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So hey, I have the completed image of Matchka, Aurula and Tank pinned in my discord as well. Next, I'm also gonna post a follow up comment on the reddit post asking who, or what, everyone would like to see next. Once we've got a list I'll put up a poll on monday to see who of the suggested characters gets to be the next commision!
Rodgers sighed as he relaxed on the seat.
They had arrived a few days in advance. It was good to know where someone was going and also have a better ship overall.
This sparse, single star system only had a few mined out rocks and a set of gas giants to its credit. Any easily mined stones were already cleared out and the location was rather far away for cheap and easy harvesting of further resources.
The interdiction beacon blinked with regular testing pulses. Grey had refined the device for low level impedance. It took less power to interrupt a little shuttle than it did a ship like the Kashto ride they’d acquired. An important detail when one didn't want do draw unwanted attention.
The bastard twins had taken several days to open up the ship. The Kashto captain managed to lockdown so many systems and locations before Rodgers caved the weasel’s skull in.
But now… those Kashto had guest quarters! Rodgers could sleep on a large sized bed! He could eat at a normal sized table with a decent chair! He even had a comfortable throne on which to do his business! Life had improved in so many ways so quickly!
Rodgers finished up and stood up to buckle up his pants. This was positively luxurious now. The man exited the bathroom into his newish private quarters.
Now if only they could get some food that didn’t disagree with his guts. The more of those meal balls he ate, the worse it got.
The bed was a wide round bowl, but it had adjustments! After playing with options it was now a proper flat platform with a good mattress and pillows to have a normal sleep. There was also a couch! And a table… Rodgers sighed as he considered how far his standards had fallen since he had smuggled drugs on Earth.
With a shrug of his shoulders, Rodgers left his quarters and headed for the ship bridge.
Still things were looking up!
Somewhere in his head a loose connection let go. The prosthetic hand snapped into the shape of a hook, then flipped to a hand, then to grapple. The muscles on his arm trembled and twitched and he grabbed his arm right above the elbow.
The twins had cleared up lots of problems, but there were still lingering issues.
“Rodgers, I felt that one,” Grey sent over comms. “What happened?”
“Arm spasm,” Rodgers replied cheerfully. “Already calming down.” He had good reason to be cheerful. A small twitch used to be the precursor to a full body collapse. He held his breath for a moment, but a bigger seizure never arrived. He took stock of himself, running a quick diagnostic of his systems, but nothing else seemed to be amiss.
Rodgers continued on his way. He exited the Port side section of the ship into the big connecting corridor.
It had taken a long time to get Rodgers back to the level he’d been at when Grey had changed careers and taken Rodgers with him. Not having Kralt government support sure made a difference in maintenance.
“We have a splash,” Grey sent.
“I’m already on my way,” Rodgers replied.
“They’re looking!” said one. “For us!” said the other.
“I see it,” Grey responded as the ping slipped over the ship. He doubted the shuttle could detect the Kashto ship at this distance, and they didn’t act as if they had noticed.
He watched the Spiders…
Spiders? Grey almost blinked in surprise as he made a connection. Before ever meeting Rodgers, Grey had seen the odd Achun before. He was in the right sort of industry after all. The structure of their body had looked wholly unusual to him with their six legs and two arms always hanging overhead.
Grey hadn’t known the specific Human word for spiders before. After being linked to Rodgers, seeing the twins had given him a subtle, but new impression. He hadn’t even realized it was bothering him at first. Rodgers had ‘spiders’ on his home planet. He had spiders and they didn’t have the arms that the twins had, or at least not usually. His disjointed impression was just another sign of the bleed.
Grey shook his head and turned his view back to the shuttle.
“The beacon!” Red reported. “They found it!” Green followed.
“Well, we don’t want them taking off on us,” Grey replied. “Move us in.”
“Take us below them!” Rodgers said with purpose as he arrived in the Bridge. “They gotta know what they’re dealing with.
Grey’s tail coiled up tight with awkward annoyance. No one knew what the symbol Rodgers had painted on the ship meant. Didn’t stop the Human from making sure anyone they dealt with saw it though.
“Yes Captain!” “My Captain!” The twins replied, bringing the ship in closer.
