Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 50, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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And they Arrive!

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Chapter 50
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“A sacrifice was made, and I answer its call.”

The disguised grey, Atlatal, was doing incredible business.

For the sake of this business his danger map had been repurposed.

He had a fair number of subscribers before, They had been happy with his service. Using the map to avoid trouble, staying away from reported danger, chiming in on new points of interest. But Atlatal was quite aware of the forum thread, and he saw the way things were going immediately.

For the first time, he’d unbundled the guide package from the physical devices and offered it up over dataspace. And the Kraltnin had snapped it up in droves. They had to provide their own devices to load it onto now, and he’d fielded quite a few troubleshooting reports to smooth out hardware compatibility issues. But there were upsides as well. The devices had a limited data share and the unbundled package cooperated well with other storage devices. They reported on changing conditions and could share locational information of the users if they so wished.

Atlatal had built a program with varied applications, and now the Kraltnin were on the hunt. He almost wished he could be part of the group who’d decided to go up to the tower to help. But he was still fixing problems on the fly, he could see his impromptu danger network causing the supporting systems to creak and crumble.

“You have all seen it, the name and the place. The rest of it was for us. Hatherkey seeks to send away our companions. And he leaves us no time to act.”

Atlatal wasn’t the first to see the Green’s sudden speech. It wasn’t practiced, nor designed by some AI for maximum performance. It was an honest call from an ambitious Green. And it had galvanized the community. Atlatal could barely contain the rush of emotion, even now his tail twitched constantly with restrained excitement. From the moment Tanktantun had pulled back the cover of his eyelid to show his true colour, Atlatal had been dreaming of the possibilities.

The timer hit and Atlatal looked up. He was sitting at his usual spot in the market, He couldn’t see the district ceiling from here… and it wasn’t even the right district! But he was already imagining the temporary transport network assembling itself on Hatherkey’s door.

Oh to be there right now… but he knew where he was needed.

Atlatal activated the supplementary servers he’d just spend the last couple hours lining up. And not a moment too soon, the Kraltnin were starting to move. He’d already seen some going out earlier to act on especially dangerous situations, he had the keys to the whole system after all.

He paused for a moment as that thought hit him. He was a single failure point here, he might have to make some hard decisions after today about how much of the warning guide remained in his control or even intact.

But for now, Atlatal had to work hard and support his system. His tail curled when he realized there was one problem closer than he’d realized. Someone had come to track down a debt with him.

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Veprutasian Patrol Tatapill
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The crowds had been much thinner the past couple days, all the trouble between Red Tail and Hatherkey even trickling down to inconsequential patrol officers like herself. Business had slowed enough that she wasn’t even accepting bribes. It was good to treat those under her protection with moderation after all.

The young Veprutasian, Tatapill moved through the market in relative quiet. There were still numerous individuals around, but nothing like a few weeks before. Still, despite the tension, there were quite a few Ushen and Kraltnin about, along with the regular distribution, if not numbers, of Veprutasian’s, Ytheon and Kashto. She would have expected the lesser Kraltnin and Ushen to be hiding at this point, but no, she even overheard some running audio from a passing white Kraltnin.

“Someone betrayed his master to give us this knowledge. They saw our companions, and they saw Red Tail. We know what he saw, and what it must have cost them to speak.”

Tatapill’s head swivelled around as she heard something unexpected, but a shout moments later pulled her attention back around to something else.

One of the regulars of the market, Atlatal was flinching away from a pair of Monos.

Tatapill found herself following the Kraltnin with the audio device on the shoulder of his harness, although his companion Ushen was hanging back slightly. The small four-legged Sapient looked at Tatapill with the solid blue orbs of their eyes, the little button nose twitching. Realizing a figure of authority was moving forward, the Ushen tugged the Kraltnin to the side.

She marched ahead, pulling the small pulse pistol from the holster hidden in the feathers at her side. She grabbed the adjustment knob, rolling it up a couple notches for the heftier Monos.

