Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 49, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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And so it begins, although only one small group is anything resembling prepared. Poor Kruent, he's gonna have a mess to clean up.

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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Next
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Chapter 49
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It was easy to think of Motes as simple pests. Scavenging robots that would disassemble existing technology to repurpose it for themselves. But if one was familiar enough with the Motes then they would realize the little Synthetic Intelligences did in fact either have a sense of justice or a sense of humour.

It could be hard to tell which it was.

Tsak was a resident Monos working as a bouncer for one of the many lower district bars. He was not a nice person. Now Tsak was stressed out tonight. He and a coworker had fended off several people claiming to be part of Hatherkey’s gang and wanted preferential treatment.

So he’d beaten more than a few Kashto and Vep’s within a finger’s breadth of their life. Teach them to try and throw around weight they didn’t have. Then Tsak had beaten up a few he just didn’t like. His brother owned the bar, he could do what he wanted.

This was the normal operating procedure for Tsak.

His neighbours lived in quiet fear. The Monos was a common user of enhancers and inebriants. He was dangerous to upset and lived on a hair trigger.

But the last couple days had been absolutely terrible for Tsak. He could hear sounds coming from the walls.

What Tsak didn’t know was that someone had moved all his neighbours out. One by one they all received notice of legitimate relocation. A common system function when a building was going to be demolished. The times during Tsak’s working hours had been a flurry of people moving out with helper drones carrying personal effects.

Now, as far as living breathing Sapients went, Tsak was the only person still living in the building. He didn’t know this, of course. That’s why he still tried banging on the doors of his neighbours, trying to get to the bottom of the constant barely audible clicking and rattling that he could hear. All to no avail.

After taking a few suppressors Tsak had bought earlier that day due to the noise, he finally reached a fitful state of sleep.

Then Enforcement and Pest control busted his door down.

Tsak woke up all at once, “What are you doing here?!”

Several Ytheon and a couple Veprutasians all piled into the room.

“WHERE ARE THEY?!” A big red Ytheon with a brown horn-plate over his head yelled at Tsak.

“Who?!” Tsak squeaked. The realization of how he’d responded made him cringe with embarrassment.

Two other Ytheon, a grey-furred one with white spots and a Blue and black striped pattern moved to a back wall with heavy concusser style weapons. The held the blocky guns up and fired at the wall, blowing it away.

The room was infested with Motes.

“A builder was here, where is it!?” “I see the scrapper! Get it!” “That one is packing away goods, don’t let it get away!” “There are so many, isolate the building!” “The builder is gone!”

Tsak, his spine crawling, tried to sort out just what was going on.

“Tsak?” A Veprutasian asked, stepping up to the Monos. He was wearing the typical pants and vest of city enforcement.

“I, uh, yes,” Tsak replied, unable to form any proper coherent thought.

“We have seen signs of Mote builder activity in this building, As this is clearly a full-scale infestation, all assets tied to this location are frozen.”

Tsak managed to form a coherent thought. ‘Oh no.’ Then another thought bubbled to the surface past the suppressors. “What about the other tenants?”

The Veprutasian looked off into the distance for a moment, his head cocked. He clacked his beak. “Odd, there are no other tenants, you are the only one here.”

“That… that doesn’t make sense!”

“No, they have all legally transferred out over the last few days. Curious timing, but such is life. You have a couple minutes to grab any personal goods, which will be checked, then you will be removed from the premises.”

A few minutes later had Tsak sitting in the street with only a few items and a change of clothes. Above him watched a tiny Mote, mourning for its lost brothers.

But the Builder had escaped, and so had Queen Harley’s chosen Motes. That someone would have Motes custom built had thrilled the colony. A Mother had given them her touch and guided their actions so that they might fulfill the order.

It was known right from the start that the activity would mean the potential loss of a colony, but they couldn’t pass up the chance.

The Mother from space had found a place they could hide, the order was completed and the most important members of the temporary Colony were evacuated. A little slower and none of them would have made it out. Most of the doors of the building had been sealed moments before the raid.

If this colony was going to be smashed, then the least they could do was make sure those who lived in the area were looked after, whatever that meant. And so Tsak sat on the curb while everyone else was safely tucked into their new homes. No one ever knew what the Motes did for them.

