“I did not know human ships required so much care.” Eleya was still sitting at navigation, fingers tapping out a slow beat as she waited for Alex to be done shutting down the ship.
“Not the newer ones... but this is a classic. Gotta be careful with these systems so they don’t get damaged.” He reached out and clicked some buttons that were already off, dragging his feet on purpose. They’d been sitting on the landing pad for the better part of fifteen minutes now. “Most of the parts are out of production, after all.”
“Nh.” She did not care. “Is this going to take much longer?”
“Oh, a little bit.” He had become preoccupied with the payload of virii that was waiting to be uploaded from his Amp... or, more correctly, the potential repercussions of such. “You know, like thirty minutes.”
“I will meet up with our escort and let them know you will be along.” She slipped out of her seat and carefully lowered herself down the steep stairs into the main cabin.
“Whoa, hey.” Alex launched himself after Eleya, jumping down from the flight deck and grabbing her wrist just before she touched the door controls. “Let’s just slow down for a second here. I mean, there’s no need to be hasty, the meeting isn’t for another two hours.”
“The sooner we arrive, dear nephew, the better. There will be time for maintenance later and I assure you, we can fabricate any part you need on the Sword.” She shook him off with a withering glare, ears pressed tight to her head. “Unless it is not care for this vehicle that concerns you.”
“What? No.” He shook his head and smiled, rolling his eyes and generally putting on a show of just how crazy that idea was. “No, not at all, that’s... No.”
“Is it.” Eleya was unconvinced.
“Yes, I’m just really excited about this ship...” He opted to deflect the conversation. “By the way, how did you know I wanted one of these?”
“Carbon had mentioned you have long held a pilot's license and I inquired as to what sort of ship you might want. This was one of them.”
“This has always been on my short list but they’re really expensive. It is quite a piece of machinery, though.” Alex’s mind scrambled for a moment before sticking on one of the things he knew Eleya liked to do. “Did you know there’s a wet bar in the back?”
“I had been informed of that, yes.” She stepped away from the controls and slid up into one of the pale leather cabin chairs. The large plush seat was designed for humans and almost looked like a throne around her, the size difference making her appear delicate. “That is not relevant to the issue at hand, is it, dear prince?”
Alex grumbled and relented, sinking into the seat across the narrow aisle. “I just started thinking about the upload,” he gestured towards his head. “I’ve come to terms with the personal information going out, mostly. I want to know who did it. I want to see them suffer some kind of punishment for it.”
The Tslao nodded, “You have an issue with this?”
“No, not with that. It’s just, what if it doesn’t work right? They’re going to know who that upload came from. If it’s a private company then no big deal. But if it is the ONI...” Given that he worked for and his Amp had been supplied by the Office of Naval Intelligence, it seemed reasonable to assume they had a hand in things.
“Ah. That is quite a concern. But as I have said, you have our protection.”
“I know, it’s just knowingly being the conduit for intrusion software for an alien race? That’s treason.” He thought it would be, anyway. It certainly seemed treasonous.
There was just a little hint of a smile on her lips. “Do you think I would not have thought of that?”
He laughed uneasily. “It actually hadn’t crossed my mind.”
“You are young yet.” She made an odd little sound, her smile curling up into a smirk. “We have several layers of protection. You are not supposed to know about the ARGUS software anyway, it would be trivial to return your Amp to its original state. Beyond that, the package is set to appear as though it originated from a non-state actor.”
“That’s good to know, but...” He gritted his teeth as he sought the right words. “I’ve always been pretty happy with the government, and planning this makes me feel like I’m betraying the Confed.”
Eleya squinted at him, head tilted gently. “Are you serious?”
She laughed in his face but recovered her composure quickly. “That is the betrayal you worry about? A government? Not that of your own kind?”
It left Alex snippy, though. “What’s that supposed to mean, my own kind?”
“Humanity, dearest nephew.”
He rolled his eyes again, exasperated this time. This was about him and Carbon, then. “That isn’t the same at all.”
“It feels the same to me.” Eleya leaned on the armrest and propped her chin on her fist. “Would you explain the difference?”
“Who I live my life with has nothing to do with humanity. It will keep on going with or without my involvement just fine.”
“But here you feel as though...” She ruminated for a moment, clicking her teeth slowly. “You may actually cause grave damage to something.”
That was what he had been trying to express. “Yes! The Confed isn’t perfect, but it keeps the majority of humanity safe. I just don’t know if it’s right for me to threaten that because I’m pissed.”
“Understandable, dear nephew, but you must know these things are related. If you were not involved with Carbon, you would not have been seen as a conduit. This burden would not have been laid out at your feet.”
Alex leaned back in his chair and nodded. As much as he wanted to consider these things as separate, they weren’t. “Yeah. You’re right.”
“Thank you. I will leave the choice to you, Alex. Destroy the file if your conscience demands it and I will trouble you with the matter no more.” She sat up straight again, hands folded in her lap and altogether serene.
“If it does work, if we do end up with a back door into ONI... Do I have your word that you won’t abuse it?” He had no illusions that promises she made that turned out to be inconvenient later would hold.
The smirk returned. “It pains me to say this, you should appreciate it. If we gain access to sensitive systems, I will order the intrusion be sealed when the matter of who was spying on you is settled.”
That was unexpected, but he still wouldn’t hold his breath. “All right. Let’s get this over with.”