The hangar bay doors opened, revealing the dark, star-spotted void of space. Captain Vault stood in front of the main doorway leading back to the hallways. He had made certain the stray crates and barrels were organized, and all the equipment was in its proper place. A small, slim shuttlecraft cruised through the massive entrance. It was nearly silent, humming in a low, subdued tone. Vault noticed IRO's symbol—a diamond-shaped eyeball—painted on the hull of the ship.
Thrusters ejecting steam from their pipes, the shuttlecraft landed in the hangar bay, its landing gear lightly touching down onto the floor and resting under the weight of the vehicle. The ramp tilted down. A lone figure waited at the top until the ramp touched the floor. Vault stood up straight, drawing a deeper breath. Once the ramp made contact with the floor, the figure descended, every step precise.
Hands folded behind his back, the agent from IRO stepped off the ramp and walked toward Captain Vault. The agent wore a black uniform, with a collar that covered his neck and a slim leather coat that came down to his knees. His boots were a glossy black, strapped and buttoned all the way to the top. The man himself had an odd look about his face, as he always seemed to remain in a calm, pensive expression. It was almost disturbing how pleasant he looked at the same time. It was as if he enjoyed his demeanor of emotionless calculation.
“I take it you're the agent sent by IRO?” Vault began, as the man stopped in front of him. The agent took a moment to scan the area, all while seeming rather rigid.
“Agent Janus Dart: Elite Inquisitor,” the man replied, extending his hand to shake it. Vault shook his hand, but felt a subtle power within Agent Dart: one which could not be expressed in a single word or a single emotion. It was like Dart knew everyone's thoughts before they even came to pass. “Sent personally by Highest Intellect Tirion.”
“An impressive credential, certainly. So do you know how long you will be staying aboard the Indefatigable?”
“As soon as I find the truth,” Dart answered, looking Vault in the eyes for the first time. “My mission is not to throw the first man who confesses or seems to be the culprit into the back of a shuttle and be on my way. That seems to be a common misconception among GAM officers. My mission is to find the truth. Whatever anyone is hiding, I will find. Whatever has happened aboard this ship, I will know.”
Vault paused as the agent continued to look him in the eyes with a cold, intense gaze. “Excellent,” Vault struggled to grin. “I'll direct you to your quarters now. However, I must tell you that if you intend to speak with any of the Death Squad, you should do so soon, as they'll be leaving in approximately ten hours for their next mission.”
“I'm aware. I read your schedule on the way here.”
Traw tapped his razor on the edge of his narrow sink, looking up to the mirror again. He was finishing the last section of his gruff beard. It felt good to be clean-faced again. As he placed the razor at the border of his cream-laden beard, he heard a knock at the door. “Usually they ring,” he muttered. “Come in!”
Agent Dart stood in the doorway. He held a datapad in his hand, reading it over. “DS05 Sebastian Paul Traw. Husband to Louise Mayella Traw, father to Luella Grace Traw. One brother, Miles Timothy Traw, died during the 2nd Sinoan Rebellion. Parents undocumented. 6' 1'', 189 lbs, IQ 108. Graduated from..”
“Alright, alright,” Traw interrupted, putting his hand up. “I get it. You got a lot of info about me. So you're that spook from IRO?”
Dart stepped into the room, the door closing behind him. He clicked off the datapad. In a terse, stern voice, he answered, “Correct. I'm going to ask you some questions regarding the activity aboard this ship and the tasks you've executed under the GAM, and you will answer them. I have been trained rigorously for eight years to identify verbal deception and avoiding a question. I will know if you are lying.”
“Don't you people usually carry some array of nasty tools made to rip out my teeth or stab my eyeballs or somethin' like that?” Traw joked, setting the razor down on the small counter.
Dart cocked his head, almost amused that Traw had asked such a question. “DS05...Inquisitors like myself don't require crude syringes and blades for interrogations. I can extract those secrets from your brain using nothing but ten fingers and two lips.” Dart and Traw took a long look at one another, like two feral dogs at a standoff.
“But I won't be torturing you,” Dart assured, grinning. “Not today. That would be hasty. I only want to ask questions for now. So recall exactly what happened during this...physical disagreement at 17:35 yesterday. Spare no details.”
Traw took a deep breath, transporting himself back to that point. “We were in the training room, talking for a few minutes...me, Sanchez, Aveer and Moore. Then one of us realized that Clayton was missing. We hadn't seen him all day. So we went out looking for him, after Vault had told us he found Clayton's tracker in the portside barrack section. We went in there, and the whole place was desolate. It was pretty weird. I don't know why there wasn't anyone around. But anyways, we saw Clayton stumble against a wall about...I don't know, forty yards down the corridor.”
“And you saw him get pushed in that direction?” Dart clarified.
“Well, no...but the six attackers came for him right after he was pushed against the wall. And that's when me and the three other fellas started running down toward Clayton's position. The six Marines were beatin' and kickin' on him until we arrived, and then the four of us roughed 'em up pretty good. They're in the infirmary now.”
“It sounds like a bloody fight. Yet I see no bruises on you,” Dart noted.
Traw paused, looking himself over. Then he realized Agent Dart was right: neither he nor the other three men had suffered any injuries. “Either way,” Traw continued, “we got seven men in the infirmary now. What else do you wanna know?” Traw made sure he expressed his disinterest in the inquiries.
Dart glanced over at the picture of Luella and Louise hanging on the wall. “I have one other question,” he concluded, his gaze lingering on the picture. “What would you give to keep them safe?”
