Xi'an Commerical Quarter
Photeus woke from dreamless sleep. The surroundings were unfamiliar. He did not recognize the building he was in as human, the decorations were foreign. As the groggy feeling cleared from his mind, he recognized the furnishing and decor as Xi'an.
All his memories of the previous night flooded back to him: the fire, the fight, and Reef. He stood rapidly from the bed, but his vision went black and he dropped to his knee. As the color returned to his vision he heard Krandul's voice beckon to him from the other room, "Come here, quickly."
Photeus pushed the curtains in the doorway aside and saw Krandul kneeling over Reef with a syringe filled with an unknown liquid.
"What are you doing?!" Photeus yelled in the elderly Xi'an's face. Krandul was unphased.
"He is in extreme pain, this is a pain medication. He fights me in his fevered sleep. Hold him."
Photeus, still not clear if he could trust the man, held down Reef's shoulders as Krandul injected the fluid into his arm. The unconscious man tensed at first, but then relaxed deeply and slept. Krandul put away the needle and looked to Photeus, "Thank you, but I fear it's not enough."
"Why haven't you taken him to a doctor or surgeon? He could die!" Photeus could feel a bit of the panic in his own voice. He reasoned that XSO would never trust him again if his handler died. Then again, maybe he was genuinely worried about Reef.
"The Security Forces are looking for you and him. If they find him, they find you. They will not help. They will interrogate you both," Krandul had sadness in his eyes, "Trust me, I know how they work."
"Because you used to be one of them," Photeus didn't miss the clue.
The elderly alien nodded in agreement, "The story I told you in the bar should explain a few things, but is not the whole story. I've been following you both for the last several months."
"What? Why?" It was all the he could think to say. It's not like the trading had been especially secretive but Reef had been exceedingly careful regardless. He couldn't understand the how or why this man would even be interested in them, "What do you know?"
"Much, but not all, as is usual for someone with my experience. I know you are both working with the Xeno Syncretic Order. I know Reef here is your handler. I know that you are Photeus, prior named Mavor Convusco," Krandul's expression did not change as much as Photeus' had.
Photeus had heard enough. This man already knew too much. He looked around the room for a weapon, anything would do. He saw a metal chair nearby.
"I understand your fear better than you would expect, but consider this: I could have killed you while you were resting, and could have just turned Reef over to the authorities. You need to understand why I took an interest in your situation. Would you sit down?"
"No, I'll stand. Be quick." Photeus crossed his arms and glared at Krandul.
"My wife, I told you about her before, she had an illness that is very close to yours, I think they are ultimately related. Unfortunately there is no cure. The Xi'an wiped out the insect that causes the illness several decades ago, that was our cure. When my wife died, I gave up everything to serve my people and their interests. Your word for that is ‘spy' but I was so much more. Strangely enough, your illness drew me to you. I decided to help you since I never could help my wife."
Krandul took cup from a nearby table and sipped the liquid. He started in again, "I know you lost your family. We have that connection. It's something that transcends war, race, or loyalties. That pain of loss cuts deep. It turned me into a young man without compassion, bent on only furthering Xi'an interests. I became something I grew to hate." Photeus softened his stance and looked at his feet.
"You are still young and reckless, but you have done what you can to help the other miners, they are being cared for. There is some honor in that," Krandul cleared his throat, "Now, this XSO. Curious things are happening around them. My sources tell me many things, but the information is wrought with confusion that I have not yet deciphered. However, I wish to help. My help is toward you, not them."
"Maybe we share a connection, maybe you want to make amends for a wasted life, and maybe you find XSO interesting. What is it you gain by helping us?" Photeus knew there had to be a catch.
"I've spend my life sewing discord, lies and half-truths, and separating men from their lives. After a few hundred years, I grow tired of it all. I seek peace. I seek unity," Krandul smiled briefly.
Photeus caught himself returning the smile, but shook it off, "Ok fine. But we have a problem. Reef is dying and the bastards responsible are getting away."
"Correction," Krandul interrupted, "They have already escaped."
Photeus considered the chair once again, "So you talk my ears off and they get away. Are you positive you're on my side?"
