Xander took a deep breath, inhaling the earthy, rich scent of the herbs and plants sprouting from the pots and planters that covered every surface of the bright room. A greenhouse, how quaint. The blazing Eden sunshine beamed through the windows, filling the room with a golden glow, illuminating the dust motes dancing through the air. He closed his eyes, his blood pulsing in his ears. The tempo aligned to the failure, failure, failure circling through his head. He’d lost them. Rob escaped.
His hands curled into fists. He pictured the burning flare of the ship’s engines disappearing in the distance. He took another long, slow breath through his nose. Failure, failure, failure.
A hesitant cough cut through the stillness of the room. He opened his eyes and found one of the interchangeable lieutenants hovering in the doorway.
The woman flinched at Xander’s tone. He nearly rolled his eyes, she must be new.
“Sir.” She drew her shoulders back and saluted. “We’ve received a report from the [CHECKPOINT NAME] checkpoint. Two officers were found unconscious.”
Xander closed his eyes again, scrambling to hold on to the last shreds of his composure and feeling is slip away. He knew where this was going. His pulse beat so loudly he almost missed the lieutenant’s next words.
“The last ship in their records was a Cerberus class freighter.”
The world went white. Xander swept an arm across the table, scattering plants, pots falling to the floor and smashing to pieces. He grabbed the table hard enough that he could feel the rough edges of the wood digging through the leather of his gloves. He shoved it over, flipping it into the shelves on the other side of the greenhouse. The cascading crashes as the contents of the shelves fell and shattered drowned out the FAILURE FAILURE FAILURE blaring like a siren in his head.
He stopped, nothing left in his reach, ragged breaths shuddering in and out. He forced his fists to unclench. A loss of control would only compound this disaster. He needed to think clearly, to fix this. The alternative was unthinkable. There was a buzzing in his ears, he was dimly aware the lieutenant had said something.
He slowed his breathing and turned towards the doorway, his face a blank mask.
The woman swallowed. “I said, should we pursue, sir?”
Pursue. He allowed himself a brief moment to imagine it, tearing across the sky after Rob. Closing in on the ship, ripping the doors open with his bare hands, coming face to face, staring into the eyes of the man that betrayed him, the one person he thought would never-
He cut the thought off. Fantasies were for children and people without purpose.
“Have you somehow managed to put a tracer on the ship, lieutenant? Do you have anyway of knowing where they are? Where they're going? Anything that would make this chase more productive than the dozens of chases we’ve engaged in before?”
The lieutenant cleared her throat. “No, sir.”
“So, in effect, you are suggesting we waste valuable time and resources on little more than a wild goose chase, correct?” He didn't give her a chance to respond. “A word of advice, with that kind of sloppy thinking you'll never advance.”
He shoved past her, into the cheerful farmhouse kitchen. The exposed brick walls and shiny copper pots hanging from the ceiling looked like something out of an old Earth fairytale. He hated it.
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