Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 22, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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And finally we pick up another old thread, spun out between Arcs one and two.

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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Next
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Chapter 22
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Otto was confused.

It was a couple days in and he had found what Otto could only assume was the Operator's forum. For the most part the users of this forum only seemed to concern themselves with little personal code packages and what were essentially games. The games were primitive in scope, although they served a purpose similar to the tower defense game Otto had used to get the others primed on self defense.

But most of the conversations were about the people and places around this giant Megacity. It was the closest thing he had seen to a general forum for passing the time.

Aurula was currently in the sonic shower giving herself a clean up. Matchka was fiddling with with Otto’s disguise. The way Daniel was moving around had revealed some sort of bug with the facial expressions the Prason face was supposed to be sharing. As for the brothers, they were out with that Kraltnin the others had found a couple days ago. Tank and Minmint were also exploring with the group.

So he filled his time trying to get familiar with how the city worked. The Oolseck station was a nice little primer, but it was still a vastly different experience. Messing with the dataspace in Oolseck 7 was like driving in a small town, there might be a couple busy roads in the middle of the town but for the most part, it was a boring experience. The dataspace in The Peaks was like going from driving in that small town to jumping into a car, visiting the Big city and discovering they drove on the other side of the road.

But it was up to him to learn how to drive, so that's what he was doing. If only he had some idea of whether he was doing it right. Otto was pretty sure he’d get flattened if he turned down the wrong road.

Otto couldn't shake the feeling that he was missing something.

“Oottoooooo-”

He pulled back from the dataspace and opened his eyes. Stacey lay across the edge of the bowl he'd settled himself into.

As soon as they made eye contact Stacey continued her complaining. “Otto, I'm so bored!” The high nasal pitch of her voice had to be on purpose.

He opened his mouth to respond, then an idea hit him almost with a physical shock. “Shit, I've been absent minded, haven't I?”

Stacey blinked at him. “Yes?”

“Join on me in dataspace.”

“Uhh… Okay.”

Her avatar, a copy of her own true form floated before Otto. “First you should revert to the default avatar, that one can draw attention.”

“If you say so…” a couple moments later she had shrunk to the default black orb. “Does it have to be this?”

“No, but you certainly can't look Human.”

“Hmmm.”

“Anyways, follow my lead Stacey.”

Without waiting for an answer, Otto's avatar took off through the virtual space. He didn't go so fast that Stacey couldn't follow, she chased him, her curiosity piqued.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Somewhere relevant to your interests,” Otto replied vaguely.

“You’re not going to just tell me?”

“Nope! That’s not how surprises work.”

It didn’t take them long to start bouncing through the forums Otto previously browsed through. “Pretty sure it’s in here somewhere…” he said more to himself as he sifted through the various icons and signposts. Stacey’s awareness remained close, waiting for Otto to find whatever it was.

“Ah, there we go,” Otto told her as he found the forum he’d been looking for.

“Drone technician forum,” Otto explained as he turned his attention back to Stacey.

“Oh, when did you find this?” She said, her voice high with surprise and delight.

Matchka had given Otto some allowance for public use and access to public forums required it. He made the deposit for his own access. Stacey had an allowance as well and followed suit.

It opened up to a virtual space simply full of simulated workshops and holographic classrooms. As in, they were literally presented with a large spinning display of various public shops and classes, asking them to join. This reminded Otto of all the video aggregate sites he’d seen back on the internet.

“Pick a room, any room,” he laughed.

“Oh man, I don’t know where to start,” Stacey gushed.

“I need a distraction,” Otto mused. “A bit stalled on my own stuff, you see any on drone control?”

“Let’s try this one!” Stacey exclaimed, tugging Otto to one of the classrooms.

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Latte
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“You up Latte?” Nitita warbled from upstairs in his high pitched voice. Even yelling, his voice lacked the usual energy.

“Yeeeesss,” she called up, not bothering to disguise her annoyance. She finished winding her black hair into the usual bun and snapped the hair tie into place. The last touch in place, she stood up from the chair in front of her mirror and headed for the door.
Latte took the shallow steps two at a time as she pelted up the stairs.

The long body of the yellow brown Kashto was splayed out on the table, his head next to the bowl of crunchies. He was facing the wall, still depressed at having lost his job.

