Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 47, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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#1
This went longer than I realized, when did 47 hit 6500 words? I dunno! We're still in the lull though, I must admit.

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Chapter 47
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From the moment he had found that empty nebulae, Kukrit had been having a bad time. He'd picked the place carefully, sending that ship to a barely travelled region of space.

So off to Hrossincru he'd gone. The city of Hross was not the same city he had left behind. When he was there it had been practically run by the Greens with the Blue and Purples right behind them. Yellows were there but on the way out.

Now it was almost entirely Blue with fragmented Greens and Purple clans. Yellow had moved back in, in force.

The Kraltnin Spectrum had also torn the old Green base right down to obliterate evidence. Not that he could tell at first. It was a leftover squad of Spectrum agents that gave that information up.

Capturing them had been an experience. They had spent enough time being manipulated that they were starting to build workarounds for Silianiscan controls. This became clear when the Freeze order had failed. They were still connected to dataspace, so Kukrit had no problem dealing with it. After disabling them he was able to isolate the problem to their translators. Direct contact still allowed him to access the Root package.

Unfortunate really. The Superior had been keeping the Kraltnin afloat for quite some time. They were still useful despite all that had changed with the Gerlen. The Kraltnin were easy to point at a target and the whole society was built around a high level of loyalty to the Blacks that depended on outside guidance more than they were willing to admit.

Although that was also in part because ‘promising’ characters and movements were summarily crushed when found. The remaining Black Kraltnin didn’t have much choice.

Kukrit himself wondered how many Primaries had managed to escape discovery thus far.

So he disassembled the Spectrum agents to search for information. They knew of three Humans and a Green Primary. By picking out interesting individuals who disappeared around the same time he suspected two more Humans, perhaps a Bellani and a few more Kraltnin. It was difficult to find more. In the process of a Spectrum Lens being killed, the whole area had descended into temporary chaos.

Kukrit could almost respect the mess if he only didn’t have to try and sort through the wreckage.

Once he had the agents under his control, he could visit the military station in orbit. That’s when the pertinent information came into focus. They knew as much about the previous mess as any set of records on the planet, but from here he found his shuttle. More digging revealed the shuttle had been under attack and both his shuttle and the attackers had been caught.

It wasn’t clear from just the reports that it was his shuttle, but with the ease by which one could retrace old routes and the fact that there was a Silianiscan shuttle this far out… Well. There weren’t many other conclusions that could be drawn.

The attacking ship… a Kashto ship. That had given Kukrit pause. That was an odd pirate ship to find by itself. Popular in fleets, by itself, really best for avoiding trouble. This one had charged right into trouble, which meant someone recognized the shuttle. The initial reports he found weren’t able to identify the shuttle. Then that ship escaped, after disabling one escort, heavily damaging the second and cleaning out the occupying crew of the Kashto ship. The name Captain Rodgers came up, but Kukrit knew there was something or someone else in the background. Whatever that something else happened to be, the information had been wiped.

His shuttle and one individual remained. A Gerlen who was found aboard that shuttle.

Thanks to the disappearance of the other crew, Kukrit’s infiltration was deceptively easy. Kukrit wormed his way into the station security with more trouble than usual, but once he was there, that was it. It was much easier than pulling the Manifestation apart piece by piece. With his light bending suit and control of the systems, he found the shuttle, and he found the Gerlen.

The shuttle was wiped. Someone with some skill and he knew who it was now, had set the AI core up for an emergency wipe and crash. Then he recognized his own devourer virus. Although, it was not his anymore. This was a rather interesting variant he’d need to disassemble when he actually had the time. He could recover the core, but there wouldn’t be anything of worth on it when he did so. Which left him with the Gerlen.

“What do you know about that shuttle?” Kukrit asked.

“I stole it,” the Gerlen replied quietly.

The meeting had been remarkably restrained. The Gerlen spoke with a signal marker that showed him to be born from the Manifestation clone banks, but now he had a name. Kukrit had actually chuckled out loud to learn Umbra’s name. Someone had a sense of humour.

