I never should have joined this crew.
Thought Amara Var, Starfire 's first officer, as she contemplated the thoroughly unpleasant mess in which herself and the rest of the salvage vessel's crew were entangled. Certainly, her life would have been much safer, if less exciting, if she'd taken up the family business of musical-instrument making back on Evar. Making Saltaris string-drums was looking rather appealing when compared her current job right now.
Before them stood two humanoids enmeshed in wires and cybernetic growths, the Quadrakin Overlords controlling the puppet crew of the ship they'd innocently tried to salvage. Having just been informed that they were to join the ranks of mindless drones fighting one another to improve the Quadrakin's knowledge of close quarters combat, the crew's minds raced to find a more pleasant solution.
None was readily clear.
Amy, the android assistant engineer of the Starfire , had already mentally ran through several dozen detailed scenarios for attempting escape. All of them ended in the untimely death of one or more crew members, possibly including herself. These were clearly unacceptable results.
One of the Overlords, the monstrosity on the left, spoke over their envirosuit radios.
"We shall assign you to various combat tasks. If you should happen to survive the entire course of our exercises, we will re-intergrate your mind and return you to your chosen courses of action."
Jules, Starfire 's engineer, was concerned not simply for his own welfare but also for that of his crew mates. Particularly, Amy. Obviously, since she was standing without an envirosuit and yet unaffected by the mind-altering chemicals that contaminated the air of the ALV Insidae, the Quadrakin must be aware of her immunity.
It was with some trepidation that the engineer decided to inquire about the android's fate in their scheme.
"What are you going to do with Amy?" He asked, gesturing to his assistant who was standing behind their captain, Marcus Carey.
Jules hoped that the answer was something along the lines of temporary storage while the twisted training exercise took place. He expected something less pleasant.
"It is not our policy to waste time developing strategies for the use of individual sentient organisms that can not be overcome by our standardized agents. To do so would be a waste of resources," said the right Overlord, the exposed tissues of its metal-encrusted head quivering slightly as it spoke - a holdout from the fully humanoid existence it once had.
"In this case an exception may be in order, counterpart," said the left Quadrakin leader.
"Please Stand by while we confer privately." Said the other, and the crew's radios went silent.
The crew waited anxiously as the two collectivists communicated silently. If they were conversing telepathically, it was a very long discussion. As the wait hit three minutes, their captors broke the grim anticipation.
"We have come to the decision that there may be some merit in the design of the mechanical organism you designate as 'Amy'. It would be a waste of resources to use it in combat exercises, and we have thus decided to examine the more unusual construction more carefully than our limited technical facilities here would allow. It will be shipped to our reverse engineering lab at once, so that the Quadrakin might benefit from anything that its technology might have to offer."
"Will this reverse engineering be terminal?" Amy asked, naturally concerned.
"We do not know. Such knowledge of specific techniques would be redundant for us."
The Overlord called forward a group of peons to escort the android from the room.
"Go with these escorts to await delivery to the Reverse Engineering facility. Be assured that whatever the nature of the testing carried out there, it will be for the greater good."
That Overlord's counterpart spoke to the rest of the group as Amy was led from the room by the vacant humanoids. "Enough time has already been squandered. Please remove your atmospheric isolation equipment and do not resist the effects of the agent."
Captain Marcus looked at the faces of his crew. He assumed - correctly - that they shared his views on that last suggestion.
His specific reply to the idea - concerning the probable fate of the Quadrakin Overlords in the afterlife legend of the natives of the planet Centus 4 - was not terribly important to them. What did genuinely surprise the complacent entities was the sequence of actions that next took place.
Marcus lunged sideways and slammed into a unresponsive Artician crew member as Jules and Amara attacked drones behind them. All but one of the armed puppets had left escorting Amy, but the one remaining proved quite troublesome.
A vermilion beam shot passed Jules helmet, blasting an enemy that was about to tackle him. The engineer had barely begun to realize his good fortune when it changed for the worse - one of the fallen's kin behind him brought down a blunt object of some type upon his person. The impact knocked him over, onto the machinery-covered floor.
