Detachment 2551 : A Star Frontiers Adventure

Early April Story

CHARON TAVIS SPACE STATION - UNIDENTIFIED STORAGE ROOM STARDATE FY 1110938 - TIME UNKNOWN

Darkness stirs and broils like a seething tide of pain in the mind. A low rumble can be heard slowly fluctuating in intensity. A rhythmic pumping noise fills the universe.

Marcus opens his eyes. To his surprise, there is no remission from his sentence of darkness - only more, all around him. The rumble settles and fades into the familiar sound of his own breathing, the beating is of his own heart. At long last his head rises out of the acoustical nightmare brought on by the deep slumber, levelling off to merely a pounding headache. An antiseptic, unsettling smell lingers in his nose, like pure oxygen only tainted.

"Uuuuh....doze gas."

His first instinct is to try and stand, but his feet and hands won't budge. He quickly takes a physical inventory - nothing hurts as if injured except his head, feet and hands are bound, hands are behind his back. As he squirms about, testin the bonds that hold him, he presses up against firm walls that are closed tightly about him. A box, he thinks, only couple meters tall, another couple on each side.

Marcus' breath chokes on the dust filling his musty confines. He struggles to a standing position and fines a few tiny cracks in the walls where wooden slats were imperfectly joined together. As his eyes adjust, thin, faint tendrils of muted light seep through the cracks. He wets his lips and peers eagerly through the openings to see a wall of clumsily stacked wooden crates all around him.

A single, dim green light overhead saves the area from absolute gloom. He hears the steady thrum of an air processor nearby. Tiny chittering sounds mark the passage of rodents moving through the room. Above this all he makes out a low groaning coming from the crate next to him.

"Mrylinax?", he whispers, not knowing why he has to whisper but not taking any chances of being gassed again.

"Uhhhhhghgh...geez, wha' happened?"

"Someone...a walking DEAD MAN, to be sure...gassed us and put us in these crates."

"Where are we?"

Another voice joins in. "My best guess is you're in one of a zillion storage rooms or service areas. Funny, I don't remember asking for a Vrusk-style hotel room, but hey - we got cable!" It is Ruby, his typical buoyant humor still intact.

"Ruby!", Marcus exclaims, "how long you been in here?"

"I dunno. They took my chronocom, along with everything else. I figure an hour or so since I woke up. They brought you guys in just a few minutes ago."

Mrylinax begins pounding on the walls of his box. From his ferocious growls and earth-shaking blows he is not at all happy. "Dammit - just when I get all healed up and ready for action this crap happens. Friggin' headache is killing me and my ass is all tore up where something burned my hide bare - what the hell did that guy do to me? When I get ahold of the worm-ridden piece of filth that..."

"Save your strength, Mryli", Marcus intones as he searches out the edges of the box for signs of structural weakness. "We need to keep a cool head to get outa here. Ruby, did you see who brought us in? Was it a Human or a Yazirian?"

"Both. Some yahoo dressed all in black and sporting a bunch of goodies on his belt was barking at some of those creeps we bumped into on Exib."

"The Doghan? They're here!?"

"Yeah. I couldn't make out much..seemed he was in a hurry. After the goon platoon left he tried to get ahold of someone on his chronocom but they wouldn't come in. Someone named Jean... another named Maria. Dunno what it means, but if he's having problems that's just fine with me."

"Have you seen Ty or Groo or V'Sndyk?", Mrylinax rumbles from his box.

"No. Tried calling out for them for a while, but no one else is here...I think."

"Maybe this 'Max' fella has lost contact with the other jailers. Maybe our boys are stirring the pot.", Mrylinax offers.

Marcus sighs. "Maybe. Nothing is very clear right now. Our first priority is escape. We're no help to the others while in here. If I'm right, Max is heading to the ship to collect Cymon. They should be safe there - but for how long?"

"This nest of vipers is nothing but trouble - let's blow outa here first chance we get!", Mrylinax grouses.