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Tanktantun, Then and Now
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“And how am I supposed to lead them?” Tanktantun asked, having a hard time making sense of it.

“How? That’s easy, for you at least,” his father Tingtantun explained, looking Tanktantun in the eye. “You are Kraltnin, and you are an Alpha. As an Alpha, you have an advantage the laymen will never understand, but can’t help but be swept up in.”

The young Tanktantun’s head bobbed sideways. “I don’t understand.”

His father was teaching him, and today’s lesson was an important one, or so Tingtantun claimed. Many of the lessons he received were given in the presence of other true Greys. But lessons like this were given in private.

“As an Alpha, you will see the world differently from the Greys, Whites and Females,” his father began explaining. Tanktantun resisted the urge to sigh. “This is the nature of differing mental orientations, you are simply born different from myself and others.”

He pulled himself together to pay attention to his father. While the lessons were burdensome, it wasn’t often he had Tingtantun’s full attention.

“Kraltnin have a strong urge to share in the achievements of their equals and their betters,” Tingtantun continued. “With the exception of Alphas of course.”

The room was small, Tingtantun’s office on Hross was only as big as it strictly needed to be. For this lesson, there were no materials, no data tablets, no dataspace hookup. Only the spoken word. Tanktantun sat in his chair and his father sat across from him. He suddenly realized they were at eye level. He was about as tall as his father.

“Whites, they appreciate the skill and knowledge of the Greys and are proud to accept the teachings. They cannot help but be swept up in the accomplishments of their betters and will obey the orders of their Alphas without hesitation. And while it is a secret to most, unaffiliated Whites will risk everything to obey an Alpha willing to accept their service, if only they can show themselves as worthy,” his father hesitated for a moment, “even if it may cost them their lives.”

Tanktantun half blinked, his tail twitching slightly in confusion. He couldn’t imagine giving up his life like that.

His father continued, meeting eyes with Tanktantun. “Greys, we are more difficult to move. We must weigh our options before making a decision, or deciding to serve.” Tingtantun stood up, using the extra height to loom over his son if only a little. His eye bored into Tanktantun’s own. “But make no mistake! If you serve the Kraltnin, the Greys will move for you too!” Tingtantun held the stare for a moment, then fell back into his chair. “It is our duty to guide and teach! We feel it more distinctly, the malaise of a people locked in stasis. When a way forward presents itself, we move.”

Tanktantun shifted his focus, opening his ‘eye’ to see Otto looking at him in dataspace. The short trip into his memories had been strangely welcome. The lessons of his father still remained with him, and Tanktantun has realized the more that happened to him, the more he appreciated the wisdom passed to him.

Tanktantun couldn’t do a great deal from where he was. He was a Green, yes. But he was still a lonely Alpha with only a handful of friends. He had no subordinates, no wealth, no army. But if he wanted an army, he could have it. The requirement? That he prove his worth.

“You ready big guy?” Otto asked, his face holding the hint of a smile. Otto was less expressive than the other Humans. He carried himself with more control than the others, but after becoming accustomed to the others Tank had learned to read him, much like his father must have.

His father had made it clear. If he needed help, he merely had to ask. The only requirement was that he make it obvious that he was worthy of that help. Seeing those simple text forums had shown Tanktantun that he was part way there.

Tanktantun nodded at Otto. “It might be rough, I am not familiar to this… But I know what I must say.”

“Okay, start on my signal,” Otto told him, holding up the Mote hand with his thumb and fingers extended. Otto began a silent countdown, first bringing in his thumb, then his fingers, one by one.

Four, three, two, one, zero. When he pulled in the smallest finger, Otto pointed at Tanktantun. The signal for 'go’.

With a deep breath, he began.

“A sacrifice was made, and I answer its call.”

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Chase
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Tank and Otto sat in silence, making that message to the Kraltnin masses in dataspace.

The Green guy seemed pretty confident in being able to get some help that way, although what that help turned out to be, no one could quite say. Chase would welcome it. He certainly didn’t want to jump into that problem head first.

He glanced at Piderby.

