausted and allowed his eyes to shut. A myriad of images scrolled across his mind’s eye as he fought sleep.

“We’re here.” Alys gently touched his arm, jarring him back to alertness. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” She pulled a key card out of her pocket and handed it to him.

“I expect a full explanation tomorrow. The researcher’s lounge is vacant, go there, clean up, and then claim a bed. I’ll arrange for one of the Med-Techs to pay you a visit. You will cooperate fully with them; do you understand me?” She waited until he nodded, then continued, “Tech Korpes, I agree with the captain in that I think it’s best for you to keep a low profile. You were due for a room upgrade anyway, so I’ll have your things moved up to one of the empty mini-labs. I hope you’re alright with vend-o-mat fare because the cafeteria is now off limits along with all other public venues. As of this moment, consider yourself officially on probation. Your access to the station’s general facilities has been revoked. I’m having an MP assigned to you, to act as your escort between zones. I’m invoking Article Four of the Juvenile Probation Statute; you may not receive visitors unless officially sanctioned by a department head.” She smiled, knowing that none of this was punishment for him.

Nash visibly relaxed. “Understood, ma’am. I’ll report to you at zero-eight hundred tomorrow, with a full explanation of the events, my part in the fight, and … thank you, ma’am.” He gently took the key-card from her hand and retired for the rest of the day.

Nash knocked softly at the door. “Doctor Santaro?” He waited a moment, checked his watch. I’m on time. He knocked on the office door again and waited. He could hear raised voices coming from within and knew, even before his name was mentioned, that he was the topic under discussion. Fuck. He moved quietly away from the door, standing across the hall and out of earshot.

The door opened and a man Nash had never seen before exited, his dark mood emanated from him like a poisonous cloud. The dark brown uniform and lapel badge marked him as a member of the suppression guard, but there was no indication of rank. He paused, staring coldly at the lanky tech before he spoke. “You must be this ‘Diasporan Tech’ I’ve heard so much about.”

“Sir.” Nash saluted but slouched, trying to make the difference in their heights less obvious.

The man nodded disdainfully, confirming some unspoken fact to himself, then turned and walked away.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Nash.” Alys stepped out into the hall and smiled briefly in his direction, but her attention was focused on her recent visitor. They both heard the door slam.

“More fallout? I can’t begin to tell you how much I — “

Alys waved her hand to stop the apology. “I’ve just heard the official story, come in and tell me the truth.”

Nash’s heart stopped as he guessed at the identity of the visitor. “Was he — “

“A member of the suppression guard’s legal team? Yes.” Alys motioned for him to take a seat. “The internal affairs agent was here earlier. It seems there’s to be a full inquiry into the conduct of the squad. They — “ She stopped.

Nash blanched. He sat, leaned forward, and covered his face with his hands. There were no words that could express what he felt.

“Apparently, Command has been watching that squad for months. There were several other incidents on file, Nash. Your case was just the final straw. They can’t blame you for this, they’ve done it to themselves.”

You just called it, ma’am. I was the final straw, of course, they’ll blame me. Nash considered asking for a transfer and realized there was nowhere he could hide; suppression guards were stationed everywhere.

“Nash?” Alys claimed her chair. “I need you to tell me what happened. What led up to this?”

He sat up slowly. A weak smile appeared when she indicated he should help himself to the coffee. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Alys stirred her Jalat as he downed his first mug.

Nash poured himself a second and put the carafe off to the side of the desk. “Do you want the short version or the long version?”

“The more I know, the more I can help.” She watched him flush.

“Long version it is.” Nash exhaled, resigned to the fact that he was about to humiliate himself in front of one of the few people he respected. “The issue that led to the fight, all centers around something,” he paused. “It began two years ago.”

“You were at Farel Station then, weren’t you? Were Daniel and Hal stationed there as well?”

“No, ma’am, they weren’t. Are you familiar with the Diasporan Pairing Protocol?”

“Only what I’ve learned since you joined my staff. A potential spouse is chosen based on certain qualifiers; heritage, religion, personal likes. They call the first meeting an ‘interview’, right?” A wrinkle appeared between her brows. “The fight was about that?”