The second firing of a weapon that the room saw was of positive consequences - a bolt from Marcus' newly reclaimed hand laser hit the creature that had just clunked Jules. It writhed and collapsed beside Starfire 's engineer, who was starting to pick himself up.
"Cease this at once!" bellowed the Overlord nearest the commotion.
While Amara disarmed the final drone behind him, Marcus raised his laser in the direction of the speaking Overlord. He pulled the trigger. The beam shot towards the center of the tank, ready to annihilate the source of evil. Alas, the Overlords had planed for this possibility in one way - a forcefield had sprung up, and it dispersed the ocher needle into space.
"Your actions will do no good, even by simpleminded individualist standards!" said the counterpart Quadrakin. "This room is sealed by quarantine forcefields. Though you may have dispatched your escorts, you are trapped here."
The plan - such as it was - had hit a wall.
"In moments more of our security will be here to resolve this issue. You would do well to take the time to contemplate how wasteful your actions have been in time and resources."
The cluster of blue-suited minions surrounding Amy did not really bother her as much as the idea of 'reverse engineering'. She valued her existence as much as any other being, regardless of the possibility that it was the result of being exposed exclusively to individualist cultures. Her future, however, appeared to hold out much less time to enjoy that state of being than she'd hoped for.
The android's dreary reflection was interrupted by an unexpected sight. Chikar.
He stepped out in front of the procession, blocking its path. The peons guarding their mechanical captive seemed confused. Chikar was, after all, on their side.
Or not. Streams of iridescent fire tore into the escorts, ending their sorry, disconnected existence instantly. The reptilian tactical officer had finished off every guard before even one could react.
Amy was in fact quite surprised, but was over the reaction quickly enough to make a coherent, if obvious, statement.
"I perceive that you are normal again. Thank you for your much-needed aid." she said.
"Where is the captain and the others?" Chikar asked, businesslike.
"They were just down this corridor. I heard sounds of a firefight a few moments ago."
Chikar immediately rushed off to effect a rescue, while Amy picked up a weapon from one of the fallen guards and chased after him.
Although the quarantine forcefield was not of a lethal nature, it was the rough equivalent of a brick wall in terms of the sensation it produced when one ran headlong into it.
Chikar was now very aware of this, as he lay on the corridor floor where he'd landed after meeting the invisible obstacle.
He opened his eyes to see Amy standing above him, looking down. "I think there is an impact field in operation here." she said.
Oh Really? Do you think that? thought Chikar, although his well ingrained manners prevented him from vocalizing it. "Yes." he instead simply agreed, as he lifted himself up.
As he rose, he could see the other crew members trapped on the other side of the barrier. They seemed to be encountering no active hostility, but they were also clearly victims of the field system.
"We've neither the time nor equipment to disable the field electronically." said Amy.
"What else is there? This weapon can't penetrate that!" Chikar replied, waving towards the field. His fingertips brushed backward on the surface, looking like a perfect pantomime.
"Let me see it." Amy said as she reached for the weapon. With some reluctance, he surrendered the device.
"It's a Pulsed Plasma gun." She stated, already beginning to examine it for the screws that held it together.
"What are you going to do with it?" Chikar asked.
"Make it explode violently." The assistant engineer spoke causally, as she removed a multitool from one of her jumpsuit's dozen utility pockets.
"Will it knock out the field?"
"Possibly, but it will knock out the wall at any rate."
The android's dexterous fingers were swiftly reconfiguring the device's entrails for its new, rather terminal, mission.
"I am almost finished. This is not as complex as some of the newer models."
"Good. The captain looks like he's taking up a defensive position out there."
"It's finished." said Amy, placing the modified weapon against the corner of the corridor wall and force field. She pressed a button.
