Original Content Bought and Sold. Chapter 8, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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What's up with the girl? Well...

Anyways, How is Mason doing? And do you know what Bellani really love?
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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Next
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Chapter 8
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He sat on his stool, staring at the black ball Daniel had called ‘Rick’ and Tanktantun had called ‘Rixiniux’. Mason never had the chance to know the Ooze, but right now he felt like he had something in common with the frozen creature.

Rick wasn’t going anywhere, just like Mason. And just like Umbra who’d stalked over to Seramana to have a ‘chat’. They were exchanging words now, Seramana sitting on her own stool in front of he hangar. Umbra was looming over her as much as he could.

Mason looked back at the conversation at the front of the hangar. “Hunh,” he muttered to himself as Seramana stood, then smoothly dropped her head low, her eyelid closing. Not just dropping her membrane, but closing her eye entirely.

Umbra stepped back, startled by the action.

Mason had learned they only did that in full submission. That looked like a serious apology.

Umbra froze, seemingly lost for words. The Gerlen suddenly turned and marched away.

“Well, guess that’s done,” Mason said to the large black ball sitting quietly in the corner. “Probably would have been better if she’d gone to him rather than let the poor guy stew in his own juices for a few days.” The ooze, locked in stasis, didn’t respond. The grey disk on the top of the black ball didn’t so much as twitch.

Seramana got up and walked away, probably back to the sleeping room. The place where the injured had been placed until Otto came back with the expertise to heal and repair.

Mason had wanted to go too. Of course he did! But like Umbra he was stuck here, and he didn’t see Seramana apologizing to anyone else.

Mason considered the datapad in front of him. Sometimes he’d work on that, and sometimes he’d work from dataspace. Either way he was frustrated. Making a drone that did its own thing he could now do without help. And he could make platforms for Rob to sit in and pilot relatively easy. But making a frame that Rob could wear… that was something else.

The problem was compatibility and cooperation. The harder Mason looked, the more he realized that a body needed a certain amount of agency for a suit to function right. The suits could enhance, but they created strain that could easily become damage if the body wasn’t healthy and functioning.

Matchka, Otto and Tink had all helped him build a ‘soft model’ as a stand in for Rob so Mason had a proper simulation dummy to test some of his suit designs. They’d had to do some work to fill in for the functions SPIRE had served without them even realizing the SI was helping. At this point Mason did have one suit that could probably carry Rob around pretty easily. He’d take that design to him later, but he knew that the man wouldn’t be able to wear it for long before the thing started pulling at Rob’s body the wrong way. And being paralyzed, he wouldn’t be able to feel the damage being done. Ultimately, Mason’s idea of making Rob a suit had only succeeded in finding another burden for the injured guy.

He did have another chair design that Mason liked however. It would have several more points of articulation so Rob would be able to adjust limb position independently and even stand up when he wanted to. Several extendable supports within the frame would extend and support or clamp to hold Rob secure. The guy would have even more freedom to move around, but he still wouldn’t have his own functioning body.

Mason passed his hand over the datapad, pushing the current working file off the screen.

The other option was to build Rob a stand in drone. Rob seemed to have a bit of talent there, His control of a single unit was really good. But ultimately that drone would just be an escape. The big man was reluctant to follow that idea, he wanted to be fixed, not to run away. Mason could respect that, but he still continued work on the best stand-in he could make.

Mason opened that file for another look. Whether Rob used it or not, this project usually energized Mason for other stuff. Once again he went back to work.

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Otto
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Otto was only half present in the real world.

He was taking slow, careful pokes at the local dataspace. It was much more utilitarian then the internet he remembered. While he saw plenty of advertisements while walking the halls, the dataspace itself was left clean serving as a communication network and station directory.

That was it. The only interaction visitors were allowed was the ability to browse and call services. It seemed only those who ran a physical workspace could create and modify content. Even then the reigns were held tight.

So far he had only just become comfortable with navigating the station map and services. He could reserve a spot at one of the few bars present or perhaps rent a local escort. A few shops had a display catalogue of goods, but beyond that there was little to see. Juin was allowing Otto to inspect things from that side as well however. The Bellani was an old friend of Matchka’s and they clearly trusted each other. So Otto took the chance to look deeper into the station space.

He stood within the entrance of Juin’s shop, named for the person talking to Matchka right now. The orange male Bellani had bright white stripes and massive white bars above his eyes that made him look like he had huge eyebrows.