The audio continued from the Kraltnin as she passed by.

“We all know what that means. In exchange for that life, We know what happened to her.”

Tatapill wanted to know what that was talking about, but she was quickly on the Monos.

“We know who you are,” the first Monos was speaking, leaning over the White. A typical redback, although perhaps a little thinner than the usual. “We heard about your service, and we ain’t gonna let you sell it no more!”

Atlatal was usually friendly and composed when Tatapill encountered the Kraltnin, but now he looked afraid and actually rather overworked. A look she saw on the Kraltnin at the station.

“I just sell basic access devices!” Atlatal lied as he waved at the bracelets on the simple stall in front of him. “This is no harm to anyone, I prom-!”

The arm of the second red back Monos, this one heavier and taller than the first, wiped the tabletop clear of Atlatal’s stock. “It won’t be any harm in a moment, we are going to make sure of it.”

Tatapill realized her feet had halted. She tried willing herself to move forward, but even with the pistol in her hand, she was afraid of those Monos. They were wearing harnesses. Her pistol might only serve to hurt one at best. Then they’d be angry. And she was just a little street patroller.

The Kraltin continued to move. His Ushen owner left behind. Tatapill turned her head to look at the Ushen in confusion, and the little Sapient was looking back, clearly afraid.

“That might be,” Atlatal commented, his eye still shifting back and forth between the two Monos rapidly, “But perhaps you should look around!”

“What are you even… talking…” The second Monos had turned with a sneer on his face, but he realized it at the same time Tatapill did. More Kraltnin had exited the crowd, the two Monos found themselves suddenly outnumbered more than ten to two.

“He cut off her hand, and now she is his slave.”

The first of them didn’t even look at first. “You can’t scare me! You’ll pay for your back talk like every-urk!” He was cut off as his companion yanked him around. The second Monos’s eyes opened wide with surprise and a little fear.

For a moment there was a stand-off. No Monos liked being surprised with the thought of inferiority. They functioned on self superiority, and being suddenly outnumbered like this showed the weakness in that illusion very quickly. But they would defend that illusion even after the cracks showed.

The second larger Monos grabbed a large pulse pistol from his hip, raising towards the closest Kraltnin with the audio device on his shoulder. He never got to pull the trigger. A lance of plasma blasted the Monos’ hand off before he even pulled the weapon from its holster. While the other Kraltnin and the two Monos had been staring each other, Atlatal had pulled a weapon from his stand.

Tatapill found herself staring at a long strip of grey on Atlatal’s arm, a translucent white material hanging off his arm.

Her mind seized on the image and sorted out the likely culprit. ‘Oh, he probably ripped it grabbing his gun.’ While she was stuck in her daze, the plaza erupted into combat, the Kraltnin running or leaping towards the Monos as a group.

The Ushen next to Tatapill had dashed forward to catch the Kraltnin, shaking its head in fear.

“He has made a Red his. The Red. Your Red. This cannot be.”

The Kraltnin pulled his hand clear of his Ushen friend gently, but firmly, and he joined the fray.

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Kruent
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The last transport line began deploying as per Chase’s request.

In truth, Kruent had an observation drone watching that group right now. Not one of the usual patrol orbs, but a stealth unit that didn’t even fly when it was close to the target being watched.

Seeing that group of Motes come out had put him on a knife-edge, so close to changing plans and recalling special forces to suppress this problem. Motes! Worn like armour! He had never been so conflicted! But it was true that the Motes were acting with purpose, following the lead of that Green and his Humans. People who had not acted against the interests of the city.

“This cannot be, I will not allow it, but I cannot do this alone.”

The speech played in his personal dataspace. It was somewhat amateurish, but it seemed to hit the points this Green wanted. And Kruent was getting reports of the Kraltnin moving with mass coordination, which made the message a clear success regardless.

