Original Content Bought and Sold Chapter 24, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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Writer
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Thank you to Weeble Keneeble and u/Adminscales1155 for providing the Spanish! I certainly didn’t want to rely on google translate and the help is appreciated.

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Chapter 24
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As deep as he could make his voice, go, Daniel sung, “Twinkle twinkle little star- haha, oh god that’s so-” *slap* “Ow!” he rubbed the back of his head and looked at the offender.

The deliverer of the slap to the back of the head, Stacey, glared at Daniel. “Don’t laugh, it’s very sweet!”

“*Snrk*” laughed the other brother. Mike flinched away as Stacey turned a baleful eye on him.

“Aw come on, it’s hilarious!” Mike responded, “You gotta admit!”

“She asked him to sing!” Stacey explained. “And he clearly didn’t want to, but for her he did! It’s romantic!”

The brothers barely contained their laughter, despite the threat of Stacey’s wrath hanging over them.

“Get out of here you two,” Stacey shooed them out, “let them have their moment!”

The brothers wandered off to another room of the rental quarters to pass the time. They would be waiting until Atlatal contacted them again to go moving about. Stacey looked at Tsury, the teen was currently peeking through the door to the living room.

Stacey didn’t have any trouble sneaking up on the little Hyowean. “Something wrong?” Stacey asked

Tsury flinched and turned her head, and her body, the big hedge of hair limited her peripheral vision. “N-no?” the Hyowean responded tentatively.

“Come on, leave them alone,” Stacey said with a sigh, wrapping an arm around Tsury’s shoulders to pull her away. The fuzz of her fronds tickled Stacey’s skin. There was a slight tingle, but it dissipated quickly.

Tsury’s head turned to the door, but she let Stacey pull her away.

“They look really happy,” Tsury sighed.

Stacey cringed just a little. If Tsury was interested in Otto then she might be in for a rough time. At least if Stacey’s guess and Otto’s subsequent admission were both true.

“They do,” Stacey admitted. “It would be easier to watch if Otto wasn’t so nervous though.”

Tsury looked sideways and slightly up at Stacey, her solid blue eyes glittering slightly in the light. “Otto is nervous?”

Stacey smiled softly. “Yeah, he’s awkward, but he’s trying hard. That’s why it’s cute.”

Tsury’s face had started as a blank mask when she’d first woken up, but now they easily reflected her mood. The Hyowean didn’t have a good sense of how to hide what she was feeling. Tsury clearly wasn’t sure what Stacey was talking about.

The hotel they’d chosen to stay at was a larger building for the sake of groups from offworld. They had rented two linked units with a couple bedrooms and a living room and minor kitchenette for each of the units. Otto and Aurula had claimed the other living room for themselves, although not entirely on purpose. Stacey found everyone packed into the second living room.

The young red Bellani Eeksh had been moping around since he discovered that the future he’d expected was wiped out. Right now he was sitting at the table with Matchka, Mike and Daniel. The group of them were playing cards. Tank and Minmint were occupying the bowl seat in this living room, neither of them wanting to play with the sneaky Bellani or Humans. It looked pretty tight, but Stacey dragged Tsury over so they could join the game.

As it was, they were just passing time for now.

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Gragalguk
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Oolseck 44 was a common stopover for people like them. This mining operation, located near the edge of Veprutasian space was just out of the way enough to limit the flow of civilian traffic. With less civilians came less security as well. But it wasn’t so far off the normal route that traveling here was more expensive than it was worth.

So they’d come here to recover themselves and get a proper handle on this Kashto ship. The Shallow D-... the Jolly Rodgers No.15 was perhaps the most difficult of the ships they’d snatched on their various adventures so far.

The large grey Kraltnin once known as Gragalguk watched the traffic coming in and out of the station as the twins continued the process of reconfiguring portions of the ship controls. It was bad enough doing physical contortions to deal with the ship, they didn’t need to do mental ones too.

“Why didn’t you talk me out of this ship Grey?” Rodgers asked with clear annoyance in his voice.