"Patience, young one. Relax, eat, and rest. You will leave tomorrow and still have time to catch them," Krandul sipped again at his drink, "All has been prepared."
-The Next Day-
Photeus was awakened early the next morning and saddled with supplies for his trip. Krandul gave him a backpack full of rations, medical supplies, and water. It also contained a new trigger device, an upgraded model, which was obviously designed with more explosives in mind. Krandul gave him clear and precise instructions to follow to leave the Xi'an quarter. He was told that if he reached certain points at exact times, he would pass back into the trade quarter, back to his ship, and out of the system in one piece. If not, he was bound to be caught. Yet, through the haste to get moving, Photeus noticed Reef had gone missing from the Xi'an's home. Krandul explained that Reef may not survive the trip, but he had better chances with Photeus to get back to XSO than he did with Krandul. They were both concerned he would die regardless; the pirate's weapons had left far too many burns on his internal organs.
Just before he left, the human and Xi'an spoke a last time, "While you will catch up to them, keep in mind how easily they trapped you. They know you're coming and will be prepared. Trust no one."
Krandul shooed him off and down he went. End of the street at 700. Go down the alley on the left 2 blocks, arrive at the corner street at 704. Cross the street to the gate into the Trade Zone, 706. Do not speak to the guard, allow him to escort you to the other side, 707. Go straight to the ship 714. Give Reef medicine while ship powers up, 721. Do not contact control tower, leave dock at 728. Leave system immediately.
In less than a half hour, Photeus was heading toward the jump gate out of the system. When he brought up his navigational computer, strange coordinates had been entered into the system. He set course went through the jump gate.
When he emerged from the other side, he was surprised to find an entire Xi'an battle group waiting for him.
Photeus was so surprised to see the group waiting for him that he overreacted in panic. Thinking initially that Krandul set him up, he slammed his afterburners and threw the ships power-grid into the frontal shields and engines. Once he realized that an entire Xi'an fleet probably was a bit of overkill just to catch him, it was too late.
The alien ships fired into his Freelance MAX, though the frontal shields absorbed the initial hits. The destroyers behind him laid waste into his engines, tearing the power from them. Photeus hit his head on the console of his ship, but as he looked up he was in time to see multiple tractor beams pull him first to a stop, then direct him to the flight deck of a carrier.
Photeus cursed aloud. He really screwed up this trade deal. Then he remembered Reef. He jumped from his seat at the helm and went to check the gruff man. To Photeus' surprise he was awake.
"What happened?" Reef voice was reduced to a near whisper.
"Trying to get you out of here, but instead got caught by the Xi'an. Sorry about that. Want me to blow them up for you?" Photeus offered. It was the least he could do.
He felt he heard Reef chuckle lightly, "No. Go to Matthius Stormfury for further orders. I'm no longer your handler."
Photeus could see what he meant, Reef was fading fast, "Do you have family?"
"Yes," Reef perked up briefly, "My mobi-glass; they'll know what to do."
Photeus removed the device from Reef's wrist and put in into his satchel. When he looked back to Reef, glassy eyes looked back to him. He was gone.
The hull shifted as the ship was docked into the Xi'an cruiser. Photeus briefly made a few tweaks to some new electronics included in the ship. He matched frequencies with his trigger. He figured this would give him something to bargain with.
A very general, monotone message sounded over the Freelancer's voice comm, "Exit Ship. Surrender." The man took a deep breath and exited his Freelancer. He expected guns trained on him and the chance to warn the Xi'an so he could negotiate. Instead the guards fell on him. In moments he was stripped of his satchel, his weapon, and his explosives trigger. When finished, they threw him to the cold steel floor of the carrier.
He came up on hands and knees, and looked up into the eyes of an imposing Xi'an figure. Photeus croaked, "Uh…hi?" He felt about as pitiful as he sounded.
The Xi'an spoke in practiced English, "I am Trr'enth, Commander of the Xi'an here. I will see to your accomodations." He spoke one word in Xi'an to the soldiers nearby.
He looked back to Photeus and translated, "The brig."