Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 43, Arc 3


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Sorry dude who wanted last chapter to be the end of Hatherkey, a fun twist like that needs more forethought than I currently have at this point in my writing. D:

I can see the attraction though.

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Chapter 43

The cannons of the transport ship tore through the second of the hover tanks, bringing the battle to an end. Otto sighed in relief to see the battle over.

“I am sorry, two of yours have died,” Otto noted sadly and respectfully to the two Tak’tin next to him.

“One has died, our other brother is merely injured,” The armoured Tak’tin replied.

“That’s… that’s good to know, better than both.”


The tanks had popped the deviation fields of those who’d gone onto the dock like soap bubbles. And Otto had been mere moments from being gunned down himself. Then he’d rolled the dice by tossing that grenade. It felt like they were pushing their luck as far as it could go.

Otto couldn’t shake the feeling that their luck was on the edge of snapping. If there was anything he had learned in his life, once he got to feeling like that, it was probably too late.

“First,” Otto said to the Tak’tin next to him, “I’ll let you gentlemen sort out the warehouse, I’m going to contact Red Tail. This will take me a minute or two to get through considering the local dataspace.”

“Of course.”


From where he was managing the link, he could almost feel the mental backlash.

“ShhhhrrrrraaaaAAAAHHHH!” came the shout piercing even through the wall. Something had happened to Hatherkey. Wastad felt his tail puff up in alarm.

Newly motivated, he did a sweep of the situation in Red Tail’s base. A quick scan of the thugs they had sent in showed Wastad the moment an unassuming female Kraltnin, who in hindsight was clearly unimplanted, managed to gun down Hatherkey’s body.

Wastad heard a crash as Hatherkey’s original body came to life. His boss was almost certainly in a rage.

The Silianiscan burst into the room every step announced with a thump, the door had started sliding open, but a heavy, clawed hand forced it to open faster. Wastad was pretty sure he heard an actuator blow.

Hatherkey had chosen a brutish form for a Silianiscan, Wastad was a rare common Sapient to have seen more than a single Superior in his time, and that was only because he actually served Hatherkey. Not that he had much choice in the matter. Many chose sleek forms, and a floating serpentine body was quite popular. The brutish form of Hatherkey’s was the least likely to be found in public. Then again, Hatherkey only appeared in the bodies of others in the first place.

Hatherkey’s posture was forward leaning, similar to the newt form Silianiscans were born with. But this body was hulking, heavily muscled and heavily armoured with thick overlapping plates. Even the armour on his face was a curved plate with two inward curving cheeks. Hatherkey’s red slitted eyes peered out from the ridge between the rounded plate from his snout to the back of his head and the armoured cheeks. The only decoration was a pair of spikes that replaced the conductive whiskers Hatherkey was originally born with.

His permanently crouched legs and the heavy outstretched arms were no less armoured, the claws of his feet and hands ending in sharpened points. The other Superior that Wastad had seen had spines extending from their back, starting from their head and running down their spine to the tip of their tail. Hatherkey was all overlapping plate with a heavy spade at the end of his own tail.

All of it was black like obsidian, carrying a glassy shine. Hatherkey’s red eyes focused on Wastad and his mind… arrived in dataspace with a crushing weight.

“Where did she go,” The Superior demanded to know.

Wastad shared the captured clip of the tan coloured female grabbing the gun and using it before leaping backwards into the storage room. The feedback from Hatherkey’s pain at being shot down had scrambled some of the soldiers in the room, although the captives were still frozen in control shock. It would be some time before Hatherkey’s halt command would be released.

A couple of their underlings were attacking the door but the action quickly revealed the door to be a vault door for weapons storage. A quick mental check and Wastad recalled the report. That was the panic room Lopulm had told them about. It stored a collection of specialized weapons and a device Red Tail kept on hand in case of invasion.

Normally much of the gear in the workshop would have been rolled into that vault in case of emergency. As it was one of the few hardened rooms.

The Monos thugs that Prock had brought in had already gone to work on the door. They were making progress burning their way through with the plasma weapons, but it was going to take a bit more time.

Hatherkey took a long deep breath in, then let it out slowly. His armoured hand had come to rest on the back of Wastad’s seat. A gust of heated air hit Wastad’s face. Finally, Hatherkey let go, but not before his talons had left four new holes in the back of that seat.

