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Chapter 10: Offensive


As it grew dark, Percy's vision changed. The almost total darkness of the room was little more than dusk to him. It was one more neat thing about himself; one more talent he hadn't known he had. The others weren't so lucky. Everyone else, except for Sharneste, could see little more than shadows in the darkness.

Outside the control room door, which Chelydra still held open, a distant bobbing light source could be seen. As it grew closer and closer, approaching the control room, Zhaxier recognized it as Tinker. If robots could smile, Tinker would have as he approached and heard Zhaxier yell his name. Chelydra eased off the grip on his weapon once he realized the robot was Zhaxier's amigo. It brought both Percy and Chelydra some ironic amusement to think that Zhaxier had befriended a robot after so many had tried to kill him.

Tinker entered the control room and scanned all of Zhaxier's acquaintances. His makeshift torch/tree limb lit up the room as its flame flickered and burned, giving off a faint trail of smoke.

With less skill than a diplomat, Zhaxier introduced Tinker to the crowd around him and filled him in on everything thing he had missed.

With Tinker's light source, Nike searched Amanda's bedding and food bag. She offered some apples to Zhaxier and Sharneste, but she did not find any keys. Without a key to the control room, things would be more difficult. Nike knew she had to keep the group moving; wasting time here only gave the Watcher more time to prepare its defenses. Her knowledge of tactics told her to strike fast.

A quick inventory was made among the group. Chelydra had a shotgun with two shots left; Zhaxier had a laser pistol; Percy had a large wrench; Nike had a knife and a small stun gun; and Tinker had a blaster pistol and the slug throwing pistol.

Laser Pistol

Stun Gun

Mark V Blaster

rubber-slug thrower (conegun)

"Let's see if I can get the power back on in here" Tinker offered.

"Why would we need lights and AC if we're leaving?" Zhaxier asked rhetorically.

But Tinker ignored him. He was obsessed with revenge and began dismantling a nearby electrical junction. His enthusiasm was evident in the manner in which he removed whole circuit panels, dusted the contents, nano-lathed replacement circuitry, and reinserted the panels. He seemed to be possessed; he muttered to himself as his astonished companions watched, "Zhaxier, apparently your kind can become invisible by scattering electro-magnetic radiation, but you still take up space, and you need to inhale and exhale and those are their weak points ... if I can make it rain, or fog, they might as well be wearing neon orange safety vests ... that tubecrawler made a major mistake letting me live ... that power damper alone is worth the trouble of burning down that GAWF village. I'm sorry folks, but I am not in a charitable mood right now."

Zhaxier watched with amazement as Tinker rewired the enviro room controls. His keen engineering sense gave him an overall notion of his modifications, even if he didn't know the specifics. "Pretty slick, dude, but what's this about 'my people'? Who do you think I am, Moses? And dude, what happened to your arsenal?"

Tinker told the group about Devon and his merry band of GAWFs (Gawd Awful Freaks!) and the power damper that had been used to subdue him. He also explained that the enviro room would be a good fallback position. "Besides, if we can control the local weather, maybe we can get a little respect around here."

"Dude, that sucks. But I think your plan B is different from Butch's. Rescue a power damper, or a sexy blonde. Hmmm, tough decision, even for Moses ..." Zhaxier's let the implication stand.

"We need more weapons, and that power damper might work on any weapons the other baddies might have. If you guys want to take a vote on what to do first, I'll go along with it."

"Good point, Tinker. I might be able to locate another weapons locker like the one we raided. Also, power dampers are in use throughout the Warden to control feedback in the propulsion clusters. Probably where Devon "call me Koresh" got his. Might as well check ..." Zhaxier's voice trailed into a low mumble as he took out his data pad, much to Percy's ooh's and ahh's. "That's right, fear the pad. Now, let's see where Mr. Watcher/Listener might be hiding ..." He tapped a few queries into his data pad.

