Chapter 14

Stars danced across the chakat's eyes as shi slowly woke up. Gildy's head was throbbing and hir whole body was sore from electrical spasming. Shi had no clue how long shi was unconscious as shi shook hir mane, looking across the room. It was well lit, and looked like a barracks. Shi was resting on the floor at the time shi awoke as the bunk beds lined the walls. "Looks like you were tagged the worst there. How many fingers am I holding up?" the English accented rat's hand was thrust in the chakat's face, three digits wiggling at hir as Gildedtongue batted the hand to one side, reaching to clutch hir cranium.

"The Engineering boys and I were taken out pretty quickly. Heh, we thought all those things were there to help put the ship back together, but..." Susan drifted off, shrugging hir shoulders. Gildedtongue nodded, running hir tongue though hir dry mouth as shi looked around. Several other members of the Purgatorio were also in the room, mostly sitting on bunk beds, but some standing and talking to one another. The door was open on the other end, but a faint purple shimmer betrayed the force field keeping them locked inside. One of the main spidery robots stood outside, no visible weapons, but as the prisoners knew, that didn't mean it was unarmed.

Saldura knelt near a few crew members who were babbling in hysterics. The badger trying hir best to calm them. Gildedtongue knew that panicking would be an appropriate response to this situation, but shi was either too groggy or too jaded to join in, getting on all four feet with a little difficulty. Shi put a hand to hir pregnant lower belly, feeling a spike of concern in hir mind as shi remembered shi was living for three now. Susan gave a reassuring pat to Gildy's shoulder, "They've been squirming up a storm while you were out, so... I'm sure they're fine." Gildedtongue nodded mutely.

"So, this is it? We're just going to wait here until we die? Not exactly how I expected it," Gildedtongue finally found hir voice, keeping it quiet not to disturb any of the other occupants. As shi looked around shi noticed that everyone in the room were the ship's hermaphrodites, like hirself, Susan, and Saldura, putting two and two together, figuring they were divided by sex, and the men and women are somewhere near by in the same predicament.

Susan chuckled, slapping Gildedtongue on the shoulder. "Oh, I'd like to think you know us better. We're gonna look for a way out of here and fight until we die." Shi pulled Gildedtongue towards a corner of the barracks furthest from the door, hir voice getting low, "You see, we've seen a loose panel on the door frame. With any luck, it was from when these bots jury-rigged this place into a cell. The problem is, well, it'll take time to open it, and, if it's an emitter for the forcefield, well, I don't have any tools, so, it's gonna be... interesting getting that thing to short, but, if we can, Sal's pretty sure there's enough of us to take out one bot, the key is to do so before it summons the swarm. That happens, well, we're fucked."

Nodding, the chakat peered back at the door momentarily, then back to Susan, "And you expect that thing to sit there idle as you do all of this?"

"No, no, definitely not. If that thing notices us, we're equally fucked. They'll probably come and knock us all out again, repair the panel, and we're, once again, fucked." Susan shook hir head, "We've got a slight chance, though, if what Doctor Wu is right, from what Sal mentioned from the dinner, then each of these robots use a Terran brain as a central processing hub." Gildedtongue gave the rat a "yeah, so?" look, to which Susan lifted a finger to let hir keep talking.

"Anyway, brain processors are popular for A.I.s because of their ability to adapt, process, even be creative, given the right parameters, but, given our captor's tendency of control, we're lucky that we shouldn't need to worry about creativity on, well, most of these grunts. But, the most important thing is that, like I'm proving right here, the Terran brain is highly subject to distraction. So... anyway, we're hoping you'd go and do some distracting."

Gildedtongue furrowed hir brow, about to shout, but thought better than to compromise their escape, "Me? Why would you want me to stand there and distract that thing? Isn't there someone better for it?"

Susan sighed, then smirked, "You're sitting in a room full of engineers and security officers, and one teacher. Who would you put in charge of disabling the field, who would you put in charge of disabling the robot, and who would you put in charge of distracting the robot?" Gildedtongue looked a bit sheepish, nodding. Susan smiled, "Besides, the kids all mentioned that you certainly kept their attention in class, so, I'm sure you'll be fine." Susan clapped an arm around the chakat's shoulder as shi lead hir towards Saldura, who was standing up. The badger had been stripped of hir weapons, unsurprisingly, as well as hir monocle, the captors doing their best to not give their prisoners any advantage, despite the number of captives. The green-eyed badger lowered hir head to kiss Gildy's cheek, giving hir a firm hug.

"How are you doing, love?"

"A pounding headache, but I think I'm getting used to it by now, with how many times I've been knocked out." Gildy offered a sardonic smirk, which Sal laughed at. Susan filled in the badger that the pieces have been more or less set up for their escape attempt. "So, you just want me to stand there and talk to the thing while you, less than a metre away, try to pry off a metal panel and short a circuit to take down the force field, putting me right in the forefront, so that Sal and the other bits of security will, hopefully, take it out?"

Susan nodded as Sal shrugged with a 'it's the best we got' expression. Gildy couldn't help but roll hir eyes, nodding in agreement. Susan produced a few metal supports pulled out of some of the uniforms that could hopefully be used to bypass the circuitry, as shi went to sit down on the floor next to the panel in question. Saldura resting on a bunk bed nearby, leaning back nonchalantly. Stage fright was getting the better of the chakat as shi felt hir hearts both feeling ready to burst from hir chests. Hir hands trembled as hir footfalls were slow to approach the guard. The robot moved in an unnatural manner, adjusting its weight every few moments. The camera head scanned the hallway before it before snapping towards the barracks, jerking left and right before returning back to the hall in a casual scan. This is what Gildedtongue had to distract?

The chakat coughed into hir fist, sitting down on hir haunches before shi managed to croak a weak 'hello.' The machine's scanning camera turned around, facing the chakat, focusing on hir. Through the indigo shimmering field, shi saw its lens shift its focus as it peered at hir. "Gildedtongue, Chakat, Born Terra, Terran reckoning July 26th, 2255. From the Holy Christian Kingdom of North America," it prattled in its electronic voice.

Gildedtongue nodded. "Um, yes, that's me. How do you know of me?" shi asked, cocking hir head to one side.

"Biometric imprint matches the same in the Stellar Federation databank. Accuracy approved to 99.993495 percent, rounded up." The chakat thought for a moment, shaking hir head. If the data came from the Stellar Federation, then surely it had to have been updated to match hir new persona, 'lest shi be tracked by every single camera and waypoint shi's passed.

"When was the last time your databanks were uploaded?" shi asked. In the corner of hir eye shi saw Susan beginning to fumble, but shi locked hir gaze to the robot, not wanting to give away the plan.

