Ellie Doall was good at group projects. Once given an assignment, she felt responsible for its success and determined to do everything in her power to make it perfect. In high school, this meant many frustrating interactions with her peers, after which she often took the project on herself. In HuFleet, however, she often found the experience satisfying, because everyone was motivated to see the project succeed; often, because failure meant some form of terrible death.
Today, however, she was feeling like high school.

As the ship started a leisurely, roundabout course toward Filedise space, she and Loreli started an intense but covert journey of their own for information about the elusive world. Even her skills, Loreli’s connections and the might of the Impulsive’s computers had only pulled up a 20-year-old recruiting video.

After their shift ended, she, Enigo and Dr. Pasteur – who has suggested they call him “Guy” – had met in one of the small conference rooms to watch. While eating chicken supplied by Minion Leroy Jenkins, so, Enigo said, makes them himself with a program he manually puts into the replicators. For 20 minutes, they munched on hot wings and watched as a perky Vandorin vixen took them on a 3D holographic tour of a happy family center with beautiful plazas and manicured gardens, and labs where anyone was free to create and experiment. Doall found herself agreeing with Guy that it was a paradise.

Enigo was not so impressed and made his opinion known with derisive snots and sloppy lip smacking. Finally, as the vixen was about to show them the preschool, he told the computer to turn it off.

“This is bogus,” he said as the hologram retreated into a two-dimensional image on the screen.

“It’s all marketing.”

“It’s all we could find, Enigo, and not for lack of trying,” Loreli said.

“It’s useless.”

“All right,” Doall said, trying to stop the downward spiral. “Let’s try a different angle. Do you have any ideas?”

The Chief of Security rolled his eyes. “I have a hundred ‘suggestions.’ I have scenarios on top of scenarios – none of which are any good if I have no information about their defenses, their organization – even where the headquarters is. I can’t make plans in a vacuum.”

“Which is the point,” Guy countered. “My world has been safe for over three centuries.”

Enigo finished sucking a bone and tossed it onto the pile in the center of the table with more force than was needed. “Well, it ain’t so safe now. Come on, Doc. There has to be more you can tell us.”

Guy was staring at the video, which had frozen on an idyllic neighborhood with hedgerows and upscale, cookie-cutter townhouses. “I don’t know what to tell you. I was never part of the supply line. I was a general practice doctor, and then I got the chance to go off-world to do the imposazine trials and I’ve been out doing market research ever since. I knew about my home, the hospital, a few recreational spots…but that’s it.”

“I don’t care how idyllic it is – people misbehave sometimes. Tell us about your police.”

Guy gnawed on his lip and spoke with infuriating slowness. “They…enforced laws, of course. I mean, that’s what they do right? And they’d enforce the ECSOPs. They’re probably under one now.”

“That’s new,” Doall jumped in. “Can you tell us about ECSOPs?”

“Sure, as soon as you sign non-disclosure agreements.”

“Then get us nondisclosure agreements!” Enigo yelled.

“If I could contact Corporate, I would,” Guy yelled back. “Look, I’m bending what rules I can, but when my tour is done, I’d like to go home.”

Enigo slammed both hands against the table and leaned across it. “If we don’t succeed, you might not have a home to go to!”

The doctor did the same. “I know that! Everything on my world is dependent on replicators!”

“Gentlemen,” Loreli’s smooth, melodious voice nonetheless cut through their anger, and they looked toward her, embarrassed, then wilted back into their seats, muttering apologies.

The doctor pressed his thumb against his lip, then examined the blood on it. “I must have bitten my mouth, he said.

Loreli set a comforting hand on his arm. “Why don’t you tend to that and get some rest. I think we’ve gotten as far as we can this evening.”

She smiled reassuringly until he left, then turned to the others. “I think we should assume that Guy simply cannot reveal the secrets of his world. There were rumors among xenologists that anyone leaving the Filedise system is put under mental conditioning. He may not even be aware of it.”

“Okay. Now, we’re talking,” Enigo said, and he cracked his knuckles. “Let’s break his conditioning!”

“Enigo!” Loreli reproved.

“You got a better idea?”

Loreli and Enigo looked at Doall expectantly.

She sighed. Yep. Just like high school.