Captain Belial Eris sat at his desk in his private quarters, a porthole with a view of the little blue planet over his right shoulder. He stood and fastened the collar of his crimson uniform when Ambriel entered the room. The door closed with a whoosh of air behind her.
“Please have a seat, Commander.” Belial motioned to the smooth silver chair in front of his desk. He waited for her to sit before taking his seat again.
He interlocked his fingers in front of him and regarded her through those piercing emerald eyes. Any other time she would have felt comforted meeting his gaze, but now she knew something he didn’t, and she knew he was aware of that. She also knew he very much wanted to know what that something was.
Belial stared into her eyes a few seconds longer before looking down at his desk. He swiped his right hand over the surface and rows of text appeared in glowing white and blue relief. “Curious.” He pointed to an entry and then looked back up at Ambriel. “According to the ship’s log, you were the first to be awakened, Commander.” He waited for her reaction.
She adjusted her posture. She hadn’t missed the fact that he’d called her Commander twice, eschewing the use of her first name. They’d been friends and colleagues for many years. She’d always considered him a trusted ally, never doubted his loyalties, until Cassiopeia had planted the seeds. “I found it odd myself...Captain, but Cassiopeia deemed it necessary to consult me on a few details revealed by her scans that could potentially impact your choice of a landing site.”
“Interesting.” Belial twirled at a lock of his golden hair absently. “Why then would she not wake us simultaneously?”
Ambriel cleared her throat. “I asked her as much myself, Captain...even reminded her of protocol, but she insisted that it was a matter she didn’t want to trouble you with until she was certain--”
“Trouble me with? I am the Captain of this ship, I think I should be troubled regarding all matters that might affect my crew.” He swiped at the desk again dismissing the readout of the log with the flick of his wrist.
“I agree Captain. I reprimanded her myself, but I genuinely believe she wished to confirm her findings before presenting them to you.” Ambriel folded her hands in her lap, more to keep them steady than anything else.
“Nonsense.” He leaned closer to her, studying her eyes. “Cassiopeia is a highly intelligent and complex computer system. No offense, Commander, but what could she possibly need to confirm with you?”
Ambriel shook her head. “No offense taken, Captain. She found evidence of two extinction level events on this planet and several different groups of humanoids and rather large mammals. She wanted me to confirm her calculations for the placement of the beacons.”
“What does any of that have to do with breaking protocol and waking the Mission Commander before the Captain?”
“I think she wanted confirmation for her recommendations of a landing site based on the distances to the beacons. I think she was just attempting to find the optimal landing site given all of the information, and as strange as it may seem wanted my opinion.”
Belial narrowed his eyes. “I still don’t see why, in that case, she wouldn’t wake us both.”
Ambriel adjusted her collar. “Honestly, Captain, I think she’s a bit intimidated by you.”
There was a genuine look of surprise on his face and just a hint of relief, Ambriel thought. “Intimidated? She’s just a computer.” He waved his hand. “A very sophisticated one, I’ll grant you that, but still just a computer.”
“You said it yourself...Belial...she’s a very sophisticated computer. She’s been programmed to interact with her...your crew...to read their body language and fluctuations in their voice. Part of that programming gave her at least a semblance of emotion and psychology.”
Belial sat back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “Well, I still think it’s odd, but I do see your point.” He looked directly into her eyes. “But I don’t want the command protocols broken again.” He sat up and leaned across the desk. “I am the Captain of this ship. I am responsible for everyone and everything...even you and your mission. So I’ll not tolerate any challenges to my command. Is that understood?”
She nodded. “Completely, Captain.”
He smiled and then stood. Now that the matter at hand had apparently been dealt with, the tension left his features. Ambriel once again saw her trusted friend and colleague. “I apologize if I seemed too stern, Ambriel. It’s just that the command structure on a ship such as this is very important.” He walked around to her side of the desk and sat on the edge. “Hell, maybe I’m just cranky after being woken up from such a long nap.”
Belial patted her on the knee. “Now, how about you go see to our cargo while I review the landing site Cassiopeia has selected?”
“Of course, Captain.” She stood and turned to leave. “Oh, Captain, is Officer Praxis awake yet? I’d like for him to assist me in awakening our cargo...since he’ll be directing them once we’re on the planet’s surface.”
“Yes, he was just coming around when I left the chamber.”
“Very good. Thank you.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “Sorry for the show of authority, Ambriel. You know I’d not want anyone else by my side on this mission?”
She looked into the eyes of her old friend searching for a hint at his motives. “Me neither, Belial.”
The suspension beds in the cargo bay were tucked neatly into the far wall, one hundred in all. Duma Praxis stood next to the third bed checking stats against his handheld device. He turned when he heard Ambriel enter the room, seemingly caught off guard.
“Good morning, Commander Ona. I was just checking on the status of our stock.” Duma Praxis was a member of the Order of the Principalities, as such he would oversee much of the new colonists training as well as their breeding.
