He could only be an angel.
At least, that's what Faize thought when he first saw the blue-haired young man sitting in the otherwise empty and darkened room. Chains attached to manacles around his wrists held his arms above his head, and they, as well as the ones around his calves which kept his legs in front of him and bent to his left which happened to be Faize's right, bound him to the wall. Wings of the purest, most brilliant and beautiful of whites stretched out behind him, and they radiated a faint glow around him. Even his skin gleamed in the darkened room, his flesh as pale as a new moon. His head drooped, as if he were slumbering, and the blue of his hair . . . Faize felt reminded of Earthen sapphires. It had grown long, the other man's hair, and it obscured most of his face. Faize didn't dare to touch him, fear of incurring the wrath of this unusual person or that he'd simply disappear the way an illusion, and, as he stood there gazing, he was reminded of Sarah. She, too, possessed such an ethereal aura, but she also belonged to a clan called the Sacred Wing, which, to Faize, explained why her aura seemed so light and delicate, so heavenly. Why this man (was he a Featherfolk, too, like Sarah?) glowed, Faize couldn't say, but he knew when he saw blood, bright and red, trickling from the blue-haired man's wrists that he couldn't leave him there to whatever fate awaited for him on this ship.
It had started out simply enough. When Edge and Reimi accepted their positions as officers of interplanetary transport, Faize chose to stay with them rather than join his fellow Eldarians as they emigrated to Lemuris. Technology wasn't something he could easily give up, and he also wanted to make amends with Edge for his actions on Nox Obscurus. It still baffled Faize why Edge had wanted to save him that day and how they were even able to make it out of the crumbling palace. The facts were, however, what they were – through some miracle he and Edge managed to reach the safety of the transfer symbol and leave with everyone else – and it was that kindness he wanted to repay as often as he could, to prove to his captain and his best friend he was worthy of that kindness and forgiveness. Living on Lemuris, he wouldn't be able to do that and to satisfy his thirst for knowledge and for creating. Faize wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the humans liked to say, when it came to his second chance so he stayed, and he served under Edge as both his communications officer and friend.
They'd been serving as members of the interplanetary transport agency for less than a year when Faize intercepted a faint signal, which sent everyone at the agency into a tizzy. The origins of the signal were unknown at first, and no one could even say with any kind of certainty whether it was a distress signal or otherwise. Because of that uncertainty surrounding the signal, arguments broke out among his human compatriots. They were divided evenly for forming a search and potential rescue mission or leaving it alone. Those in favour of the search team also argued it could precipitate another attack on Earth, and they wanted clarity on the matter of the signal. The ones who didn't want to bother with the signal felt it could have been nothing. Why waste time, effort, and money on something that could turn out to be nothing, they asked. Faize personally thought both sides presented valid points, and he himself found he wanted to know more about the signal and who could be sending it and from where it was coming. He couldn't keep his curiosity contained, either, when he and Edge were together and talking.
Finally, Stephen D. Kenny, war hero and President, ended the arguing. He, too, wanted to know where the signal originated from and whether or not it was a potential threat to his beloved home. With his decision declared, everyone in the intergalactic communications department set about to the task of pinpointing where the signal was located. It'd been no easy feat, either, for the humans. They were still relatively new to intergalactic travel so there were many systems they didn't know about, but they impressed the young Eldarian with their determination and their tenacity. Within weeks, they knew where the location of the signal, and then President Kenny committed himself even more to his decision by forming the mission team. Faize remembered how his heart leapt about in his chest when Kenny appointed Edge the task of investigating the signal and what it meant for Earth.
Edge, however, hadn't been as excited as Faize, and, at first, he didn't understand why Edge remained so calm, so reserved. Commander Kenny had just handed them a most wonderful opportunity to among the stars yet he heard where they were heading, the Eldarian understood his friend's lack of enthusiasm. The signal had been located in the Arcturus system, where they had encountered the Cardianon for the second and final time. Edge had wanted to save the Cardianon. The Cardianon chose to cling to their defeated Grigori and ultimately destroyed themselves in the process. The memories weren't good ones, in Faize's mind, but they also weren't bad ones. They'd met Bacchus and learned of Crowe's status. The ensuing journey after that . . . his heart still ached from everything he endured, from the losses to his inability to keep Edge from falling apart. He promised himself he would be strong, to not let his fragile heart rule him, for Edge's sake. He wouldn't take the easy way out ever again.
