Detachment 2551 : A Star Frontiers Adventure

Late April Story

Aboard the freighter Tiamat - time unknown - stardate 1110938

Groo pauses and assesses the situation. After freeing his fellow team members he hands out the items taken from the female guard to the most logical person. To Ty he hands the skeinsuit and gyrojet rifle. He hangs onto the albedo screen and vibroknife. V'Sndyk gets the chronocom. The solveaway is evenly distributed. Ty hovers over the female's form in an attempt to find the release switch for her bodycomp.

"Damn. She's wearing a battlebelt cover on this thing. Can't remove it without setting off this tiny detonator she has connected to it. It'll have to wait."

Groo peers over his shoulder and grunts. "Well, if she's tangled up she can't get to the controls, so it'll be okay to leave it. Hey V'Sndyk, see if you can disable any monitoring devices they might have on the ship. That way they won't know where we are and maybe we can get out of here before tangling with anyone else. Well from the size of the ship we can expect a crew of 4 to 5. So lets be on the look out for more trouble."

V'Sndyk looks up from the c.a.s. panel to notice a single camera on the ceiling facing the entrance to the detention center. "I have one camera to report, so far, but little good it does us now." With that he strolls over to the bubble housing the camera and begins unscrewing the lid's fasteners. "Also, the door at the other end of the detention hallway is proving stubborn."

"Let me see what I can do." Groo moves over to the c.a.s panel and begins typing as fast as he can.

>>> Groo: SOSO skill 4th level - 53%; rolled 20

In a few seconds there is a distant 'thud' heard and the panel shows a green light. "Got it. Locked and accessible only to this password." He quickly shows it to the others. Groogash looks around at their surroundings and checks to see if there are any accesses to crawl spaces or ducts above or to the side of their current location. He notices at least one air vent in every room. There are two in this refrigerated room.

"We have ascertained that we are on a starship," says the Vrusk. "If we are fortunate, the starship is docked within Charon Tavis. But if this ship is flying free in space, we could be a great distance from the rest of the team by now. Let me see if anyone is in chronocom range." V'Sndyk keys in the frequency used by the team before their kidnapping. Static is the only reply.

V'Sndyk's look is grim. "This would tend to confirm one of my greatest worries. The range for chronocom communication is approximately 5 km. I have been unable to contact either OTTO or the other team members.

"The possible explanations for this are: A, OTTO's comm equipment and all team-mates' chronocoms are simultaneously out of commision--which I find unlikely. B, our chronocom signals are being shielded or blocked. Or C, we are more than 5 km from both OTTO and our other team-mates. It is the third possibility that puts me to the greatest concern. If we are more than 5 km away, just how far away are we?"

V'Sndyk let's the matter drop and returns to the c.a.s. panel near the airlock. Focusing on the matter of where they are, he accesses a fire escape route plan to see what the ship looks like. A crude map appears.

"It seems this ship has three levels, the topmost of which we are occupying at the moment. Beyond this airlock a huge cargo bay extends to the end of the ship. Access to other decks is limited to a ladderwell on the starboard side of the ship and an elevator located in the cargo bay. If we want to get to the ladderwell, we either have to cut through the cargo bay or backtrack through the detention area through the door you just locked. Mid-deck is command and habitat. Bottom deck shows work areas, a workpod bay, launch, and drop- ship capable of holding at least eight people."

Groo and Ty lean close to study the map when all of a sudden thejarring noise of the ship's klaxons go off, causing Ty to jump. He instinctively whirls and points the rifle at their captive, suspecting she has something to do with it. Red strobes flash from every room, c.a.s. panels flash alert messages. Over it all a calm, soothing female voice intones.

"All surviving crew members abandon ship! All surviving crew members abandon ship! Tiamat's pilot is a casualty. Program Armageddon initiated. Self-destruct in five minutes."

The message repeats itself over and over. The female in the corner yells at them derisively: "Now you've gone and done it! The ship is wired to blow if I'm outa the picture! Thanks a LOT, bozos! Now we gotta get OUTA HERE!" She cocks her head to indicate the flashing runner lights that run along the floor. "Those lights'll lead you straight to the ship's drop ship! Somebody get me loose so we can get clear before the engines go critical!" C.a.s. panels repeatedly flash advisements on how to direct oneself to the nearest emergency exits. The lights seem to lead outside the airlock to the south and around a corner.

