Joja


(Galactic Dynasty #4)


by E. M. Lohr & Wendy Lohr



Murder, mayhem, and mystery. What drama is made of. Not what you want when trying to impress a new alien society. Rosa, Daemos, and the Earth delegation are unwilling participants in a deadly dance against unknown alien subversives with treacherous tentacles that reach deep into everything. All the makings of a crisis of intergalactic proportion. And all because of Joja.




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book cover for Joja


Chapter 1 (Brogue)



“Captain, there’s an incoming transmission from the escort you assigned to the Earth delegation,” Deputy Captain Plint announced, reminding Brogue she was currently sitting in the Captain’s seat in the control room of Metrusian Outpost Vagar. It had been a couple of weeks since she’d watched the Humans depart on Starward heading back to their homeworld and she had been impatient to hear from her escort team.

“Put it on audio, Plint,” she directed brusquely, her thoughts still reflecting on the multitudes of discoveries made since their first contact with the human species. There had been a lot to take in and she knew they were only scratching the surface of this newly forming acquaintance.

“Captain Brogue, this is Novitiate Prime Naesta returning from Star System 5-164,” a youthful sounding female spoke, the lilting chirps and shrills of the Metrusian language crisp in the room speakers.

“Welcome back, Novitiate Prime. Was your mission a success?” Brogue inquired intently.

“Yes, Captain. But there were some challenges. A hostile vessel was engaged just beyond the entry point into our visitor’s solar system. After a brief skirmish, my team neutralized the threat. No harm came to the Humans or their ship during this brief skirmish. Upon boarding the hostile ship, we found it to be of Metrusian construct and crewed by two of our own. I have them on board in restraints. Novitiate Prime Olnar is currently escorting Starward to their homeworld. Novitiate Prime Crestia is going to pilot the hostile Metrusian vessel back to Outpost Vagar. There was some slight damage done to the vessel during the skirmish but Novitiate Prime Crestia reported she should have the damage repaired and will be on her way within the next half cycle.”

Frowning at the fact that she’d been right about the Earth delegation needing protection on their return journey, Brogue questioned, “What is your estimated time of arrival?”

“Approximately three hours, Captain,” the pilot responded.

“Contact me as soon as you are within sight of the outpost. Good work, Novitiate Prime. Brogue out.”

Running a hand over her smooth head, Brogue barely had room for all the questions she had racing along the electrical impulses under her fingertips. But the most glaring question for her was what could someone hope to gain by destroying emissaries from a new solar system? Other than stirring up an intergalactic incident… possibly war. This whole treacherous intrigue had been giving her indigestion since first learning of it, but hopefully she would be a little bit closer to getting some answers to her questions now that she had some individuals to interrogate.

“Plint, I’ll be in my office. Contact me the moment they get here. I want to see these Metrusians for myself,” Brogue instructed firmly before leaving the control room in the capable hands of her Deputy Captain.

After stopping long enough to grab some food, she continued to her office and settled in behind her work station. Her first order of business was to contact Space Exploration Headquarters and inform the Commandant of the latest developments. Hoping she wasn’t in for an ass chewing for assigning the escort without explicit permission, she put the call through to Headquarters.

“Captain Brogue. How is everything at Outpost Vagar?” Commandant Valia’s voice came over the line within moments of Brogue requesting to speak with her. In the past, she would have had to wade through layers of bureaucratic underlings to speak with the Commandant. Well, at least notoriety had given her a much speedier access to the higher ups.

“Commandant Valia. Things are… different here at the outpost,” Brogue responded cautiously.

“I would imagine so. Your place is probably bursting with activity since the arrival of our newest friends,” her superior remarked in a pleased tone.

“Well, that’s one way of putting it,” Brogue remarked wryly. “Actually, Commandant, I’m contacting you about a particularly serious matter. Is anyone else with you at the moment?”

“No. Has something happened, Captain?” a military tone entering her question.

