STORAGE ROOM ON DECK 5 - FY 1110938 - 0600 HOURS Dilk and Golo were nowhere to be found.
Marcus fights the urge to follow the traitors and hunt them down like the animals they were. As his breathing slows and his composure returns, he becomes more aware of the deadly wounds he has suffered. It would be smarter to back off now and rendezvous with his team.
Marcus starts to replace his sword when he notices the blood on the blade. He wonders for a moment if it was possible to catch some sort of disease from the dead Nimm's body fluids. Finding something to wipe it off, he replaces the sword within his cloak and reaches for another incendiary grenade. As he backs off towards the nearest exit, he throws the grenade ahead, allowing the flames to cover his escape in case Dilk and Golo should follow. He can't be sure that they wouldn't find another way around, however, so he moves towards the rendezvous point, his auto-pistol facing forward and ready to spray anything that moves.
On the way to the elevators, his chronocom sounds off with Cymon's voice: "Group, this is Unworthy. Proceeding down the elevator shaft to Deck 6. Will travel from there to Deck 3 and check on the ship. So far only Rubadel, Mrylinax, and Freya are accounted for - all other units please check in now."
Obviously the jamming must no longer be in effect.
"This is....'Natureboy', I think...ran into a little distraction here on Deck 6 but things are clear now. I copy that Freya and Mrylinax are heading topside - will join them soon. Not happy about the lapse in the roll call, though...this could mean trouble. Out."
Marcus wonders why Cymon is trying to get to deck 6. He suspects it wouldn't be wise to leave him unattended. A short walk later he finds himself in the east-west corridor running through the core of Deck 6. Nothing moves here except the occassional stirring of the two security robots hovering at each end, housed in their stations. Wary of the recent encounters he's had, he tries to reach out with his senses and pick up the strange 'buzz' that hit him like a presence earlier. There is nothing.
His eyes flit nervously over the hallway's darkened openings. He brings his chronocom up and keys the secured channel.
"Hopper, come in...this is Nature Boy. State your position. Over."
"<..this is Hopper, Nature Boy..I copy you. Proceeding down north passage of Deck 6 to the center rendezvous point. We got all the gear on our list and are ready to leave. Over.>"
"Roger that. I'll be here waiting for you. Natureboy out."
A faint thump causes Marcus to whirl around and face the east passage. Somewhere in the walls he can hear something stirring, knocking about. His hand goes instinctively to his sidearm as he creeps up to the freight elevator's doors. Nothing on the display panel suggests the elevator car is moving.
All of a sudden an inconspicuous panel on the wall next to the elevator doors flies off its hinges and crashes to the floor with a clang. Marcus whirls about and has his gun on the opening in no time. A cloud of smoke erupts from the small passage, barely concealing the shape of a Yazirian's head.
"COUGH! COUGH! Marcus, isn't it? Put away your gun, bareskin...it's just me, Yehuda and Cymon's behind me."
Marcus grabs the Yazirian's hand and hoists him onto the deckplates.
"Did you two find anything?"
"Less than we hoped for but more than we expected..ha!"
Marcus is puzzled at the security chief's riddle, but decides to ignore him and help Cymon up, who is now halfway thru the door.
"Ah, Marcus..good. I've tried raising the team on the secured channel and so far Ty, Groo, and V'Sndyk are not responding."
"Mrylinax and that Freya character are on their way now. What did you find down there?"
"The jamming device, we think. Planted between decks 5 and 6. Had a hullbot try and disconnect its power source, but the thing went up like a nova. Nothing but junk now. I think we need to take our cue and head back to the ship to plan."
Another noise brings all three of them looking to the north passage. Instantly they all have their weapons out and trained on the opening. What meets them is the rounded front of a hovering cargo sled, carrying a robot that can only be Sathar by its markings. Marcus is just about to unload his clip on the robot when Cymon holds his hand and Mrylinax pokes his head out.
"Hi, guys...hey, put the hardware away...what're you, nervous or something?"
Freya steps into the corridor soon afterwards. His manner is as rigid as ever. At first sight, one thing stands out clearly: For a Yazirian, Freya is enormous. Although his form is well hidden by a heavy cloak, Marcus approximates his height at just over 2m. Where most Yazirians reaching such a height would be very thin, perhaps wiry, Freya's frame seems well proportioned beneath the flowing garment. This one was built more solid than any tech he'd known. Perhaps a sparring match was called for, in the tradition of Yazirian fellow-warriors.
His cloak seems to absorb light like a black-hole, it's "midnight" brown fabric blending perfectly with the many shadows aboard Charon Tavis. Dark sungoggles dimly reflect the few stray rays of light entering beneath the cloak's ever-drawn hood. Black boots and gloves cover Freya's remaining features. On rare occasions, one might glimpse bandages, dyed black, covering his face and arms...perhaps his entire body.