She plopped down across from him at the small table. She reached next to his head and grabbed a bunch of the hard shelled meal balls. She hadn’t stopped complaining until he found something a bit nicer to each for breakfast and these had just qualified. Tossing a few in her mouth, Latte crunched loudly as she ate.

She snapped her fingers twice. A moment later a drone arrived with a glass of green bug juice which she chugged greedily. Nitita slowly rolled to the side, turning his head to look at the bowl. He reached up with a hand and shoveled one of the balls into his mouth. He crunched quietly and slowly.

“Oh come on,” Latte complained. “Life goes on, go find another job!”

“But he was a friend,” Nitita whined, his wide brown nose twitching as he scented the air. “...I’d feel better if you slept with me.”

“We’ve talked about this!” Latte said sharply. “Ew. No. You’re like, my step dad, and I’m a Human, not a Kashto.”

“So you remind me,” the Kashto said with a sigh.

“And besides, were you really friends? You both screamed constantly each other, he’s the only Kraltnin I’ve ever heard scream and I bet it was your fault,” she accused.

Another long in drawn breath then slow dramatic sigh followed the accusation. It wouldn't work of course. She still remembered seeing Nitita actually grieve, right now he was just trying to earn himself her pity.

She knew they were all about fun in bed with whoever would say yes, but it was annoying that he would keep asking after she said no. At least he didn’t push any further than that. Latte polished off the rest of her drink and grabbed a few more crunchies, stuffing them into the pocket of her jacket.

And even if by some miracle she did say yes, she wouldn’t do it during the day! Nitita had worked really hard to get her into public education. “I’m going to school!” she told him with a purposefully cheerful voice.

“Have a good day,” he sighed onto the table, rolling his head the other way again. Once he was looking away she allowed herself a smile. It was exasperating seeing him pout like this, but it was funny at the same time. Not that she'd admit it, that would only encourage the guy.

This was pretty normal as far as she could tell. Kashto were only fertile for like, one month out of ten. But the rest of the time they were constantly going at it, males and females alike. And the stronger they smelled, the more… successful(?) they were. She wasn’t sure, but Latte sure knew most of the Kashto at her school were constantly trying to sleep with her. She wasn’t sure if it was because of how she smelled or if it was because she was Human. They’d made it clear there was a very strong rumor about Humans ‘going forever’.

Latte shivered at the thought. Kashto smelled bad enough normally. She didn’t want a whiff of them when they were all sweaty.

Latte wondered for a moment if they were the type to actually sweat. She didn’t care to find out. She didn’t wanna be near them when they were cool and comfortable, Latte didn’t want to explore any differences.

Well, at least Nitita hadn't abused the ability to just command her. Latte rubbed the grey band on her neck. If the Kashto felt like giving her an order then there would be nothing she could do. He may be a typical Kashto pervert, but he wasn't a bad person.

Latte snatched her skateboard from the wall next to the entrance and headed out to the street.

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Mike
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He slammed his hand on the cement wall, leaning in close to the black bird. Opposite him, Daniel mirrored him almost perfectly. They were getting a handle on the Prason suits. Except for the tails, they kept forgetting the tails were there.

Atlatal caught up, taking a spot between the brothers, his tail dragging on the ground, signalling his fatigue.

“I don’t have it!” the Vep complained. “I told you I’m poor!”

After taking a moment to gather himself, Atlatal cut the black bird off. “We wouldn't have had to go this far if you had just remained in place. I told you these Prason were surprisingly fit.”

The Vep just squawked an angry, nervous noise at the Kraltin.

“Because you ran, we never got to the part where I’m willing to forgive your debt!”

Until that moment he’d been shivering, he froze as Atlatal’s words sunk in. He’d hidden his head half under his wings, an eye now peeked out. “Really?”

“If you can answer a question that is. As a gesture of goodwill,” Atlatal continued. “Just for the chase, I’ll forgive, hmmm, ten percent just for the scare.”

“Really?”

“You know I’m not a big name, but my word is good when I give it.”

The Vep dropped his wings, shaking out the ruffled feathers. “Wha- what is is you need?”

“I’m trying to get in touch with Red Tail, I need leads.”

