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[AP] PRODIGAL SON, A Rogue's Tale - Book II
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Zaitsev





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PostPosted: Tue, 23. May 17, 17:16    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Triaxx2 wrote:
I preferred Wheel of Time when it came to my huge fantasy series. Our author DIED and finished first.


I thought the idea was to finish, then die. Razz


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Triaxx2





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PostPosted: Tue, 23. May 17, 22:33    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

I admit, Chronology was never quite his strong suit. Very Happy


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drago6667





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PostPosted: Thu, 1. Jun 17, 06:53    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Well I have just finished rereading the whole tale once again, and now have the sad fate of waiting on the next update Sad
On the bright side i guess this means i can go back to my AP game that i put on hold to catch up. Smile
hmmmm I'm going to have to go see how many terren ships i can take out in one sitting Very Happy
Also i am eagerly awaiting Drakes response to some of the main plots, like when the argon force you into a bloody M5 to spy for them.

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Triaxx2





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PostPosted: Thu, 1. Jun 17, 13:06    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Welcome to the club, we have nice chairs to sit in. Assuming we can find them. I think Nathancros sold them.


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Nathancros





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PostPosted: Thu, 1. Jun 17, 18:06    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Triaxx2 wrote:
Welcome to the club, we have nice chairs to sit in. Assuming we can find them. I think Nathancros sold them.



Yeeea... i sold them for some energy cells, seemed like a good trade! Dont worry! i can then trade the energy cells for an m5 and go hunting for Drakhar so i can pirate the next episode!


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Zaitsev





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PostPosted: Fri, 2. Jun 17, 05:51    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Nathancros the chair pirate?

That didn't give me weird mental images at all ...


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Triaxx2





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PostPosted: Sat, 3. Jun 17, 13:38    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Clearly a member of the Chair Force. Disco call sign: Chair Force One.


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Zaitsev





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PostPosted: Sat, 3. Jun 17, 19:18    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Triaxx2 wrote:
Clearly a member of the Chair Force. Disco call sign: Chair Force One.


Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing

I think you just became my favorite smartass as well. Very Happy

Hm, does that mean I have to fight Scion for you? Or can we share? Is there enough Triaxx2 to go around? Confused Thinking


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Triaxx2





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PostPosted: Sun, 4. Jun 17, 01:51    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

No worries, there's a lot more where this came from. Very Happy


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Zaitsev





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PostPosted: Sun, 4. Jun 17, 05:44    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Triaxx2 wrote:
No worries, there's a lot more where this came from. Very Happy


Squeeeeee! Thumb up Mr. Green Thumb up


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Nathancros





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PostPosted: Wed, 7. Jun 17, 05:43    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Triaxx2 wrote:
Disco call sign: Chair Force One.



Damnit! my master plan! My Alias! MY SECRET IDENTITY HAS BEEN REVEALED!


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Triaxx2





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PostPosted: Wed, 7. Jun 17, 18:03    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Worry not, I shall save you! *flies away in helicopter chair*


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Nathancros





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PostPosted: Thu, 8. Jun 17, 11:39    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Triaxx2 wrote:
Worry not, I shall save you! *flies away in helicopter chair*



as long as its not a helicopter OFFICE chair


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Triaxx2





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PostPosted: Thu, 8. Jun 17, 12:52    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Of course it's an office chair, how else do you get a helicopter chair than to have the legs spin really fast?


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Scion Drakhar



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PostPosted: Fri, 16. Jun 17, 21:43    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

85. Fire and Brimstone

Commander Ea't s'Quid of the Drakhar Enterprises Military, Captain of the Osan'gar, Scion of Family Goto, Imperator of Family Rhonkar, Scourge of the Boron Colonies, High Priest of the Hidden Temple, Grand Master of the Jatra and Stone Fist... not to mention Pirate extraordinaire... leaned against the bulkhead behind him and waited for the screaming to stop. On sane ships this security booth would have been used by the ship's crew or marine force to monitor for concerns like... well, like him he supposed. It would let the watch coordinate with other stations to fight fires, put down mutinies, and defend the ship from boarding parties. The Brimstone, however, was not a sane ship and the booth behind him was occupied not by competent, alert marines who carried death in their pockets but by two cretins without the sense to even turn off the lights before using the security monitors to watch a porno and play pocket pool. Currently the pair of them were busy burning to death.

'Slowly,' Ea't huffed impatiently. He glanced down at the empty space on his belt where his last gel cartridge had been and made a small plaintive noise in his nasal passages. Then he shrugged. The flamethrower had been fun while it lasted and the empties had made fantastic incendiary grenades when tossed into a group and shot... as the Yaki screaming several paces beyond the hatch could attest to. There were a pair of thuds in the booth as both of his victims hit the deck. 'Or perhaps not,' he shrugged. Either way he would need to find a new way to sew terror in the ranks of his enemies.

A moment later Ea't opened the hatch to the security booth. He then promptly winced as the flames found fresh oxygen and flared toward him with a whoosh! and gust of wind. A moment later it died back down and Ea't stepped through the hatch, squinting his eyes against the heat. A rack of instructional manuals on the desk, several piles of clothing, both of the chairs, and several melted lumps on the desk were still burning... along with the bodies of the two unfortunate occupants. He stepped toward the terminal and heard a gurgling cough beside his left boot. Without so much as a single glance downward he drew his left-hand pistol and fired twice. The Yaki who'd failed to burn to death twitched in his peripheral vision and then lay still. Ea't dropped the phase pistol back in its holster and then used the computer on his wrist to access the ship's network.

The security terminal was still unlocked thanks to the presence of the cyberware in one of roasted corpses at his feet. Using a version of the software that H'nt and Legion had provided Ea't quickly accessed the ship's network, uploaded his own copy of the mutating cyberwarfare virus with instructions to randomly shut off cameras in branching pathways leading away from his current location in order to create false trails. Then he accessed the ship's schematics and ran a trace program looking for one very specific compartment. It was easy to find. Unfortunately it was on the other side of several kilometers worth of Yaki infested carrier... and Ea't had no intention of crawling through jefferies tubes. Being done with the security terminal he shot it twice to destroy the local memory and prevent any curious eyes from discovering his destination. Then he turned to leave the booth. One or both of the Yaki had soiled themselves while dying and where the cooked flesh smelled appetizing the fecal matter did not. Just as he was stepping toward the hatch, however, he noticed the small arms locker on the back wall. Curious to see what t'Chk's "security" guards armed themselves with he quickly hacked the lock and opened the locker. At which point the mighty Split warrior began to grin.

Plasma grenades were always so much fun.

