Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 45, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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A short rest and then we figure out what to do next. Oh, and this: Umbra and Prock

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Chapter 45
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Tanktantun had remained to speak with Tik one last time, but the others had already moved on.

“So it would be best if we go our separate ways,” Tanktantun told him.

Tik shook his head and argued, desperation creeping into his voice, “But Green Alpha, I won’t betray you! You are powerful and your operator can make sure I am free!”

Tanktantun placed his heavy hand on Tik’s shoulder. “We are not certain we can win this fight, Hatherkey now holds sway over the dark side of this city, we have no allies of strength remaining. I cannot put you at risk.”

“But-”

“We were reluctant to bring you this far, even that much put you in danger. But Piderby expects we will have to lay low for a day to sort out our plan from here and our hiding spot is within The Gaps.”

“I-, but…” Tik’s tail dropped to the ground and his shoulders slumped. Tik dropped his head and looked up at Tanktantun, “I understand, I am sorry I could not help.”

“What you cannot do is no fault of your own,” the Green reassured him. “Do not be sorry.”

Tik nodded his head and slapped the ground with his tail. “I desire the best success to you Green Tail. Do not let Hatherkey beat you!”

Tik turned and walked away with confidence, not wanting to hold the Primary back any further. He walked for some distance before turning his head. When he did finally look the group was gone. Tik’s shoulders slumped once again and he continued on his way.

The Gaps had always been a bright and colourful home, even if it was worn down and patched together. But finding and then losing a legendary Primary leeched the colour from the world around him. Tik dragged his tail all the way home.

It was little more than a hole in the wall. A bed, small console with limited dataspace access and a tiny food storage unit. His father was a Grey Kraltnin of some capability but had more than a few children. Tik was a useful runner with a good memory, but still only a child. He was lucky to have a hole to himself. Tik cracked his storage open but it was empty, scavenged by another resident. It was no surprise, he had been out of touch for a bit. He’d gone hungry before, but he had eaten well in Red Tail’s base while it lasted.

Tik plugged into the dataspace console.

The Kraltnin had barely any frame of reference for the Human internet and the myriad ways in which it expanded and exploded to allow Humans all their ways of expression. He would likely think it primitive compared to the dataspace the greater Galaxy used, and for the most part, he’d be right. He was unlikely to appreciate the irony of logging on to the Kraltnin text forums located on the metaphorical bottom of this more advanced dataspace network.

Tik spent some of his hard earned credits to do so. If he spent more he could access the virtual forums. Spend a bunch more and he could even participate in classes of various sorts, but that was more of a dream than a possibility for this destitute Kraltnin.

So to the text forums he went.

It took him much less time to find what he was looking for than Tik might have expected.

“Who else has met Green?” Was at the top of the board, still, and it had been there for a couple of days. Tik likely would have been much more surprised to meet Tanktantun if he hadn’t known this was there. Tik opened up the conversation to where he’d left off. It started with a smash. Tik found himself impressed as he watched a flat recording of Tanktantun falling from an upper walkway of a warehouse onto an unsuspecting Vep. The black feather never had a chance.

There were numerous sightings listed by other Whites, all of them wondering and musing over the impressive Green's purpose for being here. More than a few were trying to compare Green Tail to the much more familiar Red Tail.

Then another flat recording was posted by a Kraltnin named Webalin showing off Tanktantun. It started just as Tanktantun grabbed the leg of an airborne and armoured Veprutasian and brought the bird down onto another. The resulting crunch was incredible.

Things got more interesting when an anonymous user posted a comment and an image of what looked like a Black. “Finally showed his true colour I see. He arrived wearing false skin a few weeks ago, this is what he looked like!” Tik could see the resemblance. He liked Tanktantun in green much more.

It wasn't just Tanktantun that earned attention.

“My owner told me about the Humans following our Primary around. They saved her from some Monos thugs!” The story went deeper, this Kraltnin was owned by an Ushen, a smaller race, but a kind one. If an Ushen wasn't afraid of you it was because they were terrified. Part of that was because so few Sapients would spontaneously treat an Ushen well.