“I tried Rodgers, you insisted on speed over ‘convenience’,” Grey replied with exasperation. “Something about not having time to get to the other side of the station?”

“I’m still blaming you.”

“Talking to the Captain?” asked Green. “No, I’m watching the Captain,” Red replied. Green perked up with excitement and spoke up again. “Oh Captain! He’s close!” “My Captain! So close!” Red whispered back in a conspiratorial tone.

Grey eyed the adolescent Achun males. The eight limbed upstarts were up to something again. Red and Green were both names and colours. It was easier to see their true colours now, the twins had recovered quite a bit since he and Rodgers had absconded with the two codesetters. They had been pale and dirty with missing patches of fur when the twins had joined the crew.

Red Rock on High Plateau and Green Valley with Calm River. That was the names they’d given. Red and Green is what everyone used. Typical to Achun their names were also close approximations of how they appeared. Red’s upper half was various shades of reds while his underside was a mix of brown and grey earth tones. Green’s body was almost entirely shades of deep green but for a blue stripe running right down his back.

For a moment Gralgalguk considered contacting one of the B’s in the hangar. Then common sense took hold again. His dataspace capabilities were still…unstable, it would be better to see the situation in person.

“Keep one of those eyes on things while I check on BBB,” Greygalguk commanded.

Red replied quickly, “Yes Mr. Grey.” “Will do Mr. Grey,” Green followed a moment after.

The protective membrane of his inner eyelid dropped slightly with mild annoyance. The twins were clearly up to something. After a moment Grey realized the annoyance wasn’t entirely his. He climbed to his feet, getting off the crate they’d moved to the bridge so he could have something that wasn’t a carpet or a pillow to rest on. He turned and headed for the bridge exit.

A voice thundered over the comms.

“I HATE IT!” Rodgers yelled into everyone’s heads. “I HATE IT SO MUCH!”

The twins broke into peals of hissing, chittering laughter.

Meanwhile Grey twitched as a small arc of feedback zapped him through the line.

He sighed and dropped his head slightly, finally exiting the door.

He headed down the corridor straight for the main cargo bay. It was exceptionally bad today, the feedback. Idly he thumbed the plate on his chest, the purple light a clear beacon reflecting from his hand, the blinking orange light flickering quickly giving his grey flesh an odd tinge.

A couple minutes into his walk he paused at the narrow tunnel Rodgers had crawled down on all fours. He had to admit himself that it was amusing watching the tall human try his different methods of locomotion on the tunnels. On all fours, crouching low or just crawling, none of it worked in the Human’s favour. It would be awhile before Rodgers was able to make his way back into the primary corridor.

Grey moved on.

Their crew was small, that was the truth. A single Kraltnin, A… single human. Two young Achun and three Monos. At least they all had superior talents to offer.

His mood settled out as Grey increased the distance.

He arrived at the larger door to the main cargo bay. With a pulse of a simple command over dataspace it slid upwards and out of the way. The contents of the cargo bay were scattered in disarray. Crates were smashed, materials was scattered and the three Monos were currently relaxing. With a quick reference of ship surveillance, Grey could see that they were actually just waking up. They had slept in for quite awhile after a long bout of sparring previous to their rest.

The three of them had enjoyed clearing the portion of the crew still on the ship when Rodgers had decided it was his.

Grey was just happy there had only been a small handful of Kashto left. The bunch who hadn’t tried to fight had decided to secure some escape capsules rather than get taken for a ride. It was the fight on the dock that had been the real danger. The three Monos warriors were in their element during that fight.

And Warriors is what they were. No simple soldiers these three. Instead they were simpler warriors. They lived for the fight, not for the good of a greater power. Or at least that’s how it would have been before. The three seemed to have happily thrown their lot in with Rodgers. Although Rodgers was certain to give them plenty of opportunities to test themselves…

Grey put it out of his mind.

Big was climbing to his feet, a short trip to be sure. The Monos was more wide than he was tall. A meatball of a person.