"Agreed", chirps Ruby, "but not until I steal a set of towels!"


Refrigerated Room outside Detention Center - Location Unknown - Time Unknown

Groo and Ty scramble to organize a resistance. The room they find themselves in is walled with lockers, all covered in frost. A sudden drop in temperature here could only mean this is a refrigerated compartment. Groo fights back the chill and focuses on what's at stake. Tendrils of breath vapor billow all around their faces as the battle rages on.

>>>Groo BTH 38% + 20 (2nd level zamra) = 58; rolled 88

Groo's second tile whizzes past the guard and bounces off a locker door. The female grits her teeth in rage at the assault upon her person. Taken aback by the sudden rush by Ty, she whirls her gyrojet rifle around and opens up on his supine form.

>>>female guard: BTH 30% + 10% = 40; 23, 26, 36

>>>(treat as grenades - RS check allowed)

>>>Ty RS check - 45; rolled 05, 85

>>>(prone modifier -5, still hit with a 26, above)

Ty's eyes widen at the sight of the barrel pointed at him. At the last second he manages to lunge back into one corner to avoid a gooey explosion of tangler threads where he was sitting seconds before. His momentum is so great, in fact, he is wedged against the wall when the second shell finds him. With a terrible 'splat' Ty finds himself pinned to the wall.

Seeing Ty's predicament, Groo rushes to one of the lockers and throws open a door for cover. It is a good thing, too, for just as he ducks behind the door the next tangle rocket slams hard into the metal surface, covering it entirely in goo.

>>>(female's to-hit score vs. Groo reduced by -20 (hard cover) = 20%; the 36 rolled above means a miss)

"AAAAgggghhh! Dammit, Groo...get me OUTA HERE!!!", Ty screams, coccooned on the far wall. Groo sets his resolve and grabs another tile. His body twists and he flings the tile around his barricade, executing a back-hand throw.

>>>Groo BTH 38% + 20 (2nd level zamra) = 58; rolled 82

Groo can't see it, but he hears the tile once again ring off of a bulkhead, totally missing his target.

The female unloads her gun again, this time screaming her fury at Groo over the sound of the shells launching.

>>>female guard: BTH 30% + 10% (skill level) - 20 (hard cover) = 20%; rolled 57, 22, 10

(treat as grenades, RS check allowed)

>>>Groo RS check: 75; rolled 12

Two more shells pound the metal cabinet door Groo calls sanctuary. Two large dents appear near Groo's head. He swallows hard and peers around the corner. As if anticipating this move, the female zeroes in on him and smiles over her gun sights. Groo's eyes go wide - he tumbles like an acrobat just as another barrage of sticky goo overwhelms the door. As he leaps he lets fly another tile.

>>>Groo BTH 38% + 20 (2nd level zamra) = 58; rolled 78

Another tile misses. Groo curses his luck at throwing today, only to remember how the legacy of his ancestry has blessed his leaping and tumbling. "Win some, lose some...", he mumbles quickly, then prepares himself to leap again as the female once again brings him in her cross-hairs.

"Well, well", she says with an evil grin, "looks like you ran outa cover, monkey-boy!" With that she chuckles and brings the gun to bear. A loud click resonates off the icy walls, causing Groo to gasp.

Dryfire. The woman's eyes balloon in the sudden realization her clip is empty. Groo looks confused for a second, having anticipated another shot. As soon as it dawns on him what has happened, he begins breathing hard, tensing his muscles. All the frustration of captivity and helplessness washes over him, taking control.

>>>(Attempt to go into Battle-Rage: 05%; rolled 20)

Seconds go by as his temper builds up, but never to that critical boiling point linked to the Yazirian genes. The female stares in shock and horror at the feral aspect of her opponent. When she sees he is not approaching, she scrambles for another clip. Groo is on top of her by the time the clip is produced.