V'Sndyk nods calmly. "An excursion to an escape pod would be most opportune. However, I do not suggest freeing this female. Do what is necessary to bring her along, but make sure she remains tangled."

"Guys - this has gotta be some kind of bluff!" Ty shouts over the blaring alarm. "Firstly - if there were survivng crewmembers and they had anything more than just a gyrojet then they'd come in here shooting. And if they know that their pilot is really a "casualty" - then they can see she's not hurt only incapacitated - I know my crew on the Talon wouldn't blow up the ship if I had been captured by a couple of previously unarmed boarders."

Groo nods. "We're talking about bounty hunters, here. No telling how ruthless they'll get. And if her bodycomp has a body-scan progit linked to a help-beam progit then all they have to go on is that she's incapacitated. This isn't good."

Ty turns his back to the female and gives the others a wink, "Screw it. Maybe they are gonna blow the thing up. Let's not take the chance, though. I say we just leave her here."

Groo hesitates, thinking the matter over. At last he relents and crouches down beside the sitting and restrained female guard. "OK sweety, how's about you tell us a couple of things before we leave, and just maybe, if you give the right answers, we'll take you with us."

"First, are we in space or docked?"

"We're in a holding pattern around the Belnafaer system, awaiting further orders."

"Second, where are our supplies and gear?"

"I have NO idea... Victor stowed 'em somewhere in the cargo bay...I just fly this crate."

"Third, where can we find some weapons and space suits?"

"There are two space suit lockers on the bottom deck, next to the opening to the drop-ship. Weapons are on the bridge, in the weapons locker. Look, we've gotta hurry, the ship's engines are set to detonate any minute now!"

"Forth, how many other crewmen are on board this ship?"

"I'm by myself right now - the others are on the station looking for your friends."

The weary Yazirian eyes her suspiciously for a moment, then produces one of the solveaway vials. The girl fidgets nervously as he douses her and the threads begin to distentegrate. After a few seconds she rises and looks to one side as if to leap clear. Too late, however, as Ty is ready with the gyrojet rifle. The moment she's standing he hits her again with a tangle round, leaving her upper torso lodged in the gooey straight-jacket. She grits her teeth and growls at them. She forces herself to calm down when the vibroknife appears at her throat.

>>>qualifies for Automatic Hit: 95%; rolled 59

Ty lowers his rifle. "I say we let V'Sndyk carry her from here on out - he's the most capable of this without losing too much speed. And if we pass a computer he should check and see if this self-destruct thing is real and, if it is, if we can stop it.

Groo and Ty grab the female and unceremoniously dump her on V'Sndyk's back. The Vrusk is not exactly pleased with the job, but doesn't protest considering Groo saved his skin a few minutes ago. The four of them then proceed aftward, moving through the airlock and onto a catwalk overlooking a huge, darkened cargo bay outfitted like a warehouse. The bay extends 80 meters to the back of the ship. Pallettes rise to the ceiling, spaced apart to form rows where a slow- moving cargobot hovers back and forth. It is enough to catch Ty's and Groo's eyes for a long minute.

Ty whistles. "Nice operation you got here - you smuggle on the side?" The woman does not answer. The catwalk wraps around the entire cargo bay. Just to the group's left a large freight elevator awaits.

On the way to the shuttles Groo continues his questioning of the girl: "So sweatheart, who you working for, and how much is the bounty on us? Obviously the bounty is "Alive" or we woundn't be having this talk, so once you had us all captured, where were you supposed bring us? Oh, one more thing, how were you or your partners going to catch the rest of the team?"

The girl doesn't seem to mind answering the questions. "We're freelance out of Prenglar, work our own contracts on our own terms. We got the call through the Galactic Task Force (GTF) network that a BIG contract was up - we worked some leads and followed you out of Exib. You've got over a million credits on your heads, you know - about 200,000 apiece." The three of them exchange surprised glances. Ty smiles. "Dunno who wants you - like I said, the contract is posted on the GTF board for any certified bounty hunters who care to register for it. Heh, even BERDAX is after you bozos. You must be hot shit. As for where to take you? We'd let GTF tell us once we called it in. And as for how Victor wants to nail the rest of you?" She smiles wickedly, "Hell, he's probably already bagged your buddies and is enjoying a drink in the Kachada Omam."