Bad had gathered some rations from one of the many crates the twins had catalogued before doing anything else. Now he was in the process of tidily laying out the crates to serve as chairs and table. As always he moved quietly and with surprising grace contrary to what one expected out of typical Monos.

To Grey’s relief, Beautiful was still asleep and laying face down, all six limbs splayed wide on the canvas the three Monos had laid out on the floor. Grey could do without seeing the toothy underbite any day. And that was just the first part one couldn’t help but notice.

Bad dropped another box next to the larger flat crate serving as the ‘table’.

Grey sat down. “Thank you Bad. Found food supplies for everyone well enough?”

Bad looked at Grey while carrying the last box. The Monos shook his head in an affirmative. He then paused for a moment and waved his middle left hand, shaking it slightly and wiggling his fingers.

“Yes, the twins have bundled up their meal elsewhere, I’m not worried about them.”

Bad set the box down and tapped on his left eye.

“The Captain will be along shortly, He chose to go to the waste disposal closest to the bridge.”

The Monos grunted and walked off to start gathering food. There were drones in the bay, but the things were currently not under their control. Bad returned with a smaller crate he’d used to hold everything in a controlled manner and began taking out small containers each filled with portions of food and water for five.

The three had a Warrior's vow of silence. As such, they hadn't been heard speaking. Not that unusual a concept really. But mentally inhabiting shared space like they did, the brothers had risen to new heights of cooperation and mutual understanding.

Big wandered around the table until he found the short boxes and settled himself to wait. A big stretch opened his maw wide, showing off canines and molars to great effect. The three of them sat in silence as they waited.

Grey was still partially in dataspace, keeping tabs on the information streaming in through the ship sensors. For all that it had a wealth of unfortunate characteristics, Kashto ships always had disproportionately good sensor suites. It gave him plenty of leeway to watch the nearby station and listen in on public communications.

Bad finished what he was doing and started wandering over to Beautiful. Before the Monos could make it a blur of red and green motion burst into the cargo bay. The twins chittered with gleeful terror.

“So close!” “So mad!” The Achun squealed as they skittered into the large room. Rodgers was only a few steps behind them. They were lucky Rodger’s malfunctioning bioimplant had failed to keep him in prime form. A couple years ago they wouldn’t have stood a chance at escaping.

"Vengan de vuelta; Pequeñas Mierdas!" Rodgers roared with anger. His tan skin had a sheen of sweat and his curly black hair was partially held back by a wide strand of webbing. The man’s eye patch had flipped up, revealing the steady purple light and blinking orange light embedded in his left eye socket. His translator was malfunctioning again.

Grey understood previous attempts at the man’s sensor and communication suites had yielded much worse results than the occasional translator disconnection. But the techs needed those implants wired into the translators, so they’d tried again and again until Rodgers had worked out. They had gone through quite a few Humans before they arrived at Grey’s current captain.

The Kraltnin sighed as the two little Achun skittered around behind Bad who had paused in surprise. They were faster in a sprint, but certainly didn’t have the endurance. Grey could clearly hear them gasping air.

“What do you intend to do Rodgers?” Grey asked.

"Les voy a sacar la mierda hasta que queden blancos!" Rodgers yelled angrily.

Grey had to restrain the a twitch of his tail, imagining the result of Rodgers’ threat.

“No my Captain!” “Please my Captain!” they begged.

Bad took matters into his own hands. He dropped his top arms to the ground and reached back with deceptive speed and dexterity to snatch the twins. His hands around the joint between thorax and abdomen he reared up to sit back on his rear legs and gave the twins synchronized chops to the centers of their heads with his first set of hands.

“Nngah!” Red complained. “Nngoh!” Green whined.

He then dropped them. The twins landed with synchronized splats, taking a moment to gather themselves before skittering up a wall and sticking near the roof. Red started, “We didn’t-” “-do anything!” Green finished.

“They’d had their punishment,” Grey informed his fuming captain.

Rodgers, hands resting on his knees, raised a hand and took aim at the twins hiding in plain sight on the roof.