Freya's voice interrupts Marcus' brief inspection of their new ally.
"This is a converted Sathar information-systems robot we found in storage - it fits the order Cymon put in as close as anything we've got on the station. Do not be concerned...I checked and its programming is clean of Sathar influences."
A beep emanates from Yehuda's wrist. He moves off to one side and hits the reply key. "Yehuda, this is the bridge. We just lost contact with that workpod we sent to inspect the outside. No information as to where it was last reported before breaking off, but there doesn't seem to be a problem with the comm. on this end. What should we do?"
"Standby - I'm coming up." Yehuda looks gravely at Cymon. "I think we've just about run out of time, my friend. I advise you round up your men and get your ship ready." The elevator arrives and the group barely fits with the cargo sled inside. Yehuda seems impatient as he keys for deck 3, then deck 2. Cymon, on the other hand, stares at the floor as if thinking hard.
Cymon INT check: 78; rolled 70
The elevator ascends slowly. Cymon frowns as he notices something small that has fallen between the grates of the floor and has lodged there. He kneels and gingerly prys the object out. It is a small boot-knife whose pommel was too large to pass through the grating.
"Whatcha got there?", Yehuda asks as he sees Cymon's expression.
"I'm not sure. It seems to be a knife. Do you recognize it?"
Yehuda takes the blade and inspects it. "Boot knife, it looks like. Good quality, well balanced...." He pops the tip of the pommel off and inspects the tang of the knife for a forger's mark. "Hmmm...'BM' inside a wing symbol - made by Belorman Metalworks...gotta be PGC issued. Recent, too, from the look of the metal."
Cymon's expression grows dark. "Yes. Very recent."
Marcus takes the knife and looks it over, then passes it to Mrylinax. Mrylinax's expression grows grave. "By the Den...this is V'Sndyk's knife...I told him to wear it while we were back in that bar on Exib." The group shuffles nervously in the silence of the rising elevator as they work over the implications of the clue.
Cymon interjects, "If this is true then time is shorter than we thought. Let's get the equipment to the ship and plan our next move."
The doors open to deck 3 - docking bay. the group rushes out without waiting to say goodbye to Yehuda, rushing headlong to the Vercingetorix. Marcus' heart races, his instincts scream at him a warning he refuses to believe. The group comes upon the docking berth for the ship and sighs a collective breath of relief that at least she is still there, resting comfortably on its landing struts and all hatches closed.
Cymon climbs the starboard passenger ramp and jams the doorlock with his access card before clambering aboard. Inside all is quiet and dark - nothing appears disturbed. The hallway is empty, as is the whole ship. He moves purposefully to the bridge, calling out Tiberius' name.
"Mr. Grogan...Mr. Grogan are you here?"
The bridge door is firmly closed like the outside. Inside there is nothing but the sound of OTTO running through a full diagnostic cycle. As Mrylinax and Freya struggle with the cargo sled, Marcus sweeps the ship with his auto pistol out while Cymon scans the screens to look for any clues. One screen has an open window showing customization parameters for the ship's control. On another counter is a container half-full of coffee. The coffee is cold.
"OTTO, report on the last known location of Tiberius Grogan."
"Welcome back, Mr. Ak-Barruda. Mr. Grogan departed the ship 2.2 hours ago after the ship was struck by a runaway cargo bot. He has not been back since."
Cymon flops down into one of the chairs and stares numbly at the screens, the sound of the onboard systems clicking away in the background. Things were not right.
"Grachak!" The usually humble yazirian curses with a raspy croak. "OTTO" he shouts "Scan the stations security cameras. This one will give clearance if necessary. Access the recordings, if necessary. Gather Mr. Grogan's record of movement in that period of time to now. Also, scan the carrier frequencies for sign of his chronocom, or any other identifying signal."
"Also, run a scan on this knife" Cymon produces the blade. "Use UV to gather any sort of fingerprints on it, and cross reference with Charon Tavis computers to see if you can give us a match.Secure the ship to outsiders. Admit only our crew members and initiate onboard defences. Provide access to Mr. Freya as well."
Cymon rises from the seat, placing the knife in conveniant view of scanning equipment then exits the ship, looking quickly around. He moves toward one of the techs nearby, a Yazirian in greasy orange coveralls soldering the last few repairs on a cargobot sitting 20 meters from the Vercingetorix.
"You. I am with Chamra - have you seen the pilot of this ship? He was a human named Tiberius Grogan."
(LEADERSHIP CHECK: 50%; ROLLED 32)
"Uh, yeah...yeah, I saw him talking to a human dressed in coveralls like mine...they went over to that office over there and are probably there still. I haven't seen him come back."
"Dressed in coveralls like yours? Wouldn't you know someone that worked here on the flight deck with you?"
