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The dust and shaking settled long before the two of us stopped coughing. It was utterly dark, save for a few tiny shards of blue crystal on the floor, but even their glow seemed to be dimming, as though their luminescent energy was drawn from the walls of the mountain shaft. The only other light was the dim red glow of Jonathan’s cybernetic eye. It was a tiny spot in the black void that surrounded us.

Jonathan and I stood next to each other, trying to catch our breaths. I wanted to activate the light from my holo-gauntlet, but I hesitated. I didn’t know if I could look him in the face right now.

I was reeling. Jonathan had betrayed us. He had been part of the Brotherhood all along. How had I not seen it before?

The air was musty and stale down here. With the shaft closed behind us, I wondered about how much air we would have. For all I knew the cave system branched out into multiple exits, but perhaps not. If not, then we wouldn’t be able to stay there forever, or we would run out of oxygen…

The oxygen recycler! Back in the nebula, when we were aboard the Firebrand our oxygen recycler was damaged. But right after Jonathan left the cockpit, it got worse…

You took advantage of the damaged oxygen recycler, and sabotaged it further, didn’t you?” I asked. My voice was low and calm, though I didn’t bother trying to hide my anger.

Jonathan’s arm began to glow as he activated the lighting system on his holo-gauntlet. We were illuminated in a small sphere of white light coming from his wrist, casting long shadows on the walls. I could see Jonathan’s breath puffing into tiny clouds.

His eyes met mine briefly, before he looked away and sighed. He sat down on a boulder next to the caved in wall. He kept his eyes trained on the floor, and began to slow his breathing.

Yes,” he said at last. “I did.”

I stared at him. Weakly I gestured with my arms, before turning away from him, shaking my head.

That’s why you wanted to fix it yourself. You knew that one of us might have noticed the sabotage. That’s why-” I smacked myself in the forehead. “Of course. You didn’t want to meet my mother… because you knew you couldn’t hide your thoughts from her. She would have found out that you were part of the Brotherhood, and she would have exposed you.”

I balled my fists. My heart quickened in anger.

What the hell did you do to K?!” I exploded in rage, and spun to face him. He looked up at me in alarm. I expected him to be defensive, but instead he just looked ashamed.

He was with the Brotherhood. He betrayed us. He was in league with Duhrnan. He let my planet be destroyed. He let billions of people die. My body began to shake.

Then my arms went slack. My eyes glazed over. I remembered the look in Jonathan’s face when Astraloth had been destroyed. He had been crying. It was the first time I had seem him look so distraught, but not the last. Ever since then he had appeared exhausted, tormented by something. He hardly slept. There was something he couldn’t share, because it meant telling us what he had done. What he had let happen.

I still couldn’t trust him.

I knelt down beside him and grabbed his coat. Before he could do more than exclaim in surprise, I reached into his jacket and retrieved his E-pistol. He didn’t bother trying to fight me for it. I took a few steps back, and held the gun at my side, powered off and aimed at the floor. He glanced at me, his eyes shifting between my face and the gun.

If you are going to try killing me,” he coughed, “then why did you save me from K?”

My ears lowered. “I don’t want to kill you.

Because you want answers?” He asked.

I shut my eyes, and took in a deep breath. I breathed it all out, then opened my eyes and holstered his gun on my hip. “You were my friend, Jonathan.”

He pursed his lips. He ran his fingers through his spiked hair, and looked away from me. His hands were gloved, as usual.

He had been wearing gloves when I first met him, in the generator room on Voren. He claimed that he had been trying to restore power, but… He was the Head of Biology at the station. The bio-labs were on the lower levels of the facility, far away from the generator. Why would he have been there? How could he have gotten there so fast after the attack, unless he had been there before the attack started?

The generator is so essential to the station, it’s probably the most well guarded room in the whole place. It’s got three shielded doors, and if an unauthorized breach is detected in any one of them, then the Director is immediately notified. I remembered K’s words. And I remembered how the doors were ajar, with only minor weapon damage. I didn’t consider it then, but the damage to the doors was superficial. It certainly wasn’t enough to open them. It was probably caused by a small weapon, like an E-pistol. And besides, if the doors were breached, then the Director would have been notified like K said. If the Director had been aware of the breach, he probably wouldn’t have waited around to be killed in the control room. I found his body just feet away from his station; he had been killed while he worked, trying to maintain control during the power outage.

