Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 56, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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And finally an answer to a prominent question, although at this point, some of you won't be all that surprised. Still for those of you who know full well where this is going next. That part may be seeing some work when I get there. It's a bit sloppy what's been done...

Well, for now, here's 56!
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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Next
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Chapter 56
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Mike had to strap in as the hover zipped through the transport tunnels of the upper city.

There was a whole other level to this place that he didn't even know existed. But it was not a place for them. Not for slaves or working class. He could recall now, seeing glimpses of it when they passed through on their way between the city and the ring, but it was gone so quick that it barely even registered.

Their tunnel passed by a few places that allowed a clear view to where the main elevator tunnel extended to the sky. Mike couldn't see it past the dense build-up of towers and buildings around the base. Out here however was a vast spread of gardens and mansions of the wealthy and powerful.

"What's with all these places here?" Mike asked incredulously, "Who even lives here?"

"Not many," Matchka noted, "Vacation villas."

"What… vacation… are most of these places empty?!"

"No. Have staff."

"But the owners aren't there."

"Correct."

Mike peered ahead through the tunnel as a sleek torpedo of a hover joined traffic. Another obnoxiously shiny disk turned into a side tube. It was too… sedate.

"We won't catch them like this… we need to go faster."

Matchka flicked a pair of ears at him. After a moment she half turned to look him in the eyes. "Yes. Correct." She turned back to the console.

Mike frowned. "Well, can we go-whoa!"

The Hover suddenly picked up speed. Not in the way he would expect from a vehicle on earth. Punch the gas on a car and it can slap you into your chair. The Hover gradually pressed him further into his seat. Matchka's ears were all drawn back slightly as she concentrated.

"Yes. Faster." Matchka replied. Mike could see something different in front of her. Usually, these vehicles had a flat console as he'd expect on some space ship. The console had extended a control stick though, and Matchka was using it to steer.

"Were we on, hrnnk," Mike paused as Matchka took them around a tight corner, "-on autopilot this whole time?"

"Yes, regulations."

They blew past another expensive chrome covered capsule and a few brightly coloured pods with blue stripes that kind of looked like work vehicles.

They came around another tube corner and Matchka had to duck below a flying wedge that Mike couldn't even make out well, it arrived so quickly.

"Whoa!" Mike called out as they came what must have been inches of scraping the bottom of the vehicle. "That was close, are you going to be okay?"

"You are right," Matchka mumbled. "Must hurry."

Mike's expression hardened. He'd managed to distract himself from the possibilities, but he had the worst gut feeling about what was on that other hover. "You don't think we can catch them at the port?"

"No port," Matchka replied, almost harshly.

That twisted a brand new knot in Mike's stomach. "The fuck you mean ‘no port'?!"

"That… Wastad in shuttle. Also, left without Hatherkey."

"So?"

"Something is Wrong," Matchka emphasized with clear worry. She kept going, explaining with more words than usual about her hunch and reminding Mike that while she was short on words, she was far from dumb. "That Vep Hather yelled at Wastad. Wastad is free. Wastad shouldn't be free! Now has shuttle, stolen goods. Probably more! Credit accounts! Secrets! Can bribe clearance to take shuttle straight to space!"

The knot expanded to a big ball of anxiety. "He, he can leave this whole place without having to get out and actually talk to anyone." Mike guessed.

"Yes."

"... SHIT."

"Yes."

Mike held on as she drove, the hover bobbing and weaving as she took the turns and avoided the traffic. That traffic was slowly increasing, with more and more common vehicles apppearing as they heading inwards towards the elevator tunnel to the ring.

"Hmm…" Mike grumbled to himself. "Can we contact Piderby? Get a hold of Harley or Chack?"

"Can… not yet… can't distract," Matchka was putting all her attention in the driving. Something that was getting harder as they saw more vehicles in the tube. The translucent crystal shell of the tunnel still allowed them to see the world outside the transport system, but the closer they got, the denser the towers and hanging gardens.