The conversation he was having with Matchka was animated… for Bellani.

“Two?!” Juin exclaimed. “If two, must have more!” the unmoving bars on his forehead made him look bored despite the tone of his voice

“Yes, but not telling where,” Matchka responded with a sharp toothed smile.

“Understand…” he sighed. “Blueprints?” Juin asked

“Yes, here,” Matchka replied as she pulled out a Bellani palm sized disk.

He pulled a plug from a brick on the side of his harness and plugged it into the disk. “Oh…. OH!” He jumped with surprise. His tail thrashed with surprise and his ears flicked back and forth, up and down. “Many selections. Good offerings.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Credits? Equipment? What need?”

And with that they were off to the races firing back single word replies as they haggled.

Tsury in her grey jumpsuit and large shawl keeping all her hair in place was playing with a Bellani kid. The little cat was obviously Juin’s child. He had introduced her as Pinlen. Her fur was red with bright white lines resembling her fathers. Her ‘eyebrows’ were a little thinner and much longer. But they curved away from her eyes in such a way as to make her look permanently worried. Everytime Otto looked her way he had to keep himself from smiling.

“Tsury, can you come here for a moment?” Aurula called.

“Just a moment,” Tsury whispered to the literally bouncing little girl. She stood up and walked over to where Aurula was inspecting a selection of harness add-ons. Pinlen trailed after Tsury, all of her ears tilted towards the Hyowean.

Otto sunk back into the dataspace. He was starting to get a sense of the network aboard the station. As far as he could tell it was okay, but he already had a few ideas to test out for getting into the back end. He wasn’t in any rush to dig into the system. There wasn’t anything substantial to gain… except experience. It was the flexing of his dataspace muscles that was the whole point of what he was doing.

He hadn’t the knowhow and influence to encounter the SI that was supposedly looking after the Hrossincru network. Here it Ooleck 7 he wasn’t seeing anything like that, although he intended to ask Matchka about it later. So far all he could see where AI routines managing the system.

“Matchka! Matchka!” Pinlen called. She’d wandered over to where Matchka and her father were hashing out their deal.

Matchka looked down at Pinlen and her ears folded inwards a bit.

“Your ear, burnt!” Pinlen declared. “Adventure?”

“Yes!” Matchka replied with a flick of her burnt ear.

“Scary?”

“Well-”

“It was, very scary,” Otto said with a deep voice and a toothy grin. “Matchka was very brave, a monster almost got her.”

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Tsury
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Tsury exchanged a glance with Aurula, then looked at Otto as he settled in for the story. Pinlen’s eyes opened wide and she scurried over to him with hands clenched and four ears pointed his way. “A Monster!” Pinlen exclaimed, her excitement radiating off her. Tsury realized she was interested to hear this story too. She’d woken up after the crash, but hadn’t thought to ask about all that had happened leading up to the crash landing.

“And a terrifying one! I faced it too and it was very big and very strong, but we didn’t know it was there at first,” Otto sat down, settling in for a story.

“Really?!” the little Bellani said, dropping to her haunches with her hands on the floor.

Tsury looked over to see that Matchka and were glancing at the Human as they talked.

“Yes, we were sneaking around an enemy base,” Otto told her. “It was a Gerlen base, and we were fighting for territory and loot!”

“Loot!” Pinlen’s tail curled up.

“But they brought in reinforcements and we didn’t know what they were up to!” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “Fortunately, Matchka had a plan. She would sneak in by herself and spy on them for us. Maybe she could even steal some really shiny loot, but she had to be careful, she would be all alone...”

“Ohhhh,” Pinlen sighed with excitement. Juin’s closest ears were clearly tilted to listen to them.

“Her sneaking and spying worked really well!” Otto exclaimed. “It turned out they were building big tanks to come shoot at our base!”

“Oh no!”

Tsury had heard a little bit about this actually. When Matchka snuck away to scout. And yet she found herself more distracted just watching the little Bellani.

“But that was only one of the things she was there to check on. There was more stuff to look at. Next she snuck across a bridge by slipping underneath where no one could see her. And she was smarter too. She managed to crawl around to a backdoor they didn’t think we could get to. It was unlocked!”

“Sneaky!”

