Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 28, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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So the public part of my break starts today. I was thinking two weeks, but I'll make it a little shorter than that, the rest I've had and the work I've done in the background has me feeling much better about where the story is at.

When I come back I will be changing my schedule. My posts will be falling on Wednesday and Saturday when I come back. This means I will have some proper time to get myself sorted the night before I actually post. I'm sure most of you can see why that might be important. Anyways, I have some writing to do, enjoy the chapter!

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Chapter 28
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A wide grin split his face as they considered Otto's suggestion. But the idea was out of character for the heavy guy. “You know,” Mike started. “I fuckin’ love the idea, but what gives? Why you going balls out?”

Otto frowned, or at least his avatar did, he did keep the duplicate honest. “I need a full immunizer from the slave dealer. We should all get it if possible really.”

“Immunizer?” Stacey asked. “For what? Didn't we already get an immunizer?

“There ain't gonna be no needles are there?” Daniel asked next.

Otto's face shifted to a wry smile. “The immunizer we already got is for the sake of herd immunity. It stops air and contact pathogens. The one I’m talking about is for, uhhh, fluid transfer.”

“Oh gosh!” Stacey blurted out, hands over her mouth.

“Wut?” Daniel asked, confused.

“Oh,” Mike replied.

Tank nodded his head in understanding. “I understand. Do you have any plans yet?”

“Honestly, I kinda wanna go in and look around first, using the immunizer as an excuse,” Otto mused. “Then we have a few days to decide what angle we want to take it at… and on the off chance if we want to help someone, perhaps we should know where to take them…”

Matchka was next to speak. “Cannot be me. Prason slaves.”

Otto turned to look at Tank.

“Yeah that would work,” Mike filled in. “Have Tank act like an overconfident prick, y'know, a typical Black.”

The Kraltnin chuffed at the suggestion, but didn't dismiss it. “I do believe I could imitate Krangkunkek if needed.”

“Well, don’t imitate him too well!” Mike laughed.

“Uhhh…” Daniel spoke up, raising a hand slightly. “Am I gonna be sick?”

They all turned to look at him. “What for?” Mike asked.

“Well uhh, there was that uhhh, ‘girl’ at the Ooleck station,” Daniel explained. “Annnnd uhh, I guess it’s a bit late to worry ‘bout what, er, who I may have… done at Hross.”

Tank turned his head to look at Daniel. “Did you play with Krang’s harem?”

“... Mebbe’.”

Tank shook his long head side to side in surprised amusement. But the Kraltnin turned serious when he glanced at Stacey. “Well, Krang had wide tastes. He and any females he had were kept clean and immunized,” Tank bobbed his head sideways. “You may have been lucky.”

“Oh, well, the uhh, Inhabitor?”

“Naturally resistant,” Matchka explained. “Eats, controls microbes. Very healthy.”

Daniel blinked at her. “I’m not gonna catch nuthin’?”

Matchka’s eyes shifted away, “Probably.”

“Probly?” Daniels voice rose an octave. “What does that mean?!”

“Otto,” Matchka spoke up next. “Please watch front.”

“Mmm,” Otto replied. If Daniel wasn’t sick yet, he was almost certainly fine. But Otto had been walking through foot traffic without paying attention for too long. The fur on Matchka’s head was starting to rise. He was making the Bellani nervous. “Okay, I shouldn’t be too long. I’ll see you guys soon.”

After a chorus of goodbyes and one ‘Hey wait!’ Otto disconnected from the conversation.

He’d been navigating traffic well enough but fully concentrating on the world around him made Otto realize he’d been wandering slightly and moving rather slowly. In truth he was still pretty rattled. He didn’t know when Aurula was going to be… ready, and now he didn’t know what kind of mood she was going to be in when Otto told her she might have to wait.

Contacting the others had really been a reflexive action taken when Otto realized he was going to have to do something right quick.

His mind wandered to the things the Helix had shown him. As soon as Stoyaf had decided Otto was being honest… a strangely easy endeavor, the Helix had shared quite a few offensive and defensive techniques. He was still trying to wrap his head around that one.

