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A short story by

Matt Burns

The encoded message sent to her fone from Sage had come as a complete surprise. After deciphering the meaning, Pandora rushed to her team leader’s apartment. Sage was there, packing up his belongings. The man who had taught Pandora to be so strong and determined had already given up.

“We’ve scrounged up everything we can about the facility. There just isn’t anything more we can do here,” Sage said. He looked undisturbed that after four months of nail-biting covert work, the team was leaving empty-handed.

“We’re close. Just a little more time and – ”

“It’s too risky. We’ve overstayed our welcome here as it is. We’re lucky that you haven’t been found by a wrangler or a ghost.”

As the only telepath on her team, Pandora took pride in working undetected in Augustgrad, right under the noses of any of the Dominion’s psionic ghosts who, although unlikely, might be in the city. While the shadowguards upheld the Umojan Protectorate’s sovereignty through deception and intel gathering, Pandora saw the ghosts as nothing more than mindless weapons used to enforce the Dominion’s oppressive rule through fear tactics and assassination.

“I know how to fly under the radar,” Pandora said matter-of-factly.

“That’s not the point. If anything happens to us, it could jeopardize other teams in the city and possibly much more. The truth is, we’re no closer to figuring out what’s going on inside that facility than we were four months ago.”

“Then we need to take it a step further. We won’t get anywhere without taking a risk.”

“We’re not in the business of blind risks. We’re in the business of acting on hard data. Sure things.”

“We’ve acted on less intel than this in the past,” Pandora said, irritated. She had always admired Sage’s resolve, but at that moment it was infuriating.

“On Anselm we did,” Sage said.

Pandora tensed. Sage seemed to regret the comment for a moment, but he continued.

“That was a careless risk, but we still moved forward,” Sage said, taking a passing glance at Pandora’s cybernetic thumb. “And we suffered for it.”

No longer able to control her anger, Pandora turned to leave. She knew in her heart that she and her team had suffered on Anselm because they’d hesitated. They hadn’t taken the risk when it would have actually mattered.

Sage put his hand gently on her shoulder. “Are you willing to risk everything, even your own life, to find out what’s inside that facility?”

“If it means saving other lives in the future, yes.”

“That’s why my answer is no.”

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