Once their ship contained all of the necessary supplies and five additional crewmembers chosen by both Kenny and Edge, they launched into the stars. With all of the formalities out of the way, a sense of excitement finally started to permeate the ship's internal atmosphere. They were finally on another adventure, and the wounds that still remained between them and within them could finally be healed. At least, that's how Faize saw it, but he also knew it wasn't the same as the first time.
The new ship Edge captained was not the SRF-003 Calnus. It, like the other ships from the defunct SRF, was lost forever in the stars, crash-landed on Nox Obscurus. Faize missed the Calnus, but he also liked the new ship, the Intrepid Explorer, as much as the Calnus. For one, while the crew bunked with each other, there were more rooms. There was also a third floor, where the women stayed. Edge said it was to keep fraternization down to a minimum and to prevent any one person from sexually harassing another person. He specifically asked for such a ship for the mission. Faize knew because he'd been present when Edge made his request. It still had a recreation room, a conference room as well as storage areas for food and weapons, a battle simulator, a complete medical bay, and item creation. There was a little something for everyone, to keep the sailing smooth as it were (another human saying), and Faize found he couldn't complain too much about the Intrepid Explorer. Adventure was adventure, and his personal quest for knowledge wouldn't be contained any longer.
Naturally, the journey to the Arcturus system was uneventful in that they weren't attacked or deterred from their intended course. A few arguments broke out amongst the crew – aside from Reimi, there were three other women on board and two men; being an Eldarian, the women didn't find him quite as attractive as they found Edge, and the other two men were hardly worth noting in the physical appearances department. Needless to even think about or even to say, the women constantly wanting to be near Edge drove Reimi crazy to the point of distraction – but they were settled with a sharp command from Edge. Even Reimi, who had known Edge the longest, wasn't spared a dressing down.
"It isn't like the last time we traveled together," Edge had said when Faize asked about how strict he was being with the rest of the crew. They were alone in their shared quarters at the time. "It'd be different if we still had Myuria and Bacchus with us, even Sarah, Meracle, and Lymle, because then we'd have an added element of trust to everyone on board. And the truth is, I don't completely trust everyone under my command. I won't say who, but a few of them want my position. They'll do anything to get it, too. If I'm not careful, I'll no longer be the head of the ITA. There are some who would love to see me decommissioned completely, and I don't want that. I am where I am today because of what I've accomplished. Not because I'm someone else's ass kisser."
"Do you trust me, Edge?" To hear Edge didn't trust everyone completely cut like a knife across Faize's heart, but he understood if his friend didn't completely trust him. He'd committed the ultimate betrayal, after all, not only turning against those who cared for him and trusted him, but himself.
"Of course, I trust you, Faize." A smile followed his friend's words, and Edge reached over to grasp him gently by the shoulder. "If I didn't, I wouldn't have confided in you."
"Oh . . . Thank you, Edge."
"For what, Faize?"
'I still owe Edge that explanation,' Faize mused as he crept closer to the apparent prisoner before him. He hadn't been able to give his answer because the ship's computer systems announced they'd reached their destination in the Arcturus system, and they needed to return to their stations. Faize felt his heart starting to quicken as he approached the blue-haired stranger.
The very instant he and Edge stepped onto the bridge, one of the women – Heaven, Faize believed her name to be – brought an image up on the main viewing screen. It was of a large, round ship with a flat surface and bottom. Faize felt something inside him plummet for it reminded him of the Cardianon mother ship, except it didn't possess the spiky and "looks like it would hurt" appearance Lymle had so eloquently stated.
"Captain, we're detecting some life forms on board the ship, but not where they're from or anything," Reimi reported, her tone matter-of-fact. She didn't even bother to look at him. "I've tried hailing them on various frequencies, but I've received no response. The ship isn't in any of the registries we're familiar with. What are your orders?"
Edge had said nothing at first. He stared at the screen, a pensive expression on his face, and Faize wondered if his friend felt the same sinking feeling he'd initially had upon seeing the ship.
As Edge stared at the screen and possibly formulating his next move, Faize had decided to do some scanning of his own, and he started to type commands into his console. The last thing he wanted was to be taken by surprise by some unseen foe. The Cardianon had taught him that lesson very well. When the results returned and quickly so, he turned towards his captain.
"Captain, I'm not detecting any shields around the ship," he said. His heart felt like it wanted to leap out of his chest with each word spoken. "I've also located some empty landing docks, if you wish to investigate further."