She took a step towards the storyteller and his audience but Tsury stopped and looked back as Aurula tapped her on the shoulder, holding a an item picked a unit off the shelf. One of the things they were looking for a was PNE unit for Tsury and possibly some for the rest of the crew. The ‘Personal Native Environment’ would help regulate the pheremones. She was too sensitive to their smell she had decided. And they were too sensitive to the one she gave off when...

“She delved deep into their base, looking for a gadget we knew they had that would let us hack important parts. She found part of the system, and even their power plant! But she didn’t find the gadget.”

“Hidden!”

“Indeed! But the patrols were getting closer. The deeper she went the more of them there were… until… there weren’t!”

“What?”

‘Her voice was so adorably squeaky!’ Tsury thought to herself.

“Deep into the base the patrols ended. The Gerlen were afraid to be any deeper. They knew after all, they knew it was… dangerous.”

The Bellani sighed with rapt interest. Tsury found her sight drawn back to Otto. The man always looked… like he wasn’t quite there? She didn’t know how to describe it. But right now he wore a wide grin she hadn’t yet seen on him. And he moved with far more energy as his arms gestured and moved to emphasize what he was saying.

“And then they found a huge hall! A big chamber for their big boss to make speeches and shout orders. She even got to listen to him talking to his general!”

“Sneaky!”

“She snuck into the base, further and further, but she discovered something… strange.”

Pinlen gasped lightly, her ears standing straight out. Tsury was pretty sure she knew what was next, but she was hanging on his words too.

“Gerlen are made to be servants and soldiers, we all know that. But their old bosses… they were dead!”

“What?!”

Aurula chittered quietly. Tsury realized Otto had managed to grab the room with his story.

“Matchka found one who had passed on. This was when she also knew. She knew that there was a Monster! The poor guy who was dead had not died quietly. That Monster had chased him down.”

“Matchka was there!”

Juin and Matchka seemed to be done talking, or maybe they had paused? Juin was paying close attention to the story while Matchka was looking unmistakably pleased.

“She was. But there was one thing. He still had his access disk! With this Matchka could call for help if she got in trouble. This was very good for her you see. Before finding the disk, Matchka didn’t even have that!”

“So brave!”

“Yes! And very stealthy. Matchka delved deeper into the center of the base. She found more of the old gerlen bosses. They were dead too, all of them killed by something so much bigger than they were. But it was leading to the command center! If she could get in there, she could do so many things. The base would be ours!”

Another bright red Bellani had stepped through a door in the back of the shop. Her fur was covered in swirls of black including a solid black tip to her tail. Pinlen was vibrating with excitement. Her tail was literally vibrating. Tsury wanted to touch it.

“Now, Matchka had found the access disk of one of the lower rank officers. That was good. But then she found the commander.” Otto’s voice dropped low again. “Even him! The Monster had done its terrible work. But that commander, he still had his access disk. Imagine! The key to the whole base! Matchka couldn’t pass it up, could you?”

“No!” Pinlen replied with confidence.

“But that was the mistake,” He said with gravitas and Pinlen froze. “As soon as Matchka grabbed the disk the Monster… awoke,” Pinlen gasped. “It wasn’t close, no, but she could hear it move! It was big and heavy, and it had moved the moment she grabbed the access disk. It was after Matchka.”

“Oh no!” Pinlen’s voice was faint and quiet.

“The chase was on!” Otto shouted, throwing his arms out and startling the little Bellani. “As quickly and as quietly as she could Matchka fled! Her ears twitching back and forth, she could hear it… Scuttling on too many legs. It knew she was there, but not quite where.”

At this point everyone really was watching the play. Tsury gave up on pretending to be interested in the harness. When she looked sideways she saw Aurula’s feathers had fluffed up, signalling comfort. The Bellani adults watched with curiosity only a shade calmer than Pinlen’s. Matchka was beaming.

“Close and closer it came! She ran and hid, it was harder to find her when she didn’t move, but it still got closer! The way it moved it was big, and it had so many legs! She could hear the thunder of those legs hitting the deck as it got closer! Matchka and the Monster played a terrible game of tag, running through the halls, and the Monster was the chaser. At one point she froze in place and it ran directly over her, but it kept going. Then it spoke to her. ‘I know you are there,’ it said in its mad, warped voice.”

Pinlen gasped in strangled tension.

“Matchka jumped! And she ran! It was a mistake! the Monster wanted her to run like that. The real chase was on and it whispered words of satisfaction. It was looking forward to a Bellani meal. Finally, it would catch her at the Hall where the Gerlen used to meet their old bosses. She realized then, its voice was the same as the boss she had heard talking earlier! It had tricked even the Gerlen!”