Groo is close to wiping the grin off her face when the elevator chimes and its doors open. He can't resist giving her a shove, even though V'Sndyk is the one doing the walking. All four enter and the elevator makes the short ride to the bottom deck. The doors open to reveal the bottom-most level of the cargo bay and the lazy cargobot trundling along a few meters away. Two doors on the adjacent wall allow entry into the forward part of the ship. The woman points to the left one. Obliging as any former captive would, Groo smiles and orders them to go through the right.

(leads to room #8 on the map)

They find themselves in a cluttered, cramped repair room. Spare parts and tools lay in a disveled heap. As in other rooms, red overhead lights flash the warning to abandon ship. A dirty computer terminal linked to diagnostic equipment flashes the alert in every known Frontier language. Ahead is a door labelled 'Launch Bay', another on the left is labelled 'To Shuttle Bay', and a final one on the immediate left leads to a pressurized ladderwell.

The group pauses for a moment. In the silence the woman sighs impatiently, "Well?!? What next?"

Charon Tavis Station - Unidentified Storage Room - time unknown - stardate 1110938

Click Here for music to accompany the following passage.

Smoke... fire... heat....

"Fire control teams to the bridge!"

Marcus awoke in near darkness, the smell of burnt metal and flesh filling his nostrils. He was on the floor. The ship shook violently, reflecting the pounding it was taking from the enemy outside. He was caught on the gunnery deck when an enemy shot and ruptured several conduits next to him.

"Help... someone, please..."

Marcus struggled to regain his footing, pausing briefly to feel the bump on his head that been put there by the flying pieces of metal that had exploded near him. He was lucky. Had they been sharp, he probably would have been killed.

"Torpedo room, this is bridge. Standby to return fire!"

The ship shook again, more violently this time. It felt like a hull breach for certain. Marcus braced himself against a wall, trying to fight off the dizziness and nausea he began to feel. He had been hit hard, but at least he was in one piece.

"Someone, anyone [cough]. Help me..."

But someone else wasn't so lucky. "Keep calling. I'll find you!" Marcus exclaimed. He limped toward the direction of the cry for help. Coming to a T-intersection, he turned right and found what he was looking for.

A young human crewman, his lower torso trapped under a fallen bulkhead, was lying there in agony. Beyond him, a fire was raging, the smoke filling the corridor. They had a minute at most to get out of there before the air became unfit to breathe.

"Hold on, I'll get you out!" Marcus tried to lift the bulkhead, but recoiled in pain from the shear heat of the metal. Covering his hands with the sleeves of his Spacefleet uniform, he made another try on the bulkhead. Muscles strained and eyes closed.

But the bulkhead did not move.

Marcus prepared for another attempt, taking a deeper breath this time. But his lungs rejected the now smoke-filled air as he violently coughed it up.

"Please... I can't feel my legs. You gotta help me," the young crewman said as he continued his pitiful wailing.

Sweat saturated Marcus' body and clothes. The air was becoming toxic. Somewhere behind the fallen crewman a sickly smell of burning flesh was flowing in. Marcus looked sternward for help, but could not see anyone. The lights that way had gone out, leaving total blackness.

"If there's anyone down there, I need some help over here!" Marcus yelled in desperation.

Marcus crouched down and reached for the crewman's hands. He began pulling, but to no effect. The man was trapped, the metal too heavy.

The ship shook again, after which he heard another frantic voice over the speakers. "Explosive decompression on deck 6! All crew members evacuate sections 3, 4, 5, and 6 and prepare to seal off those sections!"

The crewman looked up at him with a pleading look in his eyes. He was young and afraid to die. And to his horror, Marcus realized he recognized him. Crewman 2nd class Lavel. They were in a poker game just two weeks ago.

