Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 57, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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Today, we leave Karkantantar. Been here awhile, haven't we?

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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Next
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Chapter 57
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Aurula looked at Otto as he rested against the bunk wall.

He looked utterly exhausted as his head slumped backwards. Sitting across from him on her own bunk, she could clearly see the three scars she had put on his cheek and down to his neck. The brand new flesh on the other side of his neck showed just where Lopulm had bitten down. In time the colouring would darken to match his original flesh, leaving only a slight tracing at the edges of the wound.

Otto's had closed his eyes. She could tell by his breath that he was still awake, but he didn't seem inclined to say anything. Otto had gone through a lot after all. He had filled Aurula in on everything that had happened from his side since Hatherkey captured the girls earlier. Since then, he had shut himself down.

He'd told her about taking out the warehouse and meeting the Mote Captain Harley before that. Told her how Tanktantun had harnessed the Kraltnin masses and liberated Chase. And the attack on Hatherkey's tower. The meeting with Chack afterwards had been incredibly… anticlimactic. Chack had even regurgitated their shuttle as a matter of course! They hadn't even had a clue it was gone! Although, the fact that the hollow SI core had locked up probably had something to do with that. Otto's protections had succeeded in protecting the information the ship held.

The blackback Monos had laughed when Otto pointed it out. Laughed! Then cracked a joke about being outmaneuvered before the game even started. The meeting was a peaceful end to a messy couple of days.

A big contrast to how chaotic that attack must have been right up until the final moment when Chase had arrived and they had escaped.

As interesting as it might have been to get to know Chase, that short period in Leeroy's transport hadn't been long enough to learn what sort of person he was…

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Chase - Earlier
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Chase ran through the hall as quick as he could still manage. His current speed was a far cry from his normal peak.

The run-up to the AI core and the fight with the Leralin body had drained him. Constant adrenaline rushes could really take it out of a person he mused as he ran. At least the only way out wasn't back down through the elevator. The opposite side of the room held an exit which led him around to another stairwell, a much more sane option.

Booster beeped at him as Chase passed the door on his way down the stairwell. He had to grab the railing to slow himself down and turn around. Chase bounded back up the couple steps and pushed the control pad to see the door ahead of him hiss open.

Booster only consisted of the torso piece and helmet of the original armour he had started with. Sure made the little robot awkward when it had to move around on its stubby limbs, but it worked well enough for their purposes.

Chase could barely control his excitement at the prospect of leaving as he ran down the last hallway. It wasn't long at all until he found the entrance. The door was still open.

Chase rounded the corner to see an armed hover, Hatherkey's, and an armoured hover, Leeroy. He didn't spare the rest of the enormous room a second look. The armoured hover was ready to go and waited with a door on the side open and a couple of friends at the ready. Otto and Daniel waved at Chase, encouraging him on.

"We've been waitin'!" Daniel shouted as Chase ran over. "We gotta go! Enforcement is closing in!"

"I'm coming!" Chase yelled back.

"That's what she said!" Daniel replied.

As Chase climbed into the hover, he realized for the first time in a while that he felt like he was coming home.

The feeling didn't last. It went away as soon as the hover lifted off. Chase glanced around and saw a few new faces. A blue Leralin and a strange green girl who looked Human, but had the strangest looking hair he'd ever seen. At first they looked like dreadlocks, but then he realized they were more like cattails. Not to mention the green fruit like bulbs hanging off here and there . These would be introduced as Aurula and Tsury. There was also a silver Bellani with black stripes and a pair of Veps, one of them was Doctor Uoah he realized. The other he didn't know. There was also a notable absence of Oriashka and Lopulm. He strapped himself into one of the seats along the wall, an open spot next to Crawk. "My respects Crawk," Chase said to the big Ytheon. He didn't react. "Uh…"

"Crawk got hit by the freeze command," Otto said as the door closed behind him. "He'll be fine when it wears off, should be soon."

"Ah," Chase sighed with relief, "Good to hear." He still patted Crawk's shoulder as he belted himself in.

And they were off. Chase closed his eyes.

Then opened them. Chase opened them because Leeroy was shouting. Chase had nodded off the moment he was sitting down!