“... NO. She can have her little victory.” Hatherkey decided. “Prock’s thugs can use her as they wish, perhaps that will be enough to tip the balance in their favour, but I am not hopeful. If the rest of my men weren’t crushing Red Tail’s last holdings, I could end this now, but business before pleasure after all,” Hatherkey took another breath. “No, I will capture that Green in due time. When I do, I will tear him apart in front of that little female, piece by little PIECE. Until then she can serve as a warning to let those Humans have a small idea of what they have angered. Inform Prock of my… decision.”

“Is… is there anything else?” Wastad asked nervously. “If Prock and his men succeed-”

“Ha! They won’t. At best they will inflict injuries, perhaps earn a few kills. Monos are showmen who fold under true stress. Perhaps if Prock wasn’t a redback, or if it was ship to ship combat, I would have more ‘confidence’ in his results. But against Humans who fight both carefully and unfairly, then flip to wild savagery in the blink of an eye… Hmph!” Hatherkey shook his head, already disappointed at the thought.

“In the meantime, because we have captured the other three and Nualula herself, they will come to rescue their companions. As for those prisoners…” A razor-sharp talon rose up to tap against Hatherkey’s armoured jaw. “I was considering saving them for bargaining, but any desire to do so is gone. Those Humans and anyone now in their company will die.”

“What do you wish done with the captured hostages?”

Hmm, I have no need to hold onto them, but it would be a waste to kill them just like that... It has been some time since my sibling received a proper gift, adding them to the shipment will complete the collection. Make the preparations.”

“Yes, my Superior!”


[The dataspace has been secured], Mother’s voice informed them, [Crawk’s underlings will be here shortly].

“So we made it in one piece,” Mike said with a note of pride. They’d taken down the warehouse just like that. Sure it was close, but they’d won. Chalk up another victory against the body snatcher.

“How you holding up Dan?” Mike asked as he joined his brother just inside.

“Figger’ I’m okay. Was gettin’ close there,’ Daniel noted.

“We made it out fine.”

“Yeah, but I ain’t excited for another fight like that.”

“You can’t- why-” a complaining Veprutasian was dragged out. He had bars of silver running down the edge of his upper beak and a ribbon of gold running around the primary limb of his wing, threaded through his feathers. “Who do you think you are?” The old Veprutasian asked. Aside from the decorations, he wasn’t wearing much, just a simple harness. The collar of white feathers around his neck showed the Vep’s age.

Demail stepped up. “The protection of this Ritadin holdings warehouse is now in the purview of Mr. Chack of Cliffside security.”

Now informed of the change of contract, the old bird flopped onto his butt, tail spread out behind him. “O..oh…”

It was perhaps not the best news the bird had heard all day.

The shared space pinged as some new arrivals entered the premises. They were identified as allies by Demail as they arrived. More individuals to govern the transition from Hatherkey’s influence to Chack’s.

From here an inventory check would be done and the goods destined for Hatherkey would go to Chack. Once that was done the black Monos would ensure the warehouse was put back together properly. The Monos Mob boss was interested in a functioning station, not in smoking craters.

“Mike, Daniel, Tank, Crawk” Otto sent, his voice alarmed, “Get back to the shuttle right away.”

“What’s up?” Mike asked.

“I’ll explain as we go, there’s no time to waste.”

That sounded… really bad.


They were aboard the shuttle and moving without delay. Matchka felt her ears twitching constantly as the tension in the shuttle wound itself tight.

“What the FUCK do you mean, ‘They were attacked’!?” Mike shouted, grabbing Otto by the shirt and dragging Otto’s face close to his.

Otto didn’t resist, but Daniel put his hands on those of his brother. “Man! Let him go, this ain’t good news for any of us!”

His mouth curled in anger and his left cheek twitching, Mike released his hold on Otto.

Otto pulled on his shirt and then harness to sort himself out, but didn’t hesitate. “I attempted to contact Red Tail’s base, I didn’t get any answer at all,” Otto explained, “There is no way Oriashka wouldn’t respond. Something has happened and I have no confirmation, but I suspect they were attacked.”

“And we’re stuck way the fuck out here,” Mike’s voice was cold, “What are we doing about it right now?”