Otto may have been watching in front of him, picking his way through the somewhat dense foot traffic around him, but he still managed to bump into an unfamiliar figure. After dodging around Veps, Ytheon and a couple Kashto, a hooded and stooped figure bumped into the pair of them.

“Watch path,” Matchka noted with irritation, flicking her burnt ear at him.

“Sorry,” Otto replied. Apparently he hadn’t been watching close enough when the… was it a Kraltnin? Otto turned his head but the figure was already gone. Seemed a bit short, maybe a smaller grey Kraltnin?

“Not you,” Matchka replied. “But gone now.”

“Ah okay,” Otto said as he steadied himself, pulled his head out of his musings and fully concentrated again. The disguise was awkward enough, no reason to keep messing about. Then again, he’s spent so much time with his head in dataspace, it was kind of interesting to actually look about. They were walking one of the main streets and there were plenty of individuals to look at.

The most numerous were rather boring though. The Kashto who were really just bigger and occasionally dressed up weasels, who also stank and embraced that fact. The Veprutasians who looked like someone had stood a crow up like a Human and given their wing joints a couple digits. The Ytheon who were really just big oxen minotaurs with a plate over their head instead of spiralling horns.

Things got more interesting if he started looking past the normal three. He could spot the odd white Kraltnin here or there, running errands or accompanying their bosses. Then the occasional Gerlen, the tall lanky clones with their big bald heads that resembled the Roswell aliens, although not as eerie. But then came the Ushen, the tiny four legged mammals set squarely in the middle of their four legs with the solid coloured eyes.

There was a single… barrel torsoed tripod alien, three arms, three legs and an antennae for a head? the dataspace reference labeled it as a treiddikx… how would he pronounce that. A really hard ‘x’? Otto shook his head at the sight.

He saw one Monos wandering by, the gorillataur sauntering his way through the crowd like the six limbed Xenos liked to do. This one was all browns though. All the Monos Otto had met so far had red backs and tan undersides.

Cybernetics were quite rare in the public streets as well, but if he looked closely he could spot them. The odd bit of silver tracing on a big Ytheon’s head, or an artificial joint looking much like a small piece of armor installed on a limb on a Veps leg. The crows really did seem to be very quick, and yet so fragile.

Then he heard it.

He stopped in place, earning a cuss or two from whoever had been behind him. Matchka gave him a puzzled look, all of her ears tilting towards Otto. A moment later the closest pair of ears tilted towards the sound, giving it the attention he’d given it.

The crowd had split too, giving that grating sound it’s space. The grinding ‘skrrrrrt’ of the skateboard either moving those who seemed to recognize the sound, or moving those who just didn’t like it.

The girl was passing right by him, Otto couldn’t help himself. “Never expected to see a skateboard out here,” he said in surprise.

The asian girl with a bun on the back of her hair stopped and kicked up the skateboard without missing a beat. She turned and walked right up to what she must have seen as a great big Prason and his Bellani boss. Matchka was doing to Otto what she did to Daniel, jabbing him in the ribs for speaking in public. It was taking all off his effort not to visibly flinch, and he was failing. Otto had carefully hidden being ticklish from Aurula, but Matchka knew.

The pale skinned girl with black hair glared up at him, looking him in the ‘eyes’.

“What did you call it?” she asked with an imperious tone, taking charge right off the bat. This made Matchka hesitate, her tailing coiling with amusement.

“What?, It’s a skateboard right?” Otto asked.

He immediately found himself being dragged by the cloak and had to concentrate not to stumble. Walking on his own was one thing, being pulled was different. He had to utilize the long left arm to brace himself on the ground to avoid falling or dropping Matchka.

“What’s your name Earther?” the girl asked, no doubt in her voice as to Otto’s disguise.

“Before now, so good!” Matchka complained. “Excellent blank face!” She jumped down from Otto’s cupped arm. As soon as the weight was gone he shook out the tension. The girl had pulled them pretty far into the alley, and as far as he could tell no one was really looking down at them anyways.