His feathers shrunk flat in a fear reflex. “I uh… I would! I would tell you if I knew, but I don’t know!”

Mike leaned his ugly face in closer to the bird. The bird flinched in fear as the scary thug pushed further into his comfort zone.

“I really don’t know!”

“It’s okay, I believe this one.”

“‘Kay,” Mike responded with his dumb sounding fake accent. He leaned back and Daniel stepped back as well to give the bird his space.

“Te-ten percent?”

“Yes, but remember it would have been more if you hadn't run on first sight.”

The Veprutasian sighed, “You scared me!”

“The prospect of paying your obligations scares you,” Atlatal laughed, “see you in… 24 days.”

“Ye-yes, I will see you then.”

Tank finally caught up with them as the bird ran away. He had arrived at a comfortable saunter. After seeing them rush off the big Kraltnin had decided to walk.

“Yer sure he didn't know nuthin’?” Daniel asked curiously.

“For the chance to pay off his debt?”Atlatal responded. “I would have been telling him to stop and breath before starting over. That man would have tried to tell me everything in a rush.”

That sounded suspicious to Mike. His eyes narrowed and Atlatal's head bobbed away slightly as the Kraltnin noticed. “How much does he owe you?” Mike asked suspiciously.

“Well, considering his monthly subscription to my danger map, and realizing that he's been a client of mine for-.”

“Monthly subscription? Are you rippin’ him off?”

“Ripping? Are you suggesting that I might be taking advantage of him? He is a loyal client and my rates are good!”

“Your rates are 'good’ enough to put him in the hole,” Mike argued. “You just gonna let him rack up debt?”

That made the disguised Grey freeze for a moment. “Well… yes, that's how it works here. Judging by your figures of speech you are a homeworlder of some sort. Well, you are some distance from that home now Karkantantar runs on debts and bribes,” The Kraltnin didn't seem the slightest bit bothered. “I forgive lots of his debt though for favours like information gathering. My rates are quite good for what I do as well.”

“That's bullshit,” Mike swore.

“What are you two,” Atlatal asked, changing the subject. “I thought you were Gerlen at first but I've clearly guessed the wrong colour.”

“You cannot tell?” Tank asked, his voice tinted with amusement.

He looked at Tank, then at Mike and Daniel. “Oh, you're both Humans. The only people I see run like that are modified or they are Human.”

“Are Humans common here?” Mike asked, now unsure.

“There are a handful…” Atlatal’s head tilted. “Have you seen Strider yet?”

“Uh, no, can't say that I have,” Mike replied.

The White began walking, leaving the little side street they had found themselves in. “Oh! Well keep an eye on the world above. You never know when you will see him running between the ledges and walkways where no one can follow. It's very impressive!”

“Don't think I'm done talkin’ 'bout that subscription crap!” Mike told the Kraltnin, following close behind.

“Yes, it's always a sight to witness Strider on one of his runs, wonder when we'll see him next.”

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Chase
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He wanted to run.

Chase’s body was itching to move and his mind was rebelling in the midst of this boredom.

Sure, he had limited dataspace access, but he'd never held much interest in the internet back home. Seeing the prices they slapped on the shows in their video aggregate sites didn't do him much good when he realized what his 'allowance’ was.

The little apartment they had made for him was nice enough, a main living room, tiny kitchen and an actual separate bedroom. It even had a proper Human sized bed. Chase would have slept pretty good, if he wasn't worried about his friends.

The room itself had tones of earthy grey, deep blue and soft purple. The aesthetic was bare and empty. It was like the makers didn’t want there to be things to trip over and get caught on. He could see lots of little alcoves and even ridges and bars set into the ceiling that were perfect for hanging things. It made sense when he though of the Veprutasians. Wings meant things to hit and get caught on. But they loved bright shiny things. The birds had made it easy to tuck decorations into spots that were hard to hit and also made lots of hanging space to display stuff on the ceiling.

He was laying awkwardly across a seat in his living room when the enforced peace was broken. A ping sounded in the room and the door slid open. An unfamiliar Vep with a bulky security harness stepped through the door. “Strider? I will have you follow me.”

He almost leapt off the chair, so excited by the prospect of leaving 'his’ room. “I'm ready to go,” Chase responded.