“I”m contacting Chack’s operator, the one that pinged us wasn’t Demail, but someone else,” Otto replied. “We’ll pick up Piderby and head straight to Red Tail’s base from there.”

“Otto,” Matchka spoke up, poking him in the side. Otto looked down at her in surprise. “From Chack, ask for modules,” She poked the bottom of his d-field emitter.

“A good idea,” Crawk rumbled from the corner. The black Ytheon had taken everything Otto said in stride. On the outside at least. The old soldier didn’t seem like one to betray how he was feeling. “We will have the tube ride back for time to repair.”

[I have connected the line], Mother’s pleasant voice echoed through their minds.

Seeing them doing what they could to solve the problem, Mike and Daniel both stepped back.

“Thank you Mother,” Otto replied. He accessed the link the Mother Mote had left open, and also kept the group in on the conversation.

A Kashto so blue he was almost purple appeared. But he wasn’t alone. Just behind him and to the right stood the imposing Monos boss, Chack, looming over his operator.

“A surprise call,” Chack mused out loud, “Something has gone wrong?”

“Yes,” Crawk replied first, placing his image before Otto, “Oriashka, and by extension, our primary hold-out is not responding to calls.”

Chack’s head twitched, his eyes narrowing. “Nualula is in trouble if her last good operator is not available.” He raised a paw to scratch his long jaw as he considered the situation. “And so you are asking for my help?”

Crawk nodded his head, ”I am not sure we could afford much at the moment, I do not know what assets I have available. For now, I ask for immediate transport into The Peaks as well as… four replacement deviation field modules.”

“A small request considering the trouble you are stepping into, but you are right! My help does not come without cost,” Chack answered with a quiet laugh. “You have earned some credit with the conversion of Retidin’s warehouse on top of removing that supply from Hatherkey’s portfolio. I will do as you ask.”

“I thank you Chack,” Crawk replied, lowing his head.

“Don’t thank me yet, I may have to recruit you! Ha.”

Just as suddenly as Chack had appeared, he was gone.

Matchka’s tail involuntarily puffed up when Otto’s new hand beeped at him.

Answering the question only Otto could hear, he spoke to the SI, “Sorry Mother, but it looks like we won’t be able to stop and visit for awhile.”

[I understand…]

A face popped on screen. “You can’t come back? Things went bad!?”

“Sorry Harley, but yes, things are looking very bad,” Otto replied.

Her avatar appeared in the space, which was quite impressive for Matchka, she knew the human female was completely free of any sort of augmentation. Before, when they met her on her ship, ‘The Last Tear, she had worn a full jumpsuit, black but for stripes of red and pink very much resembling her ship’s colours.

Now she wore a supporting exosuit that extended the length of her body. Much of it the same style as Otto’s new Mote hand. Armour plating not always obscuring the synthetic muscle underneath that allowed the armour to support its owner, or to allow it to move on its own. The Helmet, a yellow visored cap with two vertical ridges starting at the sides of the visor and running to the back side. At the base of those ridges were a pair of lenses. The helmet was currently connected to the suit and sitting on Harley’s shoulder. Matchka had heard the Human woman call it ‘Chaser’.

Her brown hair hung past her shoulders and a dusting of spots decorated the nose of her fair coloured face. Bright green eyes looked at them as Harley frowned. “Mother told me you can’t get a hold of your friends?”

“Yes, we’ve lost contact with our companions.”

“Mother,” Harley called and the pixelated orb that represented Mother appeared next to her.

[Yes Harley?]

“How is our contact with the motes in the city?”

Matchka’s ears flattened themselves against her head. A Mother driven Mote infestation in the city? Motes were hard to prevent and got into many hidden corners, but an SI driven infestation was very, very different!

[Tenuous at best, we would need time to establish full orderly control.] The SI replied. [There will be risks. A large spike in communication will alert the automatic scanning routines of the city AIs. It will spark a purge if we are not careful.]

“Then we’ll be careful, but I don’t want to see the friends of a Human cracker get captured by that guy Hatherkey!]

[Understood… Otto?]

Otto’s left hand landed on Matchka’s head. A reassuring weight followed by a gentle caress.

“I won’t turn down the help, how much trouble are you and your uh, children, likely to get into with surveillance?”

[Difficult to determine, I have always used active mote control only as a last resort… But you need not be concerned for the children. The duty and desire of the Motes is to be of use, something they cannot do as they are. They, and I, would gladly sacrifice ourselves if we must.]

