Friendliness aside, for a second I considered making a break for it. It didn't fit my new designs, but habits are hard to break. Fight or flight and all that. I moved my hand slowly—no need to make anyone jumpy—and pressed the two buttons on my clavicle while simultaneously flicking my eyes across my heads-up to enter the code that triggered my suit's exit function. I stood perfectly still for the twelve seconds it took for the suit to unhinge itself and release me, and then pulled my helmet off and—still moving slowly—set it on top of a crate to my left. That left me unarmed, standing in my undersuit, my weapons staying attached to my armor. But I kept my hands visible anyway.
"Gas?" The lead SP stepped forward into the light. Sergeant Ken Burrows.
I hadn't planned for them to be there, but I knew them well. "What's up, Ken?" I asked.
"Gas...what the fuck? Why are you stowing away on board a supply ship going to a combat zone?"
"You know me, my friend. I've always got an angle working." Ken looked at me, trying to find the story.
"This about Kendrick?"
"You heard about that?"
"Of course. Everybody has. We all love Kendrick."
"Yeah," I said. "I had to try."
Ken hesitated, as if they were afraid to say the next bit. "I'm sorry, Gas, but I've got to run you in on this."
"No problem. We've all got jobs to do."
"If it was just me, you know I'd let you slide."
"I know you would." I believed them. They weren't a bad person, and I did them favors from time to time. I did a lot of people favors as part of my side hustles. I got them things, provided services—whatever I could do to make a buck or favors in return I could cash in later. The military could keep me under contract for six years, but they couldn't quash my entrepreneurial spirit.
"It's just that this one came from higher. You know how it is." Higher, meaning this wasn't random. Someone sent them after me, and that meant somebody higher would be following up to see the result.
"I get it. You had no choice." I gestured to the other soldiers. "You don't need your squad, though. I'm not going to give you any trouble. I know the way to D Cell." D Cell was short for detention cell, short-term holding for people who broke the rules but hadn't been convicted of a crime. Not a great way to spend a day, but better than the brig, where they kept the convicted criminals. If all went well, I wouldn't end up there.
They thought about it. "I better keep one with me. Just for appearances."
"Sure. You know best. Could you make sure my suit gets back to the armory?"
We headed out toward D Cell—I really did know the way. I'd been there often enough, though never for long. Funny thing, somehow nothing ever seemed to stick. At least they didn't cuff me. We'd be traversing public corridors, and it was already embarrassing enough walking with SPs. Ken did their best to make it cool, keeping pace beside me while their partner trailed behind.
"How'd you know I was in there?" I'd told Putty I'd be away, and for him to cover for me, but he hadn't told anyone. He wouldn't. Not Putty. He was part of my team, and I trusted my team as much as I trusted myself. It had to be something else. Someone else.
"Someone from higher called dispatch. Dispatch called me. That's all I know."
"That seems unusual," I said.
"A little," said Ken. "But it happens."
It happens. But that didn't explain why it happened to me. I smelled a rat. "If you find anything else out, you'll let me know?"
"Absolutely." They walked in silence for a few seconds, as if afraid to bring up the next subject. "Hey...with Kendrick gone..."
I knew what they wanted to know, so I made it easy on them. It pays to keep customers happy like that. I spoke in a lower voice. "You want to know about the card game."
"No worries." Ken loved their cards. They weren't any good, so other players liked having them in the game too. "Putty will run it now that Kendrick's out. You know what they say—the show must go on."
"Thanks, man." Ken cocked their head, the way people do when they're getting a message in their ear. "That's weird."
"What's up?" I asked.
"Change of plan. We're not going to D Cell. We're going to the command group."
We continued on for a bit. If I had to guess, Ken was wondering what the fuck was going on.
Me? I had at least some idea. I intended to try to get to Kendrick on my own if I made it down to the planet, but that was always a long shot. What I wanted was attention, and our detour to the command group said I had it. I could work with that.