>>>Groo Melee BTH = 38% + 20 = 58%; rolled 30

Groo charges, snarling. In one hand appears the metal grill from the ventilation shaft in his cell. Groo brings it down with a terrible blow across the female's mid-section. The force doubles her over.

"OOOFF!", she grunts as the wind gets knocked out of her. Groo rises and prepares to strike again when the female crumples and spills on the floor, knocked out cold.

Ty laughs through a viscous mesh of goo: "Hey, you DID it!!! She's outa there! Awright, my main monkey Groo!"

Groo smiles, looks down at the unconscious form on the floor Groo mutters, "That will teach you to mess with a pissed off Yazirian!" Without delay he begins searching her for anything useful to their escape. He finds: skeinsuit, albedo screen, battle bodycomp belt with prog switches, med-inject, body scan, talk-all, astrogation pocket computer and other progs he doesn't recognize right away, vibroknife, laser pistol with recognition grip, (2) SEU clips, (2) clips of tangler rounds in gyroget gun, chronocom, everflame lighter.

Groo brings the laser pistol up eagerly, only to spot the recognition grip that renders it useless to anyone but the female, presumably. With a snuff he tosses it aside and grabs the gyrojet pistol. "Well, Ty, there's no solveaway anywhere on her, so I don't know how to get you loose. Lemme check around." Before continuing, he moves to the open detention doorway tries to lock the door, encrypting it with a lockout number on the keypad.

>>>Groo : Starship Onboard Systems Operations: 4th level: 53%; rolled 10

The door remains open, but he points at the quick-release button and makes sure Ty knows what it means.

Groo eyes the heavy doors lining the walls in the cold room they'd found themselves in. All appear to be freezers, some filled with meat, some with strangely-marked packages. Groo feels a pang of conscience in spite of their treatment and nixes the idea of stowing her in deep freeze. Instead, he lays her in the corner and begins searching some utility cabinets on the wall. Sure enough, six vials of solveaway make themselves known.

"Aha!" Groo turns and, with a twist of the solveaway blister's top, releases a brief shower of corrosive gel that immediately begins eating away at Ty's coccoon. "Hey Ty, you need some help old buddy? Ya know, it always seems as though I'm the one bailing you out." Ty is frantically carving his way out when Groo hands him the gyrojet rifle and points at the female. Ty nods with an impish grin.

"My pleasure!" Ty turns and fires, hurling a huge glob in the female guard's direction that pins her instantly. Her face, feet, and hands are the only features still visible. Ty cocks his head. "Too bad. She's a knockout!"

Hovering over the unconscious form of V'Sndyk, Groo snarls in reply: "Don't even think about that right now!" A few second's diagnosis of the bug confirms his suspicion - passed out due to sudden onset of anoxia when the air went.

>>>Groo Medical: Wounds 1 - 97%; 71

Little is needed in the way of stims to wake him up, only a firm slapping and some acrid solveaway waved under V'Sndyk's 'nose' holes in his abdomen. V'Sndyk begins mumbling and moaning as he slowly surfaces to consciousness. "Uhgnnnn... Let go of me, you damn, dirty ape!" The insectoid lifts his head with a start. "Oh, it's you, Mr. Karchudka. I must have been dreaming again."

Groo is secretly glad to head his companion's musings, but the situation refused him a moment of respite. "Quit your napping, we need to get out of this place and we need all the help we can get. Now get moving."

"Acknowledged," says the Vrusk. "My fit of unconsciousness was both involuntary and inopportune. A hasty schedule is most recommended. Uh...what exactly happened during my absence of consciousness?"

Groo points to the corner where Ty mooons over the sleeping human female. "Tangled with one of our jailers and now we're free....sort of. Wherever we are."

"I see". V'Sndyk seems nonplussed about the assessment.

"Ty, you cover that doorway over there - we still don't know where that hall leads. I'm going to try and find our gear, maybe get a bead as to where we are. V'Sndyk, you come with me. I need you checking the computer system of this place. Maybe it'll give us a clue."