It all seemed so luxurious and peaceful, and it infuriated him.

Mike watched Matchka drive and felt useless. Just like they all had fallen into this whole gangster fight without a deep thought between them about what had might happen, he'd been complacent in other ways as well.

He could have learned to pilot like this. He could do a little dataspace fightin', but he should have learned how to use all the stuff available to him. He should have been able to either pilot the hover or get a hold of Harley since Matchka was driving! He didn't have a chance to truly learn the Mote he was wearing, but he should have stuck with Matchka and really learned the plasma weapon stuff! He had more than enough time to master it! Probably. He didn't even know for sure because he only cared about Human style guns!

Instead, he was sitting here twiddling his thumbs and losing his mind while that shuttle took off with… he couldn't even think her name, he was so afraid.

He had let himself be lazy, enjoy the adventure, see the sights.

Matchka took them up another corner as they arrived at the elevator. The internal gravity system of the hover could only compensate a little for pointing vertical and Mike stared upwards, trapped in his seat. The tunnel was pretty big, providing a reasonable amount of room to move around. The traffic was also neat and orderly, all flying at the same speed. A result of the autopilot all the vehicles used. Lucky for them.

"Calling Piderby," Matchka noted, "We will catch up soon."

Mike gripped the straps holding him in place in his seat.

"I can't wait," he admitted.

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Wastad
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He couldn't wait, and he wouldn't wait.

He had already made the necessary bribes to get clearance. An easy thing to do with accounts that weren't his in truth. He could throw all sorts of Hather's wealth around. Especially since he had access to everything the failure of a Superior owned.

Some other Silianiscan had broken him free, then got dumped when the AI core started an information feedback loop and pounded the tower dataspace. The chances of that happening, it boggled his mind.

In retrospect however, he had been seeing odd things in the dataspace. Things he had been unable to understand and realize fully at the moment. The second Silianiscan had been rooting around for a while. An answer for how Wastad was spotted sifting through enforcement datafeeds. That one had stunned and puzzled him. He wasn't confused by that anymore.

Wastad knew where he was going, although it was going to be a longer trip than he preferred. Still, there was only one place where he had any real contacts, so Hather would know where he was going too. It would be a matter of staying ahead of the idiot brute.

It was a shame though, losing the Hyowean.

Wastad enjoyed his perch in the vessel space of the luxury shuttle. The stars he could see through the walls of the crystal tube were no longer denied to him. Once he got off this planet and did his business, he could go anywhere he wanted!

He wasn't sure where he wanted to go yet, but he had a whole FTL trip to consider the answer to that question.

Then another question posed itself. It was unusual enough that Wastad spotted it almost right away, even from the corner of his eye. Who in the void was flying like a maniac?

Wastad's feathers puffed up with alarm. He knew that hover. In retrospect, he shouldn't be surprised that Hather didn't care about the fines that sort of flying would incur. Wastad disabled the autopilot and left the designated lane as well. He couldn't let them catch up!

The hover pilot flew with an almost jerky reactive style, zipping between point to point when coming upon a large transport that forced them to change their trajectory. Wastad almost sighed in annoyance as he drew his shuttle between large vehicles with gentle arcs and turns.

If Wastad could get off the planet, he would likely be pest free if he did it. But this chaser was a problem, and it was going to draw attention. The attention was potentially worse than the pursuit. If ring enforcement got involved, both he and Hather would be caught and put in a great deal of trouble, and unlike the Silianiscan, Wastad's life would be over.

A thought struck him. There was a potential for help to be had, and they were hurting for crew right now. And probably money as well. Wastad split his attention to try and get into contact. He suspected this wasn't going to be easy.

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Doctor Uoah Dunah
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With the noise of the dataspace finally dying down, Uoah was able to take in what was going on. She had practically gone unconscious with all the interference. Fortunately, Veprutasian biology tended to fend off pain rather well. Her own headache would be pounding for a while, but she would function better with it than most other Sapient races.