Sharneste suddenly caught his attention. She was sitting in a corner sniffing the empty remains of Amanda's apple bag. Her quiet demeanor belied her savage appetite. "I'll put in a search for food too. Sure could go for a Big Ed's special about now."

Sharneste's puzzled look spurred Zhaxier to elaborate, "Pizza ... Flat bread with a puffy rim, and all sorts of veggies, meat and cheese in the middle. Big Ed's was the finest throughout the nine planets back when Warden left the Oort Cloud. Crikey, it seems like yesterday ..."

Zhaxier was amazed at the fidelity of his memory when it came to the minutia of "his" past life. The apparent blocks he suffered when it came to "E..." seemed to validate his feelings. "She must've been something else," he thought sadly.

Nike stood brandishing her knife next to the desk with Chelydra. "Chelydra, you ready to go for plan B?" Her eyes began to sparkle with excitement as the adrenaline started to stir. "I'm going for Amanda. I can't just abandon her, anymore than I would abandon one of you. The fact is, we don't have a key to this room, so unless Tinker here can get us back in somehow, we need to act now to get her, and act quickly."

"Anyone coming with me needs to make that decision now and follow me."

Percy nodded his head at Nike's confidence-inspiring speech. Maybe it was admiration by a civilian toward a military leader, or maybe he also felt some personal responsibility for rescuing Amanda. Probably it was a combination of both. "I'm with you, Captain. By the way, I can see in the dark, too. I'm not sure why, but I bet that'll come in handy. Maybe a remnant from my transformation into the wolf creatures earlier! I don't know. I don't really know. But yeah, we gotta rescue her. We need all the crew clones we can to gain control over this ship!"

Percy muttered something to himself about not knowing what had happened to him while he grabbed his sack off the floor with his left hand, while his right still gripped the bloody wrench.

Sharneste shook her head quickly, confused by all the conflicting babble, but she perked up at the mention of 'rescuing' someone. "Rescue? Someone needs rescue? Someone needs found? I can find. I find her, I get food. Yes?"

"Allow me, please," Tinker said to Nike. He went to the door and scanned it. Then he started his omni-power tool with the intention of drilling out the lock.

"Wait, robot!" Percy shook his head in frustration. "We don't need to drill the damn thing, we found a button. Nike, show it the button!" He looked at Nike who was reaching under the desk. "Under the desk, yeah!" Percy looked at Zhaxier, "Do you have any control over this robot?"

The door opened and Chelydra looked into the dark hallway. "This is not going to be fun," he thought.

Sharneste strode over to the door and started sniffing around it. She picked up a scent that she hadn't noticed before. She uttered a low growl and started padding down the corridor, following the scent. The corridor was filled with broken glass, but it did not effect her tough foot-pads.

"The Hell with the door," Tinker said, "I'm going to follow the kitty."

"Does it look like I control him? Who do you think I am, RAM?" Zhaxier said into his pad.

"RAM?" Percy looked straight into Zhaxier's data pad, as if Zhaxier had read the word from the pad itself. Percy paused for a moment to ponder the word and its possible personal implications. Then he said, less loudly, "Er, by the way, welcome back. We really do need all the crew we can get, even if we're not one big happy family!" He swallowed nervously in Zhaxier's direction.

Zhaxier pushed a few buttons and brought up the schematics of the corridor. Studying it for a moment, he took a good look at each area.

The data pad disappeared into his medical bag, and the laser pistol reappeared, held upwards.

"We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz! Wait a second, guys, wait a second," the robot yelled back from the hallway. "First grunt that follows us to certain doom gets a shiny new blaster!"

"Right behind you, grizzly dude," Zhaxier's voice trailed out the door into the Warden proper. He stayed close to Tinker and his torch so as to avoid the glass with his bare feet.

Nike just watched in amazement at the motley crew that proceeded into the dark hallway. She found Tinker's humor misplaced. What did he think this was, a game? And why would a robot have humor, anyway? "I'm not a grunt," she replied, "and if you want to get yourself recycled into tin cans for rat meat, keep up this kamikaze behavior."

