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The water was warm and viscous, so different than what Murgag was used to. The sensation was invigorating and even pleasurable as the fluid swirled over his scales. It was almost as though a hundred pilot fish were embracing him and cleaning him from head to toe. The only down side was the thick fluid also made it feel like he was swimming with a rope tied around his waist and holding him back; it was damn hard making any progress in the stuff that passed for water on this planet.

Murgag finally reached his destination and planted the device. He couldn’t talk in the fluid so he used his wrist communicator to type out a message and send it back to his handlers, ‘Mission Complete’. With that done, he took a look around and decided to take a different route back to the extraction point. The oceanic life on this planet was extremely interesting and a few of the locals were actually very playful with the new stranger.

Murgag found a few underwater coves that would have been perfect for nesting if he were back home and ready to procreate. Much to his family’s dismay, he wasn’t remotely ready to have any children yet. He had donated his seed to more than one Trizite that was ready, but he just wasn’t emotionally ready to have his own.

Murgag found it odd that when he thought to himself about himself, he used the two-sex species’ concept of a “male”. His species only had one sex, but spending so much time with humans lately, Murgag was starting to think of himself as a “he”. Maybe it was because he had only been a donor so far and not a grower. In most other species the donor was thought of as the male and the grower was the female.

Trizites lived on average between two hundred and twenty years to two hundred and fifty years, Earth standard time. During that time they could both donate or receive genetic information from other Trizites in order to procreate. A Trizite could donate at any time during their life but the ability to receive only came a few times, and randomly at that. When the time came to receive, the Trizite could ignore the calling or go find a partner to donate.

Partners were chosen mostly for what their DNA could offer and partially for emotional reasons. Trizites didn’t have sex but the experience was still pleasurable. They had soft spikes surrounding their eyes that when rubbed in the correct way, felt extremely wonderful and allowed the receiving pouch in their abdomen to open up. The donor then released their seed into the water so it could float into the pouch. Once in the pouch, the material mixed with special stem cells that eventually grew into embryos. One or two embryos would be made and delivered about five months later.

During the last month or so of incubation the parent would find a place to nest. The nest needed to be in a safe area that could be protected from ocean predators but also in an area that was rich with food for the extremely hungry kids that were about to be born. Unfortunately, areas rich in food were also rich with predators, which made safety very difficult at times.

After the birth, the new family spent the next several months bonding while the younglings were taught basic survival skills. Before the Trizites became a more advanced civilization, the family would spend much more time in this first phase of life in order to make sure the kids could survive on their own if anything happened to their parent. However, in the new age of things, they spent very little time in the nest before returning to civilization. The kids would be taken back to the nesting area several times a month to work on their skills but the old ways weren’t as critical to survival as they once were.

Murgag had been honored more than once by being asked to donate but the one time his body told him he was ready to receive, he passed up the opportunity because he just didn’t feel ready. His parent had been disappointed but not upset, after all, the parent had passed up their first procreation opportunity also, but had used the next two opportunities to have children. Murgag wasn’t sure if he would ever feel ready. The fact that he was looking at potential nesting places made him realize that if he just stopped thinking and fretting over it, he would probably be giving in the next time his procreation cycle came around.

Murgag reached his extraction point and the boat that was waiting for him. After climbing on board he received cheers from his comrades and a kiss on the cheek from his handler, Martha. Her lips brushed up against his spikes and sent a pleasurable chill down his scales. Trizites had absolutely no sexual compatibility with any other known species so Murgag assumed the kiss from Martha was friendly rather than suggestive.

The boat sped away into the night with its occupants completely unaware that it was being followed. The pursuers were using a local species of whale as their pursuit vehicle. The Trizites hanging on to the whale couldn’t talk with the species of this planet but their genetic similarities along with the inherent empathic abilities of Trizites, let them urge the whale to do their biding.

Both parties reached the same destination within minutes of each other. Murgag got off the boat with his fellow conspirators and walked into town with them. Their pursuers also went in to town but not before sending their location and status update to their superiors. It seemed as though everyone was going to get to relax a little before the events waiting to unfold took place later in the evening.