He pulled the mask off with his right hand, revealing his face. The girl flinched slightly, her eyes zeroing in on the scars on his cheek. “How’d you know I’m from Earth?” he asked curiously.

The explanation was simple enough, “Everyone here think’s this is a roller plank,” she explained, pointing at the skateboard. “Father kept its name secret on purpose. If anyone called it ‘skateboard’ then they’re from Earth! Anyone would know since everyone from Earth rides them.”

Otto’s mouth flapped for a moment before he could marshal a response. “Well, it’s true that I’m from Earth, but not every Human rides skateboards.”

“You saying my Dad lied to me?” the girl asked with an arched eyebrow, her tone loaded with meaning. She had all the makings of a proper attitude filled teenager, about thirteen or fourteen? Maybe more, He hadn’t known enough Asians to have a really good sense for their age.

“Little lady, I don’t know how many Humans you've met, but get enough of us together and we can barely agree to breath the same air, and even then not for long,” he explained, not missing the way Matchka’s head turned to look at him in surprise. “I know what a skateboard is, but I’ve only been on one once in my life.”

The two Humans stared each other in the eyes for a couple heartbeats.

“I knew it!” she crowed. “He lied to me!” the girl said, throwing her hands into the air. For all that she sounded annoyed, her face was lit up with a wonderful smile. He could see the girl would be a real beauty in a couple years.

Matchka’s ears had all swiveled and tilted towards him. “Otto. Humans… that disorganized?”

“Uh… yeah, I never argued with the word ‘mess’ because I know what we’re like in a group,” Otto admitted, a little embarrassed. “We often need a good leader to get us headed in a single direction, but we don’t always pick a good leader…” He turned back to the girl watching and waiting. “Well then, as Matchka here said,” Otto noted, waving at his Bellani companions, “I’m Otto, what’s your name?”

“I’m Latte, my father gave me that name saying I ‘perked him up’.”

Otto was carefully probing her slave package, granted access by the slave band she wore around her neck. “That name suggests he might have said a bit more than that,” Otto guessed.

She blushed and looked down, her voice quieter as she responded “He said i was his… ‘sweet little thing’.”

Otto closed his mouth rather than say the first thing that came to mind. She was clearly embarrassed, but still loved her father. And it wasn’t that unusual for a dad to be wrapped around his daughter’s little finger. “Well, I guess that’s a pretty good name when I think about it,” he said instead, then quickly moved on. “So Latte, can you tell me anything about any other Human’s around? I’m curious.”

At the same time he sent a message to Matchka. “I’m going to break her slave package, is there anyone watching?” A simple note of assent was sent back and Matchka began quietly looking around.

“Well,” Latte said, a finger on her lower lip. “There’s Strider, I met him once, he’s an Earther ‘cause he liked my skateboard. I know there’s a Leroy in the lowest levels near a… an ‘inspection station’ that gets supplies from out of the city. My Dad used to work there…” her head swiveled away slightly. “I see the odd slave come and go, we get lots of space borne slaves, most of ‘em can’t speak without translators though. There’s also this guy-”

Matchka’s mental confirmation arrived, no one was watching.

“Hold a moment,” Otto commanded, causing her to visibly flinch and pause. Her head swiveled back to him and her eyes opened in nervous fear. “Close your eyes and access the dataspace virtual experience browser.”

“Uhh… yessir?” she asked in confusion at the odd demand, doing as he commanded. He nodded with confidence as the slave package hitched for a moment. It was trying to take in new information and browsing data to obey the ‘security officer’s order. Then it paused again. This ‘hitch’ however wasn’t normal. The slowdown was a reaction. Otto had quietly placed a throttling program in her badly unprotected and limited implant.

The moment it was at capacity, Otto drove in the spike.

Latte’s body stiffened into a pole, her arms straight at her side as the feedback grabbed her. “Uhh- ughuh!” she half grunted, half squeaked.

Otto was better at this now. He’d had time to understand the process, to study the previous episodes and learn the dangers. The original jailbreak spike was fully made by Clouds on Blue Sky, but now his handprints were all over it.