The Kraltnin Green had found companions worth being in his presence.

Tik read for a while longer, watching the time he paid for wind down. But one piece of information was missing. With only a little time to spare, he decided to add his own voice.

“I met Green Tail and Red Tail at the same time,” Tik started. “But something terrible has happened…”

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Otto
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They called it a stilt house.

The term made sense, it was somewhat similar to the same sort of building back on earth built high enough to handle floods and high tides. Or houses meant to provide a home in marshes or bogs.

And 'bog’ might not be a bad way to describe the bottom layer of the gaps. They’d been over the oily stinkin’ swamp before on their way out after meeting Leroy of the railroad. This one was a different section of Gaps, a different slice, and Otto could swear it smelt at least twice as bad.

This stilt house was braced up against the wall and half obscured by everything that had fallen onto it. The pathway out to the closest stairwell up was also covered up, the previous residents having built a shelter to keep that walkway viable. Crawk had excavated that walkway so that they might enter, it had been covered over with trash.

The burying of the shack seemed to have led to the death of the previous resident. They had arrived to find the desiccated corpse of an old Veprutasian. He, or she, had likely been too weak to escape the almost entirely buried structure.

The bog collected refuse dropped from above. Refuse that could be anything from a drink container tosses casually over a railing, to a whole building suddenly separating from the wall and taking out any number of buildings underneath it out on the way down. Occasionally they would hear things land, either on a pile of scrap or in the thick liquid that made up that bog.

It had been a long day, and even worse, this was not the whole crew they’d started out with. Otto was trying to sort his way through the dataspace, but concentration… was a problem.

Mike had lost Stacey, Otto had lost Aurula and Tsury. The recovery of Minmint and their efforts to scavenge anything of use from the now-defunct base belonging to Red Tail had required them to set aside the worst of their emotions, but having finished that, they had sunken into sullen silence.

Mike was filling that silence with gun maintenance. He’d pulled apart his and Daniel’s rifles, making sure it was clean, oiled and in good condition. Now he was pulling apart the last gun they’d found, the one Minmint had used in the workshop. Matchka was doing the exact same right next to him with the more advanced gear, the two sitting back to back as they tinkered and tweaked the gear. They had found much of their equipment still present at the base, although quite a few things had been wrecked by the localized EMP.

As Mike and Matchka worked, Tank was having Minmint help him into the spare second skin. This one was grey. Tank was on the edge of the size allowance for a Grey Kraltnin, but at a distance he would be less likely to draw attention.

They also had the four Tak’tin with them still. The quiet warriors had shed their Mote armour and were quite happy to wander about bare of all but a couple of their companions. Otto had enjoyed a momentary distraction as Matchka wavered between fascination and fear as the Mote ‘armour’ disassembled itself. It was almost entirely modular the way it worked. Each limb and portion of armour was cabable of limited locomotion. The movement of some of them was awkward, but they acted as a collective, reforming into simple quadrupeds for ease of movement. The Motes had rebundled themselves into dog-like forms.

With the exception of one of those ‘dogs’, The Tak’tin and their friends were now roaming quietly around the lower gaps looking for companions.

Crawk was resting, his eyes closed. Everyone would likely be joining him soon in sleep. As for Piderby, the Gerlen had released a long drawn out sigh and removed the purple suit he was clearly proud of and replaced it with a simple grey jumpsuit.

Piderby was an officer class Gerlen, which for the most part didn’t mean much. Officers really only had one specific trait that had been developed over soldier, assault or other variants. As long as they weren’t doing anything physically strenuous, they could remain awake for extended periods of time. Now, the significantly less fabulous Gerlen was attempting to secure supplies and information around the lower levels. Backing him up was the last of the dog Motes.

And finally Daniel was keeping an eye through the only functioning window of the building, specifically kept clear so any approaching walkways could be observed. The Motes had dug it out for them.

