SUNSWEPT CH11

"Battles"


"I said stand to! We're under attack!"

Bee scrambled out of xer bunk and just barely kept from landing face-first on the deck. Sophia and Drake were already halfway through dressing into the strange jumpsuits which had arrived in neat piles sometime after they'd all fallen asleep. The part of Bee's processing center which wasn't focused on regaining a sense of balance and dressing wondered as to what time it might actually be. A quick glance around also reminded Bee that H'Aki and Kip hadn't made it back to their bunks last night and xe quietly hoped that wherever they were they'd get back here quick.

Anki was no longer shouting from the commons but had instead adopted the same no-nonsense pose from which she'd delivered last night's briefing. Bee finished dressing and just as H'Aki and Kip were stumbling into the bunk room xe stepped out to stand beside Drake and Sophia. Xe checked the timer xe'd started upon being awoken and breathed a little sigh of relief. It had only taken xer about eight minutes which gave Kip and H'Aki at least twelve more to be on time.

The four of them stood there in silence as they waited for the other two who stepped into attention just as Bee's timer hit nineteen minutes. Anki resumed her instructions, this time in a much lower volume. "First Scenario! The industrial cargo ship BubbleBait has become trapped in..." She had to stop as several of them were holding off giggles at the name. "You would all do well not to be distracted by the names Capsuleers choose to give their ships. In fact it is often held that a ships chosen name is meant to throw off an opponent." She gave them all a stare as the offenders overcame their smiles. "The ship has become trapped in a warp bubble and boarded. You are to report to the Astero Angel's Song immediately where you will receive the rest of your gear and be briefed on your roll in the counter-assault. Dismissed!"

There was a brief second as they each realized just how little information they'd been given before almost as one they all started jogging for the door. Anki's words brought them up short. "You are about to run about the station looking like that?" They all looked at each other and realized how incredibly conspicuous the highly customized suits looked. Again, almost as one, they each sprinted off to their various lockers to try to find clothing baggy enough and inconspicuous enough to travel through the station. Within an additional ten minutes five pre-teens wearing a hodgepodge of athletic gear, hoodies, jackets, and really expensive matching footwear walked pointedly out of The Base and made their way at a brisk pace for the docs.

Anki must have taken a shortcut because as they located and arrived at the target Astero class frigate's dock they discovered their instructor waiting just within the loading bay.

"Along the bulkhead you will find your weapons. These are very specially designed and will only work when fired at an opponent." They each took one of the weapons from the rack even as the loading bay door closed behind them and through small windows they could see the frigate already retracting from its mooring. "H'Aki, Bee, and KipTop will defend the bridge."

Anki had paused long enough and Kip clearly assumed she wouldn't be elaborating further. "What will Drake and Sophia be doing?"

Anki didn't even look at him this time but she did deliver the answer; "Attacking it."

While Kip just grimaced, Bee noticed just how little information was being freely given, and that they'd be paired against one-another wasn't a surprise. But it was such a stark difference from how their relationship had been with Leth and Anki and that led xer to be at least a little thankful that Kip was still fearless when it came to asking questions. Anki wasn't likely to reveal any more than she already had and Bee wondered what new surprises were yet to come.


The jump into warp and back out again a few seconds later was taken in silence by all and soon Bee, Kip, and H'Aki were directed through a docking collar and into a very used looking cargo ship corridor. Once inside they quickly ascertained the correct direction toward the bridge using an interior map which Bee was able to access from the panel just to the right of the door. They took little time traveling the short distance and upon reaching the bridge they found the single access corridor wide open and void of any sort of defensive positions. While H'Aki started making her way back down to the end of the corridor they'd just come through to check the locking mechanism, Bee and Kip made their way into the bridge proper.

"I think it best if I hack into the main systems and try to find out where Sophia and Drake are entering the ship from. We'll need to know where they are and if we can slow their progress any." Kip nodded in response as Bee made directly for the Captain's access consol. He began looking about for any hidden ventilation ducts or energy access panels even before Bee voiced xer unfortunate discovery. "Found it, An external hatch that was just opened and closed. But only about three meters later I can see them busting open a ventilation duct and crawling in. No cameras in the ducts so I've lost em."

