Original Content Bought and Sold. Final Chapter, Arc 3

MyNameMeansBentNose

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And here the Arc comes to a close, but man, I really need that break. I could barely must up the concentration to proofread. For those of you who missed it, here's a link:

My plans and explanation for the hiatus.

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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Hiatus
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Hiatus - approx. 1 month starting March 16th
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Chapter 59, Arc 3
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"I am Ship Lord Horgah! You will surrender yourselves to me!"

"You know, I couldn't understand a word he said at the time, but I sure as hell recognize that voice."

"So we found your friend?" Mike asked.

"Found the ship he was on," Otto replied, "Not sure I'd call him a friend though."

"If we didn't all owe him…" Mike left it at that. They had already had this conversation. With SPIRE, no, with Lumi fixed, they didn't technically need to free Clouds. But Mike had conceded the point. This wasn't about need.

Otto was having a rough time keeping the name change straight. He'd spent months with the SI literally haunting his dreams. The old name was tough to shake loose, even if it did make him feel awkward and a little bad when he kept using the wrong name.

Either way, Lumi was fixed and they had agreed to free the Achun. It did help that Clouds was on the way to Mike's destination.

They'd had the pleasure of seeing Harley and her Mother dismantle another pirate ship, the Bone Cruncher. Having captured that ship, Harley had used it to track the exact location of the Blood Feeder.

"Didn'cha guys call it the ‘Blood Feeder' or some shit?" Daniel complained.

"That's the name I had," Otto replied.

"Well, I thought it was gonna be some scavenger or junker," Daniel noted, "but that ship looks fuckin' awesome!"

The Monos captain called them again. "I am Ship Lord Horgah! Respond and I may not kill whoever I find!" Of course, they didn't respond.

"So…" Daniel continued, "can we keep ‘er?

Its prow leaned down low with bright red eyes within swirls of black paint. Beyond that, a sleek body with two wings sweeping alongside, the ship looked very much like a bird of prey. The ‘tail' was a fan of five long feathers and swirls of red and black paint emulated feathers well. with casual observation the wings appeared a long blades that extended along the body of the ship. On closer inspection, the paint and texture of the wings revealed individual feather along the whole length of the wings.

"Looks sorta like a Phoenix," Otto commented. "Man, that Bone Cruncher looked like a squat bull in full charge too. The Monos like their animal style ships don't they."

"They do," SPIRE, no, Lumi replied. "This is an older model I assume. Newer models are much simpler in design. This one must have a notable history to have such a complex design. Any Monos would be honoured to possess such a ship - oh. Intrusion procedures have begun…" Lumi paused for just a moment, quite some time for an SI. "I see, Clouds is skilled, I will have to slip deeper into sleep emulation to avoid being noticed."

They lost access to the shared space, no longer able to see outside the ship, moments later several thunks shuddered through the shuttle as the gravity lassoes latched onto the hull.

"Ya think they'll realize we just made it look broke?" Daniel wondered. Mike turned from his spot in the pilot's seat to glare at his brother. Daniel just shrugged with his hands up.

"Everyone's gear looking good?" Otto asked rhetorically. He tested the fit of his armour as he spoke, putting a hand on the gauntlet and attempting to wiggle it. Otto went through everything just as a last minute check, moving through the body, arms, legs and helmet. Not that he expected there to be any problems. Grips wasn't necessarily perfect at adjusting its new frame to fit Otto, but the pair of them had come along well.

Mike and Daniel were about the same. Tank's tail lashed as he did his checks more seriously. Otto understood it took more willpower and pushing from Tank for the Kraltnin to mesh well with his Mote. For Otto and the guys, it was like… like an old friend had just sat down on the couch for game night. It was weird, but the Motes acted like they were only another part of the body for Humans.

The shuttle thumped as it touched down on the deck of the Blood Feeder's bay. Tank was the first up and moving to the little cargo bay of the shuttle, his blast spear at the ready. Mike was next, then Daniel and finally Otto. They waited against the wall.

"The door security has been defeated," SPI-Lumi warned.

Tank was waiting to the side of the door when it opened. A young lightly armoured Monos rushed in with another right behind. Electrocution tended to be universally effective against most races. A pack slapped onto the shoulder of one Monos, then another pack on the opposite shoulder of the next made short work of the first two boarders. The third guy made it only up to the door, Tank stepped forward and gave a poke with his blast spear.

With a burst of energy and a shout of pain, the door was clear. Daniel tossed a flashbang through the door. With a thump and a flash and a ringing of sound, Mike dashed out, the two combat limbs with their custom rifles on his back unfolding as he did so.

