At the end of the room, Commodore Marcus stood up as the Killgrace team entered. Cet looked around. A light scan confirmed the presence of armed troops behind the drywall surrounding the room. This procurement round was going to be complicated.
“I take it the others are not joining us yet,” he said, before Karl could start the introductions. The Commodore inclined his head in a stiff nod. The man’s heartrate was elevated, but he controlled his fear well.
“I believe we have a few matters to discuss before the meeting.”
“Resulting from the unpleasantness last week?” Cet did not need to scan to pick up the tension. The human’s stress levels had increased the moment the topic was mentioned. “Sonya and Karl are new to the company. I don’t believe they have the clearance for this topic. Would you object if they waited downstairs?”
“No, that would be acceptable. Private Higgs?” The Commodore never raised his voice, and never took his eyes off Cet. Higgs stepped in from a side room and saluted smartly.
“Please escort these two downstairs to the meeting room.”
“Nice to see you again, Higgs,” Susan said with a smile, and the Private nodded with a grin.
“Susan, Captain.” He turned to their companions, all business. “You two, follow me.” As the footsteps faded, Cet tracked them. Higgs had escorted them safely to the stairs. Leaving a trace focused on the pair to trigger an alert if anything untoward happened to his staff, he turned back to the Commodore.
“I trust this won’t take long.” It had been the wrong thing to say. He heard a safety catch being eased off in the next room. Keeping his hands in plain sight, he walked to the table and sat down, resting his hands crossed and non-threatening on the table. Susan took a seat next to him.
Good, he thought, as the tactical computer calculated his shield could extend to cover her if necessary. Her presence reduced the risk of violence, ensuring he appeared less threatening. It was irrelevant. He could erase them without difficulty, but that would adversely affect on of his own primary objectives.
If the military thought they could subdue him by force they had badly misjudged the situation. Their hand held weapons would not penetrate his shields. Regardless, it was still tempting to engage combat form and wipe them out for their arrogance. Considering his reaction carefully, he ran the situation through the computers as a hypothetical – if the humans had been drones against Yvak – and decided that this would have been an acceptable approach. Why then was it less acceptable for a lesser species to display survival traits, he considered, filing the question for later consideration. Now, the primary objective must be ensuring the continued smooth and non-interventionist running of his company and resource base.
“So, what did you want to ask?” he said, face blank.
“You are not human.” The Commodore did not sit.
“That is correct.”
“How many of you are there?”
“Two.” Cet looked at Susan, allowing uncertainty to show on its face. While the human thought it was in control, it was less likely to escalate the affair.
“What are your intentions?”
“There is a procurement round underway for encrypted – ”
“Don’t play me.” The Commodore slammed his hands on the table, looking genuinely angry. Cet looked at them, and then let his dead, dark gaze travel up to the human’s face. As he met the man’s gaze, scanned physiological responses indicated the replacement of anger with terror. It was adequate. And satisfactory.
“He isn’t,” Susan said, brusquely. “We came here for the second stage procurement round.”
“And long term?”
“We’ve been resident on this planet for fifty years with no trouble. We’d like that to continue,” she said.
“And your army?”
“What army? Commodore, we are both scientists. We have no interest in starting a war here.”
“Who was David Kilgrace?” The Commodore changed tack abruptly. Susan looked at Cet, and let the alien answer the awkward question.
“He is dead. His mind was scanned for an early experiment. I retained the files and used the identity when I arrived on earth.” It was nowhere near the truth, but it was more acceptable by human’s odd social rules.
“And the rest of them?”
“Any in his direct line of descent have been me. The rest are human.” Cet smiled wryly. “He is estranged from his family.”
“Interesting. Certain questions are being asked.” The two waited in silence for him to continue, and eventually the Commodore prodded them. “Such as why we should not simply impound your company and take your technology?”
The amazing thing about military training was that the Commodore could say that with a straight face. Cet looked at him and smiled darkly. As the silence stretched, Susan looked between the two of them and sighed.
“Said by people who have never been to war against either of our species, correct?” she said.
“We’ve encountered his species before.”
“I am surprised.” Cet’s comment was genuine. “I would not expect you to survive.”
“Many of us didn’t,” the Commodore said.
“Predictable.” The alien noted the comment for reference. The fact that any survived at all was noteworthy. “What was their configuration?”
“Manipulator claws, with a single ranged weapon.”
“Combat drones. Organically installed AIs controlling basic non-adjustable configurations.”
“No.” Cet stated. He modified voice and pose fluidly to convey regret. “Whatever took place here, I am unaware of. I have inhabited your species’ orbital body for nearly fifty years without major incident. I would prefer to continue doing so.”
“Do we have a choice?” the Commodore asked, with a sceptical expression.
“In military terms? No.” The alien stated truthfully. “However, I would prefer not to change my current form of existence.”
“You mean, you don’t want us to become inconvenient?”
“Precisely. I will not interfere in your affairs, and you will not interfere in mine.”
“And two weeks ago?”
“An unfortunate co-incidence.” He looked at Susan who shook her head.
“We detected an energy reading, and went to investigate. Believe me, we were as surprised as you to encounter Yvak.”
“I would also remind you that our presence prevented a foothold situation.” Cet added.
“That does not mean you are not hostile.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to eradicate most of the superior military staff on the second Tuesday of each month for the last five years,” Cet said. The concept of how their security would be reacting to that knowledge was actually amusing.
“At least now I know why you’re so damn good at golf.” The Commodore said dryly.
“I make sure I miss at least once a hole.” The attempt at humour failed, it noted. The humans hidden in the next room were too tense to laugh.
“So,” Commodore Marcus said heavily, “Let’s cut to the heart of the matter. Who exactly was I playing?” Cet looked at him, considered the request, and replied.
“I am Command Espionage Technology Unit of the First Division Military Scientific Assignment. I am also David Kilgrace – and every descendant of the family after that.”
“Didn’t you tell me your middle name was ‘Engineering’?” Susan asked archly. He looked round at her slightly abashed, and then smirked.
“You told me you were human.”
“I was at the mercy of one of the most devious dangerous beings that ever existed!” Susan protested, and Killgrace gave her a grin.
“Likewise.” The Commodore coughed to draw their attention back to him.
“How do we know you weren’t one of the creatures we fought?”
“If I had been, Commodore, you would be dead.”
“Our military was a match for your troops.”
“At today’s levels. It sounds like a hard fight against a limited number of low-level drones.” He waited until the Commodore nodded before he delivered the hard truth. “In 1920?”
“How do we know you weren’t one of them?” the Commodore demanded, retreating to safer ground. Killgrace glanced at Susan and stood up, taking a few steps clear of the table. He accessed the cameras, killing surveillance.
“Because they did not look like this.” He shifted. From the next room there was the click of a safety catch. The rest of them had already been released. The Commodore went pale, but otherwise stood his ground.
“No,” the man said, looking at the alien closely while trying not to stare. “Do the colours indicate political faction or rank?”
“Neither. Function.” If it was possible for an immobile, featureless, case to look concerned, Cet did, as the sensor lights moved inside its dome. “Your soldiers should reactivate their safeties.”
“Concerned for your armour?”
“No. Ricochets.” Killgrace shifted back, taking the seat again. It was the irrevocable proof the Commodore had been looking for, although the tapes were erased with a thought.