“What’s going on?”

Showered, her hair in a neat plait, dressed in a crisp new uniform, Adree Aeslin strode into the Central Complex’s medical unit, towards the two officers who were waiting in the foyer. She thought she had been free of the medical unit for a while, since she got the bandage removed from her forearm yesterday. The wounds had just about healed over the past couple of days, though she still had stitches in two of them. The doctor said it looked like she had been slashed by a razor, and it was likely she would have faint scars there for a time.

She put that aside to concentrate on the business at hand. “I got the call that it was urgent…”

The officers turned to her as she came in and she could tell at once that the news was bad. One of them was a slender man with dyed blond hair and carved features, carrying captain’s bars on his shoulder. He was comforting a female lieutenant, whose large brown eyes were red from crying. She came to attention as Adree approached. “M-morning, commander…”

“Never mind that. Rachelle…” Adree took the lieutenant’s hands and sensed at once what was wrong. “Your brother’s been found?”

Rachelle Telcane nodded, wiping at her eyes.

“They picked him up near the river this morning,” the male captain put in. This was Arawn Lessinger, who Adree had worked with a few times. Lessinger had been involved with Rachelle for two years and was close friends with her brother. His normally calm and easy manner was dark and smoking with anger. “The doctors have been working on him…”

“Can I see him?” Adree asked Rachelle, gently.

The lieutenant nodded, and Lessinger drew her away. Adree went past them, pushing open the doors that led to Critical Care, the rows of beds that held Evinthei officers who were sick or dying.

Padrin Telcane was lying in one of the right-hand beds, mercifully unconscious and hooked up to half a dozen machines. His body was wrapped in bandages and surgical gauze that couldn’t disguise how badly he had been torn and clawed. His face was a mess, but under the blood Adree could tell that the wounds weren’t random – they were symbols. A message.

She took his hand and sensed, with perfect clarity, his life slowly slipping away. She closed her eyes, shaking her head. Unnecessary. A waste of a good man. He had sacrificed himself for nothing.

“I don’t understand why they didn’t kill him,” came Lessinger’s voice from behind her, heavy with sorrow. “Why’d they let him come back?”

“Because the Taugen want to make a point.” Adree answered without taking her eyes off Telcane. “They’re not like the tribes in the ruins, who kill for food. The Taugen hate us enough to send our negotiators back as…wreckage.”

“All the more reason to send a force in and wipe them out.”

“You can’t treat them like normal Earthborn,” Adree argued. “It’s not a matter of exterminating a pest. The Taugen are different. They’re fanatics and they think we’re heretics. And until my father’s officers understand that, and stop thinking one person can talk them around, we’re never going to deal with them properly.” And more travesties will keep happening…

“They’re still a danger. Our border isn’t secure because of their territory overlap. Sooner or later we’re going to have to deal with them properly.”

“We will.”

Lessinger came around to stand beside her. “You still think the answer’s in the Archive?”

“Maybe. It’s better than just sending people in to get hurt.”

 

 

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