“Hunh,” Otto replied, sounding surprised and a little humbled.

Even Matchka felt startled out of her previous trepidation. They would give themselves up just like that?

“Well, uhh, can you get eyes on the base? I’ll share the location with you.”

[I can likely get surveillance by the time you arrive, yes]

“Then let's start there,” Otto mused, “but I don’t want to sacrifice anyone or anything before we absolutely have to.”

“Sounds good!” Harley said with finality. She turned to look at the Tak’tin in the shuttle with them, First and his four subordinates. “Number One, support Otto, but be careful. Your armours will serve as the beacon for the mote incursion. We need you guys alive”

“Of course Captain,” The first of the insectoid Tak’tin replied.

Matchka had almost settled but found herself newly alarmed, the word ‘incursion’ still didn’t sit well with her. Not at all.


Mike was seething for the whole trip. They were almost there and his anger had only wound tighter. The time to think hadn’t put his mind at ease in the slightest.

He’d been such a dumbass! They all had! And Otto seemed to know it too. Yes, he was getting better at knowing what Otto was thinking and Otto seemed just as angry at himself as Mike was.

They’d been riding high in their little bubble. Untouchable in this stupid gang war between the Red Kraltnin and that Hatherkey… Silianiscan, probably. The fact that Mike didn’t even know for sure what Hatherkey was didn’t help.

They’d been winning, of course, having almost no trouble when they were keeping quiet, then crushing three different places when they decided to make noise. Sure Otto had been worried about some nebulous ball dropping, but even he hadn’t taken it all seriously. It had made sense that they were winning because ‘obviously they were’. Since it was so easy, then they could just join up with Red Tail and just keep winning. It’s not like their opponents had been the best fighters so far. They were probably good in their own ways, but one way or another, they had managed to finagle themselves into situations and ranged combat where Humans seemed to dominate.

But Hatherkey had pulled a fast one somehow and captured Red Tail’s base with the rest of their group inside. And it wasn’t like Mike could convince himself staying at the apartment was a good idea either. At the point they decided to move, it was probably too late!

Fuck, was Stacey okay? Mike had no idea. When the anger slipped, fear gripped him, the pit of his stomach going hollow.

Piderby in his stupid purple suit seemed to be the least bothered of anyone in the transport capsule. He did have a harness now, the drab grey of the harness looking out of place overtop of the colourful clothes the grey-skinned Gerlen preferred. The Gerlen sat staring out the glass of the transport capsule at the endless concrete walls as the capsule passed by. As for the Ytheon, the small vehicle, kinda resembling the inside of a bus, allowed Crawk enough room to stand, and the Ytheon had refused to sit down the whole time.

Otto sat with his arms crossed and his eyes closed. If there was anything that helped Mike settle it was that he’d learned that was Otto’s ‘serious face’. The guy only looked like that when he was working on a problem. Daniel was fiddling with his harness. It had been the last to be repaired by Matchka. Matchka’s tail twitched constantly back and forth, but she had been varying degrees of bothered since they had met Harley. Tank sat with his legs spread wide and his hands on his knees. The tip of Tank’s tail peeked out from behind the bench he was sitting on, constantly twitching, much like Matchka’s tail.

Then there were the armoured Tak’tin, just waiting and itching for the moment to move.

The capsule took one last turn, coming to a stop at an unfamiliar station.

“I don’t dare take us any closer,” Piderby noted as the door opened. “There are multiple nearby transport points, but this is the most publicly visible.”

“So it’s the hardest spot to start a fight with us?” Otto guessed.

“Precisely. I suspect we will be seen coming regardless of what path we choose, so we take the one with the least number of ambush chances.”

“Hmph,” Crawk grunted, stepping through the door of the transport capsule and onto the platform. It was a busy little station with multiple vehicles exchanging passengers back and forth. Mike was the next one off after Crawk and he could see quite a few Veprutasians and a few Kashto flinch away from the big black Ytheon in front. Tank was the next off and even more people reacted with surprise. They quickly had a large empty space around them as the group finished disembarking. At the point the Tak’tin came out, there was about as much space around the group as could be given. Crawk led the way out of the station.