"Enforcement has more back-up! Our escort is screening us!" The man shouted back to them from his seat.

"Wh-what's going on?" Chase asked.

"You can see it in the shared space," a voice rumbled next to him. Chase looked over to see Crawk was also awake. That lifted a burden from his back. Chase nodded and closed his eyes as he tapped in.

A horde of vehicles surrounded them. All sorts of hovers in random shapes, round, capsules, boxes, all of varying colours as well. Chase had seen some of these vehicles earlier he was sure, and some of them even still had holes or scorch marks from the assault on the tower. The Kraltnin were flying with them.

"Ya know," Daniel commented over the space, "Cops have flashin' lights wherever they go, don't they?" Even as Daniel spoke, Chase could feel his attention drawn to where Daniel was focused. Behind them, outside the screen of vehicles, he could see the flashing orange and green lights that the cops here seemed to prefer.

They were catching up, and those armoured vehicles could push through the civilian hovers.

"We're coming up on it," Otto sent.

"I understand," Tank replied. With Otto's help, the Green pushed his attention further outwards, connecting to their escort. "My protectors, assume the designated flying pattern," even as he spoke, Tank started sending flight adjustments with Otto's instructions.

The pack, fully intent on Tank's words, shifted about. The group set about moving more vehicles to the back to hide what they were doing from enforcement. Ahead of them, a gap opened up as Leeroy caught up to a large semi-trailer sized transport. The side of the transport opened up.

"Scatter at the next intersection," Tank sent to the pack to finish things up.

Leeroy dodged sideways into the bigger vehicle. An incredibly deft maneuver that drew them around to head in the opposite direction. In only moments Leeroy had slipped sideways into the transport while jerking his blockade runner around and pushing the grav engines the other way. At the same time, several bulky cables fired out from the side of the transport to grab the hover and pull it in. Chase could feel the warp of gravity as it tugged and pulled. His stomach suddenly wanted to empty itself.

None aboard could help but grunt and groan as they whipped around, with perhaps only Aurula coming out of it feeling fine.

Leeroy bumped the side of the hover against the inner wall of their rescuer before settling his blockade runner down.

Chase let out a breath, relaxing once again. His case of nerves would last a little while longer, but enforcement didn't check the transport. The escape was successful.

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Aurula
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It was lucky that Chack's transport managed to grab them without notice. She'd be surprised if enforcement expected them to pull a stunt like that. At the time she'd been pretty sure someone was going to lose the contents of their stomach, although it was all rather fun to her.

Again Aurula considered moving over to Otto's side. Still, she couldn't quite will herself to do it. The hesitation wasn't a problem at first. Upon waking from stasis she had been too muddled. In the rush of getting out of that building, nothing had quite settled in yet. The unease had started afterwards when she had time to think about how Lopulm and Oriashka had died. And think about how they had taken Stacey away.

And how Aurula had been captured and stuffed into a stasis pod. Again.

It started bringing back memories of her last ship and her family. Otto in his fatigue hadn't noticed, probably. When they had stepped off Leeroy's hover and into Chack's transport, Aurula had flinched away from Otto's hand.

Or maybe he had noticed. The man could be as readable as a blank monitor at times.

Even under the threat of physical harm.

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Nualula Telesis
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"You promised WHAT?!" Nualula yelled at him. She grabbed Otto's shirt and slammed him against the wall. The glint of the purple arm only soured her mood further.

It took him a moment to respond. Probably because his head bounced off the wall behind him, but respond he did. "A choice," Otto replied. Even with the smack on the back of his head, his expression barely changed. The only reason his faced changed at all was the pain of the impact. The Human seemed utterly drained.

"Leave or serve," she repeated back to the Human.

He again replied without a trace of emotion that she could see, "yes." Nualula let him go, allowing Otto to drop back to the floor.

Chack had put them up in a large briefing room. A half-circle room with a large monitor on the flat wall with half circles of chairs radiating outwards. Otto's crew, but for Mike, Matchka and the abducted Stacey lounged about the room. Along with what little remained of her own best. Granted she might pick up some more talent from the uprising of Kraltnin, but that was the sort of mess that would take a while to sort correctly.