"Last systems update was, Terran reckoning, Febuary 20th, 2309. Federation command has not sent any further updates since," it beeped out. Gildedtongue raised an eyebrow; apparently the lack of communication between the Federation and this station has been a two-way street. Batta really was a forgotten little blip in the star charts. Gildedtongue saw that shi couldn't keep up this conversation though, so quickly tried to change topics. Shi couldn't think of anything to ask, so shi just started to interview.

"What's your name?"

"My serial number is 0041-Alpha. The commander calls me Alphie when shi wishes our intimacy." Gildedtongue fought back a feeling of disgust, not wanting to figure out what the robot meant by that.

Thinking fast shi asked, "I mean, what was your name before..." shi trailed off, realizing this might infuriate the robot. Shi didn't think that many people would like to be reminded that they were no more. "...Before you died."

The robot stood quietly for a moment, looking like it was thinking, or it was simply angry, shi couldn't tell with the lack of a face. Finally it piped back up, "Biological memories indicate that the brain you were referring to belonged to one Jeanne Hsu. A member of the civilian Star Corps company, in charge of repairing and maintaining this station and incoming vessels."

"So, are you Jeanne, or, I mean, do you have Jeanne's memories or anything?" Gildedtongue asked, now genuinely interested in what shi was looking at.

The robot spoke immediately, "The answer is... complicated. I have the ability to access many of Ms. Hsu's memory fragments located within her cerebral cortex, however how they are linked to one another, and their meaning, emotional attachment to each memory and various other information has been lost." The robot was quiet for a moment as it processed, "To place it in a computer parallel, it is akin to removing the master boot record. The data is present, but there is nothing to say what it all means." The 'helpful' explanation went straight over the chakat's head.

"So, in essence, the person known as Jeanne Hsu is dead, then?" Gildedtongue asked, thinking for a moment, "So, there's nothing left at all? You're like any of the other robots here?"

The machine moved in a way that the chakat could have sworn was a chortle, the camera tilting in an almost smug manner. "Precisely, but wrong. You see, the way a brain goes through life, it creates new pathways and new sectors of nerve tissue. So, unlike a standard processor, the pathways from input to output are not straight, managed routes, but convoluted systems of nerve that builds an AI to the self-aware point, and..." the machine stopped as the indigo glimmer of the force field suddenly shut off. The bot was confused for a moment, stepping into the entryway. Saldura took the moment to tackle the robot head on, slamming it against the door's frame. The rattling caused the shorted connection to come undone, turning back on the energy wall at full blast on top of the machine. Sparks emerged from the door frame, making Susan, Gildedtongue, and Saldura backpedal.

The forcefield flashed a few times before shutting off. The smell of electronic ozone filled the air as the machine lay still. The whole prison cell sat petrified, watching the door to see if any of the other machines would come and notice, or do anything. Eons seemed to have passed before they all released a collective breath. An otter herm walked over to the machine, giving a tentative poke to its camera with hir toe, and when it didn't move, the group approached the newly opened door. Susan, however, knelt at the carcass of their guard.

Saldura gathered as many of hir security detail as shi could find among the prisoners. The badger explaining the plan of finding an armoury first to equip themselves, then find the other crew members before retaking the ship and leaving the station. The engineering crew rallied together and discussed how they'd be able to get the ship out, when and if they could. Gildedtongue hirself was at a loss on what to do, standing up slowly as the chaos organized around hir. Shi kept close to Saldura, feeling safer around the badger, keeping behind hir as to not get in the way.

Susan called over the security chief, smiling to hir. "C'mere, and make it quick!" shi said in a hushed shout. Sal raised a finger to hir crew, letting them know shi'd be a second as shi knelt by the rat, looking over the machine. "These things are pretty well armoured, but, luckily, their interconnecting network isn't too up to date. Avoiding personality dissidence, they can only broadcast and receive burst transmissions, which is why it seems like no one's noticed this one being down just yet. Anyway, I disabled its wireless communications," shi said, still sucking on the fingers shi held the wire to short out that system. "So, we should be able to boot it up without it calling for help." Saldura nodded, with the machine out of commission, it was considerably easy to remove its legs and disassemble its camera head, leaving the torso housing most of the processing components lifeless.

Jury-rigging a few wires, Susan managed to build an output port for the machine, which they carefully applied to Saldura's open monocle port in hir skull. After a few precautions with grounding was taken care of, Susan managed to crank the bot back on. The badger winced, gripping hir head as shi snarled. Gildedtongue holding the badger's shoulders. "What's wrong?"

"Headache. Data's coming... too damned fast. Shit." Shi unplugged hirself from the machine, clutching hir face.  Blinking back a few tears, Saldura felt hir whole brain on fire with information bouncing around in hir skull. "O-okay. Fuck... just needed to process all that." Saldura said, standing wobbly back on hir feet, looking at the crew, "I got a glimpse of the local map. Yes, these are barracks, so, both the armoury, and everyone else should be close by. Most of the bots are making their way to the ship to start to disassemble it for parts for more machines."

Blinking in surprise, Gildy turned to Susan, "Won't that ruin our chances of getting out of here?" The two helped Saldura onto hir feet as Susan nodded.

"Well, more than likely they'll start with the ship's cargo, then move to the hull, no need to go for the volatile fuels or the engines off the bat. In theory." Susan sighs, "But, pending on their efficiency, that does cut our escape time considerably."

Saldura addressed the available crew, "All right. We don't have a lot of time, so, let's move quickly. There's an armoury and security office a few hundred metres to the right from here. We're heading there to get some things to fight off these buggers. We find equipment from the Purgatorio, we use those first, otherwise, take what you can from the Federation. Any Feddie weapon or item used here, I want you to drop them before we get aboard the ship. Nothing linking us to this station is coming with us. Remember the Ancient Terran proverb, 'leave the gun, take the cannoli.'" Shi turned to Susan and Gildedtongue, "You both, I want you and a couple guards in the office. Zajac, I'm sure you can hack into their system and open up their security systems, which should tell us where they are. Cameras, tracers, you name it." Sal ordered a tall giraffe herm, "Gildy, there should be some comm equipment in there, I want you keeping a close dialogue with me, okay? Let me know what we're up against."

Gildedtongue knew that it was mostly to keep hir away and out of danger, but the old chakat was humble enough not to fight an order, last thing shi needed was to put hirself or hir children in jeopardy. The group quickly made their way across the hallway, checking for anything that might spot them. Of course, any cameras and pressure plates would be impossible to avoid, but the team had already set the plan in motion; any going back would lead to their ultimate failure.