They moved in two groups. The first had Crawk leading, Mike and Daniel at the sides, Tank at the rear and Otto, Matchka and Piderby in the middle. They carried their weapons openly, and Mike did have the presence of mind to consider them lucky to be close to the base.

The Tak’tin took off straight up a wall to travel along the upper walkways and rooftops. Watching them go Mike figured they could probably keep up with Chase they way they climbed and jumped so naturally. At least for a little while.

Crawk took a side alley off the main street, leaving the public eye.


“Oh, hello Mother,” Otto replied.

[I have spotted you on the localized network, I am gifting you access to initial mote surveillance group.]

“Mother, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you sound worried.”

Mike agreed, the SI didn’t sound confident in what she was doing.

[That is because I observe no activity around the building. There is no one visible on any spectrum on my sensors.]

“Hmm. so if there’s an ambush it’s probably inside.”

[I cannot say for certain, but it seems likely.]

“Good enough, thank you, Mother,” Otto added the visual range to the virtual space, then handed the controls over to Crawk. Again Mike was shown why Crawk held the reigns. The clarity of shared information rose and niggling little ghosts of sensation went away. Managing the shared information was a real skill.

They arrived at the building. The whole area was built dense, solid buildings joining the pillars that stretched from the bottom level to the very ceiling of the district. Mike didn’t know what happened when those pillars needed to be disassembled, he’d seen it happening high up, but then he supposed none of the buildings around here looked terribly new.

If they wanted to clear the pillar out, they’d probably just demolish everything around it anyways.

The blocks before them blended together, one grey concrete building beginning before the last even seemed to end, they were so closely entwined. But Crawk knew exactly where they were going, approaching one of the linked buildings without hesitation.

Mike looked up when he realized one of the shared signals was looking down at them. He could just see the red light that gave away the location of the Mote on the roof. The little machine was just slightly peeking over the edge. Mike would never have spotted it if he hadn’t known it was there.

Crawk reached for the door.

“Wait,” Daniel called out loud. The Black Ytheon looked back at him. Daniel’s next message was in the shared space. “We’re ain’t stayin’ in this building right?”

“Yes,” Crawk replied, also keeping his voice in the shared space.

“Then blast ‘er open, if anyone is thinkin’ to get the drop on us, then fuck ‘em.”

The Ytheon blinked his red eyes, then nodded. “We perhaps do not have the means to ‘blast her open,’ but I can melt a hole through the door for one of your grenades.”

“That’ll work too.”

The dataspace bloomed as Crawk loaded up a map of the building. Mike was surprised to realize it was bigger than he initially assumed. They’d only been shown a few public areas though. “The workshop and the rooms?” Mike asked. Crawk placed markers so they knew where they were headed first.

Crawk set the barrel of his cannon against the door, although not quite touching. Daniel stood next to him with a grenade at the ready. A flash of the cannon was followed by the sizzling of composite and metal. They could hear muffled shouting, but Daniel’s grenade had followed moments after, before the slag around the hole had even cooled.

The thump of an explosion was followed by more panicked shouting. That was when Crack commanded the door open. It rose up, then ground to a stop about three-quarters of the way up as the melted portion got stuck in the hidden compartment but Daniel and Mike had already ducked through.

Mike charged straight forward, neck and neck with Daniel. It was Monos they were facing. Armoured Monos, although the armour appeared somewhat light, for the sake of letting the six-limbed brutes move around with ease. Most of the armour was mesh, with plates covering broad sections of their body and outer limbs. The harnesses they wore weren’t a part of the armour, being strapped on overtop instead.

The two in front were still reeling from the explosion of the grenade. The closest barely looked like he was holding on, his body covered in lacerations from scattering shrapnel. That was the one Mike reached first. A fist rose, feebly attempting to fend Mike off, but he was in no mood to be nice. Mike weaved under the far too slow response as he pulled the osknife from the back of his harness belt.

The second hand came in to grab Mike, but the woozy Monos was far too slow to prevent what was coming. Mike rammed the knife right in between the Monos’ lower arms then ran it up the center of the brute’s chest, pulling it out where his neck started. Mike didn’t stop to witness the resulting mess. He kept moving.