Where before he’d had to slam the node with a massive overload, forcing the receiver into a spasm, this time he drew its attention and filled the node to capacity. He didn’t need it reacting while he worked.

Before He’d had to rip the connecting links apart to prevent the worst from happening, this time Otto was able to slice them apart with ease. Latte still flinched at what he knew to be a sickening sensation. To be fair, she didn’t have the luxury of knowing what she was missing.

Otto quickly and efficiently took apart the diverted security protocols, disabling any ability of the implant to protect itself against the modifications that would come next. Latte still flinched and spasmed as the rogue signals lanced through her head. But it was soon at an end.

She relaxed all at once, falling forward. Otto was ready and caught Latte before she hit the ground.

She locked up at his touch with shock and confusion.

“How does it feel to be free?” He asked with a smile. He wasn’t done of course, he’d only just started the process of reprogramming the slave package into what he was now calling the Mask Package.

“You… what?”

He smiled, his expression still bemused at the coincidental slang. “I’m a cracker. I can break open slave packages.”

Realization slowly dawned on her face, then fear twisted that expression.

“I’m installing a mask package as we speak,” Otto began explaining right away. “Outside of deep scanning, it will appear to be a normal slave package. It’ll even give you the option of reacting like a slave would. It will give you a mental request to decide whether you want to experience the effects the slave package would have inflicted.”

“You… you can do that?” she whispered, her voice unsteady with fear and realization.

“Yep, I can,” Otto grinned. He lifted her back to her feet.

“But… what now?” Latte asked.

“That’s up to you, really,” Otto replied. “You are free to decide,” He placed the paw of his fake hand on her shoulder. “You can keep going as you are, and that’s probably best for now really. Take your time and really think about just what you want to do with yourself in the future.”

“Keep going as I am?” she asked ,staring at him in a daze, the fear was gone from her expression. Still, Otto had just hit her with a whole new future. She would likely need time to really understand the full repercussions.

“Yup. The best thing to do when you have a huge opportunity, and the time to decide, is to keep going as normal,” Otto told her, nodding once as he started. “When you’ve had time to relax and really sit on what’s changed and think about what you can do, only then should you do it. Don’t want to mess things up.”

“That… makes sense,” Latte replied with a nod of her own.

Seeing that she was still in a daze, Otto decided to give her that time. “Listen,” he started, pulling her focus back to his face. Otto sent her a node link. “If you want to talk again, leave me a message there. I’m not from The Peaks, so I don’t have a designated node, and I sorta can’t afford to have one. I have to keep an eye on this rental node anyways, if you send me a message I’ll get back to you when I can.”

“I, uh, okay,” Latte answered a little lamely. “I will.”

He pulled the prosthetic disguise off his left hand and placed that left hand back on her right shoulder. Her own left hand rose up and she placed it atop Otto’s. Her expression settled.

“Thanks,” Latte told him. “Father never wanted me to be a slave.”

“I couldn’t pass it up,” Otto replied. “Remember to be careful, don’t waste it.”

“I won’t,” Latte replied.

Otto put the Prason hand back on, then replaced the mask. “Shall we go Matchka?”

“Yes!” Matchka replied, her tone dripping with patience. He set his right arm in position and kneeled, allowing the Bellani to climb up and sit in the crook of his arm. “Go,” she said, giving him permission.

“Take care Latte,” Otto said one last time before walking out.

“I will!”

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Chase
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He leaned back into his chair in the boardroom, next to the standing old bird Kruent and a couple smaller Veprutasian officers he hadn’t memorized the names of. The drone, Bob, was in the midst of explaining why Chase was there.

“-along with two more casualties several minutes walk away. All four of these Veprutasians were eliminated with sudden traumatic impacts. The first two by blunt melee force, the second two by extremely precise ranged attacks.”

Chase had been sitting around too much the past two days, and his leg immediately started bouncing in place. Kruent gave him a ‘look’ but Chase couldn’t and wouldn't be bothered to stop. Unless he was ordered to do so.

