Episode 27: The Intersystem Unified Police

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Samantha brought her list of Red Kestrels known to reside on Mentaryd. It wasn't a part of her plan, but not much has gone according to plan. With Eliza at her side, Samantha is ready to do a little ad-hoc intelligence gathering.

Eliza plugged her natural ear with her finger. “Okay, go.”

Samantha turned her body in the passenger seat, angling her voice away from Eliza as she muttered softly into her shoulder, testing the purchased micro-comms’ mic and earpiece. “Hunter one, check.”

Eliza gave a thumbs up with her artificial hand, organic finger still in organic ear. “Okay, now me.” She brought her cybernetic arm to her face, burying her mouth in the crook of her elbow. “Hunter two, check, check.”

Eliza’s muffled voice came through Samantha’s earpiece, part of their purchase at the mercenary warehouse. “Not quite the fidelity of 5E tech, but good enough.”

After Eliza agreed to assist, they had made another stop for a change of clothes, purchasing and changing into a matching pair of black, form-fitting jackets and pants that resembled something private security or law enforcement would wear—fashionable and functional. Samantha had already had the protective bodysuit on when she left the Matilda. It wasn’t a tacsuit, but, like the military-grade earpieces, it was good enough for what they were planning.

Communication devices tested, they both did a quick check of their appearance and gear load-out. In a changing room at one of the clothing shops, Eliza had removed her makeup and collected her hair into a tight braid, same as Samantha.

Now in the rental car backed into a parking stall on a side street near their target’s location, each checked their bolt pistols were secured in shoulder holsters beneath their jackets, making adjustments to straps and zippers. Samantha’s karambit was tucked into her waistband, and Eliza had produced a collapsible stun-baton from her backpack along with a tritanium pry-bar and plastic cable-ties she seemed to have already brought with her, tucking each into the front flap of her jacket.

“Clear on the story?” Samantha said while pulling on a pair of tight-fitting, black gloves.

Eliza nodded, pulling on an identical pair of gloves over both organic and cybernetic hands. “Affirmative. I’ve done a version of this raid plenty of times.”

Samantha nodded. Eliza seemed to be able to switch between personalities at will. One, the unstable mercenary with a drinking problem, the other a clear-eyed law officer. Samantha wasn’t in doubt of Eliza’s ability to keep up the act, only her desire to. As to which personality was authentic and which was the facade, it seemed that either, both, or neither were all viable guesses. Nothing she could do about that now but trust in Eliza’s desire to make it back to the Matilda galley bar without issue.

Samantha looked down at the military-grade comm, it’s small, curved screen an upgrade from the consumer model Julian had prepared on Kestris. On the dimmed screen were the dossiers of the two Red Kestrels she’d chosen for this improvised intelligence hunt. The 5E data had been good. The first dossier was the decoy, which informed their approach on the second. Locating the Kestrel she wanted had taken three hours, followed by another two hours of observing his movements. He had led them to the exact place the dossier’s habit data had indicated—a run-down part of Mentaryd City where he rented an apartment using his real name.

From their parking spot, they had watched him enter the building, then Eliza had performed a quick reconnaissance walk-through of the building. Security was weak and none of the entry points were reinforced. They watched the building for another hour, waiting for sundown. During that time, the target had not exited, and no one fitting the profile of a Red Kestrel had entered.

Samantha played her script in her head, forcing aside her excitement at finally taking direct action. “Okay. Are we ‘go’?”

Eliza pulled out a textured, three-holed facemask and pulled it over her head, nothing but her eyes and mouth visible. “We are ‘go’.”

Samantha pulled on a matching facemask, the fabric sliding down over her face, momentarily blinding her until, like Eliza, she was now nothing more than a black-clad specter. She reached into her jacket and pulled out the taze pill she’d brought, gloved hand tossing it into her mouth. 

Their observe and report mission had evolved a bit since earlier in the day. Samantha wanted to attribute it to Eliza’s enthusiasm, but she knew it was her own. This was her first mission as a rogue agent, making things up as she went along.

“Mission is ‘go’.”

The apartment door gave way and slid to the side as Eliza—with her enhanced mechanical strength—pushed the tritanium prybar forward. The apartment’s security system made no sound, it’s rudimentary safeguards no match for the rolling-key digital breaching jammer they had purchased along with the weapons and micro-comms. 