An advantage of being a non-combatant was being compelled to not be in combat. Uoah had been spared Hather's orders to get involved. And wasn't that a lucky gift! She got to watch what she could only assume were Nualula's allies as they fought against her captor and his slaves. Fought and tore them apart.

Were all Humans like this? Is this why they were a mess?! Every single one of Hather's subordinates here had ended with quick and devastating brutality. Even the end of the fight between Lopulm over Oriashka had ended with despairing finality. She didn't need to check on the white Leralin. She knew there was nothing to see there. The Green's final strike on Nualula before his strange armour rebelled. And whatever had happened to Wastad…

There was just so much going on all at once.

Then the Green moved to join the fight against Hather. Along with the bigger Human, both of them rushing to the aid of the third and thinnest of the three Humans to enter this loading bay. The Human needed help after Hather threw Crawk aside like trash. Uoah's throat had constricted at the sight. Crawk and Nualula both had treated Uoah well.

She watched, but she didn't stay still. Uoah darted over to the still Nualula. The Red Primary had taken a rather terrible wound from the Green. She didn't even spare the Hyowean a look as she darted by. If Uoah were lucky, she'd have all the time in the world to speak to a freed Hyowean further. The things they could do…

Arriving at Red Tail's side, Uoah crouched over the Primary. The mass of nano-fix completely obscured the wound on her chest. By the splatter of blood that came out when The Green had pulled back, Uoah judged it would be best just to leave it for later. The danger there was likely in the blood loss. There would be more damage, but Uoah couldn't deal with that now.

Aside from the major injury, Nualula had numerous cuts and nicks, a few of them still seeping blood. Her opponent had discarded the nearly empty container of nanofix after dumping its contents on Nualula's chest. Uoah scraped out what was left and dabbed some of the worst seeping cuts. Nualula was going to have tender scars for quite some time it seemed, unless they had more nano fix.

She glanced at the fight that the Kraltnin had just joined. It was progressing quickly. As she looked, Hather caught the larger Human in his grip. The Green jumped back in and fired the wrist weapons he hadn't used on Nualula. They melted a hole through Hather's highly advanced armour.

Roaring with rage, Hather clamped harder on the Human and she could see the creature's face turn bright red. At the same time Hather showed off his real strength by smashing the Green into the floor. But Uoah had seen everything that was important.

The smaller of the Humans had picked up a plasma cannon from a box smashed open when Hather had thrown her friend Crawk. Crawk who was still limp and unmoving. Struck by a freeze command that hadn't propagated to her as a non-combatant?

The smaller Human had picked up the heavy cannon and snuck up on the much larger Hather while the Silianiscan fought the other two. The weapon was large enough to have a grip on the front and a trigger at the back of the long barreled thing. It slowed the Human down, but he had the advantage of being out of sight and mind. A momentary pause in the fight allowed her to hear the Human in his casual, irreverent voice.

"Hey, calm down Silly."

It was simple. Casual. Dismissive. All those and entirely disrespectful. The Silianiscan froze in place for a moment. Hathey was barely able to shift before the Human pulled the trigger of the awkward cannon.

It blasted its way through Hather's torso and a scatter of dissipated plasma burst out the other side of Hather's body.

The whole pile of them fell sideways. Hather landed directly on his side, releasing the Green Kraltnin as he went. The Human grunted the last of his air out in pain as he was crushed further under Hather's massive body. The other Human rushed to help, dropping the plasma cannon to try and push the body backwards off his companion, but could only shift it back a little. The Kraltnin didn't hesitate to scramble to his feet, although he stumbled as he tried to help. With his tail braced against the floor and his strength enhanced by the armour, the Kraltnin pushed the unresponsive body of Hather over onto its back. From there he was able to pry the Human out of the clenched arm.