V'Sndyk advances to the c.a.s. panel next to the adjoining airlock and begins tapping the keys experimentally.

>>>V'Sndyk: Computers: Display Information lvl 2 - 1st level computer: 41%; rolled 04)

"The registration code on this network matches the protocol for a privately-owned starship. Name on the directory is F.C.S. Tiamat. Looks like a level 4 system... plenty of lockouts... real patchwork job of different languages."

Ty steals a moment to stare over his shoulder at the tiny screen. "Hm. Looks like the kind of network smuggler's run on their ships. Pieces of code here, a hot program there, plenty of lockouts in case they're boarded and the system dumped. Nothing can be traced, nothing is registered with Transtravel."

Groo finishes opening the airlock and is halfway through the next hatch. "So what we got here is a covert player, is that it? Makes sense. That guy 'Jean' sounded like a bounty hunter. He and his girlfriend over there must have a nice operation to be trolling for heads in a FTL-capable prison ship like this."

"Yeah, and don't forget that bastard 'Max' that nailed me outside the ship - he's gotta be working for them, too." Ty takes a closer look. "Looks like a cargo ship we're in from the programs I'm seeing. Maybe a hull-size 4 or 5."

"Have you ever heard of these people before?", V'Sndyk queries.

"Can't say that I have. But the best bounty hunters keep a low profile, so that's natural. Say, V'Sndyk, have you noticed your bracelet?" Ty points to the wrist device given to V'Sndyk to warn of the bounty hunter Berdax' proximity. All five of the light studs are blinking.

Ty and Groo exchange glances. Before they can say anything a low moan comes from the far corner. Although rendered unconscious mere seconds ago, the human female is already stirring.

"Uuuhhh...."

Ty leans in close and smiles. "Morning, sweetie. I made you breakfast!"

The woman screws her face up in a mix of disgust and disorientation. "Go to hell, queer."

"Ho, ho, ho! She's a lively one! What happened to that steely-eyed courage you had when you were bouncing us off the deckplates, huh, sugar?!"

"Enough. Gag her or something. We need to get organized", Groo snaps as he heads into the room to the south. Once there he finds a 4 meter by 8 meter room filled with more gray cabinet doors. These are labelled with engineer codes for the power plant. Machinery hums within the panels. Groo pops open a few doors to inspect the layout. "Parts from all over the Frontier...these guys really get around", he mumbles.

V'Sndyk continues his work on the c.a.s. interface. "I'm searching for a way to communicate with the Vercingetorix via the panel--either using a computerized communication system or networking directly with OTTO, whichever is possible. Maybe the system has access to a communication system, a voice link or data link to the chronocoms of any of the other team members. Damn! Can't do it. Nothing connects this vessel's radio with the onboard systems."

"Does that surprise you? The c.a.s. panel system is designed for intra-ship communications and operations.", Ty offers as he gags the girl's mouth.

"Yes, on most conventional ships. This is a heavily modified one. I reasoned there might be a contingency in place. However, I will have to get to a real computer terminal to do any real work."

Groo returns from the adjoining room. "Try locking whatever exit is at the other end of that hallway. And check those other cells for occupants."

>>>V'Sndyk : Starship Onboard Systems Operations: 1st level: 41%; rolled 52

>>>V'Sndyk Computers: Display: 2nd level: 41% succeeded already - no additional rolls needed on this terminal.

"Can't seem to call up the commands for the doors on this level. Listing on the cells shows no one else onboard." V'Sndyk's mood grows dark. In V'Sndyk's agitated zero-gee sleep, he was reminded of the importance of reuniting with OTTO. V'Sndyk had charged the super-computer with some very critical decryption and cross- analysis tasks that were still in progress when the Vrusk last left the ship. The Vrusk cringes with unrest, considering how much progress OTTO must have made during his absence.