Amy and Chikar darted back as fast as they could from the device. It had started to glow white-hot by the time they were ten meters away. Chikar ducked into an alcove just as the makeshift bomb detonated in a searing cloud of indelible plasmafire. A burning-hot pressure wave rocked the corridor, and the lighting elements above were instantly shattered by the explosive fury of the improvised munition.
Then, he realized that he could not see Amy. Through the surge of arcid smoke, it was little wonder, but he could not recall her finding shelter in one of the several alcoves.
"Amy?" he called, hoping she was nearby.
The smell of the fumes, though of an unpleasant burning-plastic stench, were quickly being taken away by the automatic ventilator system. As they cleared, he saw the android laying face-down on the corridor floor a meter down from the alcove he occupied. Although covered in small debris, she did not look significantly damaged.
"Amy?" he repeated, kneeling down to brush a varied collection of pieces of the ALV Insidae off the crew member.
Before he could ascertain the nature of the trouble, his attention was removed from the android. The sounds of weapons fire from down the corridor reminded him of his original task. He looked up to see his other crew mates firing at something out of his view.
As Amy seemed to be safe for the time, Chikar left the unconscious android to aid the crew.
He emerged into a very tenuous situation. Marcus, Jules and Amara had taken up positions behind equipment as waves of blue-suited minions of the Overlords ran brainlessly forward at the besieged crew.
"Captain, our blast has knocked out the energy field!" he shouted over the suit radio.
"That was you? Chikar? You're normal again?" asked Jules, as he fired off a pulse of yellow energy into the group of suicidally dedicated attackers.
"Let's get out of here!" said Marcus, as he raised his weapon for a final shot.
Chikar fired a few bolts from one of the appropriated plasma guns to cover Marcus' and Jules' crossing of the gap between the barriers of derelict equipment.
Amara took aim at the nearest tank holding an Overlord, and shot a hole in the tank. Green fluid burst from it, creating a foul, organic slick of broth before it. Chikar, following that lead, fired his more potent weapon at the opposite tank. The transparent material shattered from the heat stress induced by the plasma burst.
Whatever their feeling about the ignominious end of their assignment, the Overlords kept it to themselves - the suit radios were silent as the green fluid drained away and they uploaded their neural impressions to the Quadrakin nexus.
The group gathered near the place where a hole was blown solidly in the wall from Amy's quite successful first attempt at improvising an explosive.
"Did you see where they took Amy?" asked Marcus, as he reached the relative safety of the other side of the former Overlord's chambers.
"She's in this corridor ahead, captain. I think she is.. injured." Chikar answered.
"Injured?" asked Jules, as the other crew members walked swiftly through the ragged edges of the walls.
"By the blast." Chikar specified.
Marcus instructed Chikar to pick up the android when the arrived at the spot where she lay.
"Where does this corridor lead?" he then asked his crew. Without the maps Amy had downloaded before the jamming started, it would be tough to find anything, and he didn't know whether or not their destruction of the Overlords had pacified the puppet crew.
"Let me check to see if the 'net is back up." said Amara, looking at her multicomp.
"The hypernet isn't being jammed anymore. I think I can get a map here pretty quick." She confirmed.
"Good. See how we can get back to a shuttle bay." said the captain.
As the Evarian patrol ship E.V. Nizar cut through the hyperspatial realm at seventy times the speed of light, a young officer spotted something unusual on the sensor console. Something very unusual.
"Commander, sensor anomaly from unit 2D. Request permission to shut it down for a diagnostic."
"What kind of anomaly?" The captain, a member of the Evarian aristocracy who'd been given the captain's chair on the vessel for reasons that had more to do with politics than merit, asked.
"The sensors seem to be registering something nonexistent. It says a mass of several hundred kilotons appeared suddenly. I think that qualifies as an anomaly, sir." Said the officer.
"Commander, I don't think it's a fluke. The targeting arrays register it too." Another officer said, from across the tiny, green-lit bridge.
"Very well, we'll investigate. Helm, alter course to investigate."
"Aye sir." said the helmsman.