He collected what he could carry and then left the booth. The smell of incontinence mixed with cooking meat was starting to create contradictory and somewhat confusing associations. A moment later he was back in the corridor and following it toward the bow of the ship. Despite a large number of Yaki in the corridors it was actually fairly easy to move unhindered. The crew, if these barely sentient dregs could be called such a thing, were little more than feral animals. None challenged him. None stopped him. In fact most scurried out of sight the instant they saw him coming, slinking back into the shadows like the scavengers they'd been reduced to.

It occurred to Ea't then that S'jar t'Chk may not be the threat that Drake thought he was. The man already seemed to be in the process of self destructing. Just a few jazura ago S'jar t'Chk ran a tight ship. His crew had been wild, to be sure, but they were competent in their own way. Here and now, though, this crew was barely a mob. The majority of them were undisciplined, drugged, confused, and, in many cases, at least half mad. He supposed that to t'Chk the allure of that was that in this state they were easy to manipulate. Fire them up with speeches and rhetoric and then t'Chk could point them in any direction he wanted. "Drake is your enemy! Ea't is your enemy! The other clans are your enemy! Hygiene is your enemy!" and as soon as anyone came up with coherent questions or objections all the silly bastard had to do was hide behind more theatrics and misdirection. If he threw up some nonsense and created enough psychic chaff he could deflect any intelligent inquiry while continuing to stoke the fire of the mob. All he had to do was keep providing for their wants and desires and these poor bastards would follow him straight into hell. "Have some music! Have some games! Have some slaves! We have food! And drugs! Just be ready to fight when I tell you!" Yet all it took was one glance down the stinking, barely lit corridors of this once glorious ship to see what the absence of a thinking, coherent crew was costing him. Both t'Chk's crew and the flagship entrusted to them were dying from neglect.

In fact, as he moved through the ship, Ea't's only real concern was that a group of these half sentient scavs would get the notion that he had something worth stealing and try to rob him, which would be an annoyance. It would force him to waste time murdering them. So when he saw an isolated Yaki wrapped in a blanket he decided upon a disguise. A quick blow to the nape of the neck dropped the wretch and Ea't promptly collected the blanket from the now unconscious and possibly crippled Yaki. He threw the blanket over his head and shoulders to disguise his face, clothing and shape. An instant later he looked like just another of S'jar t'Chk's lunatic crewmen. Afterward, whenever he noticed anyone paying attention to him, he'd just stagger and weave as if he was deep in his cups; a state he was intimately familiar with, for it was always better to be drunk than dead.

After several mizura he found what he was looking for: a galley. He smelled it from fifty meters down the corridor and immediately rolled his eyes. Someone was cooking rat... and using too much pepper. Ea't stumbled the last few steps to the hatch because it was open and he wanted his enemies to underestimate him. He needed the kitchen intact, after all, which meant getting up close and personal instead of using one of his new-found grenades. Besides, he had plans for those. As he stumbled through the hatch he saw six Yaki, two of them human, two of them Split, and two of them Teladi, all watching a seventh and eighth, both human, arguing over a large kettle. One of the Teladi noticed him immediately and promptly hissed from the back of her throat, an expression Ea't imagined would be truly disconcerting were one a small child.

"Go-way!" she snapped at him. "Not for you!"

One of the Split turned to look at him and Ea't raised a hand toward the kettle as if he were just one more hungry animal. He then stumbled, shuffling two steps deeper into the compartment. The Split's mouth formed a grim line and he huffed as he got to his feet, unconsciously signing with his left hand, 'Dro'chek.' In galactic common the insult was roughly translated as 'scum' but when translated literally it meant 'one without honor' and, if said by one Split to another, was nearly always followed by the death of one of them. Ea't had already decided that one of them would most certainly die and had elected the other for the purpose. Then, near the kitchen, one of the humans noticed him.

"Aw shite, Tizz!" the man complained. Humans, Ea't had frequently noted, were excellent complainers. They were capable of complaining about nearly anything. Even Drake, who was more Split than human as far as Ea't was concerned, was superbly gifted in this regard. This particular human was glaring at the Teladi that had just hissed at him. "Ye left the gods-be-damned hatch open, ye stupid lizard!" he cursed at her.

"I did no sssuch thing!" the Teladi hissed back.

"Now all the lurkers're gonna wanner taste... and A'im not sharin'!" the human snarled at her.

The Teladi pointed at the Split moving toward Ea't. "Twasss mussscleboy Ssstunt left hatch open! Not I!"

The human rolled his eyes, shook his head and then, apparently convinced the Split would deal with the intruder, turned back to the stew on the stove. Just then the Split, unfortunately named 'muscleboy Stunt', stepped into arm's reach of Ea't. Ea't looked up and met the other Split's eyes. In that instant Stunt saw through Ea't's deception. By then, however, it was already far too late.

********

Veticus Braun, S'jar t'Chk's Master at Arms, whom his subordinates simply called 'Master-Arms' and Latasha Seldon called 'Pointy-Teeth', groaned. He blinked, returning from darkness into a stunned delirium. The first thing he was aware of was that it was hard to breathe. The second was the weight on top of him. The third was the sound of a communications peon calling for his attention through the radio in his ear. Braun squirmed around beneath the weight to get some leverage but it was difficult. Whatever he was lying on was soft and slippery, as was what was above him. After several moments he was able to get his hands under the weight on top of him. It was hard to draw a breath beneath that weight but he managed. Then he began to push. The effort was immense, and he began to roar as he made it. After nearly a sezura he felt the weight shift above him. When it did he saw the firelight, and remembered where he was and realized what was on top of him. He was buried within a mountain of corpses.

With that understanding he began to scream and thrash about. His efforts became frantic and furious. Soon the pile shifted above him. A moment later he groaned at a sudden new weight on top of him, and saw hands in the firelight above him. "A live one! " he heard several voices above him. "Get him out! Dig him out!" Meanwhile the voice of the communications peon continued droning on in his ear. "Bridgeworks to Master-Arms. Come IN Master-Arms. This is Bridgeworks to Master-Arms, Braun. Respond if you please... or if you don't."

A moment later the body directly on top of him was hauled away and he saw half a dozen faces looking down at him. They were painted white and black and stared at him with wild eyes and bewildered expressions. 'Knuckleboys,' Braun snarled to himself as they hauled him out of the pile and began patting him down. He didn't know if they were searching him for weapons, injuries or just trying to reassure him that all was well. He suspected that they didn't either. After several deep breaths he shoved the largest away from him and then backhanded the smallest, who was trying to steal something shiny from his belt. "Away ye! Ye glaikit black basturds!"