Kruent twitched as even the Ytheon in the group got himself an exosuit of Motes. Two of the Humans to newly acquire their own took some test jumps across the roof. There was a hint of inexperience, which meant they were trying something new…

Of all of them, it was perhaps a little ironic that the Green was having the most trouble with his. Every step threatened to send the Kraltnin stumbling. Not necessarily a proud showing...

“At the fifty percent mark,” noted a Veprutasian information officer. The new tunnel rose up through the city approaching a… ‘non-standard’ entry point on the tower.

Kruent and a core of controllers were settled into a small panic room, not that different from a ship bridge. Kruent’s current chair floated, supported by a small gravity drive, allowing him to drift between the handful of Kashto and Veprutasian officers. He could observe as they took in and directed the flood of reports coming in. Most of them more reports on the Kraltnin uprising.

Kruent had never in his life thought he’d be happy to see the Kraltnin coming together and acting out as a group.

He would have to retire after this, let the next commissioner deal with the fallout. His beak clacked a couple times by unconscious habit, amused but the thought of letting someone else clean up.

They’d never let him do that.

“I need you, I need you all. I care not what colour you are, The best of us has been enslaved by a villain! A charlatan with no respect for life or duty!”

Kruent’s attention wandered slightly. He’d always been impressed by the Psioxern implant’s ability to emulate a fitting voice for the seeker based on how they would be heard by those of their own race. But then a couple Millenium of development and research wasn’t to be discounted.

“Seventy-five percent,” the officer noted.

“A new factor has appeared, running image for a match now.”

Kruent pulled his attention back in time to see the arrival of the ride. He blinked once as he looked at the overbuilt vehicle. He suspected there was a typical transport hover van underneath the bulky plating, but more importantly, the vehicle seemed familiar. The records agreed.

“Match made on the vehicle. Noted cracker used vehicle, used rarely for high profile cases.”

Kruent clacked his beak again, only once this time, but loudly. He thought so, and it only made sense. One of those humans was a cracker after all. It would be a surprise if he didn’t have related resources to draw upon.

The group was done dancing around and testing their gear. They loaded themselves into the flying brick with haste, leaving behind a purple suited Gerlen identified as ‘Piderby’ and an unknown female Kraltnin.

“Shall we send in the team to capture the two stragglers?”

Kruent considered the option. It was true he wanted to capture that group. It was true he wanted Chase back, but the speech playing out in his ear warned against that action. The Mob was his friend, but only while he didn’t provoke them.

“We have been given the knowledge, we are being given the means. To erect a new transport route to Hatherkey’s hanging tower, the city itself has given us it's blessing!

That passage prickled at the collar of white feathers around his neck. Kruent sighed. The worst part was that the passage wasn’t wrong. He had done just that. Then reinforced the message when deciding to give them their own asked for entry point.

“No, we will leave them be,” Kruent decided. He had a hunch that idea was more trouble than it was worth anyways.

“That’s… there’s a strange signal worming its way into the system,” Another officer, this one a Kashto, spoke up. Kruent directed his chair to where the Kashto was sitting. “Yes, I’m seeing dataspace infiltration,” the officer confirmed, seemingly to himself. “Running assisted traceback, AI core has subsumed the process into itself… It’s Hatherkey’s tower!”

“We Must Act!”

“He would… he would just give himself to us like that?” Kruent breathed out loud, his voice quiet but incredulous. He had been considering running an AI driven attack on the tower. It would help his side of things but one typically wanted a probable cause before starting that process. A necessity when only one force within the city was even supposed to have an AI core on hand.

He looked back to the monitor, the group had left, on their way to make the grandest mess. Then again, the mess had already gone into motion, an avalanche of trouble falling Hatherkey’s way. He turned again to the Kashto officer, his fur blue in the dim light. “Very well, begin the AI infiltration process. It would be foolish to pass this up.”