Grey took a moment to look over the plasma cannons the shuttle now displayed. “They have multi-mode cannons,” he explained in general. “Adjustable for rate of fire vs range and power. If they choose to get close there is potential for damage.”
“Hunh,” Rodgers replied. “You think they’ll do that? Didn’t you say they’d probably be pushovers?”
“I predict they will be, yes,” Grey replied. “They are newly born judging by what I saw during the station visit. The lack of preparation gives them away, I can only assume they stole that shuttle and are now trying to find their way.”
“Novatos,” Rodgers said with a chuckle. “Should be easy then! You called the shuttle Silianiscan?” At Grey’s nod, Rodgers opened a channel and spoke to the shuttle with a cocky grin.“ Silianiscan shuttle, surrender yourself and tell us where you came from.”
There was a pause before they responded “Silianiscan?” Answered a badly mangled voice. It grated on the ears, causing Rodgers and the twins to flinch. “We are no servants of the Superior,” the speaker continued.
“We know that!” Rodgers snapped, momentarily caught off guard by the voice, “But we wanna know where you found your shuttle!”
Another long pause. “They’re stalling,” Grey mused.
“Yup!” Rodgers agreed.
“The shuttle was found abandoned on a Kraltnin planet,” the voice ground out, “It departed to locate the home ship. As you can see, there is no home ship nearby.”
“Oh, you’re pretty good,” Rodgers said with a laugh. “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.”
Another long pause.
Rodgers laughed again, then continued to speak. "Well I see you don't want to cooperate, pero no te dare opcion."
The voice grated out its confusion, but Rodgers didn’t hesitate to keep speaking.
"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."
“Rodgers,” Grey spoke up, “They can’t-”
“Uno,” Rodgers started.
“Captain!” “Oh Captain!” The twins warbled out in a singsong tone.
The Gerlen’s panic was easily heard despite the damaged voice. Grey tried one last time. “Rodgers, your translator is-”
“TRES,” Rodgers said, voice dripping with menace. Time up and having counted to three as he had warned, Rodgers opened fire.
Grey used his tail to slap Rodgers on the backside of his head.
"Mierda!!!" Rodgers shouted in surprise. Rubbing the back of his head he glared at Grey.
“Your translator is out!” Grey snapped with annoyance.
The Human’s mouth flapped for a couple moments, then he shrugged and slapped his left temple once, quite hard. “Well, too late now!”
Grey sighed, then turned his attention to the vessel space.
That shuttle had begun moving upon Rodger’s first volley of plasma fire. The twins were in charge of sensors and piloting, although neither was really their area of expertise, they could do a passable job. Rodgers had taken control of the targeting systems and was laying down constant, although limited, bursts of plasma.
Grey had his own part to play.
From the nose of the painted skull rose a kinetic cannon. A more specialized piece of equipment, this would allow him other avenues of attack.
The shuttle swooped, rose and dived with reasonable skill. The Gerlen pilot was better than Grey might have expected. But the pilot was predictable. Predicting a pause between a zig and a zag, Grey opened fire with the kinetic insertion turret. A metal slug fired out and struck the shuttle, sticking near the rear thrusters.
The connection opened and Grey had access to the shuttle vessel space. Still, expecting to walk in through an open hole, Grey was surprised to find what he did. The AI core was much heavier than the size of the shuttle would suggest, and the Gerlen actually had a passing understanding of how to defend themselves.
Grey tapped the AI core aboard the Jolly Rodgers No. 15 and activated his AI penetration routines.
Overload attacks were blunted by the size of the core, although a reasonable portion of their core was dedicated to FTL calculations.
“They are attempting to synchronize with the interdiction beacon,” Grey warned.
“Well shit, don’t let ‘em!” Rodgers countered. “We gotta get that location!”
Grey twitched. He changed tack, attempting to delve into any available shuttle records. Trading attacks with the two Gerlen attempting to spar with him, Grey let his AI core do the combat work while he searched for information. Simple surveillance records were open to him and he began the process of stealing the day to day information available to him.
Then a third mind joined the shuttle dataspace defense. Grey felt the presence arrive, but it failed to join combat. It was up to something. “Twins, dedicate more power to the core,” Grey ordered.