“And there’s no need to throw anything at them.”

The hand flinched and dropped. His left hand rose instead, pointing at the twins, a single prosthetic digit extended. "Nunca olvidare esto!”

“Also, you’re speaking in spanish again.”

The hand dropped and Rodgers’ shoulders slumped. “Mierda!” He tapped on the translator several times, sending static through Grey’s head. The noise cleared up as quickly as it had appeared.

Rodgers turned his face to Grey, “Better?”

“Yes, although your eyepatch is out of place.”

With a long suffering sigh Rodgers reached up and settled the eyepatch back over the damaged and augmented socket, hiding the dual lights.

Grey turned an eye on the twins in response to quiet amused hissing. He didn’t need anymore trouble in the next bit if it could be avoided. Keeping the output low, Grey brought his suite online.

[Command. Overload spike. Double execute.]

The twins flinched in place and turned accusing eyes on Grey.

[Don’t push it too much, there is a limit to patience] Grey warned them without remorse.

[[... Sorry]] They apologized in unison and quietly scuttled out one of the upper corridors.

[Serves them right!] Rodgers laughed.

The mental conversation passed by in moments. Seemingly oblivious, the Captain walked over to the makeshift table and plopped down on the smallest available crate with a sigh. His good hand picked at the strands of webbing still stuck in the man's curly black hair.

Bad resumed his mission, walking over to where Beautiful still slept, blissfully unaware of the world. With a punch to the third B’s soft gut he was suddenly very aware of the world. A toneless grunt announced his arrival to the waking world. Beautiful lifted his head and looked up at Bad with clear annoyance. Bad simply met his warrior brother’s eyes.

Four arms lifted Beautiful from the ground with a sad sigh. Beautiful joined them at the table a few moments later.

The three Monos were black backs. They had silver fur on their undersides, and wore simple brown shorts to cover up their parts. They also wore matching brown vests that extended up their torso with holes for both sets of arms.

The food was much the same fare, although the recipe was for the Kashto. It had a stronger bitter taste than usual. It was balanced for Kashto physiology, so they would be wanting to find some proper rations in time. They spent their time eating in silence.

For all that the two achun were playing around, and Grey could see on surveillance that they were playing, the work on opening up the ship systems continued at a reasonable pace. The first thing to get opened up was the ship AI core. From there the twins had been able to automate much of the process.

Rodgers’ face with every one of the meal balls just scrunched up more and more. The bitter taste didn’t agree with the Human. Grey didn’t mind it, and the Monos seems quite happy. Not that it was obvious at first glance. Big wore no expression that Grey could see. Bad’s expression was always purposefully neutral. Beautiful… Grey didn’t care to look.

The meal was done and they split up. Rodgers and Grey left the B’s to their light sparring. They didn’t seem interested in any heavy hitting, just bouncing around playing tag for the time being.

The two arrived at the bridge and settled in for their mental game of cards, the twins dropping in to pass the time with them. The virtual credits were divvied, the cards dealt and the game was on.

A couple hours later had the twins broke, Rodgers fuming in annoyance and confusion and Grey quietly enjoying the glow of victory.

“You’re reading my mind!” Rodgers complained.

“No,” Grey responded, his tail twitching with barely restrained amusement. “Your tells are very clear however.”

“I’m an excellent poker player!” Rodgers exploded, standing up tall. “Been playing for years!”

“I know,” Grey told him with a chuckle.

“How do you-”

“Wait.”

Rodgers stopped and froze in place, his arms still up high. “...what?”

Grey’s attention wasn’t in the room anymore, and the Human knew him well enough to understand.

“I’m seeing something… curious.”

Grey had never closed down his connection to the sensors of the No. 15. So he didn’t miss it whenever a gravity ripple announced a new arrival. This one was exceptionally small, to the extent that most other faction ships wouldn’t even have noticed. It always made him curious when he spotted someone forced to hop around in a small shuttle, so he turned his attention to look closer.

Upon seeing the ship was when he’d told Rodgers to wait. The Captain joined him to look.

