“We brought him,” Alexa said.
“Where’s our prize?” Katelyn asked.
“Naoko won’t yell at you,” Zhao said. “That should be prize enough. Hold the net tight, Zhao is going to check the armour.”
Zhao took a flashing electronic device and ran it over the armour. She pushed some buttons and went again. Then a third time. “Okay,” Zhao said. “Kill him and Zhao will run one more scan.”
“Is that wise?” Alena asked.
“Zhao’s readings indicate that the sequence takes some time to activate after death,” Zhao said. “As long as nothing causes it to go faster Alexa should be able to get rid of the body before it blows.” She pushed some buttons to set the scanner up.
“Alright,” Alena said. “Be careful. Yuni, do it.”
Yuni blasted the man’s neck with a light dagger.
Zhao hurriedly scanned the man and Alexa tossed him into the air before the armour blew.
“All tests are complete,” Zhao said. “Take Zhao home so that she can properly analyse the results.”
“That was surprisingly uncomplicated for one of our missions,” Katelyn said. “Maybe they’re spoiling us?”
“Someone had to do it,” Alexa said. “Might as well be us.”
“At least we’re all safe and we’ll be back soon,” Yuni said.
“Until the next mission,” Sirvanna said.
Everything in the transport went quiet. The silence was eventually interrupted by the sound of Zhao crunching chips.
“Omicron will be fine,” Zhao said. “Professor will send the signal and the war will end. Sirvanna is just in a pessimistic mood.”
They landed in the hangar.
“Will Alena take Zhao’s bag back to her workshop?” Zhao asked.
“Yeah,” Alena said.
“Do you need me to turn out the lights?” Yuni asked.
“Please do,” Alena said. Yuni hurried ahead.
Zhao gave an exaggerated sigh. “Naoko could at least greet Zhao in person.”
I’m working on other things at the moment. Did you get the data?
“Zhao got everything she needs,” Zhao said. “Naoko should equip the front line troops with Zhao’s portable shockwave generators. They were effective against the armour.”
Were they? Fine.
“She seemed annoyed,” Alexa said.
“Naoko thought that the generators were a stupid idea and told Zhao not to waste her time with them,” Zhao said. “Naoko doesn’t like being wrong.” Zhao skipped down the corridor towards her workshop.
Zhao studied the data, her pen tapping the table. She didn’t notice her door getting knocked on nor opened.
Zhao jerked a bit but kept her eyes on the paper and her pen firmly in hand. “Jenny,” Zhao said. “You came to visit Zhao?”
“Is something bothering you?” Jenny asked. “You’re usually so excited to see me that you drop whatever you’re doing and run right over.”
“Something bothering Zhao?” Zhao asked. “Yes, there is something.” She nodded. “Something very big and deeply disturbing.” She felt a strong but gentle hand on her shoulder.
“What is it?”
“Does Jenny have a favourite artist?” Zhao asked.
“Uhhh,” Jenny muttered. “Yvonne Abro, I guess. Why do you ask?”
“What would Jenny do if she saw a painting by Yvonne that was really terrible?” Zhao asked. “Unforgivably so.”
“Zhao,” Jenny said “What is this about? Please, tell me. I can’t help you otherwise.”
“Zhao has checked all of the data seventeen times,” Zhao said. “All the decisions, the quirks, point to the armour being designed by one person. Professor.” Zhao’s fist clenched. “This armour that’s killing our people was made by Professor.”
“Maybe he had to,” Jenny said. “He is undercover, after all.”
“Does Jenny think that’s all it is?” Zhao asked. “Professor should have signaled everyone by now. But… but…”
“Zhao,” Jenny said. “He’s fine. He probably needs more time to setup. He’ll contact us when he’s ready.”
“Zhao is afraid,” Zhao said, her eyes tearing up. “What if Professor is gone?”
Jenny brushed away her tears with her fingers. “Believe in him,” she said. “Right now, that’s all we can do.”