As for digging, Otto slowly dug his way through the dataspace. He didn’t have access when they first arrived, but a couple local Motes had stationed themselves in the debris pile on the house to serve as antennae. Harley had been thrilled with the little creatures when they’d met, absolutely revelling in the chance to show off her friends. He could understand why.

The young woman had been unwilling to explain just how she met the Motes and their Mother SI. She’d told him some of the history of the Motes though. How the little Synthetic Intelligences were a creation of the Sonos, sister race of the Monos. How the two races together had been growing strong in influence and knowledge. Then how the Monos had thrown the Sonos, and so much else away in a fit of jealous arrogance and overconfidence.

And how the Monos were now falling from relevance as a result. If someone hadn’t been there to manipulate the Monos into tying their own noose, Otto would eat his boots.

Otto shook his head and went back to trying to search, even if he barely knew where to start. Someone had scrubbed the surveillance information for Red Tail's base and the surrounding area with meticulous care. Or at least, they’d scrubbed all the easy to find stuff, he was combing through on the chance something, anything had been missed. Otto spasmed as a virus he hadn’t spotted in the Gaps dataspace took a bite out of something important and all of a sudden he was on clean-up duty.

That was the worst part of a virus, It often took a bit of time to even understand the nature of just what went wrong.

After Otto had cleaned up the fragmentation of his dataspace he disconnected. He might not have, but Grips was making itself known. Otto opened his eyes and looked at the clenched right hand that was the little Mote. He flexed the hand slowly, it was still having problems, of course, they hadn’t done any work on fixing the hand. But that wasn’t even what Grips was trying to tell Otto.

‘Get some sleep!’ was the feeling Otto was getting. ‘You’re tired! You need rest!’

Instead, Otto went over to where Mike and Matchka were sitting on a small pile of patched cushions and pillows. He organized a cushion and a couple of pillows for himself and sat down across from Matchka, cross-legged.

“Yes?” Matchka asked, looking up at Otto.

Mike didn’t look at Otto. he’d realized the older of the brothers was just as angry at himself as he was at Otto. That meant Mike was keeping a sullen silence rather than let himself start snapping at anybody nearby.

“Can you give him a little attention?” Otto asked, holding his right prosthetic out, palm upwards.

Matchka’s tail slowly puffed up, and her ears tilted backwards. But she didn’t stay that way. She closed her eyes and took a few (relatively) large breaths. As she did so her tail returned to its normal size and her ears faced forwards again. Matchka put down the d-field module she’d been playing with and held her little hands out.

Otto held the ‘wrist’ of Grips. The overlapping plates clamping onto his forearm let go starting from the parts closest to his elbow, releasing themselves in series until he felt the last layer near his wrist relax. The segmented cable along his arm let go until only the plug in the jack behind his ear was connected. Matchka accepted the Mote gauntlet with both hands and Otto shivered when a nervous feeling seeped in through the connection.

“What relationship do the Bellani have with the Motes?” Otto asked.

Matchka’s backpack was laying on the floor next to her. After she had reached in to pull a small scanner and magnifier out she looked up at him. “Extermination,” Matchka replied, her tone flat. “Motes, invade, steal and burrow. Expand and destroy installations, ships.”

“And now I’m asking you to maintain one.”

“Yes.”

Otto sat across from her watching as Matchka inspected the damage that had been done to Grips’ components.

“Synthetic muscle, healthy… no, third burnt,” Matchka noted as she manipulated the ring finger of the hand. She went to inspecting the smaller signal wires weaved through the small ropes of material that acted as the muscle.

While she did that Otto disconnected the cable and got up to walk to a small pile of discarded Motes. Not all of the armour pieces the Tak’tin were wearing had made it through alive after all. He grabbed another smaller mote that seemed to have similar sized muscles for the Tak’tin manipulator arms and carried it over. If they wanted parts, this was the only place to get it for now. Otto had to jam the stump of his right arm into his mouth as he yawned while carrying the unit back to Matchka.

Mike snapped the last piece of the gun back together, then abruptly stood up. “I’m gonna sleep.”

