Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 31, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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Let the festivities begin!

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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Next
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Chapter 31
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“I just… I don't want to do it,” Stacey complained again. “I mean, it makes me think of everything we left behind. It hurts.”

Mike understood her, he understood her feelings very well. And that was the whole point.

“It's gotta be you Stace,” Mike stressed. “I'm only good at giving basic information and lettin’ people know when I'm pissed. Daniel's only really good at reading. And Otto, he's more 'bout information than feelin’.”

“Tank is already doing it isn’t he?” Stacey asked, trying to wiggle out again.

“He's already doin’ work, but he’s different again” Mike argued, “he talks, you feel.”

She looked at the table in front of her, idly rolling the empty cup around.

“You don't have to let them share with you,” Mike said, dropping to a knee next to her. “And it kinda sucks to say it, but that feelin’ of loss is important too. They've never lived, this will let them know just how powerful it is, what they've been missin'.”

Mike placed his hand on her wrist and she gave him a look, fearful and full of doubt.

“Just remember,” Mike reassured her, “I'll be with you for this. I'll be with you for as long as I breath.

She moved her other hand, placing her left hand over his right. “I know, I'll do it.”

She was still afraid, but he could clearly feel that pearl of determination. He knew it was there, under all the negative feelings.

They wouldn't know what hit them.

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Trunt
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Trunt followed his Ship Lord reluctantly. Prock was in a reasonably good mood, it was true, but that could change at any moment. The fact that Crick had recovered enough of his mind from that dataspace attack to accompany them and not embarrass himself was a pretty good sign at least.

As long as he didn’t try to speak too much.

They exited the T-Cap and moved towards the station entrance to Sapient Resources. Prock wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of needing to purchase some new slaves, but he did enjoy the process itself. There was something about Redbacks that made them partial to seeing someone else treated poorly.

It was probably why redbacks and blackbacks never got along.

Trunt endeavored to keep his head down regardless.

Prock approached the guards with Crick, Trunt and a pair of Monos escorts in tow.

The guards finished up with a brown and green Bellani being carried by her Prason helper. A small human female stood next to the Prason, politely waiting on her apparent master. Trunt sniffed the air reflexively and realized he could smell the Human. And she smelled fantastic.

The lead guard tapped on the side of his head several times as he looked at the Prason. The motion distracted Trunt for a moment, but his eyes were quickly back on the female with her strangely large veil, the odd rope of hair poking out in one spot. He'd never met a Human like this before.

He felt an urge to step forward and introduce himself. It was hard to control. Humans tended to smell good in general, but this one...

“Thank you, you are clear to enter.”

Trunt jumped when the Ytheon head guard spoke.

“Yes,” the Bellani replied. Her ears shifted forwards and the Prason acknowledged the ear command and headed through the doors. Their Human companion followed just half a step behind, to Trunt’s regret.

“Ship Lord Prock,” the head guard acknowledged.

“Yes, I am Prock,” the big Monos replied, rolling his shoulders to make himself seem larger. Not really necessary, Prock was already bigger than any usual Monos.

The Ytheon looked them all up and down at least once, likely using visual scanners to check for weapons. Trunk was disappointed when the Ytheon spoke.

“You,” the Ytheon spoke, pointing at one of Prock’s guards. “You may retrieve that weapon upon exit, but for now I will have you place it there,” he pointed at a kiosk at the wall to the left of the entrance.

“I don’t have no-”

“Pulse dart knife. Very low imprint, but not better than my eyes,” the Ytheon replied, clearly bored with the conversation already. “I’m not gonna report you, but I will not let you bring that through the doors.”

Prock lashed out, punching the younger Monos in the side. “Do as ordered, you are holding me up.”

“Yes Lord!” the young Monos replied, then hurried to the kiosk. The Monos moved quickly, but there was a new hitch in his step.

Trunt’s eyes wandered as their group was forced to the side as they waited, seeking any distraction to clear his head, and his nose. Another group moved ahead in the line. Then he spotted it, them. A Kraltnin led the way, a larger Black Kraltnin in fact. Their owner? Trunt didn’t see the blue Leralin with them. But following that Kraltnin was the two of the Humans he recognized, pulled from the fragmented memories of Crick. A closer look revealed a third. The female followed in the shadow of the two male Humans. She had been with that group as well.