“You think it’ll be okay?”

“The speech friend Chase?”

“Uh, yeah,” Chase replied.

“I suspect so,” Piderby replied. “The true question is how Kruent will react to the coming events.”

“Hmm,” Chase mumbled, “It may be okay.”

‘You know something? You worked with Kruent correct?”

“Yeah, he might actually be a decent person.”

“Might?”

“It’s hard to tell past the position and the authority, but he wasn’t an ass.”

“Interesting,” Piderby responded, but that was the end of the conversation.

They were staying low at the moment, having moved into a location in the city while the Brothers and Crawk had gone to pick up their gear. Chase felt his foot tapping. He wasn’t really sure what use he could be to this group right now. He wanted to help Otto, Mike and Daniel. Matchka was fun and the two Kraltnin had a dignity to them that also encouraged Chase.

But he was a runner type. Chase like to move, not fight. He could deliver a message or a package like nobody’s business. Chase had chased down some criminals, but that wasn’t a thing he liked to replicate. Having had the experience, Chase no longer wanted to be a hero of the night. That near miss with the two Veprutasians had only reminded him of that fact.

They passed the time in silence, unsure of just what was going to happen next.

Tank came out of the dataspace share. The guy took a deep breath and then stood, looking just a little unsteady. “The only observer was Otto, and yet I feel unsteady,” Tank noted, almost to himself. Chase, Piderby and Minmint were watching the guy as well.

Minmint stepped right up under Tank’s arm holding a tablet in her hand. “Don’t be silly, I was watching too.”

“Do you think it was good enough?” Tank asked.

“I do.”

Chase subtly started looking around, but there wasn’t exactly another room to go hide in. As for Otto, he wasn’t coming out of his dataspace. Piderby saved him.

“There is an interesting announcement on the Kraltnin forums,” Piderby announced.

“Oh?” Chase asked. He wasn’t very good at using dataspace yet, but he could check out a forum. Piderby had the relevant thread up and waiting.

“Holy shit,” Otto commented, also in on what was going on.

“What has happened?” Tank asked.

“Can that be built that quickly?”

“Yes, they are temporary structures that can be erected and removed with minimal effort and time. There is a supply on hand for events at all times, but the structures are rarely used.”

“Please, explain,” Tank asked, painfully curious.

“Enforcement is expanding the transport network to ‘manage predicted traffic’.” Otto said, barely suppressing a laugh. There was a distinct tinge of stress in Otto’s voice. The man had to take a moment to restrain himself. “More importantly, It’s all leading to Hatherkey’s base!”

“What?” Chase asked reflexively, then it sunk in. “He knows,” Chase commented further. “And he’s helping!”

“That gives us more options for approaching Hatherkey’s base,” Tank said out loud as the implications sunk in. “What else can he do?”

“That is difficult to say,” Piderby noted. “If he can adjust portions of the city, there may be other intrinsic functions he can put to use.

Chase saw Otto with a frown on his face. Using the Mote hand, he was idly rubbing the trio of scars on his cheek. The man was thinking of something.

“Got something on your mind,” Chase asked.

Otto’s eyes shifted and he looked at Chase. “Maybe… say, can you still contact Kruent?”

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Umbra
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It was a testament to the size of the city that it could build up its own wind currents at the higher levels. They were right at the top of the district, their target hanging from the ceiling of the giant wedge that was the third district of eight.

Umbra turned around to check on Kukrit. Just in time to help his Master exit the access portal without catching the cloak that Kukrit liked to wear. Kukrit’s body was still fully natural Silianiscan. A smooth-bodied lizard with black skin that subtly rippled with colour like an oil slick. Kukrit moved around with a very pronounced forward lean, his digitigrade legs, and long tail providing balance for Kukrit to stay low. He had slitted eyes with yellow pupils and the typical short nubby whiskers that acted as electrodes if Kukrit were to bite someone.

Not that the enlightened Silianiscan would ever do such a thing.

Also notable was the extensive tracery of silver lines around Kukrit’s head, spine and arms. The Silianiscan was heavily modified with powerful dataspace support hardware. He also wore his own custom harness to provide extra power on the fly.