The Evarian captain pressed the com signaler embedded in the chair's arm. He figured it wise to bring along reinforcements in case something unforeseen should occur - he may not have had military experience, but he was not foolhardy or reckless with the lives of his crew or Evar's equipment.
"Patrol ship Nizar to Patrol ship Kimara. Come in please."
The bridge audio responded. "This is the Kimara."
"Meet us at 103.8 205.0 139.2 to investigate something unusual."
"Roger Nizar , our course ETA to those cords is fifteen minutes."
"Acknowledged, standby for further communications on arrival. Nizar out."
After some dispute over which direction the map's 'right' corresponded too, Starfire 's crew had finally arrived at an empty shuttle bay. They'd encountered no resistance from the crew - but, for that matter, they hadn't even seen any other humanoids.
The shuttle bay proved a disappointment. No craft were docked in it at all.
Marcus suppressed the wave of disappointment that fallowed the realization as he stared at the closed doors of the bay.
"Well, this is a setback!" sighed Jules, as he sat down on some cargo crates. As Amara and Marcus looked over the map to find the next-nearest bay, Chikar put down Amy next to him, eager to take a break from hauling the inert android around.
"There's a small loading bay to the right of this, it's supposed to always have a multiperson engineering pod in it." said Amara.
"A pod's no good. It doesn't have hyperdrive."
"We could use it to find Starfire."
"True, but..." Marcus started to speak, but was interrupted by his suit radio.
"This is the Evarian Patrol ship EV Nizar. Is anyone aboard this ship?"
Their delight was unspeakable. Rescue at last!
"Yes, this is captain Marcus Carey of the salvage vessel Starfire! I'm trapped on the ALV Insidae with my crew! We could use a pickup at bay 5, we're equipped with envirosuits but we are starting to run low on oxygen and the atmosphere is 'bad' in here."
"Allright captain, we'll dock as soon as possible. We've sighted your ship nearby. How did it get separated from the Insidae?"
"A long story. We'll tell you all about it when we're on board."
"Very well. See you soon. Nizar out."
There are two unauthorized vehicles operating in the test area, Overlord. One is docked with the primary test ship.
The underling in charge of the sensors of the Quardrakin transport thought to its superior. The mental message was carried to its destination wordlessly by the bionic net of the ship itself.
What type of vessels?
Uncertain, Overlord. They are armed only with guided explosive charges.
Prepare our weapons. Our transport of the mechanical life-form to the research facility requested by the training exercise controllers will proceed as planed. Lower the photon barriers.
As its stealth measures deactivated, the long, green form of the transport appeared near the patrol ship Kimara. It's crew had no warning when the first white balls of energy struck the underside of the Evarian vessel.
It rocked under the impact of the spheres, throwing it's crew into confusion.
"Commander, we're under attack! An alien ship appeared underneath us!" Yelled one of its officers.
"Return fire! Evasive maneuvers!" It's captain shouted.
The agile craft instantly swooped downward with a twisting motion, dodging the second volley of luminous balls.
"Fire at will!" Oordered the captain. From the front of the shovelblade-shaped craft, a trio of torpedoes exited their launch tubes. They streaked towards the attacking vessel.
"This is the Kimara! We're under attack from hostile aliens with stealth technology. All combat craft divert to 103.8 205.0 139.2!" Kimara 's comm officer called into the radio.
The Quadrakin transport shot down the torpedoes bound for it, and replied with a fresh set of energy balls. The deadly projectiles struck the Kimara 's outer edge, and were just barely stopped by the failing shields.
"Shield coolant at 304! Diverting emergency supply!" Said the bridge officer manning the Kimara 's defensive systems.
The vessel is putting up more of a fight that anticipated, Overlord. Their energy shields absorb our blasts. Also, the other unauthorized hostile is unlocking and is moving to confront us.
Intensify the energy to the weapons to full power. Their technology is not able to withstand a single hit of that magnitude.
Acknowledged, Overlord. Configuring weapons.
A second triad of homing torpedoes closed in on the Quadrakin, but a last-minute maneuver saved them from receiving what they richly deserved. Then, the transport fired a single, glowing orb at it's enemy.