“But Matchka is safe!” Pinlen said, she couldn’t handle the tension anymore.

“Indeed! You see, Matchka is stealthy and skilled, but also smart. As soon as she realized the Monster was chasing her she used the access disk to send us an alarm. We were coming, and we were armed!”

“You had guns!”

“A couple, but not enough, but what we did have was a really fast little ship!”

“You ran away!?”

“We sure did,” Otto exclaimed. “I told you I saw that Monster. It was scary. It was actually a military drone, but such a huge drone! With multiple legs, two huge claws for arms and a giant beam gun for a tail! Our ship had a rocket on the back of it, so we flew away, and we flew away really fast. But!” Penlin jumped. “It was fast too! And the base was full of turns! We flew away as fast as we could, but we couldn’t let ourselves crash!”

“Did you crash?”

“The ship did crash,” Otto said gravely. “It kept shooting that giant beam at the little ship and the field could only stop it for so long! So many times huge waves of plasma splashed across the deviation field of the ship. It was just a matter of time until we went down! And the shield did go down. It shot the ship. It was the weapons of the Monster that clipped Matchka’s ear.”

“Oh no,” Pinlen said again.

Otto grinned wide, still having a great time. “But while the ship went down it didn’t go down yet, and we didn’t go down at all! We managed to jump out when we went around a couple tight corners. We hid behind a door and Matchka showed how good an operator she was!”

“She did?”

“Oh yes! She drove the ship like another drone while being carried to safety. You Bellani are lighter than us after all. The Monster did catch up, and it did hit the ship, but she made it blow up!”

“Wow!”

“By the time the Monster realized what Matchka had done, we were safe.”

“Monster, beaten later?

“Yup!” Otto said, “but that’s another story, Something to look forward to!”

“Ohhhh!” Pinlen complained, clearly wanting to hear more. Tsury almost walked over and demanded Otto tell her the rest, but Aurula had caught her shoulder.

“Matchka,” Juin started, facing her. “That ship?”

“Yes, Neva design.”

“Hmmmm,” Juin hummed as he dropped into thought, his tail twitching.

“Interested?,” Matchka asked, her top ears slanting forward.

“Yes!” Juin replied. He looked at Otto. “Thank you for story.”

“No problem,” Otto replied with a smile. “Your daughter clearly enjoyed it.”

Pinlen didn’t realize she was being spoken about. She was too busy staring at Matchka with a tinge of hero worship. Tsury had a new appreciation for Otto too. She hadn’t known he’d rescued Matchka like that!

After they were done haggling and had left the store, Tsury would be surprised again.

They’d just left the shop, Matchka led the way with the three of them behind her. Otto walked in the middle with Tsury on his left and Aurula on his right.

“Otto, lied,” Matchka accused, giving his leg a swat with her tail. “Mason saved.”

‘It wasn’t Otto?’ Tsury thought to herself. The thought made her… restless?

“I fudged, yeah,” Otto admitted. “Mason worked hard to keep you both safe, but the parts important for that story were intact...” he trailed off for a moment. “Although to be honest, my memory is a bit hazy about the story.”

That made her think about it a bit deeper. ‘Otto didn’t really say much upfront, did he?’ She found herself wondering what else he wasn’t saying or was obscuring. He would even do so to wonderful little children. “Do you do that often?” Tsury asked out loud.

Everyone paused for a moment as they looked at her. “Do what?” Otto asked when he realized she was looking at him.

“Lie, or leave things out,” she said, her tone sharper than she expected.

The group stopped moving for a moment. “Yeah, I do.”

‘Not even hiding it!’ was her next thought.

“And I won’t apologize for it either, unless I specifically lie when I really shouldn’t” Otto said, seriously looking at her. His face turned thoughtful. “You’re pretty annoyed aren’t you, your vines are twice their usual size,” he reached out to touch one of the two vines that always rested on her chest. Where the fuzz was usually lying down like fur, it really was standing straight out now.

“Ah-,” Tsury didn’t have a chance to say anything before a large spark arked from the fuzz to his hand. He jerked his arm back and swore, shaking his hand. “Sorry,” she said, feeling suddenly meek.

After a small sigh Otto turned and they continued on their way. As he turned he continued speaking. “Don’t worry about it, just be aware that you zap when you’re annoyed.”