“A black and blue shuttle. Looks kinda star trekky with the wings…”

“Nacelles,” Grey corrected him, “and that is a rare find indeed.”

“What?” Rodgers asked with mild confusion. “It’s just a shuttle.”

“No. That is a shuttle belonging to the Superior. That should not be here. This station is too… unimportant. Twins, how is the array and descrambler?”

“All good,” “All finished,” The two of them replied, activating the system. If the shuttle decided to talk to the station using regular means, Grey wanted to hear it.

They waited for a couple minutes before the shuttle arrived at the neutral zone around the station.

“Orphaned shuttle, seeking permission to dock,” was the first thing to come out.

“Orphaned shuttle, submit credentials.”

“Well, that’s interesting,” Grey remarked as he absorbed the background information submitted through the line.”

“Whatcha looking at?” Rodgers asked.

“The shuttle is crewed by rogue Gerlen if I understand what I’m seeing correctly.”

“So?”

“So!?” Grey looked at Rodgers. “This is… extremely odd! That shuttle should have a Silianiscan on board. These… hacked together credentials only show seven Gerlen!”

“Oh, whatcha gonna do?”

The station’s AI response interrupted the conversation. “Credentials denied, find berth elsewhere.”

Grey could hear the sigh just through the momentary silence.

“Understood, requesting access to public transit records to Kralt general space.”

“Access granted to limited transit records.”

Grey whipped his head back and forth between the twins. “Get a read on that, I want to see what they’re looking at!”

“Yes sir!” “Aye sir!”

Grey jumped in as well to manage the connection. There was always a chance of a public line like this being observed. It didn’t seem the Gerlen aboard that shuttle had a choice however. This just made Grey more curious.

“You thinkin’ we should chase the little shuttle?” Rodgers asked, his tone curious. “Seems like a pretty small fish.”

“Yes, a small fish,” Grey responded. “But not many realize what a Silianiscan shuttle looks like. Everyone is used to seeing the ridiculous golden city ships.”

That perked Rodgers right up. “What? That little thing?” Grey’s tail twitched with annoyance as he witness Rodgers add everything up. “Oh, I forgot what those guys were called!” Rodgers admitted. “Which means those little rogue Gerlen might lead us to some interesting salvage!”

Exactly,” Grey answered with satisfaction.

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Umbra
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The drop out of FTL was jarring, pulling him wide awake in an instance.

His instincts suspecting danger, he woke up with a rush of stimulant driving him to full awareness. This wasn’t an experience Umbra was used to. When he’d been involved in combat it had been slow and controlled. He’d only fought on his own terms.

“We’ve been interdicted,” Chugs warned over comms. “Looking for the offender right now.”

“This system is dead!” Patches sent next. “That's why we picked this route!”

Umbra stumbled into the cockpit, wearing only his pants and bandana. At the same time he arrived his mind entered the vessel space and he cast around with his own awareness, trying to spot the offender.

“I’ve found the interdiction beacon,” Chugs informed them, highlighting the object on the vessel space map.

“Any gravity waves nearby?” Umbra asked briskly.

“I’m waking the AI core,” Yin sent over the comms, forcing the Chugs to hesitated for a moment. “Don’t want to get caught sleeping.”

“We already did,” Umbra mumbled in the cockpit. Patches twitched, but settled when Umbra set his hand on the Gerlen’s shoulder. “It’s not anyone’s fault, we didn’t have any options,” Umbra admitted.

“I’m checking, but there aren’t any obvious ripples,” Chugs reported. “The interdictor is sending out too much interference, I’m going to borrow some cycles from the AI core to analyze.”

Umbra nodded, then did a mental check on the vessel space. Yin and Yang were fully conscious and in the little engine bay. Chugs and Patches were sitting in front of him of course. As he referenced the space, Trips landed in the cockpit, his head bumping into Umbra’s legs as he fell. Umbra turned and looked down at the Gerlen as Trips stumbled back to his feet, grabbing his ball cap and setting it on his head as he did so.