H'Aki came back in and started trying to close the main doors even as Kip responded. "There's just way too many access points to cover them all, we need to know which side they'll come from..." He looked about and then finally up. "or, even if they come from above, out of which one of those three." He pointed to three separate but widely spaced ventilation shafts overhead which were far too distant from one-another to be able to account for all three at once without splitting their defense.

"Oh, they're already in the ducts?" H'Aki was neither surprised nor pleased.

Bee was already working on something else though her hands seemed to barely move on the consol and she didn't seem to eve glance at the ducts Kip was pointing at. Having discovered each of the access points he had little else that he could immediately do and took up a spot beside Bee in the middle of the bridge. H'Aki however moved to the pilot's console and began accessing it. Kip's eyes followed her as she moved to it. "What are you doing?"

"I'm wondering what else is out here, where we are. Maybe it will be useful." H'Aki pulled up the navigational data and ship status. "Huh, we're in a Mammoth class industrial hauling ship, pretty old one too. We're cloaked though... and in the middle of complete nowhere." She paused as she accessed yet more systems. "Bee must be in the internal sensors systems cause I can't access em, but cloak is operating fine and... hmm, something won't let me access the tactical overlay. It's locked out... and... well that's nice." H'Aki's face was in a nasty scowl.

"What?" Kip started moving to H'Aki's side while still looking about at each of the many access points.

"Oh, when I tried to hack the Tactical overlay I just got this." She pointed to a holo screen which simply read '::No:: Anki'

Kip chuckled. "That's cold."


Bee had been rifling through the various internal sensor systems but still listening to the other two. As soon as Kip mentioned the word 'cold' it sparked an idea. "Hey, this ship's got internal thermal imaging!" Xe pulled up the system and started 'looking' through the ship. There were plenty of heat signatures and many of them were indeed moving but xe quickly attributed the patterns of their movement to benign ship processes and components; all except two small blobs that were already about mid-ship and moving swiftly towards the dorsal transversal of the hull. "Got em! They are moving toward the top of the ship." Bee pointed to the three large ventilation openings. "Ten minutes, fifteen tops."

Kip was looking about suddenly and must have located what he was looking for because he rushed over to what seemed to be a utility hatch and accessed it. A panel shifted open to reveal several extra deck-mountable chairs, a few random cases of who-knows-what, and three powered down utility drones. "We can put this stuff under each access vent; that way they can't just drop straight down, they'll have to try to get around it. It will at least buy us time right?" It made sense to Bee but xe couldn't leave the captain's console without revealing xer implants and tracking their opponents was far more important at that moment.

H'Aki lept at the chance for something to do and together she and Kip had a chair each anchored to the decking under two of the three ducts. Kip looked at the remaining detritus and drones and seemed to get yet another idea. "H'Aki, can you put all that random stuff under the last vent? I have an idea." H'Aki went right for the crates while Kip turned to a nearby console.

"You need to hurry, they are almost here." Indeed Bee was having difficulty tracking exactly where they were as the thermal imaging was getting too much feedback from the myriad of warm bodies, computers, and other active modules around the bridge. Xe couldn't tell from which duct they would drop. Xe looked first to H'Aki who had taken up position beneath one of the ducts and then to Kip. Kip was still working furiously at the console but xe did notice all three drones activate and begin moving out of their home in the maintenance closet. Xe was just about to try to access the system he was in, to see if xe could help, when two of the overhead vents burst open.


Kip's fingers flew, faster than he'd ever hacked or reprogramed anything in his life. But it wasn't fast enough. He heard the clatter of the ventilation covers behind him but didn't turn to look yet. He'd activated the drone's cleaning routines and in a moment of brilliance he'd reprogrammed them to target animate beings rather than inanimate objects. Maintenance drone programing inherently kept them from doing anything directly harmful to humans and he knew that. Even if he'd wanted to turn them to fight Sophia and Drake, they'd likely end up trying to heal them to death before doing them any harm. But he could tell them to clean. He could hear the drones picking up speed behind him and he was running out of time. A scream from behind whipped his head around just in time to see one of the three drones flying straight for Bee.