“Yes, unfortunately,” Brogue answered and relayed the latest developments, everything from her authorizing the escort to the slight skirmish in Star System 5-164’s space to the return of some of her escort team with two prisoners. “I know I wasn’t exactly following protocol where the escorts were concerned, Commandant. But my instinct was telling me that our honored guests could possibly be in danger.”

“No, no, Captain. I quite understand. A little unorthodox, perhaps, but considering the circumstances, you did the right thing,” Commandant Valia stated firmly and Brogue let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“The captured combatants should be arriving here within the next few hours. To assist with their interrogation, I would like to request an Analysis Contingent,” Brogue pressed.

After a brief pause, the commandant replied, “I see. Request granted. I will dispatch them immediately, but the A. C. probably won’t be able to make it to the outpost until early cycle.”

“That’s fine. We’ll put the detainees in detention cells and await their arrival,” Brogue stated, relieved that Space Exploration seemed to be backing her so far… well, the commandant at least.

“Good work, Captain. I’ll expect a full report once interrogations are complete. Is there anything else to report at this time?”

“No, Commandant. That is all for now.”

“Alright. Continue the good work and I’ll expect to hear from you again soon. Valia out.”

It had been years since the last time the outpost had detained a prisoner and never ones as important as those currently be escorted. If the detention cells were used at all, it was for detox purposes, usually someone who couldn’t handle Valorian Tonic or someone hyped up on the latest intergalactic drug. But never traitors.

After issuing orders to Coadjutant Munix, the Security supervisor, Brogue went to the detention area to ensure that everything was in order. She was instructing Novitiate Grunor, the novitiate security specialist assigned to this area, not to allow any visitors without her consent when her military-assigned communicator signaled. Activating the device, she heard Plint announced, “Captain, Novitiate Prime Naesta has arrived. I’ve instructed her and her crew to remain in the docking bay until you arrive.”

“I’ll meet you there,” Brogue responded. Satisfied that the novitiate was ready for the prisoners, she made her way to the docking bay.

It was an unusual sight, armed security and two Metrusians she didn’t recognize in restraints waiting for her. The two in restraints looked a bit sullen under her scrutiny as the others tried to not fidget. Stopping next to her Deputy Captain, Brogue greeted, “Welcome back, Novitiate Prime Naesta. Good work on apprehending these individuals. Plint, have we heard word yet from Novitiate Prime Crestia regarding an estimated time of arrival?”

“Not yet, Captain. I’ve got Novitiate Prime Zarnoc monitoring communications. He’ll let us know as soon as she makes contact,” he responded.

“Alright, let’s get these two to the detention cells. Remind the novitiate in charge that there are to be no visitors without my authorization,” Brogue instructed, having seen the prisoners for herself. Eyeing them again, she wondered who they were and what they represented. They did not meet her stare and seemed defiant as they were led off.

After making her usual rounds and partaking in the late cycle meal, Brogue requested Plint to accompany her to the detainment area. Novitiate Grunor reported that all was quiet and the only thing unusual was that the late cycle meal hadn’t been delivered yet. Nodding, Brogue and Plint continued to the cells where the two Metrusian adversaries were being held.

Scrutinizing both males, Brogue remained quiet while Plint inquired, “What are your names? What unit are you affiliated with?” Although they’d already been informed by Novitiate Prime Naesta that the two refused to answer any questions, Brogue hoped that the gravity of being in the detention cell would have an impact on their cooperation.

One male sat despondently on his cot while the other male paced back and forth in his small cell. When they refused to even acknowledge Plint’s questions, her second-in-command shared, “Remain silent… for now. But the Analysis Contingent will soon get both of you talking. If you’re smart, you’ll talk to us and avoid any… unpleasantries.”

Brogue was well versed in the many tactics the A. C. was authorized to use to gain information. Most individuals were quick to cooperate when they learned that the A. C. was being brought in. But apparently these two Metrusians didn’t fall into that category.

