Colonel Sarakai Voutelen followed Commander Amieta Invelen into the interrogation cell. As Sarakai took up a position against the wall near the only door, the Commander continued forward.

Sarakai didn't even need to look around the room to know it was grey-on-grey: steel table and chair, bolted to the dull grey deckplates; grey walls, grey ceiling, silvery one way observation window in one wall, grey right down to the cuffs that held Roth's hands behind his back.

Amieta was the XO for the ship - all the ships, really - and Sarakai's immediate superior, and would do most or all of the talking, so Sarakai was free to observe. She studied the man sitting in the chair, hands cuffed behind him. Jorion Roth. Fair hair, worn shoulder length. Brown eyes, perhaps a touch above average height, fairly nondescript. He also seemed calm, considering his situation. Amieta stopped on the other side of the table, looking down at the man, and said conversationally:

"How've you been, Mr Roth?"

"Very well, thank you, Commander Invelen. And yourself?" Roth's Gallente accent was almost undetectable, and he accompanied the question with a slight smile. "Hmm? I hear Ennur is very pretty this time of year."

"Well, I'm pretty good." The XO answered, taking out a pack of cigarettes and tapping one out, "Ennur's a shit hole though, believe me. Now, I know what you were doing. We aren't trying to establish your guilt here. I'm not the police."

"No," Roth agreed.

"I'm just wondering," Commander Invelen paused and squeezed the tip of the cigarette between her thumb and index finger where it flared to life, "what you thought killing me would accomplish?"

His slight smile hardly flickered, "Your death?"

Commander Invelen continued, almost as if she didn't hear him, "I mean, hell, I'm backed up. Even if you hadn't fumbled it Jory, it wouldn't have gotten you much. Two weeks of my life really worth the risk?"

Sarakai pursed her lips as his eyes flickered slightly. What was that for?

"You did know I was backed up, right?" Amieta took a drag on her cigarette and exhaled lazily, "I mean, cause you cocked up the rest of it pretty good."

"It's a safe assumption to make, isn't it, Commander? After all, it's common practice among pilots. And those with certain ... dangerous jobs." Roth smiled again.

Did he not know? Or is the XO getting close to something else?

"Like FIO agents, right? Course, you don't die, they don't wake the new copy up, do they?" The XO's smile wasn't pleasant, "And if you're chipped, you aren't dead."

"You're collecting a full set, are you? A row of Roths, all nicely chipped and obedient." There was a note of anger in his voice, quickly covered.

Did he - He really thinks we're going to chip him, Sarakai realized.

The XO drew on her cig, "You ever think about actually checking on that? Before you hauled off and started trying to kill people? Before you tried to poison your own damn daughter?"

Sarakai saw Roth tense, but when he answered his tone was even, and he seemed calm, "A simple hand-scanner showed me the chip in Ciarente's head when I met her. No doubt you don't see anything wrong with living like you do. But Ciarente would have thought it an abomination, when she could still think for herself."

"That was the doing of her boss, actually. Inhibits suicidal behaviour. Probably needed it because you were such a fuckhead when she finally managed to retrieve you." Amieta shook her head, "Hell, you even bother to check whether I was chipped Jorion? Maybe try talking this thing out?"

"Ah, her boss." Roth nodded, "I've learned quite a bit about Captain Vikarion and his 'harmless' chips, over the past few months."

"If it was a True Slave chip, I'd have had it out with a fucking combat knife if I had to. Maybe if you hadn't jumped to conclusions, maybe tried talking, she would have just gone home with you, instead of still being around Vikarion." The Commander dragged on her cigarette, no longer smiling. "All she wanted, you know. Go back to normal."

Roth studied her, "It's quite a complex fantasy they've built for you, isn't it?"

The XO managed a chuckle, "You think so?"

"Or you're an excellent liar." He shrugged awkwardly, the cuffs that held his hands behind his back limiting his movement, "Which is also possible."

Stubborn bastard, Sarakai thought, If he was a little less stubborn, it wouldn't have come to this.

"That chip is gone now. You might have seen that if you had used your little scanner again instead of poison." The Commander sneered as she went on, "What do you think I'm lying about sunshine? Hell, why would I lie? We're the evil Sanshas remember? I can put whatever the hell I want in your head, can't I?"