“We found the last of Hatherkey’s thugs emotionally distraught, waiting by the first two. We have her imprisoned and are checking for details as we speak.”

The plain office had a couple rows of chairs around a large table, although most were empty besides the four of them. His minder drone, bob was actually socketed into the wall, interfacing directly as it explained.

“Records taken from the corpses, although distorted by events have still given-”

“Wait,” Chase spoke up. “You interrogated the corpses?” he asked with sudden revulsion.

“Of course,” Bob answered in its monotone voice. “Many common implants retain a short term record of events. A useful tool for information recovery.”

“That's…” Chase couldn’t think of a word to explain how he felt.

“Quite normal, yes,” Bob said, pushing through Chase’s complaints as usual.

Kruent clicked his beak in mild amusement.

A hologram lit up the front of the boardroom. The point of view was that of one of the Veprutasians. Chase found the wide view of the birds spaced eyes disorientating and had to concentrate to focus on the important thing. The bird was in the midst of threatening a little blue eyed Ushen when a Prason of all things interrupted.

It looked off right from the start. Prason were slow moving and submissive. This one was leaning in, purposefully being intimidating. His posture tickled at Chase's mind.

The bird and the Prason traded words, then the bird tried to attack with the osknife. The next moment was a blur as the Prason, moving in a very unnatural way, grabbed the Vep and swung it around. The bird smashed into the wall with sickening crunch. Everyone in the room who wasn't a drone flinched at the impact. Chase didn't miss the two Vep officers glancing at Chase with fear. They both turned away quickly as he gave them an odd look. What did they know?

“That was the first contact,” Bob explained, and the image flickered to a new point of view.

A second Vep watching the first get swung around like a ragdoll. The second bird had his own knife knocked out of his hands by another Prason across the street. A Prason with a decidedly Human hand. The first Prason stepped forward, using all its strength to drive a fist into the birds center, smashing the Vep into the wall.

“That was the second, both were dispatched with impressive skill. I have judged the disguised Human’s speed to be… adequate, but not up to that of a Veprutasian. It was instead skill that allowed the Human to succeed so easily.”

A third viewpoint appeared. Two new birds were facing down a Human woman with no disguise whatsoever. Chase could see the momentary tremble in the woman’s clenched fists, but the birds probably didn’t know what that meant. They exchanged words, then a small crunching sound caused the two Vep’s to whip their heads around. A couple white men stood at the end of the alley.

The birds spoke to the new arrivals. Chase almost smiled at the ‘combat Prason’ comment. Of course the birds were unlikely to realize those two men must have been the ones in the disguises. The fight started and the two black birds never had a chance. But now he understood why the two officers were suddenly afraid of Chase. He wasn't a brawler like those guys, but they wouldn't know that.

“You guys aren’t very durable are you?” Chase asked.

“Hold your comments,” Kruent ordered, his tone relaxed.

Chase shut his mouth. The command would release on its own when the meeting was over, he’d found that out from experience. But he wasn’t interested in an all expenses paid free headache right now.

The scene changed, removing most of the details and placing the Humans without any background in the air before the small group.

“Do you recognize any of these Humans Chase?” Kruent asked.

For a moment Chase was stumped. “No but... are you asking me that because I’m the only Human here?” he asked, looking at Kruent.

The two officers had the common decency to look a little ruffled, but Kruent was unflappable. “I see your point. There are many Humans?”

“There’s like, seven billion of us on Earth. Maybe not nearly as many as there are Veprutasians, but that’s still way more than I’ll ever remember.”

The old bird inclined his head, slightly.

“Am I going to have to capture them?”

“... Not specifically,” Kruent answered after a short hesitation. “These Humans have not interfered with the security of my city, instead cleaning it of some of Hatherkey’s influence.”

“Didn’t they just say they weren’t Hatherkey’s thugs?” Chase asked.

“A weak lie, quickly disproved by pulling the survivor’s memories,” Kruent explained dismissively.