"Dock with it? Are you crazy?"
"That's suicide! We don't know what's waiting for us on that ship."
"Are you trying to get us all killed?"
"They're not answering our hails, correct, First Officer?"
Edge's quiet voice had silenced them effectively, Reimi's reply an affirmative. Then he nodded.
"Very well. Faize, find us a landing bay. We'll see if anyone on board needs our help."
Faize had done just that at Edge's request, and he tried his best to ignore the glares coming from the other humans surrounding him. Whether they believed it or not, he knew very well what the stakes could be, having survived such instances before. Still, knowing their anger was directed at him for speaking a truth caused Faize's heart to ache. He only wanted to do right by Edge. Why could the others not see that?
A low moan brought Faize out of his reverie and back to the issue at hand. The blue-haired man before him still lived, but he wouldn't for long if he remained shackled as he was. Edge, who chose to accompany Faize over the others after dividing them into teams of two, was at least two or three doors away. He reached for his communicator as he knelt in front of the angelic stranger. The device chirped to life.
"Edge, I've found someone," Faize said in a near breathless whisper. His hands shook as he spoke, and his heart felt ready to burst from his chest. Why was he feeling so anxious? Was it because the man before him reminded him of heaven? Or did it run deeper within him? Faize drew in a deep breath to steady his hands and calm his prancing-about heart.
"You did? Where?"
Faize glanced around, noticing across the hallway a door with a large, bright red symbol. He hadn't seen any other doors like it when he started his search and felt a bit alarmed and surprised he hadn't noticed it sooner.
"In the room across from the red symbol. It's the only door like it," he said. "Hurry."
"Is everything okay?" Through the communicator, Faize heard the steady footfall of his friend walking.
"I . . ." Faize turned his head to gaze back to the one in chains. "I'm not sure, Edge. You'll understand more when you get here."
"Copy that. I'm on my way."
In a matter of minutes, Edge joined him in the room, and he, too, stopped to stare at the stranger in chains. Faize could tell by his expression there was the same kind of wonderment that he'd felt upon seeing the blue-haired man.
"What . . . who . . ."
"I don't know," Faize replied, shaking his head. He remained in front of the man. "I heard him moan a moment ago, but he hasn't stirred since I entered the room. Doesn't he remind you of Sarah?"
"Yeah," Edge murmured, nodding his head a little. "He does . . . I don't like seeing him in chains like that, though. Who would do something like this?"
It was a rhetorical question, Faize knew, one he didn't have to answer. Edge had such a strong, kind, and compassionate heart. He reached towards the manacles around the stranger's wrists.
"I wish I knew," he said. "I'd like to know why they would do such a thing in the first place."
"Let's get him out of here," Edge said. "Maybe he can tell us once he's regained consciousness."
"I'm sure that he could," a familiar, feminine voice said. "Need a hand in freeing him?"
Startled, Faize felt like he could have leapt from out of his skin, and he leapt to his feet. His hand automatically reached for his rapier, and Myuria smiled. In her hand, she held her symbologist's staff, and she had it poised for attack.
"Good to see you haven't completely dropped your guard in uncertain situations," she said, closing the distance between them. "It would make killing you that much more difficult."
"Like you'd really want to kill us," Edge replied. He nodded his head toward her in greeting. Faize also noticed the slight smile of pleasure his friend had on his face at seeing the Morphus woman. He couldn't blame Edge, really. Myuria was quite beautiful, but he felt she was a bit too complicated for someone like him. He preferred the girl from Roak who lost her life too soon or even Lymle . . . wait, had he really just thought that?
"I wouldn't," she agreed. "But some others might. They're not me, after all. Stand back, both of you. This could get a little messy if you're too close."
Faize and Edge immediately complied with her request, coming to a stop next to her, and a soft, bluish white light enveloped the Morphus woman. The chains and manacles on the blue-haired stranger started to glow as well, only with a red-hot light as opposed to the cool one surrounding Myuria. She murmured softly under her breath, in the language of symbology, before she released the spell. The manacles broke apart, and the blue-haired stranger fell forward. He and Edge both raced to keep him from hitting the ground.