"Never seen the bareskin before."
Marcus appears at the head of the passenger ramp of the ship and walks up to Cymon in time to hear the tech's story. "Everything's clean onboard - no one hiding, nothing boobytrapped."
Cymon shakes from his concentrating stare and snaps at the tech, "Quickly, let's check that office out over there. Take me to it." The tech leads them across the flight deck and into the corridor between Bays 1 and 2. The first hall on the right leads them to a small office filled with work orders, flight plans, and spare parts. The tech proceeds to describe the place to Cymon. As he's talking, Marcus kneels and inspects the floor carefully.
(Tracking lvl 1: 41%; rolled 33)
His eyes narrow as he notices the skid marks of boots in one place on the floor and the sticky residue of partially-dissolved tangler threads trailing from the desk's front-most leg. On the wall next to the door he sees a strange smear of human blood on one of the bulletin board's postings. He holds up his findings: "Cymon!"
Cymon eyes the blood and instantly turns on the tech. "Where is he? Where is this human and where did he take our friend?!?"
Marcus unsheathes his katana and approaches the startled Yazirian.
"Uh..I, I....um....HIS NAME WAS MAX, THAT'S ALL I KNOW, I SWEAR!!! TALKED TO SOME OF THE OTHERS ON DUTY AND ONLY ASKED ME MY NAME...THAT'S ALL I KNOW!!!"
"Ah, yes...a swig of brew would be great right now."
Freya stops in front of OTTO's main viewscreen. His concealed eyes move silently over the console's controls. OTTO responds to the silence in a sudden greeting that startles even the quiet Yazirian.
"Greetings. You are new team member named Freya?" Freya simply nods. "I will add you to the ship's roster and give you level one clearance as instructed by Mr. Ak-Barruda...please step forward and place hand on scanner, eyes on retinal reader."
"I do not wish to comply, computer."
"Acknowledged. You will not have a verification routine available to you - please collect a level 1 cardlock access card from one of the crew."
"Scan complete on the object placed on my scanner....fingerprints do exist, matching that of V'Sndyk Kanditzex. Visual records from station security cameras accessed and evaluated. Time record shows Mr. Grogan crossing the flight deck at approximately 0400 hours and entering corridor between bays 1 and 2, then turning into adjoining office, first on right, listed as deck officer's office. No record of his appearance on-camera since this time."
Freya says nothing, but nods to the report. His thoughts turn irresistibly to the trouble this suggests.
Mrylinax returns behind him from the living room, a cup in his hand. He takes the opportunity to look over his companion, never trusting anyone he hasn't known for a long time. He notices a prolific collection of equipment adds interest to the engineer's otherwise pedestrian attire. Two equipment belts and a backpack (similar in color to the cloak) add to the already capacious storage provided by Freya's flat black, military- style gridsuit. From these assorted pockets and pouches, several CAS units and a seemingly random assortment of tools are routinely produced whenever Freya works. And when he works he never "searches" for a tool. Each is retrieved without even a glance, suggesting a rigid, almost obsessive tendency to organize. The Humma snorts a low laugh at the nerdy tech-head and shuffles up to offer him a drink.
"Here. This'll put some strut in yer stride, welp!"
Freya takes the cup and studies it for a few minutes. Seeing the searching look in Mrylinax's eye, he lifts the cup to his mouth, lifts the flap of bandages over his mouth with the other hand, and slams the liquid back. With a quick swallow he hands the cup back.
"Very refreshing. Thank you."
Mrylinax stares at the Yazirian incredulously, then bursts into laughter. "Hahahahaha...say, you're alright, son!"
Ruby reclines in ids seat, trying to stay awake while listening to the umpteenth lesson on portable communications systems repairs. The holo-goggles perched on ids head-stalk flash visual information at an alarming rate, the teaching helm feeding id aural instructions at a speed id would normally never comprehend if it weren't for the mild dose of Stim id took to handle the accelerated lessons. In front of id rest a half-dozen circuit boards, the hands-on segment of id's training. Ruby sighs and switches off the teaching unit for a breather.
The room is dark, much like ids cabin after lights-out. And just as lonely since Breanna died. Funny how attached one could get to a member of another race, even after knowing them for a short period of time. Still, there were the voices to keep id company. Reassuring, in a creepy way.
"Oh, no", id thinks to idself as the echoes resume in his head, as if taking the lull in the teaching helm's deafening input to speak up.
<<<"Rubyself, the WE is weak....Rubyself must feed the WE....Rubyself is the vessel.....">>>
"Yeah, yeah, yeah...I know! I'm hungry, too." Ruby sets the teaching helm back into its berth and reaches over to pull out the training tape the Crimson Pirates loaned him. His eyes go wide when he views the tape carefully. There on the label are imprinted the letters 'Comm Devices Training Tape Year Four Program'. Ruby drops the tape in shock.