Feeling a little out of breath, the chakat fell behind slightly, the considerably stronger gravity making hir footfalls that much more heavy, but the team didn't let hir out of their herd. Several of the security personnel and Saldura kept around hir, keeping hir safe. They passed three doorways until they entered the one Saldura motioned towards. Three security officers stepped inside, scanning the room before the rest of the group entered. It was a cramped security room, full of monitors and computers, mostly dormant from disuse, considering the robots had little need for it with their linked networks. "Zajac! Get on the computers and link up to the security system. See if you can find a way to blind the machines to it!" Saldura barked to the comptech, who quickly went to work. With Susan and a few engineers working on the computers as well, Saldura led hir team and a select number of engineers into the armoury.

Gildy, nervous and trying to keep out of people's way, walked into the armoury with the other security people. Pistols and weapons, many confiscated from the Purgatorio itself, but most from the ship's own storage, were doled out to the team. Phaser-proof vests and helmets were distributed, as well as comm units, arming their group. The chakat looked over a phaser rifle, the heavy weapon much bigger than the coilgun carbines on their ship. Saldura walked over, taking the gun from the chakat. "I'd really feel comfortable if you weren't armed, love."

That made the chakat's ears splay as hir ego was kicked down several notches, "Yeah, I guess you're right. In a stressful situation like this, I'm liable to go psycho," the chakat mumbled, looking down at the ground. The badger grabbed Gildy's shoulder, making the chakat look up.

"Trust me, love. It isn't that." Saldura gave Gildedtongue a firm hug. "These machines see you with a gun, they're going to want to neutralize you, permanently." The badger looked hir spouse in the eyes. "Unarmed, hopefully the worst they'll do is capture you again. I want you safe, you hear me?"

Gildedtongue felt tears rolling down hir cheeks as shi nodded mutely. Saldura kissing hir forehead again before donning a girdle with a case full of vibro blades. Shi checked the battery, testing its power before putting the hilt in the first brand. "Now, I want you to keep in constant contact with me, okay? You're my eyes and ears, love," shi said, putting a comm unit in Gildedtongue's hand. Saldura found hir monocle and plugged it in. "Well, this should help," shi said with a chuckle.

Gildedtongue went back to the security room. The monitors were alive and blinking with information as three techs typed out on keyboards. Susan smiled to the returning chakat. "Well, Boss, our new command centre is up and running." The rat ran a hand through her blue-dyed hair. "We've set up a ghosting of the network, so while we can remain undetected, we don't really have much in the way of controlling the information. Well, not yet, anyway."

Nodding, the chakat kept dumb and wondered exactly what shi was supposed to do. Maybe just relay the information from Susan to Saldura, which would have been easier directly. The chakat tried to take hir mind off things, looking back to the monitors. Screens flashed through various feeds, jumping from one to another, giving the chakat a slowly growing headache from the information. The badger stepped back into the security room, patting Gildy's shoulder with a gloved hand. "What's the status?"

"Seems like the men are about a hundred and fifty metres to the right, and the females are two hundred left down the corridor. Corridor activity is low, patrols moving through at fifteen minute intervals," Susan reported to the badger as Saldura thought to hirself, eyes looking over the camera feeds.

"All right. As much as I'd like to rescue the top of the chain of command first, it'd be best to get more soldiers as fast as possible. Gildedtongue, you should be fine with the people I've got here, but I'll try to send a few more when we rescue them. Have the armoury ready to receive and arm the crew." Saldura nodded to the chakat before turning to Susan. "Labs. I'm going to issue you a small detachment of security officers. I want you to head to the ship now. If they're taking it apart, I need you to get there and undo any damage. I'll send over more men your way once we've freed and armed them."

The rat gave a smart salute before making hir way back into the corridors with six officers and three engineers. Saldura offered the same to Gildedtongue, barking something incomprehensible to hir troops, who responded with a uniform bellow before heading into the corridor. Zajac turned to Gildedtongue with a reassuring smile. "On your cue, we'll disengage the network. That will temporary confuse the robots. Unfortunately, it will also alert them to our presence immediately. Your recommendations, Gildedtongue?" the giraffe asked, hir conical ears flicking impatiently.

"Whe-Ell..." the chakat started, hir voice cracking in the pressure. Shi took a moment to compose hirself, clearing hir throat. "Well, Sa-Holbock? Labs? Get into position before we turn off the security system. Keep out of sight before you reach your destinations. Let's try to get the drop on them before they get the drop on us, shall we?"

"Labs, Understood."

"Holbock, Gor-kath." hir spouse responded in Rathskani. The two teams continued their paths, leaving Gildedtongue behind further with the small detachment of guards and techs. Zajac and a hyena morph, Goldstein, kept tabs on Susan’s team as well as they could through the flicking screens as a chihuahua herm and tabby cat did the same, trying to watch Saldura’s squad.

Gildedtongue quietly sighed. They had to have noticed them by now, things were going too quietly. But, even if they had, it wouldn’t make sense for any alarm sounds to commence, not with the robots linked up as they were. So the chakat had to fidget and wait, hir tail curling up in a knot in hir stress. "You’ll kill them all, you know that." Creekstripe smiled wickedly, looking over hir daughter, "You’re already cracking, and you’ll cause them to go into a frenzy, willy-nilly into danger."

Ignoring hir hallucinations for a bit longer, Gildy tried hir best to keep up with the techs. Sometimes it was difficult to see if the group was heading in a straight line or turning. Still, they waited for the call to cut the security feed. If they weren’t discovered before, they soon would be. The chakat’s pulses were both racing and shi felt hir upper heart try to escape out hir neck, but shi swallowed it down and steeled a little bit more courage.

"Holbock in position," the badger came through on the radio. It was only a few minutes since the operation started, and already it felt like an eternity. Gildedtongue gave an acknowledgement as they waited for Susan’s report. The chakat bit hir tongue in worry, hoping that they weren’t in trouble. But, if they were, surely they’d call in.

About to risk an outgoing signal, the chakat opened up hir mouth to question the tech’s group. The rat beat hir to the punch, however, reporting their position at the edge of the hangar. Gildy let out a breath shi didn’t know shi was holding before looking at the engineers in the room. "Okay, guys. We’ve got one shot at this. On my mark, Zajac, you terminate the network. Saldura, take out the sentry and free the prisoners, and Susan, reclaim the ship." Gildedtongue looked upwards and sighed slightly, offering a silent prayer for some luck and favour for success. "Labs, Holbock, Zajac, go!" Shi closed hir eyes. "And God save us all."

The giraffe herm punched in through the system, and soon all the monitors switched off. The occupants were still as Gildedtongue heard the sound of weapons fire through the comm unit. Finally the monitors flicked back on as Zajac leaned back in hir seat, a confident look on hir face. They’d managed to pry control from the system locally. Not easy on a Federation computer, but Gildedtongue figured it helped being seated at one of the main workstations.  The monitors ran through their booting diagnosis, still leaving the command team blind.