He began coughing more violently this time. Smoke was obscuring his vision. The corridor was rapidly becoming an oven. He began to panic. They had moments to get out before they were sealed off. Marcus looked for something to pry the metal off. Common sense told him to cut his losses and leave, but he couldn't ignore his comrade's piteous cries for help.

An explosion overhead slammed him to to the floor as the entire deck overhead collapsed in over him. He was on his stomach now. Looking up, he could still see Lavel's face, his arms outreached in a last attempt to get free. But Lavel's luck had run out. The same debris which pinned Marcus to the floor had crushed Lavel's head. Marcus stared at him in horror, and realized he could look nowhere else since his head was also trapped in that position.

"Help! Someone help..." he said, his cries cut off by cough. His entire body was trapped. He screamed in panic, but no one could hear. The bulkhead squeezed the air out of him, preventing him from expanding his lungs enough to get off a cry for help. The only light by which he could see came from a nearby fire that was minutes away from consuming him. He couldn't move his arms or legs. Smoke filled his nostrils. He was trapped with nowhere to go. And the fire was getting closer. No room to move... suffocating...

Marcus awakes with a gasp, his face drenched in sweat. The air is much cooler and cleaner than just a moment ago. He tries to move, but he cannot. He is still bound, and still trapped in some sort of cargo container. Trapped with nowhere to run, nowhere to move, possibly until he suffocated to death...

Marcus shakes these thoughts away from his head. It was a nightmare. But this was not that situation. The box was not slowly crushing him to death. There was no fire. He was not forced to see the horrific expression of a fellow crewmember in his last moments of life. He was not reliving that situation, so long ago that it was.

He takes several deep breaths, trying to calm himself. His heart is pounding, a fact which makes him realize that he cannot deny his claustrophobia. He had been pretty good about controlling it over the years, especially on the Vercingetorix, but his sense of control was slipping now. He fights the urge to try break out of his bonds with brute strength, knowing very well that this would be tantamount to panic. He has to stay under control, no matter what.

"Hey furball, are you awake? We have to get out of here! Try to break free!"

Marcus is angry at being a captive, at being out of control. Some paybacks were in order. Fortunately, he knows that this Victor de la Vega wanted to fight him. That suits him fine. He didn't care too much for this pointless Game, but he does want to show the arrogant bastard a lesson. Preferring to be on his feet when Vega returned, he makes another attempt to force the opening of the container off, trying to push it with his legs as he braces his back against the opposite side.

Eventually the Humma's voice echoes in the distance. "Yeah, yeah, I'm here. Sounds like I'm trying the same thing you are, too."

Mrylinax peeks around at the box he's in and tries to see if there are any obvious weak points. After a few moment's study he braces himself.

"There probably are some boards that are looser than others we can try to focus on."

Mrylinax pauses to reflect. "You know, Marcus, I was thinking about what you said earlier about the enemy keeping us alive and why they'd do that after trying to kill us back on Exib. Is it possible that there are separate factions within the Hooris clan that want us for their own personal agendas? This seems less likely than them needing us for information, but if it is true, we may be able to take advantage of it."

"It's possible. Yazirian clans are hotbeads for separatism, especially if the clan chiefs are seen as weak. Guess that explains why Chamra has such a tough time keeping order on the station here - the Crimson Pirates are essentially a clan of sorts. After years of his predecessor, Gardus, chasing ideals that seemed insignificant to the pirates' way of life, Chamra has a lot of faith to regain from his men. Just the kind of division the Hooris clan could make us of. UNGH!!!"

Marcus throws the weight of his body against the crate once again, to no effect. The crates, though made of wood, seem solid enough. Even Mrylinax, several meters away, strains in vain against the sides of the box. His massive tail slams hard into the wood at first, then acts as a pneumatic jack as it presses against a weak-looking spot on one side. The effort manages to make the wood creak, but no more.

In the general direction of Ruby's location comes another series of crashing noises. In regular rhythm id, too, slams ids body against the rigid walls of ids prison. With each blow id can be heard letting out a forceful grunt. After several tries, Ruby finally comes to a standstill. Marcus and Mrylinax continue their labor when all of a sudden a thunderous roar booms through the air, bouncing off the walls, filling the cavern-like room with reverberating, overwhelming echoes. The ripple-like after-effects have yet to fade when it is followed shortly by a piercing screech that forces the Human and the Humma to cover their ears and wince in pain. Eventually the sound dies off.