When Plint’s remark only received a slight frown from the despondent one and a sound of derision from the pacing one, Brogue had decided she’d seen enough. The despondent one would be the first to break, she was confident of that. The other was arrogant, but would break as well once the right method was employed.

Motioning for Plint that she was done here, he threw out one parting remark, “Suit yourselves. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be in your places when the Analysis Contingent begins their questioning.” Then the two of them departed from the detainment area.

“Do you think they will talk, Captain?” Plint asked as they rode the lift back up to the main level.

“Of course. One more quickly than the other, I’m sure. But they will both eventually reveal all they know. We’ll just have to wait for the A. C. to do their job,” Brogue responded confidently.

“Not a position I’d want to be in. What could be so secretive that they would risk tangling with the A. C.?” he mused aloud.

“Let’s hope we find out the answer to that and more in the coming cycle,” she remarked and he nodded. Heading towards her quarters, she paused long enough to instruct, “Make sure you contact me as soon as we hear from Novitiate Prime Crestia. I want to know what all we can glean from that ship. And contact me when the Analysis Contingent arrives.”

“Will do, Captain. Have a good rest,” Plint responded respectfully and she nodded once before continuing on to her quarters.

After a rather fitful slumber, Brogue was awakened by an urgent buzzing sound the following cycle. Groaning as she reached out to tap the button to receive, she barked groggily, “Brogue here. What is it?”

“Captain, we have a situation with the prisoners,” Plint’s voice responded, the clipped tones sounding anxious.

“Situation?” she questioned uneasily as she rose to a sitting position.

“You’d better come down to Detainment, Captain. You’re going to want to see this,” he insisted, not clarifying what the situation was.

“I’ll be right there,” she told him grimly and pressed the button again to end the communication. Noting the time as she hastily dressed, Brogue wondered what could have happened in the short period from when they’d attempted to question the prisoners until now.

Making her way to the cells, she stepped into the area and found her Deputy Captain running a half-eaten meal tray through the ScanMatrix while Novitiate Grunor observed uneasily. Not liking the look of things, she questioned abruptly, “What’s going on, Plint?”

Shaking his head at the result that came back from scanning the food, he looked over at her and shared in apparent shock, “They’re dead, Captain.”

Brogue stared at him in disbelief for a few seconds, her still fuzzy mind trying to comprehend what her second-in-command was telling her. Then she stepped further into the area and her gaze honed in on the bodies of the two Metrusian prisoners. Neither one was moving and there was vomit and a not so good looking discharge smeared across their greenish-grey faces. It took several deep breaths to regain some semblance of control before she demanded, “What happened? They were fine when we saw them late last cycle.”

She looked from Plint to Novitiate Grunor and back again and Plint finally seemed to pull himself together enough to report, “It appears to be poison, Captain. Someone poisoned the late cycle meals that were delivered to these two.”

“Poison? We have precautions in place to detect poison, Deputy Captain. Are you saying some new form of poison has been developed that is undetectable?” she inquired softly, worried that this subversive group was actually sophisticated enough to create such a substance.

“Uncertain at this time, Captain, but highly unlikely. According to Novitiate Grunor, the meals were checked with the ScanMatrix per protocol and determined to be untainted. I verified this by retrieving a tray from one of the cells and running it through the scanner. It shows that the food is clean, Captain. But, obviously, it’s not,” Plint explained, casting an uneasy glance at her.

“So, you’re telling me that the ScanMatrix has been tampered with?” she questioned.

“It appears that way, Captain,” Plint confirmed with a frown.

Trying to approach this logically, Brogue instructed, “Go to my office and fetch a bottle of Valorian Tonic. We know that is a poison and shows up as one in the ScanMatrix. Let’s test it with this machine just to make sure we’re coming to the appropriate conclusion.”

