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Boiling Point

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The fight breaks out so quickly, so suddenly, that Meis is honestly not sure what sparked it. Tensions have been running high in the Burnish camp for a few days now. If they could still reach their flames there would’ve been multiple fires by now, even if no one had intended to start one.

So far they’ve only allowed the other surviving Mad Burnish members into their confidence about Galo Thymos and his plans for rebellion. And it hurts, a little, that he and Gueira can’t be sure they can trust most of the other Burnish. Under the circumstances, though, silence the best course of action. Meis hasn’t forgotten what happened to the settlement back on Earth, the betrayal that nearly got Lio killed. Even so, everyone else can’t help but pick up on the increased tension in their de facto leaders after Galo’s visit to the compound, and everyone is on edge.

Unfortunately, “everyone” includes Colonial Security.

It starts as a scuffle between a couple of Burnish men, and Meis goes to break it up; they’ve done everything they can to prevent in-fighting among the Burnish, but living in such close quarters, some conflicts are inevitable. But the brawl must have attracted the attention of some of the guards, and Meis finds himself pinned in the dirt with a boot on his neck, gasping for air. He’s got a makeshift knife, hidden in his jumpsuit, but it’s not like it would do him much good just now, and revealing that he has it would guarantee losing it.

Someone kicks him in the head, and Meis sees stars. It’s like some kind of signal, because they’re all on him at once after that, pummeling him without mercy. Without his flames, without any way to defend himself, he’s helpless. The butt of a rifle connects with his shoulder and there’s a sickening crunch, and Meis screams. The thought flickers across his pain-fogged mind - I guess this is how I finally go down, huh? And then, almost immediately following it: I can’t die here, I can’t leave Gueira alone—

One of the guards hauls him up, pins him against a wall. A hand is digging into his shattered shoulder and he keens helplessly, hating how pathetic he sounds. “Not so tough now, huh?” someone snarls in his ear, and he feels the man’s hot breath on his neck. He’s reaching around Meis’s waist, grabbing at the buttons of his jumpsuit, ripping it open, and Meis wishes he felt anything but resignation. But he’s not surprised. Colonial Security is just Freeze Force, and everyone knows what Freeze Force could be like when they’d rendered a Burnish helpless. It’s more surprising it hasn’t happened to him sooner, here.

He almost wants to let it happen, get it over with - at least if the guards rape him, they might be satisfied without killing him - but he can hear a familiar voice shouting, as if from a great distance away, and he winces. Please, please, don’t make this worse, Gueira, don’t give them a reason to hurt you—

But then, abruptly, the guard lets him go. Not expecting this, Meis crumples to the ground, biting back another cry of pain. Clutching his shoulder, he turns around to see what’s happening - and none of the guards are facing him anymore, standing to attention with stiff backs. Meis groans. If that sadistic bastard Vulcan is here, things are about to get a lot worse for everyone.

Then he sees who they’re looking at. It’s not Vulcan. Kray Fucking Foresight is standing there in the middle of the compound, his expression unreadable. His assistant is standing behind him, the first time Meis has seen her here, looking out of place in the shabby, dusty compound in her pristine suit, not a hair out of place. He looks instinctively for Lio, but he’s not here. He’s never known Kray to come here without Lio at his side, and he has no idea whether the boss’s absence is a good thing or not.

“Governor Foresight, sir!” barks the man who’d had Meis pinned, sounding vaguely panicked. Kray turns his attention on him with no change of expression.

“Who started this?” Kray says, all too calmly.

“The Burnish did, sir,” the guard answers promptly. “Had to break up a fight. You never know when they’re going to turn violent, sir.”

Kray quirks an eyebrow. “And you felt the need to beat one of the perpetrators half to death because…?”

“Just… just had to make sure he was gonna stay down, sir,” the guard says, sounding distinctly nervous now.

Kray bears down on him, and Meis has to hand it to him - not many people could pull off looking intimidating next to a guard in full armor, especially wearing one of Foresight’s stupid fancy suits. The guard actually takes a step back, and Meis could have told him that was a mistake - sure enough, Kray grabs him by the collar and yanks him back forward. “Burnish disciplinary issues are to be handled by Colonel Haestus,” he snarls. “And he knows that I deal with this one myself. I need him alive. Is that understood?”

“Y-y-yes, sir,” the guard stammers, and Kray shoves him away.

“Where’s your commanding officer?” he says, and the guard points nervously up at one of the guard towers on the wall of the Burnish compound. “Good. I’ll be having a word with him before I leave.” He turns his gaze down on Meis, and despite the pain in his shoulder and the fact that his jumpsuit is half hanging off his body, Meis glares up at him with all the defiance he can muster. “Throw this Burnish in a holding cell,” Kray says to one of the other guards as he stares Meis down. “Twenty-five hours, no food or water, and then I want him back on his work assignment, unharmed. Am I clear?”

“Yes, sir!” one of the guards shouts. Kray turns away, and Meis looks away from him, searching for Gueira’s face in the crowd. Some of the other guards have established a perimeter, keeping the other Burnish back, and to Meis’s relief it doesn’t look like Gueira’s trying to push it. He catches his partner’s eye, gives him a small nod. Gueira nods back, furious but unmoving, his fists clenched tight at his sides. One of the guards grabs Meis and roughly hauls him to his feet, and he lets out another bitten-off yelp of pain as his arms are pulled behind his back, wrenching his shoulder.

Solitary is fine, really. If anything it’s a bit of a relief, because it means he’ll have a day to let his shoulder heal a little before he has to return to work, even though it’ll likely be a week or two before it's back to normal. He’s gone a day or two without food before when one of the others needed the rations more than he did, and he’ll manage. And Gueira’s okay - Meis always worries about his lung, but he knows Gueira can take care of himself even now, and he knows better than to try anything stupid regarding Meis’s temporary imprisonment. Meis doesn’t even think the guards are likely to mess with him, after the dressing-down that other guard received for his own attempted rape and murder. He is, strangely, safe for the moment.

But he can’t tamp down on his gnawing worry over the boss’s absence; perhaps Foresight simply didn’t want to bring him along to deal with a disciplinary issue, but he’s never been here without him, and Meis can’t help wondering if the explanation is something darker. He forces the thought down impatiently. Kray said, specifically, that he wanted Meis alive, and Meis can’t help but think he wouldn’t have any reason for that if Lio wasn’t alive. He hasn’t allowed Lio to see him or Gueira in the compound, but he must be keeping his options open, preserving the two of them as potential playing pieces to be used against the boss in the future.

Meis swallows hard. He has a bad feeling about all of this. Hurry up, Thymos. I don’t think any of us are gonna like whatever’s coming next.