Where was the fourth? The operator wasn’t there.

He took a quick glance at the local dataspace, but his shallow delve didn’t yield any problems that were noticeable to him. Trunt was experienced, but only capable due to the breadth of that experience in shipboard actions. This wasn’t his field.

He didn't notice, but he had succeeded in forgetting the Human for just a moment.

He considered making note of them here, but then decided against it. He would play dumb until they were inside and mention it then when he could talk to his Ship Lord with a semblance of privacy. They could summon more help while the auction was held and chase the Humans when the auction was over and they departed…

No, there was no promise these Humans wouldn't leave early. If they got away the repercussions would be...

He decided now was the time. The crew would need time to collect gear and travel down here.

“Ship Lord Prock!” Trunt whispered fiercely to his boss.

The large red backed Monos turned his snout in Trunt’s direction and the Kashto flinched. “What?” Nothing short of instant results satisfied the Monos, and Kashto hadn’t been providing those recently.

“It’s them! Coming from that entrance!” Trunt hissed.

And Prock did something that supported his quality as a leader. The Ship Lord casually looked at the main gate from the street to see the targets of his rage. He grunted with affirmation, understanding of what Trunk was showing him. One wouldn’t think he even cared.

When Prock’s targets were close, the Monos turned cool, losing the heat that so terrified his subordinates. “A good eye Trunt,” Prick commended. “Contact the raiding crew, have them gather a collection of... implements and head here with all due haste. I won't have us missing this chance.”

“Who’d ya spot?” Crick asked, starting to turn his head.

Prock grabbed the head of Crick and forcibly turned it to look at the guard waving them forward. “Later little brother, we are moving inside.”

“'Kay.”

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Otto
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With Matchka in his arms, they took their place in the lower seats. It was a little like an opera house with chairs lined up in rows along the front and isolated balconies up above.

While the outside of the building was all a bland slab grey the inside of this auction hall was dark blues, purples and silver trim. All the trim was large round rings outlining furniture and balconies. It was as if the Veprutasians, birds that they were, wanted spots to perch wherever they went.

The rings on top of the rounded furniture gave the place something of classic futuristic style.

The lower seats were divided into three sections, separated by four aisles out onto the floor.

Otto’s head was fully in dataspace now that they were seated. The last couple days of manipulating the systems had planned out well this far. He was deep enough into the 'low priority’ systems that he was keeping any Kashto from being seated next to them. Tsury in particular. They didn’t need that complication.

“You up to this?” Mike sent to him specifically.

Otto had to resist the urge to turn his head to look at Mike. Otto was currently treating the room like specter mode when in a ship vessel space. He had a birds eye view using the security system, so he could see Tank and the brothers coming down the aisle.

An errant thought popped into Otto’s head. He really couldn’t thank Stoyaf and that Sil who’d wrecked the Manifest enough for the infiltration practice. Otto had come to realize the ‘materials’ he’d had to learn with were simply a cut above what a normal self taught operator was given. Which made sense, an Achun good enough to disassemble a slave package with his own knowledge, then a proper Silianiscan SI? Stoyaf’s little primer on The Peaks had filled in the gaps presented by a new environment.

Mike and Daniel were coming down one aisle, moving to join up.

“You worried about me?” Otto asked curiously.

“Sure, you been spending all your time in dataspace or absolutely henpecked.”

“Hee hee,” Daniel’s laugh followed closely after.

“Heh, I’ve been making sure to get my sleep,” Otto reassured them.

“Okay, be there in just a moment,” Mike followed, but he wasn't done. “Not too late to change your mind y'know.”

“Did you know Hatherkey has a nickname?” Otto asked.

“Uhhh… maybe?” Mike replied. “I might have-”

“Body switcher,” Otto explained. “He captures people he likes the look of, augments their body and then removes the hosts mind so he can inhabit that body when the mood takes him.”

The way Otto explained it was conversational, but the intent behind it was very serious. He could feel Mike's temper flaring. If he was honest with himself, Otto felt a cold detachment from this information. It was manipulative even, the way he was telling Mike. Even so, a part of him still didn't want Hatherkey to get away with his sins any longer than necessary.