“I wasn’t-”

“You WERE annoyed, and that’s how easy it is to lie,” he said looking sideways at her. “You were invested in the story and thought it was me being heroic for Matchka, right? Disappointed to find out it was Mason? He’s a pretty good guy when you get to know him.”

Tsury felt her shoulders shrink and her stomach twist. Her mind flashed back to several days ago.

“I have been very bad for lying, and there are reasons for that,” he told her quietly. Tsury looked back and forth. Aurula was watching Otto closely, but Tsury didn’t think the Leralin was upset. Matchka had resumed walking and paid the conversation little mind.

“Mike has made it clear that I don’t lie to him, but even he understands there are things that don’t need to be said. And there are things that need to not be said, but there’s something more important going on here.”

“What’s that?” Tsury asked, confused.

Otto rounded on her. Suddenly Tsury was captured by his brown eyes. A far more serious look than she’d seen on his face before. “You have yourself a Human body Tsury, but it’s obvious now that you aren’t familiar with it.”

Her mouth opened, but he kept talking.

"Given a calm moment with nothing going on you are intelligent and informed within your experience," Otto acknowledged. "But as soon as emotions get involved you get pulled every which way by them."

She didn’t have an answer for that. He was right of course. Her stomach clenched as she thought about it. She’d given him a good zap because she’d believed a story told for entertainment.

“Your biology is different, that’s for sure,” Otto said as he faced forward and resumed walking once again. “But your mentality is remarkably consistent with a Human’s. Unfortunately you haven't had the couple decades of tempering that would put you in better position to understand yourself. Unfortunately we aren’t in a situation where we can take it easy while you figure out who you are.”

He reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder. The weight and warmth calmed her. “I just ask that when a feeling hits you out of nowhere, that you stop and consider where it came from and why. The feelings aren’t always going to be wrong, but even when they’re right it doesn’t mean that they will always help.”

There was a long moment of silence as they walked.

Matchka tilted her head as Otto finished talking, one ear facing them. Judging the important talk had ended, she went back to the original topic.“Still, story good for haggling.”

“That story got all three of them invested didn’t it. Are all Bellani like that?” Otto asked.

Matchka’s mouth stretched into a toothy smile. “Yes. Adventure? Nothing better. Story, second best.”

“So that singed ear is a mark of glory then.”

“Yes,” Matchka replied, her voice… perky.

They had left the shop belonging to Matchka’s old friends. They would be returning in the ‘evening’ to visit after Juin had time to prepare for the visit. Until then Matchka intended to get a portable air filter for the shuttle. Getting a PNE would work, but it limited what Tsury could do during her stay on the shuttle. She didn’t want to be wearing it all the time if she could avoid it.

“How is the dataspace Otto?” Aurula asked, changing the subject again.

“Hmm. Simple enough public space,” he answered. “I stopped looking, I was distracted.”

“So I saw,” Aurula noted chittering. “It has been some time since I have seen an excited Bellani kitten.”

“Anyways, the dataspace security looks rather brittle at first glance," Otto continued. "So I think I could poke around if I wanted to.”

“So where to now?” Tsury asked, changing the subject.

“Filtration unit,” Matchka replied. “Then rest.”

“So umm,” Tsury looked to Otto. “Are there any Hyowean on board?”

Matchka froze, her tail momentarily stiffening into a rod. “Yes, and Psioxern.”

“Ah,” Aurula followed up. “I understand the Psioxern, why worry about another Hyowean?”

“Wait, I don’t understand either,” Otto interrupted.

“Can’t talk here,” Matchka replied.

Otto looked around. “Hmm, if we can find a quiet spot to avoid people we can talk in total peace.”

Matchka’s head tilted and her burnt ear flicked as she referenced the dataspace station map. “Follow.”

A few minutes later and they were at an observation deck overlooking a portion of the outer mining colony. Otto’s perception took a moment to flip. When they’d approached the station looked like a pit to him. Now he perceived it as a cave tunneled sideways into the rock.

There was a black and blue swirled Bellani with their servant Prason. “Still looks like a horse face to me,” Otto muttered to himself. They were chatting with a pair of the crows so Matchka had them all sit down and relax for a bit. The goods Matchka had ordered would take time to print and be transported, so they weren’t in a huge rush.

The Prason picked up that Bellani. The crows said their goodbyes and left, followed shortly by the Prason carrying his charge.

