Four

Keron IV surface:

Nugx's black market garage

"Oh, look at this! What in the hells did you to do to this ship, boy? Have a shoot-out with a whole squadron of fighters?"

"Actually, it was only half a squadron at the most," Malysa Ortry pointed out to the irate mechanic Nugx, who continued to make disbelieving noises and muttered curses in several languages.

The Ortrys had brought their ship to the fourth planet of the Keron system, Nugx's current base of operations, and it sat in one of the repair bays, surrounded by a vast assortment of half-assembled and/or broken machinery, the floor dotted with grease and other stains. Small winged insects attacked the lights overhead and each other with equal ferocity, resulting in intermittent buzzing and popping, which blended with the other hissing and banging and whooshing noises echoing about the hangar to result in a veritable symphony of machinery.

The conductor of the technological orchestra was Nugx himself, a short, somewhat portly humanoid of indeterminate species, probably a blend of one or more races, judging by his pointed ears and light orange skin, traits Malysa had only ever seen together on the mechanic himself. A wiry bush of brown hair stuck out in all directions atop his round head, making it look as if Nugx had stuck one of his long fingers into a power socket.

The mechanic dashed about the garage with a manic intensity, doing four things at once and directing a dozen more of his techs in their own tasks. Nugx didn't seem to be happy unless he was busy, and due to his being the best mechanic catering to those who operated outside the confines of the law, he was always very busy.

Nugx finally reached the rear of the ship, and he stopped everything else he was doing to gape incredulously at the missing engine there. "What did you do with the engine?" he demanded of Davin, as if the ship belonged to him instead of the siblings.

Davin shrugged, brushing a floating speck of dust off of the sleeve of his leather jacket. "The Feds were after us. I jettisoned it and blew it up to blind their sensors while we escaped."

Nugx's irritated expression slowly turned into one of grudging respect. "Well, I suppose that was a pretty good plan," he said, reaching up with one hand to poke a finger into the gap left by the engine. He turned to the elder Ortry, glaring up at him with bright green eyes. "I don't know if I have another engine of that same model, you know."

Malysa grinned at him. "But you know where to get one, don't you?"

The mechanic frowned, though she could tell it was only for show. Nugx loved fixing things, the more complicated the better.

"Yeah, I suppose I could scrounge something up," he said finally. "It'll take a while to get here, though."

Davin crossed his arms and leaned against the hull. "We have a job waiting, so don't take too long."

Nugx's bushy eyebrows lifted in interest. "Oh, yeah? What kind of job?"

Davin scowled. "An... unpleasant one."

Nugx nodded knowingly. He knew all about the Tyrant. "I see. Well, I'll see what I can do. Probably be three or four days at the least."

Davin nodded distractedly and jammed his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "Yeah, fine," he said. He turned to his sister. "I'm going into the spaceport. I'll be back in a couple hours." He abruptly turned and walked away, striding out of the hanger at a rapid pace.

Malysa watched his back as he walked away, frowning after him. "Goodbye!" she said sarcastically. She turned to Nugx, expecting a sympathetic ear. "What's his problem?"

The mechanic simply shook his head. "Let him go. He'll be himself again in a little while."

Malysa looked at Nugx questioningly. "How much do you know about the Tyrant? He always gets like this after we get a job from him, but he'll never tell me anything about why."

Nugx watched the departing figure of Davin for a moment, frowning thoughtfully. Finally, he gestured for Malysa to follow him into his office, a few steps away across the oil-stained floor.

Malysa followed Nugx across the hangar, weaving her way through a small army of techs hard at work repairing assorted bits of machinery, dodging sparks and grinning at the varied curses directed against particularly stubborn pieces of technology.

Nugx's office was cramped and cluttered, and before the mechanic sat down behind his desk, he picked up a pile of work orders and other pieces of paper out of a metal folding chair and set them on top of several other similar piles on his already covered desk to make room for Malysa.

She sat down and propped her boots on one bare corner of the desk, folding her hands in her lap as she waited for Nugx to get settled.

He tapped at his terminal for a few moments before turning to the girl, his expression serious. "Don't go repeating this to your brother," he said. "He doesn't like to talk about his Marine training for a good reason, and he probably doesn't want me talking to you about this."