The report of Daniels rifle rang out as he chose to shoot the Monos before him instead. A bullet bounced off the chest plate and shoulder of the armour the Monos was wearing but passed through the lighter mesh at the neck. The Monos didn’t grab his neck. Instead, he dropped to the floor like a rock. The metal plating of his armour extended down the back of his head right to his rump. The bullet had bounced off the inside of that armour.

The next two Monos aimed and fired their rifles one-handed. Mike found himself unable to see the Monos he was charging as point-blank fire arced across the d-field. The other Monos missed his aim, firing over Daniel’s head.

Mike brought his knife up again, but this time the Monos got his hand up, gripping Mike’s wrist before he could put the oscillating edge to use. That’s when Mike realized who had followed him and Daniel next. Tank sailed over Mike’s head, his clawed feet slamming into the chest plate of the Monos. It occurred to Mike the other Monos had probably been shooting at Tank.

The Monos reared up as Tank’s weight slammed into him, and he let go of Mike’s arm. Mike knew the instant he was released that he didn’t want to be under Tank when the big Green landed. He drew his knife sideways while pressing himself against the right wall. He managed to cut a furrow through the lower chest of the Monos and through the underside of his arm. The Monos bellowed in pain and he continued to tip over backwards. Tank pushed off to send the Monos the rest of the way and fell to the floor.

A fifth Monos at the end of the entry hall levelled a cannon on them, much like the one Crawk used. The Monos fired the cannon and the fields of Tank and Mike sparked and spat. Mike could feel the module on his chest heating up rapidly. That wasn’t good.

Otto arrived behind Daniel and just as quickly as that, the bigger man was grappling with the Monos. The Monos, having dropped his gun, found himself evenly matched and snarled, revealing rows of jagged teeth. He attempted to rear up to bring his second set of arms into play while Daniel slipped out of the way.

“Ngh-! Gah!” Otto yelled yanking the Monos back down to stand on his middle limbs again. In his surprise, the Monos didn’t react to Daniel taking aim with his rifle. Several rounds ricocheted within the helmet of the Monos and it slumped to the floor.

A flash of plasma flew past the four or them, blasting across the field of the Monos at the end. He didn’t stick around for another round, pulling back out of sight.

“I see,” Crawk commented as he stepped through the doorway. Piderby and Matchka followed moments after. “Humans are effective pack fighters as well, that is why you mesh so well with a Kraltnin Primary.”

“Every time we allow you to fight at range and on your own terms, the damage is impressive,” a voice echoed through the dataspace. “Perhaps we could try something different… Make sure you don’t run away now, one of yours is still here.”

“Who-” Otto started to ask. Then the lights flickered, shortly followed by the energy modules of their plasma rifles and deviation fields popping. Every single one of them flinched and spasmed with pain when their harnesses popped. Mike felt his back burning, and Daniel bent over backwards likely for the same reason. Of course, the dataspace winked out of existence.

Crawk dropped to his knees. Otto grabbed the wrist of his hand. “Grips, are you okay?”

For a moment, Mike forgot his anger, despite the haze of pain on his backside.

Daniel spoke up. “Did you call him Grips?”

Otto looked at Daniel, “I’m not calling him ‘Thing’!”

The hand twitched and beeped. “Shit, good, you were shielded,” Otto breathed in relief, “Oh, partially shielded…” Otto spoke slowly as the hand flexed weakly at best. It still worked, just not well.

“Crawk, are you well?” Piderby asked, crouching next to the large Ytheon.

“Yes, the feedback was very heavy, the surprise was unwelcome.”

Mike began pulling his harness apart, flinching when it brushed the burning spot on his side. It was just weighing him down now. “Anyone got an explanation for what just happened?”

Daniel and Otto started pulling theirs next. Otto plugged the heavy cable of the Mote in his neck before fully discarding the heavy harness. Piderby shrugged out of his own harness with alarming quickness, then went to help the sluggish Crawk. Tank had both of his hands on his head, tail twitching with aftershocks. Only Matchka seemed fine.

“In case of emergency, the base is loaded with a localized emp emitter,” Piderby explained.

“So… whoever that was got a hold of the emitter, I assume you have protected gear on the premises?” Otto asked.

“Some, although much of it was kept in a storage vault connected to our workshop. I would be surprised if they were not already inside. They will have a handful of harnesses, several pulse weapons, a couple of concussers-”

“Eugh, shit,” Daniel swore in the middle of the explanation.

