Casey trotted through the empty corridors of the ship. The only sounds were her feet hitting the solid floor and the gentle background hum of the engines. Even if she hadn't known that the ship was on a long trip, she would have been able to tell from the atmosphere of the ship itself. She was a veteran of the ship, having been part of the crew since practically the beginning, and learned that the ship had a soul. Not literally of course, she didn't believe that there was some supernatural life-essence nestled in the circuitry and hardware. No, what she'd discovered was that the crew itself was the ship's soul. Each crewman contributed to the form and function of the ship; with a crew the ship was alive, and without one it was dead. As part of that crew, Casey was attuned to its moods and attitudes. At times during a long stretch of extended travel, a certain eerie quiet was always present, as each crew member enjoyed their spare time in their own ways. Casey was on her way to enjoy hers right now.

She found Sal where she knew he'd be, checking over the new weapons in the cargo bay. Unusually, the two of them were the only ones there, for during the trip there was very little work to do. Sal was only checking things over because he was bored with nothing better to do. Casey grinned as she crept silently up behind him and whispered in his ear.

"Hi Gregor."

He jumped in surprised, and turned to see who it was. He sighed with relief when he saw Casey smiling impishly up at him, and laughed as he returned to checking the crate.

"I think you have me confused with someone else." he said.

"I don't think so. I mean, you're here, on your time off, checking the cargo even though it's been checked three times. Remind you of anyone?"

"I think you're being a little hard on our first officer. He's loosened up a fair bit since he came aboard."

Casey shuffled beside him, leaning back against the wall with one foot hitched up on it, forming the quintessential pose of casual nonchalance. "Sure, but not by much. He still comes down here, just like you, checking things because he has nothing better to do."

"Are you suggesting that I have better things I could be doing?" he asked, showing his teeth in a grin as he continued his work.

"Maybe just a little."

"And what kind of things do you have in mind that I could be doing?"

Casey lunged and tackled Sal, and they both hit the floor with Sal on his back and Casey straddled on top of him. She had her hands full of the front of his jacket, and her face was only inches from his.

"Me."

She kissed him, and he laughed, then tried to kiss her back. After that he surprised her by suddenly pushing her over and trying to get on top. Together they wrestled, grunting, scuffling and giggling, fighting to get the other one to submit. Casey eventually won, and had Sal pinned once more as she straddled him.

"I still win." she said triumphantly, and kissed him again.

"You know," he said, "your parents would probably kill us if they knew about us."

"Heh, kill you maybe. My daddy loves me."

"I'm serious. We need to be more careful or he'll find out."

"Are you scared?" she asked, teasing.

"Scared? Absolutely! If he finds out I'm fooling around with his daughter I can probably kiss my ass goodbye."

She shushed him with a finger on his lips, and started to undo her own jacket.

"Shut up and kiss me instead." she said.


Meanwhile the captain, Gregor joined Kevin in the sickbay to talk about their guest, sergeant Hamill. When they arrived they noticed that the sergeant was on the bio-bed and the restraining field was up. He rolled his head as they came in, and he groaned when he saw who it was. He looked like crap.

"Oh good." he said dourly. "My two favourite people in the galaxy in one room. Splendid."

"Shut up." snapped Gregor. Hamill only laughed.

Kevin beckoned them over to his office, which separate from the rest of the sick bay by a half wall they could step around. There were plenty of windows in the wall so they could still keep an eye on the prisoner. Kevin moved behind his desk.

"Well he's not bleeding anymore." said the captain.

"No thanks to you." Kevin muttered. Gregor raised an eyebrow.

"What does that mean?" he asked Logan. The captain sighed dramatically and pinched his brow.

"It's nothing really, just some self-inflicted injuries he sustained in his cell."

Gregor, who was by now beginning to know the captain a little better, turned to the doctor for a translation.

"The captain shot him." he said.

"You shot him?!"

"It was in self-defence."

"Six times." the doctor added.

"Six times?!"

"Will you stop repeating everything he says, please. Besides, you're one to talk. You punched him in the face when he was barely in cuffs. Can we move on now?"

Kevin chuckled as the two of them argued, and switched on his console at his desk.

"I did examine him, by the way." he interrupted, in an effort to move the conversation forward. "And you were right Logan. There was something very wrong with him."