Without the ability to watch what was going on, the chakat gritted hir teeth, feeling hir pulse rising. Hir heart started to pound in hir throat as shi heard the exchange of fire over the comm unit. Both teams had engaged the enemy and the chakat had to listen blindly to the actions, hir claws scratching against the carpeted floor. Creekstripe chuckled behind hir. "They won’t win, you know. You’ve sent them all to their deaths." The chakat shut hir eyes, trying desperately to ignore the phantom as it loomed in hir head.

"We’ve got visual," Zajac said, looking over hir monitor once again. Saldura’s team was finishing off the last robot as hir technicians were working on the force field. Gildedtongue let out a long sigh of relief.

The badger looked around in the corridor, keeping hir pistol trained at the unknown. "Holbock reporting. Two machines neutralized, none more in sight. It seems the station is running on all but a skeleton crew, which should explain the low resistance."

"Yes, but, be careful. We’ve seen these things coming through the walls before." Gildedtongue warned, looking at the other monitors. Shi saw Susan’s team pinned against an entryway to the hangar bay, firing almost blindly into the doorway towards their opponents. "Labs, what’s your status?"

There was no response at first and Gildy looked to make sure that the rat was all right, finding it difficult to pick people out dressed in armour. Soon the Liverpudlian accent rang through the comm, "Labs here. Whatever resistance Holbock is lacking, we’re more than making up for. Ammo is fine, but it’s just a matter of time before these bastards flank us. Advice please!"

Gildy was quiet, not knowing what exactly to tell hir. Shi certainly was no strategist. Thankfully Saldura was listening into the feed. "Labs. Hold your ground for as long as you can. Gildedtongue, I need your techs to try and disable the anti-gravity units in and around the bay. That should disorient them long enough for the team to take them out."

"Gildedtongue, acknowledged. Labs, just keep safe for a little longer." Shi bit hir lip as shi watched the technicians perform the task hir spouse gave them, listening to keys tapping around. The ship’s life support sub-protocols were better protected than its security systems, making its adjustment much more difficult.

"Shit, Lars is down!" Susan swore as Gildy observed the fox herm getting hit by phaser blast. The vest unable to absorb the energy blast, causing hir to crumple to the floor, smoke wisping around hir torso. Gildy backed up from the monitors, breathing faster.

"And that’s the first one dead," Creekstripe chuckled, leaning over Gildy’s shoulder. The chakat was stammering to hirself, finding it harder and harder to breathe.

"Holbock here. We’ve freed the males and sending them to the armoury. Gildedtongue, get ready to receive them." Saldura repeated hirself again before Gildy stammered an acknowledgment. "We’re also sending seventeen, no, twenty children your way. Get them in the back and safe, you hear me?"

The chakat’s features sank visibly, having forgotten about the children during the crisis. At least they were safe. Shi shook hir head, trying to regroup hir thoughts, "Understood. Leave me with some more soldiers to keep them safe, Holbock."

Sal laughed through the com. "Just what I was thinking. Hand pick four to stay with you, then send the rest towards Labs." Saldura’s demeanour became more serious. Even through the monitor, Gildy could see Sal’s stance change. "How are you holding up, Gildedtongue?"

Wiping hir forehead, the chakat took in a deep breath. "Could be better," shi muttered, hir paws wiggling, "You rescued the males, right? Is Thallon there?" Shi looked over the monitors more carefully, finding things a bit difficult to view.

Saldura looked around and tossed hir comm unit. A familiar voice rang through it. "Hey love. Are you okay?" Thallon waved a bit in the air to call attention to himself, not seeing any of the cameras. Gildedtongue choked on a laugh, smiling wide.

"Yes! I’m fine. I’m hanging in there. And you? Are you okay? How are the rest of the people?"

Thallon stretched a little bit, "We’re mostly okay. A little frizzled and pissed off, but mostly okay and scared. Don’t worry. We’ll be out of here in no time flat, just you..." The large foxtaur’s words were cut short as the whole station suddenly trembled. Zajac let out a bleat of victory, jumping in hir seat, but as the artificial gravity was cut, shi had to pull hirself back down.

Gildy looked over the monitors to the actions going on in the hangars. With the gravitational functions turned off, the spider bots moved erratically at first, becoming easy targets for the Purgatorio’s crew. Electromagnetic feet were quickly deployed, giving the bots some stability, however their usual rapid and erratic movements dragged them to a crawl. "Labs here! We’re routing the enemy now. With that back up we should have the ship reclaimed shortly!" The rat’s voice came sing-song in their mêlée.

"Gildedtongue here. Good to hear, I’ll inform you when they’ve suited up." Gildy shut off the outgoing comm as shi sighed, trying to make sure shi’d keep it together. Shi paced as shi waited for the males to come in, looking at the monitors once in awhile.

Saldura sped through the corridors with hir team trailing behind hir, bouncing off the walls and ceiling, taking a zig-zag pattern. Their near-random movements made it difficult for Gildedtongue to keep up with them, much less anything trying to aim for them. Taking a deep breath, Gildedtongue turned back on hir comm unit. "I can see three guards out by the front of the female barracks. Careful; these look angry already." The bots on the monitor had their weapons already out, stun sticks waving in the air as phaser emitters scanned the hallway, knowing their opposition could come from any direction.

With a loud cry, the badger and hir team tore down the corridor, weaponfire already screaming through the halls. Two of the guards were knocked off balance from the phaser fire, but quickly regained footing thanks to the magnetism, returning volleys at the Purgatorio crew. Gildedtongue could hear Saldura’s screams as shi threw hirself at the vanguard bot, vibrosword singing in the atmosphere and carving into the armour of the machine, taking a chunk out of its chassis. The other machines were preoccupied by the volley directed towards them.

With another slash towards the spider bot’s ‘head’, Saldura’s blade shattered, but it caused the machine to skitter around aimlessly. Raising hir pistol, shi fired two rounds of hir coilgun into its organic processor. With a flick of a switch in the hilt, the blade remnants ejected from Saldura’s sword and shi quickly moved the empty hilt to the scabbard, drawing another ceramic brand before returning to the fray.

Gildy’s attention was quickly pulled away as the males arrived at the security station. The children were quickly ushered in first, Dominic helping the younger ones to where they were being directed to. Thallon himself brought up the rear, and he turned to kiss the chakat deeply. Shi was surprised, but welcomed the distraction as hir blue eyes closed, returning the kiss. The roguish male chuckled after it was cut short by one of the techs coughing. "That was from Sal. I’ll give you one from me when we’re out of here." He poked hir nose and winked before heading into the armoury to gear up. The chakat rolled hir eyes, looking back at the screen.