Nash sipped his coffee and slid back into his chair until they were eye-level with each other. “Yes, and yes. I turned seventeen at Farel Station, and my first interview was scheduled a week later. Everything seemed to click, until — “ Nash frowned as he remembered. He didn’t complete the statement. “For most, the person that’s chosen is a good match, but sometimes things don’t work.” He shrugged, “That’s why there’s a grace period before the relationship is made official. Everyone gets three chances to say no, we call them vetoes, but few use more than one. You can also apply for what’s called ‘extenuating circumstances’, but the criteria to get that is very specific.”

“So, you do have some choice in the matter. I’ve noted the number of interviews you’ve attended, and you mentioned there are only three vetoes. Do extenuating circumstances apply?”

“No, ma’am, there’s no question of my gender preference, and before you ask, I haven’t used any of my vetoes either.”

“Then I’m missing something. You’re saying over twenty women chosen using this system, have declined the match? Why? Surely they’d have to give a reason?”

Nash hid his stress by taking a long swig of coffee. He’d composed himself by the time he swallowed it. “It boils down to a combination of things: my looks, what’s in my file, and — “ he drained the mug and refilled it. Just get it over with. He gestured at himself, “The spirit is willing, the body … less so — “

“And that’s what the fight was about?”

“Not this time. This was just about the number of rejections I’ve racked up. I’m often a cheap form of entertainment after interviews.”

Alys’s expression softened. “Is there something that can be done for you, medically, in regards to your physical problem?”

He paused, remembering when he’d asked the same question. “No. I metabolize everything too quickly for it to have any noticeable effect. Everything they try on me has to be adjusted because of it. There is a chance I’ll outgrow the problem, ma’am. Everyone’s metabolism slows as they get older. Maybe I’ll be normal when I’m forty?” He flashed her a sad smile.

“Then why do they keep scheduling interviews for you? It seems particularly cruel.”

Yes, it is. Nash shrugged.

She opened his file and skipped to his medical reports. “Have all of your fights occurred directly after an interview?” She didn’t look up at him, flicking to the notations that listed the dates and cross-referencing them with incident reports.

“No, they haven’t, and as far as the fights go, I’m learning how to contain myself. You’ll note there have been fewer conflicts since I transferred here.”

“They have, markedly. How do you account for this?” Alys asked as she looked up.

“I like being a member of your team, and I know that if I screw up, I’ll be reassigned. I rely on willpower and avoiding people as much as I can. Unfortunately, the bulk of Teslem’s population seems to have Birlo heritage. The first month here was torture.”

“How so?”

“They had me housed in the main dorm, and my bunk was between Daniel and his cousin, Hal. I’ve made a point to steer clear of them as much as I can, but, to be honest, I have similar responses to half the people working in the Mech-Bay. My roommate, Gary, and I set each other off as well. Fortunately, he’s a maglev Tech and off-site a lot. When he’s home, he leaves me subtle clues that I’m not welcome. I’ve discovered that the couches in the observatory are not only private but comfortable.”

“That’s awful. I knew there was a counter-response, but I had no idea it was so extreme.”

Nash nodded. “My biggest fear is that someday I’ll snap and won’t be able to stop myself. Last night was close. Nothing they’ve prescribed seems — “ Nash’s digipad beeped and he quickly checked the number. “Speaking of which, it’s the Rec-Gen lab, ma’am.” He waited for her permission to call them back.

Alys nodded, then added a side note on Nash’s file as he checked in.

“Doctor Lynel wants me down in the lab. They’re going to issue my new meds. Who knows, maybe this time he’ll give me something that works.” He looked up and flashed her a hopeful smile. “With your permission, ma’am, I’ll go attend to that now, unless you have more questions?”

“I think I’ve heard enough. Thank you for your honesty. Wait here while I call your escort.” Alys tapped in an extension number on her digipad and sent a text.

Nash placed his mug back on the desk and rose. He took a moment and indulged in a long stretch and un-kinked his back. He sighed as he settled back into a hunch.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Come in, Sergeant Glass,” Alys called.

A handsome young man, dressed in a military police uniform entered. “Ma’am.” He cast a sidelong glance at Nash.