No. Jonathan had opened the doors to the generator room himself. As Head of Biology he clearly was in a high class at the outpost; he must have gotten authorization to enter the generator room. He wore gloves so that when he handled the door controls, or anything for that matter, his fingerprints wouldn’t be found. And he gave the doors a few blasts with his pistol after opening them to make it appear as though they had somehow been damaged. He had removed the power cells, only two, making sure to break the circuit and cut off power to the entire base. He did it with a surgical precision befitting his position.

He looked at me, as if to say “I know what you’re thinking.” I blinked in the dim light. I took a moment and activated my own holo-gauntlet’s light, just in case he decided to cut the lights and try to surprise me in the dark. But gazing at him, he didn’t seem like he was about to make a move against me. He just looked tired. So tired.

He had said only moments ago, before the collapse, that he made K. Whatever he meant, it was clear now… Fiona's suspicions were correct. K was a sleeper agent; a bioweapon created by the Brotherhood. But how did the TAU find K, and bring her to Voren? And more importantly, why?

Don’t be stupid, Osax! I thought. That was the story I had been given, yes, but there was no proof that it was the truth. I was beginning to doubt just about everything I knew.

I figured that Jonathan wasn’t about to attack me, and with him now disarmed just to be safe, I wasn’t afraid. So I began to pace a few meters away from him as he sat against the wall. His eyes followed me warily.

Who was the Director K mentioned?” I asked.

Jonathan hesitated. “I… am not certain.”

Come on. Who do you think she meant?”

She… must have been referring to Aali.”

I knew it! And those Brotherhood soldiers that were pretending to be part of the TAU… that was real TAU gear, wasn’t it?”

Jonathan nodded.

The Brotherhood has infiltrated the TAU. For how long?” I waved my hand aside. “Forget it… that doesn’t matter right now. But the base on Voren… it was being run by Director Aali, a member of the Brotherhood, right under the noses of the TAU. And you- How many of the people there were part of the Brotherhood?”

Jonathan coughed, and cleared his throat. “Not everyone. Some of the people were what they appeared to be. Members of the Terran Astral Union. And in a way, so were we all. Just, some of us had other obligations.”

I don’t understand… if the Brotherhood was pulling the strings there, then why didn’t you ensure only Brotherhood spies were stationed there? Wouldn’t having outsiders put your operations at risk?”

Jonathan nodded. “Yes, it was risky. But, you’re not considering the whole picture.” He stood up slowly. “If, to continue your analogy, the Brotherhood is pulling the strings, then so too is the TAU. Even with the TAU infiltrated, we never had direct control of everything, including personnel assignments and the like. If we are all puppeteers, Brotherhood and TAU alike, then it would be dangerous to take too much control of any one part of the stage… not until ensuring that we held all of the puppets.”

I growled. “The TAU aren’t puppeteers. The TAU is built on trust, and open communication.”

Jonathan frowned and shook his head. “I’m afraid you don’t know what you’re talking about, Osax.”

What do you mean?”

I mean it’s not a story where they’re the angels and we’re the demons. The TAU aren’t saints. No one is.”

Still,” I said, “how did you manage to keep the Brotherhood secret on Voren?”

Actually, it’s precisely because not everyone was in on it. When the higher-ups of the TAU took a look at our facility, they engaged with those who knew what we wanted them to know about it. But, for the most part, not with us. If you look at ten people, and five of them are being truthful, and the other five are not, but they all appear to be working towards the same goals… How can you tell them apart? Genuine, oblivious people only strengthen the validity of those who hide in the shadows. If you were to notice a contrast in behaviour, you might simply attribute discrepancies to personality. You might say, ‘Oh, she isn’t so talkative’.” He lowered his gaze. “Besides, everyone has secrets. Anyone reasonable knows it. And if you know everyone has secrets, how can you tell the harmless secrets from the nefarious? Well if you want to be a good leader, you treat everyone with the same respect. And if most of your people have no hidden agenda, then for the most part, you won’t see one.”