“Yeah, I'm up for this,” Otto finally answered. He shifted his attention slightly “You still good for the first salvo Tank?”

“Salvo?... Yes,” the young Kraltnin replied, “let us get seated and we can… as you said, 'throw the dice’.”

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G7
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His serial number was SRPHD5-G7. It stood for ‘Sapient Resources Primary Hub District 5, Gerlen 7’. If anyone bothered to refer to him by anything resembling a name it would be ‘7’ or 'G7’. His name and those of the other fourteen were merely the label on the locker and stasis pod assigned to them. When one Gerlen passed due to age, the next to be born or bought would receive that number. He was considered the ‘commander’ of the current batch, but that didn’t warrant a change in number.

Inside the auction hall, at every entrance, stood a pair of equipped Gerlen. They were kitted out in light full body armor with pulse rifles and stun batons. His only extra piece of equipment was an osknife and some additional training to be familiar with it.

Mostly G7 understood he and those underneath him were there for show. That was his purpose after being purchased by Krassoty, to look mildly useful. After that he wasn't spared another thought.

Told nothing.

Given nothing.

He lived on a ten day cycle, but was only aware of three of those days.

He was in storage for seven of those days, him and his subordinates kept in stasis. The first day awake, physical sparring. The second day, target practice.

The third day was today.

When the auction house was done for the night, back to stasis.

It was…

He wondered again how much stasis counted towards his lifespan. He'd heard enough conversations to know Gerlen weren't long lived…

But how stasis affected him was the difference between half his lifespan complete or being less than a quarter through this… existence of his. He couldn't wait.

Not too long from now, G7 would realize they were counting on that.

A hitch in the shared space between him and his subordinates caused G7 to flinch. A fault appeared in the connection to the central node that kept him and his lessers connected and leashed. He couldn’t detect the intentions of his Veprutasian owner, Krassoty.

Then something happened as he was considering going to inform the Master in person. The face of a Kraltnin appeared in his mind, their minds. The others were still connected to him. For a moment he had been looking away. As G7 realized what he was looking at, the Kraltnin with brilliant green scales and hide turned his single large eye on the Gerlen.

“You who serves this place, I wonder, have you ever lived?”

The simple question struck right at his core. This was dangerous. Again the thought struck him, he should inform-

“What is it you are missing? You must wonder. Even those products awaiting sale to some unknown master are given far more life than you. You who spend more than half your life packaged away.”

The statement made G7 angry, not because it was wrong, but because he didn’t want to be reminded.

“A friend tells me of the perfect day. A day she lived. In this day, nothing was accomplished but for they and theirs to enjoy a meal in peace,” The large brown eye stared at G7, but all of a sudden, it didn’t feel cruel, that gaze. A strange feeling suffused the shared space. Of both satisfaction and longing, although much more powerful than G7 had ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

“A day early in the year,” The Kraltnin began, his eye shifting to look past the Gerlen. “Cold and crisp, with a hint of wind. Enough to invigorate and move the blood,” he paused and G7 could feel the shiver in his body, the bite of the cold. A feeling he’d never truly felt in person. Just as he was beginning to appreciate the novelty, a sense of warmth bloomed upon his skin to add depth to the experience. “But despite the chill, there is warmth. With the sun shining overhead, one finds contentment, the warmth of its rays warming and comforting all beneath. An experience to draw a person into slumber.”

G7 tried to shake his head, to concentrate on the course of events. The last of the patrons were getting seated, soon they would start and-

“A place is found, a lush hill by the water. You spread the cloth so that everyone may relax on the ground, a luxuriously simple pleasure. The water moves, a small stream running over the rocks,” the feeling of being able to just rest and enjoy the atmosphere brought G7’s imagination to the fore. Every moment he was awake, he was expected to pursue his duty or maintain his health. A new sensation, as if he could hear water running, but it wasn’t the sound of a tap. It lulled him in further, wondering what it would be like, to just do nothing for the sake of it. The voice continued, leading him further into the dream. “You rest on the hill, able to watch the sky as the clouds pass by. The sound of the running water further lulls you to rest in the warmth of the sun.”