Chase’s stomach twisted at how casually the old bird describe mentally raping the last of the five. Is that how it worked? Dead or alive, they scraped the memories of whoever they wanted. Even if that last bird was a criminal…

“You disapprove I see,” Kruent noted, observing Chase’s expression. “Regardless, I was curious, and will now be keeping a watch for these individuals, but that is all. If you are to see any of them alone, I will have you attempt to apprehend these individuals. Your performance speaks well for acquiring further Human membership for the duration of Hatherkey’s presence.

'Duration of Hatherkey's presence?' Chase thought to himself. What would happen when Kruent was done with him?

“Yes sir,” Chase acknowledged, trying to keep his expression neutral. Sure he might be able to catch that woman, maybe the skinnier guy who’d tossed the rock… But that first guy looked like a mean bastard, and Chase didn’t like fighting. It probably wouldn’t go so easily as Kruent suggested…

“Moving on,” Kruent said, changing the subject, “explain Chase’s objective for today.”

“Yes,” Bob replied, acknowledging the order, “Hatherkey’s activity has begun to pick up once again, this particular issue has spilled from the gaps...

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Aurula
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Aurula had already done her fourth round of tidying up. The whole apartment set they had rented was positively spotless. Poor little red Eeksh was starting to look hunted. So was Tsury and Minmint though.

She could go back to her studies. It had been hugely gratifying to go back to those old duties as a navigator. It was functionally required to keep up on general politics and shifting travel routes for her old profession. The uninformed were so much more likely to end up in real trouble. Although information didn't always save you...

There weren't any major upheavals or changes really. The Ooze had finished the Centennial negotiations without any notable change. Something major would have to happen for that to change.

The Shepherds had publicly announced making progress against their plut infestation. That one had been a matter of time. She'd heard years ago that the living ships had figured something out.

The Triad continued to trade territories in their endless fight. She didn't get too deep into that one though. Aurula couldn't see any reason they would have to wade into that eternal battle.

Her mind quickly began to wander, she couldn't concentrate on all that right now.

Aurula sighed listlessly and approached the meal dispenser. Mealballs, crunchies, roasted rollbugs, even some expensive meatballs… there were options, but none of that was what she wanted.

A pair of heavy Arms encircled her with speed and confidence, accompanied by a mischievous chuckle. For a moment her crest rise and her feathers shrunk. Then realizing who it was that had 'captured’ her, Aurula’s feathers comfortably puffed up and her full crest even rose with pleasure.

Aurula turned her head. “You caught me!” She remarked with pleased surprise, leaning into his sturdy body. Otto had been both quiet and subtle, keeping out of her broad line of sight and wearing only socks to make no noise.

“I did!” He replied with a proud smile, taking a moment to run his left hand through the feathers of her crest. This forced a delightful shudder out of her, but then the smile dropped. “But before we get too comfortable we have to talk. I need to tell you something.”

His expression was serious and there was even a tinge of worry in his voice. There seemed to be a certain amount of weight attached to that phrase 'we need to talk’ for him.

They settled themselves into the chair bowl and Aurula gave him her full attention while snuggling into his arms.

He didn't hesitate, diving in before he'd even tested the wind. “So, depending on your biology, I might have to ask you to wait a couple days,” Otto said.

“What?” She asked, her tone full of warning. In only a moment she had tensed up. “We don't… wait very well.”

“I assumed that was the case, but I only ever got the contact immunizer,” Otto explained.

Her feathers shrunk in surprise once again, then she flinched upon realizing her talons had pierced the flesh on his arm. The bright red blood suddenly took on new meaning.

“Oh,” Aurula responded once as she understood. “OH!” She said again as it fully sunk in. She had a full immunizer set from before she had been captured, it hadn't occurred to her that Otto might not. But it should have. Contact immunizers were for the greater whole. Full immunizers were for the ones who received it.

She pulled back her hand, “oh, I did it again, I'm sorry Otto.” she could see five distinct puncture marks on his left wrist where her hand had been resting.

“Well,” he said, his tone suggesting he wasn't surprised nor upset, “let's get a band aid on these and I'll explain the full story, and what I'm going to do about it.”

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End Chapter
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