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Chapter 16: Left Behind

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The hangar bay doors closed behind them as they entered. A ship sat there, beautifully well-kept, shiny, like new. It was lit up in the otherwise dim hangar bay by floodlights all around the perimeter. An open ramp extended down to the bay floor. Rufus's mouth hung open. A little drool liberated itself from the canine's jowls as he stared. Chelydra looked at the ship with awe. "Here's our way out," he thought. Then he realized that nothing good had happened to them since they had woken up. Wherever the ship might land was sure to be worse than where they were, he just wasn't sure how yet. Percy was also awestruck. He hoped the pilots among them could fly it.

"Is anyone else surprised that it looks so well-maintained?" Arkady asked. He struggled with a sudden suspicion. Perhaps there was some sort of defensive mechanism that killed anyone approaching the dropship? Perhaps it had been maintained by someone that was still in the area? Perhaps it was an illusion? It was too good to be true, but the urge to escape from impending doom was greater than his suspicion. "That door won't keep them out," he exclaimed. "Can we jam it shut?"

Percy scanned the inside access panel then looked up at Chelydra. "Hey Lieutenant, know any security protocols we can use to lock this door?" He gripped his pistol tightly. Even locked, the door might not keep the bots out.

Without answer, Chelydra began working on the opening mechanism. Seconds later another set of doors slammed shut, and a red light came on above the hangar bay doors. "Hangar lockdown engaged," a sterile computer voice announced. "That ought to give us a few extra moments," he said.

"Waaaaaaaitaminute!" It suddenly bothered Percy that he had never actually seen the bots ahead of them in the hallway. "Gregory, Amanda, er, Rufus," he said, a bit unsure of how to address a canine-oidal creature such as Rufus. "You came down the corridor from the other direction, right? Could you see the bots at that end?"

"We saw something, but I'm not sure it was the same group of bots," Gregory replied, breathing very quickly and looking pallid.

An explosion sounded from outside the bay. "It doesn't sound like we have much choice ...," Amanda said nervously.

Percy half-grimaced, half-smiled. He wheeled around and looked at the ship again. It made him uneasy. The open gangplank was a little too convenient for his comfort, but with killer bots coming to call, well ... something about looking at a gift horse's orifice came to mind. "Yeah, you're right. Not much choice. Looks like we found our ticket outta here then, Nike?"

"Looks like it," she replied. Nike and Rufus cautiously approached the ship. Rufus smelled nothing that resembled a humanoid. The scents of polish, cleaning fluids, and new metal were all his nose could pick up. Arkady examined the area around the ship. He saw a rack of small autobots on the near wall. Nearby was a large set of lockers and a doorway. He cautiously cradled the pod launcher in front of him. "Check out those autobots over there," he said to Chelydra who was walking away from the hangar bay door. "They might be handy, as well as the contents of those lockers, but I fear there's not much time." Chelydra approached the lockers and attempted to open one but it was locked.

Percy pointed at the lockers. "Hey Nike, Arkady! Are we going to need spacesuits or something?" He had no memory of training on this type of ship, or preparing for a flight on one.

"Yeah," Arkady answered. "Especially if there are any holes in it, like from a security bot's laser, or an open door ..." A memory came to him in which he could see himself suiting up for a 'run' as he had done on many occasions. What a run was he couldn't quite remember. Rufus wondered if there would be a suit for him. He didn't like getting all dressed up -- not even for his birthday, but he sensed that it would be for his own protection.

Nike was ready to go in. "No use delaying the inevitable," she thought. "Want to come in with me?" she asked Amanda. Nodding her affirmation, the two of them entered the ship, slowly and carefully. Arkady quickened his pace toward the dropship. He stepped up the ramp and into the ship's entrance. Rufus moved to watch Arkady's back. He sniffed the ship's entrance. To the right of the ramp, there was a computer interface with a small, flashing green light. Arkady carefully laid the pod launcher and bag down at his feet and began to examine the flashing device.

As he scrutinized the closing mechanism, another green light caught Arkady's attention. A camera stared down at them from each of the two visible corners of the bay. A steady green light shone on the lower right-hand corner of each. They did not move. He pointed at them and called out, "cameras! Anyone have a spare firearm to blind our Watcher with?"

Percy agreed with a head nod. "Good idea Ark'," he muttered sotto voce in the dropship pilot's direction. If they were being watched via camera, it didn't really matter if he was whispering, but he lowered his voice all the same. "That Watcher fellow must be hard up for entertainment if he's really tapped into all the cameras," Percy mumbled to himself. "I wonder if he's watching us now ... why's he watching us anyway?" He looked around the room and noted a total of four cameras around the bay's perimeter. "I'm pretty sure we're not living up to the specs for a standard issue clone," he thought. "Here we are, supposed to be saving the ship since our original selves got themselves into trouble, and we're looking for things to break instead of fix. Of course, it doesn't help matters that the security robots are trying to break us instead of 'Serve and Protect' us. Well, I guess there's no time like the present." Percy took aim at one of the four cameras. The first shot missed but the second blew the camera into a million tiny metal shards that showered the hangar bay floor with a tinkling sound and a flurry of sparkles. Everyone paused to see what would happen ...