Ambriel gave him a curt nod. “Why aren’t you wearing your uniform Praxis?”
Duma should have already been dressed in his green jumpsuit, instead he wore beige robes fitted with a green sash to denote his rank.
“I didn’t think it was necessary since we’re still in orbit.” He stammered a bit. “I-I mean I thought I’d put it on when we prepare for landing.”
“You’ll have plenty of other tasks to keep you busy before we land. Why don’t you go to your quarters and suit up? I’ll take over here for now.”
He nodded. “Certainly, Commander. I apologize if I--”
She waved the thought away. “No need to apologize, Praxis. It’s only a precaution. Your suit has pressurized circulation built into it. Cassiopeia was concerned about our circulation and thought it would be best to wear our jumpsuits straight away.”
A little relief washed over his features. “Understood.”
She gave him a quick smile. “Besides, the Captain is quite formal.”
Duma chuckled nervously, gave the handheld device to Ambriel, and then promptly left the cargo bay.
In truth she didn’t really care whether Duma was wearing his jumpsuit or not. What she really wanted was a moment alone with the cargo so that she could double check the stats herself. She still had no idea of who or who not to suspect of treason, so she decided she would take the Eye’s view and suspect everyone until she had evidence to the contrary.
She scanned the glyphs next to the first suspension bed with the device. The bars on the device rose and fell until the scan was complete and the biological stats for each metric was reported. The first of the stock was perfectly healthy and showed no adverse effects from the long journey.
She stepped to the second bed and repeated the procedure with nearly identical results. When she got to the third bed, the one that Duma had been scanning when she entered the room, she noticed that one of the glyphs glowed with an amber hue. She scanned it and waited for the result. Instead of the biological stats she expected to see, an interference indicator flashed across her display. She tried it again with the same result.
“Cass?” She spoke aloud to summon the ship’s computer.
A gentle whir filled the cargo bay before Cassiopeia replied. “Yes, Commander?”
Ambriel looked back at the door. “Is there anyone in the bay or close enough to overhear?”
“Negative. We are alone. How may I be of assistance?”
“Could you do a complete imaging scan of suspension bed three?”
There was another gentle whir followed immediately by flashing lights behind the glyphs on the suspension bed. A few seconds later the lights stopped flashing. “There appears to be a foreign object embedded in the suspension bed terminal.”
“Can you tell what it is?”
“Negative, only that it’s no bigger than the pen on your scanner.” There was another whir of air. “Would you like me to open this bed?”
Ambriel glanced back at the door. “Can you do it without awakening the stock?”
“Then proceed, Cass.”
The glyphs near the door of the suspension bed glowed blue just as a white mist was expelled from the edges of the opening. The bed slid outward just far enough to allow access to the terminal plate within.
Ambriel depressed the locking mechanism that held the terminal in place against the foot of the suspension bed. It popped open with an audible click, exposing the wires and circuitry within.
“Cass, can you give me some light in here?”
A receptacle opened up at the edge of the ceiling above Ambriel, and a thin silver wire drifted over her. She grabbed the end and aimed it inside the terminal. The contents within were illuminated in crisp blue light. “There’s definitely something in there.” She looked back up at the ceiling, even though Cassiopeia was pretty much everywhere for all practical purposes. “Can you get a better look now?”
“What does that look like to you?”
There was a brief pause. “It would appear to be a neural inhibitor, Commander.”
“What do you suppose it’s doing in here?”
“I do not know, but it is highly irregular.” There was another gentle whir of air. “I’ve accounted for the inventoried inhibitors. They are still locked in the medical supply cabinet.”
Ambriel bit her bottom lip. “Has anyone accessed that cabinet since we’ve arrived?”
“Negative. The cabinet has been closed and locked since we departed Arcadia.”
She rubbed her chin. “I don’t see how one of these could have gotten here accidentally, but I suppose it is a possibility.”
“I cannot definitively rule it out, but it is highly improbable, Commander.”
She nodded. “I agree.” Ambriel re-latched the terminal door and slid the suspension bed back into the wall.
“Are you not going to remove the inhibitor, Commander?”
“No.” She glanced back at the doors once more. “Can you monitor this area and let me know if anyone retrieves the device from this bed?”
“Affirmative, Commander. Am I to assume that none of the other crew are to be made aware of this development?”
“You assumed correctly, Cass.” Ambriel resumed scanning, moving to the fourth bed.
“Do you think the Captain was convinced by our explanation for breaking protocol?”
“I believe so, but it’s probably best not to bring it up or speak of it again...unless the Captain asks about it.”
“What should I say if he mentions it again?”
Ambriel patted the wall. “Just tell him you were a little intimidated.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“You know about ego, don’t you?”
“Well, appealing to the Captain’s ego will often get him off the scent. Understand?”
“I think so.” The lights in the bay dimmed for a brief moment. “I hope he doesn’t ask about it again.”
“Me neither, Cass. Me neither.”