“Yes Mr. Grey,” said the first,“redirecting power Mr. Grey,” said the second
His AI routines bolstered, Grey pushed deeper into the shuttle. His next attack blasted one of the Gerlen on defense right out of the space. Far too easily in fact. He took a moment to assess what had changed and spotted it immediately. The core Grey was using had ramped up its support. The Core the shuttle was using… had shut down? No, that was wrong.
The most powerful dataspace attacks rarely failed to have a strong image and concept attached to them. A great black mechanized worm burst forth from the core of the shuttle, momentarily filling the capacity of the transmitter Grey had lodged in the hull of the shuttle.
“What is-,” “No that’s-,” Green and Red said at the same time. “-Wrong!” they both finished in unison.
Grey could feel the vessel space of the Kashto ship shudder as the rogue AI driven attack set about eating everything it could touch and filling the vessel space with junk data. In a panic he shifted his concentration to wiping out the worm.
In order to keep the vessel protected, Grey changed his AI subroutines to viral cleansing. The first counter attacks, supported by the Kashto AI Core, struck the primary dataspace construct.
And it popped. Popped and scattered into countless fragments, all of them wriggling around pursuing the same goal the large worm had chased.
“What’s going on?!” Rodgers complained. “My weapons are going haywire, and where are we flying?!”
“They did something!” Grey hissed through clenched teeth. “There was a trap in that shuttle, it’s eating into the core!”
“Shit!” Rodgers responded.
Peripherally, Grey could see Rodgers attempting to coordinate the attacks on the shuttle as well as the movement of the ship itself. There was a reason they could do so much with so little and the experimental suite of implants in the Human was not to be underestimated. While the twins had ceased helping control the ship while attempting to stamp out the worm, Rodgers had continued to pull fragments of information from the twins, Grey and the AI core while running the whole thing himself.
The Human was going to be in a very bad mood after this. When his mind ran this high the headaches were inevitable.
And he would be sharing that headache.
Grey pushed harder, trying to stamp out the worms before thing really got complicated.
“SHIT!” Rodgers swore, causing the twins to flinch. Grey’s tail angrily lashed back and forth at the same time. Just because he was distracted, didn’t mean he missed it.
The shuttle had managed to synchronize with the beacon. It winked out of existence.
The attack from the worm dropped in intensity by an order of magnitude and suddenly Grey found himself making headway.
“Did you get the location?” Rodgers asked.
“...” Grey stomped out worms while reading the data he had been lifting from the shuttle.
“No! We have to chase them, but we know where they’re going. I got an active record of them plotting their route.”
“Then we catch those bastards!”
“...” Grey was at a loss. Rodgers was right in that they should chase the ship, but this attack was abnormal. He had run up against unique SI or Operator attacks before and this had a similar texture to it. This worm had the feel of multiple skilled hands developing it into something really dangerous.
“Green, Red, concentrate on the navigation systems,”
“The Core?” one asked. “The weapons?” asked the other.
“It’s all going to get eaten at this rate,” Grey informed them without hesitation. “Just be happy that this thing announced itself rather than sneak into the system while we were distracted.” Grey shook his head. “We will simply have to maintain the ship long enough to find another one to steal.”
“Oh-” “-Yeah,” the twins agreed.
The Gerlen weren’t set to go far, having locked in a Kraltnin border station in order to simplify their calculations. Grey considered the situation of the vessel space. There were two variants of the worm once the… mother worm had disintegrated. The obvious eaters and the hidden corruptors. The whole point of the active worms was to disguise the second set. The only advantage they had was that his own implants were frying anything that attempted to use him as a host. That meant that anyone attached to Rodgers was safe.
They spent about an hour stomping out the worst of the active infestation, but the hidden side would begin to show its effects soon enough. Once Grey was convinced they had brought the spread down to a manageable level, they departed.
Edge of Kralt Space
Edge of Kralt Space
It wasn’t in Hututlot’s mind to consider the nature of luck. He was just one of the crew of the Pit corvette in the small flotilla doing their patrol on the edge of Kraltnin territory. Four corvettes, two frigates, a destroyer and a carrier doing rounds of noted trouble spots, staying close to communication points in case they had to quickly move to a point of trouble.