Malysa leaned forward slightly. Davin had left her with the mechanic and his techs while he had gone off to enter the Federation Marines, and once he had returned two years later, he had refused to tell her anything about it. However, she knew he had discussed things with Nugx, since the mechanic was practically their adopted uncle and they often talked to him about things.

Nugx fished a bit of grease out of his fingernail and wiped it on the leg of his coveralls before he continued. "You know your brother got into some trouble while he was at the academy, right?" At her nod, he went on. "Well, what happened was, an admiral's son was in his same class, a real privileged type, you know, born with a platinum spoon in his mouth. The kid was a punk, spoiled and just a real piece of slime. His brother was okay, but he isn't who we're talking about." Nugx paused to bring his fist crashing down on a small multi-legged insect that crawled across a stack of papers, flicking the remains in the general direction of his trash can.

"Anyway, this admiral's son, he was a real jerk, and he got in all kinds of trouble, pulling pranks on the teachers and the other students and just generally being an idiot. Since his father was such a big-shot, they let a lot of it slide, since daddy dearest would be royally pissed if his little snot got expelled and would make life difficult for the academy administrators. Davin kept to himself mostly, and he tried to avoid the punk, but he got pranked a couple times like most of the cadets.

"Well, late one night, the admiral's son got bored, so he and a few of his bonehead friends decided to steal one of the academy's training ships and take it for a joyride. They flew around the planet for a while, buzzing farmers and just generally behaving like morons, and then at some point one of them got the bright idea to scare the students at the academy by pretending to attack the dorms."

Malysa nodded when he paused, silently asking her if she was following his story. Nugx flicked a bit of bug residue off the stack of papers, sending it toward where the rest of the insect was in the trash can.

"Davin was on sentry duty at the time with a few of his classmates and he caught the ship coming in on his sensor board. Since the admiral's son and his idiot friends had disabled the ship's locator beacon and consequently its identification, Davin didn't know who it was and he activated the academy's defense system, sending one of his squadmates to notify an instructor. He thought the academy was genuinely under attack, and since the planet was near Pirate space, he thought they might have confused the academy for a military base, since they raided the area sometimes.

"A few more of the admiral's son's friends intercepted Davin's squadmate, knowing what their buddy was up to, and tried to cover up what their friends were doing. Consequently, Davin himself was the only one on alert, though he didn't know that at the time.

"Your brother saw that the ship was coming in, charging weapons, so he dashed to a defense cannon and got behind the controls, intending to try to drive it off while the others got the rest of the defense system activated. The admiral's son or one of his friends was at the controls of their stolen ship, and it flew in on an attack pattern, imitating what they knew of Space Pirate strategy. Davin fired a warning shot past their viewport, and this startled whoever was at the controls so much that they lost control of the ship and crashed it into the lake next to the academy."

Nugx's computer beeped, so he stopped and reached over to type at it for a second with his nimble long-fingered hands, frowning to himself at what he read on the screen. " 'Scuse me for a sec," he said.

Malysa waited impatiently for him to start up again, though she could guess what had happened next. She idly twisted a strand of her hair around her finger as she waited, wondering if fluorescent orange was really the color she wanted right now.

Finally Nugx hit a final key on his terminal and turned back to her when it beeped again. "Now," he said, "when everything got all sorted out and the academy's commanders figured out what in the hells was going on, Davin was initially commended for his quick thinking, since, had it been an actual attack, his actions would have warned everyone so that they could have mounted a defense." The mechanic scowled. "But, when the admiral got wind of what had happened, he refused to let his precious idiot get in any sort of trouble. He had the official report say that his son and his imbecile friends were out on maneuvers, practicing night flying when your brother shot at them for no reason. He pinned all the blame on Davin and had him court-martialed, actually getting him charged with willfully trying to kill the admiral's son and his friends.

"He had a whole team of lawyers make up all kinds of evidence against your brother, and they made a circus out of it, producing witnesses who swore up and down how much Davin hated the admiral's son and was jealous of him. They even blackmailed the cadets who were on duty with your brother that night into saying that Davin plotted the whole thing out and told them how he was going to shoot down the training ship and make it look like an accident.

"A few of the instructors tried to take Davin's side, but the admiral had too much clout and he made them refrain from testifying in your brother's defense. One instructor refused whatever pressure they put on him and told your brother that he would tell the truth on the stand, but the admiral had him reassigned before he could testify."