The gap was just wide enough for Eliza to wedge her cybernetic shoulder and bent arm into. Like a mechanical press, the arm extended and snapped the door back just enough for Samantha to duck through the opening, bolt pistol raised in front of her in a two-handed grip.

Samantha rushed into the room, sweeping her gaze across the apartment’s interior, instantly making a mental inventory of her surroundings. Couch. Chair. Hallway. Window with shades drawn. Vidscreen playing some local Mentaryd feed. Dining table with red scarf casually resting on it. Row of suitcases near dining table. Kitchen. Person.

There.

He stood, barefoot and wearing casual house clothes, in the small kitchen attached to the living room, with a bowl in one hand and a spoon halfway to his mouth in the other. He matched the photo 5E had on record; dark brown hair, short beard, tall and lanky with a nose too-big for his face, a face which was presently twisted into a look of confused shock.

Samantha rushed forward, weapon leveled at the man’s face and barked orders from the anonymity of her facemask.

“Hands up! Now! Speak or make a move and I will shoot!”

The man stumbled backward against the kitchen counter, dropping the bowl and spoon and raising his hands frantically, reddish-brown soup splashing to the floor across his bare feet.

“Doctor Trell Landon, you are hereby placed under arrest and charged with assisting the terrorist group known as the Red Kestrels—of which you are a high-ranking member—in the building of particle accelerators with the intent of creating antimatter warheads.”

The man’s eyes crossed and centered on the bolt pistol in Samantha’s hands, just beyond his reach. “What? I’m not Landon! Who are you? I’m not—”

Samantha stepped forward, arms tensing as she pressed her weapon to the wincing man’s face.

“No use lying, Doctor Landon. We are with the Intersystem Unified Police task force, working on a joint-investigation with Imperium Navy Intelligence and are here to deliver you to Kestris under article six, section four, paragraph nine of the intersystem criminal portability clause of the Greater-Sector Interstellar Crime Convention.”

Samantha glanced over her shoulder; Eliza had pulled the door shut and was listening with her cybernetic ear pressed against its surface. Eliza gave Samantha the all-clear, signaling the start of the plan they had rehearsed on the drive. 

Eliza had provided the details about the law enforcement side of their cover story. 5E missions had never required the kind of due-processes Eliza’s former career had. While they certainly were not a part of the Intersystem Unified Police, article six, section four, paragraph nine of the Greater-Sector Interstellar Crime Convention was very real and would have applied if the entire raid were not a fabrication. Their target knew the laws of the system, better to overwhelm him with facts before he started to wonder why the I.U.P. sent two masked kidnappers just for him.

Eliza came up beside Samantha, plastic cable-tie in hand, and Samantha gestured at the man with her gun. 

“Turn around. Now!” Samantha ordered. The man’s eyes darted back and forth between his two masked assailants.

“I’m not Landon! My name is Layton. Tyrell Layton! I’ve never met Landon. I’m an accountant. My work and his doesn’t even overlap. He’s not even a part of the Mentaryd chapter!”

Samantha scoffed loudly. “Enough; I already saw the scarf on the table. Officer Annabelle, restrain him.”

Eliza—who’d chosen her own alias—stepped forward, grabbing the man she and Samantha both knew was not Doctor Landon and spun him around, the look of shock on his face deepening at Officer Annabelle’s strength. Eliza expertly pulled his hands behind his back and slipped the cable-tie around his wrists, yanking it tight with a loud zip. With her natural hand on his forearm and the cybernetic on the back of his neck, Eliza forced Tyrell Layton into the living room and shoved him onto the couch.

Samantha stood over Tyrell and holstered her bolt pistol. “Doctor Landon, the I.U.P. has been cooperating with OS-9 Imperium Navy Intelligence since the attack on Starview Station in the Kestris System five days ago. You are a Red Kestrel and a scientist who has been working for the Red Kestrel leader Reed Casto to build secret antimatter weapon facilities on Fringe planets, Mentaryd being one of them. Imperium intelligence has shared their dossier on you with us; it contains over two years of surveillance. It’s over.”

Eliza stood next to Samantha, leveling her stun baton at Tyrell, a pop of electricity arcing across its metal electrodes. “We know it’s you. Our surveillance teams are never wrong.”

Samantha nodded to Eliza, keeping her eyes on Tyrell. “Call it in.”