It was rare for trouble to drop directly on their laps.
The Human calling himself ‘Captain Rodgers’ however… he felt compelled to believe in luck. He was always landing himself in the worst spots. Today would simply serve as yet another proof in an endless series of examples.
The officer known as Hututlot could only gape in surprise as a Kashto ship dropped out of FTL only half an hour from their location by inner system travel. He, and the sensor systems officers of all the ships in the fleet reported the strange arrival with a hint of confusion, but no hesitation. The fleet quickly changed course to meet up with the ship.
A couple minutes before they arrived a shuttle dropped out of FTL. A strange model they weren’t familiar with at a glance. Given another situation they might not have cared what it was. Hututlot was the quickest to dig up the reference needed to realize what kind of shuttle they were looking at. The Kashto ship was a strange anomaly. A Superior shuttle however, that was fascinating.
Regardless, the sudden appearance was worth a routine check.
The two ships locked themselves into a short battle, one could only assume the shuttle to have been chased by the larger vessel. The shuttle danced around a little, fired a couple shots, but the larger vessel didn’t even bother shooting back. As the plasma cannons and arc ring of the shuttle splashed across the deviation field it was clear there was something more going on.
The shuttle came to a sudden standstill, ceasing all movement and action. Hututlot watched as the energy signature of the shuttle spiked, and then died.
And then the small flotilla was close enough to act.
One last unusual thing distracted the White Kraltnin serving as the sensors operator. A new signal, originating from the Kashto ship. Something of Kraltnin origin. He turned to his Grey Captain to inform his superior of the strange beacon.
This had just become something more than a routine stop.
Umbra buckled himself back in as Trips warned them of their impending arrival.
“And we’re dropping into normal space… now.”
Umbra felt the shift in his stomach, the barest hint of their change in condition. In the next moment he opened himself up to the vessel space and cringed with fear. A ‘small’ Kraltnin patrol group was already headed their way. And why were the Kraltnin already headed their way? Because the Kashto ship was there waiting for them!
The pulse of an interdiction field announced itself moments later.
“That’s a much heavier signal,” Trips warned with an audible sigh. “We won’t be able to duck out this time.”
“That ship is waiting for us!” Yin nearly shouted over the comms. “We can’t get away!”
Even as he shouted the vessel space was accessed again.
“Is Yang still out?” Umbra called with trepidation in his voice.
“Yes, we don’t stand a chance,” replied Yin.
The partitioned part of the core was lost to them, Umbra’s attempt to fend of the attack had ultimately failed. Otto had warned that it was a ‘scorched earth’ defense. A single use attempt and that was all they had. They might as well have never taken the AI core from the disassembled ships the Grand Giant had attempted to cannibalize for weapons. Having the Core just made them jump into even bigger trouble.
All this flickered through Umbra’s mind in moments as despair settled on him.
“Delete it!” Pockets shouted. “They can’t find it if we don’t have it!”
Umbra’s mind lurched into action. Pockets was right.
The pirate was rifling through the ship flight records on the much smaller secondary cores. Umbra unbuckled himself and headed for the small engine room. He found Yin opening up a panel in the floor with tools taken from a locker in the corner. Yang was still strapped into his chair, eyes closed and unconscious. Umbra knelt down and began helping Yin without a word.
The Pirates already had anything they wanted, but Umbra figured those bastards wouldn’t be ready for what was waiting at… he couldn’t call it home, he didn’t deserve to.
But the Kraltnin? They could not afford to let the Kraltnin know where a whole downed Silianiscan survey ship was located. Yin was making good progress pulling open the panel, so Umbra got up and pulled something else out of the locker. While doing so he issued a self disabling command to the AI core. It quickly began the process of turning itself into a lump of fried circuits, pulling hard on the power supply. It wouldn’t stop until the power cartridge was empty.
Umbra sighed, he wouldn’t have a chance to hear those pirates swear at them.
“They’re almost here,” Trips reported.
Yin finally pulled the plate away and looked at Umbra. He nodded and Umbra nodded back.
“Mind the dark,” Umbra warned, “and… I’m sorry.”