Otto nodded seriously at Mike. Mike made eye contact, then looked away and walked to the only other room in the mostly buried building. Otto would head off to sleep soon too. Mother was looking as well, and Otto knew he was burnt enough to get himself into trouble if he went digging in the wrong places right now. He’d sit with Matchka until she’d looked Grips over, then he’d head off.

Otto resumed sitting across from Matchka and plugged the cable back in his neck, to Grips’ relief. Matchka set the Mote down on her cross-legged lap. Otto held the disabled Mote out to her. Matchka accepted the limb shaped Mote, placing it on top of Grips as she started looking for compatible parts.

“Didn’t know,” Matchka admitted. To what, Otto wasn’t sure yet, but he had a guess. He could feel Grips’ curiosity radiating through the link. “Never heard, Sonos. Only knew Motes.”

“Well, they are a type of SI after all,” Otto noted.

Matchka looked up at him, all four ears facing him in what he knew to be curiosity.

“SI are regulated, and Mother and her Motes skirt the rules,” Otto nudged.

Matchka nodded in understanding, “Sabotaged,” she agreed, “Sonos attacked because Motes.”

Otto jumped at the feeling of shock that jumped across the link. Grips didn’t realize, he didn’t know. The Motes still remembered their creators? And he’d just told the little guy why they were gone! Matchka twitched as Otto leaned forward and put his hand on the back of the Mote.

“It’s not your fault buddy.”

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Hatherkey
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“They disappeared into the Gaps?”

“Yes, Lord Superior, their Tak’tin companions located and removed our pursuers.”

“And the dataspace surveillance?”

“Something is interfering,” Wastad reported, suspicions creeping into his voice, “It is difficult to say if it is the cracker Human or something else.”

“NNnnnn,” Hatherkey was only just able to subdue the urge to growl intrinsic to his current host. The Monos body was strong enough, with plenty of capacity for augmentation, but Monos were prey to their instincts. That meant if he was going to occupy this body, he would be susceptible to its failings. Not so much a problem as long as he understood the presence of those failings, but this was why he preferred playing puppeteer to the colder and more calculating mind of the Veprutasian. Their greedy nature didn’t bother him, he was greedy too, and he knew it.

The Monos. If Hatherkey’s body hadn’t been killed by that Kraltnin female, then he would have been able to capture them all. The Green Kraltnin and some capable Humans would have been a welcome addition to his forces, or perhaps a good gift. He was still split on the whole situation. If he had rushed with all haste to that base, he might have arrived in time to still do so, Maybe. As for the attack in general, sooner may have been better, If they had known. Lopulm had informed of their departure as soon as he could, but it wasn’t soon enough. Even so, the opportunity to catch them unawares had to be taken.

If that Human had been able to break the much more powerful sladier control, then everything would have come unravelled. That would have released Lopulm and Oriashka, giving Red Tail a potentially more powerful Operator and blowing the cover of his hard earned slave. He couldn’t risk the Human accomplishing this feat, no matter how unlikely.

“Continue the search, I want to inspect our new possessions.”

“Yes Lord Superior.” Wasted back out of the office first, leaving Hatherkey for the moment.

Hatherkey glanced out the window of his hanging tower, observing the district below. He could see some movement of the transport tubes, this high up the structures had already transitioned to the reinforced crystal tubes rather than the concrete tubes of the lower levels. The vehicles gave some semblance of life, as well as the few open streets and the appropriate foot traffic he could see from this distance.

Hatherkey snorted and moved on. That would be his soon enough.

A short walk and a quick grav lift trip and he was down in the temporary cells. There was something satisfying about the ancient design of the cells. One could use enclosed cells and monitors if they needed, but bars were an endlessly useful design. Of course, these bars were powered up to give anyone who dared touch them a nasty shock.

The cells lined one side of the hall. The first held the blue Leralin Lopulm had attempted to claim. It had been something of a chuckle watching the record of her coming back to life. If Hatherkey had been on that capsule, he might have lost a second body. Perhaps.

