Entry 033: Where Cor finally pins down that niggling feeling.
There were a lot of little things Cor had forgotten about life in the army; standing at attention before a superior officer was not one of them.
He stood ramrod straight in the Commander's office. There was only one chair on the far side of the large sturdy desk that consumed most of the room's space; the man himself was on the far side.
Cor had never seen the Commander so tightly wound before. He paced in a single tight, controlled, line, hands clasped behind his back as he scowled at whatever happened to be before him. His field – which, unlike his friend Felix, Cor could sense as clearly as a Togkra salamander could smell pink – hummed in securely controlled currents most Hybridians would never be able to attain.
Cor couldn't help but feel a faint sense of admiration. "I don't have near as much ridin' on this and my field's already ragged round the edges."
Though, to be fair, it was a truly horrifying prospect.
Cor went to speak, stopped himself when he remembered the last time he'd spoken without permission to an officer, and then shook his head, bushy eyebrows creasing together over his gray-brown eyes.
"Get a holda yerself old man," he told himself. "You're not an army man no more."
It was still hard to throw off all those old, ingrained army regs enough to speak. "Sir," he managed, "I know I don' exactly have proof since the guy didn' show n'all, but I'm tellin' ya, that man has a technovore in his system."
Commander Magnil shot him a sharp glance as he stormed past. It was uncanny how he kept to that invisible line. "Hasn't deviated once."
"You were uncertain before," the Commander pointed out, referring to their own private conversation when Cor had first boarded the Persephone and the human Felix Cauldwell had temporarily disappeared. "That's why we arranged this face-to-face to begin with. How can you be so certain now when we only spoke to his image?"
Even knowing he was only trying to be logical, Cor wondered how the Commander couldn't see it. "Well why else would he blow us off like that? Walkin' into a ship full'a Hybridians – especially one dotted with old war vets like you'n me – would be like hangin' himself on a meathook an' lowerin' himself into a nest a'hungry twickers."
Again, the Commander looked over at him, but Cor's strange speech patterns had leeched most of the heat from his gaze. "I was only eleven when the Long War ended, Sergeant. Hardly a veteran."
Cor nodded. "Right. And I'm hardly a sergeant. I was discharged over thirty years ago now."
"Yes, well," the Commander murmured, face and voice turning thoughtful. "Given our suspicions you may wish to reconsider that. Neither of us want your young friend taken again."
Cor didn't feel the need to say anything to that. He'd already made his concerns for Felix's safety crystal clear yesterday after they'd signed their agreement. Felix of course didn't know anything about this, since he'd been with one of Rody's actual aides seeing his new workspace. It must be something else though because the kid hadn't talked about anything else all through dinner.
The Commander finally sat, expelling air through his nose so that he sounded like an old steam train decompressing.
He placed his hands on the top of his neatly ordered desk and clasped them together. His face only grew sterner as dark brown eyebrows descended low over steel-colored eyes.
"We cannot afford to let the Technovore Remnant absorb this new technology," he said, his voice heavy.
Cor nodded. "Yeah, I know."
Commander Magnil finally remembered he was there and looked up at the old soldier. "If they attain the power to jump anywhere in so short a time, it would be catastrophic."
Cor already knew that as well, maybe even better than the Commander did. He'd already admitted he hadn't been through the war like Cor had, so he had no memories of the horrors Cor and those like him had witnessed. He hadn't been buried hip-deep in the chaos and death of the war. Of not knowing if your friends were still themselves or if they'd been consumed by those Ghost forsaken static feeders.
But Cor still saw the fear he'd felt himself roiling underneath the Commander's stoic outer face. No, Cor realized, he understood all right. Cor had been there for the war, but by the time the Remnant had bombed over half of their military outposts and murdered most of the royal family and the former steward – Commander Magnil's father – Cor had been long gone. Magnil would have been a young man then, and caught squarely in the middle of the backlash.
"He may not have been a soldier during the war itself," Cor thought, "but he knows, like I do, jus' what our enemy is capable of.
"We can't let it happen again."
Determination renewed to iron strength, Cor asked aloud, "So, what d'we do then, boss?"
Commander Magnil shot him a sharp look, but didn't actually reprimand him for the less-than-formal address. "You're sure of what you felt?" he repeated sternly.
Cor nodded, expression grave. He hadn't been able to think about anything else since the Windjammer. He'd spent many sleepless nights trying to remember every detail of his single meeting with the man calling himself Caladry O'Dowell, and many more kicking himself when he finally pinned down the unease that had been rolling around his gut ever since.
"Yeah," he answered. "There's just some things ya don't ever ferget, sir. Even when ya try. The feel of a technovore's one of 'em."
The Hybridian Commander eyed him, as if he could experience what Cor had if he stared at him long enough. Cor let him, sure of what he knew...and what it could mean for not just him and Felix, but for his whole planet.
