by Escher - 16th Aug 1999
Not far beyond Vendorian space, the ship cut it’s thrusters and drifted silently. Moments later, the pilot broadcast a high-intensity databurst.
+++ Package collected and available. Send pickup. +++
Fifteen minutes later, the starfield rippled and shuddered. With a sudden flash, a STARR transport vessel dropped out of hyperspace. Huge and silent, the ship remained stationary for a minute, before dropping it’s shields. Huge doors opened in it’s hull, lights flashing in sequence to indicate a landing zone.
Humming softly to herself, Kaylie Nai Johno directed her bomber into the larger ship’s cargo bay and touched down.
Tors’ eyes fluttered open as the deck beneath him shuddered. He grit his teeth as the pain in his back flared up. ‘oooow gods...’
Tors was in a small metal chamber. It was dark, but the mek had automatically activated it’s light-amplification system to compensate. Tors tried to raise himself onto one elbow, but the suit wouldn’t respond. Tors blinked weakly. Some unseen force was pushing him down, he could feel it against his chest, making breathing difficult. Closing his eyes, he tried again but the mek remained pressed onto it’s back.
Pausing to catch his breath, he took a look at his surroundings. The gritty green picture provided by the mek’s night optics showed him a collection of racks and belt feeds, large cylinders and bulbous cones. A pair of pincerlike clamps suspended a very obvious bomb, plastered with gaudy markings in red and yellow. The writing was alien, but the mushroom-shape was clear.
Tors sighed, a sad chuckle escaping his lips. Here he lay, captured and paralysed, and a tactical nuclear device was suspended scant inches from his muzzle.
Confused as he was, Tors hadn’t noticed the sound of the engines. Now the sound dropped in pitch and volume. Wherever Tors was being taken, they’d arrived.
Kaylie’s ship, Gho Radek, was a stalinvite heavy bomber. The name translated as ‘Shatterstar’, a title it could probably have earned, given the opportunity. Kaylie issued a few short commands to ensure the ship’s weapons would remain slaved to her lytic implant. She would be able to target and fire the ship’s weapons with a thought.
As the engines cycled down, Kaylie disembarked and looked around. The ship’s turrets whirred obediently to follow her gaze.
The hold was dimly lit, but not so dark as to hide the layers of grease and grime that covered every surface. A group of human males quickly scurried away and huddled, glancing her way and whispering nervously.
‘What a dingy little ship.’ Kaylie announced her opinion. ‘Gross.’
‘If you don’t like it, leave.’ The voice came from behind her, and Kaylie turned in time to see a human, presumably the ship’s captain, walk around the back of her ship, muttering. ‘If you think you can come in here...’ He trailed off, and stared.
The captain was a squat, ugly creature, even for a human. His hair was a dull brown colour, his skin oily and pitted. His mouth hung open, and a cigarette stuck limply to one lip. He took a deep breath, and spoke.
‘Y-you’re Kaylie Nai Johno? Trammerden sent you?’
‘Yes, and yes. You’re Brutus?’
The man blinked. ‘No, no. I’m not Brutus. I’m Hengist Bloat, the captain. This is my ship.’
Kaylie sighed. She didn’t really mind talking to people whose eyes were level with her stomach, but this one was annoying, like a bug. She reached down, grabbed a handful of jacket, and hoisted him up to her level.
‘If you’re not Brutus, I don’t want to talk to you. Where’s Brutus?’
Struggling for breath, he shook his head frantically and pointed to the side. Kaylie looked over and saw a door slowly sliding open to reveal a humanoid male. Smiling, Kaylie pushed the captain away, sending him sprawling onto nearby crates.
Brutus had never seen a stalinvite giant before, but he’d been told what to expect. The creature that now occupied the cargo hold was more or less what he’d anticipated. Clad in shining silver armour, the giant stood at least three metres high, towering over the scrabbling form of the captain. A blink of his sensors identified the giant’s right arm and leg as bionic, while the rest of the metal was either armour or clothing, or perhaps both.
He walked out into the cargo bay. ‘Kaylie Nai Johno,’ he called out. ‘Where is the package?’
‘Right here.’ She waved a hand towards her ship, and a panel in the hull slid aside. A sturdy platform lowered from within, and upon it, a mek. A purple sheen glittered on it’s surface, evidence of a pressor field on maximum intensity. ‘One mek, complete with pilot.’
Brutus frowned. ‘It’s small.’
Kaylie only shrugged. ‘I guess. Whatever.’