I was in near-disbelief. “The Director arranged for our transport in the snow, just before the attack,” I said. “We were attacked in the snowfields by a massive creature, something we weren’t warned about or prepared for. We didn’t have weapons appropriate for such an encounter. And our communicator was malfunctioning. Do you think...”

I didn’t know why I was asking Jonathan, as if we were in this together. He had betrayed us all. But he looked concerned.

It’s possible,” he said, “that the Director had been ordered to eliminate you.”

My spine tingled. “Ordered by whom?”

Ryner.”

Ryner?” I asked. “Who is that?”

He is the leader of the Brotherhood,” he said. “He’s the one who gave me the order to let the station get attacked.”

So it was you,” I said.

He shut his mouth, and nodded solemnly. His voice seemed frail. “He said to make sure the Director was killed in the attack. I informed the valicorr of where he would be…”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. “But if you were all members of the Brotherhood, why would this Ryner guy want you to kill Aali?”

Jonathan looked away. “The same reason that he wanted Aali to kill me,” he said.

What?”

That must be why K tried to kill me,” he said, a look of sudden revelation spreading across his face. “K was told I knew too much… that’s exactly how Ryner described Director Aali to me. It’s the justification he gave to me for letting him die. Ryner must have told Aali to have K kill me. I wouldn’t have seen it coming.” He frowned. “I… didn’t see it coming.”

But,” I said, slowly piecing it together, “if the Director was going to use K to kill you, why would he send her with me on the expedition- the expedition which he had rigged to kill me? If Aali wanted K to kill you, then he wouldn’t have wanted K to die with me in the hover-car.” I paused. “K couldn’t have killed you if she was dead.” I said bluntly.

True,” said Jonathan. “But, the Director and I were somewhat… rivals. I never liked him, and he hated me. But he especially hated K… he only kept her around because I refused to let her die.”

You?” I said, surprised. “You protected K?”

He nodded. “Aali saw an opportunity to get rid of her and sent K to her death with you. Or so he must have planned. He must have released the monster and set it after you. And, likely, with K gone he would have used that as an excuse to deal with me in a more… personal manner.” Jonathan grimaced. “He did like taking things into his own hands. But I let him die first...”

So… wait, wait, wait.” I said. “Ryner, the leader of the Brotherhood, tried to get you both to kill each other?”

Jonathan stared at me intensely. “Yes. I should have known I meant nothing to him.”

I paused for a moment. “You… you have a lot of explaining to do,” I said.

Jonathan appeared apprehensive.

I walked over to the rocks and sat down.

Uh,” he said, “shouldn’t we try to find a way out?”

No,” I said. “Take a seat.”

He paused, then walked over beside me and sat down on a crumbling stone.

I continued. “Why did you do it?”

He was silent.

Why did you betray us?” I looked him in the eye. “Why did you join the Brotherhood?”

I felt a strange excitement swelling in me.

Was I really so driven by curiosity? The man had betrayed my trust, he was involved in the deaths of countless people and allowed many more to be killed through his inaction. He twisted K’s mind with his holo-gauntlet, turning her into a puppet of the Brotherhood by activating some suppressed part of her brain. He had been sabotaging our every move, hadn’t he? And yet I was excited to hear him talk. I couldn’t help myself… the search for truth was too compelling. And I had a feeling I was about to get the answers to many of my burning questions.

He looked away, and carefully removed his gloves. He slowly adjusted his robotic eye, and did up his coat. Despite all that he had done, somehow looking at his face, a face I had put so much trust in, I could see the humanity in him. We sat together, uncomfortable in the cold, rocky cave, huddling by our dim lights. At last he spoke.

This is what he said.

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About the author

Seb Woodland

Bio: I'm a writer, game developer, artist, and musician. Just a creative guy working on art and trying to make his way in the world.

-There is always hope-

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