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Chapter 19: Waking Nike

Nike sat in the cockpit as Arkady had left her: blissfully unconscious. Percy noted that the marine looked less intimidating when she was out cold. Arkady administered a shot of nanodocs and wiped her forehead gently with a 'cold compress shamee' from the medkit. Nike groaned and stirred a bit.

"A cold compress shamee," Percy said incredulously. "What the heck is that?"

"I don't know, but it says to wipe over bruises and contusions." Arkady turned the package over and examined the fine print. "Hmm, that's strange. On the front it's called a 'Shammee', but on the back it calls it a..." He struggled with the word. Despite a liberal education and a cosmopolitan family, Arkady had no knowledge of French. "Cham-oyz," he ventured incorrectly.

Meanwhile, Chelydra looked over the cockpit controls. The 'Emergency Lock Engaged' buttons were flashing for all entrances and exits to the ship. 'Hull Breach, sector 4' flashed on a screen, but he couldn't make much sense of the rest of the flashing lights. Percy glanced at the controls with Chelydra. "Hull breach, huh? Where's sector 4? Can we get a schematic of this ship?"

Chelydra shrugged his shell. Arkady paused his ministrations and replied, "the breach could be in one of those two locked rooms just outside the cockpit. I think the first door is the, uh ... Captain's quarters and the second door might be engine access, but I'm not really sure. The breach could also be in the munitions locker," Arkady shuddered, "or it might be on the," Arkady faced the back of the ship and pointed to his left, "starboard side? You came from that direction, Chelydra, didn't you? Did you see anything? Any unchecked cabins?"

"Unchecked cabins," Chelydra thought. Arkady's comment rankled him a bit. He hadn't been exactly thorough in checking out the ship to make sure no bad guys were already aboard. He was slipping... "Yup, that's where I left Amanda: down the hall and to the left. Didn't see any holes in the ship there."

"What say you and me go check out this hull breach while these two play doctor," Percy suggested, thumbing toward Arkady who seemed to be taking good care of the Captain with genuine interest. Arkady looked up at Percy. When he saw Percy's good natured smile, he couldn't deny his affection for Nike. His bruised and aching body managed to find enough spare blood to faintly flush his cheeks.

"Let's go check on Amanda first," Chelydra suggested. "Then we can go check on the hull and the rest of the ship. Never was much good at playing doctor anyhow, so I'll leave that to Arkady here. He seems to have things well enough in hand."

Arkady placed the shammee on Nike's head. "I'll stay here until Nike's recovered." He picked up the medkit and handed it to Percy. Percy took it and followed Chelydra up the corridor.

Arkady opened one of his water bottles. He drank half the contents and wiped the sweat from his brow as his thoughts drifted back in time.

He remembered awakening miraculously in a quiet clone bay with no lights and no power (perhaps that was how he had escaped the notice of the Watcher?) There had been no sign of life anywhere in the cold, unfamiliar place. Searching of clues, he had wandered the empty corridors but his unanswered questions only accumulated and he became increasingly alarmed. Nike was the first other person that Arkady had seen. He had dared to hope that she would have the answers to put his mind at ease. He quickly learned, however, that she knew no more than he did about their predicament. But his hope had not diminished. Now that he shared his fate with others, his hope had become affection and an indomitable will to survive.

Nike stirred, but consciousness did not yet grace her mind. Images from the dreamscape flowed through the plane of her imagination. They were bizarre yet strangely peaceful: a man stood atop a large stage in front of a gargantuan crowd. Cheers and yells abounded. Signs communicated 'Good Luck Warden' and 'Our Time is Finally Here'. The man stood behind a microphone but his words were inaudible. She looked about the room and saw (surprisingly) that the entire ship was inside some kind of hangar. All the hangar doors were closed. A cool sensation drew her away from the crowd. She opened the doors and saw the cold, unforgiving darkness of space. Stars flew past, but one shined particularly brightly. A cartoon dialog bubble pointed to it. In it, a comic font read, 'home is here'.

The cool sensation grew and she became aware of a pain in her head. As consciousness trickled back to her, the pain grew until the images were gone. Her hand instinctively reached up to touch the pain and felt another's hand: warm and soothing. She opened her eyes and saw Arkady. She smiled. "Good morning, Nike," Arkady beamed. "I gave you a nanodoc shot. I think you'll be fine. Percy and Chelydra are fine too. They went with a medkit to get Amanda: she's been injured." Arkady offered the rest of the water bottle to her. "The air is breathable but it's getting hot: 42 degrees inside; 66 outside with afrimus clouds forming, whatever those are. There's been a hull breach in sector 4... and we're not alone. There's a critter on the ship."

"Thanks." She rubbed her temple gently and closed her eyes. "Wait, did you say a critter," she asked fuzzily though clarity was coming more quickly as the throbbing in her head receded.

"Yeah. There's a munitions locker and plenty of supplies back aft."

"I have a weapon. I'm more afraid of the elements than any critters right now. 66 degrees? 42? We'll end up being baked in here if we can't find shelter or get the ship's systems going."

Arkady smiled. Nike was acting more like herself. "I'll give Percy a hand with repairs. I have some experience repairing spaceships."

"Even if we can find the parts for the systems, it could take us longer to fix them than would be safe for us to stay here. Not to mention any possible ILF's that might be a menace!"


"Indigenous Life Forms. This ship is probably like a big, shiny beacon that screams, 'Hey, come check me out'! Any idea of the topography of the area immediately around us?"

