The ops center was another hive of activity. None of the KMs seemed to notice Isaac when he stepped in, caught up as they were in their heated conversation.
A swarthy, rosy-cheeked miner with long hair bellowed above the other voices. "Think about it! All them charges went unaccounted for a month ago, right?"
A thin man in coveralls shot back, "Park said that was an oversight!"
"Yeah, and where's Park now?"
No one answered. "Park was in on it!" the rosy-cheeked man blurted.
"Fekk! Figures... it's always the quiet ones."
"Park, Shoberg, and fekkin' Gonsales! How long ago'd Gonsales seal up Deep Core 6? Two weeks ago? That's where the damn charges went! And now they're set to blow our asses from here to Moria!"
There was silence for a moment.
"Rosy-Cheeked Man" (as Isaac had started referring to him) ran a hand through his thick hair. "All our demo boys are dead. Even if we could get to Deep Core 6... this rock is fekked. I say we cut and run."
The thin man turned to Isaac, eyes suddenly wide. He looked Isaac up and down. "You! You gotta help us clear out.... We need dropships! The damn Players' Club sabotaged all our cargo vessels... transports, everything."
A moment later, and Isaac had been ushered into a slightly more private storeroom. He contacted Sousa on the squad frequency and demanded to talk to Rindge.
Isaac could see a readout on the ops center wall, through the doorway.
Static cut in, and Rindge's high-pitched voice barked, "You alone, White?"
"Yes, sir. Got us a situation.... KMs are crappin' themselves, sayin' the pirates had men on the inside... claimin' there's a whole lotta explosives at the core of this hunk o' junk, enough to split this mother and send every damn body on a one-way trip to kiss-your-ass-goodbye."
"I've heard this sob story already, White."
"Roger that. I'll prioritize the wounded first and-"
"Look, you just tell 'em whatever you gotta tell 'em... but tell 'em to sit tight, and then you get your ass to the extraction site."
"When will the rest of the dropships be-?"
"What fekking dropships? Why do I need to spell this out to you, of all people? These are Kel-Morians, for fekk's sake! The only reason we stuck our noses in this shitstorm was to put a dent in the Players' Club because they've been a pain in the Dominion's ass for damn near four years. Mission accomplished. Now get to the fekking extraction site."
Suddenly, and most certainly unexpectedly, a whole barrage of thoughts invaded Isaac's head: he thought about the fact that no amount of apologizing, soul-searching, quiet reflection, and seemingly interminable time since the incident at Gamma Dorian had eased his conscience. He thought about the Kel-Morian miner who had died with his guts hastily stuffed back into his body, his only concern being that of the family he was about to leave behind. He thought, though he hated to admit it, that maybe not all Kel-Morians were animals.
The inside of his brain was a whirlwind, but the one thing that hit him like a meteor was this: he had sought forgiveness from the families of the victims, but he himself had never forgiven the KMs. It was always so much easier to just keep on hating them... to not even think of them as human.
Maybe this was his chance to make a difference. To balance the scales, to atone, just as Zeke Turner had said.
All he had to do was survive. And then save everyone else.
If anyone could find and disarm the explosives, it was Isaac. It was what he'd been born to do: steal thunder.
"I'm not coming back," Isaac voiced into his mic.
"Repeat that," Rindge demanded. He sounded legitimately confused.
"I'm not coming back. If you leave, you're goin' without me."
"Stop wasting my time and clear out. That's an order, Sergeant!"
Isaac smiled slightly. And damned if it didn't feel genuine. "Afraid I'm gonna have to respectfully disobey that order, sir."
"I don't get you, White. What are you, stupid? Suicidal?"
"I'm a complicated man."
There was a long pause. Isaac hoped that Commander Rindge would make the right choice, that he'd agree to take everyone, but the realist in him knew better. He thought about Shila and knew that she'd be okay, that she wouldn't be swayed by the crap Rindge was sure to fling her way... that she would understand. After all, no one understood him like his woman.
"My official record's gonna state that you're a coward and a deserter. You'll die for nothing."
"The record can show whatever you please," Isaac retorted. "The two of us will always know the truth. And by the way, I always thought you were a bitch."
There was a click just then, and Sousa's cheerful voice interrupted. "Master Sergeant Sousa here, sir. I'm at the extraction site, awaiting the arrival of First Sergeant White."
"Fekk White!" Rindge snapped back. There was a click as the CO disconnected.