“What’s another letdown,” Umbra had responded when Kukrit told the Gerlen to obey his orders.

Umbra’s slave package was broken. He had decided to cooperate regardless. Kukrit hadn’t been given an opportunity to investigate the work of a Cracker before, and this one had some interesting hooks in it. But then Kukrit had told him where to find the individuals who had taken his shuttle. They were on Karkantantar, where Kukrit had been. They might even have arrived before Kukrit left!

And so they’d travelled with all the haste Kukrit could muster.

Kukrit was at least relieved to find out they were still here. Finding out those Humans who had stolen the Manifestation had likely arrived here around when he left had sent a literal shock up his back. He’d paid a heavy price for his current ship. Barely more than a shuttle, it had twice the mass of his old ship and a quarter of the space to move around. It was almost all engine. He’d paid that price in order to allow him an advantage in running away. Instead, he ended up appreciating spending the credits to be able to run towards trouble.

Now he was in Karkantantar, he had himself an unexpected servant, a Gerlen Shadow and things had drastically changed in only a handful of days! Red Tail dead, well probably not, and Hatherkey in charge! He wasn’t fully in control yet, but the package was set. And news of those same Humans was everywhere in the cracks! And this knowledge only came by skimming the dataspace while travelling to his temporary home in The Peaks. And even that wasn’t as easy as it should have been. There were decoy dataspace nodes constantly on the move, something was wrong with the dataspace and only a few operators likely had the skill to realize what was actually wrong.

Kukrit was exhausted, and he hadn’t even told Umbra his... friends were here yet. A new report arrived just as the transport capsule came to a halt. He had to search in a rather obtuse manner to try and locate the other Silianiscan shuttle. Umbra had admitted those Humans were using another shuttle from the Manifestation.

Kukrit had set up the search to run automatically on the support hardware of his harness. And that search had a hit… sort of. That blue and black shuttle with the nacelles had remained unmolested for quite some time, and those Humans had been here at the same time as him for quite some time! If only he’d known.

Still, the shuttle had been moved. The records didn’t show anything out of order, and of course they didn’t. But Kukrit highly doubted the shuttle had been moved on purpose. After the shuttle was sent out any further records simply didn’t exist. Yet another problem to look into. Kukrit’s flesh was building up a stress charge.

There was so much he suddenly had to do, and he could barely keep his eyes open. The Humans had been on his mind so much in the last several hours, he was suddenly terribly envious of their endurance to go on.

Locate the shuttle. Locate the Humans. assess Hatherkey’s influence. Inspect his own resources to see what was still viable. Check on enforcement to make sure Kukrit was still off the datascape. Potentially inspect Umbra’s implant to ensure the Gerlen was safe to use. Potentially disassemble his modified devourer virus to see what bits of knowledge could be assimilated.

A short walk later and he was finally through the door of his apartment. Kukrit gave Umbra the bench to sleep on and fell into his own bed only to fall asleep in moments.

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Commissioner Kruent
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Kruent passed through the door back into his office, yet another regular checkup complete. He was certainly feeling his age and the events of the recent days weren’t helping him get any rest. It was something of a gift that Chack himself would tip off the loss of Red Tail, that still didn’t change the overall situation.

Kruent sat in the central stool of his office. His support harness extended from the back wall and lifted him up. He felt the connection arrive and his consciousness settled into the sphere of his dataspace office. His mental implants started sorting through to see what reports had value and what was mere junk data.

The report from the drone was the first to come up, appropriately flagged for his attention. Chase’s influence showed itself when Kruent involuntarily thought of the drone as ‘Bob’. Chase hadn’t even had an explanation for the name. ‘It just felt right’. He’d had the core imprint stripped and sent up to the ring for analysis. The response was positive. It had been compromised and had been designed to work against them.

The removal of that drone shortly before Hatherkey’s big push was a wonderfully warm updraft, alerting him to the technological leak. A couple of his techs had already sifted through and disabled other avenues opened up by the drone.