She looked at Tanktantun. The Green's little female had tucked herself under an arm and against his side. But Tanktantun himself was not interfering in this fight. He was watching closely, close enough he would likely act if she became too angry. "Is that all you have to say?" She asked as she looked back.

She turned her head in time to see Otto patting his pants as he stood up. He then stood straight and looked her in the eye again. "I would do the same again."

Her tail twitched with irritation and her eye membrane dropped. Given the choice he'd do the same thing over. The Human wouldn't even pretend to apologize.

Then someone interrupted. "Now, either choice is quite good actually, and there is simply no way you would be here to argue if he hadn't made that deal, and we wouldn’t even have a choice if the Human hadn’t cracked the slave package on your new implants.”

Nualula turned to look at Piderby, her tail lashing back and forth as Piderby needled her.

"Don't look at me like that," the shockingly bright orange suit Piderby was wearing almost ruined his admonishment. "Chack wants the biggest cuts, yes, but he is supplying sorely needed specialists. We both know Hatherkey never made progress when attempting to push up to the ring. Chack's support is nothing to dismiss."

Crawk remained impassive, letting her decide as she wished. Uoah Dunah was sitting next to the green-skinned Hyowean. It was clear to Nualula that Uoah would not be staying on Karkantantar, not with the incredible treasure that was Tsury. Chase was sitting on a stool looking into the ‘eyes' of his new pet. The Mote he had named Booster. It would be interesting to see how his involvement with the Mote would work out, she didn't have the usual prejudice against the little robots, but then she wasn't technically minded. Nualula let her shoulders relax and her tail go. "Very well then. Where should we start? Do we contact him?"

Piderby shook his head. "First, we put out a message to the Kraltnin of the city in an attempt to calm the populace. Chack's operator reports the sudden initiative shown by your fans is causing problems for the nervous elite. Problems that will likely draw Spectrum attention, if it hasn't already."

Nualula dropped her head. "Yes, that would be best. Are we set up for sending a message?"

"It will only take moments. Chack is certainly watching us after all."

"Good enough, let me talk to…" She found herself looking at Tanktantun, "let Us talk to our people."

Tanktantun inclined his head. "You are right. I need to give thanks as well," as he said that he placed his hand upon the back of Minmint's head. She reached up and put her hand on his wrist.

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Aurula
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She sighed, looking about the room. Harley had granted double rooms for them aboard the ship. Of course, this simple room was for them. Otto had described the confined box as "Surprisingly Human." The opposing beds sunk into the walls, the table at the end of the room and the elim- the ‘washroom' off to the side. All of it a soft grey, but with accents of red and pink.

To be fair, Aurula had occupied much smaller boxes before.

Tank and Minmint had their own room. Tsury was quartered with the Veprutasian doctor, but not until after Aurula had shooed the girl out. Matchka was staying in the same room as Daniel and Mike where she "Felt safe." Everyone could see that Matchka didn't like the Motes all that much, even if she did have the little hexapod Mote to ride around in.

The other captives cracked out of their stasis pods along with Aurula also had rooms. Another Vep and the silver Bellani with black stripes all the Humans had immediately called ‘Tiger.'

Aurula had a healthy respect for them, the motes. She had seen ships torn apart inside to support the rogue colony within. She also understood that this ship, Last Tear, was an entirely different thing with the Mother Mote present. Aurula was vaguely aware of the existence of this sort of SI before hand. There was a regulation somewhere that a Mother Mote was supposed to be exterminated if found, but it wasn't something she'd ever paid much attention.

It had never really been required of her.

Outside of visiting a couple of Monos stations, ‘being aware of Mote SI' wasn't a problem.

Considering what little she had glimpsed of this ship, Aurula expected the reason for the rule was politically driven. She was aware of the rumours about the Monos and the Sonos. Although all that was long ago enough that it didn't really matter anymore. In any case, this ship ran smooth, and the underlying hums and vibrations of the ship were markedly better. Chances are Matchka would agree if pressed.