Nugx paused for a second and Malysa scoffed, outraged but knowing any large bureaucracy was perfectly capable of such things. This explained why her brother hated the Federation so much, she thought.

Nugx continued. "The trial ended predictably, with Davin being charged with trying to kill his fellow cadets, and he was dishonorably discharged and sent to a Federation prison. He escaped and managed to make his way to my base at the time, and you know the rest."

Malysa dropped her boots the floor and leaned forward to look at the mechanic. "Nugx, what does this have to do with the Tyrant?" she said.

Nugx interlaced his fingers and set him on his desk, leaning forward with a serious expression. "Your brother still hasn't told me directly, but I think I've figured it out from talking to him about it. Whoever your Tyrant is helped Davin escape from prison in exchange for helping them with something they needed. Since he'd been formally charged, his escaping from Federation custody only made things worse, and now the person you call the Tyrant gets him to do jobs by threatening to let the Federation know where he is. It doesn't matter that he didn't do what he was originally charged with; he's broken so many more laws since then that they have plenty to charge him with if they ever catch you two. He's in so deep with this Tyrant person that he has to do his or her jobs whether he wants to or not."

Malysa frowned; this explained a lot, but she still had questions. Unfortunately, she probably wasn't going to get anything more out of Nugx. He looked like he regretted telling her this much already.

"Hey," the mechanic said, "don't let on to your brother that I told you, okay? He hasn't told you all this himself for whatever reason he doesn't want you to know, and he'd probably be pretty mad at me for telling you."

Malysa stood up, smiling slightly at Nugx. "It's in the vault," she told him. "Now, what can I do to help you get our ship fixed?"

He grinned teasingly. "You two banged it up pretty good. There's a lot to do."

Malysa gestured at the door to the office. "Let's get to it, then."

-------

Aliehs III surface:
Axol City spaceport

Samus Aran entered the dump of a spaceport bar with purpose, headed for a back booth where one of her many informants waited. The curved, dirty walls seemed to be attempting to enfold her in a malevolent embrace, but Samus dismissed this as imagination and kept walking. The bar was a real dive, packed with lowlifes scuttling about their business like cockroaches in a dumpster, only the insects were probably more sanitary. The entire experience of being in places like this was unpleasant, and Samus' innate desire to avoid the company of others was always reinforced by these little trips, but the Hunter paid well for good information, so when one of her regulars called her up, she headed for the Aliehs system to meet with him, steeling herself for what it would mean. The informant, a human man named Mikal, was fairly reliable, so she thought whatever lead he might have would be reliable.

The Hunter did not wear her armor, not wanting to attract undue attention, and so wore nondescript loose pants and boots beneath a long dark jacket, a small pistol tucked into the pocket where she could get at it easily. Looking at some of the rough-looking characters huddled around the tables, Samus thought that perhaps she should have worn her powersuit anyway. A few of them looked like they'd just as soon shoot you and steal your money as nod in greeting.

She gave them no further thought; they were beneath her concern, and posed no threat to her whatsoever, even without her armor.

Mikal, a thin blond man wearing glasses and a scraggly attempt at a goatee, sat in the corner booth at the very back of the bar where he could watch everyone else without anyone facing his back. He was a mistrustful sort, and hated coming to places like this, but bars and cantinas were places where two people meeting for a quiet word would go largely unnoticed amidst the dozens of other similar conversations around them.

"Hello," he said, pointedly avoiding using her name. "I trust you didn't have any trouble finding this... place?"

"No," replied Samus, settling into the booth across from him. "What do you have for me?"

Mikal removed a data disc from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table. "I searched for those two names you mentioned, and I found out a bit about them, like you asked. The man was dishonorably discharged from the Federation Marines for taking a shot at some of his classmates, and I'm sure you know his rap sheet since then, but I can't find anything on him before he applied for the academy." He gestured to the disc. "That has everything about him and his sister I could find. There's nothing on the sister aside from her own rap sheet, mostly charges for being an accessory to her brother's crimes. She's never been arrested for any of it, and the man has only been detained once, back when he was discharged from the Marines, but they've managed to stay one step ahead of the authorities since then." He smirked. "They seem to be wily sorts."