But at this point, any further investigation led off the planet. The drone had arrived that way and only the purposeful dismantling of that drone had dug up the compromise to its security. If they hadn’t been willing to give up on the drone entirely, the report suggested that leak would have remained buried.

He pulled up the next flagged report. There was a major priority set on any captured sapients. ‘Body Switcher’ was a name Hatherkey had earned quite some time ago, although no one could pinpoint from who and where that name arrived. Kruent suspected someone with perhaps a bit more knowledge and a little bit less courage had found a way to plant that name in the greater public.

Given his contacts, Kruent knew had made a connection obvious to the informed. Body Switchers were more often Silianiscan than any other creature. If there was a word to describe most of the Superior it would be ‘bored’. So they played games, and one of those games was to pretend they were someone else.

To Kruent is was a foregone conclusion, he just needed confirmation.

The report was about as expected. Heavily compromised individuals were at risk of literal mental meltdowns if handled poorly. Several individuals had suffered such a crash, rending any potential information useless. Two deceased individuals, a Veprutasian and a Kashto had yielded up partial results that might be able to prove Superior manipulation, but nothing more had come up quite yet.

The next report was on the wave of crime that accompanied the collapse of Red Tail’s forces and Hatherkey’s take-over, and it was as bad as Kruent expected. Red Tail had a code of honour. She was harsh, ruthless, but not cruel. Hatherkey? His forces were out in force collecting on debts and paying back slights. All that in the midst of claiming any new possible holdouts or places of business they could get their hands on.

Kruent had everything he could scramble out in force, but the deeper one went into a district, the less likely they could find a safe landing spot.

With a disgusted sigh, Kruent pushed away the major reports. He needed something different to refresh his mind.

And something caught his attention indeed. Another report blinked at him, flagged as ‘unrelated, but remarkable’.

A distraction at this point was just what he wanted after all. Kruent opened it up to see a report on the Kraltnin, which was unusual.

It was ancient history to most, but almost a millennia ago, before the advent of the Gerlen, Kraltnin were the common slaves. They could ramp up reproduction quite quickly if they wished and white Kraltnin had a high baseline of loyalty for figures of power, making them malleable slaves. As a result, they were everywhere in this arm and the adjacent arms of the Galaxy itself.

At least as far as the Veprutasian were concerned, Kraltnin were everywhere.

But no matter what master they served, Kraltnin always held a higher level of loyalty for their Alphas. It was a genetic predisposition that proved itself by coming out even without them ever knowing those masters in person. For the most part that wasn’t as big a problem as one might expect. Take the head off whatever Black Kraltnin was agitating, and the Kraltnin settled down.

The initial warning flag was raised by AI community observation routine. The activity of the Kraltnin communication boards was flaring up. “Keh,” Kruent involuntarily exclaimed as he skimmed the report, then dipped deeper into the critical points. The real activity had all started with an adolescent White the AI recognized as ‘Tik’. But looking further back revealed the Kraltnin had recognized that Green Kraltnin and his Human companions earlier than his own forces! Kruent checked the markers to see if anyone else had a chance to read through. Finding no other eyes interested in seeing why any Kraltnin might be upset, Kruent happily restricted access.

He simply didn’t have the resources to get involved with what was happening here now, but...

Sometimes it was better to let such events play themselves out.

His mood dropped in the next moment as a new report came in. Trent had lost track of Chase.

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Chase
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His eyes snapped open. And his head still throbbed.

There was something wet and strangely cold on his neck. Chase tried to sit up. He didn’t make it. Halfway up a wave of dizziness and fatigue hit him and he had to lay back down.

“You didn’t notice did you,” another familiar voice noted. Chase shifted his gaze to look at Piderby. The Gerlen was holding a little container and applying something to his neck. Chase looked at his right arm to see the new dark red stain that had soaked into his sleeve.

That bird who cut his stun baton. Did he get nicked then? Chase had been so hyped up on adrenaline that he hadn’t even noticed. No, it was when they’d buzzed him when he arrived at the open shaft. He remembered it now.