After several minutes a chuckle can be heard over their labored gasps.

"You boys sure are working hard!"

"Ruby!", Marcus shouts, "What the hell are you doing?"

"I've been trying to force my way out long before you got here - there's no way to make the crates give. My body's been all doped up so I can't even stretch the limbs I have, much less make more limbs. And with all the knocking about you're likely to get yourselves killed! Just look DOWN for a second."

Marcus peers through a hole in the box, noticing for the first time that their positions in the stacks of crates are far above the warehouse floor, some seventy meters below. The pale green light from above illuminates a small nearby catwalk that allowed Victor to inspect them up-close earlier. A large object can be seen moving slowly near the floor, blinking lights on its surface. With time it slowly rises and descends. Arms move out from its shiny exterior to make contact with the crates around it. Marcus lets out a soft whistle.

"Oh, great! So we're stuck in boxes in the middle of nowhere AND left hanging on the edge of a steep drop! Fantastic!" As always, Mrylinax' assessment is to-the-point and depressingly accurate.

Ruby can't help but find a bad joke in the midst of their dark hour: "Yeah, but you might say we're at the top of our game!"

Charon Tavis Station - Deck 7 - 1200 hours

Cymon and Freya crouch in the darkness of the stairwell, watching the elevator doors from their vantage point. Any minute now the robots they ordered from the maintenance shop should be arriving on the elevator and ready to assist them. At least that was the plan. In the past few weeks Cymon had developed an cynical habit of expecting all plans to take a left turn, and this was no exception. With all of his comrades missing and the entire UPF government after his hide he could hardly muster any expectations higher than seeing a Starlaw squad marching in right now.

In the calm before the storm, Cymon decides to gather more facts. A simple push of the button on his chronocom elicits OTTO's familiar voice.

"OTTO here. Receiving your signal, Mr. Ak-Barruda."

"OTTO, give me everything you've got on a one Victor De La Vega, a male human."

"Acknowledged, Mr. Ak-Barruda. Victor De La Vega, human, male,
birthdate unknown, home system unknown, picture on file.
Professional bounty hunter licensed and registered with the GTF since fy 101.
Base of operations: Unknown.
Known associates: Jean-Paul Gascon and Maria del Mar
Known to fly the modified hull-class 5 freighter 'FCS Tiamat'
Aliases: Unknown
Weapons of choice: Unknown

Notable jobs on record:
fy 101 - delivered alive - Maximus Voltair, head of Golden drug syndicate in the Truane's Star system
fy 103 - delivered dead - Rbar Gool - terrorist working out of Outer Reach, wanted for the deaths of sixteen Starlaw officers
fy 104 - delivered alive - Lana Craddock, embezzler who brought down the market on Minotaur
fy 106 - delivered dead - all five leaders of the Moray pirate group operating out of White Light
fy 107 - delivered alive - Snakklie Ovram, Yazirian computer hacker responsible for rerouting all in-system traffic around Scree Fron for three days before being discovered
fy 109 - delivered partial remains - T'Soki Cr'Krix aka "The Circe Stalker", wanted in six systems for thirty counts of murder

Awarded the UPF Valor Medal after discovering, disabling and delivering four dead Sathar and their long-range scout vessel found just inside the Truane's Star system.

Record Ends."

"Thank you, OTTO. Cymon out." Cymon grows silent as he calls up the file picture for De La Vega. Sure enough, it matches the features of the Human called 'Max' they caught on the security cameras on deck 3 just before Ty disappeared. Cymon sighs and adds this new information to his constantly growing mental library of facts.

"Freya, is this Slov Ch'Holo that was mentioned before a trusted companion of yours."

Freya replies: "Although he worked under my direction for some time, I formed no opinion other than professional about him. He works in a technically proficient manner, although he requires frequent reminders to maintain schedule. His name does not appear on Chamra's list of confidantes."

"Hm. So can we be sure he really disappeared as was suggested, or could he perhaps have cut the links to the cameras on the lower decks while working for the enemy?"