The blast stuck the Kimara amidships. Explosions tore through the vessel, as the attack had breached the torpedo bay that ran down the spine of the vessel. Rent asunder, the two halves of the ruined ship were thrown apart by the violence of the explosions. A well placed string of demolition charges could not have done a better job.
Finally, the reactor shielding was severed and with a final, mighty blast the EV Kimara was no more.
The Quadrakin turned around, cruising through the dissipating cloud of jetsam as it sized up the Nizar.
The second vessel is locking its weapon guidance onto us, Overlord.
Is the mechanical life-form aboard?
Open a communication to it.
Aboard the bridge of the Nizar , Marcus and his crew watched as the Evarian ship's commander barked at his crew, who clearly knew more about running the ship than their captain did.
"Commander, we are receiving an audio transmission from the aliens."
"Put it through."
"I speak as a representative of the Quadrakin, a powerful collective of beings that controls much of the space beyond this region of the galaxy that you individualists infest. We are a Transport ship and have no interest in you - we were sent to collect the mechanical Life-form that is aboard your ship."
The Evarian captain, unaware of Amy's nature - or simply lying - responded. "We don't have any 'mechanical life forms' here, and this shipwreck is in the outer space jurisdiction of Evar, of which I am an appointed representative. Leave this are, immediately."
"You must be truly unobservant, stupid even for a feebleminded individualist. Did you not see the ease with which our vessel destroyed your companion craft?"
"We've just received word that the confederation battleship Paladin is en route and will arrive in moments. I suggest you comply with my instructions if you value your lives!" The captain threatened. His boast was obvious even to his crew, and painfully so to his passengers. In truth, the Paladin was coming, but it was ten minutes away, even with its emergency power engaged.
"We both know that the battleship of which you speak is at some distance. It represents little threat to us now. Lower your shields and we will transfer the mechanical life-form peacefully."
"We don't got any mechanical life-forms!" Said the Evarian captain, insistent.
"Your skill at bluff is rather faulty. I would have expected better from a member of a crude, simple culture such as yours. Our scans show it on your bridge directly behind your position. Further attempt at deceit is foolish."
The Evarian aristocrat was fed up. "Cut off that transmission and fire at will!" He snapped at his bridge crew.
The Nizar launched a series of torpedoes at its adversary. They allowed the charges to come within a few dozen meters before destroying them easily.
Aim the weapons to disable the engines of the craft. Do not damage the mechanical life-form in its command center.
As you will, Overlord.
Maneuvering to avoid another cluster of torpedoes from the Nizar , the green transport swung around and fired at the Evarian ship. The white globes ricocheted off the shielding's rear edge.
"Commander, they're firing at our engines!" Reported a bridge officer.
Starfire 's crew watched from the rear of the bridge as the outmatched Nizar battled its opponent. Throughout the years that humanity had known the stars, never had a truly, all-out hostile alien species been found. Of the dozen-odd nonhuman species, none had really resisted the notion of a interstellar organization to provide mutual defense and aid. Even the Articians, who'd founded their own group of starfaring species, and who had been initially aggressive to their confederation neighbors, were now settling down to the reality that the two governments could live in something approximating peace.
The implications of a full war with the enemy with which they were now engaged were staggering. Granted, this was the galactic outback and an Evarian patrol ship, while considered formidable here, could not measure up to the ships of the cosmopolitan heart of the confederation. Nonetheless, The craft they battled had professed to be a mere transport. How could they stand up to an actual warship of this species?
"We've suffered a hit to our port engine! Our rear shields are out!" exclaimed an Evarian officer.
"But our backside has no shie..."
"Do as I say!"
The helmsman complied, turning the ship to flee from before the Quadrakin.
"Turn on the transmitter. I want to talk to them."
The Starfire 's crew waited to hear what the captain of the Nizar had to say to his opponent.