"Yes," Samus said tersely. "They are. Have you had any luck figuring out where they are now?"

Mikal shrugged. "Their movements are erratic; I don't think they stay anywhere longer than five or six days, though my contacts have spotted a ship matching the description you provided entering the Keron system a few times within the last several weeks. They may have a base of operations or something of the sort there."

Samus leaned forward slightly, intrigued. "Have your contacts spotted the ship within the last week or so?"

Mikal shrugged again, his bony shoulders lifting beneath his jacket. "I told my contacts to keep an eye out for a ship of the model you mentioned with the modifications you described, and one of them thinks he saw it in the Hydrod system a day ago. 'Course, he told me the other day that a winged purple unicorn tried to sell him some stolen timepieces, so I don't know how reliable he is." He smiled weakly, but stopped when Samus' expression did not so much as twitch at his joke. "I'll let you know if I find anything," he said.

Samus withdrew a credit chip from her pocket and tossed it at him, standing and leaving the bar without another word.

-------

Earth System:
New Liverpool station

Frederika Solomon, chief executive officer of Altair Industries, sat down in the high-backed leather chair, made from actual wood and leather, behind her expansive desk, also made of real wood cut from one of the few remaining forests on the planet below. One entire wall of her enormous office was a window, which, due to the rotation of the station, currently faced the planet that had birthed the human species. Earth hung like a blue-and-green jewel thousands of miles below her, glittering in the starlight. Tiny specks of light strung out like a glowing spider-web across the dark side of the planet, which New Liverpool station currently faced.

The view was breathtaking, magnificent, and awe-inspiring, never failing to draw a comment from those who entered the office. Frederika was frequently the recipient of compliments on the spectacular view of Earth and its surrounding solar system.

Frederika couldn't have cared less.

She rarely set foot on Earth, and tried to avoid it if at all possible. She hated planets, with their unregulated atmosphere and too-heavy gravity. Walking on a planet was like trying to sprint through mud. The smell was another offense altogether.

The view impressed the peons and kept them distracted while she closed deals, and that was a trick you couldn't be prosecuted for. Thanks largely in part to Frederika Solomon and the breathtaking, distracting view from her office, Altair Industries had become one of the largest defense contractors for the Federation, manufacturing almost all of the military's heavy weapons and fighters, not to mention the mining and refining facilities the company now owned, drastically reducing the cost of manufacture.

It was amazing how agreeable some sentients became when confronted with something as banal as a giant ball of rock and water. Apparently, those born on planets were easily impressed by seeing them from space.

Frederika sifted through the reports her assistant had prepared earlier that day, examining the various deals and trades and contracts Altair Industries was busily engaged in.

Two new messages especially caught her eye. One was a perfunctory update from the Hunter she had hired, Samus Aran, letting Frederika know that she was pursuing leads and assembling information on the Ortrys, and was confident she would have them soon.

The other message was from one of the many lowlifes she employed to conduct business she didn't report to the rest of the company. His message said that he was putting together the mission she'd requested of him and that he would have the item he was contracted to retrieve at the drop-off point soon.

Altair Industries stayed ahead of the competition through many means.

A bit of movement beyond her desk caught Frederika's eye, and she looked up to see a huge Federation warship flying in front of the station, headed for the docking ring a few levels above her office. Frederika made note of it and cleared her schedule for the next half hour, expecting a visitor.

Ten minutes later, a tall, handsome human man in a heavily decorated Federation Navy uniform strode into her office, accompanied by several armored Marines, which he told to wait outside. Stopping before Frederika's desk, he grinned broadly, revealing perfectly straight, pearly-white teeth.

Obviously artificial, Frederika thought to herself, just like his thick mane of dark brown hair, but she returned his smile, offering him a seat.

"Thank you," the admiral drawled in his North American accent, sitting down in one of the heavily cushioned chairs that faced Frederika's desk. He turned his head to look out of the expansive window and whistled in admiration, grinning. "Y'know," he said, gesturing to the window with one hand, "that's seventy percent of the reason why I look forward to coming here. That is really something."

Frederika adopted a smile, an expression that came anything but naturally with this particular visitor. "It's good to see you again, Admiral Welles. How is your son?" she said pleasantly, inwardly despising the small talk. Unfortunately, Admiral Welles almost never got down to business without discussing his idiot son first.