"All right," the Commander finally said, evidently willing to trust his judgment, at least for the moment. "I'll start the needed precautions. Once they have any sort of advantage, you can be sure they'll come. I'll have Watts start on ways to counteract Cauldwell's device. He can start as soon as your friend hands over what notes he has left."
Cor frowned. "Counteract it? Why?"
The Commander's attention was clearly divided between Cor and his own planning. "For every weapon you have, make sure you have a reliable counter method. History has its share of peoples that were undone by their own advances." His thoughtful expression deepened, but the frown lines in his exposed forehead smoothed as he began to find answers to his unspoken concerns. "Hatch and Maddox will have to be informed," he said, naming the two head officers of Persephone's medical and security divisions. "Au'relia as well, I think, since she's in charge of the human's security, but other than them, I want you to speak of this to no one. The war itself might be ancient history for most of the crew, but many lost loved ones to the bombings twenty years ago. I don't want to start a panic."
"Or alert the technos that we're on to 'em?" Cor guessed.
Magnil didn't answer, but a line of electricity swept over his static field, filling the air with the abrasive smell of ozone. It was all the confirmation Cor needed.
"I'll keep my mouth zipped tight, boss," Cor promised.
Magnil pinned Cor with a piercing look. He thought the Commander was about to give him the 'you will or else I'll [insert personal favorite threat here]' speech. He in no way expected the words that came out of his mouth next.
"I also want you as instated as part of Perseph's security division. You'll be placed directly under Relia concerning Cauldwell's safety. You'll only answer to her and myself."
Cor actually broke attention. "You what?" he shouted without meaning to. His field swung into an erratic oblong shape as he tried to understand.
The Commander continued to stare. No hint of amusement tickled his features. "Do you need your ears cleaned, Sergeant?"
Cor straightened, snapping his field back into proper shape and fixing his eyes on the wall behind the Commander's head. "No, sir," he snapped. "Just..." he relaxed slightly and met the other man's gaze, reminding himself that he wasn't a subordinate yet. "Why me? I've been outta the game almost as long as you've been livin'."
The other Hybridina's face darkened, but not in offense. "Your friend is young, flighty. From what I've heard of your escape from the Helix 7, it was you that kept your head and kept the boy alive long enough to reach us."
"Well," Cor hemmed in a rare show of embarrassment, "Felix had sumthin' to do with it. He's the one that got us out of that corporate prison on Terrace."
Commander Magnil acknowledged this with a stately nod. "Regardless, while I'm sure in terms of math and science even Watts would have a difficult time besting the boy, in our world he will require guidance when trouble rears its ugly head as," his field popped once, like a loud snap of the fingers, "it always does. He trusts you for that, as do I."
He leaned forward and tapped the desk with a rectangular index finger, Cor watching without understanding. "I need you to keep him here," the Commander told him bluntly. "Just because O'Dowell insists he needs nothing more than that book doesn't mean he won't make an attempt on the boy."
"Kidnappin'?" Cor asked, finding the idea hard to believe given the Persephone's already heavy military presence alongside her higher than average security personnel. With the only surviving member of the royal family on board, they were all better trained and more alert than even the run of the mill battle cruiser. Not that Cor would put it past O'Dowell to try anyway. Or Kla, given the fact she was still on board...
Magnil nodded slowly. "Or something more permanent. I don't find it hard to believe that the technos would kill him just to keep us from gaining a working machine before them, do you?"
Cor's face turned dark. "No, sir. Though it does make me worry that he left his favorite femme behind. You think that's why he refused to take her back?" he asked with narrowed eyes.
"We've seen the possibility and have taken proper precautions," the Commander affirmed. "More than that you'll have to be officially cleared to hear."
Cor thought about this. It wasn't that he had been running from his army life all this time – there'd just been so much to see out past his own atmosphere once he got the chance – but it had never been something he'd ever considered going back to. It was all well and fine when there was a war that needed fighting, but unlike his brother, who had never left, Cor enjoyed living during peacetime. What Magnil was asking...it was a lot.
"All this time," Cor said slowly, needing something clarified before he agreed or disagreed to anything, "when we've been runnin', I always thought this would be the safest place fer Felix – and I still do, sir, honest – but," Cor felt his eyes harden, his field turn prickly, "if that ever changes then, technos or not, sergeant or not, I'll take him outta here without a look back." He met the Commander's eyes and raised his eyebrows as he drew his line in the sand. "Got it?"
High Commander Magnil met his stare and Cor got the feeling that he did not often receive ultimatums of any kind, not even from Rody, who seemed to enjoy driving him to the edge of sanity as often as he could. Given that, Cor thought he took it rather well.
His face turned stormy, his field roiled, leeching what humans considered breathable air out of the room. Cor just strengthened his own field and let the excess energy roll off him like a coat of oil. He never yelled, like most officers Cor had met would have, and he quickly calmed his field, though the iron weight of it remained. But all he said was, "Yes. And rest assured I will do what I can to ensure your friend's freedom, as long as it does not get in the way of anyone else's safety, especially his highness's."
