2020.11.27 "Come on guys, it's OK."

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"Come on guys, it's OK."

A terrible idea occurs to me as I listen to the professional goon begging in the airlock. It is most definitely not OK, and I repress a grin as I slip out my tool kit.

There's a reedy inflection in comm that I'm not sure is accurate or affectation. "You sure didn't look like things were OK back there."

You could almost hear the goon's shoulder's slump. "Yeah, it was pretty tense."

"You're, ah, looking pretty zarking unscathed. You know. Considering."

"...Yeah. I don't know how I'm not dead."

This pause in the conversation sure sounds like other people conversing off-circuit. I wonder if it's accessible...

"Guys....?" Ooop, sounds like the goon is thinking the same thing as me.

"Just hang on a moment, Garvek." Ah, goon's name is Garvek. Or, at least that's what the reedy-voice being calls the goon. Might not be a reliable source.

"Not to be too pushy, guys, but I think we should get out of here before my luck catches up with us."

Oh, I think they're over there...

"...and it's bad for recruiting if we just ditch a crewman." Don't recognize that voice.

"Recruiting? Are you zarking with me? Potential security personnel on another planet aren't going to give a flying zark about what happened to this idiot." Well, at least reedy-voice is just as unpleasant with others, and not just poor Garvek.

"For any old lump of cannon-fodder while we're still making a name for ourselves, sure. But once we start needing really top-notch people, this sort of shit will stain us for a long-ass time to come." Hm. I think I like this guy.

"Shut the zark up, Krunks." Ouch. Someone knows they're wrong. Wonder if Krunks is going to stuff a fistful of righteous insight down Reedy-Voice's throat...

"As you wish, captain." Disappointing, but I guess I don't know the circumstances here.

"Orders?" That's a third voice, reptilian, who sounds like they were having trouble with the awkward pause.

"Gah! Let the impossibly-lucky goon in."

There might have been a grunting noise, but immediately afterwards we can feel and hear the heavy ship bulkhead door cycle. I wish we could get a peek into that big central corridor...

It's a bad idea: too many eyes. Moving carefully would have at least one of them glance over me, and a couple stages of mathematician would have me rooted out in no time. Moving swiftly might flash in-between their glances, but if not then it would definitely flare up their motion sensitivity. I carefully tamper the maintenance shaft access to seal again, and try the next node.

There's a heavy set of steps that ramp down from rushing in the door to end stepping demurely into the space with the rest of the crew. At least, it's all the crew I can smell - so far. "Whew - thanks guys. Had me seriously worried there for a minute."

"Don't thank 'the guys' - thank me. I'm the one that decided to let you back in. Nav: Get us the zark out of here."

"Thanks captain."

The gravitic controls of the ship give a lurch as they try to compensate for the ship disengaging from the spaceport and accelerating hard. Looks like this gambit is officially into "no backsies" territory.

"Get to the med bay to treat those suspiciously superficial wounds and tell Krunks in detail what you can. Those Zarkers were not zarking around, and I'm going to ping some contacts back on Ematoes Station to find out if there's anything we can dig up on them." Reedy-voiced captain asshole stalks towards what is doubtlessly some secluded portion of the ship. Maybe to not reveal it's contacts to the others, in typical insecure commmand-and-control leadery style. Makes for a dilemma - try to stalk the lone captain, or try to listen into the conversation that Garvek has with Krunk.

Best to not be too rash, and gather more information about our cast of characters. I'm not too bothered by having any background checks on my team. At least, not yet.

This crammed maintenance shaft doesn't have a lot of options here - I'll have to head back to that last node and see if there's another direction with the right smell. Ouch, dammit: I'm stabbing myself with my own quills turning around in this tight of a space. And I'm leaving talon-marks on things. I might be quiet still, but they'll definitely be able to track me in here.

That way.

"Your wounds are very clean."

"Well, I didn't stop to rub grime on them or anything while i was running back to the ship."

"No, I mean that the beam weapon used very carefully avoided hitting anything that might have slowed you down very much."

"...Uh. What? Are you saying that they were toying with me, so they could shoot me more?"

"Maybe. It is possible that they planned on shooting you more - after they had scared you and let you lead them back to us."