Arkady looked out the cockpit window at the sand that enveloped them. The glass was thick and the ship's force fields (around the cockpit at least) seemed to have held during impact. He could see no light above the sand, but despite the uncertain volume exerting an uncertain pressure per square centimeter above him, he felt strangely safe. Nike's recovery had had that affect on him. "I haven't seen outside yet, but that sand is probably an indicator. Are you ok to walk outta here?"

Nike finished the last of the bottled water and nodded. She felt much better. Even her headache had disappeared. She unfastened her seat's harness and gained her balance on the uneven floor. "Where did you say Percy and Chel were?"

"They went to revive Amanda."

"What about Rufus?"

"He didn't survive the landing."

Nike pursed her lips but said nothing. As they left the cockpit, Arkady pointed to the two doors on their right. "Any idea what's in there?"

Nike shook her head slowly. She looked at the doors as they walked by them. She tried to recall some memory of being on a dropship before but there was nothing. "My mind is still a bit hazy. My guess would be storage, or maybe some emergency equipment for the cockpit crew?"

"We'll have to explore the ship further when we don't have a crisis to deal with," Arkady said without laughing.

"Yes," Nike said wistfully. "It will be a nice change to be able to operate in a relaxed way. I'm sure our brains are fresh out of serotonin and adrenaline at this point!"

They paused as they heard what sounded like animal growls. Nike drew her weapon. "I guess that relaxation will have to wait," Arkady said quietly. He followed Nike down the passage to the left and watched their backs, but nothing followed them. He hoped that whatever they were up against consisted of flesh and blood: his fists would not be very useful against another renegade robot.

Chelydra and Percy entered the hallway where Chelydra had last seen Amanda. "I swear, she was right here," Chelydra insisted. He examined the safety harness that had held her in place.

"Well, Chel, we've all been a bit disoriented. No one will fault you for not remembering..."

"She was right here, Percy, I know it. I may be slipping, but I'm not hallucinating. Look, the straps have been neatly cut. Someone, or something, released her from the harness." A further examination revealed a human footprint in the dust directly below her harness. "And it looks like she tried to stand."

"Ok Loo-tenant, I believe ya." Percy reached behind his head and scratched as he thought. "Maybe if we can tap into the internal sensors on this bird, we could track her. But if someone or something is sneaking around stealing our ever-dwindling crew complement, there might not be time for that... Waaaaaaiiitaminute!" Percy recalled that he had gained night vision after he turned into a wolfoid. He wondered if he could track Amanda better as a wolfoid than he could as a human. "I'm gonna change my form. I might be able to track her better with a wolfoid sniffer," he said, pointing to his aquiline human nose. He closed his eyes and slowly breathed in and out a couple of times. He opened his eyes again and looked down at his feet so as not to forget what they looked like. He visualized a mental image of a wolfoid. "Wolf on," he said and his body changed.

At first, Percy the wolf's senses were overwhelmed by the acrid stench of burning components. As his head cleared, he leaned down to sniff the straps to get a good blueprint of Amanda's scent. "This way turtleman," Percy growled. He followed his nose toward the double doors across from the galley.

Chelydra readied his shotgun and the knife that was tucked into the webbing stretched across his shell. "No telling what's behind there," he thought. "Crew quarters?" he said as he followed Percy.

"If that's what they are, then ayupr," Percy growled. Percy and Chelydra saw three plastic indicators: red, yellow and green (from top to bottom.) Below the green indicator was a keypad. Below that was a passcard reader. Percy pulled his ID card from his fanny pouch with his left paw and hefted his laser pistol with his right. "Ready," he asked Chelydra. The security officer nodded affirmatively. Percy stood close to the panel and swiped his card across the reader.

The doors slid open to reveal a long corridor. There were eight doors on the left side and six on the right. Each door had a number and its own keypad/passcard panel, except for the last door on the right, which was labeled 'Recreation'. Two red crosses graced a set of double doors at the opposite end. Nothing moved in the corridor but a very soft beeping could be heard.

"Well, what do you think Percy? I don't think Amanda was in much shape to be playing in the rec room when I left her, although it's just possible she was able to drag herself to medical, at least I think that's what those two red crosses mean. If she's anywhere around here, that's where she'll be. Besides, with the way this group keeps getting itself shot, banged, crashed and generally beat up, we could use some more bandages."

At that moment, Nike and Arkady turned the corner at the intersection. "Well, Percy's looking rather furrier than I remembered," Nike said with a grin as they approached.

"Find anything yet," Arkady asked.

"Yeah, Perce's picked up Amanda's scent somewhere up there."

"Ret me see if I can get a wrhiff of wrhich wray she wrent." Percy the wolfoid doppelganger sniffed the corridor and was reminded of Rufus. He followed the scent up the corridor.

"Let's have a little look see," Chelydra said to Nike. He slowly edged into the corridor. He listened for the faint beeping. It seemed to be coming from straight ahead.

Arkady followed behind Nike. He glanced at the signs on each passing door. He had a dim recollection that they were individual quarters. The thought of a bed (warm or otherwise) suddenly got the best of him and he yearned for a rest. He didn't feel that his injuries warranted nanodocs, but maybe if he could just lie down for a bit...

Percy stopped at the two doors sporting large red crosses. He waited until the group caught up. "Svree wrent ihn vere," he tried to say. He put his finger to his lips to indicate silence then put his furry ear up close to the door. Beyond, he heard three voices: two men and a robot. He nodded his head to and fro from the door toward Chleydra and Arkady, his eyes bright with warning. Chelydra provided cover with his shotgun. Percy, laser pistol in hand, prepared to pounce and considered how easy it was for him to get into wolfman mode. He smiled a toothy grin. He had never really liked werewolf movies, but now he was living one. He sniffed the rush of displaced air as he opened the door.

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