Kukrit dropped to the ground and stumbled slightly. Only Umbra’s hand on Kukrit’s arm prevented the clumsy Silianiscan from stumbling into the sensor field beacon.

It was more of a tent really. The center pole opened up and held a thin material out that would shed most common scans. One of Kukrit’s more expensive toys.

While Kukrit steadied himself, Umbra pulled a second object from the pack had brought. The cylinder slid out of the pack with ease and Umbra set it on the deck next to the stealth beacon. The shell of the cylinder popped open in three sections. The round shell pushed out and lifted the object up to form a tripod. A pole in the middle unfurled much like a flower and the disk turned to face the hanging tower they were spying on.

“My friends are in there?” Umbra asked. Kukrit was extremely reluctant with his details. Umbra essentially only knew that Kukrit was chasing Otto in particular, because Otto severed the Manifestations central SI control. The rest of the crew was just a target by default as they accompanied Otto.

“No, this is the location of one foolish Hather Key Neron. A cousin of mine.”

“We are spying on this Hather?”

“Oh no, I am bouncing a signal through his base to get him in trouble!” Kukrit responded with a happy chuckle. That was the most cheerful Umbra had seen the Superior yet. Umbra spread out the mat Kukrit had instructed Umbra to bring.

Kukrit rolled up on the mat to get comfortable, then closed his eyes to better concentrate on whatever it was he was doing. His kind was nothing if not dedicated to their own comfort. That forward leaning body type was what led to the typical bowl seats. They preferred to lounge rather than sit. Silianiscan could handle chairs, but fully adjustable seats like what one could find in the Silianiscan shuttle were very rare.

Umbra turned and walked away from Kukrit. He unslung the rifle from his back and mentally linked up with the support scope. Next Umbra reached up and pulled his visor down, the support scope lying along the top of his helmet, settled on the right corner of his visor.

With the visual enhancement, he took a closer look at the hanging tower. Like the pillars that extended from the base level of the district to here at the ceiling, Hatherkey’s tower was six-sided as well. The higher one found themselves in the district, the more likely building was to follow that same pattern.

There were multiple hanging towers like this scattered throughout the city. Isolated by location, even nearby pillars were often left empty of buildings at the top. The public reasoning for the bare pillars was for access to the utilities kept within. On the functional side, any building attached where the Pillar joined the ceiling had additional bracing. This made the design of new construction troublesome. The city functioned based on easy duplication. Unique construction only made builders reluctant to get involved. Reputable ones anyways. Standards dropped along with altitude. Although, it was true that having the tops of the pillars bare did allow city technicians the access they needed, so it wasn’t entirely about the privacy of the rich.

There was nearly nothing for him to see, and even if he could see, the likelihood of him being able to act was negligible at best. How Kukrit found a seller of a weapon like this was another question. Umbra had been ordered to up to Cliffside to pick the weapon up, along with an initial collection of physical ammunition. The long-barrelled weapon could cycle between self-guided non-magnetic kinetics or plasma slugs. The plasma slugs were rare ammunition, a metal projectile that lived within the superheated little ball of plasma. That projectile would fragment or more accurately, splash, when it hit a deviation field and the plasma was dissipated. It would impact deviation fields and blow holes through most common materials and even low-quality armour.

It was rare because calculations were required for the bullet to hit its target without fragmenting early. Rare because non-military personnel were not permitted the targeting package. The guided projectiles were a bit more common, but they also needed the military targeting package. It was a bit of trouble to get that military package without drawing attention. But Umbra, he was 'born’ with it.

Mostly. Kukrit had to repair the package for it to work. At the same time, the Superior had loaded Umbra with the new slave control.

That had been more interesting than expected. Kukrit had spent the whole time flipping between complaining about the brittle nature of clone package installation he had been born with and the 'fascinating decoy package’ Otto had gifted Umbra.

A strange, perverse part of him wanted to turn the gun on Kukrit, just to see what would happen. Umbra was almost certain Daniel had inflicted him with the odd urge somehow. Even knowing the action would very likely see him dead didn't reduce the mental itch.

Umbra scanned the tower with the vastly improved vision of the scope. Generally, all pillar mounted sections were six-sided with a flat outcrop between each level that one could walk on if they so wished. An action Umbra wouldn't engage in without good reason.