"Master-Arms?" over the comm.

"And yiuuh!" he snarled at the communications peon. "Shut ye're hoo'el and get Fat Jack 'fore ah crem that squawker up yer arse!" As he spoke he bared his teeth at the knuckleboys, who cowered satisfactorily. Then he swept his eyes around the Pitt. As he did his lips slowly covered his teeth again. Surveying the devastion the same thought went through his mind that plagued S'jar t'Chk a few mizura earlier. 'How?' he wondered. How had seven toonsie newboys managed to inflict such harm? Everywhere he looked he saw death and fire. The deck where they'd been standing formed a perfect circle of clean amidst a great swath of blackened, charred, warped and smoldering deck plates. And around that was a circle of blood and bone and meat piled into mountains that, in some places, were higher than he was tall. It was in this ring, this pile of meat, that he'd been trapped and knocked unconscious. He quickly looked down and touched his armor, realizing that it had probably saved him from being crushed to death.

"Hulloo?" a slimy and overly pleasant voice oozed in his ear.

"Fat-Jack!" he barked.

"I am!" the voice replied, sounding pleasantly surprised.

"Ah am Master-Arms Braun! Gaive me the sitch!"

"The situation," Fat Jack bubbled in wrote reply, "is that we are about to crush Drakey-Boy and his Phantoms, claim his great factories for our Lord and..."

"Oi!" Braun barked. "Stap yer haverin' 'n tell me what I daenno! Wur is thaet peedy knob and 'is mooscleboys?!"

"Err..." Fat Jack hesitated, and Braun knew he was looking around for someone to tell him what to say. Braun was happy to oblige.

"Listen here, ye great nearsighted dangleberry! Ahm Master-Arms of thaes here ship 'nd A need to know where that bae is! So ye'll tell me, ye bloody knob-milker, or ah'll soon see ye on the bridgeworks 'to rip the studs from yer dangle and diddies!"

"Oooh," Fat Jack shuddered, "that would hurt!"

"A'course it'd hurt, ye great bulbous minge! That's why they caull'et a thrayet! Now taell me!"

"I suppose," Fat Jack relented, "if you insist... but I'm supposed to...?"

"I do insist, ye bloody eejit! Now taell me 'fore I BURST A VAESSEL!"

"Well..." Fat Jack oozed, "...we-uhmm... dunnowhereheis. Are you sure I shouldn't...?"

"Jings!" Braun scoffed. "D'ye not ken wot ahm sayin' t'ye?! I need to know where Drakey-Bae is, ye daft bastard! The bae and his goons are loose 'ere on our shaip! They cud be aenywur! They cud do aenything! D'ye underSTAN' that?!"

"Err... yes? I do... but... we-uh... we don't know... err... where Drakey-Boy is and...uhmm... I'm supposed to get a status re...?"

"Whut the hael d'ye...?!" Braun shook his head angrily. Why the hell was everyone on this goddamned ship so bloody useless?! He took a breath and rubbed his temples, which were throbbing. "Never ye mine. Put on Sparky... and dinnae ask me n'more questions! Ah've aw'reedy half a mine t'layther ye th'next time ah lay eens on ye!"

"Connecting you to... Sparky." Braun scoffed and rolled his eyes. He knew right that then the daft idiot was grinning ear to ear because he was able to do something for Braun that wasn't likely to get him in trouble.

'Daft facker,' Braun snarled.

"Oi!" Sparky's high pitched voice rang in his ear like a whistle. "What the hell is it now?! Don't you know I'm workin'?!"

"Ye better be, ye lil jobby," Braun replied. "Or A'll gut ye and peel ye like a fish."

"Master-Arms Braun!" Sparky replied, his tone full of false cheer. "You're not dead! How wonderful." The tone fell off into something sarcastic and dismal.

"Aye," Braun replied wearily, looking at the blood and meat of hundreds of corpses around him. "Jus' grinde. Now taell me where is Drakey-Bae so A kin gayt aboot whallopin' the clootie."

"I can't," Sparky told him and Braun heard both the anger and the frustration in the boy's voice. Sparky was not yet eighteen jazuras old but smarter than just about everyone else on the ship, a fact the boy was both aware of and might have been willing to trade for a few more kilos of body mass. Most of the time, though, Sparky was good at what he did, and Braun rarely had to cuff him about the ears.

Rarely.

"Whut the bloody hael d'ye mean ye cayn't?!" Braun bellowed. "D'ye ken what's happenin' here, Sparky?! This bloody ship is ainder attack! So I need ye to use yair bloody 'pooter and yair bloody camers and fine me that scabby knob fore he 'nd his baes taek this ship an' kael us aw!"

"I know!" Sparky screeched at him. "Trust me, Braun! I know!" His tone let Braun know that Sparky, at least, was on the job and nearly as frustrated as he was. "But we don't have the camers!"

"What the hael d'ye mean we don' have the camers?!"

"I mean we don't have the camers, Braun! They're dark an' quiet! They ain't talkin'! Get me?!"

Braun blinked. He didn't know how that could be. "But cain't'ye fix 'em?"

"I can and have been, Braun!" Sparky shouted at him. "But the toonsers put something into the net and now she's all tangled and..."

Braun waited half a sezura before losing his patience. "Aind what, ye facker?!"

"It's learning!" Sparky shouted back. "I think it's an ayjee eye, Braun! I think they uploaded a bleedin' ayjee eye into the ship! It's learnin' our systems and it's fightin' me! I gain access to a camer and fore long this thing takes it away again!"

Braun shook his head. He didn't know what an 'ayjee eye' was but was pretty sure the Xenon had them. "Are ye tae'lin' me they brought a bleedin' Xenon onto thays here shaip?!" he asked, not entirely sure how that was possible, but wondered if blowing up the tenjin they arrived on might be a way to fix it.

"No," Sparky told him. "At least... err... I don't think so. But this thing, Braun! It's smarter than I am! I'm gonna'ave to shut down the whole ship to be rid of it!"

"Shut down the SHIP?! Whut?! Ye mean like...?!"

"Aye, Braun! Everything!" Sparky whined at him. "Every system! Every 'pooter on the net! Then we'll 'ave to leave 'em off fer awhile to purge all the short memory fore we re-boot from the matrix."

"A'daenno what any'a that means but ye make shoour t'tell me 'fore ye go shuttin' off the bloody air, ye jobby! Aw'rite?!"

"Aye," Sparky assured him, sounding tired and annoyed. "I will. But for now, I think I have a lead for you."

"Ye better go aheed 'n explain yerself, bae!"