Eliza brought her hand to her ear, speaking with authority into her forearm. “Command. We have Landon.” Eliza paused, voice shifting from confident to confused. “Negative… What do you mean?… Affirmative, he’s here… Right… Affirmative, Doctor Landon… Negative, I did not check the dossier…” She looked pointedly at Tyrell. “I don’t know, brown?… Well, what does a physicist look like? He’s not exactly holding a centrifuge… Mmm-hmmm… ‘Miscommunication’?… Wrong district? Understood. Affirmative… With Officer Merriweather.” Eliza—who’d also chosen Samantha’s alias—looked to Samantha, shaking her head. “They’re sending something to your comm.”

Eliza’s performance was impressive. If Samantha hadn’t known there was no command dispatcher on the other end, she’d have believed there was. On cue, Samantha raised her comm and activated the dossier she’d fabricated in the rental car. On the screen showed the picture of the real Doctor Trell Landon, physicist and high-ranking Red Kestrel, with his neatly combed hair, smooth-shaven face, and skin far bronzer than Tyrell’s.

“What the…” Samantha said, soaking her voice in disgust and holding the comm for Eliza to see, making sure Tyrell could as well. Eliza squinted at it, then to Tyrell, then back to the comm.

Tyrell tried to lean forward, using his restrained arms to push himself off the couch’s back. “See? See? That’s not me, I don’t know anything about particle accelerators. I’m the chapter accountant here, yeah, but I’ve got nothing to do with weapons manufacturing!”

Eliza leaned her head close to Samantha’s. “We got the wrong guy… though the names do have a lot of the same letters,” Eliza muttered, loud enough for their captive to hear. She raised her hand back to her ear. “Command… Miscommunication confirmed… Affirmative… Mmm-hmm…” She turned her back to Samantha and Tyrell, her frustrated whispers loud enough for all to hear. “Well, we rely on you to provide the location and extraction intel… Negative… No, we can’t… City? The whole planet is one big city… No… Because we’ve got this guy tied up and now no team to extract him!…” Eliza paused, nodding along in resignation. “Mmm-hmm… Mmm-hmm… Yes. Tyrell Layton… Understood.”

Eliza turned back around, collapsing the stun baton and slipping it back inside her jacket. “They’re sending the backup team to the correct location for Doctor Landon. Wrong hemisphere. Exfiltration is cancelled. They’re scuttling this mission and want us to evacuate on-foot and…” Eliza looked at Tyrell, then back to Samantha and drew her finger across her throat.

Samantha’s shoulders slumped. “Imperium giving us bad intel. Why am I not surprised?” She reached her hand back into her jacket, sighing deeply as she rested her hand on the bolt pistol.

Tyrell’s gaze darted back and forth between Samantha and Eliza. “Hey, I’m not Landon, okay? If you’re really with I.U.P., you can’t just—you can’t just kill me over a mistake! Right?”

Eliza stepped forward, jabbing a gloved finger in Tyrell’s face. “You don’t tell us what to do here, Layton. If that is your real name. You’re still a Kestrel, and your little group just made themselves the sector’s most wanted.”

Samantha placed a hand on Eliza’s arm. “Stand down, Officer.” Eliza took a step back. Samantha dropped to a knee, eye-level with Tyrell as she summoned a negotiator’s tone. “Look, this mission is a bust. We’ve been ordered to exfiltrate while they go after the real Doctor Landon with another team. But it’s open season on your group. You have to know that by now. If you’re killed as the result of an intelligence mix-up, it will be filed away and forgotten as an ancillary consequence.” She exhaled, then sucked her teeth for a beat to give the impression she was thinking something over. “But… if you can give me something to make this screw-up worth my time, my partner and I might be able to find some I.U.P. rules of engagement that would prevent us from eliminating you or making an arrest. Don’t make me go back to command with nothing.”

Tyrell squirmed on the couch, trying to sit upright. “Like what? I mean, look at the dossier they sent you, I’m an accountant. I might do some creative accounting with chapter funds, but that’s not against any planetary law and nothing I.U.P. should care about.”

On cue, Eliza reached into her jacket pocket and pulled one of the handheld datapads they had prepped with the information on Tyrell that had been in the 5E database. “Command just sent his file. Money laundering. Transmission fraud. Securities fraud. Insider trading. Racketeering.” She shrugged, stuffing the datapad back into her jacket. “He’s right. This is all system turf-war nonsense.”

Samantha looked up to Eliza, then back to Tyrell. He thought his relative unimportance would help him. In fact, Samantha had chosen him because of his lack of importance. He was connected enough to Kestrel operations to have access to material information, but low-level enough to roll over when squoze. Time to see how much he’d give up.