The skirmish was over and, aside from Saldura nursing a phaser burn on hir left arm, the assault had gone as planned. The technicians, knowing what they were looking for, made quick work of the protective field. The badger walked inside, getting a hug from Matilda and Thirtysilver. "Where’s Terry?" Sal asked, looking around, not seeing the doctor around.

The Caitian sighed quietly. "We aren’t sure. She wasn’t in here when we woke up, so, we were hoping that maybe she was with you all."

Saldura swore in an alien tongue as Gildedtongue checked through the monitors, seeing if shi could find her anywhere. The technicians shrugged their shoulders as they went through the scan, not finding her at all. The men came out of the armoury, nodding to the chakat as shi sat on hir haunches. Shi thought of keeping Thallon near by, but the possibility of distraction was far too great, choosing three humans and a wolf to remain behind. Shi hugged hir husband once more before they left, leaving Gildy, the children and the remaining guards in the security suite.

Wistfully looking at the leaving males, Gildy was brought back to reality hearing Saldura’s voice, "Holbock here. We’re sending the female crew to your position. Captain Jefferson will take over operations when she gets there."

Gildedtongue let out a sigh of relief. "Thank God. Understood, Holbock."

"I’ll be taking my squad with me on a search and rescue mission for Doctor Terry Wu. I’ll keep in contact." Saldura said with a hint of desperation to hir voice. Gildedtongue acknowledged, knowing that time was of the essence if they had the most remote possibility of bringing her back alive.

Dominic came back into the monitor room, looking at the chakat. "Is Mom okay?" he asked, the sandy haired boy’s large brown eyes looked over the monitors, seeing the incoming group of women and children, but not seeing the doctor among them.

Were it any other person, Gildy would have been tempted to lie to the child, but shi knew that not only did he want the truth, but after what he’s been through, was ready to handle it. "We don’t know. She wasn’t with the rest of them when Saldura found them. Shi’s looking for them now."

The teen’s breath quickened as his hands balled into fists. He turned and started for the hallway, but was stopped by the security guards. "Let me go! I’ve got to find her!" he cried, trying to shove them away. Gildedtongue went behind him, holding onto his shoulders, pulling him back, trying to help calm him.

Dominic continued to struggle, but sagged after a few moments. The chakat stroking his cheek, "Dominic. Dominic. Saldura’s out there to save her. If anyone can, it’s hir. Shi’s got the training and the weapons. Just, hold here for a moment, okay?"

Sniffling, the young teen finally agreed with the chakat. Still, his blood boiled and he wanted to do something more than just stand there, but he knew logically there was nothing else for him to do. "Go into the armoury and get it ready for the other kids, okay? They need you." Gildy offered the human a supportive smile, and a hug. With a purpose helping him, he went into the back for the others.

The chakat sighed, glad to have defused that little spark, the sound of Creekstripe’s taunting just that more faint as shi looked back at the monitors. The doors behind hir opened with a sudden whoosh as the chakat turned around, "Aye, Captain Mati..." shi started, but was shocked to see three spider drones at the door.

Two of the machines quickly shot at the guards at the door, driving them back against the wall. The third one hitting Zajac square in the chest with a stun shot as shi started to turn around, causing hir to slump like a dropped doll.

The door to the armoury opened up in the commotion, Gildy turning hir head towards it, expecting more enemies, but saw Dominic running in with a phaser pistol. The chakat roared, leaping towards the boy as one of the machines turned towards him, recognizing the threat. Shi shoved him into the back room, as a blast of light intended for his head cut right into the chakat’s right shoulder. The sudden shock and barrage of stun blasts dropped the leonine chakat quickly. As consciousness faded from hir, shi felt the bot’s tractors tingling on hir form, and the machines humming, "Withdraw."

The chakat found hirself coming to strapped to a medical bed. A dark portion of hir humour chuckled at how waking up like this seemed more normal than hir usual bed. Hir blue eyes slowly fluttered open, seeing a black and white blob before hir. As hir vision got better, the visage of Commander Johnson’s grinning, upside down face greeted hir. "You really should have made this easier on yourself. It would have been far less painful."

The skunk laughed as Gildy snarled at hir, thrashing against hir bonds. "You Monster! What the Hell are you doing?" shi glared at the fat mephit with stewing rage as Kim stood up. The fat skunktail brushed over hir face lightly, making hir sneeze. Shi wasn’t sure what was more uncomfortable, the tubes shoved into hir orifices, the feeding tube cut into hir first belly, or the fact that hir nose itched.

"Monster. That’s what they call us, you know?" Kim shrugged, "The Humans, the Aliens, even other morphs." The skunk turned around, "Seeing all that nature has brought about, the moment that some species has achieved sentience, the one thing that they learn, and the one thing that they hold most dear, is hate." Kim smiled quietly, "But, machines, our artificial intelligences, that is one thing that they are programmed without. Even the Turners when they made your kin, they left Hate, because they knew that it is Hate that makes something really alive."

Shaking hir head, Gildedtongue groaned, "So, what are you going to do? Carve my brain out and shove it in some machine here, like Jeanne Hsu? Like the rest of the people that lived here? Came through here?"

Kim’s laugh grew as shi leaned against the wall, "Oh, I could, and I most certainly will, eventually," hir hands slowly framed the chakat’s head, as if feeling for the cerebral matter within, "You see, a chakat’s brain is so meticulously put together, it would be the perfect medium for a cerebral processor." The long fingernails of the skunk pushed against hir flesh on hir cheek, going up hir scalp. "Perfect indeed, but, a waste for the long term for such a short term gain. No, you see, I’ve got other plans for you."

The skunk stroked over hir pregnant belly, "We herms are so well designed for growth, I must thank Chance every day I was born one. Already, ten of my children are growing in the lower nurseries, and when they are old enough, they’ll spawn more. Some will be taken for new machines, and some will be culled for organic matter to feed the others..." Johnson said as casually as one would talk about raising chickens.

"Of course, I was hoping to have the rest of the hermaphrodite crew in such a production, but your fleshy friends just wouldn’t go along with it, would you? I’m trying to go past what Nature can make, but you people are so connected with this... meaningless life, that you can’t see what gifts I can bestow!" Kim moved hir hands over Gildedtongue’s belly, "But you. You give me a gift... not just one, but two gifts. It would seem that Chance has smiled upon me again."

Gildy’s eyes were wide. The lunatic’s rantings bounced in hir brain as shi couldn’t believe shi had to comprehend what this person was saying. Shi was planning on killing hir children for hir own little army, or worse, make them in the same position shi’s in, forever in self breeding until they’re used up and slaughtered. Gildedtongue’s hearts both raced as hir breathing quickened. Panic ran through the chakat as fear coursed through hir veins.