"You mean besides the six bullet shots?" said Gregor sarcastically.

"Besides the six non-lethal, totally justified self-defence bullet shots." Logan corrected. The conversation was so ridiculous that Gregor couldn't help but laugh, even as he rolled his eyes.

"Yes besides the injuries the sergeant sustained after coming aboard, he was bleeding at an alarming rate from many of his orifices, and so I had him sedated while I examined him. This is what I found."

Eventually Kevin found what he was looking for. It was a separate computer information storage device, which he plugged into his console. He brought the relevant information up on the screen and invited the others to have a look. Logan was unimpressed.

"It's a digital image of his skeleton." he said.

"Yes. Do you see anything out of the ordinary?"

Logan looked again, and shook his head.

"Look closer." said Kevin, and reached over to zoom in on one part of the image. Logan was about to shake his head again when he spotted it, and his heart skipped a beat once he realized what he was looking at.

"Do you have a filter on this image?" he asked.

"That's right. This isn't an image of his whole skeleton. I've removed all parts that registered as organic.

"But that's not possible." said Gregor. "This image is intact, every bone is accounted for."

"Precisely. The sergeant's skeleton has been artificially modified to the point where his entire skeletal structure has been replaced."

Logan and Gregor glanced at each other.

"That must have hurt." said Logan.

"No doubt." Kevin agreed. "It would have been a long and painful process, and until now one that I would have though impossible. But I can see how they've done it. Little by little and bit by bit, they 'upgraded' him, using Nanobots for the trickier parts and good ol' fashioned knives and clamps for the rest."

"Wouldn't that leave a lot of scars? Like, a LOT?" asked the captain.

"Yes, if they'd stopped at his bones. But look at this."

Kevin flicked through the various digital scans he'd made of the sergeant, and showed his findings to the others. Naturally they didn't understand a lot of what they were looking at, but they recognized enough to get the idea.

"Organs, muscle tissue, immune system," Gregor whispered as he scanned through the doctor's notes, ". . . even parts of his brain?"

"That's right. He's still human, but only in the broadest sense of the word. A lot of the normal human brain is either inactive or barely used, so certain upgrades to those parts could be made without actually affecting the personality or intelligence of the person."

"I don't know, doc. He seems pretty out of whack to me." said the captain, watching Hamill. The sergeant was occupying himself by reaching out and touching the restraining energy field around him. It flared and shocked him each time he did it, but it didn't seem to deter him from continuing to do it. It looked to Logan like he was doing it out of boredom.

"But the problem is that his body, the original organic parts that are left anyway, are treating the modifications like foreign objects, and they're being rejected."

"So his own body is fighting itself." said the captain. "Greg, this is the Syndicate we're talking about. Did you know about anything like this?"

"Nothing close to this scale. The Syndicate offers medical benefits to officers, particularly soldiers who suffer intense trauma. They use advanced robotics and cybernetics to make replacement limbs or organs. I can't think of any possible injury Hamill must have sustained to warrant such extensive repair."

"So what if it's not repair?" said Logan. "What if it was improvement?"

Gregor shook his head. "No. Definitely not. The Syndicate charter is crystal clear on the prohibition of unnecessary surgical augmentation."

"Oh yea? What about rules against killing innocent colonists in cold blood? Aren't there supposed to be rules against that too?"

"Don't remind me." said Gregor bitterly. "Apparently there's a lot going on that go against what the Syndicate was supposed to stand for."

They all watched Hamill touching the energy field. He didn't seem to even feel it.

"Is he stable, doc?" asked the captain.

"For the moment, yes. Despite all his 'improvements' the conflict in his body is happening at a cellular level, and he's incredibly weak. Since his most recent fit his condition has deteriorated considerably. I honestly don't know if he'll even live through the day."

"That bad huh? So the modifications aren't going as planned then."

"It would appear not." Kevin agreed. "I had a quick look at the commando armour you salvaged on Vesper. It's more than just armour, it's also a highly advanced muscle suit designed to act as a second set of muscles. It was the only way he could function properly."

"Good to know." said Logan, nodding. "Lower the restraining field. I want to ask him some questions."

Kevin gave the captain a disapproving glance, but said nothing as he deactivated the field from his console. The glowing energy field vanished. Before Hamill could do so much as flinch, Logan was beside the bed, holding his pistol loosely by his side.