The skinny Human watched as the other two flopped onto the ground and just lay there. The Hyowean, judging them safe, rushed over to the large Human.

"Otto!" she shouted as she went.

Uoah looked at Nualula and decided her old boss would survive. She picked herself up off the ground and walked to the Humans.

She arrived to see the Human Otto slowly sit up, flinching as he did so. His breathing was shallow and he twisted in what could only be pain.

"Shit, I think, uff," The Human's voice was harsh but restrained, "the fucker, he cracked a rib!"

Uoah twitched, but she didn't know the first thing about Humans, and she didn't have her library at hand. Still, she didn't hesitate to join them.

The group of them looked up at her as she arrived. There was a moment of silence, but she didn't let it stretch. "I am Doctor Uoah Dunah, I… I worked for Nualula Telesis," she told them.

Otto looked up at her, still taking shallow breaths. "Oh, we've been… looking for you," He closed his eyes for a long moment and she could see his breath deepen a little. When he opened his eyes, the expression of pain had cleared up. He breathing remained shallow. "Is your implant, limiting you without, Hather around?"

She let her imagination wander a bit. Did she want to go anywhere? Do anything? Well of course. She could walk right- "Kah!" she flinched, momentarily shutting her eyes at the errant tweak. "Yes, I am required to stay in the tower."

The expression on the Human's face twisted. "What sort of… sort of slave package, are you stuck with?"

"The common type, Hather only had-"

Her head slammed back before she could finish the sentence and the thought. She fell backwards, flapping her wings and flailing with her feet as the sudden attack ripped through her head and the implant controls reacted.

It all happened in a blur, and it took forever to happen. Finally, Uoah arrived back at full consciousness. The blue orbs of the Hyowean looked down at her. "Are you okay?" the plant Sapient asked with worry.

Uoah considered her mental state. The headache had compounded from what the Human had done, but she certainly didn't mind that now. She knew what the so-called ‘primitive' could do. "No," Uoah answered honestly, "But really yes."

"Daniel, can you, check on Crawk?" Otto asked. "I gotta contact Piderby and maybe Harley to see what's going on with the guy who ran."

"Wastad," Uoah informed.

Otto looked up to her. "Thanks." She then witnessed the way his eyes unfocused as he mentally went elsewhere.

Uoah looked at the Green. "Piderby is alive and well?" She inclined her head as a thought struck her. "I must admit, I did not get your name."

The Green, cut up as much as Nualula, bobbed his head in return. "I am Tanktantun Mentatin, and we came here looking for a ship and a doctor… but for now, we are going to have to leave here." The Kraltnin turned his head to Otto. "Don't forget to contact Leeroy, and warn Chase and the rest of the Kraltnin in the tower. None here can stay."

The Human shifted his head but didn't focus on anything in specific. "Shit, yeah. I'll do that Tank."

Tank. A nickname. That was much easier to say.

"You have more allies here?" she asked.

"Yes," Tank replied, "Chase is likely the cause of the dataspace… bomb."

Uoah blinked, then clicked her beak. "That is, well, I am pleased he is safe."

"Hey! Some help here?" Daniel called, "This guy's damn heavy!"

Tank didn't hesitate to walk over and help lift Crawk out of the crates.

Meanwhile, the Hyowean spoke up. "Hello, I'm Tsury!" She held her hand out towards her, straight with her fingers lined up vertically. Uoah looked at it. The hand twitched back slightly. "It's uh, a handshake, to say hello."

Uoah put her winghand into Tsury's grip. The Human hand of the Hyowean had a firm grip but didn't crush Uoah's digits as they wrapped around the winghand and shook a couple of times gently. The Hyowean then prodded one of the fruits hanging from the fronds of ‘hair' hanging from her head. "We were hoping to find a doctor in a calmer setting for some permanent immunizers. I hope you don't mind working with us?"