As the blue-haired man fell forward, Faize noticed his wings turned translucent then disappeared completely. With them gone, he resembled a human. Astonished, Faize felt along the other man's back for where the wings would have been attached, his astonishment growing when he found no traces of where the wings had been in the first place. He also noticed there were no burn marks on the blue-haired man's wrists from where the manacles kept him bound. He wanted to ask Myuria how she managed such a feat.
"That was interesting," Myuria said. She, too, sounded awestruck, and Faize glanced up to see her walking closer to them. "I wasn't expecting that."
"I thought for sure he was a Featherfolk," Edge admitted.
"As did I," Faize said. "I wonder how come they disappeared."
"Maybe it's like a defense mechanism," Edge murmured. "So that way he can escape unnoticed by enemies?"
"It's possible," Faize conceded. "But why would they stay out when he's chained? And why is he even here in the first place?"
"I'd say let's hope he isn't some kind of criminal, brought into space to keep him from harming other people," Myuria said, "but I highly doubt that he is. In fact, I think I know why he's here in the first place."
"Why would you say that, Myuria?"
"Can you two carry him around or should we take him back to your ship first?"
Edge paused to consider his options. Faize knew they were still relatively close to their ship so taking the stranger back to it would present very few, if any, problems. To carry him to wherever Myuria had in mind while he was dead . . . well, Faize didn't exactly relish the thought. Edge glanced at Faize then at the stranger.
"We'll take him back to our ship first so he can get some medical treatment since we're still close to it," he said. "I'll have Reimi and Tony come back to the ship to monitor him. After we've done that . . ."
"I'll show you what I've discovered," Myuria finished. "Well, then, shall we get going?"
* * *
Carrying the unusual stranger back to the Intrepid Explorer hadn't been nearly as difficult as Edge originally thought it would be. When he and Faize both lifted him up, with each of them supporting him on either side, they did so with relative ease. The blue-haired man wasn't necessarily as light as feather, as the saying went, but he felt the other man's ribs through his flesh. It wasn't necessarily an unusual thing, per se – Edge often ran his hands along his sides and felt his ribs that way – but the blue-haired man's ribs were more prominent than what Edge believed they should have been in the first place. It hadn't been like dragging Bacchus through the Cardianon mother ship or hauling Faize from the crumbling Palace of Creation, and only one person really needed to carry the stranger from his private hellhole to the Intrepid Explorer.
As they walked to the ship, Myuria told them a little of what was going on with the Morphus. According to her, they, too, had intercepted the same signal as the I.T.A. and decided to investigate immediately. Naturally, she had volunteered for the mission. Her life after the collapse of Nox Obscurus consisted mostly of working with fellow Morphus talented with the compounding ability. She needed a break from some of inane, mindless chatter of her female cohorts.
"Of course, I didn't travel alone," she said, a hint of a smirk on her face. "It was agreed we could have another Cardianon incident on our hands. To travel alone would have been suicide. At least, that's what Giotto said. Quite honestly, I couldn't disagree with him. The last thing any of us want is for the Missing Procedure to start up again."
"So who came with you?" Edge asked. He knew in his heart he hoped Bacchus had chosen to accompany her, but he also realized the chances were slim. Before they'd parted ways, Bacchus confessed to him he planned on returning to his original body so he could spend the rest of his days with his wife.
"You'll see soon enough," Myuria replied in an enigmatic tone. "He'll be meeting us at your ship. He, too, is curious about this young man with us."
Reimi and Tony were waiting for them when they entered the docking bay. Standing with them was a tall man, close to seven feet, in Edge's estimation, and his ears told him that he, like Myuria, was of Morphus descent.
The Morphus man wore straight green compared to Myuria's dark blue mini skirt and bustier, and his clothes fit him almost as tightly, displaying a strong, muscular physique. His light brown hair was shorn short and neat, and his facial expression was one of stoic seriousness. Tony appeared, in Edge's opinion, to be quite apprehensive of the Morphus man. He kept glancing in a nervous fashion from Edge to the Morphus, and his hands twitched, as though he wanted to wring them together. Tony often did that when his nerves won over him. Edge couldn't say he blamed his fellow crewman. When he first met Faize, he'd felt apprehensive over his first encounter with an intelligent alien species.
'But I got over my anxiety,' Edge mused. 'I could tell right after he started to talk to us that Faize wasn't going to hurt us. He was so respectful of our fallen comrade . . .'
The three of them, upon his, Faize's, and Myuria's approach, stood straight, Tony and Reimi saluting.
"Captain," they said in unison.
