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The team virtually collapsed into their chairs, exchanging glances with one another and stealing peeks at the ambassador.
"This is Ambassador Clegg, as I'm sure you're aware," Captain Michaels said.
"Am I to assume special ops, sir?" Brody asked.
"Almost," the captain said. "With a great deal more at stake."
"Ambassador Clegg's daughter has gone missing. We fear she may be beyond the fence."
"She's dead, then," Brody said a matter-of-factly. The ambassador winced.
"We don't know that," Captain Michaels said.
"Yes," Brody said, "we do. Nothing living survives out there. If the corpses didn't get her, then the daemon sure as hell did. There's no way she's alive."
Captain Michaels scowled at Commander Brody and indicated the ambassador, who now looked close to tears.
"Of course," Brody quickly amended, "miracles happen."
Captain Michaels rolled his eyes and cleared his throat. "I understand that yourself and one of your team members are both street orphans. Am I correct?"
"Yes," Commander Brody said guardedly. It was a touchy subject for both himself and his lieutenant. Prejudices against the desperate and destitute of the ghettos often kept either of them from promotion.
"Is it true that part of your initiation into the street gangs is you had to survive one night beyond the fence?"
Brody shook his head, but Lieutenant Skye answered, "Yes, sir."
Commander Brody turned to his lieutenant in surprise. "Did you?"
"Yes," Skye answered. He looked down at his fingernails, then balled his hands into fists to hide their tremble.
"What the hell? I heard about that, but no one I know ever did!" Brody stared at Skylark with wide eyes. "What gang made that a requirement?"
"Gang is perhaps a strong word," the lieutenant said. "More like a hungry rabble of kids trying to be tough. There were five of us," he said. "Only two made it back."
"So," the ambassador said quietly, "it is possible."
"For an eight-year-old who survived on the street, yes. For a girl who has never been anywhere without a nurse? It's a different story."
"Lieutenant!" the captain barked.
Lieutenant Skye looked at him a moment, then turned back to the ambassador. "Sir," he finished.
The ambassador smiled slightly. "It's all right, Lieutenant. I'm aware of the chances of... of my daughter's survival. But I have to do something."
"So if I'm getting this right, you want us to go beyond the fence and look for your daughter?" Commander Brody asked.
"Or... or her body," Clegg replied, unable to keep the tremor of grief from his voice.
"Right, off we go again, I suppose."
"Not at night," Lieutenant Skye said. "You'd need the entire Corps to take those bastards on at night. They're not nearly as active during the day."
"Radiation has made their skin sensitive to light. The sun can burn them to ash."
"I've heard the same from the turret guards," Lieutenant Binks added, only to be silenced by the glare of both his commander and the captain.
"The fuck happened out there, Lieutenant?" Commander Brody demanded.
Lieutenant Skye shrugged. "I was late getting back in. They chased me as the sun came up. Two couldn't find shelter in time. I watched them burn from safely behind the fence."
"So, you are uniquely qualified then, Lieutenant," Captain Michaels said.
Skye frowned. "I wouldn't say that I was, Captain," he said.
"You know more than the rest of us. That puts you in command."
Skye looked up sharply. "Sir?"
"Your command, Lieutenant. I expect you and your team out there the moment the sun comes up, got it?"
Glancing uncertainly at his commander, Skye nodded. "Sir, yes, sir."
"Your assistance has been requested to help quell a gang in Sector Y346. You are to report to Commander Garson at dawn tomorrow."
The team stood and saluted as both the captain and the ambassador left the room.
"We're all dead," Binks said.
"Poor bastard," Skye said, his eyes on the haggard figure of the ambassador as he slunk away.