"I really couldn't begin to guess your motivations. Maybe this is what you've put in my head. I'll just have to wait and see."

"Think so?" Amieta laughed, the frustration of a moment ago apparently gone. Sarakai knew her well enough to know it wasn't, Just shoved down, and for how long?

Jorion Roth shrugged again and the XO continued, "Really though, I'm curious, what makes you tick Jory? Hell, you did some research on me to find me, what in there makes you think I would join the Sanshas?"

"I didn't imagine they'd given you a choice." Roth smiled sadly, and to Sarakai it looked genuine. "I'm sorry, Captain. If you're in there, somewhere. I thought I could ... free you."

"I can do without that kinda freedom, thanks for the offer. Unlike you, I wouldn't be dumb enough to get caught by Sanshas, Jorion." It was said with a hint too much force. Sarakai saw the hand not holding a cigarette twitch as if it wanted to clench into a fist.

Careful XO, he is a professional. He has been on your side of the table, he knows what to look for, Sarakai thought, as her superior continued, "Anyway, I think this whole thing is because you're too arrogant to believe your daughter could accomplish what she did. It had to be a Sansha plot. Not you screwing up and sliding so far into cover you couldn't get out again."

"You're..." Roth paused and smiled again, "I almost said 'you're free to think what you like', but of course, that would be a little inaccurate."

The Commander considered him, "You know, when I met you, the you that had the broken head and thought he was an Angel, I was a little relieved. I thought to myself, 'Hey, the real Jorion can't possibly be this much of an asshole.'"

That slight flinch of his eyes again. Something he didn't know? Or a sensitive subject?

Amieta continued, "I'm sure as an FIO officer, you know all about that though, right? Why you woke up on that station in Delve in that crazy bitch Tenebrae's clutches?"

Roth nodded slightly.

"Kinda wishing I'd lied to Cia here and there, told you that it wasn't possible, couldn't be done - bringing you back I mean. Discouraged her." Commander Invelen sighed, "You couldn't just stay there on the 'locate - low priority' list either huh? Had to walk right up to me?"

"You expect me to wait around for you to take the children I have left?"

"That what you think we're doing?" The XO shook her head, "Cia is my friend. The sister she cares about the most is Camille, and she was in the hands of the psychotic prick who tried to kill Cia. Of course I'm going to help her save her sister."

"Oh, 'friend'. Well, how touching." Roth leaned forward slightly, and said levelly: "I had five children, Commander. Then four. Now three. But you'd know that."

"If I brought Cia in here, and you told her everything would be how it was before, she would happily go back to being a student on Debreth. Try to put the things that have happened to her as a pilot behind her. You could even check with a scanner, she doesn't have any non-standard implants." The Commander paused, "I wish that was an option."

"And of course, your technology is always so reliably detected." The bastard is actually smiling again, Sarakai thought, "And I take her back to Debreth, and she goes back to being a student, until the day she ... activates, or whatever you call it."

"We activate her? Because our evil plan is to unleash a.... 20 year old girl on Debreth?" Amieta's tone was dry despite her frustration, "The horror."

"Do you think I'd take the risk of letting her anywhere near my family?" Roth snapped, the first completely unguarded reaction Sarakai had seen from him.

"So, first a basic scanner is sufficient." Frustration was fast mounting in Amieta's voice again, "but when it isn't convenient to your little paranoid fantasy, we are suddenly so much more competent. Not that I blame you for thinking we are competent, after how easily we bagged you. None of that was anything to do with Sansha, of course. That was pure Watch Marine training."

"I would have let her go, Commander. I told her that." Roth said, his voice even and matter-of-fact again, "But she kept looking."

"Only one person here has tried to kill a family member Jorion. It isn't her. You snapped, then when she dug you out of that hole, you tried to kill her." Amieta's voice rose as she continued, "What would you do? Would you leave your family with someone like that?"

"I'll protect what's left of my family from anyone." He paused. "Even those who used to be part of it."

"Far as I'm concerned, the only one who has given up their right to a family is you."