“Sorry,” Trips mumbled. Pockets arrived a moment later and waited a moment as the gunner seats extended from the cockpit wall. Trips took his spot with deceptive ease.

Umbra turned his attention to searching the void. As he did so the nacelles of the ship opened up to reveal the plasma lance cannons. They were short range weapons, but anything was better than nothing.

“I see it!” Patches spoke up. Umbra wasn’t surprised it was Patches who noticed, the Gerlen had the best eyes of the group. What he said next was unexpected. “Hunh, did they compromise their scatter coat?”

The ship approached slowly, coming in below, several weapon turrets revealed and trained on the little shuttle. It consisted of a central hull with two secondary flanking sections connected by a pair of torus shaped structures.

“It’s Kashto,” Pockets reported, but I don’t recognize the design on the nose.”

The two torus sections were V shaped from face on and the ship appeared to be deliberately showing the upper hull of the central section to show off the large stylized head with crossed bars underneath it. The head looked unusual, perhaps an exoskeleton? Umbra didn’t recognize it… yet it seemed familiar, something about the shape…

“What do we know about Kashto ships?” Umbra asked, turning his attention to Pockets. He didn’t want to look at the hollow spots where the eyes of the head should have been.

“Not a whole lot, Kashto ships aren’t used in direct pirate confrontations usually,” Pockets admitted. “They have excellent data suites and stealth properties, but poor weapon loadouts and durability. They are above average speed, in this case that means more than fast enough to prevent our escape.”

“So we’ll have to see what they want and hope they decide we aren’t interesting enough to hold onto,” Umbra reasoned.

“They must have chased us,” Yin complained. “There’s no reason to set up an interdiction beacon here.”

“But why would they catch us?” Yang wondered. “We’re just a little shuttle, too small to carry anything important and not heading anywhere in particular to suggest we know anything.”

“But we do know something,” Trips joined the conversation. “We know where there’s a big downed Silianiscan survey ship…”

That reduced the group of them to dead silence as the Kashto ship approached.

“They know where we came from?” Yin asked with resignation.

“That can’t be,” Yang countered. “I might be young, but even I know Silianiscan rarely go out, and never without an escort. Who would know where this shuttle actually came from?”

“Someone with a Kashto ship,” Umbra interrupted. “Is there a route out of here? Can we synchronize with the interdiction waves and ride them out?”

“Uhhh…” Trips spoke up, his voice only barely registered, he was still nervous after the events of their departure.

“You are still the best of us here,” Umbra noted. “Switch places with Chugs.”

The two of them quickly switched spots without complaint. Chugs settled into the turret and Trips got himself comfortable in the pilots seat.

“Repurposing AI cycles, I’ll see if I can work our way out,” Trips explained as he got comfortable.

Umbra nodded. If there was any advantage they had, it was that this shuttle had an extremely advanced core capable of carrying an SI, and the power system to support it.

He tried to focus on the blurred outline of the ship. Several pods had extended from the hull of the Kashto ship, six that he could see on the central section, four for the two flanking sections. As the ship approached the sensors were able to defeat the scattering coat and bring the ship into full resolution.

“Silianiscan shuttle,” a voice sent, “Surrender yourself and tell us where you came from.”

Umbra felt his blood run cold as their fears were confirmed. Yet that was the absolute last thing he wished to do. Patches turned to look at Umbra in the cockpit and Umbra shook his head in response.

“Silianiscan?” Umbra asked. “We are no servants of the Superior,” he replied.

“We know that!” came the reply, “But we wanna know where you found your shuttle!”

“How is it coming?” Umbra asked Trips, carrying on a conversation in real space in the cockpit while he talked to the pirates.

“It’s a low grade interdictor?” Trips mused, unsure but working through it. “I’m narrowing down the pattern.

“The shuttle was found abandoned on a Kraltnin planet,” Umbra explained to the Pirates. He was uncomfortable with lying, so he opted to tell the truth. “It departed to locate the home ship. As you can see, there is no home ship nearby”

“Oh, you’re pretty good,” The voice responded. “Just because it isn’t here doesn’t mean you don’t know where it is. Obviously you don’t want to tell us where your ship is parked.”