Hather's tower was six-sided, but smooth, lacking the usual ledges. A hanging blue stalactite, mounted to a plate on the district ceiling. Beyond the plate, one could find small utilities, piping and atmospheric units in particular, but the proximity of the building was clear.

He could see the window panes of the building, but the whole structure shredded any simple outside observation techniques. The windows were all opaque and the building only had the two emergency entries.

Then Umbra spotted movement. At first he couldn’t believe his eyes. He didn’t know much about this city after all, so he didn’t know what to make of it. Panels, huge panels, began dropping from the ceiling, supported by bundled gravity drives.

“Master Kukrit!” He called out in surprise. “What is happening?”

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Mike
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“Any word?” Mike asked with annoyance. He was fully rested and damn ready to go.

“We still have a few minutes until the tunnel deployment,” Otto replied. With a decent amount of rest, Otto had gotten control of his own emotions. If Otto was pissed, Mike couldn’t tell anymore.

They waited. Having followed Chase, they had risen through a pillar access tunnel, drifting upwards at a rapid pace thanks to the antigrav nature of the maintenance shafts. Another time, Mike might have enjoyed it, but now was not that time.

Now they stood on the roof of a pillar section, partially hidden amongst the bare utilities of the building they were standing on. Right next to them was an L junction of the transport tube, coming up from below and heading off to the side.

They were waiting for three things.

The extension of the transport system via emergency tunnel deployment.

The arrival of a vehicle sent by Leeroy to carry them upwards. With a promise of Otto’s help in return at a later date. Turned out, Leeroy and Harley worked together, she was taking on ‘cargo’ from him right now in fact. They’d got in touch, and Leeroy agreed to help.

And the last thing? The supposed help promised by the Motes. It wasn’t so easy to sneak around the city in a quick manner. It was tough to say whether or not that help would arrive in time. Daniel waited next to Mike, the pair of them standing just at the edge of the building. He was only marginally less restless than Mike himself. The exosuit Motes had integrated well with Daniel, although his brother claimed it was because he was used to the shared space.

“There it is,” Chase’s voice called out. Mike looked back, but Chase was partially obscured by fog from the vent on the roof. The asian man was pointing up at the ceiling of the district. Mike followed the line of sight.

It was hard to see from where they were waiting.

Panels dropped one by one, sorting themselves as they drifted through the air. The first of them dropped towards the city, although none were heading for the group.

“First set,” Matchka noted idly as the panels organized themselves and drifted into place. With deceptive speed the squares were aligning themselves into octagonal tunnels, extending new pathways leading up to the distant tower ahead and above of them.

“These things normal?” Daniel asked. “Instant road seems kinda handy.”

“Normal, yes, uncommon,” Matchka replied. “Often used, racing.”

“You guys have Nascar or something?”

Matchka flicked a lower ear at Daniel. “Not know, ‘nascar’, but race, yes.”

Mike turned back to look at the ceiling. It was all coming together quicker than he would have thought, but perhaps speed wasn’t as much a problem when you had tunnels to state exactly where people could fly. Road construction in this futuristic place was a lot less painful.

All of a sudden the future seemed a little brighter.

Mike idly tugged at the strange headband currently sitting on his neck. When their datashare was attacked, and Otto was certain this would happen, then they’d be stuck to conversation for coordination. The headphones would transmit over a wireless signal similar to what Chase’s headphones used, although that would only reach within line of sight. This second signal was supposedly extremely non-standard, making it harder to exploit.

Better than nothing, and they wouldn’t be able to pick up Hatherkey’s orders. Probably.

Mike turned his head. “What are the chances he got our request?” He asked Chase.

“Oh he got it for sure, but,” Chase looked up and to the side, referencing something in his own personal dataspace HUD, “We won’t know for about four and a half minutes how it plays out though.”

The new tubes assembled themselves with almost elegant coordination. Panels pulled in to form new tunnels rising up from the city in orderly haste. Mike could see several routes connecting to that tower above them, and some of those routed connected to potential tunnel entrances on the ceiling itself. Before now the only entrances to Hatherkey’s base had been through semi-private tunnels, now it was becoming full public access.