He could feel it, like he couldn’t believe. It was the dataspace, somehow it was being used… but he didn’t want it to stop. G7 wanted… he wanted more. They all wanted more.

“Of course, you are not alone, you are here with those who are no mere subordinates, they are something beyond that.” A feeling lanced through him, a longing for something unattainable, and yet something once had. It was a new sort of pain. G7 realized that feeling had been there the whole time, but the mention of companions brought it out into the open. Those companions were dearly missed.

“With the two who raised you. Not just created or bought, but ones who shared and accepted your weaknesses, brought out your strengths and allowed you, to, be.” A feeling of absolute trust and a warmth like and yet unlike the sun bled through the link. “And also one who is not your subordinate, but one who is under your care. Always they look up to you as their friend and their shining example. Today they wish to care for you and are endlessly excited to do so.” The feeling turned to a type of satisfaction, coloured heavily with affection and amusement. The longing remained underneath it all.

“The one in your care serves you and those two who cared for you both with pure happiness and satisfaction. They do it, not because they must, but because they can. No other reason is needed,” The positive feelings for the companions continued, and many of the feelings turned to satiation of far more than immediate hunger. “Together you eat a meal prepared for this singular event. It is simple, but heartfelt. You do nothing more than converse with them all, and in the blink of an eye, hours pass. No one is concerned for the loss of time.”

G7 spent seven days of ten frozen in time. To spend a day just living for the sake of experiencing…

The feeling of desire of a thing once had and now out of reach increased even more. “But the day must end, they must return home, and there will be things to do tomorrow. Still you know, there is surely a next time…”

G7’s hand came up to his face. His lower eyelids were completely dry, yet he could feel drops of moisture leaking from the sides of his eyes. A phantom feeling, and yet so powerful. He looked at the others, G1 to G10 were all stationed within the hall. Most of them had also reached up to check their eyes.

“You Gerlen who have merely existed, now you have felt a touch of what it is to live,” The Kraltnin spoke to them directly. He didn’t need to acknowledge the lingering feelings of loss for those times and yet the beauty of such a moment. “I offer you a chance to pursue a life of your own,” The Kraltnin said.

“How?” G7 croaked out loud, his voice cracked with new emotion.

“I refuse to lie and tell you it will be easy,” The Kraltnin admitted, looking at them without fear or shame. “What I ask is for you to strike at your owner and help us take you and others to freedom. In accordance, we can give you a one time chance to do so. One of you, perhaps all of you may simply die having chosen to accept this offer. And truly, our goal is not your freedom, but to strike at another. Even so, within these events there remains a chance for you to choose. For you to live.

He couldn’t, he would never pass up this chance, having felt this day of another’s life. That the person would feel grief for those days being lost only made it all the more poignant.

Not too long from now, G7 would realize they were counting on that. Even so, he didn’t care.

G7, and all his brothers replied in unison.

“YES.”

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Moxer Destif of Flowing Red
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“Is it necessary to go so far out of our way?” The Veprutasian asked them.

Moxer Destif was an offworlder, A rare Helix ship commander with a certain amount of autonomy and control. That only went so far of course, his ‘companion’, a Veprutasian female by the name of Loositel, kept a close eye on them.

The hall was filled with a subdued array of squeaks and whistles, clicks and grumbles of countless languages too distant for the translator to bother with. It was always mildly uncanny to hear those varied languages without the support of the Psioxern translator.

He didn’t really need any new ship hands, but it was always worth coming and seeing if there was something to be had. He’d been told this auction house had a higher incidence of debt and crime slaves. That meant more individuals with skills and experience to make the purchasing worthwhile. It was annoying to purchase slaves that had to be trained to run his ship. Not the most accepting job for blank files such as abducted.

In truth though, that was almost incidental to his visit here today. A friend had suggested there might be something interesting to see. They had even asked a favour of Moxer Destif.

“I wouldn’t say this is pointless, [Indeed, some general hires might be ideal],” Moxer and Destif replied to Loositel’s complaint. “[This gives us time to train a few up before we retire the third battery Gerlen], those Gerlen probably only have a couple trips left in them.”

“Yes, yes,” the female Loositel acknowledged, long accustomed to the chain statements typical of Root and Soil. “I am just surprised that you would make the decision to come here on a whim. You are not one to let impulse take you.”