“The slice halted midway,” Piderby noted, “if you had been any slower to dodge, we would not be here to chat.”

“Cuttin’ it close, I guess,” Chase admitted.

Chase took a deep breath to recover himself just a little bit more. As he looked up, Piderby finished the work. Chase hadn’t actually fallen unconscious. He just didn’t hadn’t had any mind left for the real world. The last thing he remembered before everything became white noise was Crawk bearing him down to the ground.

As Chase looked up the open shaft around the pillar a figure jumped down from a couple stories up. He could hear distinctive bursts of sound as parts of the guys… armour corrected his jump. He had jump jets!

Chase raised a hand, pointing at the guy. “Not fair, I don’t got jump jets.”

“Fuckin’ awesome, ain’t it?” the guy said with a big grin showing off the frame of his exosuit. It didn’t enclose him entirely, leaving portions of his body and limbs open. The guy also looked younger than him. He walked up and reached down to Chase while Piderby started putting the little container away. “Maybe we can hook you up!”

“That might be nice, I’m Chase.”

Chase reached up to grasp hands and the guy pulled him up. “Hey, I’m Daniel. We all heard yer’ name, and Strider’s a fuckin’ cool nick, but you like Chase better?”

Lifted up by his right hand, Chase placed his left hand on Daniel’s shoulder to steady himself. He’d lost too much blood, Chase would be unsteady for a little while. “Yeah, that’s what my friends call me.”

“Good to know, but we gotta go,” Daniel noted, pointing up and waving his finger around at the big gaping area around the pillar, “That’s an easy way to find us.”

Chase looked up at the open zone again. “Yeah, lets.”

“Why does my head hurt so much?” Chase had to ask as they turned around. Crawk was there for Chase to lean against, but the black furred Ytheon was a bit too tall to get an arm under Chase’s shoulder. Chase reached up to feel the strangely smooth patch of skin reaching back until it regained a slightly rougher texture. A little bit further back he found the jack cable to his harness still stuck to the skin of the back of his neck. It was also slick with blood.

“Your head hurts because your slave package has been cracked.” Chase’s head popped up and he looked around. But the voice had only spoken over dataspace. “I’m Otto, we’ll meet in a minute. I’m still trying to fend off your unfortunate companions.”

“What did you do to them?” Chase asked, more worried that he might have expected.

“They are trying to find you, but I don’t want to lead them into trouble,” The voice, Otto, explained, “this place is not safe.”

“It sure isn’t,” Chase agreed. “Do we know where we’re going?”

“Well, we’re... “ Otto’s voice trailed off. “Hmm, you don't have to worry about your friends anymore, they’ve joined up with someone else. But you should duck into there.” As Otto spoke, the suggested area map lit up in Chase’s head and he didn’t miss Daniel, Piderby and Crawk all twitching in response as well. Otto had marked a small building and doorways for them to go sneak into and remain out of sight.

“Kruent sent reinforcements?” Chase guessed as they rushed into the building.

“Right on target,” Otto confirmed. “Kruent is redirecting observations drones and officers down this way… I’m guessing these areas are probably gonna be swarming, there might be a fight really soon.” The maps expanded and various portions started shifting to the typical orange warning colour often used.

“A fight?” Chase asked.

“Didja notice the last Monos was gone?” Otto responded. “He tried to escape and broadcast his location while I was working on your slave package.”

“What happened to them?” Chase wondered out loud.

“I happened,” Crawk explained.

That was all Chase needed to know about that. “Hey Pid,” Chase spoke up.

“Yes, friend Chase?”

“Are we near Jolif?”

“Oh, yes that is a good idea. Allow me to highlight the location.”

“You know someone nearby?” Otto asked.

“Indeed!” Piderby answered. “You might even like it.”

“Anyways Crawk,” Chase said, turning to the Ytheon, “What’s your full name?”

Crawk snorted and shook his head, “Well it’s-”

Crawklindak had seven more names. Chase was going to have to practice.