"OOOOOOOOOH! Shit. OK, that's such a relief. I thought you guys all hated my guts for something I did wrong and that's why you weren't letting me in."

"I'm not sure why you're relieved, Mister Garvek. The captain undoubtedly still suspects that you are working for or with those surprise assailants on Ematoes, and the superficial nature of your wounds does not disprove that."

I wish I could see Garvek's face; it's probably priceless. Honestly, the way my partner shot THROUGH this guy to drop two other goons was a masterpiece of snipery goodness. I certainly couldn't have done it. Of course, my filament rifle doesn't cut through things very well. There's something about Krunks here that has me pondering. If my mini-Mizzie-enchanted blaster and force blade hadn't freaked out and fled me when I insisted on entering this ship, I might have been able to more directly detect if the coldly logical Krunks was actually an active-metal shapeshifting monster. Alas - it's probably better that they're not here when this all plays out anyway.

Oh zark. I was too busy feeling smug that I failed to notice things getting quiet. Now I've got this awful sense that they're being quiet because they're trying to sense me behind the deck panel. It's really quiet - and I have better hearing than eyesight. Something is definitely wrong now. Yep, that's blood I smell. The spurty kind.

There. There's a sound. Footsteps - someone is approaching. All stompy, like the own the place.

"What the flying zark!?" Reedy-voiced captain: called it. There's a slapping sound on some wall panel I can't see, and suddenly the ship is filled with klaxons both audible and in their data net. Not that I'm able to hack into their data net past the intercoms, but I'm seasoned enough to notice that it's changed from trickle to a torrent.

Another person charges into the space. "Captain! What happened?"

"You zarking tell me, Krunk! You were supposed to be in here debriefing the corpse! Except, you know, before he was a corpse and still had his head attached!"

Whup. Head not attached would definitely account for the blood smell. Again, I'm no mathematician, but I think we can call the potential Missionary on this crew as the surprisingly terrifying Krunk.

"I had a bad feeling, and left for a moment to check the main hatch where Garvek came on board."

"OK, tell me what the hell that's about in a moment. First, let's lock everything down..." There's a staccato series of CLUNKs all around - bulkheads closing. I'm officially cornered. With a Missionary. Joy.

"I think your hunch was right - Mister Garvek was a trojan horse to let intruders on board."

"What? You said we should let him on, and I assumed that meant you did the mathematician thing and determined he was clear."

"He probably was clear, in that he did not know they were using him. His injuries were superficial, but it was unlikely that it would have seemed that way to him - they were expertly inflicted to be distressing."

"Now you're just talking goofy. How can they be inflicted to be minor but distressing?"

"They didn't nick him - they used armour-piercing beam weapons to shoot through him. Through some densely-vital regions, I should point out."

"Holy zark."

"Yes. Which is why I went to the hatch to check for any residual charge from cloaking devices."

The throaty-yet-reedy grunt speaks eloquently about the reedy-voiced captain's anxiety. "OK, let's get the zark out of this section and barricade the forward quarters. I don't want to be locked up in here with the thing that beheaded Garvek."

"Agreed." There's the sounds of departure, complete with UN-CLUNK / RE-CLUNK as they left the section.

My spines made scraping sounds against the hull plate I was crammed against as a shiver of fear washes over me. It takes concentration to maintain focus - my engineered species transmutes almost every emotion into bloodlust, which would be suicide here and now. I'm an epic badass, but there's no way I can go toe-to-toe with a full-sized Missionary. Even less so in this confined space. I've got to get out of this cranny.

My handy tool gauntlet lets me make short work of the access panel to the hallway, and I swarm out as silently as I can. I consider replacing the panel fully, but get distracted by the surprised look on Garvek's face. Which is surprising by itself, being neatly placed on the floor in the room next to the carefully-slumped form of the rest of Garvek.

Reflexively my comically-oversized force blade snapped up into a low guard, and my instinctive fear glows with squeaky I-told-you-so-ness as I regard the dour human that magically appeared behind me, near the bulkhead door.

"You're not what I thought." I'm not sure what it thought, but it was probably thinking a robot/Missionary hybrid. And probably not a spikey thing digging rents in the floor with his hind claws.