Moxer scratched his ash coloured shoulder, just under the dark grey bark plate, at the base of a brown root. “You know our schedule, [there are not many chances to find useful subordinates], this was on the way after all.”

Loositel’s eye shifted to look at the whirling vortex of reds, purples and oranges of Destif’s bulb on the forehead of the Helix. It always stood out in bright contrast to the darkened bark the root grew upon its hosts. Moxer had always quite liked the look, always seeking to enhance the colour mix with a selection of black robes with gold and red trim. It was fun to see Sapients flinch outright when first meeting Moxer Destif. He wasn’t even noticeably larger than typical Helix.

As Moxer leaned on the railing, not interested in sitting in the not adjustable enough chair, he could see the last couple Sapients trailing into the hall.

The pair of them hadn’t been lying to their handler, but they certainly weren’t telling the truth either. On Moxer’s left hip, underneath the robe, he palmed the small node he’d brought with him. An almost reflexive reaction to carrying the unusual accessory.

“Welcome!” Manager Krassoty spoke, his voice echoing through the hall. “If the last of you can find your seating and be settled, we can begin with today’s events! I’m pleased to say, and I’m sure many of you know, we have a respectable line-up to share with you all today!”

Moxer glanced at the Gerlen security at the side entrances with quick, subtle glances. He was watching after all, for things out of character. Those guards had seemingly lost their composure earlier, twitching and seeing something new. Those hadn’t been the looks of typical throwaway Gerlen just doing another day of work.

But now they had returned to their expected stances. Everyone was so used to overlooking the clones as fleshy drones, little more than furniture. Moxer and Destif both wondered if anyone else had noticed.

Moments later, he was sure everyone noticed the head Gerlen step onto the stage from Krassoty’s left, approaching his Manager with purpose.

The backwall of the stage, normally a blank, black wall shifted colours. The hologram dissipated to display a set of twenty stasis pods as Krassoty spoke. “Now of course, you all know me as one not to waste your time! So we shall get right to the bundle deals, today’s initial offering… is…” the Vep trailed off in confusion as his Gerlen guard stepped up next to him. He spoke, but his voice was not carried over the voice amplifier.

“When someone doesn’t sell, you send them to the incinerator,” G7 spoke, using the voice amplifier himself. The hall quickly filled with that buzz of whistles and grumbles, clicks and squeaks. “When one is past their prime you give them to the recycler, not caring beyond the simple utility of the person.”

Krassoty was clearly angry, Destif was impressed with the coherence of the Gerlen’s words. But it wouldn’t do to miss it all. Moxer Destif had augments for a reason, they raised the sensitivity of their hearing, despite the annoyance of the background noise.

“G7, I command you to deactivate!” Krassoty shouted. The Gerlen twitched, clearly affected, but something was interfering with the Vep’s ultimate authority.

“No.” The Gerlen replied, and shoved his osknife into the chest of the Vep. Gasps and cries echoed through the great room at the sheer audacity of the action. Many jumped to their feet, hooves or talons.

This was it, this was what Stoyaf had hinted at. This was why Stoyaf had asked Moxer to come watch. This was why Stoyaf had even obtained a balcony seat for Moxer.

Another voice echoed through the hall and a face popped up on the projector at the back. The face was heavily obscured with digital artifacts, blurring and leaving gaps in the picture. At first Destif thought it another Gerlen, but the profile was… off. “I suggest any civilians vacate now, I’m only really interested in Hatherkey’s assets here, I’d regret seeing too many collateral injuries.” the image spoke with a polite and almost apologetic tone of voice.

Moments later gunfire erupted. A handful of Veprutasians, Kashto and a couple Ytheon had begun exchanging gunfire with the Gerlen guard. A split second later the other Gerlen around the hall returned fire on what Moxer Destif could only assume to be Hatherkey’s people.

Most of the civilians rushed for the exits, exits the Gerlen had vacated, not bothering to use fleeing people as cover. Unexpected, but surprisingly kind. Or perhaps practical, it wouldn’t do to make unexpected enemies. Moxer’s claws dug into the soft composite of the rail he was leaning on.