Otto was sitting with his eyes closed, legs splayed across the bed as he leaned against the far wall. Aurula let her eyes drift down to his newest hand. It blinked with a subtle red light. Something most would relate to Motes in general. When she had a moment, Aurula figured on suggesting the Motes take a more generic form. If they looked like actual armour, it would be much less likely for anyone to get into trouble.

That just made her think of what would have happened if they had failed to get away.

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Commissioner Kruent
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He watched the analyzed recording play through again from the viewpoint of one of his enforcement pursuit hovers. It happened quickly enough that he couldn't blame his pilots for missing it.

The scattered and dangerous array of civilian hovers refusing to move out of the way presented an effective barrier for the custom armoured craft within. Then as if an AI was taking over, the screen moved with purpose, shifting to create a more substantial screen and obscure the vision of Kruent's pursuit force.

Removing Hather Key Nerom was the primary goal. Capturing this mess was more of a trophy. A purpose made much more difficult by someone creating an information feedback loop from the illicit AI core. The ramping up signal had drowned out available capacity within the whole tower and anyone connected to the dataspace had likely been sporting a fantastic headache.

It had also bogged down possible surveillance by jamming up all communication ports. A problem compounded by a couple of Hather's slaves disconnecting a couple of the lines, but that effort had been stalled out by a few of the invading Kraltnin.

When one actually looked at the numbers, not many Kraltnin had proven brave enough to invade the tower, compared to the number of them in Peaks. Most of the Kraltnin activity had taken place within the greater city, and had their influence there had proven extremely positive.

And was still proving extremely positive. A natural outcome when Kruent considered the nature of Kraltnin in general. They tended to have their colour clan infighting, but outside of that, the race was on the upper end those known to be more cooperative without the use of hive mechanisms. Likely because the regular civilians felt the colours could work things out themselves, neutrals didn't have to involve themselves.

Kruent was letting his mind wander. A sign of age. He sighed and focused on what he was watching.

The recording continued, the escorts arranged themselves and pushed outwards to herd Kruent's officers backwards. At first, it was assumed they were making space for passing vehicles. Something they had been doing for a few minutes as the whole group had abandoned the autopilot for the escape. The image expanded and Kruent was treated to the impressive sight of the hover pivoting around and flying into a passing large stock transport. By the time that transport was through the screen of civilians the side door had closed.

He had already seen this. It was just impressive to watch.

"Have you traced the transport yet?"

"We believe so," replied a junior Kashto officer, "by best guesses, the vehicle belongs to one of gang lord Chack's known business entities."

Kruent clicked his beak, of course it did.

He leaned back in his suspended chair. "Never mind that," he mentally signalled a female Veprutasian junior, "you have the report on Hather's tower?"

A crisp double beak click announced her confirmation. Kruent tilted his head towards her. "Anything new to report officer Viewsy?"

"Sir, only updated tallies of seized stock and slain individuals for the most part."

"For the most part?"

"Yes, we did find a storage chamber with a set of stasis chambers, and one body," she paused for a moment as she brought up the info packet for him to browse. "All that remained was a mentally empty Ytheon shell. I am supposing that the other bodies were all black pigmented, but with the discovery of the empty shell in Red Tail's headquarters and the Leralin corpse at the AI core, I am confident in the prediction."

"Which would mean this is where Hather Key Nerom kept his spares. Six chambers in total?"

"Yes, scans indicate the chambers to have held specimens of a single Monos, Leralin, Veprutasian, Useaset and Kashto."

Kruent paused. "The Useaset was lost several months in a skirmish with Chack I understand."

"Yes."

"And we have found the Veprutasian, Monos and Leralin bodies."

"Yes."

"And his primary body is a smoking heap."

"...Yes," Viewsy's reply this time was faint.

Kruent nodded a gave a single confident click of his beak. "So it is likely Hather is still alive but stuck in a replacement body." She didn't reply this time. "Well, we will report this to Judiciary, as soon as possible in fact. They will like that detail," Kruent mused, then glanced directly at the young Veprutasian female.

She was wearing the usual dark blue vest and pants with the purple stripe for enforcement. Her black feathers were still pristine and her golden eyes hadn't begun to dim with age. Her long beak she also kept mostly unadorned but for a white diamond shaped clip attached to the very end of her beak. "Compile the report and send it. I will not be asking you to leave anything out." Viewsy tilted her head, stepped back and turned to go to work.