“This city creaks under the weight of its own negligence and the machinations of a monster. We can push him back. On every front, force him back! Take the City from his grasp!

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Tanktantun
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Tank rode in the vehicle with patience, desperately trying to get accustomed to the Mote riding his skin. The Humans had taken to it with apparent ease. Crawk was augmented far more deeply than he would admit to anyone, but Tank didn’t have either of those advantages.

He was a proud, self-confident Green. While he accompanied the Humans, he wasn’t subservient, nor dependant. He couldn’t articulate any of these things, his young mind still unable to unravel that tangle. But he did understand he wasn’t quite compatible with the sharing of self that made operation with the Motes so effective. He’d come to understand it in the past few minutes, just in the way he reflexively tried to reject the foreign senses and emotions.

If he’d had an idea it would be like this, he would never have accepted the idea of an exosuit. It provided plating from his hands to his feet and from his head to the tip of his tail. It left much of his flesh open to the air, but the suit came with its own heavier deviation field and various sections of protective charged plate. But it was more for strength and agility enhancement than it was for pure hard protection.

He had to regulate his breathing to stay calm. The foreign sensations and feedback of ‘his own’ movements were vastly unsettling. The datashare provided a step of separation that he’d gotten used to well enough. Now he had a new appreciation for that distance.

Matchka sat across from him, her ‘helper’ sitting next to her. It was a smaller unit in the form of a spider with a seat built into the body. She had known better and opted for a unit she could ride and direct, this let her play to her strengths as a Bellani. Her race was used to directing their own servants, they’d bred a whole other race for the purpose. As for his own exosuit Mote, Matcha had even warned him! But his pride had made the decision for Tanktantun instead.

Even with very little time to spare, Tank wasn’t making as much headway as he liked, so he shifted his attention for a moment. They were hurtling through the tunnel on the way to Hatherkey’s tower. The tube around them wasn’t a smooth round bore, but instead an eight sided design reflecting the temporary nature of the panels that formed the structure. And those panels were whizzing by extremely quickly. The indicator for how close they were was moving quickly. Soon. They would be fighting soon.

Tank considered what he’d had Otto do the other night, but suspected it wouldn’t help here. Otto had warned he couldn’t fully predict how it would treat Tanktantun, but that it would have side effects and after effects.

Tank shifted his attention back to the Motes. They were watching him and constantly poking. He could feel the intentions, but a part of him still rejected the insistent way they were pushing their impressions and demands on him. It didn’t make sense to him logically. This should be easy, but he’d stumbled the whole time he was trying to walk around on that roof, and he was the first one into his armour.

It had been easy to start. He’d commanded the Motes to suit up, and it had happened with ease. Why couldn’t integrating with the senses work so easily.

The brick of a hover didn’t slow down, They were going to be there in moments. Tanktantun grabbed the harness straps holding him in place, and he wasn’t the only one. He felt himself lighten as the gravity system prepared to counter the impact they were about to endure. This vehicle Leeroy had lent them was a blockade runner. The upcoming window wouldn’t be much of a match, but any impact came with risks.

Tanktantun wasn’t the only one to shift his attention to the shared space of the vehicle. The walls of the tunnel blurred as they sped past. The tower was coming up quick.

And then they were there.

Tanktantun reflexively gripped the armrests of the crash seat he was strapped into.

The window appeared before them and just as quickly it shattered as the van blasted its way through.

The vehicle juttered and shook as it smashed through transparent metal. Tanktantun and the rest of the passengers rocked in their seats. More than a couple energy couplers in the walls and ceiling of the vehicle blew as the gravity dampeners, already running at peak, spiked as the hover was forced to stop moving.

Tanktantun groaned, he hadn’t enjoyed being thrown against the straps.

Mike was the first up and out, followed by Daniel and then Crawk. Tanktantun released his straps and stumbled up and then fell forward to the ground as his feet didn’t do what they were supposed to.