Daniel stepped out while tossing his second Mote into the air in front of him. "Let's get ‘em Buzz!" The sphere popped open, two arms separating from the center of its round body. Mike and Daniel both unloaded on anything that looked like they were ready to shoot back. Targets lit up on the shared space as the boys took stock of the situation.

Otto stepped out afterwards, a gun in his hands and the combat limb resting on his shoulders for stability. He took a few shots of his own, but his real focus was in the dataspace. He was vaguely aware of Matchka stepping out behind him with her light bending harness almost certainly leaving no one else the wiser.

Otto delved into the ship, the space opening up before him. It was… sterile. The AI core didn't give Clouds the freedom to build his environment. Otto didn't have that limitation. For the first time in a while, Otto let himself expand, Lumi pushing in after him.

Tanktantun rushed out from the shuttle last, leaping for the first Monos he could see. The lightly armoured quadruped rose up to try to grapple the Green Kraltnin, but the plasma blasters mounted to Tank's gauntlets made short work once they were within the range of the Monos' D-field.

Moments later, Otto found what he was looking for in the dataspace. The spider, the Achun, White Clouds on Blue sky stood before him. Otto had forgotten the guy only came up to his waist, although he was as long as Otto was tall. Three sets of legs and one set of manipulators held above his body with three digit hands. His thorax was white while his head and abdomen were iridescent blue. His arms and legs were white where they joined the body, but darkened to a deep sky blue at the feet and hands. A fifth smaller set of limbs, pedipalps with entirely white colouring held in front of his face were held out with surprise. Even as Otto watched they began to quiver.

Otto grinned, "Hey White Clouds on Blue Sky. Wasn't able to introduce myself properly last time, my name is Otto," he waved his hand. He had let his artificial limb take on a more abstract form and the blue particles of data that emanated from it no longer bothered him. He waved at the Orb hanging over his shoulder. "And this is SPIRE," even as he said that Otto's mental castle built itself under Otto's feet. And Lumi gave him a metaphorical jolt sending a pulse of data that caused his heart to spike and sent a light shock up his back. It was an effort not to react visibly. While Otto spoke, he sent a condensed mental package to Lumi, an acknowledgement and an apology. "But I'm here to keep you busy while we take the ship. Let me show you what I've learned."

Clouds stood upon air, all the power of the AI core behind the Achun set for pure processing power. Clouds bounced in place for a moment, leaning backwards with his palps up. Otto could see the defensive constructs going up around the bright white and blue spider though. Clouds did still have an implant compelled job to do, and Otto couldn't poke that particular implant without being very careful. Clouds knew too much and the AI core was connected.

"Ship Lord Horgah is retreating to the bridge," Clouds noted. "It would be terribly inconvenient for the ship if something were to happen to him." Clouds twitched and his hands spasmed as the implant reprimanded him for the suspect action.

[He's getting at something, isn't he?] Otto asked of Lumi. Even as he did so, Otto could feel the pressure of the AI core on the ship pushing back. Winning the dataspace fight wouldn't happen all that easily at the moment, although that could change soon. Still, not every victory needed to occur in the dataspace.

[Yes he is, Perhaps Daniel can have his ship after all.]

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Tanktantun
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[Kill the Ship Lord of the Blood Feeder, and they will likely surrender.]

Tanktantun pushed the Monos warrior away with a clawed foot. These Monos had very simple physical armour that was more decorative than it was useful. Not that they would typically need it with their D-field harnesses. It made them easy prey for Tanktantun and his distinctly not civilian companions.

"I'm going ahead!" Mike sent back, his impatience carrying over the datashare. Tanktantun looked about the room. Otto was scanning the cargo bay with his gun, but it seemed like anyone willing to fight was keeping their heads low and their tails lower.

Tanktantun raised his hand to the large helmet over his head. It was a two-piece helmet, and the latches along his jaw and the base of his skull released at a mental command. Grabbing the cap by the snout he pulled it off to look at the handful of Kraltnin in the cargo bay. Moments earlier they had been cowering, upon the sight of Tanktantun's flesh, they froze in place.

Otto's mind was not in the present; Tanktantun could feel it just from the quality of the sensory share. A certain amount of environmental information still flowed out from Otto, but it was different. After the events of Karkantantar, Tanktantun had learned the quality of the share would change depending on the focus of the Human in question. It was still of a higher level than Matchka or the Ytheon, Crawk could supply when not paying attention.