Traw was confused for a moment. He looked over at the picture as well, focusing his vision on his two most beloved. “Anything,” he replied. “Anything at all.”
“Hm,” Agent Dart noted to himself. “I will include that in my writeup. Be prepared for another inquiry, should I need more information.” At that, the agent left the room in an orderly manner. He seemed neither irritated nor defensive. Traw scanned him as he left, wondering what the last comment was about.
A GAM dropships soared through the sky, cutting through the arid Martian atmosphere. The Death Squad sat in the cabin, tapping the edges of their seats and the tips of their gun barrels. Clayton remained in the infirmary aboard the Indefatigable. “So how 'bout that IRO spook? Who called in the robot?” Moore smirked.
“Dude's got issues,” Sanchez muttered, examining the magazine on his gun. “He started asking about my hood and family after he pried into all that shit with Clayton and the Marines.”
“He asked about my village,” Aveer recalled, his voice deeper than usual. “My wife, child, elders. I told him only what he needed.”
“Yeah, speakin' of which, what exactly did you do to get on this team? You just mentioned something about protectin' your village. Doesn't give us a lot of reason for keepin' you around,” Moore wondered, relentless in his inquiry.
Aveer paused, looking Moore straight in the eyes. “We live in marshes and swamps. No one comes around who doesn't live there. But a Nektro platoon came to my village on foot. So me and my son took up our spears and killed every one of them, before the last few fled. There were one hundred and eighteen Nektro corpses in our swamp that day and one corpse of a man. That man was my son.”
“You killed 'em with spears?” Traw exclaimed.
“Yes. I also used a log once.”
“Damn, son,” Sanchez remarked. “I mean, me and the gang took to the street and lit up a bunch of the bastards, but that ain't nothin' like what you did. All I did was use a Nektro cannon against the mothership. Damn...I've never even picked up a spear.”
“Kudos, man,” Moore granted, tipping his helmet. “Anyway, I'm not likin' the looks of that Agent Dart. I don't trust him. One hair stands up on the back of my head.”
Vault was preparing a letter of condolence for one of the two Marines who remained in critical condition. The medics had informed the captain their conditions were steadily declining. Even if they survived, there would be months of painful rehabilitation, as well as severe disability, which would render them useless for most other jobs. Vault recalled a time when the GAM itself could be sued for such an incident. Those days were long since past, especially with the GAM hosting Rank Alpha during wartime.
There was a knock on the door. “Enter,” Vault beckoned, a bit perplexed as to why the doorbell was not used. Agent Dart entered the room once the door opened. “Ah, what brings you to my office, Agent?”
Tirion waited to answer, scanning Vault's office in the same manner he did in the hangar bay when he first arrived. “At ease, Captain Vault,” Dart assured, remaining standing. “I'm here to inform you of my inquisition...and the consequent results.” Captain Vault closed out the file on his computer.
“I'm listening,” Vault told Tirion, resting his elbows on the desk.
“I am surprised to inform you that your Death Squad has an overall intact report. They all recalled the same event, with a few minor details varying, of course. One man said it was forty yards down the corridor, another said it was thirty five. Those kinds of differences are irrelevant. However, Michael Sanchez did report that one of his opponents was armed with a knife. That did not coordinate with my existing hypothesis.”
“What hypothesis?” Vault wondered.
“The theory I had formulated was that this skirmish was some sort of...staged event. Notice that none of the Death Squad members, save Clayton of course, have any bruises on them. There are no broken bones. None of your men have so much as a scratch on their skin, despite an apparent struggle. Yet, there are six Marines who have been trained longer, have served longer, and were more in number and size. I find this rather peculiar. But what I find more peculiar is your...indifference toward the situation. This incident alone would be enough to send an Elite Inquisitor aboard your ship. And you have never proven yourself to be truly loyal to the GAM and Rank Alpha. To be perfectly honest, Captain Vault, you are my prime suspect for all of this.”
Vault slipped back into his chair, his soul filling with dread. “I've only ever done what's best for my ship and my crew,” he assured Agent Dart. “And as for Commander General Venko, I've wondered why IRO hasn't launched an investigation on him. In terms of suspicious behavior, his counts rack up sevenfold over mine.”
“You think we don't have our eyes on him?” Dart quipped. “Our operatives within the GAM have been watching him for years. If anything surfaces, you can be sure we will find its roots. Worry not, Captain Vault. However, there is something quite damning here that should demand your attention.”
Dart tapped the screen on his datapad and turned it about to face Captain Vault. It displayed slightly grainy footage of him and the other Death Squad members sitting in that very office, when Vault was concluding his briefing regarding Agent Dart. “So if you have any dirty secrets,” Vault heard himself say over the little speakers on the datapad, “now'll be the time to dispose of them.” Tirion turned it about to face himself and tapped the screen again.
“This alone would be more than enough to have you sitting before a panel of generals in court martial,” Agent Dart informed the Captain. His tone was slightly more menacing, but still calm and informative.
“Then why don't you throw me into the back of your shuttlecraft and drag me back to Neptune?” Vault glared boldly at Dart and set his jaw.
“Because I want the truth. The entire truth. You seem to think my job consists of only prying information out of people and moving on. I've already explained this to you: my duty is to make certain the truth is put to light, and taking you to GAM headquarters with cuffs on your hands and a fraction of possible evidence would be failing at my task. So I will remain aboard your ship until everything hidden is made known and any secrets are in my possession. Am I clear?”
Vault nodded, avoiding Dart's gaze. “I want to hear it, Captain Vault. Am I clear?”
Vault looked Dart in the eyes. “Yes, Agent Dart. I understand.”