"The latter is not likely. Slov was not a clever Yazirian. Nor was he ambitious. His work routine seemed to suggest a 'lackey' mentality. If he were indeed behind the sabotage on the lower decks, it most likely was forced compliance behind it. Which brings me to another point. How did "Max" get aboard the station? One man could, with some trouble, be smuggled aboard. That alone revealed nothing. However, there are the multiple "Doghan" reported on the lower decks. Such a force would require supplies and weapons. With these factors, the probability of smuggling is greatly decreased. Other likely options are a) The Doghan are being created onboard the station, or b) An unscheduled, unseen docking with the station had taken place. Although both are plausible, the unexplained disappearance of the hullbot sent to check the lower exterior of the station lent itself to the latter theory."

"Worthy questions, my honorable comrade. I wish we had the time and resources to divine their answers. For now..." Cymon stares at his chronocom. "Judging by Victor calling us on our secured channel, we can forget about trusting any further messages sent on that frequency."

"I recommend that we order OTTO to transmit general status reports, stating we are aboard the ship, on the old channel. The enemy has gained access to that channel through our companions' chronocoms. Simply creating an new secure channel between our systems should suffice for now."

Cymon nods and hands his chronocom to Freya. After only a few seconds, a new secure channel is established between the two communication devices.

As Cymon accepts his chronocom back, he resumes his thought processes. "Is this one failing to grasp something, or is our nemesis making a curious request. Would he not simply engage a freezefield on the seriously wounded, and allow the mildly wounded to remain so... after all, they would be less lethal that way. And if he has such access to us, would it not be likely he would already have us?

Freya nods in agreement "His stated logic is obviously flawed. This request is in all probability a ruse to bring you within his grasp. As I am not mentioned, I must have no value in his equation and am likely considered expendable."

Cymon calls up the schematics to the nearby area on his chronocom. "Notice, Honored Freya, the conjunction of the airshaft and the location Vega indicated. We can move through it from the elevator to the indicated location, or simply route to the water treatment plant.

"I suggest investigation of the water treatment plant."

"Agreed. We'll let the robots take point and check it out. Hold on, I think they're here."

Freya again nods "A reasonable plan, healer. I will order this SpyEye to remain in the shadows near the ceiling. Do you wish it so support our actions or have it move in a stealthy fashion toward Vega until maximum range is reached?"

"Let's keep her with us for now."

The elevator chimes, signalling the arrival of the car. The doors part to reveal two less-than-new hullbots hovering a meter above the floor. Their rusty bodies drift out into the hallway, then pause as if waiting for further orders. Cymon watches the hallway carefully for a full minute to see what happens. No one else is in sight.

"Okay, they're here. Now what?"

Freya switches Cymon's chronocom to display the video feed from one of the hullbots. He does likewise with the other. Leaning through the crack in the door, he barks a simple command.

"Hullbots, on my command - authorization code Freya Grraf'Tzak Delta 117."

The hullbots seem to pause for a moment, as if checking the code with their slow processors. Freya leans out the door and impatiently lets out what seems like a deep cough. The gesture apparently gets the message across - both hullbots snap to attention and bleep in reply.

"(ahem) Hullbots - approach the water treatment plant at the end of the hallway and enter it. Investigate the interior for any signs of intrusion or sabotage."

The hullbots begin to move down the hallway in the direction of the water treatment plant. Cymon and Freya exit the stairwell and follow them at a distance of ten meters.

Before leaving the slim protection afforded by the stairwell, Freya contacts OTTO with a last minute request "OTTO, provide running status reports on the crew tracking subroutine, the Vercingetorix defenses, and electronic data from station deck 7." His hands produce his ever-present c.a.s. Freya keeps a cautious eye on the unit's readings, coordinating what he finds with the surroundings. After he checks that all is clear, he stabs the air with a finger. The spy-eye zips ahead and disappears into the darkness.

To Cymon he whispers, "May chaos favor our goals" and turns his full attention to the task at hand.