"Mr. Edge," the Morphus man said a second later. The smile on his face more than crept there. It felt like it erupted, and Edge nearly dropped the blue-haired man so he could hug his friend.
"None other," Bacchus said, bowing a little. "When Giotto asked for volunteers to investigate the distress signal, like Mrs. Myuria, I volunteered my services."
"You look so different," Faize said in wonderment. Edge imagined more than he saw how wide his Eldarian friend's eyes were at this change. They were probably as wide as his for seeing Bacchus in his organic form. "How . . ."
"A story I can regale to you later," Bacchus murmured. He then gestured to the one Edge held in his arms. "I can see you found someone in need of medical assistance. Shall I carry him on board for you?"
"S-sure . . ." Edge, with the greatest of care and ease, passed the young man over to Bacchus. A soft, almost inaudible moan escaped the unconscious man as Bacchus lifted him into his arms, but otherwise, his eyes never opened and he remained still.
"Hmmm, most unusual," Bacchus said, almost as if to himself. Edge tilted his head.
"What is?" he asked.
"It is nothing but a theory," the older man said. "I simply thought he'd have awakened from the movement of being transferred, but it appears that I was wrong."
"Why wouldn't he wake up?" Tony inquired. Edge noticed his shipmate's anxiety levels had decreased dramatically, and he now held his medi-scanner in his hands, ready to start diagnosing the stranger's injuries.
"It could be for any number of reasons," Bacchus said. He then turned to walk aboard the Intrepid Explorer. "I theorize a deficiency in key nutrients as well as proper hydration."
The two men continued their discussion as they boarded the spacecraft. Edge glanced at Reimi, and their eyes met. For what felt like an hour, their gazes were locked with each other's, and Edge thought he saw everything Reimi truly wanted to say to him. He saw the hurt in her eyes from his long overdue confession of his feelings, the pain of his rejection of her feelings towards him simply because there was another held higher in his heart than what he could hold her. The anger, he knew, was because he no longer allowed her to slap him as she pleased (or so he liked to tell himself). He couldn't afford to play favourites among his crew, even though she and Faize were the only ones he truly trusted with his secrets, his desires, his hopes, and his fears. She still longed for him, to be with him, but his heart was the one thing he couldn't give her. Unable to keep looking in her eyes, Edge turned away. To Myuria, he said, "Let's go."
"She doesn't seem too happy, boy," Myuria remarked in a casual fashion. Edge shrugged. He also noticed they were heading down different corridor, the one to the left of the hallway where Faize discovered the blue-haired stranger. No one among his crew had chosen this particular path when they separated into four different teams. Surreptitiously, he glanced in the directions his crew had gone, each entrance marked with a discreet, dark grey ribbon, the one Reimi and Tony used tied into a bow. It indicated they hadn't finished their sweep of that particular corridor, something they'd done per Edge's instructions. Faize finished doing the same for their corridor. Before they left, he wanted every inch of the ship searched. Perhaps later, he, Myuria, and Bacchus could exchange notes on what they found.
"Things aren't what they used to be," he said.
"You haven't told her how you felt."
"I did, actually."
"Oh?" Myuria glanced at him. She raised an eyebrow at him as well. "Then why . . ."
"Because I told her the truth," Edge said.
"The truth? And what is the truth?" Myuria asked.
"Exactly how much further do we need to walk?" Edge asked. He kept his gaze straight ahead, noting there were no doors in this corridor. Rather, the walls were plain with the occasional monitor with a readout in a language he couldn't quite understand. His translator couldn't decipher the symbols and words written, and it reminded him of how extraordinary the Cardianon language had been upon his first encounter. It frustrated him to not have the distraction he wanted, no, that he needed from blurting out the truth to Myuria about how he truly felt about her and about Crowe. It didn't help he knew that she was unattainable for him when all he wanted to do was lose himself in her embrace. He still felt the pang of loss for his best friend's, his greatest rival's, and his first true love's death.
"You didn't answer my question, boy."
"Myuria," Faize said, breaking his silence, "I believe it would be best if it weren't discussed here. There are more pressing matters at hand, wouldn't you agree?"
"I do agree," Myuria said reluctantly. She then exhaled, a heavy sound. "It shouldn't be too much farther. There's a room to the left with a pale blue symbol painted on the door. It somewhat resembles a healing symbol to me, but I doubt very much that's what whoever built this ship had in mind. That's our destination."