"I recommend our immediate departure, both from this detention area and from the outpost. Experience has proven the strength of the forces that oppose us on this station. Our continued stay will only increase our enemies' advantages in their favor."

Ty nods. "I agree. We've been in this viper's nest too long. Let's boogie."


Charon Tavis Station - Unidentified Storage Room - time unknown

Mrylinax begins pounding the interior walls of his crate with his tail. The massive bludgeon has little room to work, but the force is enough to send shivers throughout the tight wooden prison. There seem few other options at this point, with everyone tied up. Even so Marcus fidgets nervously, trying to find a way out. His mind seems to race through every scenario he's ever imagined. Suddenly the images of locks and crawlways give way to an overwhelming hum inside his head, an echo of a thousand voices reverberating off the walls of his mind. His body tingles with uncontainable energy, much like when he met the Yazirian in Chamra's private romp room on deck two yesterday.

"Rings of Morgaine, not now..."

Footsteps sound in the distance as someone approaches. It is all Marcus can do to shout over Mrylinax's loud thrashing.

"MRYLI, STOP! We're not alone."

A male human of average height and build appears in the open space between the three crates, standing where a single light from above illuminates him. He wears a well-worn jumpsuit adorned with satchels, tool pockets, and bandolier straps. His face is stolid and his eyes never leave the three prisoners. Right away Ruby recognizes the face.

"Hey, you're that old codger in the bar!"

The man smiles. "Yes, very good, Rubadel Umpah. Your experience in the military on Lossend serves you well." He takes a moment to eye each one of them carefully before continuing. "My name is Victor de la Vega, professional bounty hunter. And you....are Detachment 2551, yes? Ruthless band of cutthroats, you boys."

Marcus almost spits as he replies. "Cut the crap, Vega. You know just as well as we do that we're innocent of anything the goons at PGC concocted as a cover story for what's going on out here! Hell, if you were on the side of REAL justice you'd be helping us right now!"

Vega walks up to Marcus' box and peers into a narrow gap between the boards. He draws a fine-looking sword that shows no signs of being electrical or advanced in any way. A set of fine jewels adorn the hilt and give off a red sparkle. He raises the tip in front of Marcus' eyes, then produces Marcus' own katana from behind his back and smiles.

"You have more important things to worry about than whether I turn you in to Star Law, don't you, Marcus? Or have you forgotten who we are? Forgotten our legacy? But we can settle that in private, after I finish rounding you all up for my collection."

"Ha! You'll probably slit my throat after gassing me again - you have no honor!"

Vega seems to take the charge seriously. He draws in close and speaks in a hushed voice. "Don't worry, boy. I'll let you have your precious blade and we'll meet in the tradition of our kind, man-to- man. It's the least I can do before I take your head... and your katra." Vega backs up and sheathes the swords. His hand moves to a satchel.

Mrylinax slams his box with renewed rage. "Kill me now, human, or I swear I'll eat your heart before this is through!"

Vega chuckles. "Time enough for games later, my pugnacious Humma. Right now I need you all tidied up for the party I'm throwing for your Yazirian buddies on the Vercingetorix."

With that he pulls a gas mask over his face and tosses a grenade to the floor. Within seconds the world goes dark once again for all three of the adventurers.


Charon Tavis Station - Bridge of the Vercingetorix - 1100 hours


The Haiokah, frustrated from the lack of information from the stooges, and the disappearance of all his original crew mates, looks to the tall Yazirian, Freya, for some answers.

"Honored one. You have cast your lot with an unfortunate crew on a seemingly doomed ship. This one hopes that you have some insights. Clearly, we cannot go down the elevator. At least not the same elevator that those two idiots took, after this one had told them to take the passenger elevator."

Freya simply nods, sensing that the Haiokah had yet to finish asking questions. Cymon returns to the glowing visual receptor of OTTO's main terminal.