It was the best Cor could hope for. He nodded.
"Er, speakin' of his highness," Cor spoke up as he realized he had a possible stupid question.
He stopped cold at the look the Commander gave him. "Yes?" The word had the blunt but dangerous edge of a war hammer.
Cor actually squirmed. "Well, it's jus' that ya said all the chief officers were ta be brought in on the technovore threat, but ya didn't mention his highness, so I was just wonderin' if the prince were supposed to know as well."
It didn't feel like a trick question to Cor, but the Commander closed his eyes and thought long and hard on the answer.
"If Rody needs to know of the possible technovore presence," he finally said, words coming slow and weighty from his mouth, "then I will be the one to tell him."
Cor blinked, field shrinking slightly in disbelief. Sure, he'd asked, but he hadn't expected the Crown Prince of all people to not know of their old enemy's return.
"But-" he started without thinking.
Magnil brought his words to a hard stop. "You concern yourself with your charge and I will concern myself with mine," he snapped.
Cor was so taken aback by the Commander's vehemence that it took him a few seconds to remember to answer. "Yeah, boss, got it."
Steel-hard eyes snapped to him, but the unanticipated forcefulness had passed. "That is not how you address a superior officer, Sergeant," he reminded him.
"Not my SO just yet, boss," Cor had the audacity to answer, but then that wouldn't have surprised those that knew him.
Magnil's eyes turned up to the ceiling, slow enough that Cor wondered if this was the first time he'd ever tried to roll his eyes before. Though, having met the prince, he highly doubted that. The Commander sighed loudly and Cor thought he heard him mutter, "Ghost, not another one," under his breath.
"We will remedy that now," Magnil told him at normal volume. "You've already been cleared by Hatch. All that's left is Maddox." An annoyed spark snapped through his field. "He'll want to interview you...probably more than once."
Cor grunted. Like the Commander, Arthim "Mad Dog" Maddox had a reputation. Unlike the Commander, it had him as even more neurotic and paranoid that a Newanka Hydra Lizard – and they had four heads each with one eye so they could look in every direction at once.
"But if I'm seriously gonna do this, there's no way 'roud it," Cor told himself.
He paused and frowned. "Am I doin' this?"
Unaware of Cor's uncertainty, the Commander ploughed on through the rest of the formalities. "He's expecting you at oh'eight hundred in the Security Office – Orange Sector, Level 2 – but he won't actually let you in until oh'nine-thirty."
"Why?" Cor asked with a twitch of his eyebrows.
Magnil, he noticed, refused to look at him as he activated the computer set into his desk, the monitor holo-projected into the air above the well ordered surface. "He thinks it takes at least an hour of unsuspected observation to know a person."
"But-" Cor tried to understand, "-you just told me he'll be watchin'."
The Commander nodded. "Hence the extra thirty minutes."
Cor's inner gears started to grind, like a penny had found its way between the teeth.
"Don't try and understand it," the younger man advised. "He's as crazy as they say; worse on a bad orbital cycle. Just answer all his questions no matter how embarrassing and if the urge to strangle him grows too strong, recite the continental kings in alphabetical order. It's what I do..." he muttered before sharply shaking his head and raising his voice to normal volumes. "For anything else, talk to Au'relia."
Cor raised an eyebrow. "She know him best?"
"Well you don't think she stays assistant director because she lacks the talent for more, do you?"
Not for the first time, Cor wished he had seen Au'relia's confrontation with Kla for himself. As it was, he had Felix's jumbled recollection and Aster's far ore colorful one. Put those two together, add in his own impression of the woman, and Cor thought he had a fair grasp of the femme herself.
"Not for a nano-sec, sir."
Commander Magnil glanced up at him and, for a bare second, Cor thought he saw a faint pride in the Commander's metal eyes. For Au'relia?
It was gone before he could even be sure it was there and the Commander was shoving an older model datapad into Cor's hands, catching him off guard as he instinctively clutched its thick, sturdy edges to keep from dropping it. "All the new holo-tabs are accounted for, so you'll have to make do with an older models." He skewered him with one eye. "No complaints. It may not be fancy, but it works just fine."
"That's a-okay by me," Cor said as he turned the outdated datapad over so the letters on the backlit screen were upright. He didn't bother hiding his relief at having a tool he already knew all the ins and outs of. If it broke – and his track record with anything more advanced than a wrench said it would – he even knew how to fix this one.
"Everything else you'll need to know is on there." Magnil inclined his head at the datapad. "Anything that requires security clearance will be open to you once Maddox finally clears you, but the basics will be useful to you now." He met Cor's eyes briefly and then nodded at the door at Cor's back. "That is all. You're dismissed."
Cor started to shake his head at the younger Hybridian's abruptness, but realized that might get him off on the wrong foot and stopped.
That being said, he still couldn't resist saying as he turned around, "Sure thing boss."
Cor chuckled as the door closed behind him. The glare the Commander shot him as he left was completely worth it.