"I don't have the cameras but I do have radio," Sparky told him. "Some, anyhow. A patrol missed their check-in, Braun, and they're just a few frames forward from you!"

"Why dinnae ye tell me so b'fore, damn ye?!"

"I'm telling you now, Braun!" Sparky whined at him. "I'm telling you now!"

"Thaen tael me already!"

"The lower galley," Sparky provided. "I tried to get Fat Jack to call them but..."

"Ee's a useless bawbag," Braun provided. "Aye, Anno."

"I tried calling them myself but no one's answerin' my hails. It's the first galley forward of the Pitt and if the toonsies mean to either take this ship or hunt the Clan Leader then they're heading forward."

"Aye," Braun told him, nodding. "Aet's a scaent ta'follow at least. Gud bae, Sparky. Now get these damn hatches open 'fore A lose my taemper and layther ye to git et back!" He heard Sparky mutter something under his breath then turned and looked at all the muscle and knuckle boys and girls gathering around him. They were all trembling and their eyes were both pinned and unfocused. They were so pumped full of drugs that they needed to fight or frak just to avoid exploding all over anything nearby. Many were snarling at the man or woman next to them while rubbing their crotches absentmindedly. He bared his chromed teeth and nodded to himself. "'Urry up, laddie! A 'ave quite a few hoonds itchin' fer a haint and A think Ah'd like to let 'em off their laids 'fore they aet mae!"

"I'm workin' on it!" Sparky whined at him. "Jeez!"

Braun chuckled. Pushing Sparky's buttons was always grand entertainment.

********

S'jar t'Chk snarled as he stepped on to the Brimstone's bridge. The night was not progressing the way he'd envisioned it. There were a great many holes in his back and they all hurt rather quite a lot. Every time he moved, turned, twisted, even when he just breathed the tears in his skin seemed to burn and hiss as if someone were rubbing lemon juice into the wounds. And as bad as they stung now he knew that later, after his blood had slowed and his body got tired, those injuries would ache and itch and burn enough to drive him mad. Worse still, he had this queezy feeling in his guts like he was about to lose his lunch and was still sane enough to know that it was caused by fear. Before leaving the medical station he'd taken advantage of the head, and while taking a piss he noticed that he couldn't aim. The stream of his piss shook and wobbled so badly that he left a mess for someone else to clean up. It took him several moments to realize that it was because his hands were shaking; something that hadn't happened since the last time he'd seen his father. Consequently he was feeling rather... irritable.

"Well?!" he demanded, causing every head on the bridge to immediately glance in his direction. The expression on his face, however, caused them all to turn rapidly back to the terminals and workstations they'd just looked up from. T'Chk hissed as he moved toward his chair. "Oh NO!" he ridiculed them. "Don't all talk at once! I don't know if I can keep up!" Every head remained bowed over their work. At which point he hissed again as he sat down on the edge of his chair, where he was forced to sit on the edge of it and lean forward to spare his back. When he was done the bridge was still quiet. "Will somebody puh-LEASE give me a situation report?!"

Fat Jack turned to face him. The flesh of the man's neck was so fat and bulging that his head seemed to twist atop an oozing pillow. "All of the clans have arrived, mi'lord," Jack told him. As always, the man's voice reminded t'Chk of the bubbles in a water cooler. 'Buh-loop! Buh-loop!' "Their captains await your command."

'I'll bet they do,' he thought sourly. 'Each and every one of them is going to try and use this opportunity to extort more from me.' He glanced up at the sector map. Every last one of the other clans was represented. Even Mary Anne had joined them, which was something he had neither counted on nor expected. 'Well,' he thought, 'at least I'll be able to play them against each other.' He'd make bigger promises if he had to. He had no intention of keeping any of them anyway. Once Drake's nukes were in his possession he'd be reevaluating ALL of his commitments. Which brought him back to the present.

"And Drake?" he asked through bared teeth, already seething at the expected answer. "Tell me he's dead, will you? It would just make my night."

"Err... he's dead?" Fat Jack smiled, looking very unsure of himself.

S'jar t'Chk rolled his eyes. "Is he dead?!" he snapped. "Or are you just that much of a moron?!"

"Uhmm... I... dunno, mi'lord." Fat Jack bowed his head with the admition.

S'jar t'Chk shook his head. He wasn't sure if wanted to kill someone or get his dick sucked but he wanted one or the other really badly. "Get me Sparky," he whispered. Several meters away Fat Jack's sallow, already unhealthy color paled until he looked like a giant, rotting corpse.

"Y-yes, mi'lord."

Several moments later a holoscreen flickered to life beside the sector map. "OI!" Sparky barked, high and reedy, as he looked up. The boy was small. Face to face the top of his head barely reached t'Chk's nose, and the boy was painfully thin on top of that, with bony arms and shoulders, and ribs clearly visible through his skin. When he looked up t'Chk saw the recognition, followed by a bolt of pure terror that the kid quickly concealed behind bravado. "Clan leader!" he said with a smile.

S'jar t'Chk leaned forward and leared at him. "Sparky," he crooned, soft but intense, "tell me where Drakey-Boy is."

The kid went pale. "I-I can't, Clan Leader..." he said with a very pale smile. At t'Chk's expression he quickly explained. "All I've got is guesses! The camers are all dark! They... Drakey Boy 'n his crew, I mean ta' say... they put something in the net. Something that's been taking over. I'm fighting it best I can, Clan Leader but..."

S'jar t'Chk felt cold. Sparky's words echoed in his mind, '...they put something in the net.' S'jar t'Chk bared his clenched teeth and breathed through them. 'That little shit,' he screamed within his own mind, 'infected my ship?!'

On screen Sparky paled at his expression. "... it's fearfully smart, bossman," he told his lord, not helping S'jar t'Chk's mood at all. "It's darkened the camers. Hatches won't open. Or do when we don't want 'em to. I'm wrestlin' with it sumthin' epic, Bossman... but... err...?"

S'jar t'Chk tilted his head to the side. "But?" he asked, soft and dangerous.

"But well...," Sparky bared his teeth in a wan smile, "we've still got radio!"

"Radio?" S'jar t'Chk echoed. "Well that's good," he said, using a tone that said it was anything but.

"Actually, bossman," Sparky trembled a little. "It might be. You see I don't have their radio but I do have ours. So..." t'Chk saw the boy review what he was about to say and start to panic. The boy's eyes rolled wildly as his mind searched for a way out. Then Sparky focused on his clan leader again. "Well," he shrugged, "we know where our people are... and-ah... were they should be but... uhmm... aren't."

S'jar t'Chk stared at the boy a moment and then nodded. "But aren't?" he echoed and then nodded. "Ah... I see. Your saying that we know where Drake is headed because of the patrols he's killed?"