“Sergeant Dylan Glass, I’d like you to meet Tech Nash Korpes. You’ve already been briefed on the nature of your assignment.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The two young men politely acknowledged each other.

“Where do you need to be?” Dylan asked.

“Rec-Gen labs, level twelve.”

“Come back when you’re done, and we’ll get you started on your next project.”

“Yes, ma’am,” they said in unison.

Alys waited until they’d shut the door before she scrolled through the directory and brought up his medical file again. Only four prescriptions were listed; two were anti-depressants, one dealt with anxiety, and the last one was for migraines. On a hunch, she accessed the central hub and keyed in her personal access code before downloading the restricted file. This version was three times larger than the one she’d been given when he transferred.

Alys returned to the medical section and frowned. There were now twelve items listed as current and four pages of pill cocktails that they’d tried. She skimmed the current prescriptions, horrified. This can’t all be necessary. She exited his file and accessed her contact list. Vivienne will know. Doctor Santaro’s fingers found the number she was seeking, and she pressed the icon next to it.

A young man answered. “Ethos Station, Special Projects Division. How can I direct your call?”

“Extension two-seven, Doctor Vivienne Kruvic, tell her it’s Doctor Alys Santaro.”

Dylan entered the lab and looked for his charge, then caught Alys’s attention. He gestured at his watch.

“Nash?” Alys waited thirty seconds to see if the Tech responded. “Teslem Station calling Tech Korpes. Are you receiving?”

The two researchers sitting behind Nash chuckled.

“Ma’am?” Nash finally looked up, embarrassed by his lack of focus.

“Don’t you have a test at thirteen hundred?”

Nash stared blankly at her for a moment, saw Dylan, then remembered. Oh, right. The Cullin-Morse. He sighed. I’ve taken four, already. They know I’m not going to pass. The results don’t change, regardless of what new crap I’m put on. Nash wished they’d connect the dots.

Alys pointed at the clock. “You’ll be late.”

He nodded, stood and felt a fresh wave of dizziness wash over him. Damn side-effects are getting worse. He waited for his equilibrium to restore itself and wondered what was in the little yellow pills. Something new … Something to help you relax and control these inappropriate outbursts. If he’d had the energy, he would have laughed. Yep, drugs work. Relaxed to the point of being comatose and free from any vestiges of personality. I wonder if projectile vomiting is classified as an inappropriate outburst?

“Are you alright?” Alys stood. Nash had just turned a paler shade of white.

He waved her concern off, politely. “Yep. Okay. Tired. Still adjusting to the new meds. They said — “ He took a step toward her and the world went black. He didn’t feel his head smash into the table or the floor rise to break his fall.

Light. He felt the warmth before he saw it. Nash drifted out into a field of brilliant color, and sensation. Everything hit him at once. It was overwhelming, primal, and deafening. He felt the universe open above him and sing in languages, living and dead. Every particle of his consciousness was saturated with information, and he surrendered completely to the experience. Did I just die?

The sound rippled, then parted like liquid, giving way to a gentle voice. Contact? Unexpected.

Hello? Nash called out in response and felt an odd tingling sensation run through his brain. It was electric, a tickling of a memory he couldn’t quite recall. He reached for it.

Nash … Xander?

Yes? Nash didn’t recognize this melodic voice, but it emanated from the center of this new place. He began to move toward it.

A muffled voice intruded, “Tech Korpes? Can you hear me? We’re moving you to the Med-Bay. Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.” Someone gripped his right hand, and he felt his sleeve being rolled up.

Nash ignored the request and moved further out into the maelstrom of light. Elements began to organize around him. Hello? He waited for a response. There was a brief, sharp jab in his right arm and Nash felt a warmth spreading into his veins.

“Strap him down, he’s having a seizure.”

Nash found maintaining dual focus was distracting, so he let go of the external world.

Stop! You put yourself at risk by disconnecting. The directive was gentle but firm.

Risk? Who are you? Nash ignored the instruction and kept moving.

“How long has he been unconscious now? Do we have any idea of what caused the seizure?”