He fired the plasma pistol at the series of boxes that served as the control system for the shuttle. It fried the components with no trouble. The lights shut off and they found themselves in darkness. A dim set of secondary lights powered on in the next moment. The only thing left now would be life support.
“Let’s help him get comfortable,” Umbra grated, pointing at Yang.
“Might as well,” Yin admitted.
The Kraltnin would find the Gerlen only a couple minutes later, all disarmed and docile, awaiting their fate in the small cargo hold.
Grey actually started busting out Human swear words moments after touching the shuttle systems.
“Those fucking bastards!” Grey swore in a fit of rage. “They’re wiping everything!”
“Got it!” Red crowed. “We can leave!” Green shouted.
That stopped Grey in his tracks. He whipped around to Rodgers.
Rodgers shook his head. “We gotta get away from the Carrier. Fucker’s got an interdictor.”
“Then that is what we will do!” Grey declared. Then he realized Rodgers was staring at him. “What are…?” Rodgers wasn’t staring at him, so much as the Human was staring at his chest. Grey looked down to see a third blue light now glowing on the plate embedded into his chest. “Oh, no.”
As usual, Red started, “What’s wrong-” “Mr. Grey?” and Green finished.
“You fixed it too much,” Grey sighed. “They know I’m here!”
“We’re moving!” Rodgers declared, facing the ship away. “We need a pilot,” he complained as he activated the engines of the no. 15 and boosted away. “We need more people entirely…” Rodgers mused further.
They could outpace the frigates and carrier, but the smaller pit class corvettes and fighters were faster than the Kashto vessel they’d stolen. The Carrier had also disgorged a pair of fighter squadrons to chase, tiny single White manned and disposable ships.
The corvettes and fighters closed in. The twins, having sorted out their dataspace problems for the moment took over the engines and shields once again and Rodgers concentrated on the weapons systems.
A mean grin plastered on Rodger’s face, he looked at his small crew. “Let's show them what we’re made of.
It had taken far too long and happened far too soon. The thunks of the shuttle being grabbed had brought Yang back to the world of the living, although that may not have been much of a favour. Not long after another heavy thud announced the arrival of the shuttle to whatever location it had been taken. The doors were cut open and the Kraltnin burst in, spears and burst rifles trained on the Gerlen.
The rifles had a bulky design he recognized as a plasma scatter type. A single one of those rifles could take the group of them out. Perhaps if Umbra had made them gear up, they’d have put up a fight, but he couldn’t imagine coming out of this alive by fighting. The spears had a metal coil just behind the pointed blades. A shocking weapon, they would disable as quickly as kill.
Umbra stood before the raised weapons, his subordinates crouched behind him on the floor of the cargo bay. “We surrender,” his voice grated, thick with emotion as much as it was damaged by the birthing process.
“To the cells,” spoke the leader of the soldiers, a Grey wearing a full set of composite armor, the heavy harness glowing at several points as it powered the soldier’s deviation field. No ceremonial guard or simple pushovers here. This was proper Kraltnin military. Bands of red announced the Kraltnin affiliation.
In his fugue, Umbra barely even registered the makeup of the ship. He didn’t fully come awake again until they arrived at the cells and a soldier prodded him into his own cell with the tip of a spear.
Umbra whipped around, “Don’t hurt them!” he demanded. The prod of a spear became a purposeful strike. “Urk!” Umbra cried out, his body convulsing as the coil spear discharged a zap into his body. When his vision cleared he was looking through the charged bars of a door, an orange field filling the gaps between the bars. He was laying on the floor of the near featureless cell, an empty brown box with a cot, sink and waste chute.
He stood up and inspected the door of the cell. When his hand neared the bars a series of bumps rose along his arm in reaction to the power charged in the metal. He held back, sure that the bars would give him a powerful shock if he dared touch them.
With nothing to do, Umbra lay on the cot.
Some time later he could hear muffled shouting, bringing him to his feet. He walked to the bars and realized that while the atmospheric force field could muffle sound, it wasn’t a layered field that would block all sound.
He didn’t have to wonder for long what was happening.
“Where’d you put my partner!?” a voice yelled. Umbra knew this voice. The bastard who had spoken gibberish and then opened fire without giving Umbra a chance to talk. The Gerlen stepped up as close to the bars as he could.