The Vep nodded and turned, leading the way out. Crawk's base had looked kinda what Chase imagined old police stations looked like. This station finally lived up to that sci-fi movie feeling he'd been wondering about. The Veprutasians liked smooth walls and soft white lighting. The whole station was connected by hallways, each room with its own automatic sliding door.

Chase flinched as his implant gave him a tweak of pain behind the eyeballs. He’d momentarily considered just booking it and seeing if he could leave the escort behind.

They passed a few Ytheon and a couple other Veprutasian officers as they went. The Ytheon officers wore actual jackets. The Veps typically had a broad patch of cloth covering their chest, a part of the harness they wore.

His escort stopped next to another of the many doors, waving at it with his left wing. “The commissioner will see you now Strider.”

The door slid open without a sound and Chase stepped through.

Kruent sat, perched on a stool in the middle of a technological dais. He was raised up in the room with accessories and devices hemming him in. He was above Chase when the Human stepped in, leaning against a seat back separate from the stool rising up from the ground. The seat back connected to the wall behind him. Chase was pretty sure there was a line running to the back of Kruent’s head built into the top of that seat. Before the Kraltnin was a pair of armrests and a single display.

Chase could feel a hum of power from the back wall.

The office was extremely bare as well. It was essentially a box surrounding the old birds ‘desk’. The only features on the grey,blue and purple banded walls were the holes from which the pieces of his array extended from.

The Veprutasian looming over him opened his eyes and looked down on Chase. “Welcome to my office,” he waved a wing and the display in front of him winked out of sight. The dais lowered and Chase found himself at eye level with the sitting Veprutasian. “Enjoyed your rest thus far?”

“No,” Chase replied, his tone flat. “I’m going out of my mind.”

“Hah,” the Vep barked a laugh. “I suppose ‘Strider’ would not do well when unable to move. Records on Humans also suggest your race does not do well in isolation.”

Chase crossed his arms and stared at the bird. “What do you want of me?”

“You’re going to be an agent of mine, of course,” Kruent began. “I will put that Human endurance of yours to use chasing down my chosen targets.”

“I won’t chase Crawk for you, or anyone else who was with him.”

“Yes, we’ve spoken about this,” The bird clacked his beak. “That is still true for now. Crawk is a much more stable element, as opposed to the problems currently moving into my city.”

Slightly mollified, Chase kept quiet.

“We have dug through the harness and equipment you acquired through means I’m curious to unravel, but I see no need to keep it from your possession,” he waved to Chase’s right and another square gap opened up.

A floating tray with a small orange glowing drive floated out, his harness, suit and glasses set neatly on top. Next to all that also sat a couple holsters holding some strange bars that looked like square, blunt knives. The harness also had a backpack of some sort attached to it, a smooth square device with a relatively slim profile.

“All your gear has been scrubbed from outside influence. My own technician would like to meet the designer and give him a good round of pecks,” Kruent clicked his beak again, he was probably amused. “But now you will answer to my own operator and have our support.”

Kruent gestured again and a second slot opened in the wall. Out floated a drone, roughly the size of a man’s torso with similar dark grey, blue and purple colouring to the station. It had a rectangular body, although the edges were rounded. Along the sides he could see a pair of cylinders with rounded ends that couldn’t be anything other than guns. On the top of the drone towards the front he could see a rounded bump, a lens very much like the old security cameras back at home.

“This support unit will keep an eye on you and is also fully capable of keeping up with you in the process of completing your missions,” Kruent said with a row of taps from his talons on his right armrest.

“Wait, why didn’t you ever use this on me?” Chase asked with reasonable confusion. “Utrach would have loved this, right?”

“You were disruptive, but not destructive, and this is a military asset,” Kruent replied, his voice sharp. “We have bigger problems than you ever were, so while Utrach’s request for greater support was denied, mine was not. The plasma projectors have been replaced with pulse guns however. The hands are also equipped with stunners, similarly to those,” Kruent waved at the two odd knife shaped objects on the table. Chase gave them another look. He was pretty sure they’d strap to his thighs. The holsters were pretty sleek, they didn’t look like they would interfere with his running.

