Spoiler: Chapter 21: end of book 1 He was over halfway towards his sister when she looked up from her prism and gave another commanding yell. "EVERYONE! HERE! NOW!" Lufkal made to cover the remining distance between them as quickly as he could. He kept his expression blank as he arrived in front of her. From the way her left hand was clenched into a fist, to the sharp angles drawn by her brow, she radiated an intense frustration and looked ready to explode at the slightest provocation. She did not speak again until the rest of the team had gathered around her, acknowledging the presence of each arrival with an irritable stare. "Are you ready!?" She stated harshly to whoever she was calling. Judging from the quick nod she gave seconds later the person must have said yes. She then took a few steps back while gesturing for everyone to stay in place. After which she directed her prism towards the empty space between them – its light converging on a single point. The sharp silver beam formed a garbled swirl of silver lines as it approached its destination – a familiar face gradually materializing from the storm of light. "Hello, SRT." The large projection of Jaas' head boomed. "Let me first apologize for the less than ideal conditions…" The anger his sister undoubtedly felt appeared somewhat justified now. From the Telniran’s voice alone it sounded as if he really didn’t care about the ordeal he and his team had to endure; but the crease of concern topping his face told a different story. "Is that what your idea of a clean race was?" Izi spat venomously at the floating projection, interrupting Jaas’ apology. "Of course not. Having the city’s local thugs running around does not help any part of my operations." Jaas replied indignantly, shifting its luminous gaze towards Izi. "Well you seemed awfully prepared for something of that scale to happen." Izi pressed. "Don't play stupid. You all know as well as I do that you always need a backup plan in this business. Especially when it comes to what I have to manage over the course of a race – which is quite a bit more than what you probably think." Jaas' fiery retort boomed through the hold. "That being said, I had made additional preparations for tonight's race." Jaas said coldly, his barbels bristling. Lufkal's eyes narrowed as the hold was filled with the collective exclamations of shock that erupted through the hold. His lack of energy the only thing stopping his own outburst. "There's been rumours flying around in my company of someone trying to shut us down. There was no solid proof, but I was hearing it enough to warrant extra care." "So you were scared of something, but didn't let any of us know?" Astraka snapped hoarsely. "Like I said, all I had to go on at the time were rumours. But after seeing what these mercs actually tried to do, those rumours are starting to look like facts. Which brings me to my other reason for calling." Jaas' stated, the hardness in his voice reflected in the piercing stare of the scorning hologram. "I'm cracking down on sponsors, new entrants, and new hires until this is figured out. You’ll have to clear your next and future sponsors with me much further in advance of a race. And anyone new you want to hire will have to be screened by me first. All existing team members are exempt from this, but are all suspects in this investigation, especially anyone who has only joined in the last two months…" As Jaas continued to speak he swept his narrowed gaze across the assembled team. Lufkal followed the head’s progression, meeting its stare with a fierce glare of his own when it turned to him. He continued to follow its gaze as it moved on, an odd feeling dropping through his stomach as the floating head's cold eyes lingered on Mina. "…and yes you'll still be getting paid." Jaas added agitatedly, the hologram briefly returning its gaze to the team at large before Lufkal found himself the target of its silver gaze once more. "This fiasco aside, it was a good race. You've probably made yourself a few fans, Swift.” Jaas’ smirked. “Now if you'll excuse me. I have pilots who need their release secured, and team extractions to set up." As soon as he had finished, the Hologram disappeared, leaving the image of Jaas final frown burning into Lufkal's retinas. Lufkal remained in place as his teammates broke apart, returning to where they had been before Astraka had called them over. "I'm watching you Mina." Izi suddenly exclaimed with an unprecedented harshness as she passed by. "Excuse me!?" Mina replied incredulously. Lufkal's expression mirroring her tone as he turned to face the engineer. "To be fair, I think everyone here noticed the way Jaas looked at her." Alvens said with an unusual coldness. "I get one strange look and suddenly I can't be trusted?" Mina snapped back. "Arguably convenient contacts." Grauf stated as emotionless as ever as he walked by, wearing an expression that exposed the suspicion he had not added to his words. "Exactly." Izi said with a raised voice, stepping closer to an increasingly flustered Mina. You come in from some freak show salvaging group and just happened to know someone who sponsors races, someone to supply us with parts to make something that could almost outrun interceptors, and someone who could get us out of harms way. Not to mention the luxurious choice of housing." She added, jabbing a glowing red finger at Mina with each accusation. Lufkal's mind raced as the argument escalated into a shouting match that showed no signs of slowing down. Being a Harvester, while not directly involved in parts salvage, would no doubt have left her with an idea of where to look for good scrap. And it wasn’t hard to believe that someone she knew from her past work or education could have owned a place in Allegra. Similarly, if her contact with their sponsor for the race had arisen from her days a Harvester it wouldn’t make much sense for them to want to shut down the races – he flexed each of his mechanical fingers in turn, feeling the mechanical internals at work – after all, they typically benefitted from them. And while knowing one of the few ships that they could actually leave on was plenty convenient, it seemed plausible given her past. He searched Mina’s distraught face for anything out of place, but between his tiredness and her obvious distress, he could see nothing but genuine anger and fear. "If anything now I'm more suspicious” Izi spat, circuits pulsing like the X-2's diagnostics panel. A solitary crimson tear slipped solemnly down Mina's face as a look of defeat flowed through her body language. A flare of emotion shot through his core as Izi continued to lay into Mina with poorly thought out accusations. Each one adding fuel to his building exasperation until it burst forth and he launched himself into the fray. "Hello?! you do realize you're implying the only reason we even still exist as a team – who already had a career – threw everything away to do what? Stop Jaas' little racing league?" He shouted at Izi, making sure to display the metallic black surface of his prosthetics. "I feel like it'sss more than a little racing league that Jaasss iss afraid of." Sevyr hissed suddenly. "Even if that'sss the cassse; it doesssn't make sssenssse for Mina to be involved. Lufkal’sss right without her, the team would have disssbanded when he crassshed.” Vyssr snapped back at his twin'. Out of the corner of his eye, Lufkal saw Ved try to intervene in the proceedings but his voice was drowned out but by the increasingly loud shouts. Part of him wished he had kept quiet like Tik-Shud, who was working at a frantic pace as if he was trying to drown out the ruckus with work. But the rest was convinced that he should spend every bit of his remaining energy defending his position. "ENOUGH!" Astraka's shrill scream commanded, her tangible fury instantly silencing the bickering. "Need I remind you that we're a team. And that many of you know what happens when teams start tearing each other apart." She stated fiercely, directing her fiery gaze at Alvens, Izi, and the twins in turn. "Now get some rest or get to work. This conversation is finished!" Utterly terrified by his sister's mood – though he couldn't help but feel a little pride – he stood frozen in place until his sister had stepped over to a nearby table and return to her prism. Only then did he let go of his held breath. He then turned to Mina and waited for everyone else to drift back to their stations. A trembling smile appeared as they locked eyes once again – a silent understanding passing between them. After gently Squeezing her wiry metallic hands in the cold surface of his own prosthetics he returned back to where he had first woken up. Finally, it was time to get some rest.