It didn't take them long to reach the room Myuria mentioned, and it certainly didn't take Edge long to figure out what she meant, either. Indeed, the moment the three of them stepped into the room, Edge knew why his Morphus friend didn't believe the blue-haired stranger to be a criminal. If he was, he certainly didn't deserve the horrors he now saw.
The room itself appeared to be that of a medical bay. Its circular design didn't allow for many beds – there were eight total, each standing about five feet in the air. They reminded him of the twin-sized beds he saw in old movies, the ones not destroyed in the war. On each bed were metal shackles, one set for hands, the other for feet. Monitors no bigger a personal computer screen were next to each bed as well as what Edge guessed to be medical stands for I.V. bags. That in and of itself was not so horrifying to him nor was what he saw the reason for Faize trying not to gag.
Five of the beds weren't empty. Strapped in each were the still forms of humanoids, their faces ashen and grey, and their bodies stripped of any and all clothing. Their eyes, what little bit remained from each, were wide with terror. Long, surgically precise gashes sliced each victim from the end of their throats to the place where their torsos met their hips, exposing their innards. The flesh from their faces and hands were gone, and blood spatter covered the walls next to the beds. A few were missing fingers and toes. One person's intestines were draped from one of the long gashes to the floor, and a ghastly smile had been carved into the muscle on his face. Edge knew he didn't need a video to figure out what had happened.
"I'll . . . I'll see if I can download any data," Faize said in a strangled tone. "Maybe I . . . I can find something . . ."
He let the thought trail off, and Edge turned to face him. It was better than looking at the gore displayed for anyone to see.
"You don't have to, Faize," he said. The entire time he spoke, he couldn't stop thinking about that final battle, when he and Lymle called out the young Eldarian's name. They learned a bitter truth in those moments, about how they hadn't saved everyone involved in the ritual to resurrect Asmodeus. No one except Faize had known the truth, and Faize had kept it to himself. In a cold, yet calm voice, Faize explained that not everyone could be saved. There would others, people they'd never meet, who would die, people who deserved to live, and they couldn't save everyone. It was a bitter truth to accept. Edge knew as much, but to see this level of torture . . . it had to be tearing at Faize, and if Edge could spare him any further agony . . .
"I know," Faize said, his voice barely inaudible. His face, which was normally pale anyway, was even whiter than before, and red tinged his violet eyes. Edge reached out a hand to him, and Faize offered him a faint smile. "I . . . I want to do this, Edge. I . . . I need to . . . I want to understand how . . . why, even . . . I just . . . I'll start downloading that information. I'll be all right. I promise."
The young Eldarian spun around and marched himself to the computer. All the while, Edge didn't fail to notice the slight trembling of Faize's body and the way his friend clenched his hands.
"It's my fault," Myuria said, stepping next to him so the two of them were shoulder-to-shoulder. He caught a faint whiff of her perfume, and he fought the urge to reach over and touch her. She was the only one he dreamt of since Crowe's death and they parted ways. "I forgot about what he went through on Roak and after he left Aeos. I didn't even think . . ."
"No . . ." Edge shook his head. "Don't blame yourself, Myuria. You're not the only one who forgot. I really don't want him to download anything that could upset him, but at the same time I can't protect him from this. He'd find out about this sooner or later. I don't want him to feel like we're keeping anything from him just because of what happened. It just . . . annoys me that I can't take away that pain from him and that I can't protect him from these horrors."
Myuria grasped his shoulder, and she offered him a faint smile.
"All you can really do is be there for him and to remind him that he doesn't need to suffer alone . . . that you'll always be there for him when he needs someone," she murmured. "That's all you can really do for anyone."
"It's going to take us a few days to thoroughly search this ship," he said. "I don't know what you and Bacchus have found so far, but I'd like for us to share any results. Reimi detected more than just one living life form on this ship."
"Other than that young man you and Faize found, I've not encountered anyone," Myuria said. "I also don't know what Bacchus has found, but I'm sure sharing information won't be an issue. At least, not with us."
Edge nodded yet again.
"All right then," he said. "The rest of my crew will be rendezvousing back to the ship as soon as they've finished their sweeps. I've called for a meeting two hours after that. You and Bacchus are more than welcome to join us."
"The download is complete," Faize said. Edge blinked. His young Eldarian friend stood a few inches away from he and Myuria, a baffled expression on his face.
"That was quick," Myuria commented.