"I don't much care what concerns you." Roth said coldly

"Tell you what, you're only going to have what we want you to have in your head when you leave, right? What do you want to know? You ask, go for it."

What are you doing, Invelen? Sarakai thought, That is the exact opposite of how to conduct an interrogation. To the extent this is really an interrogation.

Sarakai kept her face blank as Roth glanced over at her before looking back at the Commander, "You said you weren't taken by Sanshas, Commander. Why did you drop off the grid in '00?"

Right to it. He may be stubborn and blind, but he's sharp. She gave him the clues, and he's still a professional.

"I," there was an almost imperceptible pause, "joined the Guristas."

"Just like that?"

"Watch dropped me, Guristas picked me up." She tapped her left side with two fingers, "I can show you my tattoo if you'd like."

"'Dropped' you?" Roth pressed. "Your file says presumed KIA."

"We were killing Blooders, it went pear shaped. You have a problem with killing Blooders too?" The XO dragged on her cigarette, though Sarakai could see the struggle to stay calm in the set of her shoulders, Hopefully Roth can't, she thought. "Then, like I said, Guristas picked me up."

"You're the one allied with Blooders, Captain Invelen, not me."

Amieta grinned wolfishly, though Sarakai could still see the tension, "Have a pile of blooder tags weighs more than you do that says I, personally, am not allied with them." Amieta looked slightly pale behind the grin to Sarakai, "Anyway, then Guristas, then I came to work for Silver. Well before he joined Naqam."

"And now," Roth said contemptuously, "You fly in fleet with Blood Raider slavers as they hunt others."

"It's a nasty cluster out there." Amieta nearly snarled, "Not poisoning any of my family is a great comfort to me though."

"Oh, just sell yours to Captain Cyshade, I suppose." Roth needled, "Is that what you have planned for Ciarente and Camille?"

"I wouldn't even give you to blooders Jory. And unlike you, I don't write off family."

"Just take other's?" Roth asked.

Sarakai stood silent by the door, wishing she could intervene. Don't let him get to you Amieta. He thinks you are planning on chipping him. He's trying to goad you.

Amieta crushed out her cigarette a bit more energetically than she needed to in one metal palm and flicked it away, "When it is that or leave them with someone who tries to murder them? Sure."

"A mercy killing. If you'd known Cia before you people got your hands on her, you'd know she'd agree, if she still had her own free will."

"We found Camille alone at the shuttleport, you know. She ran away on her own. From you Jorion."

"She's seven. I thought you said you were going to tell the truth."

"I am telling the truth. Big bad FIO agent couldn't keep tabs on a seven year old. What's it take to fucking get through to you Roth? Even if we had True Slaves - we don't - I wouldn't be friends with them."

"Friends, maybe, no, but - operator? We'd say handler." Roth paused, then said distantly "It can look like friendship. If you don't know what's really going on."

"Or if it's actually spirits-damned friendship?!" Amieta leaned forward, gripping both sides of the brushed steel table.

"You don't think we have enough surveillance for me to know what's happened to Ciarente? If you were honestly her friend ... I doubt she'd be in such a mess. What, is she fighting the Transcrannial Microcontroller? I hear that can happen."

"If I had her chipped, I would keep her from getting into all the shit she has gotten into."

"If you really had her interests at heart. Or whatever you have in place of one."

Sarakai started slightly, seeing thin black lines creeping up her commander's face, Oh shit. Warpaint coming out. Control, Marine, control.

"Ancestors, are you really that much of a spirits-damned thick headed fool?!" the XO nearly shouted.

"But you don't, do you?" Roth went on, his assessing gaze making Sarakai suspect he knew as well as she did what those spreading lines meant.

"Of course I do, but apparently unlike you, I think she needs to make her own decisions here and there, along with her own fuck ups."

Roth continued as if the XO hadn't spoken, "It's about yourself, your corporation, your damn Nation. Ciarente is just some kind of pawn in that. Trade her to your ally, Celes Tenebrae, perhaps."

"Celes will not get her!" Amieta's fist slammed down with enough force to dent the surface, and she pointed at him with one matte, metal finger, "And she is no fucking ally of mine."

Sarakai kept her face a blank mask, Keep it together Commander. Please. He's trying to bait you.