"Well on his way to Lieutenant Commander," Welles said. "Bright boy, always has been." He smiled, an expression Frederika thought made him look like the buffoon he really was. "His career's on the fast track, just like mine. He might even make Captain before he's thirty."

Undoubtedly, since you're in charge of fleet promotions, Frederika thought to herself. I'm amazed he isn't an admiral already.

Out loud, she said, "Your son is a fine young man, Admiral. I have no doubt he will be a fine officer."

Admiral Welles nodded as he leaned back in his chair. Frederika half expected him to prop his boots on the edge of her desk, but thankfully, he refrained.

"I came to let you know of our progress," the admiral said. "My battle group investigated Tallon IV, as you suggested, but we didn't encounter much resistance from the Space Pirates."

Frederika's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Oh? I thought they had that planet heavily fortified. It's one of their major bases."

Welles grinned amusedly. "Not anymore. Someone absolutely decimated the base there, and it looks like it was just one person, too."

Frederika allowed a disbelieving expression cross her features. "One person destroyed an entire base of Space Pirates?"

Admiral Welles nodded, absently rubbing his chin. "It looks like it was Samus Aran, since she was there when my group arrived. Plus, we found multiple indications of weapons fire, and the residual energy registered as Chozo weaponry. Aran is the only living being who makes use of Chozo technology anymore. Probably because she's the only one who understands it."

Frederika nodded once, understanding immediately. Aran was certainly one of the few sentients in the galaxy strong enough and skilled enough to engage that many enemies single-handedly.

"So you had no trouble retrieving a sample, then?" Frederika said, leaning forward slightly.

Welles nodded again. "The planet is soaked in radiation that played havoc with our sensors, but we did manage to locate a sizable quantity of Phazon in the remains of a mine. There's enough for the experiments you described." The admiral leaned forward in his chair eagerly. "How close are you to completing the weapon?"

Frederika tapped a few keys at her terminal, looking up the information. "We need the Phazon to complete the prototype, but I am certain our scientists will have the weapon ready for manufacture by the end of the year."

Welles clenched a fist and smacked it into the palm of his other hand. "Excellent! We'll turn the ugly bastards' tech back on them. They won't stand a chance against us now!"

Frederika shrugged minutely. "The Space Pirates have a much greater understanding of Phazon than we do. I hope you were able to retrieve their research as well?"

Welles leaned back in his chair again. "We found quite a bit scattered throughout the various labs, but some of it had been destroyed, either willfully by Aran or accidentally during battles with the Pirates. Phazon seems to be highly mutagenic, but my scientists have assured me that they know how to shield our troops from the radiation's effects."

"Excellent," Frederika said. "Leave the Phazon in the containment area, and my people will deal with it. I'll notify you when the weapon is complete."

Welles rose to his feet, towering over her desk, and Frederika stood herself to shake his extended hand.

"Pleasure doing business with you," Welles said, winking.

Frederika kept her expression neutral as the admiral left her office, but once the doors closed she released the sneer that had been fighting to emerge throughout their conversation.

"Cretin," she muttered to herself as she sat back down at her desk to resume working.

-------

Keron IV surface:
Nugx's black market garage

Davin Ortry cursed loudly as his wrench slipped and he skinned his knuckles on a sharp edge in the innards of the missile launcher he was working on.

His sister's face appeared over the side of the launcher as she rose from where she had been kneeling, working on the other side. She smirked, leaning on the launcher to look over at him.

"How come I can't say that and you can?" she said teasingly.

Davin wiped his hand on his coveralls, looking over the scrape on his knuckles. "'Cause I'm older," he replied. "And I said so. And girls shouldn't swear anyway."

Malysa studied him thoughtfully for a moment, working her chewing gum around in her mouth as she smiled wryly. "You said so, huh? I don't think you get to use that as a reason anymore."

Davin leaned against the hull of their ship next to the missile launcher, flexing his fingers and frowning at the scrape, already starting to feel tender.

He grinned at his sister. "All right, you want a better reason? You can't swear because it's disturbing to hear foul language out of a sixteen-year-old girl."

She smirked disbelievingly. "But not out of a twenty-two-year-old man?"

Davin grinned again. "Exactly."