Umbra couldn’t think of a good response. Whoever it was, they saw right through him.

They didn’t wait long to send the next message.

"Well I see you don't want to cooperate, pero no te dare opcion."

“What?” Umbra replied. What language was that?

"No estoy interesado en tus excusas; asi que puedes rendirte a la cuenta de tres; o simplemente te mataremos; capturaremos tu nave y sacaremos la información de tu base de datos."

“Wait, I don’t under-”

"Uno." said the voice with a commanding tone.

“Your transla-”

"Dos."

“I don’t understand what you are-”

"TRES.” the word dripped with threat, Umbra was suddenly reminded of Mike.

“Be ready!” Umbra commanded, moments later the Kashto ship opened fire. “I need to strap in!” Umbra exclaimed, belatedly realizing he was in a terrible spot. He turned to head to one of the cabins, half his mind in the vessel space.

Trips was ready. He throttled the ship forward the moment the pirates opened fire. “Patches, take over the wave drive calculation!” As the ship moved Umbra had to grab the open doorway of the cockpit to avoid being thrown.

“Got it!” Patches replied. The Gerlen wasn’t quite the match for anyone in any particular way, but he could fill any spot in a pinch.

A couple light plasma shots splashed across the D-field of the shuttle and Trips rolled away from several more. The motion tossed Umbra against the outer wall of the cabin he was trying to enter. One projectile hit them with unerring accuracy. A single turret on the forward upper hull of the Kashto ship had fired a physical projectile that passed right through the D-field. A *thunk* echoed through the shuttle as it struck.

Chugs and Pockets opened fire in return, but the lesser cannons only splashed weakly against the field of the larger ship. Umbra pulled himself through the door into the cabin. He pulsed a command and the bed rotated sideways to pull in tight to the wall. A seat popped out from the underside of the bed for him to strap into.

“They are going easy on us!” Pockets shouted.

“That means we have a chance,” Umbra replied grimly as he sat his ass down. Then things got worse.

“Vessel space incursion, they hit us with some sort of transmitter!” Yin sent.

“Ramping up defenses!” Yang sent shortly after. Umbra noticed the distortion of the space immediately as an enemy operator lanced into the system. No ship would come without an AI core. The shuttle had one that was frankly oversized for its footprint, but that didn’t mean they’d win a direct fight.

Another roll of the shuttle almost threw him from the seat, but he held on with straining knuckles and clenched teeth. He could hear the thrumming of the power conduits maintaining the D-field of the shuttle.

Umbra snapped the seat harness over his chest, then got the second buckle in place.

Attacks sunk into the dataspace as the pirates sifted through the shuttle records, seeking the location of the Manifestation.

“If they find out where the Manifestation is, they don’t need the shuttle!” Umbra yelled. “As long as they don’t know, they won’t kill us!”

“He’s right!” Trips yelled.

Yin and Yang did their best to counter in dataspace, Yin attacking with all he had, Yang doing what he could to hold the offender back. Umbra joined in. Otto had given quite a few of them an intro to dataspace combat and loaded some programs on the Core for them to use. No one aboard this shuttle was capable of free building attack or defense packages, but Otto hadn’t left them helpless.

But Umbra was going to have to cripple this shuttle if they were to have any chance of getting away.

He activated the first of Otto’s panic button defenses.

[Command: Core Partition, Combat side, Utility side, Split]

The Core split itself into two virtual halves designed to refuse further communication. The portion of the core intended to serve as the SI module would now serve as the combat platform Yin, Yang and Umbra used to fight.

“What’s happening?” Patches complained in response as he lost cycles.

“Attempting to prevent further harm to our friends,” Umbra replied. If anymore questions were asked, he never noticed as he executed the next command. A package lifted piece by piece from the Manifestation and painstakingly rebuilt and then retooled by Otto.

[Command: Consumption Worm, activate]

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End Chapter
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