Mike’s mouth curled in a wicked smile. Hatherkey was probably going nuts right now.

“Well I’ll be damned, you guys sure are puttin’ on a show for me!” Leeroy’s voice echoed through their space. “I got the ride ready and close, you let me when where to meet ya.”

“Thanks, Leeroy,” Otto responded, “we got a couple minutes before we know if plan A worked, stay alert.”

“I Hear ya man.”

The last of the tunnels above them came into shape, forming a torus around Hatherkeys tower with multiple routes leading off. If what Mike understood was true, any attempt by Hatherkey to remove those roads from his space would spark military intervention.

The corner junction in front of them groaned, the cap preventing upward motion grinding as it rose. Little bits of cement scattered from the edges, accompanied by puffs of dust as the section separated and then slowly swivelled open with additional painful creaks and groans.

Matchka had her hands up, holding her ears down against her head.

“Holy shit! He’s making us our own road after all!” Daniel swore.

Otto sighed a very audible sigh of relief. Mike did too, but much more quietly. The other possibility was Kruent coming here specifically to chase them. That’s why Leeroy was waiting elsewhere.

The panels hadn’t started to arrive, but two parts of their plan A had arrived. Mike turned around just in time to see the last part. A part of a humanoid figured stepped out behind Tanktantun who was waiting with Minmint. It was fully mechanical in nature, while not identical, it was more than similar enough to what Daniel himself was wearing. Several more stepped out, although none of them were quite identical.

“There we go,” Mike said, pointing past the Kraltnin. “That’s our answer, say your goodbye to Minmint Tank.” He turned his head to Otto, “let’s get Leeroy over here, we go as soon as possible.

“Sounds good,” Otto mumbled to himself.

Crawk stood up from where he was kneeling next to one of the box units on the roof. Piderby who’d been next to him in a purple suit, approached Minmint. The Gerlen would be taking Minmint to safety while the rest of them invaded the base.

“I will see you soon,” Minmint said, reaching up and pulling Tank’s head down to her own.

“Yes, you will,” Tank replied nuzzling his head against hers in a more visible display of affection than the pair usually gave.

Mike had to suppress an urge to bare his teeth. Watching them only made his heart ache and his blood boil. Rather than torture himself with the sight, Mike turned to watch their secret tunnel build itself.

The first panels started descending to the junction, they would have their own road up to Hatherkey’s base. And if even half of the responses on that ridiculous forum thread weren’t lying, they were anything but alone when they head up to the tower.

-----
Hather Key Neron
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“What is happening?!” He shouted at Wastad, barely restraining his anger.

The new tube route was almost complete, It even obscured many of the city sights, ringing the lower level of his tower in a full torus with connections branching off in several locations. The two mandated emergency entrances were already connected to the transport route, his doors forced open.

“It’s an emergency transport route, somehow Kruent has declared an emergency powers state.”

“What?! How?”

“Our activity this period has ramped up quite high, it must have reached a threshold high enough for him to unlock emergency powers.”

“And I wasn’t warned?”

“We have been,” Wastad flinched even as he said it, “distracted… but I cannot find the warning alert within the system, it must be posted in advance of the traffic redirection...”

Hather Key shut his eyes with annoyance. The twitch in the eye of his Monos body flared up again and he could feel his hackles rise. “And Kruent won’t take bribes. Leaving that option off the table.”

“Y- yes…”

Hather Key connected himself to the surveillance of his tower, activating and cycling through visual and thermal sensors. There were already vehicles approaching the tower!

“Who would dare?!” Hatherkey shouted in new surprise.

Wastad joined the dataspace, but Oriashka was inspecting the situation. “The vehicles are… civilian in nature?” The white Leralin squawked out in surprise.

Civilians approaching? Using a city emergency route? Hather Key couldn’t understand it.

“What is happening?!” he asked again in confusion.

On a distant tower, his mind burrowed deep into the systems of Hather Key’s tower, another Silianiscan watched the whole thing.

His bodyguard could only watch in alarmed confusion as his Superior rolled around in laughter.

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End Chapter
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