Murgag ate dinner with his friends and decided this planet would not make a good nesting ground; the local seafood was absolutely horrible. The food aside, he was having a great night and feeling rather pleased with their accomplishments. Once they left the planet, the device would do its job and they would be on to their next target. Life was good.

 

Murgag was awakened by harsh vibrations resonating through his sleeping tank. The vibrations were unmistakable to anyone who had ever experienced an explosion under water; the apartment was under attack. Murgag tried to jump out of the tank but never had the chance; at least three other Trizite hands were pulling him out and hitting him repeatedly at the same time. He wasn’t completely unconscious but he was close enough that he wasn’t putting up a fight anymore. He was barely able to register one of the attackers say, “This is the one we need alive. Kill the rest.”

 

Murgag felt the dry abrasive dirt hit his face and chest and he was instantly awake. A fairly large and intimidating Trizite was standing in front of him with a now empty bucket. A slight smirk was rolling across the abductor’s face and his spikes were turning to a purplish hugh; smugness with a hint of contempt.

“Why are you doing this? Please let me go.” Murgag pleaded, trying his best to make his spikes’ color match his words. Extensive training had allowed him to alter their color and to also block other empaths from feeling his true state of mind. The problem was, both tasks took a supreme amount of effort and he wasn’t in that great of condition right now.

“Oh, please.” The captor moaned, “Do you really think you can fool me? Your spikes tell me everything I need to know. If you really want to play this game, I’m willing to spend the next twenty minutes showing you all of the evidence I have including photos and video surveillance. Most of the evidence shows you being an Eco terrorist.”

Murgag pulled limply against his bonds, “Me! The terrorist! I am not the one destroying the ocean and all of its inhabitants on this planet!”

The captor smiled, “Fantastic. I am so pleased that we will not be wasting any more time trying to convince each other of who I know you are and who you want me to believe you are.”

“As long as you are pretending to be civil, could you please fill your bucket there with some water and rinse me off?” Murgag’s skin was a combination of scales and smooth skin. The two worked together to create a sleek, fast and maneuverable swimming platform. Throwing dirt on a Trizite would dry them out and get particles under their scales, which could be extremely painful if left untreated.

“Of course I can. We’re not barbarians here, we just wanted to get your attention right from the onset.” The captor made a slight hand gesture to one of his cronies who was standing in the back of the room.

A moment later the crony poured refreshing water all over Murgag’s head. The water washed away most of the dirt but there was still a fair amount of the dirt up under some of his chest scales. He also felt and tasted something familiar in the water.

“Has it been that long since you’ve been home brother?” The captor made another signal and was brought two glasses of water. The first he kept and the second was brought to Murgag’s lips by the crony.

“Go ahead and drink brother, the water is from our home.” He took a long drink himself and then regarded the glass as though it held the most prized treasure in the Universe. “A little taste of home makes these backwater planets bearable.”

On an emotional level, Murgag wanted to be defiant and not drink the water or drink it and then spit it back at his kidnappers. The logical part of his brain knew that it was more important to keep his strength up and take whatever they offered that would help that agenda. He needed his strength in order to survive, to defend himself, to attack and escape when the time came. So he drank. And it was the best water he had had in a very long time.

“Why…” Murgag began but was suddenly cut off.

The captor held his hand up in an obvious gesture for silence. “Please. It will be so much easier and quicker if you just let me explain everything to you rather than go through random questions, some of which I would have no intentions of answering anyway.”

He took another drink of water before continuing. “I work for a corporation that is trying to do business on this planet; a business that you and your friends are trying to disrupt. I know that you planted an explosive device somewhere on our pipeline and to be frank, we have no idea where it is. I also know that per your group’s MO, the device is set to explode approximately forty hours after you leave the planet. Your departing flight left the planet six hours ago. We have approximately thirty-four hours until the device explodes and disrupts our operations. A minor disruption to be sure.”

“If you know all of that, then I guess the only thing you want from me is the bomb’s location.” Murgag motioned for another drink of water and the glass was put to his lips.