Sparky smiled desperately and shrugged. "Yes?"

"Is anyone doing anything about it?" t'Chk asked softly.

"Aye, bossman!" Sparky assured him. "Master-Arms Braun has a lot of knuckle and muscleboys from the pitt and he's on the hunt!"

"Oh!" S'jar t'Chk said cheerfully. 'So there is some good news!' "Good work, Sparky! Keep me informed."

"Aye, m'lord!" Sparky nodded, obviously relieved. "Of course!"

T'Chk drew his hand across his throat to tell Fat Jack to sever comms... but nothing happened. T'Chk turned to glare at his communications minion and found the fat man staring out into space and humming contentedly to himself. "JACK!" he roared, making his minion jump in his chair.

"Yes m'lor..."

"I'm done talking to Sparky!" S'jar t'Chk snapped. "Now I need to talk to Abanckusset so I can tell him to begin the attack! You aren't too busy to help me with that," his voice changed dangerously, becoming deep, soft and quiet, "are you?"

"Uhm... no m'lord!" Fat Jack assured him ad inside his head t'Chk actually saw the bubbles rising in a big plastic bottle. 'Buh-loop!' He rolled his eyes with exasperation. Good help was sooo hard to find.

********

Thane's feet hurt. He'd been pacing for hours. He'd been pacing for so long that his dogs had stopped following him and just lay down to watch instead. His feet hurt. His knees and back hurt and his mind was on fire. He paced with his head down, his hands clasped behind his back and his teeth grinding beneath his beard. He paced to settle his thoughts and appease his doubts. It wasn't working, but standing still was worse. So he paced.

When the Predator jumped into Weaver's Tempest he stopped for a time and watched the wall of images above him. The sector map of Weaver's Tempest was displayed on one of the three story windows overlooking his apartment. Flanking either side of it were camera feeds from an agent he'd placed on one of the incendiary bomb launcher forges in Weaver's Tempest. The woman was one of his better people and understood what she was watching for. So when the Predator flashed into existence in the shadow of the boy's great complex one of her two long range cameras immediately zoomed in on it before pulling back and giving him a wide angle image again. Through it he could barely make out the Predator, like a sliver of darkness at rest among half a dozen more frigates. He could see the Necromancer, and the boy's two new Panthers, as well as the boy's two missile frigates, a minotaur and stolen Cobra prototype that he was just sure the Split government would like to recover. They were all arrayed to face a threat coming from the north where, through the other feed, he could see the Brimstone and Demon lumbering about near the sector's only gate. Yet for a time nothing happened and Thane grew restless again. His thoughts began tumbling about in his mind again and he resumed his pacing to expend the nervous energy.

The questions and arguments within his mind reminded him of the Oroborous, a dragon eating its own tail. They were an endless loop, and the longer they played out in his mind the more the doubts and fears ate at his guts like acid. How had he become so invested in this boy? Would Drake prevail tonight or would Thane have to act against another clan leader? How had this one young man brought so much chaos and upset with him? Had the threats existed before Drake? Or had the boy created them? Drakhar attacked the Terrans. Had he instigated the war? Gil Jerigan was the boy's stepfather and there was some very bad blood between the two. Would the Terrans be using the Guild if Drake hadn't been there for Jerigan to use as a bargaining chip? Would the current problems even exist if the boy had not? After a mizura or so the screen above him zoomed in and locked onto a tenjin that had just launched from the Necromancer. For a moment he stopped pacing again. But the trip from the Necromancer to the Brimstone was nearly a hundred kilometers and the tenjin was not approaching at attack speed. So before long Thane lowered his head, expelled his breath, and began pacing again.

Objectively, logically, Thane could see that most of the problems the Yaki currently faced would exist with or without Drake. Saya Kho would still have blown up the Earth Torus and thus GEOSS would still have invaded the commonwealth. At least he thought so. Huritas would still be a ruthless, ambitious, backstabbing witch who enjoyed the suffering of others. Which meant she'd still have used any and every opportunity available to her to sieze more power, including the instability caused by the war. But then there were problems that were a direct result of the boy's actions. Drake had built a complex in Weaver's Tempest that had completely upset the balance of power within the clans, and all of the clan leaders knew it. The boy was both famous and relatively unknown. Which meant that those clan leaders were now salivating at the prospect of taking that complex, and all the weapons it produced, from a man they percieved as little more than a boy. They were laying plans, hatching schemes, and now gathering their forces in Weaver's Tempest with every intention of seizing that complex for themselves. They'd fight over it like scavengers with a carcass even if it meant tearing the Yaki apart in the process. And all the while Thane knew the Terrans were watching from the shadows, moving in secret, buying betrayal and disloyalty with money, tech and promises as they worked to consolodate the Yaki under leadership that they controlled, to use and direct as they saw fit. Well armed and well supplied pirates hitting supply lines and military convoys would be a nice easy way to hurt the commonwealth war effort, wouldn't it?

Thane paced until the Tenjin moved into a landing approach with the Brimstone. At which point he stopped to watch, waiting to see if the Brimstone would fire upon the boy. It would be a relatively quick death for all aboard, and a quick solution to the problem t'Chk planned to present to the council. But it would also give Thane the ability to accuse him of firing upon an important Yaki. At the moment, in the eyes of the law, Drake still had rights. As the owner of three complexes and a fleet of ships, and as a business partner to both Thane and Gorda the boy actually had fairly high standing. Which meant Thane's accusations would have weight and t'Chk wouldn't be able to simply dismiss them. He'd wiggle his way free, of course, especially since he'd been stacking the deck in his favor for several mazura. But it would be cumbersome and, more importantly, prevent him from laying claim to the boy's stations. So Thane watched as Drake's tenjin flew into the Brimstone's shadow and disappeared. Amazingly he felt a small pang of guilt as the boy's ship disappeared behind t'Chk's shuri. He was responsible for putting the idea in the lad's head after all. If t'Chk killed him or, worse, tortured the boy to death, was he not responsible?

Thaned huffed heavily to clear his nerves. It was forceful enough to make Duke 'Woof! back at him, and then lick his chops in embarassment when Thane turned his way. Thane smiled. He couldn't imagine life without his dogs. As if on cue Maggie and Duke leapt up to trot over to him, looking up with soulful eyes and wiggling rumps. A moment later Fred joined them and finally Mickey. The puppy remained laying down and only looked nervously in his direction, as if wondering if he was doing something wrong, then lay his chin back on his paws.