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Hatherkey
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He stood, looming over the little Human Hyowean with his arms crossed. Wastad sat in the back corner, and the Veprutasian doctor he’d taken some time ago stood next to the green girl with a tablet. Hatherkey had arrived a moment ago to see how the study of her slave package was going.

As soon as he’d realized this little ‘Tsury’ was a Hyowean, it wasn’t much of a guess to realize she was wearing a false skin. There was no reason to hide, so he’d ordered it removed. Dr. Uoah had peeled the skin off the Hyowean shortly before seating the tree girl here for further work. The little Veprutasian female busied herself getting scans on the unique biology the Hyowean had made herself.

Hatherkey could feel the right eye of his body twitching. There was a similar twinge in the thumb of his mid left thumb where it rested against the ground. He’d earned himself errant twitches yesterday, but at least some of them had settled out. He turned to look at the Veprutasian Operator, Wastad. “Progress?” Hatherkey asked. “What do you know?”

“I see Achun and Helix techniques, and several unique and dense packages,” Wastad noted, “There are signs of those packages being Silianiscan as well. The counterattack you weathered made that clear.”

“So that Human operator has Silianiscan links after all?” Hatherkey shook his head. He couldn’t wrap his head around it, but how else could this have happened. Four free Humans, one of whom was an Operator of no small skill, a powerful Green Kraltnin, and signs of other capable support. He would have to tread lightly to avoid trouble, he had no idea who the Human’s sponsor might be.

With the lack of resources, it couldn’t be anyone too powerful or wealthy, but competition between newts and young adults was more likely than anyone would expect. Hatherkey’s eye continued to twitch. “Are the implants wiped clean?”

“Hyowean implants are the most complicated, for the work to progress in a proper manner, it is much more effective to work on them from within their tree when they are in a larval form,” Wastad hesitated for a moment, “There is also the option of letting her dry out and hibernate, that would cripple the defences of the implant, but that would also take quite some time before we could act.”

The Hyowean twitched at the word ‘hibernate’. She didn’t seem to like that idea.

“So, no progress?” Hatherkey asked with a gauging look.

“There is progress, but it is slow by necessity,” Wastad replied, “And it would be foolish of me to rush things and waste this opportunity for you.”

Hatherkey looked up and scratched his neck, Wastad knew how to watch his words. Hatherkey stopped scratching when he realized it was a habit of the original body. But the bird was right. It would be almost easier to try and order a Hyowean in. It would be easier, but that would require he admit who he is. Instead, he now had this Tsury, and well, rogue Hyoweans were as rare as naturally occurring exotic matter.

But if he could successfully convert her, and have her plant a Superior tree then he could begin the process of designing his own body free of oversight. He could make a body that broke the normal rules… after building up a genetic library of course. But he already had a good baseline for several modifications. The Hyowean herself was an interesting Human and… something else mix. Then there was his new servant, Red Tail. Kraltnin Primary genetics were superior in general, although inconsistent in terms of transmission.

“Is there anything to learn from the others?”

“I inspected the Leralin, their lesser imagination makes them more vulnerable to infiltration,” Wastad noted as if Hatherkey didn’t know, “But even she was well defended by that trap.”

Hatherkey pulled his hand away as he realized he was scratching his neck again. The fragments of that virus were interfering with the control of this body, he was going to have to switch. Hatherkey sighed as he considered the other two slaves. He could have them torn apart in an attempt to decipher the unique slave package crack, but he really did need to provide interesting material once in a while. “Very well, place the other two prisoners in stasis. We will have them ready for the next shipment.”

“Of course.”

“Hmm, a report,” Wastad noted. “Sending it your way boss.”

The alert arrived in Hatherkey’s head. The Humans had attacked one of his squads. The Monos who sent the report hadn’t seen them, but he’d heard the unique crack of the rifles the Humans were using and managed to successfully add two and two to get four. He had been dealing with the enforcement owned Human, Strider. That explained what was going on. The thought of another Human compounding the mess had Hatherkey scratching his neck again. He pulled his hand away with more speed that might be considered dignified.