Uoah looked at Crawk, now sitting against one of the crates, his eyes staring. Daniel had remained with the huge figure. Tanktantun meanwhile was walking towards Nualula with another canister like the nanofix canister he had already emptied. Did Daniel have another?

Otto, however, was up and moving to another location. There were a small handful of other stasis pods. He was checking for friends. Before he could get there, Otto froze.

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Otto
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“Matchka! I see you!” Otto sent.

“Otto! Good! We are chasing!”

Otto had found Piderby, and Piderby was talking to Matchka. She opened herself up a step further, almost unable to speak. The lag was becoming noticeable between Matchka and them.

Piderby took a moment of silence. Otto was curious until he recognized the arrival of an info dump. The Gerlen was good at that.

The shuttle didn't have to stop. It was possible to zip right on through to space. If the hover didn't catch up, they would lose whoever was on board Wastad's shuttle. Otto's real eyes fastened on the small stack of stasis pods and he finished walking the last couple steps.

"So, I should get a hold of Harley to stop him from getting out, but do we know where the shuttle is going to pop out?"

Piderby was able to answer quickly, but not easily. "No, there are several different ports they can leave through. The problem will solve itself with a bit of time. As they get closer, it will become clear where the shuttle intends to go. What we truly need to worry about is enforcement attention."

"Attention…" Otto's mind worked quickly, "we should contact Chack."

"... Probably wise, although we have no leverage now, any price he exacts could be steep."

Otto felt himself grimace. He looked at Crawk sitting paralyzed against the crate and Tanktantun as the Green picked up Nualula. The Veprutasian was keeping Tsury company. He was procrastinating. Did they need to worry about the chase? Otto moved to the crates. "Give me just a moment. Whether we need to contact Chack, I'll find out in a minute-"

Matchka disappeared from communication.

"They are at the ring, terminating the connection via the tether," Piderby explained without missing a beat. "We have to find them again and reopen a new connection.

Otto barely resisted the urge to swear. In his mind, he wanted to go straight to re-opening the connection. But here in the now, he reached for the first stasis pod.

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Mike
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They still had to move, duck and dodge around the changing vehicles. The density of the traffic hadn't changed since they had entered the tube, but the size of the obstacles around them changed constantly. It didn't help that Wastad had noticed them and now his shuttle too was moving its way around traffic.

He and Matchka had found a strange balance as they flew. Their shared space balanced the attention problem that Matchka had and the Motes shored it up further. Matchka was less able to just take in a scene, while Mike had no problem with the issue. Her flying had improved as a result.

Not a lot to be honest, but just enough to keep up with the shuttle. It seemed Wastad didn't dare to go faster in the limited space they were bouncing around within. If Mike's seat hadn't been right next to Matchka, they would have fallen behind.

The attention sharing also helped a damn lot when Matchka had to talk to Piderby.

Mike was so relieved that the conversation had started with Otto. He had noted Daniel was alive. Then, oh so frustratingly, they had arrived at the ring which disconnected the conversation. At the same time the difficulty of the flying ramped up even further!

"Zone change," Matchka explained as it happened, then she didn't have the capacity to explain further. They were into the ring transport system. The shuttle ahead of them was forced to slow down as he dodged around vehicles and transports. Matchka was the same. Mike found himself pushed around the chair as the banked and swerved around one vehicle then through another corner.

Mike had hooked into the cannons hanging off the front of the hover. He could shoot, and shoot well, but he didn't know if he dared. The damn shuttle was moving around so much!

Matchka felt unsettled. Something wasn't adding up in her head.

"What is it?" Mike asked.

With so much concentration on the task at hand, Matchka's speaking was cut shorter than usual. "Attention. Enforcement. None."

"You think the cops should be chasing us? Uh, enforcement?"

"... Yes."

"Otto's probably helping somehow. Would we be in trouble?"

"Yes. Wastad, too."