"OTTO, do you have security camera recordings of the elevator, and our companions being taken off? When do the chronocoms disappear? Where do they disappear? The seventh level? Are there any other anomolous openings or power surges in close proximity to their movement?

OTTO clicks away dispassionately, as if oblivious to the dire straits of his crew or the signficance of the data he is asked to provide.

"There is no security footage of their being taken. All the security cameras on decks 6 and 7 are offline - they went offline sometime before 0100 hours last night. They were repaired by technician Slov at 0410 hours, but later went down again at 0502 hours when Slov went missing."

"The chronocoms signals of Mr. Cole and Mr. Patrou terminated at approximately 0920 hours. Their last location was on deck 7. As in previous searches, the entrance to the water treatment plant was accessed without an identification card at 0931 hours."

Cymon sighs and turns back to Freya. "Would it be possible to use the ventilation ducts to make our way to deck 7?"

"The ducts are 1 meter by 1 meter, so it would be a tight fit. But, yes, it is possible." Freya calls up a schematic that fills the main viewscreen. Cymon's dextrous fingers trace out several routes and byways.

"If so, perhaps we need to sneak out an exhaust port of the ship, or at least wait until the security cameras are off or panning the opposite way or release a burst of steam and leave in the swirl. Then we should either head to passenger elevator A, and upon entry, climb up out of the car and through the escape hatch, or venture down the air-shaft at the main junction just behind bay 4, where the Vercingetorix is located. Alternately, we could go down in the 'east' freight elevator, get off on deck 6, and proceed to the nearby ladderwell down to the next level."

Cymon, skimming through the stations floorplans notes the sealed off areas on deck six. "Curious... why those areas are sealed off?"

"Those areas have been sealed for safety reasons do to various 'accidents' that have occurred during the station's history. Biological contamination and radiation leaks are the most common accidents listed. Other more imaginative theories are also put forth: escaped alien specimens, rogue robots, etc."

Cymon gives the bandaged technician a funny look. "Interesting little nest you have here."

Cymon sits for a second, perusing all the data pouring in over OTTO's tactical screens. "Your discovery of the raised C02 levels...OTTO, could this mean an increase in the number of occupants onboard the station? Creatures boarding?"

OTTO is quick with the reply. "No direct consumption indices exist for O2, but a model can be extrapolated. For such a rise in CO2 to occur, there would have to be an increase by about 5% in the consumption rate compared with the station's normal population."

Cymon mumbles as he ponders. "Perhaps the burning of plant materials, releasing CO2...or fermentation. OTTO, give me a quick analysis of the hydroponics lab and the water treatment plant to see if more than usual fermentations are occuring."

"Bio-chemical sensors in those areas register normal. Agbots report normal pH and salinity of water in both sections, plant crop healthy and pruned - no spoilage."

Cymon moves to the bridge to relay the information to Chamra via secured channel. As he leaves, Freya slides in front of OTTO.

"OTTO, summarize the findings so far concerngin lost contact with Marcus and Mrylinax."

"Elevator stopped at deck 7. Within 0.5 minutes of being at a stop, the doors opened on the elevator - within 2.1 minutes the door to the water treatment plant opened. Review of the memory buffer for the elevator c.a.s. panels shows a brief spike in trace elements known to exist in doze gas. No pressure drops detected at this time. Chronocom signals of teammates Mr. Cole and Mr. Patrou terminated abruptly and within seconds of one another. Sequence of events matches disapperances of other team members."

"Acknowledged, OTTO. Signal the robotics lab and requisition two hullbots for extended duty. Have them convene at passenger elevator A and await further instructions at this radio frequency. Second, I want you to override the station security program and kill all cameras on decks five through seven using my clearance codes. Once you've done that, have all elevators await my command to descend to deck seven and wait there until further notice. Finally, route the ship's internal condenser lines to every external vent port on the ship's hull. On my mark I want a full shunt of reserve gases in a radial pattern for a duration of no less than five minutes."

