"Commander, I hope you understand that this information is restricted."
"Let's just say it's very sensitive and leave it at that. Now, as to your report. It's very thorough and has been corroborated by your subordinates' debriefing as well. You appear to have conducted yourself with your usual professionalism. In fact, you are to be commended. Given the unique nature of the threat, and the fact that the targets were acquired, at great cost, I would say your contributions here will not go unnoticed."
"Thank you, sir," said Andreas. "Might I ask...?"
"The targets, sir. My information is that they are currently under observation, but I lost eight people bringing them in. My team . Can I ask why they are running around free when I had shoot to kill orders if they resisted?"
"Commander, under the circumstances I can sympathize with your concerns. All I can say is that steps are being taken, and that your apprehension of the targets was a matter of utmost significance."
"If I may be frank..."
"Why was I sent after them? Surely whoever made that decision knew that I had history with Eric. History that could complicate the mission."
"Commander, you're well regarded. Professional, efficient. We know that when you're assigned to a task, it gets done. However, there are lines that are not to be crossed. Information that you are not privy too. I need your discretion on this one. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes," Andreas said. "You most certainly do. May I inquire about my next assignment?"
"Enjoy your down time, Commander. Given the political situation I feel that you've earned a bit of a respite from the field. You are not being sidelined. Just letting things die down a bit, you understand."
"Is there anything else?"
"Yes, sir. Corporal Gillian, sir. I would like to request her inclusion on any team..."
"Noted. She has requested the same. We don't penalize success. Is that all?"
"Yes, sir." Andreas rose. "Thank you, sir."
Andreas could feel the man's eyes on him as he was leaving.
He turned. "Yes, sir?"
"Why did you go into the ruins when you had already acquired the targets?"
"I felt it was important to assess the threat, given that I was losing men and it didn't appear to be a biological agent."
"Did you suspect it was psi- related?"
"Yes, sir. Corporal Gillian mentioned it as a possibility."
"I see. You do realize, don't you, that you were not authorized to make a judgment call? Your remit was to bring the targets home, full stop. You disobeyed orders."
"Yes, sir. That is correct. To be honest, I'm surprised this wasn't raised during my initial reports. I expected disciplinary action, sir."
"Yes, well under the circumstances, your foray was swept under the rug. The targets had everyone's attention, and no one wants to publicize what else happened on Eridanus 4. Be thankful for that, Commander."
"Commander, I have your back on this. If you continue to ask questions, my ability to protect you will be substantially curtailed. You understand this?"
"Very well. Dismissed. And Andreas... be careful."
He'd been nursing his drink for a half hour before she arrived. She took the seat next to him, ordered a beer.
"Gill." They clinked glasses and sat in silence for a while.
"Anything?" she finally asked.
"No," he sighed, sliding his glass over for a refill. "No one's talking."
"Not surprised," she replied. "It was a mess from the get-go."
"They just want it to go away."
"So let it. Be a good soldier. Move on."
"I'm sorry about Riggs," Gillian said after a while.
"Yeah. Me too." He looked at her finally. "You know, the only reason we got out of there was you."
"No. You're the reason- you kept us cool and functioning. Well, okay it was both of us," she laughed. "Hard to break up a good team." The silence got a little uncomfortable then, until Gillian broke it again.
"How are you feeling? Did they do a psi-scan?"
"I'm clear. They ran a full battery. No trace of lingering influence. But who knows? We don't even know what that thing was."
"Some kind of telempath, from what I can tell. It could influence our emotions, not just invade our thoughts. That was what was so insidious about it." She shuddered. "I even felt it. It's amazing really that Riggs held on as long as he did."
He shrugged. "It didn't matter at the end."
"It mattered." She put her hand on his arm. "He got us out too."
He looked at her then. "To Riggs, then." Raised his glass.
She raised her beer. "To Riggs."
They left soon thereafter, but not before discussing next steps.
"Andreas, I know this feels unresolved, but you need to let this go. Whatever Eric's involvement is, it's his issue, not yours."
"It cost my team."
"I know. It could cost more."
He looked at her. "So just let it go?"
"For now- yes. That doesn't mean we forget. It means we bide our time and down the line- who knows?"
"Yeah, well maybe so- normally I'd agree. Not this time."
"Someone's been playing a game with us. Maybe I'll join the game."