When the group filed into the conference room, the holoprojectors were already alight with the flickering figures of ten Concord council members. Lang stepped up to the main dais; the others stood on platforms just below his, and once everyone was in place Lang tapped in a code into the pad in front of him. Dim light switched on beneath their feet, and a green light came to life on the pad.
“You’re online, Representative,” the centre hologram said. It was of a male crajril, dressed in the neatly pressed navy uniform of the council. “Thank you for reporting in so quickly. What was the result of the trip to Sarkoth?”
“It was less than ideal, Councillor. While we were speaking with M’Kra Riyl, a group of terrorists attacked H’Krin. Casualties were few, and the only losses of life were the three terrorists.”
The human woman next to the crajril folded her arms across her chest. “Three terrorists managed to breach H’Krin’s defensive shields without inside help? I find that hard to believe, Representative.”
“Start believing it, Councillor,” Alison snapped, glaring up at the holograms. “Because those three stuck Concord Military arms in my face and threatened my life with them.”
“Commander Vaughn, please let your representative speak.”
“Then why am I even here? Can’t you see that, hey, of those few casualties mentioned, I’m one of them and so is my corporal?”
“There were only the three, Councillor,” Lang interrupted, shooting Alison a warning glare. “They had three Concord Military weapons: a CMD-50, CMD-Jaeger, and IR-90. They also wore prototype environment suits of mal design and used a highly concentrated, small radius fragmentation grenade to kill themselves and wound our soldiers.”
“It looked tsill,” Hawthorne added. “It wasn’t CMD like their other weapons. It was a mash up of supplies they must have found on the black market.”
“How could a grenade possibly kill three and only wound the others around them?” demanded an especially thickset eragi.
“We saved the debris we could find,” Lang said. “We are going to have specialists study it the moment we return to Aetheria, but it seems to be a very specialized grenade. Powerful only in a small radius. Commander Vaughn and Corporal Macready were far enough away to only be stunned by the blast; a young beren woman was just enough closer to be more gravely wounded, though she is expected to make a full recovery.”
“Did you learn anything about the terrorists? Their names, their affiliation?”
“They were two human males and a female mal, black. They didn’t say their names, sir.”
“One of the humans,” Alison piped up, and held back a smile at the way several council members seemed to sigh at the sound of her voice. “I recognized him from the batch of new recruits last year, when I was given a training position in the academy. I couldn’t tell you his name, but if you send me the records, I could help you identify at least one of the three terrorists.”
The quanir councillor sighed and touched a three-fingered hand to his face. “Under normal circumstances, that would be highly classified information, Commander.”
“Sure, but these circumstances aren’t normal. Besides, I trained him.”
“We understand. When are you expected at your ship, Commander?”
“Tomorrow at the latest.”
“And from there?”
“We’ll be back on Somerset.”
“Good. We will forward the records to you as soon as your coordinates are back at Fort Haven.” The quanir turned his gaze back to Lang. “What of the beren, Representative? Have they finally joined the Concord?”
“Er—not exactly, Councillor.” Lang cleared his throat and shifted his weight on the pedestal. “M’Kra Riyl promised her cooperation and agreed to join the Concord only if we solved this act of terror on her people. As collateral, we took into our custody one of their own, the same young woman who was hurt in the firefight with the terrorists.”
“Her name is Jin Riyl,” Macready spoke up. “She’s the niece of M’Kra.”
“What do you propose we do with her, then?” asked the human councillor. “While I’m certain her knowledge would be invaluable, we can’t trust her with any assignments until her people are promised fully to the Concord.”
The ten council members loomed over them, mouths shut and eyes piercing even through the faded image of hologram.
They had mastered the art of intimidation. They had to, of course, being the main governing body of the galaxy.
Still, it wasn’t quite enough to knock Alison off her perch.
“I’ll take her aboard the Ophira,” she said, breaking the silence after a pregnant pause. “She told us that she was the assistant to H’Krin’s chief surgeon.”
One of the councillors who had remained quiet let out a soft groan and unfolded his arms. His flesh was slightly muted through the flicker of the hologram, but she could just see that he was a red mal. “Your ship has a doctor, Commander,” he rasped.
“I know. But Dr Aarons is always complaining about needing a second set of eyes. Besides, the girl seems interested in human life. Enough to keep rereading the Canterbury Tales,” she added under her breath. “If we take her to Somerset, we can show her a bit. Not enough to compromise anything if the beren back out of the deal, but enough to satisfy her curiosity and for her to send in regular reports to M’Kra.”
“Had you any other plans for her, Representative?” the crajril purred.
Lang opened and shut his mouth several times. Alison couldn’t help but notice how like a dying fish he looked in that moment. “Ah, no, Councillor. I hadn’t.”
“Very well, then. Commander Vaughn, you have our permission to take the girl aboard with you. Keep us informed, if you will.”
“I will. Thank you, Councillor.”
“We will finish the debriefing with Representative Lang,” the eragi said. “Lieutenant, get your commander and corporal to the med bay before they collapse.”
Hawthorne gave a small salute. “Will do, sir.”
Alison gave Hawthorne a thankful grin as he helped her off the pedestal. As the four of them hobbled out of the conference room, one councillor chimed in, “Representative, why weren’t they given medical treatment before the meeting?”
Alison snorted, but they didn’t stick around long enough to hear Lang’s blubbering answer.