Otto was out next and Matchka was unlatching from her seat behind him.

‘Work damn you!’ Tanktantun swore at his Motes, mentally demanding silence and for the Motes to listen to him. He stepped up without trouble. There was a sense of surprise and worry, but just like that the signals had cleaned themselves up.

It was that simple?

Thudding with the new weight, Tanktantun stomped his way out the side door of the heavily reinforced van.

“Mess em up for me!” Leeroy called with a cheerful tone.

Several figured burst into the office, a room taking up a surprisingly large amount of space. This must have been Hatherkey’s office, Tanktantun thought to himself.

The opposing group was nothing more than a handful of Kashto, Vep and Kraltnin.

Mike had already opened fire with his rifle, Daniel right behind him. Otto was kneeling behind the large desk. Tanktantun first thought was something else.

“[Stand down and drop to the ground!]” Tanktantun ordered.

A white Kraltnin and a brown furred Kashto hit the ground. The rest twitched, many of them pausing for a moment, but that was the end of it.

“Good idea,” Otto complimented, “Hatherkey must have some extra settings on most of the slave packages, but keep trying it.”

“Of course,” Tanktantun replied. He didn’t want to kill anyone he didn’t have to.

He knew of course, this battle was going to test that decision.

He recalled the last lines of his speech.

“Help me eliminate Hatherkey, Help me free Nualula Telesis. Help me return her to her Rightful place.”

“Help me, and I will show them all our true worth.”

He would show them, and if he believed in the meaning of his colour, then the proof would not be in the killing.

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Hather Key Nerom
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Flanked by pounding feet, Hather Key marched his Monos body down towards his office on the lower levels, accompanied by a squad of armored Ytheon and Veprutasians. The Ytheon with simple armor and the blast gauntlets. The Veprutasians with rifles and undeployed osgauntlets.

He had been heading for the main entrance where automated defenses, drones and common soldiers were fighting against the Kraltnin invaders. How that had come about, no one had any clue. But it was a serious problem. The only advantage is that the Kraltnin were poorly equipped, but they were using their own vehicles as weapons and cover to push their influence. They hadn't made a great deal of progress, but simply having them here was a huge draw on His resources. That’s where he had been heading, then his prime enemies smashed their way into his office in the lower levels.

A message arrived from Wastad. “Kruent seems to have instigated this somehow,” The Vep reported, his voice tinged with surprise. “I have had to activate our AI core to prevent the loss of our defenses.”

Hather froze in place, his flanking guards stopping without a word. “Activated the-”

“I am unable to disconnect us from dataspace,” Wastad continued, interrupting Hather in his surprise and worry. “Something has interfered with our controls. I am attempting to trace the intruder while Oriashka manages the AI Core.”

“Send runners to disable the hard lines,” Hather ordered. “We are now in a state of buying time.”

“I- yes, immediately!” Wastad confirmed the order. The attention of the Veprutasian shifted away.

Hather resumed his march. And his soldiers kept pace. This group was mostly mindless, fully accustomed to having no freedom or agency. Four heavily armored Ytheon brutes and six flight boosted Veprutasians, all of them in full gear. He too had donned some armor for his Monos body. Fully enclosed, Hather was fully intent on using the body to its full potential against these invaders.

And while this body moved, he worked on limbering up his true self. Too long asleep led to joints and tendons locking up. If possible he would kill these Humans who had made such a stereotypical mess of things. But while that was happening, he wasn’t going to stick around to see his operation fall apart at ground zero in person.

If he could get out of the building, there was plenty of room to rebuild, he had all the time he wanted. Hather considered his options for the moment, then reopened a link.

“Wastad.”

“Yes Boss.”

“Continue the defense, but prepare for a core crash and meet me in the hangar.”

“Yes! I’m on my way.”

He shifted his attention again. It was always an interesting experience, moving about in his main body while controlling a secondary one. Some Silisaniscan had the augmentation to run multiple ghosts, but that was expensive work to have done.