Standing so close to the man, Logan could easily see that the sergeant was not at all well. His skin was pale and clammy, and his hair was lank and damp from sweat. There were pronounced dark rings under his eyes, and he seemed to be having trouble focusing on the captain. Logan felt sorry for him. But not very much.

"So, you're finally here to question me." said Hamill. He smiled arrogantly and rolled onto his side. He was moving very slowly, as though each movement caused him pain.

"Yes, we have some questions for you." Logan replied.

"And you think I have all the answers."

"I think you have some answers, yes."

Hamill coughed, and wiped at his mouth. His hand came away with a streak of blood. He looked at it with indifference.

"Ask away then."

"Why was the Syndicate attacking the colony on Vesper?"

"The colony was of no consequence." Hamill replied. "High Command wants the planet itself."

"What for?"

"I'm afraid I didn't ask." said Hamill with a weak grin. "The general mentioned something about an energy trace. That's all I know."

"Well if they wanted the planet, why kill the colonists? Why not move them? There are probably dozens of unsettled worlds nearby they could be transported to."

"My official orders said as much." said Hamill. "But I also received orders from the general himself that superseded them. He said that moving the colonists would take too long, and time was a factor for his plans. He ordered me to wipe them out. If it's any consolation, I didn't particularly want to."

"I'm actually not that consoled at all." Logan snapped. "One of those colonists is my sister."

"Would it offend you if I offered to apologize?"

"Yea, I think it might."

"As you wish."

As the captain questioned the sergeant, Gregor had been hanging back by the doctor's office, watching. He didn't fully trust himself around the prisoner; he was worried he might lose his temper and throttle him. But he stepped forward now to interrupt.

"Why are you being so cooperative all of a sudden?" he asked. "What happened to 'being trained to withstand interrogation'?"

Hamill glanced at Gregor and laughed softly.

"Look at me. The Syndicate hasn't done me any favours. They did this to me. They said I would live for centuries, and be more powerful and capable than any man ever could be. I let them cut me open and take me apart, and endured the constant pain of my bones being dissolved as new ones were built in their place. I don't know if you can fully appreciate how much that hurt. Because it was a lot."

With surprising speed Hamill lashed out and grabbed Gregor's shirt and pulled him close. He pulled him down until their faces were only inches apart.

"I heard what you said about the Syndicate, Tammond." he whispered into Gregor's ear. "I need to tell you that you don't hate them."

"I'm pretty sure I do." Gregor snapped. He tried to pull away but Hamill's grip was too strong.

"No. You only think you do. In fact you merely dislike them. I hate them, Tammond. I gave them everything I had; I gave them my life, I gave them my loyalty, my honour, my obedience. I even gave them my body for their experiments. I hate them, more than you will ever know. I want you to promise me something."

Gregor looked to Logan for guidance on what to do, but the captain just shrugged.

"Promise what?"

"Promise me that you'll make them pay for what they did to me." Hamill spat. He was trembling with rage, and holding Gregor so tightly that he was practically being choked. Strong hands pulled Gregor away, and Kevin was beside the bed with an injector in hand. He pressed it to Hamill's neck and the solution inside was pushed directly through the skin and into the bloodstream.

"Promise me!" Hamill screeched and struggled, but Kevin was holding him down.

"He's going into shock." Kevin explained. "We're losing him."

Gregor and Logan watched, helpless, while the doctor did his best to keep his patient alive. Hamill may have been a prisoner and a despicable man, but in Kevin's eyes he was a patient, and doctors didn't just let patients die. As he worked Hamill kept muttering as the sedatives went to work and he became drowsy.

"Promise. Promise. Promise." he kept chanting, softer and softer, until he convulsed so drastically that his body arched off the bed, standing up on his head and feet on the bed. When he fell back down, he was still. The sudden silence in the sick bay was punctuated by the bio-bed's shrill beeping as its scans of the patients vitals went flat. The others remained still, unable to even think to move, until Kevin deactivated the bio-bed, and the beeping stopped.

"He's dead." said Kevin softly.

"You think?" said Logan.


General Bijack stepped off the loading ramp of the Obelisk's shuttle and onto the fresh soil of Vesper colony. He surveyed the progress of the ship's troops moving through the colony, gathering up the struggling colonists for removal.