“That’s exactly right. We will make it worth your while if you do. You already have something that the rest of your group doesn’t, your life. We would be happy to add money to that already generous gift.” He pulled his chair closer to Murgag and leaned in, almost as though they were conspiring together in this little escapade. “I’m not going to hurt you. I could try torture, but I honestly don’t think I have enough time to get the answers I need. So the truth will have to suffice; I will pay you and free you if you tell me what I need to know. If you don’t, I will simply kill you.”

“Then I have nothing to say. Go ahead and kill me. Try to find the bomb on your own.” Murgag was trying to work his bonds, hoping they might be lose enough to give him at least a fighting chance.

“I said I wouldn’t torture you. I never said I wouldn’t torture your family.” He then held out a datapad that showed Murgag’s parent and two grandchildren. The background in the image was the local planetarium in Murgag’s home city. He knew that his parent had taken the kids to the science fair at the planetarium last week; the image was recent and not doctored.

“If the disruption would be minor, as you put it, then why go to these lengths?” If they had that photo, they must have been watching Murgag and his particular cell for quite a while.

The captor smiled, “A minor disruption to a multi-trillion dollar intergalactic company is a billion dollar disruption. Paying you half that, is much more beneficial to them. It keeps the pipeline running which makes the investors happy. It means that certain key people don’t lose their jobs because of the security breach. It means that we don’t potentially lose employees in the explosion or the repair effort.”

The last sentence made Murgag roll his eyes and the captor inched closer, now obviously a little upset. “You don’t think we care about lives, do you? I think your track record shows that we in fact, care more about lives than you do. Our investigation shows that you have been directly responsible for thirteen deaths. Our employees, our friends, our family.”

“Those people were destroying planets, just like this one! How many lives are being taken every day by your company’s operations here? As I swam through the ocean I could feel the death and the sickness. I could see the ocean life looking withered and tired. I couldn’t even feed while I was out there, I didn’t trust the fish around me would be safe.”

The captor smiled. “You talk about saving the ocean life and in the same breath you talk about eating the local fish. That doesn’t sound too magnanimous to me.”

“I might expect that comment from a human, but not a brother of the sea. You know it’s different. We eat to live and we don’t kill for fun or profit. It’s the natural order of life. A local predator could have eaten me and I would’ve felt no malice towards it and neither would my family have. Because that death is natural. That death is the Universe working. You are killing an entire planet, for money.”

“Have you ever seen a homeless sentient?” The Trizites didn’t have homeless people. If a Trizite didn’t want to work, they could always return to the ocean, or one of the many oceans their people owned throughout the Coalition, and survive in the wild.

“I find it interesting when I see a human holding a sign that reads ‘Will work for food’. Don’t we all?”

“Your point?”

“If we relocated all of the workers to this planet and allowed them to live off of the local population, they would kill the same amount of fish that we are with our business. Instead, they are working for money to buy food. They are working for food. And shelter and family and really, life in general. Unless every sentient being suddenly became a vegetarian, we will always kill animals to feed ourselves, whether the killing is directly or indirectly done.”

“It’s not the same and you know it. And here I thought you said you weren’t going to torture me. Listening to this crap is worse than being beaten.” Murgag sighed heavily.

“That sigh makes me think you have come to a decision.” The captor leaned back in his chair but purposefully kept from looking too smug.

“I have.” Murgag wasn’t sure if his captor would really release him once he gave up the information, so he had a plan to make sure that at least some good came of it. “I want to know the exact amount of money you are offering. From there I will decide how to have it divided out among several accounts. Once I see the money transferred to those accounts, I will tell you know where the device is.”

“Agreed.” He now let the smugness set in. “Do you see how easy that was?”

Once the numbers were given to Murgag he gave his captor the division of assets. “Five percent goes to my parent. Fifteen percent goes to the families of the people you killed from my team. The rest of it goes to the Galactic Oceanic Preservation fund.”

The captor laughed. “Well played my friend. We will be endowing our biggest lobbying competition. Well done. But I’m curious, nothing for you?”

Murgag just shrugged his shoulders. “I honestly don’t think you’ll let me live after I tell you where the bomb is. And if you do, I can take a small portion from my parent to get started again. Maybe go back to school or something.” A lie. He was going to escape or die trying.

“Fair enough. Now please hold up your end of the bargain. Where is the bomb?” The captor handed Murgag a datapad with a map on it. One of Murgag’s hands was released so he could work the datapad.

