Lee woke to utter blindness and the feeling of someone rooting through his head.
“Stop! Stop it now!” Sahara was there, inside his memories, looking at the data he had taken from the viral bullet.
“Hold still or I won’t be careful in here. And you know I could do a lot of damage.”
Seconds of being lost gave way to anger, and with that anger Lee fought back.
“Execute,” he said, gasping. The floodgates of his augmented tech opened, and the cascade of data was immense and punishing. Sahara’s hands released their fierce grip on his temples, and with that his vision came back.
A ship’s cockpit in bruised blues and blacks: an augment interface up front, and he had been latched to one of two passenger chairs behind.
“What did you do to me?” Sahara said from the floor. She couldn’t stand, and would be disoriented for several more minutes. That only helped Lee if he could get out of the thick metal restraints gripping his arms and legs.
“My augments can store vast amounts of data. Like having a memory where you never forget a single second. I never access it all at once, of course. But if I did, well, you just felt a tenth of what that might be like.”
He focused on the restraints. No way to overpower them.
“You Trine sneak. I’ll make you pay for that,” she said. She clambered to the opposite seat, her cornrow hair that had been high on her head now in a lopsided knot.
“If you had asked, I would have just shown you, you know,” Lee said.
“I want you to see what I saw. That’s why I left the tracer on.” Lee glanced at the spot underneath his clothes, there in the hollow of his clavicle, where the black thorn still resided. “I wanted you to follow me. I thought, if I could get you to catch up when I got to the Rose Flats, I could show you the evidence. I know most of you Einz soldiers aren’t bad people. You’re caught in this same as us. Many of you even come from the Trine. Somewhere along your family tree–”
The backhand wasn’t as hard or as exacting as last time, but it still stung. “You watch your mouth.”
She wasn’t going to be reasoned with. Not unless he evened things between them. Lee focused. He searched his memory banks. Yes, he still had her access code. “I don’t like doing this, and I’m sorry.” He started the cascade again, using his auxiliary interface to transmit to Sahara’s augments.
“Ah!” she doubled over. Then, through that haze, she cocked her gun at him.
“I’ve initiated a wipe sequence,” Lee said. “You kill me and the code runs, every trace of your memories, everything you are–it gets obliterated. Now undo these straps, that’s all I want.”
“No way, gah!” Another wave. She pointed her arm’s particle weapon at him and forced it close so that the now deep red light blinded him. “Turn it off!”
“Free me.” He dug deep into data banks he had not looked at since he first downloaded the cache. War. Carnage. Children maimed, tortured, dead.
“Computer, ah! Release bonds on chair two.” The cuffs holding him withdrew. He cut the connection. Sahara let out a breath. “You’re straight up vicious,” she said after a few moments.
He rubbed his wrists. “You left me no other choice. I have to get to the Rose Flats, and soon. If I don’t, well who knows if Vardy’s plan to stop the Einz can succeed.”
“So you seriously think they’re going to kill their own people? That’s crazy.”
“They did it to my people.”
“No, not these. The Reformation. The New Einz families. You’re allowed food. Water. Energy rations. That’s how you survive. You could come above the smog if you’d stop shooting up the place and stealing and what not.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen the Einz broadcasts. What they tell you we do. You know that it’s lies? The statistics–”
“You can make statistics say anything.” Sahara, leveling her gun arm at him again, turned away and began tapping at a nearby terminal.
Lee still had the connection with her interface open. He could use it. But he didn’t like violence, even when it would be quicker. “Don’t report me.”
“Or you’ll what?”
“You know what I’ll do.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m not afraid of a memory wipe. In fact, would be preferable to what I’ve seen.”
“Then you know how bad the Einz is.”
“Ha, I’m talking about the Golden Chain. I’ve seen my brothers and sisters in the army blown up, ripped apart by tech suits, viral-wiped and worse. We defend ourselves and everyone in Einz against you. And now you’re telling me that it’s Einz who are the ones going to destroy my people? No. No way. Maybe you are a good person. You’re a doctor so, yeah, alright, but surely you see how that doesn’t make sense?”
Lee faltered. He had seen so much. Using the Dark Sea he could look into the history of his world. And there was a long chronicle of it. So much information. Too much, if truth be known. He’d always looked though with the lens of someone who grew up in the Trine. He’d always assumed the Einz were the aggressors because that was what he saw. But what if he saw only that which he already believed? What if the Golden Chain were planning an attack and this was a means of gathering support?
“Well?” Sahara pushed him. “Look, I’m giving you an out,” Sahara said. “We’re just a little way from your ship. You turn back now, I’ll make this go away.”
Lee eyed her. “Why? Why would you do that?”
“Because…” She studied him. “I’m a straight-up soldier. I make no apologies for that. I don’t like people. Never have. And I especially don’t like Triners. But I believe you believe what you’re saying. That puts us on even ground, right? So long as you leave that tracker on, I can keep tabs on you over the next few days, I’m prepared to say that I don’t think you’re gonna let anyone, Trine or Einz, start killing, and at the end of the day that’s why I joined this here army. To put an end to this war.”
Lee could go back to Trine. Wait a few weeks. Maybe nothing would happen. Maybe this was all some big lie. Maybe…
“No,” a gruff voice behind him said.
Jack stood in the doorway of the cargo-hold, his large frame eclipsing most of the light from the room beyond. “He’s not wrong. I saw what he saw. Bits, at least. Something is going to go down, and soon.”
“I don’t believe that,” Sahara said.
“You don’t have to,” Jack said. “I’ll go with him.”
Sahara eyed Jack. “No. Not an option. He either goes back home or I take him into custody–”
“Think,” Jack said. “If he’s right, and we do find the evidence that the Einz is attacking its own people, plus all the Trine–we have stop it. If he’s wrong, he’s led us straight to a hacker that the head families have been wanting for years.”
“It could be an ambush.”
“Could be,” Jack agreed. He cracked his knuckles. “We two are great at fighting, and turns out Lee here has a sting of his own.”
“Let’s settle this,” Jack went on. “Because, I don’t know about you, but I want answers.”