"Excellent work, captain." he said to Renould by his side. "Your troops are very efficient."

"Thank you, general." said the captain, looking on with an impassive expression, secretly hiding his dismay. He wasn't a stranger to operations such as this, but in normal circumstances it was because of a necessary reason. Renould saw no good reason for this, but he dared not question a general's direct order.

"General." said one of the troops in full body armour and synthesized voice. "Some of the colonists are fighting back. They're saying they'd rather die than be relocated."

"Then grant their wishes, and kill them." said the general evenly. The trooper saluted and marched away.

"Sir?" asked Renould. "Are you certain that killing civilians is the right thing to do?"

"Is that a note of reprimand I hear in your voice, captain?" asked the general. His polished, clipped tones help emphasise the aristocratic manner he held about him.

"Of course not general." the captain said quickly. "But surely the ramifications of killing people because they won't leave aren't worth the trouble."

Bijack nodded curtly and looked out again at the bustling colony. Sharp, echoing gunshots rang out somewhere far away, along with some screams, but otherwise there was only the wind and the tramping of many booted feet to be heard.

"There is more on this little world than prospects of a single colony, captain. You will see for yourself, once the work here is under way."

"So Vesper is part of our original mission, sir?"

". . . indirectly, I believe. This is important work here, of course, but hardly something worth my personal attention. At least it should not have been. This . . . thing forced me to change the parameters of our schedule." said the general, looking down at the snippet of video on the pad he still held.

Above them there came a roar of another set of engines. Another shuttle was landing. Both men watched it land, each wondering who it could possibly be. No more shuttles were scheduled to land. Their answer came when the hatch opened, and Admiral Haddock stepped down from the loading ramp.

"Gentlemen." he said gruffly, and captain Renould saluted. The general only watched with an expression of mild distaste.

The admiral was a large, overbearing man, with a full, bristled beard and short but wavy hair that was only just tinged with grey at the temples. He gave the captain a brief nod before turning his attention to the general.

"Something's happened." he said.

"A pleasure to see you too, admiral." said Bijack with a wry smile. "Please go on."

"We've received a code black from Hamill."

"Well that's hardly surprising, admiral. Hamill was the one leading the operation here, which as you can see has not gone according to plan. Hence our presence here now."

The general was smiling, albeit not out of any real humour or mirth. But as the captain watched the conversation between them, he'd have described it as triumphant. Clearly there was no love lost between these two, and the polite courtesy that they were showing each other was purely because of their sense of duty to Syndicate protocol.

"General, Hamill's operation failed more than a week ago. This code black arrived today."

Bijack was serious now, and his expression fell. He looked on at the admiral with keen, wide eyes.

"Now that is interesting. What else do you know?"

"Only what the black box showed. Here, see for yourself."

Haddock handed the general another video pad, and Bijack watched in silence as the video played. Renould watched his face change as the video went on, although he himself couldn't see it.

"Is that . . .?" the general said once the video was finished.

"Yes, Gregor Tammond. He's the one you ordered to be dismissed six months ago."

"My, my. If it doesn't rain, it pours." said the general quietly.

"Pardon?"

"Oh nothing, admiral. But this is the third of my hand signed operations that have come to my attention today, and that can hardly be a coincidence."

"If I may, sirs?" interrupted the captain. "But what is on that video?"

"It's a black box recording from sergeant Hamill. It shows the last two minutes of what he saw before he died."

"But . . . how is that possible?" asked Renould.

"That's classified!" Bijack snapped, giving the admiral a cold, hard look. "Thank you for this information, admiral. You may go now."

"I'm not leaving; I'm transferring to the Obelisk."

The general's eyes narrowed, and he seemed to stand even straighter.

"That is not possible. This mission is of utmost importance. High command has given me sole authority on it."

"High command has changed its mind." said the admiral, unintimidated by the general's cold demeanour.

"I am high command, admiral. You'd do well to remember that."

"You are the head chairman, yes. But if the rest of the council unanimously oppose your declarations, then changes can be made."

He held up a sheet of paper for the admiral to see. It had a few lines written on it, and several signatures covering it. "Here are the amended mission parameters."

Bijack snatched the paper from his hand and read the lines closely, as well as scrutinizing every signature on it.

"Very well." he said with great reluctance. "Welcome aboard."