Malysa smiled wryly again, reaching up to push a strand of her bright orange hair out of her face and unwittingly leaving a streak of grease across her forehead. "I don't think I care for your logic, dweeb."

Davin shrugged, still grinning. "That doesn't matter. You still have to do what I say."

Malysa adopted an amusedly challenging expression. "Oh? Who says?"

Davin tapped his chest with his thumb. "I do."

Malysa raised an eyebrow, fighting to restrain a smile. "Well, maybe I don't recognize your authority."

Davin smirked. "Maybe I don't recognize that you don't recognize my authority."

Malysa leaned forward slightly, pointing a finger at him. "Well maybe I... Damn it," she said, finally grinning.

Davin smiled. "Gotcha there, don't I?"

Malysa frowned amusedly. "Quit slacking off. We have to get this launcher fixed."

Scratching at a bit of carbon scoring on the hull with his boot, Davin tossed his wrench back and forth between his hands. "You just don't want to admit you lost," he said teasingly.

In response, his sister flicked a glob of grease at him and ducked behind the launcher. Davin shook his head amusedly as he smeared the glob down the leg of his coveralls and knelt back down to go back to work.

"So," Malysa said from the other side of the missile launcher, "What's the plan for this new job?"

Davin frowned as he fitted the wrench onto the stubborn connection again. "I'm not sure," he replied. "It'll require some careful timing just to get into the system where the lab is, and then we somehow have to get down to the planet without being noticed."

"And then the hard part starts," Malysa said. "How are we going to get that reactor off the planet and out of the system in our ship? We don't have that much storage space on this thing." Davin heard a clank as she rapped the hull with one of her tools for emphasis.

Davin frowned thoughtfully as he pulled the wrench out to readjust it. "Well," he said, "The laboratory is on a farming world, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I think so," Malysa answered, her voice taut with effort as she strained at one of the connections on the other side of the launcher.

"If most of the open land is used to grow cereal crops, they have to have some kind of barge for transporting the grain out," Davin said, mostly to himself. "If we can get our hands on one of these barges, we can use it to sneak into the system and also to transport the reactor and the scientists out."

Malysa's face appeared over the top of the launcher, looking down at him concernedly. "We aren't still going to kidnap the scientists, are we?" she said, plainly indicating her distaste for this aspect of the mission.

Davin looked up at her, feeling resigned and angry, though not at her. "It's part of the job," he snapped. "You can't just pick and choose which parts of the mission you want to do. I don't like it any more than you do, but it has to be done."

"Why does it have to be done?" Malysa demanded.

Frowning angrily, Davin crawled up the hull until he was at the top hatch, then entered their ship, gesturing for his sister to follow him.

-------

Once they were inside, away from any listeners, Davin rounded on his sister angrily. "Now, what is your problem?" he demanded with more heat than he probably meant.

Malysa could tell he was angry, but she was going to end this once and for all now. Whether he wanted to or not, he was going to talk to her about this.

Though she was shorter, Malysa straightened and stared him down indignantly. "My problem," she hissed at him, "is that my stubborn jackass of a brother refuses to talk to me. Why the hell are we doing jobs for this person?"

"You think I like taking orders from the Tyrant?" Davin demanded. "You think we do these jobs for the money?"

"No," Malysa said, taking a step forward to look him in the eye, "I know this Tyrant person has something on you, but for some reason, you refuse to talk to me," she gestured to herself with both hands irritably, "the only family you have in the universe, about why this person calls us up every few months with some piece of tech or some bit of research they want us to steal for them, and you do it, every single time."

She'd heard Nugx's theory about it already, but Malysa was determined to hear it from her brother. Whatever this was, it had to be something she could help him with. The two of them had only each other to depend on, and there was no point in being a team if they were going to keep things from each other.

Davin turned away, scowling, but Malysa grabbed his arm and forcibly turned him around to look at her again.

"Davin," she said slowly, "who is the Tyrant, and what kind of hold do they have on you?" When he started to turn away again, his lips pressed together in a frown, she jerked him around to face her again. "Damn it, why won't you tell me?"

Davin wrenched himself free of her grip and slammed his fist into a bulkhead. "All right!" he practically shouted in her face. "You want to know? Fine, I'll tell you." He sighed angrily, blowing air out through his clenched teeth.