“The preliminary scan says he’s suffered a skull fracture. There’s hemorrhaging, but I can’t pin down the source. It isn’t just related to the fracture.”

“What do you mean, unrelated? Where’s his chart?”

Nash recognized the panicked voice of the Head of the Rec-Gen lab but found his tone curious. Worried? Why? If I’m dead, you can do what you want with my remains.

You are not dead. The Kind voice was nearer now.

No? Where am I then? Nash focused more on his surroundings. The abstract forms around him were taking on meaning. With a little more time, he knew he’d understand them. Who are you? Where is this? Nash memorized everything he could, filing it away for the future.

I am … a Core part of… you.

Nash sensed the hesitation. I don’t understand — Something profoundly cold reached out to caress his mind. It numbed as it cut and the light began to dim. Let go. Be one, the Darkness sang.

No. Nash instinctively fought the urge to comply. Light blazed, forcing the dark away and Nash dragged himself back toward the warmth.

As you are now open to me, you are open to the Shard. Remaining here, while you are damaged, is unwise. You must seek repair.

Is this ‘Shard’ a ‘Core’ part of me, too? Nash tried to stand but ended up in a fetal position instead. The pain inside his head grew.

Seek repair.

“He’s started convulsing again: grab him before he falls off the gurney.”

“How long has he been on this new regimen?”

Nash didn’t recognize the new, feminine voice.

Alys answered her. “Roughly three weeks.”

“That long? Shit. We’re going to have to flush his entire system and check his liver and kidneys for damage.”

“What? Who do you think you are? This throwback is assigned to my lab. I’m in charge of — “ Doctor Lynel’s voice rose above the others.

“I’m the Head of the Special Projects Division in Ethos. Doctor Lynel, I’ve been authorized to take charge here until Doctor Maro can find a more permanent solution. Prep a suspension chamber for Tech Korpes, there’s still time — “ Her voice faded as she moved out of range.

You must go. Discuss this event with no one. We will converse again, I promise. Though the tone was gentle, this time it was a command.

Nash crawled back the way he’d come. As the light faded around him, his body grew heavier. Soon, the density threatened to smother him. Oblivion. He lay in the void without his senses to guide him and wondered if this was death.

Breathe.

He drew a shuddering breath and opened his eyes. “Blurry,” he tried to reach up and touch the person standing beside him, but he was securely strapped to the bed.

She leaned down and came into focus; her smile was stunning. “Welcome back, Tech Korpes. I’m Doctor Vivienne Kruvic.”

Doctor Grant Lynel sat in the foyer of the Special Projects Division at Ethos Station, waiting for Doctor Selwyn Maro to deign to see him. His eyes scanned the room, absently noting the décor. His gaze settled on a faded tapestry. Grant knew the style; there were similar pieces on display at the Sinval Plaza in Merrow Cluster. Tyran. I wonder how much of the budget got squandered on that monstrosity? Grant did a quick count and realized that many artifacts were Tyran. Well, Selwyn, are you hiding a skeleton in your closet?Some family member that doesn’t appear on the official register?

The receptionist touched his arm, drawing his attention back from his thoughts. “Doctor Maro will see you now.”

“It’s about time.” Grant stood and entered through the door the woman indicated. He shut it behind him; what he had to say wasn’t for others to hear. “Selwyn, what are you playing at?”

“Hello, Grant. Please, have a seat.”

“I’ll stand if it’s all the same.”

“Perhaps this meeting should wait until you’ve had a chance to recover from your trip?” Selwyn’s lips formed a sympathetic smile, but his eyes didn’t match the sentiment.

“I’ve always had you down as an ambitious bastard, but this? You’ve gone too far this time, replacing me with one of your protégés and embarrassing me in front of the Ranking members of the community this way. My Rank alone — .”

“Grant, regardless of what the Council would have you believe, Rank doesn’t give you a pass when it comes to incompetence. Now, Command is asking me awkward questions in regards to the Throwback Program.”

“Why?”

Selwyn answered him with silence and watched his associate mull the possibilities over in his head.

