Chapter 7: Fabrication

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"Yes, Simon. Consider this my confession, but you'll get no apology."

"Darlena, you can't just change things without—wow. Wait, you figured out how to remote-host fabricants from this far?"

"Not exactly. I don't host them, I just wrote a worm that hacks into their directives. Since I can't maintain the link, I send updates in bursts and monitor from here."

"That will leave traces behind. Has anyone noticed you?"

"No, I've been careful."

"There's no way you can be certain of that. You should have told me before, Darlena. I probably could have helped you mask your footprint."

"I know. I wasn't sure I could trust you."

"That's no surprise. We have laws for this."

"Sometimes laws should be broken."

"But this—it's reckless. We aren't supposed to influence things like this because we don't know how they'll turn out. History is full of well-intentioned tragedies."

"Well, are you going to turn me in?"

"I should. You've grown too close to them and it's clouding your judgment. I'm surprised you haven't already recused yourself."

"I've grown close enough to have proper judgment. Simon, we want a peaceful transition for these people. My analysis tells me we have a better chance of successful integration if they decide to join us on their own. If you disagree, I've broken laws by my own admission. Turn me in and I'll take the punishment."

"Darlena... this is serious. I'll be complicit as well if I don't report you right now. We have the authority to use our own discretion, but only within the limits of the law. Give me some time. I need to think."

#

Victor crossed the barracks between the two rows of captive pirates to greet Spud, who seized the Captain in a sudden embrace. Spud hugged him fiercely enough to trigger the pressure warning on his armor, and he yelled, "Okay, okay! Spud, you're gonna pop my suit!"

The giant crewman burbled a happy laugh and squeezed again before he put Victor down. "Found the Cap'n!"

"Yeah, you did good, Spud. Thought we'd lost you there, pal." Victor patted his old friend on the shoulder and turned to the seated pirates, most of them gaping at the massive Spud. The Captain paced between the two rows and crouched in front of Sergeant Tooms at the rear. "So, you glad I talked you out of a fight? Much cleaner this way."

Tooms tilted his head in acknowledgment and replied in a low drawl. "Well, seeing as I'd be a dead man otherwise, I'd have to say yes."

"What made you decide?"

The pirate seemed to choose his next words carefully. "The lieutenant couldn't be taken alive, with the kind of information he could give up. The rest of us don't have the same problem. He knew it. We knew it. He'd have done the same if any of us was in his suit." Tooms shrugged. "Y'all taking us back to the Core, then?"

"That's the idea." Victor motioned for them all to stand. "Remember, boys, I've very generously allowed you all to keep breathing for now. Your continued comfort under my care depends entirely on not pissing me off. Move out, single file. Willis, lead the way."

While they moved the prisoners through the wrecked ship, Myra piped up on the crew's common channel. "Captain, I've found something. When the gate was open, I caught some images from the other side. From the star alignment, I was able to determine the general area of Styx the fleet came from."

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