It was then that Gildedtongue felt another fear. Two fears, from deep within. Confusion and sadness welling up from within hir belly as the foetuses formed enough to perceive emotion, and the first thing they felt was that the world was a horrible place. Kim laughed as shi went up to look at the chakat’s face again, flicking hir tail.

Shi didn’t know where it came from or how shi did it, but in the next moment, Gildedtongue had broken hir left elbow lifting hir arm, yanking the limb from its bindings and clubbed the giggling mephit once, twice, and again, managing to make hir claws rake over hir face.

"You bitch!" shi snarled, holding hir face, reeling back. "You! Take hir to the meat locker. Give this impudent thing some time to cool off!" The skunk sulked off before Gildedtongue turned hir head, seeing a spider bot before hir. Hir eyes went wide, seeing Frank’s cross dangling from its ‘neck.’ The chakat opened hir mouth to say something before shi was quickly knocked back unconscious by another stun blast.

‘If it’s a good chakat brain shi wants..." Gildy thought as shi woke up again, "Shi might want to ease up on the merchandise." The room was dark, as the chakat looked around. Hir lower light vision wasn’t picking up too much, just a bit of bleeding from around the sealed door. The air was cool and it almost froze hir lungs to breathe in it. A station like this has a replicator strong enough to provide all the meals to its crew and travellers, but often it was easier to just thaw some meat that make new batches.

The chakat’s stomach lurched as shi wondered where the meat shi ate earlier came from, or rather, who? Shi shook such thoughts out of hir head as shi saw a figure sitting against the wall near the door. With both hir arms recently injured, shi had to move carefully, though hir right shoulder felt like it had been treated in hir capture, able to use hir arm with some effort, but it was not impossible.

Getting closer, hir eyes went wide, seeing Terry Wu’s face in the darkness. "Shit, Doctor! Here you are!" Gildy laughed, hobbling closer. "I should have known you were here. With a mouth like yours, you’d have to have been tossed in this prison sooner or later. Gildy wrapped hir good arm around the woman, tugging her close as she raised a hand to run it through her hair.

The chakat’s hand felt something slimy and concave. Wu was totally unresponsive as she slumped against her. Shi pulled away, looking at hir hand, seeing it glisten just slightly in the darkness. The realization that hir hand was in hir friend’s empty skull made hir retch again, expelling whatever was that foul dinner onto the ground.

Pounding hir good hand against the door, the chakat cried and screamed. Shi did not want to be in this frozen tomb any longer, especially as the occupants were so close to hir. Pounding until hir hand felt like a ham-hock replaced it, the door finally creaked open. The bot from earlier staring at hir with its lens. The cross dangling from its neck. "Wh-where did you get that?" shi demanded, hir delirium making it difficult to focus on the things that mattered.

"The necklace?" The machine asked, touching it with a claw, "It was found aboard the space ship that docked earlier, in one of the beds." The machine looked over Gildedtongue’s arm, "Are you okay, shir? You seem to need medical attention."

Hir head was throbbing, but shi shook it slightly, "I should have figured. Last place I’d look. I’m such an idiot." shi muttered, "Who are you?" The machine started to respond with its serial number, but Gildy interrupted, "Before you were...this. Your processor."

"Cerebral scans show that this one was a Doctor Terry Wu, a ship’s medic aboard the Pu..." The machine couldn’t finish speaking before the chakat’s eyes went red with rage. Hir fists started to pound the machine as hir mind seemed to have switched off.

Gildedtongue woke up again, feeling a hand on hir shoulder. Shi jolted upright, yowling at the pain in hir limbs, turning to whatever was touching hir. Shi looked up at the concerned face of hir badger spouse. Shi looked back down at the mess beneath hir. Machine parts, bio-gel, and brain matter was spread across before hir. Tears welled up in the chakat’s eyes, sobbing, "I killed her. I killed her."

Saldura looked at Terry’s corpse nearby, then held the chakat, "No you didn’t. No you didn’t. Shh. She was dead when they did this to her. You set her at peace." The chakat continued to cry, pressed against the badger, shi barely noticed two guards shoving a bound Kim Johnson in the room.

"One slug to the head I think should be enough." Said the human security guard, leveling his rifle to the Federation officer. Kim seemed more pissed off than afraid, glassy eyes staring at the chakat, burrowing shards right into hir own head.

"Oh, yes. Fuckin' kill me!" the skunk spat over hir shoulder at the guard with the gun, hir tail bristled behind hir. "Then you and the rest of this whole galaxy will regret the sort of hatred you and all organic life has compounded!" Shi turned, glowering at Saldura and Gildedtongue. The guard adjusted his rifle before the badger held up hir hand.

"Regret, how?" Shi asked, approaching the kneeling creature, squatting down to hir face level.

Kim's sadistic grin moved hir jowls as hir eyes burned right into Saldura's, "My body's connected to the ship's computer. And it's been programmed that when I die, it's to run a protocol that will start these machines to start warping themselves to other stations, killing the crews and making more and more. There isn't any way for you to stop me once I'm dead. So, yes, do it! Bring your pathetic meat to its end!"

"A-a virus." Gildedtongue muttered, hir addled brain catching some of the insanity, "Find a host cell, pump out more of its kind until it's used up and rots away, and then infect something else." Shi grunts quietly, "And, like viruses, aren't living...nor dead."

Rolling hir eyes, Johnson shrugged slightly at the analysis, murmuring a 'not quite.' Saldura kicked the skunk in the side for the snide comment, interrupting hir thought process. "Fine, you're coming with us, to the Federation. I'm sure that they'd love to see what sort of operation you've got here."

Groaning at the pain in hir ribs as shi giggled, Kim looked back up at Saldura, "That, what? A bunch of furs from deep within Pirate infested space brought back a commander from a station where the entire crew is dead? You really think they'd believe you?" shi smirked, "And before you even start to think about any records here, I've already scrapped the security storage room for parts for my children. An...unfortunate loss during our mêlée." Shi smirked, "And, who will they believe? A Fleet Commander? Or some long overdue Spacers with thoughts of robots running around in their brain?"

Saldura conceded that point with another kick to Kim's ribs. The truth was far more fantastical than any sort of lie that Kim could come up with, and in that twisted brain, not even a skunktaur could come up with the facts.

The room was quiet aside from Johnson's incessant giggling, which was seriously getting on everyone's nerves. Saldura smiled as a plan formulated in hir brain. The rough hand of the badger patted and ran through Kim's headfur, "So, we can't kill you, and we can't turn you in. I suppose we'll just have to leave you and let you live. Give us a warp drive, and we'll let you live out the rest of your days here."