The bird had physically launched herself at Lopulm, fully intent on grievous harm. She had even got her claws and beak into Lopulm. The augment Lopulm would need had been worth the show. But now, she had gone into social rejection. A brooding female Leralin did not handle isolation well, but she would arrive in her new home in a bad mood. A good way to raise her value where she was going.

The next cell held the younger of the Human females. He had seen her in passing, but this female had remained passive and quiet. As he came into sight she shrunk against the wall of her cell, hiding her face behind the strange hair. Very cute, fear could be fun the odd time, but it wasn’t fear that raised his charge. He raised a hand to rub his nose as something tickled his nostrils. It was quite an unusual look, that hair of large wound strands, covered in fuzz, but he had read the records From Deria Canon Onus when the Humans had started being a problem. It had been clear that there could be an incredible variance between even Humans of the same breed.

Hatherkey moved onto the last woman. If the blue Leralin has been impressive, this one had been outright destructive. She had ripped a pulse rifle from the hands of a Kashto, shot him with his own rifle, then clubbed the closest Veprutasian to death when the deviation field protected him. An impressive, but not entirely unexpected, feat of Human rage and desperation. Now she sat at the back of the cage on her bare bench. Unlike the previous Human, this one wasn’t afraid to look at him. Oh no. She glared at him, a look he could recall from Deria’s records. Hatherkey stood up right close to the bars just to see if she would react.

Fear may not have been something he was terribly interested in, fear was easy and it was common. Everyone was afraid of him which made it boring. But anger? That took effort to earn, he did enjoy rage.

She didn’t rise to his bait. She had probably touched the bars once already.

That smell tickled at his nose again. Hatherkey looked down the hall. The fourth cell had been occupied for a bit, but now Nualula was off being implanted and augmented. A new arm and slave package would make her a powerful asset after all.

That smell tickled again. His head snapped to the left, looking towards the other Human. That smell wasn’t normal.

Hatherkey marched to the cell, commanding it open with an impulse.

“You stay away from her!” The older woman yelled, “You’ll regret it if you touch her!”

Hatherkey marched into the cell with the smaller Human avoiding his eyes.

“Freeze,” Hatherkey said, then he repeated himself in Silianiscan, [Freeze].

Verbal orders had to remain simple, and they only lasted for a short period of time. But the control precepts were buried so deeply into the fundamentals of the BIPU that it couldn’t be worked around. She didn’t even need to have a slave package installed. The slave package helped extend the control by a great deal of course, but he had plenty of time to see what he needed to see.

He reached for her head. An arc of electricity arced from her head to his hand and he recoiled with a hiss. Those… vines had built up a charge. And he could still smell her. Roughly, he grabbed her by the jaw and pulled her face around. The blue orbs of an Ushen stared back at him, and he realized there were two vines with bulbs on her chest. It was only now in which he realized her hair wasn’t hair at all.

This body and smell were all familiar to him, as it should be to any of his kind. It was they who did much of the biological work on Silianiscan form development.

“Oh, well, you’re a Hyowean!”

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Chase
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He dropped onto the back of the Kashto, spiking the two batons into the guys back.

“Erughghghghgh!” the brown Kashto grunted, flailing as the the shock ran through his body.

Chase looked up to see the other Kashto fleeing, heading for a transit station up ahead. The Kashto arrived to see the automatic door slide open, only to flinch and start back-peddling. A great big hand reached through the door, grabbing the head of the weasel.

Chase’s new minder, Trenk stepped through the door with a struggling Kashto hanging from her hand. With the strength difference like that, there was nothing the smaller Sapient could do.

“Well, that’s a couple more,” Chase noted, wiping the sweat from his forehead, “Pretty big haul so far today.”

“Of course.” Trenk replied, “With all of Hatherkey’s forces active, such is inevitable.”

Chase sighed. The Blue Oxwoman with the chest and underarms was more deadpan than the drone had been. He looked at Trenkulans. She had a last name and at least two middle names, and she had told him if they were in Ytheon space, he’d be expected to use that full name too. But here in Veprutasian territory, the shortened name was fine and expected, much like any other Ytheon.