*******


Waking up with an implant was, perhaps, the very best advantage of having one. There was no mucking about with irritating alarms or even music. Instead, the gentle shift in her brain chemistry roused Meyan as her implants synthetically adjusted her sleep cycle and brought her out of REM sleep. She smiled as her arm reached out to land reassuringly on Delyyn's hip. He shifted gently to the contact but remained sleeping. Her own mind drifted back to the night before evoking a general warm feeling. He'd been an excellent lover, though she had only the one time back at Uni to compare too, and that had been about the most awkward thing she's ever experienced with another person. Perhaps trying to compare last night to a drunken journey of discovery wasn't the best way to start the morning, nor was remembering something she'd tried hard to forget. She smiled even more for the odd humor and snuggled in closer to the warm body and was rewarded as he unconsciously shifter back towards her.

It took several more minutes of bliss for her to finally admit that staying there meant being late for work. Leaving a tender kiss on his shoulder; the closest to his face that she could reach, she extracted herself from the bed and began preparing for the day. With the project moving into more of a monitoring and assessment stage, Meyan had no idea what she'd be doing for the day though. They were expecting data back from the kids' implants following the initial scenarios, however that wouldn't come in until early tomorrow. She looked back over at the warm body still in bed and just for a moment considered taking the day off. But the moment passed and she chided herself for even considering it. That sort of thing just felt wrong to her. She'd been teased about it at Uni, even lost a few friends over it cause she was 'no fun' or 'too committed'. It helped that she truly was loving what she did though and the thought of ditching out on her boss or even Petrian left a bad feeling in her gut. Her short dusty blond hair didn't take long to brush out, and having set out her clothing the night before she was dressed and ready inside of thirty minutes. Delyyn wouldn't be up for at least another twenty so she navigated about the suite as quietly as she could so as not to disturb him. Meyan paused at the mirror and considered the deep green of her face framed by the dusty blond and for only a second frowned. Perhaps she might consider a different color the next time she had her hair done. She took one last look at Delyyn, smiled, and stepped out the door.


By midmorning Meyan was beginning to wish she had stayed in bed. Solu was running late and had sent ahead a message to her and Petrian saying that she'd be giving them a new project by the end of the day but that they should catch up on any other work that had gotten sidelined in the shift to the implant miniaturization project. The trouble was that for Meyan there had been no other sidelined work. She spent the first few hours confirming that the team she'd given her initial project to didn't need any help, indeed they'd already gone so much further into the research than she had gotten so it would take her near a week just to catch up if she tried. Petrian was happy to 'explore future possibilities' as he called it and in the workstation beside her he was daydreaming off into the distant future of biomechanical frontiers. She just fidgeted. When Solu finally did arrive just before lunch Meyan had already reorganized her workspace twice, spun the Buzzard from Ellie about thirty times, and even risked asking Petrian to tell her what he was thinking about once. His response had been so over her head mechanically that she didn't risk a second time; something about trying to use an implant to combat Jovian Wetgrave Syndrome. Meyan could tell by the ever so slight glide of Solu's step that this multiple happened to be one of the drones as she stopped first to speak with Petrian. "I'm sorry it took me so long to get here, something unforeseen came up in system. Petrian, I've spoken with Ninavask and we think there may be some application for your miniaturization techniques commercially. We've been asked to put together a brief presentation outlining the theory behind the miniaturization for a few select members of his R&D heads. I'd like you to get me some of the more technical pieces and have them ready by tomorrow, can you do that?" She waited for Petrian's cheerful 'yep' before smiling and turning to Meyan. As she did, her face took on something more of a dower look.

Perhaps it was out of boredom by Meyan spoke in anticipation. "I can organize what I've got too by tomorrow."

