Recap: Eric and Anna are part of a team charged with surveying and evaluating the world gates that are scattered throughout known space. However, not everyone agrees with their mission, and after a disastrous encounter on Tantalus IV, the two find themselves on the run. After being separated for a time, they are now back together- but have just been captured by a strike team sent to take them down. Unfortunately there is something stalking the strike team in the ruins of an alien civilization, and the final confrontation is at hand.
Anna watched as Andreas and Gillian scoured the ruins. The explosion had brought the tower down in one long, shuddering collapse. She and Eric had made it across the river when the blast hit, and had turned back, hoping against hope that their companions had made it out. At first they saw nothing, then they saw two people staggering in the water, trying to make it across as debris rained down all around them. They made it. It had been so very close.
Anna had been sure they weren't going to make it when her and Eric had sprinted for safety. Andreas had gone back for Gillian, his last remaining trooper, when she had stayed behind to hold off... whatever it was that had been stalking them. There was a good chance, actually, that none of them would have made it out without Gillian. And Riggs too.
As they looked back at the wreckage she had been sure nothing could have survived. Not that close to the explosion. In the hours that followed they had scoured the ruins, finding no opening into the lower depths. That was their main concern. There had been other things in the specimen area as well, and if one could get out... maybe others could as well. That would not be good.
"What do you think it was?" she asked Eric later. They were resting while Andreas and Gillian did a little more searching.
"I don't know," he replied. "Some sort of psi- empath thing. Hard to say for sure, but clearly it wasn't anything we know of."
"Do you think the technician released it?"
"Appears that way. Unless it made him do it. Maybe when he got close it could control him, somehow..."
"What a mess," she shook her head. "And Andreas' men."
"Well I don't feel too sorry for them, seeing as they were trying to kill us twenty- four hours ago, but yeah... they deserved better."
"Yes they did," said Andreas as he approached. "My entire team- gone- except for her," he inclined his head toward Gillian, still sifting through debris. "She's hard to kill." He smiled mirthlessly.
"Yeah well I'm glad she was here," said Anna. "She saved my ass."
"She's saved mine more times than I can count. Riggs too, for that matter. He'll be missed."
They were silent for a moment. Something had been worrying at Anna, and now was the time to ask.
"Andreas. I noticed that... she didn't seem affected by the mind thing. Any reason you can think for that?"
"Yup. She's a natural psi-resistant. One of the reasons she's on my team. Not to mention she's a crack shot."
Anna nodded. "Nice. How about you?"
Andreas smiled. "I thought you'd get around to that. I am not psi- resistant, and I felt it there too, towards the end. Would have offed myself if it came to that. Or Gill would have."
Anna thought about that.
"So. What now?" She noticed Eric hadn't said much.
"Now... we get back to Paxus as soon as possible and report this shit. How many other remote bases have technicians fucking with stuff they shouldn't be?"
"Huh? Oh yeah." Eric was distant.
"Are you with us?"
"Yeah. Just thinking about... all of this. Doesn't it seem funny how this all went down? The screw-up on Tantalus IV, them sending you- of all people- after us. Do you feel used, Andreas? Like someone is just manipulating all of us?"
Gillian walked up as he finished. "All clear, boss. I don't think anything could have made it."
"Roger that. Good work. Yes I do feel used, and I don't like it. Someone is going to answer for it, trust me."
"Good luck with that," Anna muttered. "Plausible deniability, right? Our missions are more or less off the books, and Lord only knows what your missions are, but no one is going to own up to this. We can't even trust our own people now. Not after Eric and I ended up in different places just seconds apart."
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Eric broke in, "we have a team that monitors us and syncs the jumps so that we all go together. Somehow during the firefight on Tantalus, Anna went through and landed here. I was only seconds behind her and ended up... somewhere else. Somewhere distinctly NOT here. That's on whoever was back at Control."
No one said anything for a moment. The implications were a bit disturbing.
Anna looked at Eric. "You don't think..."
He held up his hand, not wanting her to mention Moira in mixed company. "I don't know. I'm just saying something's not right. Opposing our mission is one thing. Sending a strike team to kill us is quite another. Something has changed, someone has been emboldened to take these steps. And whoever they might be have the authority to send military." He inclined his head toward Andreas.
"Do you often go on kill missions for the Ministry of Science?"
Andreas bristled. "Doesn't matter, I don't owe you an accounting of my job. But no, I do not work for the Ministry. Obviously."
"Well someone at the Ministry was able to have a strike team authorized and gated through. That doesn't happen at the peon level. We've made some enemies, it would seem." He looked at Anna.
She didn't disagree.
"My mission was to acquire the two of you, alive. Deadly force was only authorized if you resisted."
"Well, that's reassuring. The first trooper who saw me opened fire, so he must not have got the memo."
Anna could see things were going to get heated, so she stepped in.
"Enough. Let's move forward."
"Yes," agreed Andreas. "Let's move on, get out of here."
"What do you think will be waiting for us?"
"Let's find out."