Otto half turned to look at Tanktantun. "Lumi's Motes and I will watch the shuttle and help out where we can," the Human reassured him, "the brothers will probably need your help."

Tanktantun looked around the room one last time. He couldn't see Matchka exactly, but he could see the open panel on a back wall that she was messing with. He turned back to Otto and nodded. "Very well, watch over us." The corridor the brothers had run down was still open, Tanktantun rushed after them.

The sooner this was over, the sooner they could go separate ways and Tanktantun could see if Tsury and Uoah were successful in healing his father. Mike, Daniel and Matchka could have their head start with Harley taking them to Strife.

Tanktantun would worry about that when he knew the fate of his father.

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Mike
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Mike moved down the hall accompanied by gunfire and shouts. Shouts and plenty of half-spoken oaths.

"You will n-uaaagh!"

"You'll not make a mes-uck!"

He and Daniel were making short work of anyone foolish enough to get in their way on their hunt for the ‘Ship Lord.' If anyone got too close, Mike would poke them with the blast spear and send them careening away. From farther away the two rifles did their work.

He was trying out a new variant rifle now. It was a bit bulkier than he liked, the dual purpose model. When he had designed it, the look of it turned out to be very much like a rifle from earth with an underslung grenade launcher. Except in this case, the launcher tube was a plasma blaster with supporting components built up around the barrel of the traditional rifle.

They had experienced a couple of spots of trouble when coming up against different defences that were good against one weapon or the other. Now they had both on hand in one package. Mike kept both of his rifles in the harness limbs attached to his back. Mike had spent a couple of hours just learning to bring the gun around to where he could reach so he could slam a new magazine into it.

He had other experimental designs to try, but they were still back on Last Tear. This was the only design tested and shown to be effective. Trying the others would be something to look forward to on his way to Strife.

A Kraltnin stepped out and ducked out of sight, then got shoved back into the hall by a Monos behind him. "Humans! We will des-TRAAAGH!" Again the Monos was only able to shout half of his threat before falling to a hail of gunfire.

It was the first squad member of eight that pushed out into the corridor ahead of them. And the first to eat a round of bullets to the chest. Mike fired a heavy shot of plasma at the next couple Monos to come out, followed moments later by Daniel. The plasma splashed off the D-fields, but still acted as a screen for the follow up of kinetic gunfire.

Distracted by the splash of plasma and their leading companions going down, the return fire from the Monos was all over the place. Still confused and throwing pulse rounds into the air, they didn't understand it was kinetic bullets taking them apart. And taking them apart was what Mike and Daniel were doing.

One clever Monos pushed past the others at a full run. Mike wasn't able to get a steady bead on the guy, so he didn't shoot plasma. He saved that for sure targets while aboard the ship.

He'd been told there were back-up atmospheric fields that would plug any holes accidentally put in the hull. Otto had admitted some familiarity with the concept, and they had seen the same effect back on the Oolseck station. Still, Mike didn't see any reason to push his luck further than he already was. It was still a relief that the composite rounds fared worse against hard materials, making them 'safer' when fired in ship corridors.

The runner stumbled as Daniel sunk a series of bullets into his side. The last few Monos stopped, turned and ran. That was a first. The brothers pushed forwards.

The next two groups to ambush them fared no better. The third was hesitating when Mike and Daniel found them. They turned and ran without firing a shot when Tanktantun caught up.

"You appear to have broken the Monos," Tank observed.

"Damn right," Mike agreed, "They might be good in a wrestlin' match, but it ain't worth shit if we don't let 'em get close."

"Are bullets so strange?" Daniel wondered, not for the first time. "Makes it so easy when they ain't got a clue about it."

Tank turned to regard Daniel with his large eye for a moment. "I wonder at your culture, that fills you Humans with so many ideas and concepts."

"Didn't we go over this?" Daniel asked.

"I am still occasionally amazed at the ease with which you view so many ideas uncommon to us," Tank replied

"You saw the ‘internet' on planet Kark," Mike interjected, "the Kraltnin only use a chat board and talk about boring shit."

"I would not call it boring…"

"You guys might as well be talking about the weather," Mike replied.

Lumi's voice arrived to interrupt the conversation. [While your banter is amusing, the bridge is ahead and they have fortified themselves.] Even as she spoke the map in their heads updated further. It had been a work in progress, expanding much like in a game. The map had only shown what they had explored thus far. As Lumi spoke however, more portions of the Blood Feeder's layout started to fill in.