Tors couldn’t move, and he’d looked at everything he could, so he tried somethign different: he kicked up the mek’s amplified audio pickups. In his wounded state concentration was difficult, so it took him a moment to filter out the steady hum of the ship.
At the word ‘package’ everything clicked into place. Everything. They’d been set up - the attack on the transport, the bombing run, all so these people could get their hands on a mesh-mek. A very simple, direct operation.
He wondered briefly if the rest of the squad had been killed. It would have been easy enough to finish them off while they lay dazed and helpless. His heart lurched at the thought of Shanni, her body shattered and bleeding inside a crippled mek. He winced again as he realised he was depicting his own situation.
A pair of hydraulic shafts hissed loudly beneath him. Warning icons lit up and the audio pickups shut off in response. The platform beneath him shuddered, then vibrated violently, sending multiple agonies coursing down Tors’ spine. Sounds of anguish from his external speaker echoed dully around the hangar.
‘He’s alive.’ commented Brutus. He unclipped a small scanner from his belt and observed the display for a few seconds. He turned to face the captain, his expression dour. ‘This scanner is faulty. Get me another.’ He turned and hurled the defective device into the hold. ‘Now.’
Kaylie grinned. This guy was fun.
The Captain yelled at his crew, and quickly he was furnished with a replacement, which he handed to Brutus. Again, he ran the scanner over the mek, and again he scowled.
Kaylie tilted her head. ‘Something’s wrong?’
‘This mek is solid.’
‘There’s no space for a pilot. The unit is a solid nanomechanism. A robot.’
Kaylie blinked. ‘A robot? Are you nuts?’ She leaned over and slammed a fist into the side of the mek’s helmet. Inside, Tors gasped in pain. ‘You hear that? That’s the pilot.’
Brutus folded his arms. ‘This is a trick. I do not trust you.’
The giant pounded her fist on the mek’s chest, shaking the platform. Tors whimpered at the movement, caked blood in his fur.
Kaylie scowled. ‘You asked us to find you a mek. We found one. Here it is. The pilot’s inside it, and he’s alive. Now are you going to pay us, or not?’
Brutus shook his head. ‘There is no pilot in that unit. You’re trying to trick me.’
‘Use the scanner, genius.’
‘There’s no point.’
She took a deep breath. This could get messy. ‘If I have to take that thing back with me, you get nothing. Your boss won’t be pleased with you, my boss won’t be pleased with you, and I won’t be pleased with you.’ She paused to let these words sink in. ‘And that’s not good, pal. Scan the suit, and pay up.’
Brusquely, Brutus adusted the scanner and ran a lifeform check. Sure enough, there was a fenrir inside the nanomechanism, somehow occupying the same space. Somehow, the nanites were around and inside him, a kind of symbiosis.
This was interesting. Diana would be pleased.
‘I must contact my superiors.’ Brutus turned and walked out.
Kaylie nodded. ‘Fine, you do that.’
Tors Du’ran blinked back tears. It seemed unlikely these people were working with the Galaxy Corps. They also showed no inclination to help him. Somehow, he had to escape.
He struggled to move an arm. Sweat ran in his eyes, and he gasped for breath. He pushed harder, straining until warning icons flashed. Despairing and exhausted, he cried out and gave up.
It was plain by now that he’d been abducted. Whoever these people were, they wanted the mek, probably for it’s technology. Tors closed his eyes for a moment.
He couldn’t allow them to keep him here. He racked his brain for possibilities.
Brutus returned to the hold, his face impassive. The giant stood with her head slightly tilted, her eyes unfocused. Brutus blinked, and saw that her lips were moving, as though whispering.
Abruptly, her attention snapped back, and she smiled. ‘He’s all yours.’
‘The money has been transferred.’ confirmed Brutus.
‘Yeah, I know.’
The captain yelled some gutteral curses, and the crew rushed to the platform. Working quickly, they detatched it from the ship, and loaded it onto a wheeled trolley.
Kaylie snapped her fingers, and the supports retracted back into her ship. The hull slammed shut behind them, making several crewmen flinch. ‘You can keep the pressor field. I’m outta here.’
Brutus watched as the oversized woman slid easily into her pilot’s couch, moving with a grace that belied her mass. She was still grinning when the cockpit closed around her.
The bomber lifted off, slowly reversed out of the cargo bay, then turned. In a roar of thrusters, it sped off towards Vendoria, towards VDS1.
Brutus turned to regard the humans. He pointed to the mek. ‘Get that thing stowed away. We’re going home.’