Judiciary would come for Kruent soon enough. Any use of emergency powers also earned a follow-up inspection. Whether or not he held his position after that inspection was out of his hands, but he expected to be retiring soon. Attempting to hide details had never worked out for his predecessors either.

That didn't stop him from obscuring the details on the altercation between the Monos ship and the unique vessel at the orbital ring Cliffside port. The report was ‘unrelated,' but Kruent knew better. The timing of those two small vehicles escaping the station to their respective ships was far too convenient. The thought of capture now a distant memory, he could do a small favour for the Mess that had disrupted events just enough in his support to make the city a better place. For a little while anyway.

Kruent sifted quietly through the reports still at his minds call.

A new report arrived, he accepted the info package and opened the recording. A message from Nualula and the Green, now known as ‘Tanktantun.' A call to the Kraltnin for peace. Well, that settled one worry. He was curious to see how Red Tail surviving would affect things.

He continued to browse damage reports. There were many corpses, more than a couple of those being notable individuals. The two white Leralin were standout examples. Still, Kruent found himself oddly pleased that Chase hadn't been among those bodies.

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Aurula
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"Hey passengers, this is Captain Harley speaking," the Human woman's voice came across loud and clear, over ship speakers. Aurula's head twitched when she realized she was hearing it with her ears instead of the message being sent over dataspace.

"She isn't implanted?" Aurula asked Otto. He didn't have a chance to reply before Harley was speaking again.

"We're about ready to depart if any of you goobers want to watch. Mother has gone and set up some front row seats in a shared space for you guys."

"Goobers?" Aurula whispered.

Otto chuckled, the first positive sound she had heard out of him since waking. The sound shifted her mood just a touch, just enough.

Aurula stood up and climbed into Otto's bed, settling down on his right. She gave him a nudge with her wing as she did so. Otto leaned forward and Aurula wrapped her wing around behind him, then gave a tap for him to lean back when she was close and comfortable. His right hand was sandwiched between them, and she felt him rest the Mote on her thigh. Its touch was noticeably more organic than Otto's previous hand. Otto brought his left hand around and ran it through the feathers around Aurula's neck.

"I'm sorry," Otto said, surprising her. "I should have foreseen you could be caught. You, Tsury and… and Stacey."

Aurula didn't reply.

"We didn't think about it, didn't take it all seriously enough," Otto sighed. "If I'm right, the brothers are harassing Matchka about how to pilot right now. I think Mike is going to ask Matchka about plasma weaponry and d-field harnesses after that."

She didn't reply, although his hands preening the feathers around her cheeks were doing good things, even if she had already made up her mind.

"So back to the Manifestation we go. We'll see how they're doing. Rob, Cynthia and Mason. Check on the Gerlen, make sure they're okay too. Then fix Spire and heal Ting. After that, I really need to rescue Clouds and introduce him. We're not done yet after all."

"No, we aren't done yet," Aurula agreed. "Shall we watch?" She spared a portion of her attention for the shared space of the Last Tear.

It was a contained space, made explicitly for viewing and nothing else. She could see Mike, Daniel and Matchka watching. Tsury wasn't there, nor the new Veprutasian doctor, and then they were. The two of them had likely been conversing. Minmint and Tanktantun joined moments later.

The Last Tear had already put some distance between them and the green planet that was Karkantantar with the thin silver ribbon circling its equator. Enough distance that they couldn't see the stream of ships approaching and leaving the grand ring. If Aurula wanted to search and expand her vision, she would spot quite a few quickly enough, although new arrivals would be harder to detect with their scatter coat still active.

"Entering wave drive now," Harley spoke with confidence and a note of pleasure. The stars blinked out of existence and they were confronted with the white glow typical of FTL travel.

"See you soon SPIRE," Otto muttered to himself back in the room.

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Hather Key ?
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He wiggled the black Kashto body through another grate, popping himself into the access corridor to the pillar. Tired and hungry after the climb and the hunt for the proper route, he stopped for a minute to rest.