“-a pair of plasma cannons like that of Crawks, and of course the facility sensors.”

“And we got some grenades and rifles… and Matchka has her gun,” Mike noted, his breath tight. Shit, his back burned.

“I guess we should be happy it doesn’t affect the implants the same way as the tech,” Otto noted. He was already pulling the shield from his harness. The plasma rifle wouldn’t be doing him any good. He stopped working on the shield when a better idea struck him. Otto pulled a tin out of his pocket. The nanofix. “Lift that shirt, Mike, your plasma grenade popped.”

“Oh well that makes sense,” Mike complained but did as Otto suggested. The feel of the nanofix was almost instant bliss against the throbbing heat of the burn. Mike waved at Daniel, pulling his own tin of nanofix out. Daniel pulled his shirt up and stood in front of Mike to receive the same treatment.

“Heehee,” Matchka laughed from behind them.

“Yeah, yeah,” Daniel replied as he waved his hand at her, flopping the limb around. “Shit that’s so much better.”

“Nanofix, good for burns. Recycles material,” Matchka explained. The limbs on her backpack dropped off all of a sudden. That done she began shedding the separate harness. Mike hadn’t even realized they were two separate things, her harness and backpack, he’d never seen them apart.

Now tended to, Otto and the brothers took some time to separate the belts from the harness as a whole. That would let them hold onto the last couple grenades and the tins of nanofix, although the belts hung somewhat awkwardly without any loops to hold it in place. That done, they went to pulling the useful gear from dead harness limbs. Otto finished disconnecting his shield from the harness. “Oh, these come protected.”

“Yes, of course,” Matchka replied as if it was a matter of fact. “D-plate, ship hull. Protective.”

“Hey Grips, you think the Tak’tin are okay?” Otto said, speaking to his curled up hand,” The image was ridiculous to Mike’s eyes. “Okay, well thanks for being honest.”

“No help?” Daniel asked.

“If they do help, it might not be with armour. The Motes only seem to be partially hardened. They protect the important bits and have some redundancies, but it’s too expensive and difficult to work the whole thing.”

“Then why even try?” Daniel complained.

Otto hesitated for a moment, looking at the hand again. “Oh, because EMPs were a good way to exterminate Motes. Any function is better than no function if the other choice is dead.”

That stopped Mike’s brother in his tracks for a moment. He looked at Otto’s hand. “Sorry bud, I didn’t mean it.” Sighing, Daniel then tossed his Osknife aside. “That’s done. This is probably gonna suck.”

A quick couple minutes of work and they had two rifles, three functioning shields and four grenades. The brothers each had a single frag left, and Otto had two. “We got any idea where they are?” Daniel asked. Crawk and Tank had managed to collect themselves and were now standing at the ready.

“Yes,” Matchka replied, her voice perky, “Can hear fine, have map.”

“Your map is still workin’?”

The Bellani patted on the strap of her backpack. “Hardened, safe.” She picked up the pistol, holding it awkwardly in her hand. It was meant for a different sort of grip. Mike hoped she didn’t have to use it, the kick would likely hurt the little xeno cat. If he’d realized EMPs were a thing, he would have designed a gun she could use without worry.

“... Well good enough for me,” Otto replied, hefting his shield and holding the business end of his rifle like an awkward club. “Let's try and meet up with the Tak’tin, make sure they’re okay. Then we go see who they think they’re holding.”

Ship Lord Prock

There were many rooms the Monos could pick to hole up in. The living quarters were perhaps too cramped, and the offices no better. The workshop might have been troublesome, but they had already cleared out all the useful gear. So they had taken the bundled up Kraltnin female to the cafeteria.

Prock felt a little bad about the abandoned makers that had been burnt out, although the black boxes would likely be fine. He’d already had his men scavenge the last couple cores to take back to their ship later.

He hefted the cannon again. The hardened weaponry was heavier than he expected, but having proper weapons while the Humans only had their little pea shooters was much more satisfying. They wouldn’t even have the benefit of the targeting software on their harnesses to actually hit their targets!

In return, his body armour would stop their bullets, and they had no deviation fields to stop his plasma cannon and the pulse rifles of his subordinates. Prock was looking forward to seeing them try to free the little female.

A couple of his fighters twitched, responding to distant sounds, ‘taktaktak’ echoing through the halls.