Solu started shaking her head with a smile. "Actually no. Sub-Coordinator Xepharious wouldn't be too keen on adding your little breakthrough to the commercial application, not just yet." There was a slight apologetic nature to Solu's response but Meyan was now back to wondering just what to do with herself. "I actually need you for something of a different nature. Walk with me?"

Petrian returned to his new assignment as Meyan followed Solu as she turned towards the back hallway and continued talking. "It's actually something more of a personal nature." They reached the hallway and started towards Solu's office. "Nina got me a chance to meet with the District Planner in charge of zoning for Indigo." Meyan could tell by her voice that this was a highly desirable thing and a chance that Solu clearly didn't want to miss but she otherwise had no idea what they were talking about. "Trouble is, he can only meet with me late this afternoon, and none of my selves can be free to make it to Renaissance for the meeting." Solu reached her desk and scooped up the two datapads that were sitting on it. Meyan watched a bit closer than usual and noticed how the holographic hand coordinated with the anti-grav beam projected from the drone inside Solu took hold of the pads. The pairing wasn't quite exact as she watched the pads dip slightly into the hand for just a moment. Solu must have seen her notice as well because she paused only momentarily before continuing. "This particular District Planner makes a point of being stuck in obscurity and so you'll need these." Solu handed the pads over to Meyan who took them with a nod. They turned to start heading out of the office and for the first time Meyan noticed a small replica of yet another ship that she didn't know the class of hovering over Solu's desk. Her boss was already heading for the door so Meyan had only enough time to notice that the director had used one of the anti-grav emitters as well. Guess that answered that mystery. They were already leaving the office. "I know this is terribly fast and incredibly short notice but as I said, I needed someone I could trust and who understands what a lab needs." They were back into the hall and Solu paused only for a moment to face Meyan as she finally asked her favor. "Can you please go in my place to Renaissance and work with the district coordinator and the VaskTech rep to lay out our needs for the new office, lab, as well as the small medical suite?"

Meyan's mind started to fly through all the planning, she would have to cancel with Delyyn, maybe she could still catch an hour in S'up that night. She saw the look on Solu's face and realized the trust that she was engendering and it suddenly hit her that this wasn't just some lab rat task either. This was lab management level stuff! She made up her mind. "Yes."

Solu smiled and resumed walking back into the lab. "There are a few schematics and requirements on those pads. The district coordinator doesn't have any implants so be sure to leave those with him so he can't forget them. You should be offered a chance to pick a few potential locations for the lab from what suites, districts, and sectors that VaskTech has already set aside. Many might be taken but we are getting in pretty early so there should be some good ones left." They reached the main lobby and Solu once more paused and turned to Meyan. "Try to get something with a window this time, Please? And maybe overlooking the main docks?" Solu made a cursory glance out across towards where the Sunny-Side Up resided and Meyan realized for the first time that maybe that spot had been Solu's first choice for the lab. It gave Meyan a pretty good idea of what to look for so she smiled.

"I think I can manage that." Meyan smiled back feeling very much part of the collusion.

"Good. You'll have to leave pretty quickly though, I can arrange for public transport but given your connections you may wish to see if any of your drinkin' buddies were heading over that way anyway." Solu grinned in that knowing way that Meyan had come to expect. Solu was right though, a public transport could get her to Renaissance but only if she practically ran to the docks. She'd have no time to change out of her lab coat and by the time the transport loaded, managed its way across the system, and unloaded, she'd have to run to make the meeting as well. Perhaps Tez would be open to the favor. She shook her head at the offer to book travel and Solu didn't seem too surprised.

"I'm sorry that I can't stay around to see you off. Did you have any other questions?"

Meyan thought for only a second. "Why me?" She was confident that she could handle it, but that small part of her that always believed she couldn't do anything was still in denial.

Solu didn't miss a beat. "I trust you, you have a good eye for the details, and I really want to get my dream office and I know you'll fight for it for us."

Solu smiled before turning to leave. It wasn't until Meyan was back into the break room and gathering her things that she realized the last word Solu had used.