"DED records indicate otherwise," Roth said with a slight shrug. "Is that how you're working Ciarente? Tag-team effort?"

Sarakai could see the XO's jaw muscles bunch as she clenched her teeth and the black of nano-tattoos flooded across her face. Sarakai spoke for the first time, a warning in her tone, "Commander..."

Amieta didn't seem to hear her, and her right hand gripped the table so hard that the edge crumpled in her fist as she hissed, "No fucking blooder is ever going to get Cia. No fucking psychopath father, no fucking Sansha."

"The Blooders and the Sansha have her, Commander." Roth glanced at the crumpled table edge and smiled in satisfaction. "If you're really her friend, as you keep saying, you really have let her down, haven't you?"

Sarakai saw the shift in the way her CO was standing, and had to stop herself. She couldn't interfere with a superior officer, and it probably wouldn't help anyway at that point. Bastard is smart or lucky, to hit her where it hurts.

Amieta ripped the table up from where it was bolted to the floor on the right, shoving it over to the left and out of her way with a crash, her prosthetic arms and shoulders whining slightly in protest. She cleared the space between herself and her prisoner in a single movement, grabbing him by the front of his shirt, pulling him out of the chair and slamming him against the back wall. Roth gasped with the impact, then managed a smile, "Maybe you really are her friend. Ami. Did you know you were being used as bait by Silver Night and Tenebrae to win her trust? Did you not know? Or did you choose to do nothing?

As if he has a death wish, Sarakai thought, and felt her blood run cold as she realized that was the truth. Better dead than chipped. Even I can't argue with that one. If he really was in danger of being chipped.

"I did everything I could!" Amieta slammed Roth against the wall again, then holding him with one hand, grip tightening, she held out her other hand, "Sarakai, keys!"

Sarakai hesitated, "But..."

Spirits, I know what you're doing. Ami, it's going to hurt you more than you could ever hurt him.

Sarakai reluctantly dropped the keys in Amieta's hand. The XO's irises had gone completely black . Spun up implants and adrenaline.

"Everything you could?" Roth said. "Or everything you were willing to risk doing?"

Amieta snarled and headbutted Roth, then jerked him sideways. As he sprawled across the deck plating, she tossed the keys at him. "Go ahead. You can even keep the cuffs."

Roth pushed himself to a sitting position and eyed Amieta, making no move to get the keys.

"I'm waiting sunshine. You'll make a good True Slave you know. All those Federation secrets." Amieta's contempt turned to a snarl again, "Do it!"

It galvanized him to action, and he turned his back to Amieta, reaching for the keys with his hands cuffed behind his back. He fumbled with the keys behind his back and finally managed to uncuff himself. He turned and stood facing Amieta, keys in one hand, cuffs hanging from the other.

"I'm seeing I made a mistake Jory," the XO said levelly.

"You should have let my family alone," Roth retorted.

"You shouldn't have tried to kill any of them."

"Ami," Roth said with a pitying smile, "Ciarente was as good as dead the day she met you. She was a trusting girl. But relying on you was a fatal mistake."

"I should have found you and put you down sooner." Amieta's voice was even, but permeated with menace, "Only mistake was saving you, not just killing you when you showed your colors. Sarakai, if Mr Roth gets past me, you are to let him go."

Sarakai saw the flicker of surprise on the man's face, Give them a little hope, so you have something to take from them. He must know.

Amieta spoke again, face set behind the mask of black lines "Like a B holoflick."

Roth eyed Amieta warily, "In B-grade holovids Watch officers don't hand people over to the Blooders on a platter."

Amieta gave a growl: a low, animal sound, as she tore the table from its remaining bracket on the floor and threw it at Roth. Even as he ducked and deflected the table with one arm, she was closing with him. He slashed at her face with the keys. Her hand shot up and closed around his wrist.

He dropped one bracelet of the cuffs in his right hand and swung them at Amieta's face as she held onto his left wrist. The combat boosted woman jerked him to one side, throwing a punch at his torso and throwing off his aim with the cuffs. Roth grunted as Amieta's fist connected. He headbutted her in return, then aimed a kick at her knee while she was off balance. She shuffled in, deflecting the crippling blow. A jab to his solar plexus staggered him and he moved with it, trying to break her death grip on his wrist by dropping his weight.