Samantha scooted closer, resting an elbow across her knee. “The Imperium is mobilizing across their systems, and all throughout the Fringe, because of what the Kestrels did. You think I.U.P. wants the Imperium here any more than you do? But my hands are tied. They provided intelligence stating that your group is planning another attack like what transpired on Starview Station, but they don’t know what. So, they’re paying organizations like ours to flush out information. But if you’re a confidential informant… then I think Officer Annabelle and I could see a reason to keep you around.” Samantha leaned closer, giving him nowhere to look but her eyes. “Tell me. Something. New.”

Tyrell sputtered and swallowed. “I don’t know anything about sector-wide Kestrel business. That’s all controlled on Dradari, with Casto, like you said. I didn’t know about the attack on Starview. None of us did. The day it happened, we were all told to keep out of sight, stand down, and prepare to bug-out when we got the signal.”

Samantha’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean ‘prepare to bug-out’? To where?”

Tyrell nodded to the row of suitcases near the kitchen. “They didn’t say. It came from the top. Everyone was told to pack and be ready to drop everything and rendezvous somewhere in the sector, some secret rally-point.”

Samantha nodded to the suitcases. “Officer, check them.”

Eliza moved to the kitchen and grabbed one of the suitcases, slamming it onto the dining table. She pulled the zipper around and flung the top open, clothes spilling out. She picked something up and held it up to her face, examining it with an appraiser’s eye.

“Socks,” she said, voice filled with a gravity usually reserved for identifying a murder weapon. She looked to Samantha. “His story checks out.”

Samantha sighed. Tyrell appeared to be telling the truth. Reed Casto giving an order for the Red Kestrels to lie low would explain the group’s lack of any statements on the newsvids. She released her hand from the bolt pistol. “How are you expecting to receive this signal?”

Tyrell shrugged. “Kestrels have a network. Dradari sends a message to region bosses, region bosses send a signal to system bosses, system bosses send a signal to chapter bosses, chapter bosses… I mean you get it. Nobody acts until word comes down from someone they trust.”

“Your boss, that’s Braithwaite Kattan.” Samantha said. She’d considered making a move on Kattan, but 5E records indicated he was an experienced warlord posing as a businessperson and maintained heavy security. “Has he given any communication for your chapter?”

Tyrell shook his head. “No. Braith has kept it business as usual, telling everyone to keep to themselves and out of any situations like…” His head fell forward. “Like what I’m in right now.”

“But you’re already prepared.” Samantha pointed to the opened suitcase. “When were you expecting this mystery signal?”

Tyrell looked up. “I don’t know. Within a week is the rumor. We don’t get orders from Dradari often, but when we do, we know not to ask questions. You saw how far Reed’s willing to go. I heard he sent the Kestrels to Starview, knowing it was a suicide mission.”

Samantha frowned; of course Reed would make certain whoever he sent to Kestris wouldn’t live to divulge who had enabled their attack. It seemed clear that the Imperium insiders wanted to cause chaos and uncertainty, but what did Reed Casto get out of being the scapegoat, other than the wrath of an empire? Even having the Dauntless wouldn’t be of much help once the Imperium located him.

Samantha’s hand slid toward the karambit on her hip. He would get one more chance before her motivation tactics became more direct. “Tyrell, you have access to this chapter’s finances. That means you have access to more than just the average Kestrel foot-soldier. I know you know things. Why would Reed want the Kestrels to go silent? This is your big victory. You hit the Imperium where it hurts, killed hundreds of civilians, and embarrassed the High Imperius and all his lackeys. Shouldn’t Reed’s face be on all the vids issuing a statement and taking credit from some undisclosed location?”

Tyrell leaned back, face contorting into a look of mild disgust. “Do you think that’s what our group is about? The Red Kestrels were founded by veterans who helped win a war for the Imperium. We already tried to co-exist. Now, we want what is best for our people, the Fringe, after seeing what the Imperium’s real motives are. My job is to cheat local corporations and help dodge import tariffs. I mean, search the place—I don’t even have a gun here! You think I want the Imperium coming to Mentaryd because a dozen Kestrels were convinced to give their lives for some fight we can never win?” His voice faltered, and he closed his eyes. “The zealots Casto controls who were willing to attack Starview without any remorse… that’s not all of us.”