*******


"Ok, so what happened here?" Anki paused the 3d projection just as one of the maintenance drones sprayed Bee in the face with cleaning solution. All five of them were sitting in the common room of The Base and Kip looked briefly about at his friends as they all stood at attention amidst the 3d image that Anki had projected throughout the room. To the left of center holo-H'Aki was mid-kick to holo-Sophia's chest as holo-Sophia was tripping over the placed chair that she was trying awkwardly to land on. Holo-Drake was also just landing, a bit more carefully, next to a pile of random crates, having flipped himself to the side of it. Two maintenance drones were moving swiftly at him wielding their own cleaning solutions. Frozen in the corner of the room, holo-Kip was clearly busy trying to finish the programming from one of the consoles. His face was utter horror as he was looking back at Bee.

Bee blinked again, xe'd been doing that a lot since returning from sickbay. "I did not see the drone coming."

Kip considered xer explanation and realized that xe was covering for him, or at least trying to. "I was my fault. I was not able to program them fast enough to tell friend from foe. As soon as they sprayed Bee I did deactivate their cleaning solution at least." He ended on a sort of sheepish grin and hoped that both Anki and Bee would see that he had at least tried to prevent further danger to the team. Bee was rubbing xer eyes again.

H'Aki turned to Sophia. "Why didn't you just start shooting us from above?" Sophia looked as though she was about to respond but Anki interjected. "They were not provided with weapons for this scenario. Let's continue." Kip realized that Drake and Sophia must have actually had their weapons taken away after the first three boarded, no wonder they didn't risk a frontal assault.

The feed continued as holo-Bee took the chemical spray directly to the face. Xe quickly collapsed while screaming and holding xer eyes. Blessedly, security protocols in the drone kicked in. It realized that it had done harm to a human and immediately tried to scoop xer up. While the rest of the fight continued around them, drone and holo-Bee were already flying out of the bridge, down the corridor, and as they discovered later, directly to the ship's very empty medical bay.

The other two drones descended upon holo-Drake. He tried to evade them but they quickly grappled and pinned him with one set of appendages each while the other appendages, with very efficient brush attachments, managed to slip off his suit hood and started desperately trying to brush away all of the dead keratin cells from his head and face. As Kip tried to look over at Drake without smiling he could see Drake absently running his hand through incredibly well brushed and shining glossy hair. Only the massive scowl he wore ruined the effect. Of all of them, Drake currently smelled absolutely fantastic.

Meanwhile, back to the left of the room holo-H'Aki and her allied chair obstacle had managed to keep holo-Sophia entangled up until now. With their struggle moving further away from the deck-mounted chair holo-Sophia was now matching holo-H'Aki hit for hit. Each blow was causing the opposing suit to stiffen just a little bit more. Holo-Drake finally landed a staggering hit onto one of the drones which caused his own glove to swell up. The target drone went spinning off while it's appendages suddenly became entangled in the other drone's brush arm. Seeing his chance holo-Drake sprang from the pile of drones and sprinted for H'Aki.

In anticipation of what they all knew was coming next each of them turned to watch holo-Kip who was still standing at the console in the back. He'd gotten over his initial shock of seeing Bee rushed out of the room but as soon as holo-Drake started sprinting for holo-H'Aki holo-Kip spun from the console, took up his gun, and fired it close range right into holo-Drake's back. Holo-Drake hit the deck like a sack of metal and was quickly engulfed by the two chasing drones who continued to clean and brush his hair with a fury.

Holo-Kip took a moment to look at his gun but then quickly tried to train it on holo-Sophia who, by now, was in a full on grapple with holo-H'Aki. Holo-H'Aki was losing. He rushed over just as holo-Sophia pinned holo-H'Aki to the decking. He wound-up for a massive punch to her head but at the last moment he very clearly pulled the momentum causing only a stiff smack to holo-Sophia's head. The suit's hood reacted and the sudden pressure was just enough to distract holo-Sophia who suddenly took two massive blows to her side. With more than half of her suit stiffened by this point, holo-Sophia couldn't react fast enough as holo-H'Aki rolled them both over and finally pinned holo-Sophia. Kip retrained the gun on her near motionless body and the scenario was over. The hologram dissipated leaving only the real team and Anki standing in the commons.