"Fourth year tapes? Holy hyperboloids! I flunked right out of second year electronics back in the service...how the hell could I be learning on THAT level?!" Ruby flicks the light switch on. At his feet are a massive pile of circuit boards, more than he can remember doing, each more complicated than he'd imagined ever trying in this lifetime. More tapes are piled on a counter next to id's arm: Vehicle Repair, Security Systems, and Radio Operations Guides far beyond id's present level of knowledge. Ruby stares at the pile, then the chronometer on the room's wall. "Sixteen hours straight? Um.....I gotta get outa here!"
Ruby's pseudopod jams the switch for the door and bursts out, almost knocking down a lanky Yazirian carrying gardening tapes. The voice begins again, louder this time.
<<<"Rubyself....the WE hunger...feed the WE so that the WE may come full circle...">>>
Ruby dashes down the hall, turns a corner, and finds himself almost unconsciously moving to the galley. Yazirians are filing out after the morning meal. Ruby ignores them all, pushing past the crowd to the kitchen. None of the cooks seem to notice the diminutive Dralasite moving over to a food processing unit, key several ingredient routines, and hit the processor cycle. The low hum of the machine working brings id some curious looks. Ruby only smiles in ids own way and taps ids 'fingers' on the processor's door.
'Ding!' the processor signals the cooking cycle completed. Ruby tears the door open and grabs the meal container with both pseudopods. The contents are a bubbling, steaming ooze of questionable appearance. But Ruby doesn't hesitate, hurling the container back and enveloping the entire mass of sticky goo into an awaiting vacuole id had formed in anticipation. With a series of sickening slurps and gulps the mass is completely enveloped and Ruby's starving body begins digestion. "BRAAAAAAAP!"
Ruby sighs a breath of relief, then turns to notice half a dozen cooks staring at him with eyes wide open, some looking ready to be sick.
"Um...heh heh...excuse me."
V'Sndyk continues to manipulate the pieces of metal from his flightsuit into working tools to hot-wire the circuits Groo exposed in the wall of their cell. Groo stares over his shoulder, itching to try his own hand at the job. A faint, exasperated voice calls from behind one wall, that of Ty's.
"You guys getting anywhere yet?"
Groo snorts in disgust. "No, the bug is dead-set on doing the fraggin' thing HIS way. I've got all the tiles down and the door as prepped as I can get it for visitors."
V'Sndyk grunts. "Damn! I just can't seem to get this thing puzzled together. I know the wires feed this unit binary information and the chips mounted on the side can be used to anticipate the information, cutting it off and possibly killing the power in this room and maybe even the door, but I can't seem to work together a code sequence for the information coming over the wires."
Groo plops to the floor in a huff. "Well, you know more about it by now that I do, so keep at it. I'll try something else."
Marcus can be heard chuckling through the wall. "Hey, where's that fighting spirit I could always count on onboard the Talon, eh?"
"That was when I knew the equipment, my friend. And I don't hear any good ideas coming from you, you know!"
"Oh, c'mon...I'm all alone over here and I only JUST now got out of that damn coccoon that motherless nutcase wrapped me in."
"Yeah, yeah...excuses, excuses. You sound more and more like Weasel every day." The comment comes out before Groo can stop himself. "Um...no offense."
"None taken." The fire is out of Ty's voice at the mention of the dirtbag who landed them in this spot in the firstplace. Groo knew better than to bring up the guy who stole their ship from them...it was a sore point with Ty, who blamed himself for not seeing it coming. V'Sndyk is oblivious, continuing his work and uttering curses every few seconds.
After a few minutes a sound at the door is heard. V'Sndyk and Groo look at each other for just an instant, realizing that their efforts could be discovered - resistance was the only option. V'Sndyk leaps from his perch and grabs his 2 meter long zipper, Groo picks up the metal grill he pried from the ceiling. A tiny door pops open in the door and out slides two trays, each holding a solid block of dessicated dietary granules. A laugh can be heard on the other side of the cell door, that of the human named Jean Gascon.
"Heh heh...just add water, boys."
As if on cue the regular trickles of water from the ceiling gush out, spraying over the two trays and soaking the blocks of dried food. The result is a crumbling, slimy clump of goo that looks designed for Vruskan consumption.
"Oh, goodie...pureed Itso bug entrails! I'm starved!", exclaims V'Sndyk as he hunches over the tray and scoops up the slime. His mandibles make quick work of the breakfast. Groo can only stare in contempt. V'Sndyk slurps down the last bit of the light meal and notices Groo's expression.
"Say, you gonna eat that, big fella? Mind if I...?" Groo shakes his head in the negative and returns to his spot near the wall to contemplate his fate.