They were on the wrong track Mike realized. If they kept going straight, they'd end up in… it looked like crew quarters. Didn't matter, that wasn't where they wanted to be. Mike led them around a corner and onto the correct route. There were two entrances to the bridge, each of them coming in through a corner of the large room. They approached the left entrance, but the door was sealed.

Made sense, the captain would be an idiot to leave it open.

Mike reached the door and slammed a fist against it. "Dammit!" He looked up at the ceiling of the corridor like it held the answer. "Little help here Lumi?"

[The system is difficult to manipulate… I am sorry, I have to ask you to wait.]

"Wait? Not like we have a choice..." Mike grumbled under his breath, then turned to Daniel. "How long?"

Daniel's eyes went up and to his right. "Oh, she should be showing up about now."

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Ship Lord Horgah
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"Ship Lord!"

Horgah's head whipped around to a rare black back Monos running the sensor bank console. "New arrival in space, they are approaching us with purpose!"

Horgah entered the shared sensory space to get a look at this new arrival. The crew of the bridge was there alongside him. He was the last one outside really. He'd been attempting to direct his attention and crew about the ship to deal with the invaders. A more difficult task than it should have been. Somehow these Humans had attained military-grade infantry gear.

He took his customary place in the void above the Blood Feeder, its prow before him and the wings flanking to the sides. It took him a split second to find the signal. Horgah looked left and upwards and mentally zoomed in to get a better look. He recognized the shape of the flattened water drop. The streaks of red and pink along its grey hull sent a shiver of worry up his long spine.

"The Last Tear! Bring Blood Feeder around and prepare for combat!" The pirate hunter was here for them. Well, that was too bad, this ship had the weight of a history of combat behind it. He wouldn't go down easy. "Cycle the scatter coat and convert to charged function. Bring the deviation field to full!"

Where had they been hiding? And they had dropped the scatter coat earlier than necessary. Horgah was suddenly angry with himself. It took too long to add everything up.

"Purge the cargo hold and eject the shuttle!" he ordered.

The Ship Lord of the Last Tear projected her image to him. A Human female with brown hair, bright green eyes and an odd snarl on her face. Horgah had seen bared teeth from Humans before, but this one seemed far less angry to him.

"Ship Lord Horgah I presume? I'm Captain Harley of the Last Tear." Her projection stood tall before him with her simple red and pink uniform and her hands balled up and placed on her hips. "I know Monos don't like to surrender, but I like to make the offer anyway. It's not a fair fight with the weapons you guys carry after all."

"I will Never surrender to you!" Horgah shouted

"I will Never surrender to you!" Harley mimicked, timing the shout perfectly to match up with him. "That's what I thought. Let's have a good match!" Her likeness blinked out of existence. In realspace, Horgah could feel his teeth grinding.

"Open fire and worry not! She won't risk firing upon us with her companions on-"

At the same moment they fired upon Harley, her ship the Last Tear opened up with salvos of pulse rounds that shuddered against the deviation field of the Blood Feeder. The ship had never ceased approaching. Now they were in combat range.

For just a moment Horgah had considered rescinding the order to eject the shuttle, if she was going to shoot at them anyway, then it needed to go. "Why is that ship still in my cargo bay?!"

"Control over the bay has been lost. Someone has taken physical control!"

The sides of the Last Tear opened up revealing banks of plasma turrets. The ship approached. The plasma lances hidden within the wings of the Blood Feeder fired one after another, only moments apart. The wedge shaped wave of energy clipped the field of the Human ship, creating a ripple of blinding, arcing light. It would have blinded anyone watching with their bare eyes.

The return fire of the facing turrets on the Last Tear struck their own deviation field, distorting their sensors and disrupting the sight projected into Horgah's head. He almost missed the torpedoes fired from tubes above and below the plasma turrets of the Human's ship.

Anti-fighter turrets came to life, dense streams of pulse rounds flashing through the void to strike down the incoming torpedoes. The first torpedoes to close in were blown to pieces, fragments of shrapnel scattering through space, but they weren't so easy to shoot down. The projectiles flew with impressive agility, AI routines shifting them around in erratic bursts of motion to avoid premature destruction.

"We can't shoot them down fast enough!"

"There is a second wave!"

The torpedoes were too agile Horgah realized. The first wave was downed entirely, but too slowly. The second wave was already too close. The projectiles sunk into the hull of the Blood Feeder.

They didn't explode. That was… far more terrifying.

"What's going on?!" Horgah mentally shouted to his crew.

"No detonations of any kind registered!"

"The torpedoes issued localized emp bursts upon impact. I cannot get a sensory reading!"

"Bring us around! We will not let her do as she wishes!"