“Hold, you understand their orders,” Prock warned his subordinates, they were not to go help. Standing orders were not to stay and fight, but to lure the Humans to this place. Additionally, with four different ways into the cafeteria, the sound of combat would alert them to which direction the Humans were approaching. “Without their gear and a corresponding map they will be vulnerable, easy prey if we can lure them here effectively.”

And when the Humans arrived, they would be crushed by overwhelming numbers. A series of grunts acknowledged Prock's order. More of those mechanical sounds issued from the hallway but made fewer fighters twitch this time around.

Two retreating soldiers arrived from the entrance directly in front of Prock. There were supposed to be four, but no matter.

“Report!” Prock ordered.

One of his Monos subordinates turned to face Prock directly, “their aim with the kinetics is still good!” The Monos explained. A pair of indents on his helmet supported the words of the male. “They can aim for and strike weak points on our armour!”

“What if they throw their explosives at us?” Another suddenly whined.

“Then they will hit their companion!” Prock shouted at the idiot, pointing at the Kraltnin female in the hands of another Monos behind him. She hung limply, but her eye was open. She watched Prock with that eye membrane of hers down. She wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything with her arms, tail and legs tied together.

A piece of dense material plinked off Prock’s helmet and his head snapped back around to look at the hallways the two crewmembers of his had come down. A deviation plate shield stuck out from the far hallways intersection and he could just see a head and a weapon peeking out from behind that.

Prock brought his cannon around. “Shoot them!” he said as he pulled the trigger. The cannon spat a steady stream of plasma, although most of the weapons his crew obtained were pulse guns, he had this special toy to play with. Prock released the trigger and the crew stopped firing at the same time. The hallway intersection was looking much worse for wear. A single long plasma melt scarred the floor and then a portion of the wall. Pockmarks from the plasma had taken chunks out of the wall, the floor and even the ceiling.

Another shield poked out from the other side and another rifle opened fire. A crew member’s head jerked back and there was the distinct clink of a bouncing bullet. The Monos fell dead to the floor. Before he touched the ground, Prock and his crew opened fire again.

When the stopped firing the intersection was even worse for wear.

“Come out here and fight!” Prock shouted. “Coward!”

Prock realized he needed to order his men forwards, but then he heard a return comment Prock could never have expected. A voice yelled at him from the intersection “I know you are but what am I?”

Prock shook his head, “Wha- I called you a Coward!”

“Come over here and say that!”

“Who in their right mind-”

“And yer callin’ ME a coward?”

“What did you say!?”

“It ain’t that hard ya dumbass! Need me to spell it out?”


“I’d say don’t be shy, but ya probly didn’t learn yer letters!”

Prock fired the plasma cannon, raking it back and forth across the walls of the intersection. The cannon beeped at him, warning against overheating. He ceased firing. For a moment there was silence, but only a moment.

“I think you made him angry!” A new voice yelled.

“I’d be angry if I was that ugly too!” The first voice replied

“Ah! That’s why he doesn’t wanna show his face!”

The pair of them poked out their rifles and fired at the Monos again earning another round of return fire. Prock stopped firing halfway through the heat cycle. The Humans didn’t hit anything, they weren’t even trying. He wasn’t a shiplord for nothing. He turned his head. “What?” He couldn’t help but shout. The shout interrupted the rest of his crew, halting the rain of pulse rounds.

The Monos who’d been holding the Kraltin was dead, his head sliced clear off. Prock turned further to look down the hallway behind him to see a retreating shield with a pair of legs. The loop of a long tail stuck out one side. A human was running full speed to get away with their hostage in his arms. Prock pulled his cannon around to aim at the fleeing human and pulled the trigger. The stream of plasma splashed off the deviation plate shield, but then something solid struck Prock in the back of the head. Reacting to the unexpected impact he turned to look at the following ‘clunk’ of the object hitting the floor. A round metal ball decorated with a square hatch design.

Of all the Monos there, Prock was the first to duck sideways. A split second later, he’d discover that wasn’t the only grenade.

End Chapter
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sooo.... is this how stacy ended up on gamble hell world?
I vaguely remember gamble hell world. was that just a short side story? I also seem to remember otto re-confronting clouds on blue skys or whatever his name is.. but it's been awhile since I read those parts so I can't remember where they were