"This is the Nizar. We surrender and will turn over the mechanical life-form you claim we possess as per your request." He showed little remorse as he spoke. Marcus wondered whether he felt he was acting for the greater good or if he simply wanted to save his own skin.
"We had not expected such a logical decision from you. Perhaps the flawed individualist moral ethic is fading from your culture yet. There may be hope. Stand by to dock with us, Nizar. Bring the life-form to your air-lock and place it there alone."
"No!" said Marcus, loudly. The Evarian captain turned to him with a look of indignation.
"You aren't going to surrender one of my crew - my friends - to those aliens!" He said forcefully.
"This is my ship, and my responsibility is to keep it in one piece! Now, shut up and I'll do my job!"
"Evar is a confederate world, and the law says..."
"My responsibility is here and now and not...."
The argument was interrupted by the impatient Overlord.
"We see the backward ethics of your 'Confederation' are well at work in your passengers, however the battleship you mentioned draws ever closer and the situation needs tending. Please carry out your authority and bring..."
"You're not getting her!" Marcus said to the Overlord.
"Security to the bridge!" shouted the Evarian, his face white with rage. "I'll see the trade registration of your vessel revoked for this!" He bellowed.
"You know what? I don't care. I never really wanted a salvage vessel, or to be a captain, but I wouldn't give up a member of my crew to any slimy, colectivist monsters like you would! You don't give..."
" Nizar , my patience has worn thin and your ' Paladin ' is five minutes away. Please restrain this impertinent individual and place the life-form in the airlock now. It is the unconscious person near the reptilian."
"Just a moment, I'm doing it!" the Captain said.
Suddenly, two security officers came onto the bridge. The captain of the Nizar barked at one of them. "Take this man to the brig. And you, " - he said to the other, a rather large, strong man - "Take that person and put her in the airlock. We're not going to get shot up on the account of a droid!"
"Sir? The confederation legal..." The man objected, about to cite chapter and verse of the regulation prohibiting the surrender of crew or passengers to hostile forces.
"But..." He said again, unsure.
"I'm giving you an order! Do as I say!"
"Yes sir..." He said, moving towards Amy. He picked up the android rather awkwardly and proceeded off the bridge, fallowed by his companion who held Marcus at gunpoint.
The bridge of the CSS Paladin , a powerful stellar confederation warship equipped with both torpedoes and laser weapons rivaling those of the fallen Insidae itself, was strangely quiet. It's dedicated crew sat at their posts, monitoring the bioscreens with riveted intensity.
Only the humble beeping of computers was heard as it's captain stared ahead at the wide, thin bridge window that virtually encircled the heavily-shielded command pod.
A digitized voice broke the silence. "ETA 3 Minutes." Said the ship's computer, over the bridge's intercom.
"Raise the shields and charge the laser batteries." The captain ordered with supreme confidence - which was not entirely out of place.
"Aye captain." Responded a crewperson,
"Open a channel to the Kimara , secure frequency."
A few frustrated beeps came from the communications console when it's officer tried to raise the perished Kimara.
"Sir, the Kimara isn't responding."
"Then hail the Nizar." Said the captain, curious about what could have happened to the Evarian patrol ship.
The comm officer of the Paladin again input commands to the radio facilities.
"The Nizar is receiving."
"This is the Paladin. Nizar , is there still an alien threat in this area?" The captain asked.
"Yes, there is!" Said the frantic Nizar comm officer on the other side of the signal. "Our shields are down and the commander is turning over a passenger to the aliens to secure our release!" he continued.
"What? Patch me through to your commander at once!" Said the Paladin 's indignant captain.
"ETA 2 Minutes." The Paladin 's computer chirped. It's monotone voice was replaced with that of the Nizar 's captain.
"How soon will you be here?" He asked briskly to his counterpart on the battleship.
"Cease preparations to turn over any Confederation citizens to the aliens! That is a plain violation of regulations!"
"That is an order. Feign technical trouble and stall the aliens until we arrive. Paladin out!" The Paladin 's grey-haired captain turned to one of his officers.