The shared space flickered, disrupting Horgah's sight. "What was that?"

An orb of light blossomed into view. Not a projection of the real world, but something from the shared space. The orb took form. It was Human in shape, feminine in form with a garment floating about it like it was suspended in water. It- no, She moved with abnormal grace and precision as she bent her upper half forward with a wave of her right hand.

"Hello Ship Lord Horgah. My name is Luminaire, and I am a distraction."

"A- a what?"

Horgah was blasted from his mental connection and off his bench in the bridge. He smashed into a railing separating his elevated position from the consoles and lesser officers around him. Eyes blinking with pain he turned his head to look at the offender.

"Surrender or die!" The Human with his spear pointed at Horgah shouted.

Well. Horgah would rather die. He turned to try and leap at the Human, but his foot slipped through the railing and from the edge of his dais. His eyes rushed towards the corner of the bench upon which he'd been seated.

No!

Not like-

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Mike
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Not missing a beat, Mike shouted at the rest of the crew.

"Does anyone else wanna be in charge!?"

There was no answer.

"Then that makes me Captain of this Blood Feeder! Anyone disagree?!"

No one disagreed. But nothing happened. Daniel and Tank were in the room, and the Monos and Kashto bridge crew stared at them.

It was a white Kraltnin at the front who spoke up. "You have to destroy Horgah's head and declare yourself ‘Ship Lord' to take over the ship."

Mike glanced at the Kraltnin. He didn't miss the snarling faces of the Monos in the room. He then looked down at the unfortunate Monos. The Captain's seat was like a reverse chair. A long narrow bench with a rest the Monos could lean the front of his upper torso against. Made sense Mike supposed. The red pleather cushion on top didn't extend right to the edge of the seat. All around it was a couple inches of exposed metal.

It was this exposed metal that had actually knocked Horgah out cold. He still couldn't quite parse how the captain had slipped on a ledge and smashed the side of his face into the edge of the chair. It was ridiculous, like the ship itself was out to get him.

Mike put a boot on the shoulder of the Monos and pushed him over. He raised the spear in his hand and brought it down on the mangled face of the Ship Lord. It blew the head of Horgah into pieces and Mike had to swallow his bile as it involuntarily rose in his throat. It had been a while since the last time, but he felt the little warning flash that let him know the implant was deadening his emotions.

Even being manipulated, the action of killing the helpless Monos had made him unsettled. Even so.

"My name is Mike Haas, and I am now the Ship Lord of the Blood Feeder!"

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White Clouds on Blue Sky
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White Clouds on Blue Sky relaxed in his little ‘office.' The little implantation room wasn't a common feature of many raiders, but then, Blood Feeder was an old ship. The feature was handy for picking up new involuntary crew members and its installation was a notable achievement of a previous code setter.

A ping arrived in his head. The first act of its new Ship Lord. A surreal moment in its own way when he understood just what was updating.

"My first act as Ship Lord is to change my title to Captain. My second act, the Blood Feeder will now be known as Phoenix!"

Clouds registered the updating of the local ship registry and wondered at the origin of the name. ‘Phoenix,' what was the significance of it? Any change from the vindictive ‘Blood Feeder' was appreciated, however. It was something to focus on in the rush of emotion and events that had just occurred.

The door to his office opened and Clouds swivelled away from the console in the corner of the room. For the second time, he looked over the implantation table and at the figure of the Human as he entered. It was quite a different sight.

First of all, there was no escort.

The Human was armoured, although he held his helmet under his left arm. He still had the grey nodule of the translator at the hairline of his left temple. There was a wedge of brand new flesh on the left side of his neck, a tell-tale use of nanofix on a fresh wound. On his right cheek were three vertical lines, scars from another unknown injury. As the Human entered, he raised his right hand and waved.

"It's been way too long since you first said hello," Otto said with a cheerful tone and a baring of teeth. "I think it goes without saying how much I owe you."

Clouds considered his mental state. The implant was still in, but he was fully aware of the conversation going on in dataspace.

"Yup, I can do that," The new shiplord replied to Otto's question, "you have my permission to alter the slave package of White Clouds on Blue Sky."

Otto grinned again. "It'll be nice doing this with permission for once."

Clouds chittered, his arms and palps practically vibrated with amusement and excitement. A thought struck him and he couldn't help but reply. "A sentiment I can relate to!"

Otto laughed. He didn't miss the joke.

That's how all of this started after all.
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End Chapter
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Previous | Beginning | Technology | Wiki | Hiatus
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Hiatus - approx 1 month starting March 16th
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