Murgag saw on the datapad that the company’s search was very close to finding the bomb on their own. He keyed in a couple of commands and the bomb’s location was highlighted on the map.

“Very nice. I’m impressed with the placement location. That’s the best place to do the most damage without being an obvious location for us to look.” He regarded the datapad. “And now, to finish our business.” He stood and loomed over Murgag.

Murgag lashed out with his unbound hand and struck the captor as hard as he could in the face. As the captor stumbled backward, his crony stepped in and began to draw his weapon. The henchman was human so Murgag turned his wrist over and launched one of his barbed darts into the human’s neck. The poison, not effective on Trizites, put the human down instantly. The paralytic would wear off in a few hours if the human survived through it, not all did. They had pulled Murgag’s spines when he was captured but they didn’t harvest them a second time so the next set had already grown in.

The captor was coming back for Murgag and now had a knife out. Murgag swung his chair around and tried to break it against a nearby pole. When that didn’t work he stumbled, fell to the ground and rolled once. He was able to get back up on his knees then feet just in time to avoid being stabbed in the neck by the captor. Murgag swung the chair and struck his attacker square in the hip and knocked him back again. The captor tripped and fell on his knife, impaling himself in the eye.

The captor screamed with equal parts rage and pain. Murgag tried to use the moment to his advantage and ran towards the door. He was met by three large men of different species, and even more violently by the butt of a rifle.

When Murgag became conscious again he was tied down to a board with his arms and legs extended wide. Some superficial damage had already been done to his body while he was unconscious, but nothing too bad. He then saw his captor walk into the room, a bandage wrapped around his head and bulky gauze covering his previously impaled eye. Murgag realized he must have been out for a while.

The captor was in control of himself but just barely. “You fool! You stupid guppy! I was going to set you free! There was no trap. No double-cross. I was about to release you and put you on a transport. And now, now that won’t happen. Now that you have gone back on your word, I will too.”

“I never said I wouldn’t try to escape or kill you. I only said I would give you the location of the bomb and I did that.”

“Semantics.”

“Not really, but anyway… I don’t suppose and apology would really mean anything right now would it?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think so. So what’s on the menu, more dirt?”

“I’m glad you can be so glib, it will make breaking you so much more fun. I was thinking, since you have such an affinity for working with humans, maybe I could make it easier for you to do so.” The captor played with his knife around Murgag’s hand.

Murgag knew exactly what was going to happen. Trizite’s had webbed hands and couldn’t use most human instrumentations because of it. Some Trizites had their webbing surgically altered or removed so they could use human weapons, and other objects made by the dominant fingered-species.

The webbing was extremely sensitive and even professional surgical alterations could have negative life-long effects. There could be pain, deformity, and loss of sensation or mobility. Most Trizites wouldn’t even think of doing it and even fewer actually had the surgery performed.

Murgag regained consciousness just long enough to feel the knife cutting through his last section of webbing. The captor wasn’t just cutting the webbing down the middle, he was actually excising it almost completely from between each finger. Murgag couldn’t help but scream, he had to, with all of his might. The pain was searing through his mind like a star gone nova inside his skull.

“You took my eye, so I will take both of yours.” The captor was moving around to Murgag’s head. “You’ll wish I had killed you. When you’re floundering around this ocean without sight or webbing, you will die a slow death. You will be eaten by the most lowly predators these waters have.”

Murgag felt the tip of the knife being traced around his eye socket, scraping against his spikes and causing pain that normally would’ve been horrid had his webbing not already been cut from his hands causing more pain than he had ever imagined possible. The knife was getting closer to his right eye, it was about to happen.

Murgag first felt the spray of blood across his face and then the sound of the knife hitting the ground. A few muffled puffs of air, a sound that he didn’t recognize, and then several bodies flowing past the table he was strapped to. As one of the bodies passed he saw that it was a coalition soldier and he was carrying a suppressed weapon of some sort.

Once the room was clear, Murgag felt his limbs being released from the table. A Shirka stood over Murgag, “I’m a Corpsman, are you hurting anywhere other than your hands?”