Kruent hadn’t told Chase he could touch anything, so he didn’t. The old bird shook his feathers and waved at the wall. “Aside from the stunners and the drone, the rest of your gear will be sent to your room,” The drone and the floating carrier full of gear retreated back into the wall. “You will also have an infotab in your room waiting for you. Inspect it, familiarize yourself with the contents, be ready in two days.”

Seeming done, Kruent gesture with his wings in an unmistakable ‘shoo-shoo’ gesture.

Chase didn’t want to go, he resisted the unspoken command and the nerves around his eyes and forehead flared to life. A warning shot for not obeying the suggestion. Reflexively, his head pulled down and to the left as the pain washed over him.

The Vep watched for a couple moments before acting. “You have a question, you have my permission,” Kruent offered, allowing Chase a respite, “What is it you want?”

“Do, *huff*, is there *-ah* somewhere I can run?” Chase asked between breaths.

“Run?”

“I’m going stir crazy. I need to move my body or I’m going to go off the deep end!”

“I am not allowing you out of the station.”

“You don’t have anything like an obstacle course or at least a running track? Man, even a big hallway without much traffic will do!”

Kruent turned his head sideways. His beak facing to Chase’s right, he regarded the Human with a single golden eye. “I believe there is a stadium nearby, I will have someone check for other options. I do prefer to have you in top mental condition as well. Now, I believe we are done. You are dismissed.”

Chase nodded and turned around without hesitation. He didn’t want to suffer another punishment headache.

-----
Otto
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A spike of pain throbbed behind his eyes as Otto force disconnected himself.

He’d started to ‘retreat’ as soon as he could see the tracers react to him. That was one important thing he’d picked up on Oolseck 7. The understanding of how to spot when the AI was realizing there was someone trying to skirt the rules. Scans would increase in quantity and intensity as Otto kept digging into a system. The AI would go hunting for him and pull other nodes in to help it hunt.

It had almost caught him just now. And escaping wasn’t so simple as just unplugging a network cable. Exploring dataspace was ‘extending’ yourself outwards. Snapping back all at once sucked.

Otto pinched his forehead as the pain continued to throb.

Him and Stacey both were seated at the table. While he massaged the bridge of his nose Stacey sighed and opened her eyes. She leaned forward over the table with her arms outstretched and looked at Otto. “You okay?” she asked.

*Sigh* Yeah, just got nipped, had to cut my connection.”

“Didn’t you say that hurts a lot?”

“It can, depends on how deep you are,” Otto explained. “I’ll be fine in a little while…” he looked at Stacey. She’d been excited earlier about being able to browse the forum. Now she looked bummed out. “What’s wrong? Not able to find anything interesting?”

“Nah, that’s not it…” she half sighed and half spoke, turning her head to look blankly at the wall. “It’s just… it reminded me of university, reminded me of home.”

“Ah…” Otto replied, not knowing how to reply to that. He didn’t quite share the sentiment.

“If I could go home right now, I would do it in an instant,” Stacey admitted. “Mike would too, he told me so.”

Otto didn’t really have anything to say. He had very few fond memories of home.

“I imagine Daniel kinda likes being out in space more,” Stacey mused. “He’s been enjoying the adventure I think…”

“...”

“I guess most of the group is okay with wandering around in space like this…” Stacey’s head turned so she could look him in the eyes again. “I wonder though, I know most of us have a reason to be out here… but have you asked Aurula if she wants to go home?”

The question hit Otto like a splash of cold water. “If she wants to go… home?” Otto parroted.

“I thought not,” Stacey said with another sigh. “I can’t blame you, we’ve all been really distracted. You should really ask her though, she’s the most likely to have a home to return to.”

Otto’s mouth had fallen open as he tried to think up something to say, but no words arrived and he just shut his mouth rather than look like a fish. They still needed her, she was their navigator and pilot. And her company was invaluable to Otto. He’d also never been able to spend so much time with someone as affectionate and demanding for his attention as Aurula before. He didn’t want to give it up… Give her up.

A ping woke them from their reverie.

“Otto,” Tsury sent over dataspace. “I need your help in the hotel lobby…” she sounded distinctly uncomfortable.

Otto lurched to his feet, pushing back the stool he’d been sitting on. “Tsury’s calling from the lobby, I’ll be right back.