"Indeed," Faize said in agreement. He held his datapad in hand. "There wasn't much to download from this particular console, it would seem. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
"Were you . . . able to find out anything?" Edge asked, hesitating a little. Faize closed his eyes for a moment and then offered a single nod of his head.
"There . . . were the records of how the five in here died," the Eldarian began. "A very brief video, if you will, and there's something on it I find both interesting and peculiar, if you will. It would seem as if their captors were interested in experimentation on their subjects. I can't quite tell who or what the captors are, but at least one of the subjects on the bed is a human man . . . or was a human man." Faize's gaze trailed to the dead form in the center of the five bodies. "But that isn't what I find peculiar or interesting."
Edge waited patiently as Faize joined he and Myuria. His friend's gaze remained on the five dead bodies for a few seconds. Faize then closed his eyes, exhaled with a sad, soft sigh.
"The way they died isn't interesting at all," he continued. As he spoke, his eyes opened, and he turned so he was shoulder-to-shoulder with both Edge and Myuria. "They were like insects or Earthen frogs for their captors to be dissected. In fact, that is what I'd say they were to their captors."
"It has been known to happen in the science world," Edge said, albeit with a great reluctance. Studying insects was one thing. Killing as the way to study was something else entirely.
"Yes, it has. Earthlings aren't the only ones curious about their environment or the creatures they encounter," Faize continued. "So what they were doing isn't necessarily peculiar or interesting, just . . . disturbing."
'He's stalling,' Edge reasoned. 'Why? There's no reason to stall like this. We're all friends here.'
"So? What's so interesting and peculiar?" Myuria asked. Edge had just opened his mouth to ask the same thing.
"Forgive me," Faize said. "I realize I'm delaying. It's just . . . not only is what I saw both interesting and peculiar, it's . . . baffling. The victims, as they were being tortured, weren't begging with their captors."
"But they were begging," Edge interjected, his tone flat and void of any emotion.
"Yes," Faize said. "They were begging for their lives, I would surmise, but they were looking in this direction and at this wall in particular. In seeing it now, I'm not entirely sure I understand."
Faize then pointed, and Edge glanced in the direction in which his friend gestured. It was the wall opposite of where the five victims were, a plain white steel wall with no bed in front of it and nothing to either side.
"I find it puzzling," Faize said, his tone low. "The video itself doesn't show what it is they're looking at or whom they're begging to, so it's puzzling as to why they'd be looking over here."
"And not at their actual tormentors," Myuria said. She shifted her stance and folded her arms across her chest. Edge couldn't help but notice the way her breasts bounced as she moved. He tried his best to pretend he didn't notice and to keep from swallowing hard because of her proximity. He didn't want her to know he was checking her out, admiring her, and wanting to do more than just wish. Instead, he kept his gaze on that plain, white steel wall, trying to figure out why five people would look at a wall and beg for mercy. Edge took a step closer, studying the wall.
"It doesn't make sense, does it, Edge?" Faize asked.
"No," Edge replied. He frowned as he continued to step closer. Faize was right. It didn't make sense for five people to stare at a plain white wall and beg for mercy. "Why would they look here? Why not at their tormentors?"
When he was close enough to reach out and touch the wall with his hand, Edge stopped walking. Since Faize had mentioned and since he started to try and figure out the question of why, something about the plain white wall bothered him. It was something he couldn't quite place a finger on, either, something he felt he should have figured out already. An idea started to form in his mind, and he turned to face Faize and Myuria once more.
"Faize, is there any way to pan the view around on that video?"
"I suppose that there could be," Faize said, his expression becoming thoughtful. He tapped his chin with his forefinger. "I can study it more when we return to the Intrepid Explorer."
"Good," Edge said, nodding his head once. "Also, if there's an audio to it, find it. As much as I don't want to hear people begging for their lives, I realize I don't have a choice. I want to know what was said to them in their final moments."
"What are you thinking, boy?"
"Did you think of something, Edge?"
"Yeah . . ." He turned to face the wall again. "Why look here to beg for your life when those who are torturing you are right next to you unless . . ."
"Unless there's someone standing there," Faize said, pointing directly at Edge.
"Watching you being tortured," Myuria added.
"Exactly," Edge said. "Someone stood right here and watched the entire time."
"Then I guess the even more disturbing question," Myuria said, her voice low, calm, and deadly, "is who would stand there and watch such horrendous acts?"