Nodding, Plint hurried out of the section and Brogue turned her focus on the novitiate who was nervously standing to the side. After asking some questions and feeling satisfied that he appeared clear of any involvement with the poisoning of the prisoners, she instructed him to guard the entrance and ensure that no one but Plint entered the area for the time being. Then she moved her gaze to the two cells, now occupied by the inanimate bodies of individuals she’d been hoping to pry information out of.

As she took in the body of the one that had been despondent, she noted the greenish tinge to his synthetic skin and the evidence of rust-colored foam along the corners of his mouth. It appeared as though the poison had been fairly fast acting as he’d been in the process of eating but had slumped over, falling off his cot, the tray of food tumbling to the floor with him. Most of the remaining food had splattered on the floor, the tray having turned upside down on impact, so Plint must have used the food tray from the other prisoner’s cell to test in the machine.

Looking into that cell, she found the body of the arrogant Metrusian slumped on his bed as if he’d fallen into an exhausted sleep and hadn’t bothered to get comfortable. He had the same greenish tinge and rust-colored foam effects as his partner in crime and his hand was clutching his throat. Shaking her head in frustration, Brogue wondered just how deep the tentacles of this subversive group went.

There were so many things she wanted to say and do in this moment, violent things born of frustration and aggravation, but allowing those irrational emotions to cloud her judgment was unacceptable. Forcing herself to remain calm and in control, she looked up when Plint returned with a bottle of the intoxicating Tonic and joined him at the ScanMatrix. Observing intently as he ran the bottle through the scanner, she frowned fiercely when the liquid was found to be acceptable. No poisons detected.

Making sure only he could hear her, she finally ordered, “Plint, I want the outpost on full lockdown, no one in or out without my authorization. Find out who last worked on the ScanMatrix and bring them to me for questioning. Also, make arrangements to have these bodies transported to the medical section. I want full diagnostics run and the poison identified. Collect any other evidence pertinent to this case and secure it. We’ll need to have everything analyzed and a report ready as quickly as possible. The Analysis Contingent will need to be informed as soon as they arrive.”

“I’ll get started right away, Captain,” Plint responded, seeming to have regained his professional demeanor.

“Also, assign a SecurBot to our Human guests for the time being. And I want all their food run through a working ScanMatrix from now on,” she continued, not knowing just how far the poisoner would take this. “Have we heard anything from Novitiate Prime Crestia yet?”

“Nothing, Captain,” he answered, his uneasiness seeping into his tone.

Sighing, she instructed, “Alright, have a patrol ship sent out. They need to check the time-space jump entry point from Star System 5-164. Maybe she had some issues upon re-entry or perhaps she hasn’t repaired the ship enough yet to make the jump into our space. Report to me as soon as you hear anything. Maybe we can at least learn something from that ship if nothing else.”

“Yes, Captain,” he stated.

“I’ll be in my quarters. Inform me as soon as the Analysis Contingent arrives and we’ll figure out where to go from there,” she finished and he nodded, handing over the bottle of Tonic before getting to work.

Leaving the detainment area, Brogue made her way back to her quarters, absently acknowledging greetings from her various crew who were looking at the bottle in her hand with curiosity. Her mind was on this intrigue and the millions of questions she had regarding it. How could the poison have been introduced into the prisoners’ food? And who had tampered with the ScanMatrix? But mostly, why was this happening? What could anyone possibly gain by sabotaging efforts to bring in a new species to the Galactic Council?

Reaching her office, Brogue eyed the bottle of Valorian Tonic in her hand, momentarily tempted to drain it of its contents. But she needed her wits about her, so she dutifully put the bottle away and turned her focus to preparing for the arrival of the A. C. It was going to be a waste of time for them and she idly wondered how they were going to react to the news of the prisoners’ deaths. More important, how was the Commandant going to take the news. It seemed that they all were just experiencing the tip of this disturbing enigma and what was eventually unraveled would not be pleasant for any of them.




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