She held on, and chopped at his neck and he swung with the brutal strike, even managing to choke out another insult, "A friend would - fight Cia's real - enemies."

Amieta backhanded him: the force of rewired, enhanced muscle and high end custom cybernetics behind it. The sound was like a side of beef being hit with a metal pipe. Roth lost his feet, hanging from nothing but her grip, his eyes losing focus for a moment. Amieta dropped him on the floor and kicked him as he lay on the ground, and he rolled away to protect himself.

Wild eyed, Amieta turned and yanked the chair from the brackets securing it to the floor and spun to slam it against Roth, who yelped as it broke the arm he brought up to protect his head. Then, incredibly, he spoke again, "I guess - you only - fight when there's no - risk to - yourself."

Amieta kicked him with a sound of pure fury.

"Wouldn't - expect - more from - a blooder pet."

With a scream of rage she smashed the chair down on him again, breaking it against his shoulder and head. As he slumped, apparently unconscious or dead, she tossed away the pieces of the chair and stalked back to Sarakai, "Get him into shape for questioning if you can. Either way, make sure he has something to remember himself by."

Sarakai studied her commander cautiously. The XO was breathing hard, but blue gave edges to her pupils again. The tattoos were fading, she was back in control, though perhaps a little late. Hopefully we will be able to revive him long enough for questioning.

"Gutting out - at the - clinch - Ami?" The voice came from the bloody figure on the floor behind them.

The Commander went rigid, then stalked from the room.

Sarakai breathed a sigh of relief, Ami is in control again. She has the sense to -

The door slammed open again.

Oh, shit.

Amieta had her pistol in her hand, and without a word or hesitation she shot Roth in the back. Twice.

Amieta glanced around the room, then at the body with a look of disgust.

"Someone clean up this fucking mess."

Amieta holstered her sidearm and swept from the room. Sarakai eyed the corpse one last time before following, I hope whatever your secrets were, they were worth it.


Jorion Roth walked through the unremarkable doors that concealed the local branch office of the FIO. On the other side of a slightly shabby foyer, another set of doors led to the real front entrance: a narrow hall, spy-eyes covering every angle.

From behind the blast-proof glass, the agent on desk duty gave him a wide-eyed look.

Jorion ran his hand over his bald head and gave her a rueful grin. "Cloned," he said. "Not a fashion statement."

"Oh, Agent Roth, I know," she said.

"Really? Do you know what happened?" Jorion shrugged. "The last three weeks are a blank. And my record-keeping seems to have been a little sloppy."

"No, I don't know, but ..." She bit her lip, and pointed to a large parcel on the other side of the security doors. "That came for you. I had it scanned. It's ..."

Jorion pressed his hand to the reader and his re-structured re-printed DNA was close enough to the original for the security doors to slide back.

He approached the parcel with caution. "You had it scanned? No explosives, or ..."

She shook her head.

Jorion flipped up the catch, and swung the lid open. A cloud of white smoke made him step back, before he realised it was just the vapour from a cooling agent. He stepped forward again, cautiously, and looked inside.

His own eyes stared back up at him, fixed and open, slightly dulled. His hair and eyebrows were - Its hair and eyebrows, Jorion made himself think - were rimed with ice crystals. And he couldn't be sure beneath the bruises, the broken nose and concave cheekbone, but Jorion thought there was a smile on the face of the severed head.

The head that once housed my thoughts, my memories. Myself.

The edge of a thick vellum card poked out from the cooling crystals packed around the head, and Jorion gently pulled it out.

One line, in elegant script:

A memento of your trip to Goinard.

He looked at it for a moment. Goinard. Why did I go to Goinard?

Surely I wasn't stupid enough to mess with Ethan Verone?

What else would take me to Goinard?

"Get this down to forensics," he said at last.

"Um, yes. Agent Roth? Are you all right?"

"All right? Why wouldn't I be?"

She stared at him. "Someone just sent you your own severed head!"

Jorion smiled at her. "Not the first time," he said. "Probably won't be the last."

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