"Boost engine power. Get there now!" "Aye sir, increasing engines to emergency power. Reading 403c."
"Updated ETA twenty seconds." Said the navigator.
Meanwhile, aboard the Quadrakin's vessel, the disembodied organic brains of the underling noted the change.
Overlord, the confederation battleship has increased its speed. It will arrive in seconds.
Our transport is not a match for it in open combat. Maneuver alongside the Nizar and engage the stealth screens around both us and it.
The lethal craft moved near it's victim, and both ships faded from view. Inside the Nizar , the situation was tense as the stars faded out of view behind the optical double-blind. Although the scanners still worked from the inside, simple light could not break free from the well of the photon screen.
"What now?" Asked the captain of it, irritated.
"The aliens have engaged their stealth field around us, sir."
"Sir, the Paladin reverted to realspace six hundred kilometers from here. It's closing rapidly on reaction drive."
"Can it see us?"
"No sir, we're beneath the stealth field."
"Activate the hyperspatial radio and signal the Paladin with our cords!"
"Aye sir!" Said an officer.
Overlord, the patrol ship has signaled our position to the Paladin !
The Overlord was annoyed by the development. If they left their position, they could not take the Nizar with them. If they stayed, they risked an attack. Before it could make a decision, it's underling fallowed up.
The battleship has focused a hyperspatial matrix scanner on our position, Overlord. They've locked their weapons on us.
I desire to communicate. Transmit to the Paladin .
The comm officer of the Paladin , seated in front of a wall covered in controls and displays, noted the incoming signal. "Signal from the aliens, captain."
"Put it on." responded the captain, feeling in near-complete control of the situation. The directed scan had pinpointed their adversary, and he was sure that the fact that the mighty warship's targeted batteries of weapons would give him an edge in any negotiations.
"This is a Quadrakin transport, sent to collect a mechanical life-form from the training facility we have established here. We do not desire to destroy any more craft here, and this can be avoided by the surrender of the said mechanical to us peacefully."
"I think not. You've wantonly destroyed the property of a world under the protection of the Confederation, and you are demanding the surrender of a citizen thereof. You will surrender immediately to us and disengage your cloaking fields that obscure the patrol ship you have been harassing." said the captain, ordering the aliens just as he would order one of his own subordinates.
"We acknowledge the current advantage of your vessel over ours, Paladin. However, should we will it, we could easily call for reinforcements..." Before the Overlord could finish the retaliation, the captain gave a gesture to tell his comm officer to end the transmission. "Laser batteries, commence fire on the alien vessel. Aim to destroy its crew facilities, I don't want a reactor breach with it so near the Nizar."
A dozen rays of red energy burst from the turrets of the Paladin and struck various parts of the Quadrakin ship. On board, the photon masker equipment catastrophically failed, bursting its cooling lines and showering parts of the ship in miasmatic coolant.
The transport's shields were under similar strain when a second round of fire hit, rupturing the protective field and vaporized pieces of the ship's skin. On the Nizar , the crew cheered at reappearance of the starts that signaled that the enemy was taking a beating. The reaction the the Quardrakin was less positive.
Open the transpatial rift. We will retreat and gather support.
It is too late, Overlord. The failure of the shields has damaged our sensors. We cannot open the rift.
Activate the self destruct. The transport must not fall into their hands. We will die for the greater good of the superorganism.
Your will be done, Overlord.
The scuttling explosives of the transport did their job quickly, consuming it in a percisely-sculpted ball of fire that obliterated the reactor without a full core explosion. Not even the teeniest piece of debris escaped the annihilation, and when the fulmination subsided, nothing remained of the green vessel.
Many light-years away, through the transpatial rift that had brought the transport to the Insidae, the High Overlord registered the destruction of one of its craft. Mercifully, it felt it was too occupied with other threats to the collective, and did not send a warship to avenge the offense, or the disruption of the training activities. The confederation, for now, was too trivial to bother with - unless they discovered the rift, they could not even reach out to strike the Quadrakin on their territory. They were safe from the individualist disease, for now.