"Aye," Thane snorted, "but I bet if I was that boy you'd be on your feet, wouldn't you?" he asked. Max perked his ears and looked his way but otherwise didn't budge. Thane rolled his eyes and hunkered down to let the rest of his dogs comfort him.

That complex was a powderkeg. Regardless of whether S'jar t'Chk killed or captured the boy or the boy killed or captured S'jar t'Chk that complex would remain and it would be the center and subject of scemes and plots from this moment on. Thanks to t'Chk the other clan leaders were paying attention to it. They now understood the power the boy had created. Which meant that if t'Chk succeeded a civil war would be all but inevitable as every last clan leader, including Thane himself, scrambled to secure that factory for themselves. And all the while the Terrans looked on from the shadows. If t'Chk did survive the night Thane would also feel compelled to kill the madman. The attack on his family was unforgivable. It was so outrageous that, if he could, Thane would have S'jar t'Chk kidnapped so that he could see to the man's death personally. Which, if found out, would likely mean the loss his status, his shipyard, and possibly his life. But he'd cross that bridge when he came to it. Drake could still kill S'jar t'Chk and find himself in possession of the Brimstone. At which point the Phantoms could replace the Set'jak clan and a new Warlord could find himself immediately beset on all sides by the rest of the Clans as they attempted to subjugate or kill him in order to claim his power. How the boy handled himself in that case would determine how much help Thane could and would provide him. Which, once again, brought Thane to the most frightening prospect of all; namely the boy himself.

On the right hand screen there was a sudden flash of light. Thane looked up and saw the Balefire behind the Brimstone and guessed that S'jar t'Chk was using jump beacons. Soon the akurei was moving into formation with the carrier. 'Here we go,' he thought, and took a deep breath. At which point Maggie pushed forward to lick his mouth and nose. He chuckled absently, pat her shoulder and rubbed her head to keep her under control while keeping his eyes on the screen above.

Just as S'jar t'Chk's attack frigate was easing into formation with the Brimstone he saw the Teladi arrive. At first it was Rudilis' shuri. Then three mobile bases and a dozen corvettes. They jumped in practically on top of each other, so close together in both time and distance that it was obvious they were acting in unison. At the sight of it Thane flexed his jaw. Huritas was still out in the dark somewhere and he could feel her claws in this. Meanwhile he could still smell the fire that had ravaged his home. The shipyard was still being repaired from the attack she'd orchestrated. And he still wrestled with the impotence and rage he felt since being forced to cower in his safe room and watch while scum urinated on priceless pieces of history and laughed at the expression on his face. And here the Teladi were so obviously working together, probably under Rudilis' direction, and Rudilis was undoubtedly taking orders from Huritas. In fact it wouldn't have surprised him to learn that that scaly witch was directly manipulating S'jar t'Chk.

He slowly stood back upright. His dogs licked his fingers and Fred leaned against him, but his eyes were on the events happening several hundred billion kilometers away in Weaver's Tempest. Just as the Teladi ships moved into formation with the Brimstone there were two more flashes, almost simultaneously. After the light cleared Thane recognized Abmanckusset's shuri and odysseus. He couldn't pronounce the names of either ship but knew their translations. The Shuri was the White Flame and the oddy was Heaven's Hammer. Seeing those two ships made him clench his jaw again. It irked him to see Abmanckusset among his enemies. The Paranid was insufferably arrogant but Thane found it easy to bear. The Paranid were objectively superior to the other races and Abmanckusset had always been relatively reasonable... for a Yaki warlord at least.

Thane huffed through his nose, feeling angry and helpless. It was not an experience he was either familiar or comfortable with. Abmanckusset would never work with S'jar t'Chk. Thane knew it for an undisputed fact. The Paranid despised t'Chk. Thane couldn't speak the Paranid language. No human could. But he was capable of understanding it and kept the ability a closely guarded secret. Among its own kind Abmanckusset was free with his opionions, and whenever it had been forced to deal with S'jar t'Chk it always had a great deal to say afterward. The Paranid warlord called S'jar t'Chk an 'Iist', a monkey like creature that the Paranid considered vermin, and described him as clever, cunning, but with transparent intentions and increasingly inconstant behavior. The notion that Abanckusset would trust any promise t'Chk made was about as likely as the Yaki clans transforming into a not-for-profit charity. Which meant the Paranid already had a scheme of its own in play.

A moment later the Monster and the Wild jumped into the sector. "Arrgh! You daft bastard!" Thane cursed S'jar t'Chk. "What the hell have ye done?!" The sight of those ships was like a shot to the gut. The Monster was a heavily upgraded akuma and the Wild was a fully armed shuri that Thane would have bet was carrying close to sixty ships with it, about a third of which launched immediately to set up a perimeter and missile screen. In his own way Wen Digo was even less sane than S'jar t'Chk, but where t'Chk was unstable and losing his grip on reality, Wen Digo seemed to have transcended it. A few jazuras back Thane had watched a movie about vampires with his son; not frilly kind-hearted pretty-boys or some posh Romanian prick, mind you, but monsters; monsters with dead eyes and blood running down their chins. At the time he'd dismissed the movie and it's nightmares as the kind of cheap thrill made to scare the pants off young women. Then he'd met Wen Digo. Just being in the same room with the scum always made Thane's skin crawl. He'd never been on any of the man's ships but he'd heard enough rumors from enough sources to suspect that they held a grain of truth, and if even only a fraction of what he'd heard was true then Wen Digo lived up to his name.

The man had originally been an enforcer for a fellow named James Adam. Adam was an Argon citizen originally from Antigone. Rumor was he'd been a big shot in the underworld before the station was destroyed and afterward he'd joined the Yaki because he had many of the necessary attributes for success. He was ruthless, clever and, like most pirates, liked people to be afraid of him. He didn't like to get his hands dirty, though, and at some point Wen Digo made an appearance beside him. Then, over the mazura and jazura that followed, Wen Digo became the blunt instrument that Adam used to keep people paying. Eventually he became Adam's second, where he proved himself time and again. Wen Digo led the clan's forces in battle, led the raiding parties, met with the marks to collect tribute, and blew things up or cut people into chum to make a point. It wasn't long before his was the name people associated with the clan's power; the name they feared.

Then one day Adam vanished and Wen Digo took over the clan. The rumor mill had promptly gone into overdrive. At the time many believed that Adam was still in the background, pulling the strings from the shadows. Others believed that Wen Digo had simply killed Adam and replaced him. But there were darker rumors floating around as well. In some of the worst Wen Digo had eaten the former clan leader in some occult ritual to take and consume his former clan leader's power. It was the kind of tripe that Thane would normally dismiss as nonsense, the kind of absurdity produced by an overactive imagination attached to a dim wit. But the moment Thane actually met the man the very first thing he'd thought of were the vampires in that movie he'd watched with his eldest son.