Nothing happened.

"Whew! Well, I guess that's the first lucky break we've had in a while," Amanda said giggling nervously to herself.

"Uh-oh," Chelydra said. The others turned to see why. The first of the racked autobots had begun to move off the rack, muttering incomprehensibly to itself. Percy felt there was something familiar about the small autobots. "Waaaaaaaaitaminute," he remarked, not for the first time. He considered the situation carefully, trying to form a clear memory of the robot's function and purpose, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He'd identified the food processing robot well enough back in the cloning bay. Why were these robots eluding his memory? Maybe he hadn't worked with them? Maybe there were more holes in his memory, no doubt caused by the disaster that had mutated him, Chelydra and Zhaxier? Nike had been spared, or so he assumed -- "Hmm ..." Percy backed away from the camera he'd vaporized and walked up the ramp into the ship. "I guess we won't be peeking in the lockers, Ark."

Rufus skittered up the ramp and ducked behind the rampway. He aimed his universal stun pistol at one of the bots - those noisy boxes that had been giving them so much trouble. "These folks are a danger magnet! Don't they know I'm just a lil' ole doggie? What have I ever done to tick-on this so called 'watcher'?" he thought. He waited for the robots to close within firing range.

"Shoot it! Shoot it!" Gregory screamed hysterically. He ran into the door with a thud as he tried to exit the hangar bay.

Chelydra anticipated an ambush. He quickly scanned the bay, but besides the way they had come in and the door near the lockers, the only other way out seemed to be the main hangar exit through the ceiling. Chelydra brought his shotgun to bear on the lead autobot, but then paused. He didn't trust any of the robots on this ship, but it went against his training to simply blast first and ask questions later. He dug deep into the recesses of his fragmented memory for some clue as to what these robots were for. If he could just remember ... "You just hold it right there little autobot," he drawled.

Arkady pondered the nature of the autobots. He hoped they weren't defending the ship. "Hurry up and get in here! They may just be attending to the broken camera." Rufus moved deeper into the ship to make room for the others to enter.

The autobots moved past Chelydra in the direction of the smashed camera. Chelydra was relieved not to have wasted any ammo on them. "Yep, just a maintenance bot," Arkady said, pleased with his fuzzy recollection of them. He felt much more at home in the hangar bay than he had in the corridors. It was at that moment that Arkady recalled how to operate the mechanism to open and close the dropship door. "Aha!" he cried. Unfortunately there was little time left for exultation.

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Inside the ship, Amanda sat against the bulkhead. She looked comfortable, of all things! Rufus, quite out of sorts, shook his head and hunkered down beside her. He wondered if hitching up with this group wasn't more of his bad luck. He hoped they wouldn't be the end of him.

A long corridor led to a four way intersection barely discernible in the ship's dim light a dozen or so meters away. Nike was nowhere to be seen. Percy stood nearby contemplating their situation. "Hey Nike," he shouted down the corridor. "If the hangar's in lockdown, how's Zhaxier gonna meet up with us?"

"We don't have any choice," a voice called from an intercom overhead. Somewhere deep inside the ship, Nike was readying the ship for flight. "If we can, we'll try to come back for him when we're in a less vulnerable position!"

Percy crunched his lips. "Damn 'im, where'd he run off to again anyway?!" He considered the possibility that Zhaxier was already in the hangar -- maybe in the ship itself; invisible. "If that were the case, surely he would've spoken up by now ..." he pondered. Percy shook his head and wondered if they'd ever see the independently-minded engineer again. He wasn't calling the shots in this escape, and he certainly wasn't going to blow everyone's chance of getting out of this hot zone of Warden by worrying about the rogue clone.

At the gangplank, Arkady panicked before he realized why. Then he heard a familiar sound: a whirring. "Holy shit! GET IN THE SHIP NOW! They're depressurizing the bay!"

Arkady waited nervously for Gregory and Chelydra to approach the gangplank. The whirr of vacuum locks had been replaced by the hiss of escaping air. He wanted to wait until the last possible second, but he realized that the last second would be too late. He became concerned for the safety of those already onboard. "I've waited long enough," he thought he heard himself say. He initiated the closing procedure and watched as the gangplank retracted. He hoped to pull the stragglers in before it was too late.

Chelydra was running for the dropship, but his reconfigured self was not built for speed. The hatch slid closed just as his outstretched claw reached for the opening.

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