That reminded him of the Hyowean. “Wastad, do not forget the Dryad.”

“Yes, of course.” Came the response. Wastad had been with Hather long enough, he knew the derogatory term.

Hather stopped and looked down. The tower was compromised, no longer of any use to him. This opened up new options. He looked at the Ytheon escort. “Breach here.”

Each of the Ytheon pulled a large block off their back and placed the charges.

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Otto
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A series of warnings popped into his peripheral dataspace as he worked his way into the security of the building. Nothing that directly impacted him, yet, but it did reveal an attack underway. He was digging his way into a situation that was far more chaotic than he could have guessed. He had been in chaotic combat zones before, but usually they started the mess. This one was already in progress.

With Hatherkey’s operators already distracted and an AI core Otto never even knew about working to fend off what Otto recognized as Kruent’s own systems, entering the system was almost as simple as walking through an opened door. The first thing he did was announce their presence to the Kraltnin fighting at the regular entryways. As a quick follow up, Otto sent Tank’s prerecorded messages to the people fighting on their behalf.

Tank himself was a bit busy at the moment.

Of course, there were mines aplenty just across the threshold, but there he was.

As far as the real world went, Mike, Daniel, Crawk and Tanktantun were at the front of the melee, making short work of the unfortunate guards that had been scrambled as a response.

Chase was staying at the back, careful to avoid being in the line of fire and only taking occasional pot shots. The man had been clear the whole time about how he felt with combat. Matchka was staying back near the window, riding around in her little spider Mote while attached to the ceiling. It carried a little paired turret on its abdomen, the Mote, making her a small but dangerous target.

Otto dug further into the system, looking for anyone he knew. With some more digging he found the location of their primary augmentation bay. But he wanted to know where they had their shipping. Were the girls still in the Tower? Just to check, he found a hookin for the surveillance of the augmentation bay, as well as one for the prison. The automated responses were oddly… slow. It tickled something at the back of Otto’s head, but he didn’t have time to think about something that wasn’t an immediate problem.

The prison was empty. The augmentation bay… wasn’t, but was about to be. A Veprutasian and Red Tail were leaving with a small escort, and Tsury was with them. Where were they going? Otto bounced back when he realized the Black bird was closely tied into the security system. The bird twitched and sent out feelers. It was an operator.

Otto recoiled away from a fight he wasn't ready for.

Otto’s first thought was to get everyone moving, but something intruded on his head. “Take a look here,” sent a voice Otto didn’t know. The location was far too close for comfort. Otto did a cursory danger check, sifting through for waiting triggers. Nothing found, he accessed the security cameras. There were a bunch of individuals, but Otto saw something that took him almost a split second too long to recognize. It had been awhile after all.

“Plasma charges! Get out of the zone!” Otto shouted, sharing the projected locations. The only person directly in the path of the plasma blast was Tank who had charged to the front of the battle. The newly agile Kraltnin leaped sideways bowling over an unfortunate Veprutasian who’d been in the way.

With a liquid sizzling blast, streaks of plasma burst through the ceiling, cutting a line through the structure above. Moments later the whole section fell, carrying a group of enemies into sight.

The Ytheon were off their feet, unable to stay upright with the falling platform. They were climbing back upright after the fall. The Veprutasians floated down through the impromptu hole, having little trouble with being airborne.

The black armored Monos in the middle stood tall and pointed at the closest Human, Mike in this case. “Humans!” The Monos snarled, “I’ll make a mess of you!”

“Yeargh!” Tank shouted, leaping into the side of Hatherkey. As he did so a pulse of plasma erupted from the armour plate on the back of Tank’s wrist, just a moment too soon. It splashed across Hatherkey’s deviation field, then the pair of them were rolling across the ground wrestling for advantage. Otto took a deep breath and started firing on the Veprutasians.

This was going to be a fight.

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End Chapter
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