"Stand down, you piece of shit," he'd barked and the trooper turned away with a shrug. They were down men, after all, that did tend to breed resentment.
"Anna! Walk with me," Andreas called.
She rolled her eyes but complied, and when a trooper made to escort her she just said "Oh, please." They walked in silence for a time until she spoke.
"What do you want, Andreas?"
"I want to know what you were doing in that tower. Why are technicians dead just when you two happen to be here? Amazing coincidence?" She sighed. "Look, I know you're wont to see conspiracies all around you, but trust me. We had nothing to do with that. In fact, if it wasn't for you, we wouldn't even be here. Wherever this is."
It's Eridanus 4..."
"Yeah I know it's Eridanus 4. I mean why be in this miserable backwater if not for you clowns? Shooting everything in sight."
"Anna, don't be dramatic. You know damn well..." He stopped, as if to change tack, then started again. "Don't pretend there is only one mandate."
"But there is only one! You have no authority to be traipsing through blowing everything up, hunting us!"
"That's where you're wrong," he smiled thinly. "We have a mandate as well. And it's to stop you."
He stopped, and the people behind him stopped too, troopers pretending to check their weapons as he faced Anna.
"What gives you the right to do what you're doing? You two?" he jerked his thumb toward Eric. "The gates are artifacts, from a race we don't even understand. They're... a gift from God, if you will. There's a reason they're impervious to weapons. And you and your crew take it upon yourselves to go around sabotaging them. And you're surprised that we want to stop you?"
"Andreas, we're surveying the gates, and you know it. Determining which ones are problems, which are unstable. We're only trying to shut down the ones that could be..."
"Right. As determined by your patrons in the science division. Well, sorry to say, not everyone agrees with their analysis. And sadly to say , there is not a consensus. So here we are."
He set off again, silently dismissing her. She was so mad she was trembling, and when Eric came alongside she just mouthed damn him. Eric nodded and they trudged along, lifting their shackled hands occasionally to swipe at incessant insects. This was one tropical vacation they wouldn't mind seeing the back end of.
As they trudged along Eric's mind was racing. How are we going to get out of this one? It didn't look good, certainly. But what did Andreas want? He could have shot them both down immediately, but didn't. Why? He didn't like the idea of being paraded back to Control under Andreas' supervision- that could only mean the man was confident enough to act openly. That didn't bode well for their own patrons. He was about to move up and try to engage Andreas when he heard a coughing behind him and the line came to a halt.
One of the troopers was bent over, hacking and having trouble breathing, apparently. Another trooper, the female one, was patting him on the back and the rest were milling about, looking nervously into the surrounding brush. Andreas came back down the line impatiently, demanding to know what the problem was. Eric thought briefly this might be an opportunity, but the guards on him and Anna were paying close attention. He sat tight while Andreas and the other trooper tried to help the guy in trouble. It didn't look good, the guy was retching and Eric was thinking maybe they should have paid more attention to any biohazards on Eridanus 4.
After a few minutes Andreas got the group moving again, with two other troopers helping their ailing fellow. Eric was looking for a chance to bolt, and he could see Anna was too, but with the flex cuffs on there wasn't a lot they could do. He watched the troopers closely, trying to catch their names and observe any mannerisms, any weaknesses he could exploit. Before long they came into view of the remote base, and everybody dispersed when they got inside. Andreas directed the ailing trooper and his helpers to the medbay, while he personally marched Eric and Anna to the control room. Once they were seated at the circular table in the middle he let his lieutenant- Riggs- watch over them while he conferred quietly with his medic.
Apparently he didn't like what he heard, as he came over to Eric with a hard look on his face.
"So what are we dealing with here, Eric?"
"Fuck if I know. We haven't been here much longer than you."
"Right. You keep saying that." He turned to Anna. "But you, my dear, have been here a wee bit longer, haven't you? Waiting for your white knight to show up, after being so unfortunately separated back on Tantalus? A shame, that." He cupped her chin in his hand and looked her in the eyes. "I don't suppose you spent your time looking up hazardous lifeforms while you were waiting, did you?"
"No, you idiot. I did not," she snapped, twisting her head away from him. "Sure I did a basic scan, who wouldn't, but the readings were all fine. And besides the station here has been online for several years, the techs had nothing major to report."
"That would be the same techs who are missing?" Andreas asked with a frown. "One of whom is laid out in that whatever it is- PreC tower- looking like something scared the crap out of him? How reassuring."
"What are you going to do?" Eric asked quietly.
"Well, I'm going to get my man stabilized and we're getting out of here. Don't worry, you'll be home soon enough. Although I wouldn't look forward to that too much, if I were you." Smirk.
"Bullshit. You talk a good game but I hardly think things have changed that much. You're talking out of your ass." Hopefully.
"We'll see, won't we?" said Andreas cheerfully. "In the meantime, you..." At that moment the female trooper rushed in, her high ponytail swishing behind her. "Sir, we have a problem."
"What is it?"
"Russell, sir. He's...worse. Raving and thrashing around, and he... doesn't look normal. There's something wrong with his eyes."
"His eyes?" Andreas replied scornfully.
"You have to see it, sir. I can't really explain..." She looked embarrassed.
"Oh for fuck's sake, we don't have time for this. Riggs! You and Taylor get the jump ready- start the sequence. We're out of here. And watch these two. Alright, Gillian, let's go. and this better be good."