"Turn tail and run? Well, I suppose cowardice is the Spacer's code." Kim snickered. Gildedtongue blinked at Saldura as the group started towards the hangar. The chakat's paws were all mangled and broken from beating the robot and hir arms burned. Several electrical burns were all over hir upper torso as shi winced in pain, walking with Thallon supporting hir.

Zajac was in the replicator control room, setting up the system to construct a drive. Saldura took off hir handcuffs to let the skunk operate the machine, placing hir hand on the palm scanner, leaning to the retina scanner, letting it verify hir. "Officer override has been accepted. Commencing construction of Warp Field Generator starting.  Warp Drive Engine queued," the computer chimed helpfully. Just outside in the hangar, the warp core slowly started to materialize, part by part.

Kim turned to look back at the guards, "So, that's it, right? You've collected your spoils and going to go on your merry way?" Shi sounded a little annoyed, crossing hir arms in front of hir heavy chest.

Saldura shook hir head, chuckling, "No, no. We're going to shoot you first." shi grinned coldly. Kim's eyes went wide as shi looked in shock.

"What? You said you'd let me go! You know what will happen when you kill me, you'll doom everyone you know!" shi snarled, balling hir hands into fists.

The badger chuckled an icy laugh, shaking hir head, "I didn't say we'll kill you." Shi stepped closer to the skunk, who was backing away from hir towards Zajac. "No, we won't kill you. We're going to hurt you. Tear apart your body slowly, and place you in one of your bots we've recovered, the legs, manipulators, and transmissions destroyed, of course." The badger's wicked grin grew, "You'll live, and the Bio Gel in the machine will continue to sustain your organs, but you won't recover. And as your body moves within the mass, and your nerve endings touch those cold, metal sides, they'll spasm in agony, reminding you of everyone else you've dropped in those things." The badger smiled coldly at the skunk, "And you'll be left alive, swimming in that goop, from now, until the end of time."

Kim was struck dumb, mouth agape as shi shivered from the cold proposal. Hir eyes rapidly darting around the room as hir breathing quickened, Gildy could hear the sound of hir heart pounding faster.

Like a flash, Kim shoved Zajac, grabbing a phaser pistol from the giraffe's hip. Saldura and the guard moved to raise their weapons, expecting a fight from the insane commander. The skunk's mad, frightened eyes turned to look into Gildedtongue's, staring deep into the chakat's soul before they went blank.

A blast of light lanced through the skunk's fatty chin, up and through hir skull before splashing on the ceiling, burning a dent in the metallic covering. Kim dropped to hir knees before keeling over like a ragdoll, the wound cauterizing, leaving the dry corpse on the floor. Saldura swore, shaking the dead skunk. "Shit. You think shi was bluffing about the bot distribution?"

Gildedtongue shrugged a bit, "I–I don't think shi would have. Why would someone as crazy like that lie? Although," The chakat listened, "I don't hear any alarms or anything."

Zajac grunted, getting back up, looking sheepishly since it was hir weapon that was taken. "I don't think that there'd be an alarm for something shi wouldn't expect anyone to be alive to hear." Shi dusted hirself off, looking down at the fallen foe. "Well, people say a lot of things to keep them from dying, but..." shi trailed off, "I'd say we've got a fifty percent chance shi was telling the truth."

"Great. I don't like those odds," Saldura sighed, crossing hir arms, "Any way to track the bots?"

"Yeah, we could get back in the security system, but, the bots seem to be on a proprietary system, I don't know how long it'd take to hack it, and we might be too late already." Zajac shrugged again, looking at the console to think of a way to fix what was wrong. "I mean, I guess we could blow the station. There's enough antimatter here to send off a big enough shockwave to clear out whatever that maniac should send out before they get too far."

Shaking hir head, Saldura sighed, "No, Zajac. An unfocused antimatter explosion would leave a massive agitation field around this station, and, were our ship to survive the thing, it'd be so heavily painted with the antimatter, it'd bring up even more questions that I the Captain nor I want to answer."

The group were quiet as Gildedtongue tried to not look at the body on the floor. Shi tried hir best to pity the poor soul that took hir own life, but found that shi couldn't. Shi found hirself glad that shi was dead, that maybe hir blood would appease the spirit of Terry. Shi knew that wouldn't be the case, but the thought still lingered. Zajac finally spoke up, "Well, there's a way to spend the fuel and blow up the station at the same time..."

Saldura nodded, "I'm all ears."

"We pump it through the station’s own power core.  The antimatter is fully utilized, thus removing the possibility of a field, and would, well, completely wipe this place clean."

"A warp-core bomb?" Saldura muttered, looking around, "Just... erase this whole place from existence, then?"

The giraffe nodded, typing on the computer, "Pretty much. I'm sure I can get this to start to overload the station’s core once we're out of range."  The replicator chimed and out of the viewport, the group saw that the Warp Field Generator was built.  The Purgatorio’s engineers quickly moved to load and install the massive piece of tech, getting Thallon to carry the generator into the cargo bay and presumably to the back with engineering.

"Warp Field Generator completed.  Warp Drive Engine next on queue.  Please make authorization to continue," the computer requested, making the giraffe comptech groan, rolling hir eyes.  Some systems were really touchy about authorization, being a pain in the tail to get them running.  Saldura and Zajac hefted the corpse up to the machine, putting hir hand on the scanner and shoving hir face to the retina scanner.

The machine quietly ran its processes before chiming, "Access denied. Records show Commander Johnson as deceased. Operations shutting down until approved officer override is input." Saldura cursed in Rakshani, giving the console a firm thump with hir fist, but even the threat of violence didn't sway the unfeeling computer.

"Holbock to Jefferson, we've got a situation," the badger grumbled, "Johnson stole a gun and checked hirself out. Apparently those bots are designed to spread when shi dies. No confirmation on this threat, but we aren't sure if they haven't already started the process or not. Best course of action is to blow this place, and the most untraceable method would be a warp core explosion."

"I'm hearing a great big 'but' at the end of this, Corporal," Gildy heard from Sal's comm.

"We've managed to build the field generator, but, with Johnson dead, we won't be able to build the drive." Saldura sighed, "So, either we call Johnson's bluff, and try to hack our way around these protocols, while it’s shut itself down. Or..."

"I see. I'll contact engineering to see if there's anything we can do. Call again if you've received any information or ideas. And we'll have our engineers turn on our scanners to see if there have been any launched bots."

"Right, Holbock out." Saldura sighed, leaning against the wall, "Fuck. Heh, these things never turn out easy, do they?"