Mike hadn't even thought of that. He mentally let go of the guns. There was Chack. Did Otto make a deal? If they did, Mike didn't want to make things worse. Then an idea hit him. "Hey, if Otto is talking, he probably got a hold of Harley!"

Matchka continued her leaps of logic. "Means. Shuttle has, someone."

Mike bared his teeth involuntarily, then found himself pressed backwards as another turn took them downwards, gravity wise. "How do you-"

"Chack first. Not… us."

Otto had talked to them, so the fight was over. But Otto hadn't contacted them again. Otto had reached Chack instead. Otto knew who was on the shuttle.

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?
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She was terrified of what was going to happen. Minmint gunning down the blackbird hadn't saved them. It only meant that Hatherkey was down a body. But it did also mean the body switcher was angry.

He took that anger out on Nualula by having her arm ripped off. The necessary ‘part' secured for what she took to understand was Nualula's genetic lock, the thugs bundled the three of them off to the tower.

She ached, would she see him again? Would Hatherkey even let them have a chance? Hatherkey, in a new completely black Monos body, had stopped by the cell. She wanted a piece of him. Like Minmint had taken. But it wasn't to be. After looking at her, she could see the moment in his eyes when he was done considering what to do with her.

It wasn't long after that when the decision was made. Rather than try and delve into her head and rewrite the slave package, the decision was made to make her someone else's problem. From the safety of their bars, they watched, a Ytheon and Vep slave. The space between the bars lit up orange with an atmospheric force field.

They flooded the cell with gas.

She wouldn't even have a chance to-

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?
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She woke up to the sound of a surprisingly loud vehicle arriving next to her. She opened her eyes to see a hover with heavily reinforced forward armour settling onto the landing pad.

Her eyes closed.

Her eyes opened.

She'd been momentarily unconscious? What did they hit her with? The hover was open with Tank, Daniel and Tsury all doing their utmost to carry a paralyzed Crawk into the vehicle. Did Hatherkey freeze him as well?

Tsury was safe. So were Daniel and Tank. What had happened to the monster?

Her eyes closed, but she didn't let herself go this time. A shift of her head showed her Otto carrying Nualula with a Veprutasian hovering nearby. So they saved Red Tail. Good. Another shift of her head and she spotted it. At first, she thought it was some strange armour. Maybe a drone.

But there were orange and red guts spilling from the wounds of the corpse. A real monster of a creature. She couldn't tell at a glance what it had been. But she could guess, there had been a couple of highly varied bodies on the Manifestation, but there were certain variations… the body looked like a Brute Silianiscan.

She shifted her head again as she realized there was something warm leaning against her. She had to push at them to clear her vision. It was another Veprutasian and their wing had been awkwardly pushed up against her head. She shifted and leaned forward, but felt a bit too weak to stand up just yet. On the other side of the Veprutasian was a silver-furred Bellani with horizontal black stripes on her arms and torso. Or him. She could never tell at a glance.

Otto was the first back out of the shuttle. He spotted her with her eyes open and rushed over.

"Aurula. You're awake!"

She tilted her head up and weakly tried to lift herself, her wings fluttering. She had been so angry before, but now she felt listless and weak. She hadn't shaken off whatever compound had put her to sleep. "Yes, I… am."

Otto reached down and gently helped her to her feet, then pulled her arm around his shoulder. She instinctively wrapped a wing around his shoulder too. Her vision was getting better at least. It allowed her to look-

She could see the two bodies. The white standing out in stark contrast to the dark greys and browns typical of the warehouse. "What… happened to them?"

Otto faltered, his shoulders shrinking down. It seemed he knew exactly who she was asking about. He didn't try to deflect or lie. Instead, Otto answered in a heavy voice. "I tried to break the sladier package. I failed."

Otto had killed them. The realization he had failed to break open a slave package shook her. For the next minute, she couldn't do anything but watch as everyone moved about.