“Redirect everyone in the area,” Hatherkey ordered with a growl, “I want those Humans crushed.”

“Of course, sending orders now.”

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Chase
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Otto was a heavy set guy. Not really flabby, but stocky. Average height, brown eyes, brown hair. Looks like a somewhat typical white guy of European descent and in his mid-thirties. He also had a certain amount of restraint Chase related to city born and raised people like himself. The remarkable things about Otto were the three nasty scars down his right cheek and that interesting prosthetic hand. It wasn’t like any augment Chase had seen before…

But he’d seen Motes that looked somewhat like that. And occasionally he’d see that familiar red glow on the back of that gauntlet. Considering the friendly spider bot earlier, Chase was confident of this hunch.

Mike, like Daniel, was definitely more American redneck. He was brown eyed and brown haired as well, but the brothers were both still in their twenties, and they smelled like trouble. They were the kind of brawlers Chase would avoid, although showing off what he could do usually earned himself a bit of respect from that type. He’d never really understood that parkour was a lot different from fighting and those two were fighters for sure.

The three Humans were wearing cloaks to hide the weapons they were carrying. Daniel had accepted his cloak from Mike when the older brother had joined the little party.

And there were other signals nearby. Chase recognized them as a small squad of Tak’tin, and another waiting at the gaps entrance on their route identified as a Kraltnin named ‘Tanktantun’. That would be the big Green. For other signals, there was a Bellani and another Kraltnin with one of the Tak’tin. They were named ‘Matchka’ and ‘Minmint’. Kruent, and by extension Chase, hadn’t known about those two.

After seeing the location of 'Everyone’s Kitchen’ owned by the Filmath merchant Jolif, the group had decided that might be a good destination after all. They had apparently been hiding some distance away in another Gap between districts.

“Careful man,” Daniel said, grabbing Otto as the larger man drifted towards a corner.

Otto twitched, then looked at Daniel. “Thanks, lots going on right now.”

“Yeah, I get ya, no reason to bust yer nose tho.”

“Why do some of the signals appear and disappear?” Chase asked. It wasn’t just them that showed on the map. Blips would appear and disappear, indicating the flickering signals of likely thugs and enforcement officers. The place was buzzing with activity.

“Some of them are officers,” Otto explained, “and some of them look like Hatherkey’s thugs. The Motes are watching for who’s wandering around.”

“Like your hand?”

“Good eyes,” Otto complimented Chase.

“They gotta be to do what I do.”

A signal popped up right on top of them. Chase was surprised to feel his gut clench. Then equally surprised to feel relief when it was clearly a pair of thugs that came around the corner. It wasn’t enforcement. The faces did register on the list Kruent had made sure everyone held on known criminals.

Mike and Daniel didn’t hesitate to rush forwards, the pair of them pelting forwards towards trouble. A reddish Ytheon Oxman and a plain brown weasel approaching on all fours. The pair of them were wearing harnesses and the Ytheon had picked up some gauntlets with impact modules on the knuckles. The smaller Kashto stood up and drew his pulse rifle, squeezing off several shots as he did so.

The shots splashed off the deviation fields of the brothers. The Ytheon reared back, raising a fist high.

Daniel leaned forward and jumped in a manner that probably shouldn’t have worked, but the jets on his calves and just under his shoulder blades boosted the younger brother forward.

Surprised the Ytheon tried to smash his fist downwards into Daniel, but having started too late, he missed as Daniel flew by. The Kashto twisted his body, attempting to move out of the way of the Human coming his way. A flying knee caught the Kashto directly in the side of the gut. The resulting explosion of air as Daniel’s knee evacuated the lungs of the weasel made Chase flinch.

But Daniel did not stick the landing. The knee wrecked the Kashto but caused Daniel to roll forward awkwardly.

The Ytheon, his fist smashing into the ground, ended up leaving himself open for Mike’s arrival. He was smaller and lighter, but Mike’s balled up fist directly to the Ytheon’s snout caused him to recoil up and backwards with a low bellow of pain. Mike’s other hand came up with a pistol and fired several shots into the face of the bigger Sapient.