The giraffe nodded and sighed again, thinking, "Well, if we detonate a warp core, anything caught in its radius will have its atoms warped in random directions across the galaxy, well, unless..." Zajac trailed off.

"Unless what, Tech?" Saldura cocked an eyebrow.

"Unless it’s contained in a warp bubble. The pocket sphere of real space should be protected from the destruction."

"You think the new thing will be able to hold that kind of activity?  I don’t think what we’re about to do is covered in the warranty." Gildedtongue said, grumbling in hir increasing pain as the adrenaline left hir body. The giraffe smirked at the joke, but shrugged.

"Well, warping isn’t quite the same as a physical push.  We will feel the part that leaks into warp space, but hopefully nothing more than we could cope with. The catch is that we would be left drifting – without a drive, we’d be back to where we were before. Worse in fact since those damn bots did a number on our equipment."

The badger nodded, thinking about that. "At least it could buy us time. You get this thing set up to do what you need it to. Gildedtongue?" Saldura's hard eyes softened, offering the feline a soft smile, "I think you need to get to the med bay." The chakat grunted an acknowledgement as shi, Thallon, and Saldura moved towards the Purgatorio.

Technicians were busy doing repairs to the ship's hull where the robots were removing parts for themselves, and several security officers were cataloguing the BTTA equipment that were utilized earlier. Susan was outside the ship, meeting the two. "Zajac told me what you intend to do. I’ve got no intention of risking a core explosion at close range and possibly drifting around for years though."

Saldura glared at the rat. "And what do you propose we do without a drive? We can’t build one any more!"

"Who said anything about building one? Come on, we’ve gotta talk to the captain."

They made their way into the ship, finding the captain in the Spine, overlooking the preparations. Susan, Saldura, and Thallon offered Matilda a salute, and the chakat gave a quiet grunt.

"So, let me get this straight." Matilda said, pinching the bridge of her nose, "The fat fuck shot hirself in the head, so we've got no ability to start building a warp engine, and in killing hirself, shi might have set off the bots here to start jettisoning to other stations." She sighed. "Scanners haven't caught wind of anything leaving, so it could have been a bluff, but how certain would we be of that?"

Thallon nodded at the assessment, "And how exactly would the Feds be open to us saying "By the way, we just left your station, everyone's dead and there's some mechanical monstrosities heading places we don't know about." He chuckled wryly. "Or if they are."

The assembled nodded quietly before Matilda said to Susan, "You say you have a way out of this though?"

"Sure – take the station’s." When they all gave hir a blank look, shi continued. "These stations aren’t built out here. In fact these outposts are often temporary, so they want to be able to move them. They get built in a Federation shipyard and they are driven out to wherever they’re needed. They only have a very small drive because speed is not an issue, and pushing a ship like ours will be painfully slow, relatively speaking, but we’d be able to get to our destination in weeks, not years."

Saldura looked sceptical. "You don’t seriously think we can get rip out this station’s warp drive and adapt it to our ship in a short time, or at all?"

"You’ve got a better idea?" Susan replied hotly.

Matilda adjusted her longcoat, "I don’t care if you need to hold it together with string and duct tape – rip it out, shove it in, and make it work! Labs, I’m putting you in charge of this little operation. You’re either going to be promoted or dead."

"Aye, aye, captain," shi said, scampering off. Matilda looked into Gildedtongue’s face.

"And you need to get to sick bay. I’m sorry for all you’ve gone through."

Gildedtongue let out a half-hearted chuckle, "Not your fault, Captain. Not your fault." Thallon gave the captain and his spouse a salute before slowly taking the chakat back to the sick bay. Gildedtongue groaned again as the last bit of adrenaline was escaping hir body, the aches and pains of what shi’d gone through catching up rapidly. Thallon, always with a smile, rubbed hir chin, "Now it’ll be my turn to nurse you while you get better."

"Heh, yeah, but you only have to worry about it for a little bit," shi chuckled. Thallon carefully helped the chakat on a bed just before they felt everything shake. "What was that?"

"Nothing for you to worry about now," Thallon reassured hir, even though he wondered about it himself.

The rat was enjoying hirself. Virtually given carte blanche, shi was going at hir task with gusto. Shi had sent hir techs ahead to find the station’s warp drive and start disconnecting its wiring and piping. "Get it done whatever way you can. Speed is the absolute priority!" shi instructed. With access to the station’s heavy-duty transporters, shi first removed the defunct drive from the Purgatorio without taking the time to fully dismount it. Although it had been disconnected in preparation for replacement, a few bolts had been left in place for safety’s sake. The transporter sheared off those remaining mounts, sending a shudder through the ship as the strain was abruptly released.

"Have you got that drive disconnected yet?" shi called over hir comm.

"You gotta be kidding!" came the exasperated reply.

"Do I sound as if I’m kidding? Chop them with a beam-cutter if you have to, but do it now!"

In spite of the ridiculous challenge, the techs got the important stuff disconnected in an incredibly short time, then reported back to hir. "It’s close enough to ready, but there’s no way that it’s going to seat in our drive’s mounts."

"Considering what I just did to the mounts, I don’t think it’s going to matter. Now get out of there. I’m going to beam it over to the Purgatorio."

Susan was a lot more careful with that transfer though. Fortunately its smaller size let hir place in the drive bay relatively easily. While waiting for the techs to finish the job, shi had hunted around for anything useful and beamed it aboard the ship. Shi prayed that shi had found enough equipment to properly hook up the drive. Shi shut down the transporter and started running for the Purgatorio.

"Labs to Purgatorio," shi called ahead on hir comm. "We’ve got the drive, and everyone is heading back to the ship. Be ready to button up and get out of here when we’re all aboard."

"Acknowleged," Matilda replied. "We’re ready to trigger the warp core overload. You better be right about our warp field keeping us safe."

"Just be ready to move us at out top impulse speed to put some distance between us and the station, otherwise it’ll be like trying to ride a tsunami!"

Saldura was at the hatch, checking off the final crew. When the last one was aboard, shi hit the comm. "Captain – everyone’s aboard and we’re buttoned up."

"Acknowleged. Helm – get us out of here fast!"

The helmsman had already plotted the fastest way to leave the station. Manoeuvring jets wreaked havoc with some of the station’s more vulnerable external equipment, but shortly that would not matter in the slightest. The Purgatorio strained to put distance between itself and the impending explosion.

A great nothingness happened in space. What was the Federation Frontier Station BTTA suddenly disappeared from reality, like the finger of God came and poked it out of existence. The rippling of Space-Time sent the subatomic particles of the station and anything within three hundred kilometres in every which direction. But like a tiny iron bubble, Purgatorio was flung before the shockwave, safe within its cocoon of subspace.



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