Sunday, November 6, 2016

Week 36 - Kernels and Bits (part 3)

Michael Salsbury
(As I took a break from NaNoWriMo to work out some issues with the story I have been writing, I found myself inspired to finish this story. Enjoy.)

As I watched the Sylkaran prison transport vanish in the distance, an overwhelming sense of relief washed over me. Days earlier, I had given up. The Sylkarans had captured me, and I could find no way out of their grip. I'd always seen myself as a lone wolf, who could get into and out of any situation he wanted. The Sylkarans had shown me how wrong I was.

Simmons had surprised me, too. She'd been ordered to observe and mentor. When I'd been captured, I expected her to return back to Alliance space. I'd failed, after all, and certainly hadn't accomplished what The Agency had send me here to do. She had come back for me. Worse than that, she'd been caught. We were both on our way to some Sylkaran research lab to become guinea pigs in some unimaginable experiment. From all I could see, she didn't even like me.

"Why?" I asked her.

She looked at me as though I'd spoken in an ancient language.

"Why did you come back for me?"

She chuckled. "I've never lost a trainee before. Besides, you have talent. In time, I think you'll be an asset to The Agency. I couldn't let the Sylkarans kill you."

"But you don't even like me."

She locked her eyes onto mine. "That's not true. I do like you. You could be a great agent someday. You just need to realize the Agency isn't your enemy. We're your allies, and we have been since we first noticed you on Mastrion."

"You manipulated me."

"No, we were grooming you. We wanted to put you in situations where you would get over your head and need our help. We wanted you to see that we had your back, and that we'd be there for you."

I hadn't seen it that way. I'd imagined they were using me, manipulating me for their own purposes. They were, to a point. It just wasn't what I'd thought it was.


Crosby came to my quarters and invited me to join him in the mess hall. Most of his team was already there.

"Thank you," I told them. "I've never seen a team quite like yours. Brell picks the locks--"

"--when he comes out of hiding," Mills added.

"Mills breaks through the security system, Tork provides muscle, and Monroe makes the getaway. You seem to all work well together. I didn't think that was possible."

"It's not as smooth as you think," Crosby said. "When we're not at work, we can get on each other's nerves. Brell and Mills constantly jab at each other. Sometimes we don't agree on what to do."

"Like saving you and Simmons," MIlls said. "Crosby had to convince us to risk our lives on that. Personally, I thought we should let you rot."

"I'm glad you didn't," I told him, and I was.

"My point is," Crosby said, "that we don't always see eye to eye, and we each have our reasons for being on the ship together. When it's time to act, though, we set aside our differences. We help and protect each other. We're stronger as a team than individuals."

"Don't you worry that one of you could end up letting the others down, or betray the rest of you to the Sylkarans?"

"That's a risk we all take, sure," Crosby said, handing me a glass of water and a plate of food. "But we've been through a lot together already. We're here because we want to be, and because we know we're stronger together."


As CORA took them toward Alliance space, Biggs spent his time learning from the crew and teaching them what he knew.

Brell taught Biggs about Sylkaran locking mechanisms and safe designs.

Mills shared what he knew about security systems and computers. Biggs passed on what he knew about ancient computer security and how the knowledge helped him to compromise Sylkaran technology.

He learned smuggling tricks from Monroe.

Crosby taught him about hand to hand combat and espionage.

From Tork, Crosby learned about MuTai fighting.

By the time they'd set down inside Alliance space, Biggs and Simmons both felt they'd learned a lot.

"I guess you'll be wanting to get in touch with Alliance Intelligence," Crosby said to Simmons.

"We're not with Alliance intelligence."

"Then who are you with," he said, sliding his hand toward his sidearm.

She held up her hands. "Look, I can't tell you. All I can say is we're a very old organization, far older than the Alliance. We started on Earth. We have people all over. We operate outside the Alliance, and we're not subject to its rules."

"So you can't help me get back into the Alliance's good graces?"

Simmons took Crosby's hand. "I can't make any promises. What I can tell you is that by helping us, you're showing some very powerful people that you can be trusted, and that you haven't gone over to the Sylkarans. How far that news will spread and who will believe it, I can't promise you. If nothing else," she said, pointing to herself and Biggs, "you have at least two friends on this side of the neutral zone. We'll help you if we can."

"How can I get in touch with you?"

"Use this," she said, handing him a data crystal. "Drop it into your comm system. It'll let you reach me once, then it'll burn out."

He turned it over in his hands, then looked up at her. "Thank you."

"You'd better get out of here. That ship of yours will draw a lot of the wrong kind of attention, if it hasn't already. The Alliance Intelligence Service has agents all over these border worlds."

Crosby nodded. "I know. I used to be one of them."

They shook hands, and Crosby returned to CORA. As they lifted off, he wondered if he'd every see Simmons or Biggs again. He also wondered just who they worked for, but decided that was a mystery best left until he could return to the Alliance safely.

"Get us back across the neutral zone," Crosby told Monroe. "We've got work to do."


As our ship landed on the pad at The Agency's base, I looked at my reflection in the portal. Although the face hadn't changed, the look in the eyes was different.

I'd left this place with every intention of not coming back, yet here I was.

I wasn't even completely sure why. Part of my felt I owed it to Simmons. She'd risked herself to save me, and nearly wound up a Sylkaran prison for her trouble. I didn't feel like I could run away and leave her in trouble with her superiors.

There was more to it, though. I felt like I'd judged The Agency harshly. I wanted to know if Simmons was telling the truth about them, and that all they'd been doing was trying to help me see what they were all about. If it hadn't been for their help, I'd be rotting in a prison on Mastrion or forced to work for its crooked police chief. Instead, they'd taught me a lot. Maybe they weren't so bad.

Simmons turned to me. "In all this, I never thought to ask you what happened to the PMA. Is it still back on Sylkara Prime?"

"No," I said, handing it to her.

"You got it back? Where have you been hiding it?" She studied it carefully.

I tried not to smile. "You probably don't want to know the answer to that, but I'd wash my hands after I put it away if I were you."

She shuddered then sniffed at her fingers. She tucked the PMA into her pocket and headed toward the lavatory.

"Always keep them at a distance," I thought to myself and smiled.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


Post a Comment