Daniel had landed in a heap, tangled up with the Kashto, but the smaller furred xeno was too busy hacking and spasming in pain to react.

Mike marched over to help disentangle Daniel. As soon as he had a clear shot he fired the pulse pistol into the head of the Kashto as well. Mike’s expression twisted into an ugly grimace, bringing the moment into relief. He wasn’t executing them without emotion.

“We should keep moving,” Mike told them as he turned to face the group.

-----
Daniel
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The suit was weird. Otto had explained how Grips was sorta like another set of feelings or emotions that meshed with his own. It came in two parts to form an exosuit of sorts. From the waist down was one mote, from the waist up was another. When he has first… ‘put them on’ he had experienced what Otto was talking about and it was *weird*.

The legs were bulky around his lower calves and knees where the bulk of the modules were located, especially the booster jets things right under his calves. The upper mote wasn’t so much a chest piece as it was really mostly mounted on his back and the outside of his arms. It meshed with his simple harness well enough, bolstering the D-field at the same time.

But the Motes had confused him for the first half hour of their trip. It’s not every day a person grew a new hand, or arm, or whatever. But that’s what it felt like. Otto had noted communication from the Motes arrived as feelings or impulses, and he had to agree. Wearing the suit he had felt the urge to test the booster jets whenever a reasonable area to try them out came up. He knew it was the Motes giving him that message. There was a feeling, sorta like how you could tell the voice of one person apart from another. With this feeling, he knew which Mote was sending the message. And they wanted him to test out the jets to get a feel for the things.

And they were thrilled when he was able to stick the landing.

Daniel was pretty sure that if he wasn’t used to sharing dataspace this would have messed him right up. Fortunately, he’d gotten used to acting and feeling stuff that he specifically knew wasn’t him.

They had come up from a much lower part of the Gap, riding one chain lift after another. It turned out that cloaks were something of a problem, wanting to get stuck in shifting links. Mike needed Otto’s hand to rip the edge of his cloak from where it was pinched and approaching the upper gear where the link would then descend.

Matchka rose up, then Minmint and finally Tank at the end. The group of them had joined up, although the Tak’tin had remained separate. They needed to preserve the safety of their Motes, which meant keeping out of sight. Daniel was pushing it by being here, but it was easier to hide his body and not call attention.

But when they turned around they were at the beginning of the largest of the marketplaces. At least as far as Piderby and Chase were suggesting.

And it was busy, there were tonnes of sapients wandering around. And he was seeing more of the rare types as well. Daniel could see another one of those barrel-tripod alien things. More than a few Bellani were about being carried by their horse-faced servants and he saw lots of Ushen scuttling around underfoot. One of those wood armoured bears, a Helix pushed past Daniel to step onto the chain lift and drop out of sight.

“Let's go,” Chase told them as he started walking, “the guy we want is this way.”

They pushed through the crowd, at first with trouble, but while there were more people the further they went, the more it opened up. Daniel didn’t miss it. There were lots of Kraltnin here, and they were looking and moving the crowd to make way. Daniel dropped back slightly to the currently gray skinned Tanktantun the Kraltnin were clearly staring at.

“I think your disguise ain’t workin’ man.”

Tank’s head shifted slightly to the side. “Are you certain?”

“They’re all lookin’ at ya. The Whites I mean.”

Tank let his eye wander, checking out the crowd as they walked. “You are right, they know who I am...” Tank didn’t miss a step, but he hesitated before speaking further. “I am not certain how I should act.”

“Well, guess ya can just wait an’ see.”

“Hmm.”

They continued through the active ramps and walkways as the area continued to widen. Ahead of them, Daniel could see not more walkways, but a solid set of walls spanning the Gap and extending up, probably right to the ceiling.

Now that Daniel was listening, he could hear the comments of ‘Green Tail’ and also ‘Strider’. There was a subtle buzz spreading ahead of them.