It was the eyes. Wen Digo had dead eyes. There was no emotion in them. There was no fear, no anger, no compassion, and no joy. There was nothing, just like the monsters in that movie. Since then he'd tried to dismiss the sense of dread he felt around Wen Digo as the result of too much caffein, not enough sleep, too much stress... once he'd even blamed indigestion. But the truth was simpler and, no matter how many times he tried to dismiss it, when it came to Wen Digo it was just all too easy to imagine those ridiculous things... like Wen Digo in some darkened compartment sinking his teeth into James Adam's still beating heart... being true. And seeing the 'Monster' and the 'Wild' flying in the same formation as S'jar t'Chk and Abmanckusset made his guts feel loose and the skin between his ass cheeks feel taught and clammy.

He was still wrestling with the disquiet surrounding Wen Digo when the Apocryphal jumped in. At the sight of the shuri Thane actually laughed. He found it amazing that the sight of Nicodemus would actually comfort him. Nicholas Demus was sophisticated, curious, intelligent, and refined. He was an excellent conversationalist, a lover of good food and a collector of fine art, a student of history, particularly the evolution of technology, which was the ultimate love of his life. Nicodemus was a brilliant innovator, mathematician and engineer, as well as a financial genius. He and Gorda regularly enjoyed lengthy and somewhat incomprehensible debates about the nuances of financial strategy. Best of all, though, the man was sane, a fact Thane was, at that moment, immensely grateful for. If things went sideways, as Thane expected them to, he might be able to count on Nicodemus to help him assert some control. It would cost him, of course. Nicodemus was still a ruthless bastard, but it would be a price Thane understood.

A moment later he saw another ship he recognized, although it's presence confounded him. The Bloody Mary flashed into the sector at the same coordinates as the rest. Which meant that Mary Anne O'Riordan had joined t'Chk in his quest for nukes? Thane felt his head ache at the thought. It made no sense. Mary Anne was one of the toughest people he knew. He knew some of her history and knew she'd been through more than most people would believe, and she'd come out of it with a clear head and iron will. She was quiet, calculating, and shrewd enough to give a Teladi heartburn. The very idea that she'd been taken in by S'jar t'Chk's bull-shit was complete anathema. As far as he knew she didn't think any more highly of S'jar t'Chk than Abmanckusset did. She also didn't operate the same way many of these others did. He had no doubt that she had a few nukes in her hold, but he'd wager that they'd been there, untouched, for quite a while. She tended to make her money through more subtle means. Which meant the appeal of Drake's nukes was probably lost on her. So why the hell was she in that formation?

Just then Longbones appeared at his side. Thane turned to look at the old man and noticed the tray and tea set in his hands. He glanced down to see a covered white teapot and single cup filled with a green-gold liquid. A small curl of fragrant steam rose from its surface. Thane looked up to meet the other man's gaze. "Wot's this?" he asked.

Gamen Longbones bared his teeth in an almost canine snarl. "Tea, ser," he growled. "You look like you could use a cuppa."

Thane nodded, strangely surprised. Then he took the cup. Gamen stepped back and vanished into the shadows of his apartment. Thane's eyes immediately returned to the screens above him. He could see Drake's missile frigates above and behind his other ships. He could also just barely make out the freighters waiting behind and above them. He didn't know how many nukes the boy had but he'd done the math. Even if the boy was selling them, which Thane doubted, or using them against the pirates, which Thane knew he was, his calculations indicated that Drake should still have several thousand hammer heavy torpedoes stockpiled, not to mention tomahawks, typhoons, tornadoes, wasps, and mossies. Considering that it would only take thirty two of those torpedos to destroy a fully shielded akuma destroyer, that meant that Drakhar was in possession of a truly awesome amount of firepower. For instance Thane knew that, mathematically, it would take two hundred and sixty of those nukes to destroy his shipyard. And the boy had thousands.

Thane took another breath and relished the feel of the warm cup in his hand. Then he lifted it to his face and inhaled the rich nutty aroma of the Tieguanyin tea. He sighed as he exhaled, feeling some of the tension dispelled from his upper back and shoulders. Finally he took a sip and closed his eyes, relishing the complex golden flavor of it. When he opened his eyes again he realized that Longbones had been right. He had needed it.

For a time he simply focused on the tea in his hand and, at one point, patted Fred's shoulder when the big dog looked up at him and whined. He knew the dogs could feel his apprehension and comforting them had a way of comforting him. When he looked back up he saw that Jaden, his agent on the incendiary bomb launcher forge, had zoomed out into a wide enough angle for him to see all of the ships arrayed against the boy. Seen all together that way it was a formidable sight. Five carriers, two destroyers, Nicodemus' kariudos, t'Chk's akurei and senshi, three heavy transports, several dozen corvettes, and several hundred fighters were already flying in formation.

Thane took another breath and let it out slowly. He thought of the wolf and the snow again. He thought of the cool regard in the beast's eyes. Then he thought of Uranus and a missing Tyr destroyer, of the shipyard in Family Njy, and the several dozen ships Drakhar had sold him in the past few wozura. He wondered if perhaps they'd all underestimated the boy.

********

Seldon actually saw the kid die. They'd just reached a choke point and her marines had all started to huddle down out of sight to prep for the next assault. It was so routine that no one thought to say anything. There was just her hand signal to stop, a signal the kid didn't see. She realized too late that Drake meant to step around the bulkhead. She, Randall and Gisler all looked up in the heartbeat before their employer took that last step out into the enemy's line of fire. It happened so fast that none of them were able to get out more than a single syllable. Which meant they got Drake's attention but also managed to alert the enemy that they all knew was right around the bend. Drake, not knowing he was in danger, stopped to look over his shoulder. He was already out in the open. In that instant she knew he was dead. In her mind's eye she actually saw the kid smashed into soup by a hail of bullets.

Yet, somehow, for that one impossibly long sezura, nothing happened. Later she wondered if the Brimstone crew was just too shocked to open fire. Or if it was the kid's casual and commanding posture that confused them. Or if it was a result of the drugs the Brimstone's crew were so obviously taking. Or if it was just another example of the kid's bizarre luck. But, whatever the case, for that one terrible moment no one took a shot at him. Then Frank tackled him. She saw the kid's eyes go wide and round just before a hundred and thirty kilos of Split marine wearing another sixty kilos of body armor slammed into him. She heard the kid's 'Oof!' as he was knocked to the ground. Hard. An instant later the entire corridor was filled with the thunder and lightning of small arms fire. She heard the screaming of t'Chk's drug addled lunatics as they fired down from the level above, and she saw the sparks and ricochets of plasma bolts and gauss rounds as they hit Frank's shield.