“What? Wait-” Stacey wasn’t able to finish what she was saying as he exited the room. Several doors down the hallway and Otto was upon the Gravity lifts. This was a nice piece of sci-fi, and he could appreciate the lack of moving parts making life easy for maintenance. There were two tubes, one would lift a person to the higher floors, the other would drop you down. Regular bars as horizontal handholds allowed Otto to pull himself down faster.

It wasn’t long until he’d pulled himself down to ‘ground level’.

“I’m not interested in sausage?” Tsury’s voice responded to a statement Otto hadn’t heard, but could easily guess at. She sounded confused and stressed.

“But your aroma is heavenly!” a voice replied. “If you’re not hungry I would be more than happy to allow you to enjoy the ride!”

“I told you I don’t want to go anywhere!”

“Oh, it’s okay, I was only going to show you some stars!”

Otto’s heavy hand settled on the shoulder of the Grey and Brown Kashto with a purposeful thud. The grey colouring ran up the Kashto’s small tail and spine and widened out at his shoulders, giving him the appearance of having a grey hood.

The Xeno flinched as the weight of it hit him and he turned to look. His eye opened wide and Otto could clearly see the slitted pupil of the Kashto’s reddish brown eye as it took Otto in. That eye alighted on the three scars on Otto’s cheek and he physically shrunk just a little.

“Otto!” Tsury gushed, running around the Kashto and wrapping him up in a happy relieved hug. “I’m so glad you came down so quick!”

“Oh! Haha!” the Kashto laughed, clearly nervous at being caught like this. “She would be the attendant, I guess you would be the bodyguard? Ha ha?”

Otto wrapped his left arm around Tsury and pulled her around himself and further away from the Kashto. Otto then leaned in as he spoke. “Indeed, I am here to look after her, she is rather innocent and I like her that way.”

The weasel like Sapient cringed away from Otto as the Human leaned in. “I… I understand! Haha, don’t know what came over me!” He skittered away. “Sorry to have bothered!”

Otto watched the Kashto dash away. He didn’t quite run through the lobby and between the entry desk and cafeteria entrance where Tsury had been.

“He kept asking me if I wanted to exercise or eat!” Tsury complained after the guy was gone. “He wouldn’t listen to me when I told him that I already ate!” her cheeks puffed out again with annoyance. He wasn’t sure where she’d picked up that little physical tic, but it brought a smile to his face. He wasn’t going to give her a hard time about it. “He wouldn’t listen to me when I kept saying no!”

“Well, I’m happy you called me,” Otto said warmly and Tsury’s face transformed with a happy smile. “Make sure that if you run into one of them again that you don’t let them chase you into a corner where people can’t find you.”

She tilted her head, the vines making up her hair rolling as she did so, shifting the Green and orange shawl. The material rippled slightly with reflected light.

“I can see why he’d try to catch you though.”

She blinked at him. “Why would he want to catch me?”

“Because you’re cute… and you smell good.” Otto poked her on the forehead and Tsury slapped his hand away. “Ow,” she complained lightly.

“Otto?”

He turned to see Aurula coming from the cafeteria. Tsury ran over to grab Aurula’s wrists. “You missed it! The Kashto waited for you to go to the washroom to come and bug me!”

“Oh, of course he would. Those furballs are afraid of Leralin!” Aurula complained. “Still, the food is paid for, let us head back to the room,” she tilted her head while looking at Otto and leaned in to whisper. “The sooner the better, you forgot your disguise.”

“Oh shit!” Otto whispered back. “Yeah, let’s head back up!”

As a group they moved to the lifts. Tsury leading the way with a light step. Aurula followed behind, hands folded in front of her as usual. Her head jerked every so slightly in the way that birds did, but was still more graceful than Tsury overall.

Otto followed behind, a little hesitant.

At the lift Aurula turned her head to look and spoke, her tone tinged with annoyance. “Is everything well?”

“Ah, sure,” Otto replied.

She blinked at him and stepped into the lift after Tsury who was already out of sight.

As Otto let himself ‘fall’ into the lift after Aurula he couldn’t shake a simple thought. When Stacey had mentioned Aurula going home to Otto, the first thought to come to his might may not have been the best. He hadn’t thought of his time with her, or that he wanted her to remain with him.

His first thought was about who would pilot the ship.

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End Chapter
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