“Alys Santaro.” Grant pursed his lips as he put the remaining clues together. He stepped around the chair he’d been offered and sat. “Command can’t be taking her seriously? Her judgment is compromised, surely they can see that. She has allowed herself to become emotionally attached to Nine-Four-Two. I’ve been head of the Rec-Gen department at Teslem for ten years. My record speaks for itself as do my contributions to the Special Projects Division.” He drew himself erect. “My work with this throwback was just starting to yield results. I shouldn’t be dismissed so casually; not for one mistake.”

“Your mistake nearly cost us Nine-Four-Two.” Selwyn stood and stretched. For an instant, he appeared to loom over his surroundings, but in a blink, the illusion passed. The impression remained.

“But it didn’t. He lived, and I might add it proved the theory about the sixth marker being the related to regenerative qualities. I confirmed your theory.”

“Yes, you did.” Selwyn turned his back to Doctor Lynel and released a resigned sigh. “I’ve made a decision; you will be transferred to another facility and assigned to clone research.”

Grant sneered in contempt. “Clones? All of my contributions toward finding a cure for K’Shar Syndrome count for nothing?”

“For what it’s worth, Grant, I wish there was another option. We’ve been associated for a long time. Let’s not end this discussion on bad terms.”

“’Bad terms’?” He spat the words back at Selwyn. “I’ve served KMR and D loyally for close to twenty-five years, half that time working in conjunction with your project, and you propose to send me to a backwater station — Fine. My career here is finished, but I have other options. We both know that your power over me is limited. I have Rank enough to ensure I have a say in things. I can take my skill set elsewhere. Lucrative opportunities await me in the private sector. Trust me; I plan to take advantage of them.” Grant stood and prepared to leave.

“You will remain with us. If clone research is distasteful to you, I can find something appropriate.”

“Appropriate for — Who the hell do you think you are? Are you even listening to me?” Grant took a step back. “I’m not interested. Stuff your offer.”

“Stuff your offer?” Selwyn chuckled. “I’m afraid that you misconstrue my intent; it wasn’t an offer. It was an order.”

“I officially resign my commission with KMR and D, effective immediately. Stuff. Your. Offer. The private sector awaits.” Grant smiled coldly at the Head of the Special Projects Division. “Now here’s something for you to chew on, Selwyn. Everything I did was strictly under orders — yours, in fact. Know that if anything I’ve done here haunts me after this point, you’ll be sorry. I’m sure the Par Society would love to learn what the Special Projects Division delves into.”

Selwyn stared, speechless for an instant, then he shook his head in disbelief. “What compels people to reveal their minds at such moments? Ah well, it’s moot now. Your fate is sealed,” he reached over and pressed a button on his intercom. “Rey? Come in.”

“People will ask questions if I disappear.”

“It’s been my experience that people only ask questions when they care. Do you have any friends?”

“You bastard.” Grant spun as someone put their hand on his shoulder. Cold, green eyes blazed at him for an instant, and Grant took a step back in shock. He blinked and found himself staring into blue ones. A young Korlo man smiled pleasantly at him.

“Hello, Doctor Lynel. My name’s Rey Kezlen, and I’ll be your escort to Nekkaro station.”

Sergeant Dylan Glass combed his hair back and smiled in the mirror. No crud in teeth, uniform tidy. He paused as he adjusted his tie. Something wasn’t right. He sniffed himself and made a face.

His watch beeped; he was due at the lab. Shit! No time to change. Dylan grabbed a spray can from under his sink and pressed the nozzle, then staggered over to the vent, gasping for air. What the fuck was that? He peered at the label. Industrial strength air-freshener. He wheezed as his watch beeped again. Good thing Nash runs late.

Dylan smiled to himself. He liked his job. No one had wanted the assignment, including him, but the offer of bonus pay was hard to ignore. In the end, the extra incentive had won. It had only taken two days for him to see it wasn’t a hardship posting at all. That had been two months ago, and they were now good friends.

He tossed the can in the direction of the sink and stepped quickly out into the hall, into oncoming foot traffic. “Hello, ladies.” He nodded to the two young women as he fell into step with them, and they smiled in return. Dylan escorted them as far as the weapons development lab, then he jogged the rest of the way to his destination.