“That is the disguise Juin is making?” Tsury asked.

“Yes,” Matchka replied. “Prason common. Human not.”

“Is it big enough?” she had to ask. The on who had just left the room was about Otto’s size, that didn’t leave any room for him to be inside it.

“Exo, bigger. Prason soldier, larger breed.”

There was a moment of silence as Otto stared blankly into space. Finally his focus returned to the group.

“A Prason body looks awkward, but if it convinces people to look at us less…” Otto left that thought hang for a moment. “Anyways, Psioxern are? And why the worry about another Hyowean.”

“Psioxern made that,” Matchka noted, pointing at Otto’s left temple. His hand rose up to touch the grey nodule as if he’d forgotten about it. “Developed translators.”

“Developed them? Meaning there is more they can do with the things?”

“Yes,” Aurula jumped in. “I can sort of hear the sound of your voice while the translator overlays a full conversion of what you’ve said. A Psioxern can unpack a single words or statements into several layers of understanding.”

“Uhh, how so?”

“Well, as I understand it… If you said ‘Up’, they would hear ‘Look up I see something strange right above us’.”

“... Sort of like an info dump?” Otto mused.

“They may have pioneered the technique for all I know,” Aurula admitted. “But they can unpack whether you are exaggerating or lying if you aren’t very careful. Even you would have to be very cautious when speaking around them Otto. I understand they don’t do this during casual conversation because they enjoy verbal… sparring. Catching them at work is a different matter though.”

“Hunh,” Otto grunted. “Well okay, what about the Hyowean?”

“She can smell me,” Tsury replied. “As soon as she does, the Hyowean will know something is wrong.”

“She’ll have to report you won’t she,” Otto realized out loud.

“Exactly, and that will put us all in danger.”

“Shall we split up then?” Aurula suggested. “We could do something else...Would you like something a little fancier than this Tsury?” Aurula asked tugging on the grey shawl wrapped around Tsury’s vines. “There are few articles as commonly sold as shawls, scarves and ribbons. Perhaps we can-”

They froze as a message from Tank pinged them.

“Matchka, Aurula, Otto. I have picked up a local as a… guide. If would be ideal if we could meet up.”

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Aurula
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The girl, ‘Sing’, had taken Stacey, Tank, Minmint and Tsury to a shop in the Miner’s district to look at shawls like Aurula had begun to suggest. The rest of them were sitting at a small restaurant not far from the edge of the cavern.

Right where the cavern ended shimmered the orange light of the force field. Force fields were quite common, serving as a non physical way to maintain the atmosphere of an area. But they lacked the strength to hold onto more than that.

Anyone who left the space carried a large PNE unit as a personal atmospheric forcefield. Any could easily step through the field if the wanted, it just felt weird. The machines came with a supply of air often stored as the most compacted form safe to carry. Then it would purify and recirculate as much as possible.

“Holy shit this is good!” Daniel took another bite. “Achtuul fud!” he mumbled around the mouthful.

Aurula found it more to her palate than expected. Spicy meatballs, noodles, and assorted veggies with a sweet sauce on the side. She didn't know the methods to the cooking, but the texture was so much stronger too. These Humans knew how to cook, and it hinted at just how tired her friends really were with the typical fair.

Otto was eating much slower, him and Mike. The older brother was almost done explaining how they had acquired the young Human girl as a 'tour guide’

“-So once we figured we were clear I pulled her out of the box and we took off for a quiet corner of the town.”

“You didn't see the guy again?” Otto asked.

“Naw, and Sing wasn't willing to tell us who the guy was.”

“Shit, probably family then,” Otto said in a very… subdued voice. Aurula didn't like how Otto's demeanor was changing. He probably didn't realize it but his shoulders were shrinking inwards bit by bit.

“I dunno bout that, she was awe...fully…” Mike slowed down as Otto's face darkened. “Shit yer serious.”

“I just hope I'm wrong about what I'm thinking,” Otto replied. “Anyways, you hired her?”

“Oh, yeah, Tank checked the dataspace. We’re allowed to hire locals for 'general, services’. Prob’ly’ so it's easier to hire hookers. Heh.” Mike joked. “But that made it easy for us to hire her for showing us around. If anyone looks for her signal they'll know Sing's fine and she's 'working’.”

“Mmm. That’s probably just putting things off ‘til later,” Otto mused. “Did you notice anything odd?”