The head Gerlen had vacated the open stage with impressive alacrity, even throwing himself flat to avoid several plasma shots at the last moment. Gerlen had their link, but this smacked of real world experience.

More weapons fire erupted from the center of the hall. A pair of Humans and a Kraltnin with obvious combat harnesses had smashed into a Ytheon and a Kashto. Fighting amongst the chairs was clumsy, slowing the Ytheon considerably. The grey furred mammal raised his arms high and attempted to bring them down on the larger of the two Humans. As if playing, the Human stepped back as the arms smashed down and smashed the adjacent chairs. With ease the Humans stepped forward after the arms passed and casually drove a knife into the head of the Ytheon. The Human was faster, but more than that, it was clear he knew how to handle himself.

The Kashto jumped over one chair into the next aisle, jumped a second chair, then got shot directly out of the air on the third jump as he switched direction to close. The smaller of the two Humans turned away without looking twice, seeking his next target.

“We should go!” Loositel squawked at Moxer Destif.

Moxer’s head turned to look at the panicky Veprutasian. He then glanced at the crowd of Sapients crowding the exits.

“You want to step into that? [You will get trampled],” Moxer asked and Destif predicted. The Veprutasian’s feathers had shrunk close to her body. “We aren’t a target,[and I have activated the emergency field], we will be safe for the moment.”

Loositel stepped closer, just enough to benefit from the Deviation field emitter embedded in Moxer’s body. “I don’t like it!” she complained.

“You don’t have to,” Moxer replied. “[We aren’t in the line of fire here].”

A number of disk shaped drones dropped through gaps in the roof, immediately opening fire on the Gerlen. A couple had also started shooting at the Humans. Then two of the drones halted, wobbled and turned to shoot a third.

“[Someone is in the security system!]” Destif realized moments before Moxer. “That probably explains how the Gerlen can act,” Moxer replied.

“What?” Loositel asked, Destif hadn’t communicated out loud to the bird.

“Careful,” Moxer replied, pushing Loositel’s head down while also crouching. A few stray shots between drones had come close to the balcony. One shot splashed off the deviation field. A low yield shot from the drone didn’t put much strain on the back-up defense.

All the saucer drones were destroyed or apparently subverted in short order. Once that was settled they began shooting at any opponents too close to the Humans. A pair of Gerlen went down near the far left entrance, killed in melee combat by a couple Kashto.

The main entrance was still badly bottlenecked, the uninvolved all crowding up against the exit. Several had also headed through doors further into the facility, not wanting to be vulnerable to weapons fire. On one side a trio of Veprutasian’s bolted out a door to the elimination rooms. On the other he saw a Prason with its Bellani master head through a door moments after another figure.

But now Destif could clearly see those who were a part of this event.

He’d realized there was two more with the Humans, a third smaller human, a female. Over her stood at large black Kraltnin. He had a plasma pistol of his own. He put it to use, but his accuracy, while unquestionably augment assisted, hit few opponents. Bodies littered the room, some with weapons of their own. Others sprawled out in the process of escape. The only Sapients in that battle with accuracy worth respecting were the two Humans.

A figure pushed through the press at the entrance, a roaring Ytheon fighting through the crowd entered the room with two guards behind him. The three augmented Sapients took only a moment to take in the sight before raising their arms. The augmentations were heavier than Destif expected. The forearms of the Ytheon guards opened up revealing hidden weapon barrels. The leader trained his hands on the Humans and the Kraltnin at the center of it all. The lesser guards picked Gerlen targets along the periphery of the room.

“Halt! Weapons down!” ordered the Black Kraltnin.

Two of the Ytheon guards did as they ordered. Nothing less than a command hijack of some sort was expected at this point.

The leader did not do as ordered, but he did react with surprise.

“Moxer Destif!” his Veprutasian companion screeched.

Moxer Destif didn’t have any stake in this, but he was curious to see where it went. Getting a recording for his operator contact here, Dresk Stoyaf of Pulsing yellow was almost an afterthought at this point.

Even so, it wouldn’t do to stay any longer.

“Very well, let us go,” Moxer replied to Loositel.

Silently wishing the Kraltnin and the Humans luck, the Helix turned and walked out of sight.

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End Chapter
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