Percy looked at Nike and Chelydra. Their faces clearly showed their frustration at the robot, techie, and catwoman for barging ahead without any thought of order or hint of military efficiency. Percy certainly wasn't going to waltz through the darkened corridor---night vision or not---without knowing he was right behind or in front of the two well-trained soldiers. At least, he felt safer that way. "But then again, Amanda probably felt safe, and look what happened to her," he thought.

"Ok," Percy shook his head to clear it from the whirlwind of thoughts that flew through his swiss-cheese laced memories. "I'm back. Sorry, I know, focus!" He gripped his wrench tightly, awaiting his marching orders. He was all too happy to let Nike and Chelydra handle the operation.

Nike and Chelydra walked over to the door and peered into the distance before entering the passageway with Percy close behind.

Soon everyone was reunited in the unlit corridor beyond the control room. Chelydra and Sharneste led the group, followed by Nike and Percy who was thankful for his position in the middle of the group. Zhaxier and Tinker were behind them. Tinker's makeshift torch provided the only light source. The long corridor continued for almost 30 meters before three doors could be seen on the left wall.

Chelydra kept his weapon up and ready, fanning it horizontally as they walked. Nike looked around impatiently, her thoughts were filled with the possibility of an army of hairy beasts lurking around the next corner. To Percy, who stood close beside her, she was a visage of concentration and control. It comforted Percy, and made him thankful that his clone activation had occurred close enough in time for him to have hooked up with her and the others. What if he had awakened by himself, or worse yet, never awakened at all?

The corridor continued past the doors. Chelydra looked at them to see if they had any markings that might indicate what was beyond them, but the door tags had been removed, leaving only a white spot behind. Another ten meters past the last door, the passageway split into a three-way intersection: straight ahead, right and left. In the flickering light of Tinker's torch, one door could be seen down the corridor going straight ahead, and two more doors could be seen down the right and left corridors.

As the group paused for a moment, Zhaxier picked a piece of glass out from the bottom of his foot. "And they said metal feet were a bad idea." Tinker waved his foot at Zhaxier, noting his own immunity to the broken glass.

Sharneste pointed down the right corridor. "The female and the smelly ones went that way." Nike was glad that Sharneste could smell them, and therefore track them. She would be a valuable asset to the group, provided they could continue to communicate clearly with her.

"Do you think we should check behind some of these doors," Percy asked curiously. "We might find something to help us?"

Nike nodded, "Good thinking!"

"Not a bad idea, Percy," Chelydra replied. "We need supplies, and I hate the thought of something or someone lurking in ambush behind us. We can't be long about it, just a quick open, look, grab, gone."

Zhaxier tersely shared with the rest of the group the corridor layout which he had gained via his data pad back in the control room. "Unfortunately the Warden databases are thin in this part of the ship. I found no stats on room contents or uses, nor surveillance nexi---just a floorplan. Your guess is as good as mine, though I suggest that while you guys go looking for trouble, some of us scout ahead with Sharneste before Amanda's trail goes cold."

"We have to find the girl," Tinker interrupted, "but we have to find supplies to survive."

Amanda's face briefly appeared in Nike's mind's eye. "That poor girl," she thought, recalling the obvious terror in her eyes. "And G10 - what the hell was that? It must have been important, or Amanda wouldn't have said it." She had a feeling that when they located those big hairy thugs, she'd find out.

Zhaxier replied, "I gotta go where the light goes, Tinker, and that means I'm sticking to you like a magnetic power-coil boot."

Nike flattened herself against the left wall, opposite Chelydra on the other side of the first door on the left - the closest one to the control room. As long as they were putting themselves at great risk by moving into the corridor, they needed to sleuth all they could. Information was always the unseen weapon; one they were sorely lacking.

Percy clenched his wrench tightly, although he knew he wouldn't be any good with it as a weapon unless he transformed into an altered state.

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