She looked around more as they walked. Tank came out to grab one of the other sleeping individuals. Daniel patted her on the wing on his way to probably grab the other.

The loading bay was big enough to hold three shuttles and had plenty of stock packed up against the wall. There were wide areas where everything was neatly piled, and then spots that were suddenly riddled with shots of plasma or another couple dead bodies. Some crates were spilled open. A few of them seemed to be just holding powered composites. Something she was used to seeing for makers. Another container had a little fire burning within it. A third busted open had spilled guns out onto the floor.

Otto brought her to the door of the hover and helped her into the vehicle. She didn't miss the most important detail. Crawk had been the first one to be loaded up. There was Nualula, and Leeroy's face was reflected off the inner window.

Aurula grabbed Otto's shirt, her talons going right through the soft material. "Where is Mike, or Matchka… where is Stacey?"

She realized there was no colour in Otto's face, and he was ashen. "Mike and Matchka are chasing after her right now. That operator, Wastad, took off to the Ring with her in a stasis pod."

All of a sudden, Aurula wasn't sure whether her exhaustion was from the gas or the whole experience.

"Oh," Aurula whispered, "oh no."

-----
Mike
-----​

He was going to be sick to his stomach.

The closer they got to the edge of the ring, the worse the turns got.

On the bright side, Matchka seemed to have an easier time with all the tight corners. On the downside, Mike's stomach was starting to rebel. It didn't help that there was nothing he could do as Wastad's shuttle refused to slow. They couldn't catch up.

"It's coming!" Matchka shouted.

They rounded a corner, again far too fast, zipped past a big transport waiting for a door to open far enough. It wasn't open enough for the transport, but it was for Wastad, and it was for them. They passed through a space only just big enough to fly through, entering into a busy port. Ships, large and small, were docked at their respective gantries and docks. Even at a glance, there were lots of people moving around, many of them pushing or pulling goods. It was bustling with activity here, and they had to duck around a couple of hovers that looked like tugs, on their way to whatever task.

"Close!" Matchka complained, her voice a hiss.

"Matchka! I've got you on my network!"

Harley's voice blared into their shared consciousness. She had easy access with the Motes already connected to them.

Wastad blasted right through the port, heedless of traffic, and they chased after him. But there were no more obstacles and he was faster. Just like that, Wastad was pulling away. They passed through the orange atmospheric field marking the border between port and space.

There was the odd ship traffic moving back and forth, big and small, but Mike didn't have any attention to spare for that. He was watching the shuttle. Then he saw it.

Harley's ship. That teardrop shaped grey ship with its swirls of red and pink, her ‘Last Tear.' It was coming in quick.

A rogue message arrived unbidden, sent to them on an open channel. "Time for me to return your favours!"

At Mike's instinctive urge to duck, Matchka pulled up hard. A sizzle of bright light flew past them, fired from another ship. A ship taking up position in front of the Last tear. A big orange thing with a small forward prow, a fat body and two flat wings from each side, resembling a four-winged bird in a dive.

The message was by voice only, and the bastard didn't provide him with a face to hate. "I am Ship Lord Prock! I would dearly love to stay and take my price from you, but this will do!"

It happened so quick, he barely saw it, and yet there was no way he could miss it. Matchka was forced to keep the hover moving to avoid being fired upon by lances of energy from the ship, right up until Harley placed her ship in between the Monos vessel and them. Barely, but barely was good enough. Mike had just enough time to see it.

Wastad's shuttle entered a port on the side of the orange ship.

"Now then, Humans, come visit us on Strife if you want to see your friends again!" Prock shut off the one-way communication.

Still obscured by Harley having to place her ship between them and Prock's ship, Mike could still clearly see Prock turn around and speed away.

He didn't even notice it when he removed the straps. Mike slammed his fist against the windshield of the hover.

"No!"

He knew it. No one had to tell him. Stacey was on that ship.

He just knew it.

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End Chapter
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