He’d never realized he was using a shortened name for Crawk. He wondered periodically what the guys full name actually was.

“You still good to go, Trenk?” Chase asked.

“Of course, but allow me a moment to rest,” Trenk replied. “We must use all of this opportunity that we can. If I exhaust myself now, we will catch less.”

She sat down on the steps up to the transport station. With that he knew she was tired. Chase looked at her for a moment. The females looked much the same as the male Ytheon, although the flat plate on their forehead didn’t actually meet in the middle, you could see a gap from each side, making it look more like proper antlers. She didn’t have breasts, or maybe she did, just not on her chest. Chase wasn’t about to ask. He’d seen her knock a Monos out cold earlier. A little more arm strength and she could probably have dislocated the guy’s head with a single punch. The impact still made his gut clench.

“You said it,” Chase agreed. He’d been run ragged for the past few hours. Ever since that tip-off from Cliffside station of all places had warned them it was on. And the tip-off hadn’t been wrong. Hatherkey’s goons had gone topside, going after all sorts of places without a care in the world.

Chase was also convinced not having Bob along for the ride had helped out quite a bit. He’d never had support from other officers before. Any nearby help always being just too far behind. A fine excuse considering what Chase could do, but Kruent had allowed Chase to direct his help. ‘Wait here, I’ll send them your way,’ had worked out in his favour all day long.

Chase debated mentioning the other thing he’d noticed. The Motes were on the move. Any time he’d run into the things they’d look at him and then scuttle back into their hiding places. He could see that animal intelligence at work. But now, they would look at him for sure, but all the Motes were roving around, looking for something. And for some reason, he couldn’t find the urge to say anything.

A hover van floated down next to them, the back of the vehicle sliding open. A simple prisoner van, it was fully automated to head to a place, pick up criminals and then take them home. Chase and Trenk tossed their prisoners into the vehicle.

“You can hold up until the shift change?” Chase asked Trent. Most Sapients simply couldn’t handle the workload he could, so soon enough he’d have another partner. Still better than Bob though.

“Yes, with your methods, I will endure,” Trenk replied with a nod of her head.

Chase looked up, he could see one of those Motes now, gazing down on him with an unblinking red eye.

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Daniel
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Otto and Mike were off to sleep, which means he was the one to do the talking when the Tak’tin arrived with one of the Mote dogs… or at least, that's what Daniel had thought at first. This one was different. Its form shifted and it took on the appearance of armor, much like what Harley had shown off.

“Where’dja find this guy?” Daniel asked the Tak’tin moth mantis guy.

“Borrowed maker, stolen and set up earlier,” The Tak’tin explained. “Common Mote practice. Steal and disassemble equipment for later use. The maker has likely remained in hiding for some time.”

“Whoa, what? Aren’t ya gonna get in shit fer that?”

“Mother has decided to take that risk for you,” The soldier explained. “Power drain will draw attention to maker soon enough, but we have time to make use of it.”

“I dunno man, we just took a big fuckin’ risk for someone we barely knew, look how that shit turned out.”

That make the guy stop for a moment. He tilted his head as he considered how to respond while looking at Daniel. “Queen Harley made the decision. She has decided she likes you.”

“Well, I guess? Mike’s a good guy, and Otto is better than everyone thinks but-”

“No, you.”

Daniel blinked and stopped talking for a moment.

“Regardless, this amalgam is for yourself or your brother, but there is another report to make,” The Tak’tin continued, not registering Daniel’s shock. “Your leader and the Ytheon soldier desired to locate the Human known as Chase. The Human is on the prowl, hunting rogue elements of Hatherkey’s forces, now may serve as an excellent opportunity.”

“I- uh- I’ll wake the guys,” Daniel replied, turning around.

Crawk was up and standing. He had moved the moment Chase’s name was mentioned.

“Where?” Crawk asked. “Where is my friend?”


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End Chapter
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