"Acknowledged."

Freya's work is cut short as Cymon suddenly appears from the bridge and elbows his way to the terminal. "Excuse the intrusion, but I just recieved this transmission over our SECURED channel on the chroncom. OTTO, patch the message through to here, please."

The main viewer blinks and displays the dim interior of what must be one of the storage rooms on the station. The face of a male human fills the screen, boxes stacked behind him, traces of dried blood caked on his face. Brown eyes, brown hair, his face is grim and tells the tale of a thousand hard days, most of them won.

"Greetings. You must be the one they call Cymon. Allow me to introduce myself: I am Victor de la Vega, professional bounty hunter registered with the GTF and fully licensed to apprehend or terminate any class-one Star Law fugitives as I see fit. I have been through a slight...altercation with your associates and am now graced with their company." At this he smiles slightly, but soon returns to a business- like expression.

"However, they are hurt and require medical attention. If you would like to help them, meet me at the following coordinates ALONEAND UNARMED. I think the record demonstrates I've had you all covered pretty well from the word 'go'. I'll be watching you when you come, so don't try anything stupid. If you come along quietly, I'll see to it you can care for your friends in a decent medical facility and you'll all be delivered alive. Resist me and I can't make any guarantees. The bounty on you is 'ALIVE' so please don't make me work any harder than I have to. Vega out."

The message ends with a map of deck 7 and a chamber highlighted in the 'Junkyard' section.

Again, into the breach. How many times in the past few Standard Days had this team been against the wall? Now, again, the mission was on the brink of disaster, and Cymon and this new stalwart, Freya, were all that separated it from failure. Cymon lets the message sink in, then turns to Freya.

"Honored one, we would be fools to travel the same route. But there is hope. The gas chromatograph indicates they were dozed. Not killed. Now we are expected, apparently. Honored Freya, your knowledge of the station is supreme. If you decide to descend via the elevator or the airshaft, this one will follow."

"The stairwell at elevator A is our best bet. There are no cameras there, no line-of-sight beyond a few dozen meters, and exits at every level. I recommend we kill the cameras on decks five through seven, requisition some robots to travel passenager elevator A, and synchronize our entrance into deck seven as they arrive."

"It is a sound plan. There is no time to waste. Let us hasten."

Cymon and Freya convene in the ship's main access hallway for a quick once-over before departing. Cymon checks his needler rifle, puts on the helmet and his bodycomp, integrates the two, then dons his gas mask. Freya dons his own gas mask, readies his weapons, then nods as he hits the pre-programmed button on the c.a.s. panel next to the starboard airlock. A klaxon in life support begins to blare, signalling the sudden venting of the ship's coolant gases through external ports. A monitor shows clouds of gas billowing all around the outside of the ship.

Freya hits another button and the outer hatch pops open to reveal the fold-out stairs. Cymon leaps ahead and disappears in the tangle of smoke. Freya follows in suit. It takes them a few seconds to orient themselves in the cloud cover, but soon they are pressed against the outer wall of the docking bay and scurrying behind equipment carts on their way to the other side of the hangar. Work crews all around them stop to watch the assault scout's gaseous show. Meanwhile, Cymon and Freya have no trouble making their way to the stairwell without being seen.

The door closes behind Cymon, shutting out the blare of a low-level alarm set off by the diversion. The stairwell is empty and as quiet as a tomb. Single light rods mounted at each landing cast a stark aspect to the gloom. They descend the stairs quickly in spite of the darkness, looking this way and that for traps. Freya has his c.a.s. unit out and scans diligently for anything electronic that may be amiss. Cymon watches the floor, the ceiling, the next landing.

After half a dozen flights they come to a door marked with a simple number seven. Freya brings his chronocom up and begins pushing buttons.

"All elevators are on their way down. The two robots will be aboard the elevator and should be exiting any minute now. Cameras are dead and the ship is armed against intruders. It's your move, now, Cymon."


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