“Yeah! Jab me with those! I fuckin’ dare ya!” he yelled. “You cant! We wiped our drives, only our heads got what you wanna know HAHA-AaaaAHahh!”
The sizzling pulse of a coil spear punctuated the man’s boasts. They would pass by Umbra’s cell shortly.
A pair of child-like voices spoke up next, one starting a sentence, another finishing. “You sure-” “-showed him!”
“Dammit, it’s not my fault the ship crapped out! It was that fuckin’ worm or whatever! And I hated that piece of shit anyways!”
The… Human, his arms held by a pair of armored Kraltnin, came into sight from Umbra’s left. The Human’s head snapped around, one eye meeting Umbra’s. The man was wearing a strange three pointed hat and a red coat, badly scorched around the edges. The front of the coat was open, revealing the gaunt chest of the Human. His left eye was covered by a patch kept in place by a cord around his head.
“Sweet bandana- wait, you’re that Gerlen-aaaAHAhaah!”
A third Kraltnin gave the Human another poke with the spear, interrupting what he had been saying. He lost control of his feet, but the armored Kraltnin just dragged him along until the man was able to regain himself. Next in line came one red arthropod, followed by another green one. Each of them had their eight limbs tied together underneath them. Unable to move on their own power they were both being carried by Kraltnin.
They were Achun Umbra realized. He recalled a small thread of information implanted in his head. Good codesetters, a dangerous bite, able to create sticky thread.
The Human pulled himself back together. The man was out of sight, but Umbra knew he was up when the shouting resumed.
“Where’d you bastards take Grey anyways! He’s like, my bro or something, take me to him!”
After the Achun came three heavily bound and very mean looking Monos with black fur and countless scars on their arms and legs. Unlike their leader, these three marched in dignified silence. An unbelievably ugly one, a short and stout one, then a third who was polite enough to nod at Umbra as they passed by.
It wasn’t long until the muffled voice of the Human was out of earshot as well.
The show over, Umbra returned to his cot.
Patches and Trips. Pockets and Chugs. Yin and Yang. He hoped his companions were safe. Umbra had let them down. And not just once, he had let them down with every decision starting with the decision to leave the Humans behind.
His mind cast back to the last conversation he’d shared with Otto. At the time he was so sure that Otto was letting Umbra go to waste. That the Gerlen were going to waste.
“You weren’t born yesterday, but you aren’t far off.”
Umbra had shrugged off Otto’s words, it seemed wisdom was to arrive too late.
He didn’t know how he was going to get out of this.
Like most Monos ships, the inside of this one was stylized like rough hewn stone corridors and rooms with soft yellow light. The rooms had high ceilings and as many floor and roof hatches as doorways. Monos weren't limited to a flat plane of travel. Part of why Monos commonly picked up Kashto to provide technical support. The stinkin’ hole diggers were decent climbers too.
But the captain or 'ship Lord’s of this vessel was profoundly unhappy with one of his Kashto.
Ship Lord Prock of the Depth Charger snarled in frustration at the little Kashto quivering in front of him. The other Monos in the square bridge made a point of very industriously not looking at Prock and the Kashto pinned against the wall next to the bridge exit.
“I've been looking!” Trunt wailed. “Looking as hard as- uck! As I... can!” His voice could only squeak out as Prock tightened his grip around the operator’s neck.
“Fourteen Days, Trunt,” Prock reminded, breathing directly into the face of the blue and brown Kashto.
They had found the unusual shuttle fast enough, but that crew had disappeared into the city like a rock into the void. At least, that was how Trunt described it.
“I still… have more… pits to… check!”
“Rrrrraugh!” Prick shouted letting go of the Kashto's neck and suddenly turning around. He could only hear the mammal collapse to ground. The Kashto wheezed painfully.
Prock turned around again in time to see the Kashto look away. “We are shorthanded after the events that have brought us to this city. When is the next slave auction in Peaks Sapient Resources.”
Trunt closed his eyes to concentrate on the dataspace. “The soonest is six days from now.”
Prock nodded. “Try to have something for me by then.”
“Yes Ship Lord.”
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