Shanghaied Part 1

Demen managed to give the impression of standing at attention, even when leaning back in a chair. Dark brown eyes behind the distinctive epicanthic folds of a Khanid, set in a face tanned and weathered under alien suns and wrinkled with laugh lines that were a mystery to recruits but not to his few friends. Surprisingly elegant hands that showed the tell-tale traceries of peripheral neural rewiring - like the faint shimmer of ultra-violet ink - all the way to the tips of the fingers adjusted the cuffs of his perfectly pressed service uniform. He slouched as lazily as a coiled spring, scanning the room, drinking in details as naturally as breathing.

Two doors lead out of the waiting room, one to either side. The walls had the grey steel sheen of most Caldari ships, which was normal aboard the Utopian Ideal. Less usual were the several pieces of artwork dotting the walls, mostly pictures showing plants, or in one case a landscape with a field, backed by mountains and surrounded by trees. They had the look of quality pieces, and he had little doubt they were all originals, from the watercolor in the traditional Khanid style that reminded him so much of home to the surreal Gallente piece nearly hidden behind a potted plant. Oddest of all was the piece that didn't fit in, it looked to be a hydroponics bay, the intermixed plants in full bloom. It was given a place of honor, central on the wall opposite the row of chairs where Demen sat, over the desk where a blocky Civire ensign sat and acted as what had to be one of the cluster's least likely receptionists. It wasn't the subject matter of the painting that was odd, so much as that it had been executed with enthusiasm and some raw skill, but was plainly far below the standards of the other pieces around the room. It was like seeing a runt mongrel in the midst of a slaver hound pack, and the runt being the leader. No doubt it said something about the woman who owned it, but Demen couldn't even begin to guess at what.

His musing was interrupted as the door on the right opened and Col. Adazai strode out. Demen stood smoothly as the hawk-nosed man swept past. The Chief Engineering Officer looked preoccupied, not even glancing at the sergeant as he exited into the hall through the door to the left. The ensign at the desk nodded to Demen, "The Commander will see you now, sir."

Demen nodded to the man and walked into the inner office. His eyes swept across the woman seated behind the desk inside before fixing on the wall about ten cm above her head as he snapped a salute. Executive Officer Amieta Invelen had fair skin, looked to be in her mid to late thirties, and had the standardized beauty you often saw in corporate farmed Deteis women, made unique by a leanness of features, as if everything soft had been shorn away to reveal something predatory. The same faint traceries of rewiring showed here and there in her neck above her uniform, if you knew what you were looking for. Still, the crow's feet at the corners of her eyes made the brief smile before she spoke seem her natural expression, "At ease Master Gunny. Please, take a seat."

She leafed through a file in front of her as Demen sat, "Master Gunnery Sergeant Demen Jadat, fifth son of Umed Jadat, a minor though rather wealthy kingdom noble. Cyberknight training and education at the King's Academy, posting with Khanid Army, Special Operations. You rose to the rank of Sergeant there before opting for early retirement. You worked as a 'security consultant' for a number of years, until Captain Night hired you some five years ago. You have performed well, survived the destruction of no less than three ships. Does that all seem correct?"

"Four ships, sir. I was aboard the Slicer V, just not recorded on the manifest. All correct otherwise sir"

The XO frowned slightly and made a notation in the folder, "Well, four ships then. I have an assignment for you, but I need to ask a question first. Why are you still here?"


"On this ship, working for us - for Captain Night - why are you still here? Most crew who survive a single ship going down take the severance package. You survived four, including at least once when you were the only survivor. The money is good, but so is the severance package, and you have refused officer training. Asking around, your name came up as several times as a candidate for this assignment. There are others, but you seemed to rise to the top of the list. So, what keeps you here?"

Demen studied the XO's hands out of the corner of his eye as he thought about the question. They were a metallic color only slightly darker than the hull plating, the color of undisguised prosthetics. A swirling pattern was just visible on the backs, and it was common knowledge that the pattern, and the prosthetic, extended at least as far as the shoulder, though opinions varied on how far past that they might go. Even more varied were the theories about how she had ended up that way, from having it done herself to horrible experiments conducted on her as a child in the creche to a former career fighting carnivores bare-handed. Demen frowned slightly as he realized he was letting himself get distracted because he didn't want to answer the question, "Pay is steady, and I feel like this is where I belong sir. Like the people, like my platoon. Guess I'm just a born NCO. Even like most of the officers. Never really thought about it before, sir."

Commander Invelen studied him for a moment before turning around the folder she had been leafing through, "Good enough, I suppose. This would be the assignment, Master Gunnery Sergeant. We need someone steady, and someone who will come back to us, whatever is offered. Metabolic enhancements like the ones you received as a Cyberknight are ideal as well. It is, I want to be very clear, a strictly voluntary assignment. No pressure, no consequences if you decline.

"We have been losing crew, and it is because someone has been taking them. At least, that is what the intelligence weenies say. Now, we've narrowed it down quite a bit. Woman approaches one of our guys in a bar, he goes with her. Shows back here the next day, but disappears permanently in the next week. We need to know what's going on. Seems to be the same woman, and looks like the men are all swabbies and all specialists. Petty Officer and under. So, if you accept, we're gonna dress you up like a button pusher and stick you out there next time our lady shows up.

"It'll be risky, I'm not going to bullshit you Master Gunny. We don't know what they have been doing with our folks. All you have to do is play along, and we'll debrief you when you get back from the night out, and just go from there. We think they might be using drugs, some kind of hypnotic suggestion, we just don't know. By virtue to training and wetware, you're the best shot at being able to stand up to it, and come back and give us details on what is going on.

"Now, there is a bonus involved, but think it over carefully. It's probably even riskier than I'm making it sound, and you're valuable to the ship safe and sound too. I'll give you this to look over."

Demen accepted the folder from her, and risked her hard blue gaze, "I'll do it, sir. I'll even wear a sailor suit."

((Related, but containing spoilers: Amieta's Personal Journal))

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