“Hey, Nash, sorry I’m late.” He shut the door behind him and walked to his friend’s desk. “Got much more to do?”

“No, but at this rate, it’s going to take me a while.” Nash moved the ruler down the monitor to the next line and leaned in close.

Dylan couldn’t watch, his eyes hurt in sympathy, so he retreated to the wall closest to the door. “Can that wait? You’re already late for your eye appointment.”

“Give me five more minutes.”

Five minutes elapsed.

“You ready yet?” Dylan paced impatiently.

Nash looked back at the blur he identified as his friend. “Almost.” He turned and chuckled as he leaned in closer to the monitor, squinting at the code. “What’s your rush? It’s only an eye exam.” Nash knew exactly why his friend was agitated; Dylan had a date.

The black-haired guard just grinned.

“How goes the bug hunt, Nash?” The door slammed, belatedly announcing the youngest member of their crew.

“A little less productive than I’d like, but I’m almost there.” Nash slid the ruler down to the next line.

“Hey, Squirt. Aren’t you supposed to be in the Mech-Bay, learning or doing something useful?” Dylan checked his watch, pointedly.

“No workshops today. They’re doin’ an emergency refit on a Bethune — ,” Davis paused, sniffing the air between them. “You smell pretty, Dylan. Goin’ on maneuvers again?” He dodged out of arm’s reach as Dylan mock-lunged for him.

Nash grinned. “There you are!” He fixed it.

“Wow. Your nose is practically touchin’ the screen. Do they know what’s wrong with your eyes, yet?” Davis leaned in close to Nash and squinted at the screen.

“Post-Trauma Vision Syndrome. Doctor Kruvic linked it to the head injury I got when I collapsed.”

“That sucks. You’ll get better, though, right?” Davis hopped up and sat on the desk.

Nash nodded. “I never thought I’d be grateful for my freakish genetics, but they give me the advantage in this. I’ll heal, but it will take a few years. Actually, I got off light. Some of the side-effects associated with PTVS are horrific.”

“Still sucks. Now you’ll have to wear glasses.” Davis narrowed his eyes as he tried to picture his friend with them.

“I already have a pair. I’ve always needed them for distance; this won’t be too bad.” He reached into his desk drawer and extracted a small, dusty case.

Dylan and Davis waited expectantly. Neither had ever seen their friend with them on before.

“My sister picked these out for me just before I left.” He held up an old pair of wire-rimmed glasses and polished the round lenses before he put them on. He turned to face his friends and was met with gales of laughter.

Dylan was the first to speak. “I take it your sister hated you?”

Davis rolled off the desk and hit the floor, laughing harder.

Nash feigned indignation and sat up straighter. “She said they made me look intelligent.” He squinted at his friends then frowned and took the glasses off, rubbing his eyes to ease the pain. “I’ll need an entirely different prescription now.”

“Why don’t they just fix the damage surgically? I’m sure if you show them the alternative, they’ll comply,” Dylan said as he helped Davis up off the floor. They were still having trouble keeping straight faces.

“I asked. Thanks to my blood-type I’d reject the synthetic replacements. They’d have to use eyes from a donor with Tyran ancestry, or cloned from me, and — “ Nash grimaced as he imagined the needles and knives coming at him. “I really don’t want the surgery that badly. I’d rather wear glasses and heal over time.” He tucked them back in their case and gently placed them in his pocket. Turning back to face the screen, he leaned in close, found his spot and typed in the last sequence. “Done.” He hit the compile button and stood, stretching.

Dylan smiled as he watched the expression of relief. “You’d think with the budget this place gets they’d spring for a chair that fit you.”

“You’d think.” Nash looked around for the white blur that was his lab coat. He spotted it hanging on the back of his chair, and he slung it casually over his shoulder. For an instant, the room spun, forcing him to grip the chair for balance. “Woah.”

“You okay?” Davis sidled up beside him just in case he fell.

Nash waved him off, “I’m all right. Doctor Kruvic made a few tweaks to my prescriptions, and I’m still adjusting.”

