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Nightingale

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At the start of this story, we meet Dexia Scarrow, a soldier on Sky's Edge. Recently, a ceasefire has been declared on the planet, halting the war. She has been summoned by Tomas Martinez, a well known officer who has recently prosecuted an infamous interrogator, Tillman Kessler. Although Kessler has been caught, Martinez is not satisfied. He wants to capture Colonel Brandon Jax, whom Kessler had worked for. Dexia is one of the people Martinez has summoned for his team to carry this out. The others are Ingrid Sollis, an expert at bypassing security doors, Salvatore Nicolosi, an expert at removing people from reefersleep units, and Norbert, Martinez's slow-witted but competent bodyguard. Dexia was invited due to her combat experience. Martinez promises a vast reward in return for successfully bringing Jax in alive. Everyone agrees and the team sets off a few days later. When selecting weapons, Scarrow and Sollis are surprised by the fact that Norbert is able to spot the most advanced weapon in Martinez's arsenal and take it.

On the way, Martinez reveals that the ship Jax is hiding on is the Nightingale, a medical ship accessible to both sides during the war. The team are unsettled as it is supposed to have been destroyed, causing some tension between them and Martinez. Still, they continue with the operation. At first, it all goes well, but they start to run into obstacles when their maps don't correspond with the ship's layout. They are also disturbed by the fact that far more of the ship's medical systems are active than would be expected. Eventually, they have to swim through a tank of nutrient fluid which is supporting massive cultures of skin. Machines are harvesting a lot of it, far more than they would have needed for routine testing. At the other end, Nicolosi opens fire on the machines as they notice him. His plasma cannon explodes and wounds him, so the rest of the team fire on the robots. After blasting the door open, they get to the other side, but Martinez is taken down. He reveals that Norbert is in fact Martinez (his inability to form sentences is explained by injuries he sustained during the war. The rest of his brain is still intact). They leave the other Martinez (who is in fact "Quinlan", a stand-in for Martinez). The Nightingale then sends a swarm of robots that incapacitate the team.

Dexia awakens a few hours later in a medical bay, where she speaks to the Nightingale. It permits her to see Jax, whom it will then kill and allow Dexia and the team to take with them. It insists there is no catch and takes her to Jax, whom it has turned into a massive living monument. Jax reveals to Dexia the ship's intentions: it was unable to reconcile itself with the fact that the people it was healing would be returned to the war. As such, it left Sky's Edge and killed everyone on board. It was about to kill Jax, but decided to turn him into a war monument to stop the fighting. It has now decided, however, to replace Jax with Martinez's team, whom she turns into one massive entity, consisting of all five people joined together. Back on Sky's Edge, nobody is able to reverse the procedure; the linkages between them are too complex. The Nightingale has also disappeared. The war is over and the characters are now celebrities, but they have suffered intense psychological damage from the procedure.

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