"Cover them!" she screamed and leaned around the corner to obey her own order.

There were five enemies on the landing at the top of a pair of ramps. They were using the railing wall for cover and blasting away at Frank, who was bodily shielding the kid. One of them saw her and swung his repeater in her direction. Nanite conditioned reflexes and jazuras of experience focused her attention so completely that time seemed to slow down. She was aware of Frank and the kid. She was aware of the five enemies on the balcony above. She was accutely aware of the hypervelocity slugs cutting through the deck to her left as the Yaki swung his weapon in her direction. Then her hands performed their ancient ritual, a dance they'd mastered over ten jazuras earlier. She lay the reticule of her weapon's scope on the shooter's face and gently squeezed the trigger. Through her scope she saw the hole appear in her enemy's left cheek as a bolt of plasma punched through it. She saw the explosion of burning meat that blew out the back of his head. She saw two more faces turn in her direction and knew she didn't have the time to deal with both of them.

Then Gisler was leaning around her waist, opening up with full auto. His plasma melted holes in the railing and set the bulkhead behind the shooters on fire. The sudden onslaught caused the enemy to panic and seek cover. Before they reached it Seldon's reticule found two more faces, and she cut the enemy's number down to two. A moment later she heard the small pop! from Ho t'Snt's micro grenade launcher. She even heard the tiny grenade hit the wall behind her enemies and then bounce to the deck. An instant later the explosion hit the backside of the railing with enough force to fold it over like wrinkled foil while a gory mist filled the air. The guns were silent then and for a moment Seldon waited, alert and still looking through her scope with one eye and past it with the other. The only sounds were the detritus hitting the deck, the guttering of the already dying flames from Gisler's suppression, and her own panting. Then the kid groaned.

"Am I safe?" he asked. "Cos if so you're crushin' me, Gunny." Seldon decided then and there that the kid needed an immediate, in-the-field education.

"Cover us," she told Gisler.

"Copy that," he confirmed around the cigarillo in his teeth.

As she stepped up Frank was already pushing himself up off the deck and she gave him a hand to help get the power armor underneath him. There were several scars in the ablative plating covering his back and upper right shoulder, meaning his shield had fallen. The kid followed him smoothly to his feet and was standing before Frank got his balance. An instant later he blinked as Seldon shoved a finger between his eyes. "When we're out in the fleet," she told him, watching his eyes cross to follow her finger, "you're in charge. But when it comes to CQC," she shook her finger to emphasize her point, "I AM!"

"Eee-sy," he said, as if she was overreacting.

"Drake," she said and stepped in close , lowering her voice so that it was only him, Frank, and her that heard what she had to say. "You don't know what you don't know. Do you understand that? This," she pointed at the landing atop the twin ramps, " is a choke point. In order to reach the upper level we had to come through here. That means that even a half competent Op-For would have it covered. I knew that!" She rapped the big Split's chest plate. "Frank knew it!" she pointed her thumb at the master gunnery sergeant. "Gisler knew it!" Then she gestured to the marines who were currently securing the landing under Gisler's direction. "We all knew it...!" Then she punched the kid in the chest hard enough to get another 'Oof!' out of him. "...except for you!"

He was starting to look embarassed and squinting in order to meet her eye. He nodded, though, accepting her point.

"So," she said, as gently as she was able to... which meant roughly as sharp as a circular saw, "when we're out in the fleet," she opened a hand to him, "you're the boss. But when we're downrange and beyond the can, this is my country. Do you understand me?"

He nodded, looking sheepish. "You're comin' through loud and clear, Chief," he said.

"Good," she said, deathly quiet. "Because you just pulled Frank out into enemy fire by not knowing your asshole from a hole in the ground, and if you get one of my guys killed by being a moron," she thrust her finger between his eyes again, "then you and I are going to have one serious frakking problem."

He met her eye. She was relieved to see that he was several shades paler than usual. He nodded. "Got it," he said, and his voice was thin. She continued to glare at him for another moment until he forced himself to swallow. At which point she turned away from him. "Pierce," she called, "how far to that arms locker?" In her peripheral vision she saw Drake meet Frank's eye and nod in both thanks and apology.

"Another hundred and fifty meters forward," Pierce replied. "We've got two large compartments ahead of us that look like they could be crew berths..."

"Nice spots for an ambush," she acknowledged.

"... followed by what looks like maintenance bays for the local power relays. After that we've got the main security station controlling the corridor."

"And our guns," she said, hoping for grenades and something heavier than the carbines they'd salvaged.

Pierce shrugged. "Maybe," he said and looked up from the map on his HUD.

She cocked her head at him. 'What do you mean?'

"Well," he shrugged, "it just doesn't seem like they do things by the book around here, Chief."

She snorted. "Ain't that the truth," she acknowledged. "Alright," she said and looked at Frank. "How's the barrier?"

"Re-charged," he replied simply.

"Armor?" she asked.

"Functional," he told her.

"Alright," she said hesitantly. She felt like she was pushing his luck by keeping him in point position for the entire mission but she had little choice. He was the only one wearing armor. "Lead us out."

He nodded and immediately began climbing the ramp to the hatch above. She glanced at Drake again. There was a part of her psyche, a part that had come to think of Drake as a little brother, that felt bad about coming down on him. She knew he was doing his best. She really did. The problem was that, despite how young and inexperienced he was, Drake held people's lives in his hands. Which meant that he needed to get it right, and get it right the first time, every time. Otherwise people died. Which meant that there was just no frakking room to babysit him.

"Sorry," he offered. "My bad."

"Just follow my lead, Drake," she told him. Then she moved up behind Randall and Ho t'Sn't on the bulkhead they were hunkering down behind. "What's it look like?" she asked Pierce.

"Biometrics has a couple dozen x-rays in the berths." He looked at her. "Oh, hey!" he blinked, sounding pleased.

"What?" she asked him.

He grinned at her. "That new cybersuite just offered to lock them all in their compartments for us."

"Oh real-ly?" Seldon saw the others grinning at her. "Well," she said with a grin of her own, "I think that's an offer we just can't refuse." After a moment she added. "Once those hatches are locked let's disable 'em in case," she nodded at Pierce, "that other fellow in the system finds a way around our hack."

"Lock 'em in, aye," Gisler confirmed the order and looked at Pierced. Pierce nodded. "Alright ladies," Gisler grinned around his cigarillo, "you heard the lady. Let's get to work."

********

Continued...


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