The engineering facilities aboard the CSS Paladin , while geared towards the repair of the ship's equipment, would suffice for recalibrating Amy's malfunctioning subsentient computer system. Once Jules had determined that the android's abrupt unconsciousness could be corrected by something as simple - at least in theory - as a reboot, his concern over the matter had been alleviated considerably.
"Hand me the polycon, please." The engineer said, addressing the Paladin 's computer system director, a short, furry humanoid with four arms named Takner.The director passed the requested instrument, which Jules then connected to the cluster of diagnostic devices attached to the android's primary data port.
When one was about to do a hard restart on such a complex computer system, it paid to take all possible precautions to ease to shock to the synthetic neural net that a sudden powerdown would bring. The engineer pressed a few controls on the Polycon and observed the results on the pop-up screen of the device.
"I think we're ready. Cut off primary power to the sentient computer grid." He said.
The tech director did so, activating a control on the ratioclinitive computer system attached to Amy.
"The neural net is off line." Takner said, parroting the words on the computer's screen.
"Allright, let's run a type seven node analysis."
"Okay, but this old comp will take about five minutes to do it..." Said the Paladin 's computer guru, gesturing to the cable encrusted machine linked up with the android.
As the machine busied itself checking the clusters of virtual neurons and their connections for flaws and discrepancies, Marcus Carey walked into the room. "Hi Jules." he said to his engineer.
"We just got her shut down, we're running a diagnostic check. We should be done here in about half an hour, assuming that Takner and I don't have to clean up this equipment ourselves."
Takner gave a short grunting laugh. "I'll send one of my assistants to do it. They've had it easy so far this month - no major electronic system has failed yet!"
"Under your expect guidance, no doubt." said Marcus, grateful to the being for allowing Jules to make use of the facility to cure Amy.
"How did ol' captain maladroit from the Nizar take his meeting with the Paladin 's regulations officer?" asked Jules, as he keyed some orders to the computer.
"I didn't see him, but the Paladin 's captain says that our merchant status and salvage vessel license in the Confederation are safe. He's even nominated us for some kind of commendation for dealing with the Quadrakin Overlords on the ship." said Marcus, plainly happy with the outcome.
"How about Starfire?" Jules asked.
"They've got it in the primary docking bay. It's in good shape, we can leave whenever we want, but the captain doesn't mind if we hitch a ride with the Paladin to their destination on Akarn."
"The diagnostic's at 50% completion. It looks like the old system hasn't had to stop to fix anything yet..." said Takner, who'd never noticed the change in the topic of discussion.
"Who's going to get the Insidae Salvage?" Jules wondered aloud.
"Dunno. The captain said the Articians would have a fit if he let a civilian salvage vessel haul away the Insidae as scrap - they'll probably want it back to be recommissioned and overhauled. He says the other vessels have been claimed by the Evarian Space Authority, but we'll be 'compensated' for our efforts, whatever that means from the confederation."
"Well, this could have turned out a lot worse." said the engineer, focusing on the positive.
"Yeah. I give you that. I'll be with Amara and Chikar in the lounge. Meet us there with Amy when you're done."
"I've got no problem with that order, captain." he said, as the computer signaled with a melodious ding that it had completed the analysis uneventfully.
Just as Marcus turned to leave, the engineer arrested his attention with another query.
"Oh - one more thing - what happened to the puppet crew when the Overlords died?"
"They're very confused, but they're sane again. It seems that it's only when the Overlords were there to transmit control signals that the separation agents effected people. The medical officer says that Chikar's physiology gained a resistance to the agents quickly, so he wasn't effected indefinitely, and these people will sooner or later build up a resistance to future mind-control signals in the same way."
"Okay. See you at the ship's lounge."
Jules returned his work to restarting his assistant, and looked forward to some well-deserved relaxation.
(This message has been edited by moderator (edited 06-12-2003).)
(This message has been edited by Bryce (edited 07-03-2004).)