Anki was first to speak. "What did you not anticipate?" The question was aimed at Drake and Sophia.

After a moment Drake responded. "Force multiplication by our opponent."

"Partially correct. However, it just so happens that in this case, despite the negative impact to their own team, Kip's gamble with the bots was only part of their success. Sophia was winning the engagement with H'Aki yet you chose to ignore Kip and assist her. Why?"

Drake shot a look that said 'forgive me' at Kip. "I judged him to be less of a threat."

"How so?"

Drake wasn't disparaging but instead stuck to the facts of the moment. "He'd already reprogrammed the bots, so I couldn't prevent him from furthering that, nor could I take the time to reverse it. He was still busy at the console and so not an immediate physical threat. If I was going to compete with the added drones I needed my partner free."

Anki continued to press even as she lifted an eyebrow at his response, "But as we just said, your teammate was winning and may have soon recovered. Did you forget about your opponent's tactical advantage, their guns?"

Drake did seem to deflate at that. "No Ma'am, I assumed that Kip would be less likely to fire on me if I moved fast enough."

Now Anki turned to Kip. "You pulled your punch on Sophia, yet you showed no hesitance in firing on Drake. Why?"

Kip had no answer. "I... I don't know... Ma'am" He'd just reacted at seeing H'Aki in danger, he hadn't even remembered thinking about it.

"I see." Anki didn't like the answer but clearly decided that he was telling the truth. "Whatever the tactical thinking, you will not have the luxury of your opponents hesitance in the future. Everyone is now well aware of the suit's protective capabilities." She looked out at everyone in a slow pan of the room. "I expect you all to show no such restraint in future scenarios."

They all responded with a crisp "Yes Ma'am."

*******


Meyan's first call was to Tez while she made her way straight to her apartment. Tez had been more than happy to give her a lift but set a rather tight departure schedule claiming that she had to be on patrol for a rather important phase of the Indigo project. Meyan collected slacks and a blouse that gave her that extra authoritative edge, including a pair of smart but comfortable shoes. She first thought to leave her labcoat home but then thought better and left it on; every little bit of professionalism might help right? She folded the garments into a satchel and was back out and on her way in minutes. She could just change quickly on the ship anyway. Her next call was to Delyyn. He answered and quickly assessed that she was moving.

"Going out for a quick lunch?" Did he sound just a bit more cheerful?

She adjusted the satchel and boarded the tram. "No, last minute business trip. I just called to let you know I'm going to have to miss dinner and the bar tonight." His face soured considerably. She quickly added; "Solu asked me as a personal favor, she didn't trust anyone else."

He couldn't see the good omens hidden in what she had just said like she had, or he just didn't care because his face didn't improve. "Can't you just ask her to send someone else? I had something... special planned for us tonight." The way he dropped his voice at the word 'special' left little mystery as to the theme of his plans.

"I'm sorry Delyyn; I've already agreed to go, I'm on my way to the docks now to get a lift from Tez."

He still wouldn't relent. "She's just taking advantage of you, I mean, it's not really in your job description as a biologist right?"

She was about to clarify how this was a potential advancement opportunity and tell him about how she'd already been given several roles far more sophisticated than some lowly biologist but now she was starting to get frustrated and her patience seemed just a bit shorter of late. "I'm sorry Delyyn, but this is important. We'll just have to reschedule for tomorrow I guess." She didn't really feel like waiting for his reply, and she was almost to the docks anyway. "I'm boarding now so we can talk later." She ended the call. By the time she got aboard the frigate and found a suitable place to change her frustration has moved just a bit closer to a full on 'mad'. Regardless, she began reviewing the specifications that Solu had given her. She figured that there would be enough time on the trip over, but with only about an hour or so of time once they arrived and before her meeting, she'd have to study as much as she could now just to catch up. She determined to impress the shit out of everyone... maybe even herself too.

*******