They arrived at the entrance to the Market, a sort of patchwork mall according to their dataspace map. Their destination ‘Everyone’s Kitchen was a couple layers below, but from the direction, they were coming it had to be accessed by a lift from within the building.

Here in the gaps, it resembled more the malls that Daniel remembered from home. Of course, here it was all more rundown, a patchwork collection of buildings and stalls, but the products were on display like he was used to. Much of it was tools and decorations. Food stalls were pretty common as well as implant or harness add-ons. Some places openly sold weapons and there were even shops advertising escorts of various different types. Thugs, bodyguards, ‘escorts’ and full on prostitutes were all very common. A bunch of them displayed signs noting when the rentals would return.

Here there was an actual elevator. Not a chain lift or a gravity type lift, but an actual, get inside the box, the doors close and then it drops or rises to the chosen floor, elevator. The map showed a few of these elevators in service. It was a tight fit, but several civilians actually chose to wait to make room for the group.

They descended to the lower levels, getting off at the appropriate floor. Chase continued to lead the way with confidence.

“Jolif is a pretty decent guy,” Chase noted as he walked, “Lotsa really good food too, the Filmath are all about food actually.”

“Oh?” Mike asked.

“Yeah, too much so really, but Jolif is one of the good ones.”

“What are the bad ones like?” Mike asked.

A wave of repulsion radiated from Daniel’s connected Motes.

“I don’t think we want to know,” Otto replied as he looked at his hand, Grips.

“Yeah, you can probably guess, and you’d be right,” Chase agreed, leaving it to the imagination.

They passed through the doors of the main feature of the floor, arriving at what might as well be a soup kitchen or a similar sort of cafeteria. It was clearly designed to serve the poor. Lots of Sapients were slowly cycling through to get a share of actual soup and meal balls of soft or crunchy varieties.

“Jolif has upscale and low scale eating on the same floor here,” Chase explained. “You’ll have a hard time finding a cheaper meal that’ll actually keep you healthy in the whole city, and he has rare food in his own restaurant in the back for people he likes and people who can afford something exotic, within reason.”

“Oh?” Mike asked.

“Yeah, you have no idea, this guy has actual fuckin’ burgers,” Chase explained.

“Fuckin’ what?” Daniel asked, perking right up.

“You’re shittin’ me,” Mike agreed.

They passed through the crowds, coming up to a surprisingly well-built wall separating Jolif’s personal eatery from the public cafeteria.

It was a big restaurant with lots of talking, laughing and joking customers all seated at their tables. More of the silver orb drones floated about trays hanging underneath as they moved empty dishes away for cleaning or disposal or others bringing plates of food to their patrons.

Chase lead the snaking group past the reception desk and across the floor between tables and many different Sapients to finally arrive at Jolif. He was seated alone at his table, a handful of dishes, mostly empty, scattered across the table. The only thing full was a bowl of simple rollbugs near his right hand. In his left, he held a tablet, his attention on the device. But as they approached he placed the tablet down.

The Filmath was a wide, stocky creature. Daniel had noticed from a distance that Jolif seemed to be sitting on a low set chair, suggesting the creature had a long torso and short legs. His arms certainly appeared massive compared to the rest of him. He had a short snout but with heavy tusks and canines. The broad furred biped also had an obviously thicker pelt on the outer facing portions of his fur, a natural armour. The hand holding a tablet had layers of hard material like keratin on the knuckles and around his wrists.

Jolif wasn’t wearing a harness, but he was wearing black pants and a wide black leather girdle.

But that wasn’t what Daniel noticed first. What he noticed first was that his Motes recognized the Filmath. Again, it wasn’t just Daniel that felt what the Motes were feeling.

Otto raised his artificial hand and pointed at the Filmath. “You seem oddly familiar.”

Jolif looked up in response to a voice he’d never heard before, but his gaze didn’t rise any higher than the Mote in front of him. He flinched back in his seat.

“Are you with Harley?” he asked in fear.

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End Chapter
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