“New meds? Any wacky dreams to share?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. Last night I dreamed the lab had used my DNA to create a small army of clones and by small, I mean tiny. They were all about knee high.” Nash grinned as he envisioned the kind of chaos his clones would cause in real life. “Anyway, in the dream, they had all my worst traits and none of the good ones.”

“You have good ones?” Dylan ducked to the side as Nash punched his arm, then tapped his watch. “The only way we’re going make up the time is if we cut through the atrium.”

“Can we stop by the canteen and get a beer or three while we’re there? I’d like to have a drink before we’re arrested for violating the conditions of my probation.”

“I plan to get permission.” Dylan entered the change of route into his digipad.

“To buy me the beer?”

The device beeped, and Dylan smirked. “New route approved,” he tucked the device back into his pocket. “Don’t worry; we’ll pick up some off-sales on the way back.”

Five days later, Doctor Alys Santaro walked into the primary Med-Bay pausing only to flash her ID at the Med-Tech.

“Thank you, ma’am. Doctor Kruvic is expecting you.”

Alys gave a shadow of her usual smile in acknowledgment and entered the ICU. Her feet knew the way to the bed she sought.

“Sergeant Glass? Dylan? Can you hear me?”

Dylan recognized the voice. He tried to respond, but for some reason, he couldn’t open his eyes. His body felt like it was made of lead.

“He’s not going to be able to tell us anything for a while. I’m just prepping him for transport.”

“Dylan’s being moved?”

“He’s been acknowledged by his Korlo relatives. We’ve been instructed to ship him to the Telsai Institute in Lorsa, for recovery.”

What happened? Dylan tried to picture where he was last. Round glasses — Nash. He’d been escorting Nash to an eye exam.

“I still can’t believe it. Why, Vivienne? There was no need.”

No need for what? Why can’t I move?

“I’ve long held that the suppression guard draws only thugs to its ranks; low-born in search of power. This, sadly, is proof. Did the boy say any more about what happened?”

Suppression guards? Oh … Shit. Dylan tried to recreate the scene using the fragments he could recall.

“No, his story hasn’t changed. Davis insists that Dylan got approval for the route change and swears he was the one that provoked Hal; Nash only stepped in to defend him. Davis doesn’t remember a lot after that.”

Oh, Gods, no. Dylan felt the world drop away from under him. Those bastards used Davis as bait.

“I’ve seen the footage, Alys. It would be kinder if he never remembers, but I’ve recommended that Mech Trent is evaluated by a trauma specialist.”

Where’s Nash? Did they kill him? Dylan forced himself to focus.

“The suppression guards involved will lose their positions here, but nothing more. They had the nerve to cite Tyrandaiphobia as their main line of defense; they were the ones provoked.” Alys’s voice grew closer, and Dylan felt a warm hand grip his. “None of them have Birlo ancestry.”

“It’s a common defense. The only one with the genetics to make a claim ended up coming to Nash’s aid. How is Hal doing, by the way? I haven’t had a chance to check up on him, yet.”

“He’s awake now. The physical damage will heal, but the event has taken its toll. I’ve been told that he’s put in for a transfer. I’ll do what I can to make sure he gets it, which brings me to the other reason I’m here. How is Nash?”

“Critical, but stable. We’ve evacced him to Ethos, my lab there is better equipped to deal with his injuries. He’ll be in suspension for some time. I’m sorry, Alys, but I received this memo this morning.”

Dylan listened in the silence that followed. What? Somebody speak! He tried to wake up but was a prisoner in his own body.

Alys made a rude noise. “Isn’t aversion therapy rather extreme? We both know his aggression issues are a response to pheromones, nothing more. He was doing so well.”

“Selwyn and I both petitioned Command and tried to get them to reconsider, but it’s out of our hands. The fact that Nash broke the conditions of his probation and is now on record for assaulting three members of the suppression guard has made their case for them.”

Dylan heard the click of a keypad and felt something cold begin to travel up his left arm.

The warm hand moved and patted his arm. “Get well soon, Sergeant Glass.”

Dylan fought to answer but slipped into darkness. They set us up.

Thus ends Part I … If you enjoyed that, “The Korpes Files is available at: books2read.com/The-Korpes-File