It was Mike’s turn to develop a dark look. Aurula hadn't seen these expressions before.

“Yeah. She flinched hard when I picked her out of the box, like she was in pain.” Mike's tone was serious. “She didn't do that when I put her into the box, but I didn't grab her in the same spots.”

“Bruises?”

“Stacey said she saw a couple wicked ones.”

Otto sighed and dropped his face into his hands.

“Wait,” Aurula interrupted. She couldn't hold back anymore. “Are you two saying that this Human girl's relative has been physically attacking her?”

Otto's eyes closed. Mike looked away. Daniel had stopped eating his food and now stared at it as if it had no flavour.

Otto opened his eyes and looked at Aurula. “Humans come in all sorts, from the very best to the very worst,” he sighed. “I'm guessing this is her father. The most likely abusers are usually family members,” his voice got even quieter. “I'm going to have to look, to see if really is him and just how bad he is.”

“You're going to look?” Aurula asked. “If you're worried about the girl we could always take-”

“No,” Otto refused. “I have the ability to free her, sure, but I... we do not have the leeway. Mercy and charity are both luxuries,” Otto sighed. “And if we took her, where does it end. Is she the only one? Do we want to start rescue… freeing more Humans? Why only Humans? This is a problem we can't deal with right now. Taking just her is irresponsible...” even as he said it, Otto seemed to regret the words coming from his mouth.

“Indeed,” Matchka stated, joining the conversation. “Already problems. No further room.”

“So whatcha gunna do?” Daniel asked. “Spy on him?”

“No,” Otto's voice was pained. “I'm gonna ask her and then see how deep and how far back surveillance goes…”

“You think the Humans are being watched?” Mike asked.

“Of course,” Matchka replied before Otto could. “Humans dangerous,” Matchka pointed on a polished black disk in the ceiling of the building. “There, hidden sensors. Everywhere.”

“Yer gunna spy on her,” Daniel realized.

“Yes, but…” Otto looked at Aurula. “I'd like to ask Aurula, and Stacey if possible, to do so with me.”

“What?” Aurula found herself asking. The request confused her.

“I'll need a bit more brainpower, which is what I want from you Aurula. And I want Stacey to, well, chaperone.”

“To chaperone?” Aurula asked.

“If I go looking through their surveillance it's an automatic breach of privacy,” Otto explained. “It's good to have a trustworthy observer.”

“No privacy here,” Matchka said with a single dark laugh. “All slaves, monitored.”

“But why do you need an observer?” Aurula asked. “Do you not trust yourself to act properly?”

“I, no, but,” Otto stumbled verbally, not sure how to explain.

“It's ‘cause Humans are a giant fucking mess, just like the guy we think is walking trash,” Mike explained, coming to Otto’s rescue. “For every good person there is a self obsessed piece of shit. Otto wants an observer, and he asked for the most trustworthy one we got because Humans need to watch each other.”

“That is… saddening,” Aurula muttered. “Do you think Otto would do something bad?” Her tone was almost pleading.

“Naw,” Daniel jumped in. “If anything him asking upfront is him sayin’ he wants to show he's doing right for her.”

“Anyways, what will you do?” Mike asked. “If you catch the guy hurting her?”

“I dunno,” Otto sighed. “It depends on what I find.”

“Surely we can speak with him?” Aurula couldn't help but ask.

Otto gave her a terribly sad look. “Abusers don't even understand how wrong they are, if they even understand why. Those people are often damaged and can't stop on their own.”

“Gunna kill 'im?” Daniel asked. His tone was light, but his expression serious.

Otto flinched. “That seems dangerous. On the off chance security tries to investigate they'll likely notice my presence.” Otto shook his head. “And remember how she wouldn't tell you who it was? It's very likely that she still cares for him. Or it is important he isn't threatened. It's not unusual for people in that sort of position to still care for the abuser and blame themselves. So I can't kill him.”

“Then what will you do?” Mike pressed for an answer.

Otto took a long breathe in and slowly released it. “He's got a slave implant… and triggers are something I've got figured out. If he is doing wrong by her, I'll sort it out from there.”

“Otto?” Aurula realized she had one last question.

“Yes bluebird?” He quietly acknowledged.

She hesitated for a moment. “Have you… You seem very... knowledgeable. Have you known abusers?”

It took a long moment for him to answer.

“Yes. I have.”

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End Chapter
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