Samantha spewed out a bitter laugh. Tyrell was trying to absolve himself of the crimes she knew the Kestrels were guilty of. What did he think the money he laundered was for? Half of Samantha’s 5E operations had been the end result of jobs like his. Either he was naïve, or he thought she was gullible enough to believe he was contrite. Her hand wrapped around the handle of the karambit, and she pulled the blade halfway out before feeling Eliza’s hand on her shoulder, pushing her arm back down.

“What’s that, Command?… Immediate evac?… Understood.” Eliza leaned forward, hand to her ear. “Looks like it’s time for us to leave, Officer Merriweather.”

Samantha’s eyes narrowed. She stood, taking a single step backward. “Tomorrow, you’re going to report to the Mentaryd I.U.P. depot and turn yourself in as an informant. Officer Annabelle and I, we’re not local. They won’t have a record of us. But if you don’t show, they’ll come looking.”

Tyrell nodded, chin rapidly bobbing up and down. Samantha walked to the table and picked up the red scarf. “I’m taking this.”

Eliza appeared beside her, Tyrell’s socks in hand. “And I’m taking these.”

They crossed the room, Eliza pulling the broken door back open. Samantha pointed back to Tyrell, his scarf still dangling from her hand. “I.U.P. drones are still watching this building. Don’t try to leave until morning.”

Tyrell’s expression sunk. “What about my hands?”

Samantha kept her back to the room, pointedly thunking the karambit back into its sheath. “Sorry. Nothing to cut with.”

The crate of weapons clunked onto the floor of the hotel room. It had taken Samantha and Eliza nearly two hours of uninterrupted skylane travel to return to the part of the city where they would meet back up with Decker in the morning. They hadn’t heard from him, but a quick call to Manu on the Matilda let them know he’d checked in with him a few hours earlier. 

With their side-mission and errands concluded, Eliza had chosen a cheap hotel with easy ground-level room access. The rental car was now parked in the underground garage, and they had already changed out of their mission suits. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, this was their safehouse for the night.

 Most of the ride to the hotel had been Eliza having a one-way conversation about whatever seemed to pop into her mind. Samantha had tapped into the car’s public transmitter, taking in newsfeeds from around the sector. There was plenty of news about Starview Station, the Imperium, the Fringe, the Red Kestrels, but no actual news of Red Kestrel activity. Tyrell’s story about standing down seemed to be substantiated. 

“Home at last,” Eliza said, flopping onto one of the two beds, arms outstretched. After a moment, she leaned onto one elbow. “You think he’ll really go turn himself in? Hah, can you imagine the looks on the depot chief’s face?”

Samantha checked the hotel door, making sure it was set to lock and do-not-disturb. She crossed the room and sat on the other bed, body coming down from the taze as her mind processed what she’d learned. 

“No. He seemed scared enough to stay out of sight for a few hours, but eventually he’ll try checking on Doctor Trell Landon’s whereabouts and realize that the Intersystem Unified Police had not really been after either of them. He’ll realize he leaked information to unknown parties that both his boss and Reed Casto would execute him for. I think Tyrell will find a reason to use those suitcases early.”

Eliza flopped back. “Yeah. Tough luck for him. Desk-bound grunt just cooking the books. Now he’s wrapped up in something his group did that he had to learn about on the news the day after.”

Samantha’s leg bounced, wishing it had some place else to burn the rest of the taze’s energy. “Wrapped up? In the last few weeks, his group has been responsible for the loss of an entire crew of an Imperium Navy warship, as well as hundreds of civilians, many of whom were likely Fringe citizens traveling on Kestris.” Samantha pressed her hand against her leg, forcing it still. “He’s culpable.”

“Yeah? You think everyone in a group is responsible for what those at the top do?” Eliza said, like a schoolteacher trying to help a child come to a realization on their own.

Samantha glared at Eliza. “If you’re trying to compare my work for the Imperium with the Red Kestrels, that’s different. Whoever inside the Imperium that is facilitating this for the Kestrels betrayed the people of the empire. If Tyrell had expressed more disgust at Reed Casto’s actions, maybe I could see it. But he didn’t. And, if he’d been given orders to funnel money for the purchase of weapons to be used in another attack on innocents, I am certain he’d follow them.”