He was silent for a moment, but Malysa said nothing, knowing he wasn't just stalling. This had to be hard for him.

"After something that happened when I was in the Marines," he began, "I was sent to a Federation maximum-security prison. I still don't know who the Tyrant is, but she arranged an escape for me, and I took it." He had an almost haunted look in his eyes now. "The people who sent me there, they made sure the other prisoners knew what I'd... what I'd been charged with, and since most of them were vets, they made life very... unpleasant for me. Apparently even that lot thought taking a potshot at one of your comrades ranked up there as pretty despicable."

Davin looked up, his dark eyes meeting Malysa's. "I almost died in there, so when I started getting secret messages telling me there was a way to escape, I took the opportunity."

He reached up to scratch the back of his neck with one hand, still clearly uncomfortable. "I'm supposed to be in prison right now," he said. "The Federation's been after me for that since I escaped, but I've done so much since then that it doesn't matter that I didn't do what I was sent to prison for."

Malysa nodded. This echoed what Nugx had said. "So," she asked him gently, knowing he was still ready to talk and being demanding would get her nothing now, "what does the Tyrant have to do with this?"

Davin slouched against the wall and crossed his arms, idly tapping his fingers on his bicep. "Once I was out, the demands started," he said. "She said that since she'd helped me escape, I owed her, and so I had to return the favor. She arranged a ship for me, and I used it to steal a piece of tech she wanted, the specs for some kind of experimental shielding."

He looked over at her, his expression grim. "The only reason I still do jobs for the Tyrant is because she makes sure she can keep tabs on me. On us." He reached out and touched Malysa's shoulder. "She can tell the Federation where we are at any time, so I carry out her missions so that you don't go to prison. With everything we've done, they'd try you as an adult, and you don't want to see the inside of a prison, believe me."

Malysa leaned back against the wall, stunned. She'd never considered the reasons why they'd turned to a life of crime; she just thought that's what her brother wanted to do, and she went along with it.

A flash of anger swept through Malysa as she processed this. "Now just a damn minute," she said hotly. "They wouldn't have anything to charge me with if not for you. If you're keeping me away from the Federation, then why in the hell do we keep breaking their laws? It's just making them more and more pissed off at us!"

Davin straightened angrily, taking a step toward her. "What kind of work do you think I can get with my record, huh? Do you think I can just walk into a factory or something somewhere and say 'Hey, give me a job. I need to support my sister, but unfortunately, I have at least a dozen outstanding warrants for my arrest. Is that going to be a problem?'" He gestured boldly at the ship around them. "I do this kind of work because it's what I can get. I'm sorry you've been dragged into this, but I couldn't just leave you somewhere."

He reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Maybe you'd have been better off if that's what I'd done."

Malysa heard the despair in his voice and suddenly her temper vanished. She knew she had to say something, so she touched his arm. "Hey, it's not your fault. I knew what I was doing, and it's just as much me as it was you. There's no point in getting all upset with each other about this."

He shrugged, one corner of his mouth quirking in a sort of half-smile. "Yeah, you're right," he said, attempting to sound light-hearted, but Malysa could still hear his irritation.

Davin gestured to the hatch. "We've still got a lot of work to do, so let's get back to it, okay?"

"I'll be right there," Malysa said, watching him go.

She sighed quietly. She could tell she'd upset him, but hopefully now he could see that he could talk to her about things like this. Her brother had always been private about some things, irritatingly so sometimes, but since the two of them were pretty much all each other had, it couldn't be a good idea to keep secrets from one another.

As she moved for the hatch, Malysa resolved to figure out some way for them to free themselves from the hold the person they called the Tyrant had on her brother and escape to the outer reaches or something, somewhere beyond the reach of the law and all the rest of the people after them.


Author's Note: Yes, I know it's been an unforgivably long time since the last update, but I've been swamped with school and some sort of evil flu-ish malady, among other things. This would likely have been done a week ago if not for that. Anyway, for those of you who follow my Zelda stories also, updates to those are forthcoming as well. I'm done with school for the semester and my next classes don't start until mid-January, so I plan to get plenty of writing done. Also, much thanks to Desteni for her input on this chapter. I believe it to be much improved, so a large debt of gratitude is owed. Till next time!