Cymon and Freya follow the hovering hullbots as they round the next two corners leading to the entrance to the water treatment plant. Nothing seems amiss: the E/M scan Freya conducts reveals nothing out of the ordinary, the video feeds from the robots show nothing but darkened hallways. Even the SpyEye seems redundant as it zips to and fro in the empty spaces ahead of them.

The maintenance door to the water treatment plant is closed. Freya checks the c.a.s. panel to that controls the door.

"Normal atmosphere. Clear for entry."

Freya swipes his card and the heavy, stained door opens with a groan. All three robots pop inside and disappear into the gloom. Freya follows, then a hesitant Cymon. Inside, the plant occupies an enormous amount of space crammed with huge treatment tanks, pumping stations, and a thousand uptake tubes. Catwalks ring the machinery on several levels, with stairs connecting each level. The temperature and humidity here are noticeably high, forming condensation on the equipment. Amidst the hiss of steam escaping various valves, the rhythmic sounds of pumps pounding in the walls form an eery cadence. The darkness is interrupted by a series of dim lights from far above. Cymon looks up and counts at least six levels to the lights. The robots are already ascending the stairs to the second level.

Freya turns and points upward. "We'll work our way up and scan as we go. No sign of movement so far." As Freya's goggled eyes leave him, Cymon feels the odd sense of being the most alone he's ever been since leaving home. Here he was in the company of machines and strangers, probing the depths of yet another hellish catacomb to find allies only a few weeks old. Every move he made to free himself from recent events drew him ever further into stranger and stranger circumstances. With a sigh he resolves himself to concentrate on the sounds of the machinery and the dim light around him. Anything could happen here. Anything just might.

As Cymon climbs to the third landing Freya stops short. His c.a.s. plays over one of a thousand features of the machinery pressing in from every side, then pauses.

"Here. Something's.... not correct."

"Something's wrong?"

"Yes, wrong. The service hatch to this reservoir is showing an evacuated access tube."

"Which means what?", Cymon gulps as he eyes the humongous tank looming above them. He had no fear of water, but he also had no love for it. The idea of their going inside any machine that actually holds water begins to unnerve him.

"Which means someone cleared it for access inside the tank, which is almost NEVER done." Freya swipes his card again and flings open the hatch, situated at hip-level. Before Cymon can object, Freya vaults into the tube and disappears.

"Um....honorable companion? Is this a wise move? Surely you can scan for anything..."

"Cymon, approach! You must see this!"

Cymon supresses a shudder, closes his eyes and recites a quick proverb. He then peers inside, gains a firm handhold, and climbs into the tube. After only a few meters he finds a large aperture in the tube allowing access to a circular inner chamber. The chamber is roughly two meters high and five meters in diameter. A ladder extends down onto a walkway that encircles a whirlpool at the center. Freya crouches at one spot on the walkway, peeling away something stuck to the metallic floor.

"What is this place?", Cymon asks as he descends the ladder.

"Not a place where people would normally be.", Freya responds, "but I just found the residue from what I think was a foam grenade, and this..." Freya walks over to another hatch set in the wall opposite where the ladder is fixed. The hatch is colored a bright yellow and stands in sharp contrast to the surroundings. Where everything else looks a hundred years old, this fixture is brand new. And the way it is set into the wall suggests an almost improvised scheme. In addition, no c.a.s. panel appears on the wall, an ubiquitous feature of any passageway on a space station. Freya taps the hatch a few times. He seems satisfied with the ringing sound it makes and hazards a tug on the hatche's release lever. The door swings open to reveal a long, narrow chamber extending out some ten meters and ending in shutter-like panels. Within this space rests a standard 10-person starship launch. The still form of a Yazirian is slumped over one of the seats, his toolbelt marking his profession.

"Slov....", Freya whispers hoarsely.

Cymon is wide-eyed with shock. Here, in the bowels of the station, the ugly truth was making itself known. "By the Den-Qritsa!"

It is all the Yazirian can compose in the way of a response when all of a sudden the lights in the circular room blink out. Even the dim light from the tube leading back to the plant's open area is dark. Only the reserve lights from the launch illuminate Freya's shocked expression as he looks to Cymon.

"Power's out! That could only mean..."

A sharp burst of static from Freya's chronocom interrupts them. It is Chamra's voice.


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