Eliza sighed, abruptly sitting up and rummaging through her backpack on the floor. “Following orders, following orders. Always the same thing.” She found one of the bottles of newly-purchased liquors from their earlier supply run and twisted off the cap with one hand. “I used to follow orders. If I had gotten a hand with more fingers, I still couldn’t count how many times I had to shake-down someone like him over laws I didn’t agree with, all because someone up top wanted us to hit an arrest quota.” She took a pull from the bottle, smacking her lips in satisfaction. “Have you ever actually lived outside the Imperium? Not just worked, but actually lived as a member of a populace?”

Samantha scoffed softly, looking the other way. “Kestris was my home, everywhere else was work. So, no, I’ve never just been a local.”

Eliza tipped her head. “There’s a lot more to the sector, to the galaxy, than the Imperium. You’re fighting to protect a little slice of a sector that is a part of a slightly bigger slice of a quadrant which is then just a part of the galaxy, just like the billions of other galaxies out there,” she paused, taking another pull from the bottle. Her voice was more serious than Samantha liked. “You ever stop to consider how relatively meaningless the Imperium is compared to the entire universe?”

Samantha’s face wrinkled with incredulity. “The Imperium may just be a speck in the universe, but to the people who consider it their home, it may as well be the whole universe. Until I have another job, or am dead, I will carry out my duty.”

Eliza shrugged. “More job, more duty. I felt that way, back before my accident, which turned out wasn’t an accident at all. I was betrayed by my own. I hope you don’t have to go through something like I did to realize that the Imperium is just another tiny group of petty people controlling everyone else.”

Samantha shook her head. “You sound like Decker. I have a responsibility. I agreed to do something and I’m going to do it.”

Eliza offered her the bottle; Samantha refused. Eliza shrugged, took another drink, and continued. “You know, you don’t have to do this.”

Samantha closed her eyes. She should have brought the halo. “Do what?”

“Any of this. You’re on the run, exiled from your home, chasing down a bunch of—let’s face it—thugs and lunatics who just happened to recruit enough additional thugs and lunatics to create a temporary nuisance for the High Imperius and his Navy.”

Samantha turned to face Eliza. “You were at Starview. How can you dismiss that?”

“I’m not dismissing it. I’m looking at it as an outsider. A few hundred people died. Any other planet, it wouldn’t even be news. You almost killed a guy for being a crooked accountant a few hours ago.”

Samantha scoffed. “I wasn’t going to kill him, just motivate him. I have to make my exile matter. Ancillary consequences are to be disregarded while in pursuit of the mission objective.”

Eliza whistled, clearly unimpressed. “And what if you succeed and bring the Red Kestrels down and whoever is helping them—‘ancillary consequences’ and all? Then what are you going to do?”

Samantha turned away, moving her gaze to an empty corner of the room. “I’ll go back. Be reinstated, record cleared. This is just another mission. When it’s done, there will be another.”

Eliza took another drink, settling herself back onto the bed and pressing the controls on the nightstand to shut off the lamp near her bed. “You’ll go back to acting as the blade that the hand of the Imperium wields, never in control of your own trajectory?”

Samantha kept her eyes forward. This level of introspection was more evidence that Eliza’s antics were as put-on as her hair color and makeup.

“I am in control. No one forced me to take this mission,” Samantha said, words more bitter than she had expected.

“Who are you doing this mission for?”

The question filled Samantha with a surprising surge of anger. “Who? For the people of the Imperium, and anyone else that the Red Kestrels want to hurt. They can’t be allowed to act unimpeded.”

“Yeah, yeah. We all want to help the greater good. But I mean who are you doing it for personally? If you threw a party, who would you invite?”

A moment of silence passed in the darkness. Samantha’s gut soured; she remembered why Clarke had selected her for this mission in the first place. It wasn’t just her talent as an agent. The idea that she was personally fighting for no one hadn’t occurred to her. Samantha was the blade in the hand of the Imperium. It was her purpose to strike, not ask why. It was what she wanted.

Wasn’t it?

She laid back onto the bed, the taze comedown beginning to drain away the borrowed energy. “This is my job. How is it different from what you’re doing? Isn’t your life a series of jobs where you’re taking orders from Decker or whoever is hiring you?”

Another moment of silence passed before Eliza’s drowsy voice returned. “Maybe. But I’m willing to let go if something isn’t working.”

Samantha stared at the blackness around her, eyes unfocused, body depleted, but mind whirring. “We’re different. If something isn’t working, I’ll make it work.”

Eliza didn’t respond, the sound of her deep breathing the only thing Samantha could hear. Alone and awake, she continued to stare into the silent darkness for a long, long time.