Much of the fatigue was from the anger. Even now, if Hather let himself dwell on it too much, his eyes would constrict to a tight point and his consciousness would turn white as the body prepared for a fight or flight situation. Hather forced his breath to slow, ratcheting his heartbeat down with it.

At least he still had that. A Silianiscan needed a high level of physical discipline to control their electrical processes. Stray sparks were nearly impossible to prevent, but if one's altered biology was allowed to go rampant they could literally burn themselves out.

The stray thought, the idea of Silianiscan as a nebulous 'they' caused his anger to flare up once again. Hather was forced to spend another couple minutes to control himself. He was still Silianiscan, not Kashto! He just-

He just had to find a way to a Derlsal cloning complex or station. Every one of his bodies had a culture sample embedded within, just in case. That's all he needed to do. After several minutes he headed down the corridor, using preset codes to open any hatches that impeded his progress. At least the current body was agile and a capable climber. It made navigating the drone corridors less troublesome.

Hather was incomplete. The calming of the AI Core had given him a chance to try and escape his doomed body via dataspace, but the space was by no means clean. Again he slapped at his skull, trying to jar loose that oppressive feeling of blockage. The action only made him stumble as he walked. It didn't help in the way he hoped. He knew he'd do it again later in a fit of irritation.

His tether was gone, every other time he had the solid anchor of his True Self waiting at the very core of his mind. Without that anchor, he felt adrift, small, useless. He felt-

Hather shook his head, his whole body wiggling along with it as he did so.

Hather was afraid even to speak, his body might be that of a Kashto, but he suspected he'd sound exactly like a Bellani. Speaking in single words with broken sentences.

He climbed up another shaft and pushed forward, finding what he was looking for. Another pulse of information, a basic entry code, and the hatch opened up. Hather Key stepped forward into the primary maintenance shaft of the support pillar.

Freed of gravity, he floated in place for a moment. Hather took a moment to get his bearings. As much as he could. Could he even remember which of the levels was currently open for him to escape through?

No, he couldn't… he was going to have to check them all.

It was roughly an hour later when he pushed his way out of the pillar and fell several feet to land on the exposed roof of the block. His current body was resilient in its own way, little bothered by the fall. Not so resilient as to prevent the impact from scrambling his braincase even more.

He groaned as he flopped over to try and sort himself out, only to have something blunt jabbed at his skull. "What do you-"

"Freeze, [Freeze]," the command arrived with terrifying finality.

Hather Key found himself stuck in place. His eye focused on the figure standing over him. A Gerlen with a black vest, baggy pants and boots. A rather unusual uniform. Most importantly, he had a very large gun pointed at Hather's head, not that he needed it now.

Behind the Gerlen stood the speaker. He was… no one Hather knew. But the form was recognizable enough. He looked to be a typical newt, just at the end of adolescence and in the natural adult form of the Silianiscan. He still had his smooth skin coloured like black with its slight rainbow sheen. He still had the blunt nubs at the end of his snout that was more likely to scatter sparks haphazardly if the young adult was upset. He even had the original three clawed foot with the dewclaw on the side and the three digit hands with dull nails.

He looked every bit ready to begin the road to glory by choosing his archetype and earning a form to be proud of, augment by augment.

Except… when Hather looked closely, there were plenty of modifications. From his fingers to his toes the simple drake form was covered in silver tracery. If Hather was to guess, the bulk of the upgrades were sensory or mental in nature. He was probably a dangerous foe indeed in dataspace.

Hather's heart began to pump with fear as the younger Silianiscan casually approached.

"A Kashto body," he chuckled, "Well, I imagine you had few options at the time."

A cable jack popped out of a small port on the palm of the young adult's right hand. Hather's eyes constricted to points and the hand filled his vision.

"I wonder just how much of you made it out of your true body," he mused, "Not that it matters, Kruent is already reporting on your demise. You aren't even a Silianiscan anymore. And after this, you'll be nothing but a Kashto slave."

Hather felt the pressure as this Silianiscan plugged the jack into a port at the base of his skull. A presence pushed its way into his mind.

"Ha! You can't even remember your own full name. Well, that's fine. You didn't need it anyway."

His mind went blank.

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End Chapter
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