“I, uh, yeah, a lot of places. But I think my webbing are my only real injuries.” Murgag looked at his hands and couldn’t believe they belonged to him. “Who are you guys? Why is the Coalition saving me?”

“We’re not.” A sergeant, probably the squad leader stepped into view. “Your friend there on the floor was the lead security agent for the entire company. He was using his position to run illegal guns, drugs and everything else you could think of all over the galaxy. He’s been a target for a while now but hasn’t been out in the field. This little stunt of yours pulled him out of hiding. Thanks.”

“Yeah, no problem. That was my plan the whole time.” Murgag flinched as the Corpsman sprayed a tissue-bonding agent over his hand.

“Hey Wilks,” One of the other men said, “Come take a look at this datapad.”

Wilks walked over to the other man, “What have you got Bloom?”

Wilks read over the pad for a few minutes then came back over to Murgag. “I just looked over everything they had on you and the work you did here. There’s even a debrief on the bomb you set. Pretty impressive stuff.”

“Are you going to take me into custody? I know you aren’t the police, but by Coalition laws, I am a terrorist.” Murgag wasn’t sure if he even cared at this point.

Wilks looked around at his squad, “I think you’ll find that despite our outwardly aggressive appearance, we’re all really just a bunch of tree-huggers.”

“Are you making fun of me again?” The Shirka didn’t always get human humor. “I told you I wasn’t scared, I was climbing that tree to get dinner.”

Wilks just shook his head. “If you’re interested in fighting the good fight, I can get a good word to the right people and get you into the Coalition military. You’d make a great Marine.”

“I don’t think they would let me in with my record. I’ve been pretty good at hiding my tracks but I’m not a complete ghost.”

Wilks just chuckled, “Hey Bloom, think you can fix that for our friend here?”

“Sure. I’ll have the records fixed by the time we board our transport. I don’t want them figuring out who he is when we get on board.” Bloom started working on a virtual keyboard that only he could see.

“Why would you do this for me? You don’t know what kind of being I am. You don’t know me at all.” Murgag knew that if this offer was real, he wasn’t going to pass it up.

“I do know you. Maybe not you personally, but I know who you are.” Wilks sat down next to Murgag. “You are fighting for what you think is right, and regardless of the ways you’re doing it, you’re actually on the right side here. All of your targets could have been Coalition sanctioned if you were with us. Just like douchebag here on the ground.” Wilks pointed to the dead captor.

Wilks stood up, “We’re wiping your slate clean. Giving you chance to do the right thing in the right way. I can’t promise you’ll always agree with your orders, but for the most part, we do good things. Think about it.”

Wilks walked away. Murgag got up and followed the Shirka who led him from the room and onto their watercraft that was waiting for them.

When they made it back to the transport, Murgag found Wilks in the forward cargo hold. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said earlier.”

“And?”

“Do you really think I could make a difference if I joined the military?”

“I wouldn’t have said so if I didn’t think it was true. Besides, it looks like your hands are all but ready to grab some weapons and get to work.” Wilks saw Murgag’s spikes turn a yellowish-green color; he couldn’t quite remember what emotion that color scheme was for.

“Not. Funny.” Murgag looked at his bandaged hands and was thankful for the regional anesthetic the Corpsman had applied to both arms below the elbow. “I wasn’t sure if you meant it, that’s why I asked you again.”

“What’s different about my answer this time?”

“This time, my arms are completely numb so I’m not in pain. Since I’m not in pain, I was able to focus on you and feel your emotions. I could tell you weren’t lying, that’s what I needed to be sure of before I made my decision. I’m in.”

“That’s great, but I’m not a recruiter. You’ll have to sign up through your friendly local recruiter. After you get through boot camp I’ll keep an eye on your progress; if you do well enough you might find yourself with an invitation to try out for Force Recon.” Wilks sat down in some crash webbing in the cargo hold, trying to get comfortable so he could take a nap.

“Thank you. For saving my life, wiping my slate clean, and giving me an idea of how I can do things better. I owe you.” Murgag saw Wilks close his eyes and knew the conversation was over.

As Murgag turned to walk away, Wilks added, “If you ever scan me again, I’ll take a knife to your feet and finish the job that guy started on your webbing.”

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