SUNSWEPT CH15


Chapter 15 "A Light in the Dark"

The concept of 'morning' didn't mean much to a populous living aboard a space station, especially one which operated without stop at all hours of the day. Even the concept of 'day' seemed to hold little actual meaning. But Meyan had noticed how each person still seemed to carve out their own ritualistic morning routines which differed greatly from evening routines. For example, her own choice to visit Sunny-side Up for breakfast during what was her 'morning' caused her to encounter entirely new groups of capsuleers who, according to their daily routine, were having a nice late night drink with friends. They weren't raucous or anything but the dichotomy of their drinks to her eggs seemed somehow disorienting to her sense of time. For once she wasn't at the bar either having chosen, instead, a small table with room for two. Her dining partner for the morning had com'd to say he was running late and she shouldn't wait for him and so she sat, leisurely but anxiously, working her way through some of the best eggs she'd ever had. Delyyn's seat remained vacant.

Her anxiety this morning revolved primarily around just exactly what to say to Delyyn. And, if she was to be honest with herself, she wasn't too sure she even knew how to say what she wanted to. Their relationship was clearly deteriorating and Meyan was pretty sure that much of that was her fault. And yet, his part in it hadn't exactly been angelic either. She tried to look at it all dispassionately, like she would review any hypothesis, and that helped. Yes, he'd pushed for sex, and yes, some of his pushing had verged on a sort of emotional coercion 'jitsu'. But had he done it that way on purpose? Or was it just the only way of pursuing women that he knew? It didn't make it ok, but in her mind it was a lot different than thinking that he had started out specifically to coerce and deceive her. And she owed him at least the chance to explain right? How much of it was her fault for not seeing it sooner? Sex wasn't even remotely taboo in Origin and in such comfortable settings as was the S'up, romantic engagements came and went, sometimes with little to no attachment. And that was ok for Origin; and for Delyyn maybe. She'd never spent much time exploring the idea but finding that it wasn't ok for her had to happen sometime. Meyan sighed as she thought back over the past few weeks and wished that she'd gone into the relationship paying more attention. Maybe if she had set boundaries early, or may if she'd...

No; and that was the root of it. It wasn't solely up to her to define limits. It was up to him to ask them as well and to do so without just assuming them or covertly testing each limit. She could have, should have been more vocal, despite all of the other distractions. Meyan was discovering just where the norms and social openness of Origin's culture stopped and where she began. This was her, and that was ok. In fact, being... asexual, she frowned at the term feeling it somehow didn't fit or seemed dirty in some way even now, was simply part of her. And again, that was ok.

Her anxiety, she knew, came primarily from one major question: was it ok with Delyyn. Could he be ok in a relationship that was only ever sensual, emotional, and intellectual? Because if not... She let the thought hang as her com implant chirped. Well, he couldn't possibly be any later than he already was so why com ag... the com ID was Bee's. Meyan accepted the communication with a sudden puzzled look on her face.

::Hi Bee, how can I-:: Meyan Lui Kasil

::No time! Sophia and Drake are in trouble and Kip and H'Aki may be soon too. I'm waiting for station security in the docking umbilical field but I don't know if they will get here in time.:: Bee3

::Wait, where?:: Meyan Lui Kasil

Meyan sprang up from the table, all thoughts of her half finished breakfast or meeting Delyyn evaporated as she dashed for the exit. She'd need a ship and the closest pilot she could trust happened to be a capsuleer just across the hall.

::Renaissance Station. Docking arm C. I didn't know who else to com, the Sub-Coordinator isn't accessible.:: Bee3

::Ok, I'm coming, stay there Bee.:: Meyan Lui Kasil

::Please hurry.:: Bee3

Meyan shifted her attention to queuing up a line to Solu. She might not actually be in the lab so reaching out to her and looking for her seemed wise.

::User BEE3 disconnects::

::Isn't that the POCO?.... Bee?:: Meyan Lui Kasil

She registered Bee leaving the channel even as the thoughts came out but Bee was gone. She immediately tried to com xer back but got no answer. As she ran through the Lab's lobby and into the lab proper she also tried to reach Xeph but he didn't seem to be available to her either. Meyan reached Solu via com before she was able to locate any of Solu's multiples in the lab.

::Solu, they're in trouble.:: Meyan Lui Kasil

::Who is?:: Solu Terona

::The kids, all of them. Can you get us to Renaissance Station, fast?:: Meyan Lui Kasil

::Um, yeah, I can. How quickly can you get to the level 46 G5 docs?:: Solu Terona

Meyan used her implants to call up a station map and found the route. They were the closest docks to the lab.

::Ten minutes?:: Meyan Lui Kasil

::Good, I'm in warp now, I'll meet you there. I'm already in my Confessor so just hop on a loading lift and get in when you get there.:: Solu Terona

Solu didn't leave the com channel but Meyan had the sense that Solu was now communicating out on several other channels at once. Instead of worrying that she was missing anything important, Meyan focused on the route ahead of her. She was literally running through the corridors which drew more than a few odd looks and even resulted in one or two minor collisions followed quickly by profuse apologies. She shouted those back over her shoulder. Meyan was just rounding the last corner before the corridor opened up into the expansive docking ring when a com channel invite popped up to the left of her ocular display. She accepted.

::User MEYAN LUI KASIL connects.::

::The Devoter is on its way, but it still has to get from Whisper to Origin to Echo 1, I might not make it.:: Zerolaws

::Holy crap! I just got three of 'em with that bomb!.:: Marcos Quatros

::The shuttle is landing at Echo 1 now, should I point it?:: Aaron Posh

::Battle coms please! Aaron, don't try to get it on this side, jump now and try to point it on the other side, let's see if we can force it back into Origin.:: Streya Jormagdnir

The chorus of voices and communications blasted into Meyan's head causing her to stagger mid stride. By the time she recovered she'd missed several of the messages and had to review them in her message log. Trying to pay attention to the ongoing communications and assimilate the messages she'd missed was utterly compounded as she realized that she'd just been brought directly into the fleet communications channel for all of Alexylva Paradox.

::Missed them! They warped to... Planet V. Do I pursue?:: Aaron Posh

::Yes, jump at 100km, you might land on 'em.:: Streya Jormagdnir

::They're faster than my Astero, they might get away before I can lock then again.:: Aaron Posh

::Bluefire on Echo 1, bubble up.:: Zerolaws

::Thank you Doc. Keep your Devoter on the return hole to Origin and stay bubble up for now. Good thinking on that extra light pass too. Aaron, if you miss em just keep looking at where they bounce too, I don't think they have bookmarks in there so if they want to go anywhere other than back into Origin they'll have to drop probes which means making a safe.:: Streya Jormagdnir

::The PH fleet only has three more on scan in Whisper, I think one might have just cloaked up to wait it out.:: Rosaline Banik

So much of the terminology and places spoken of when right over her head, way over it. Meyan nearly leapt onto the loading platform the moment Solu's Confessor touched into dock. No one else was going aboard as the only additional crew needed for such a small destroyer was already aboard. While she waited for the lift to reach Solu's ship Meyan reviewed what she had hear for any bit she might grasp. One of the places she had recognized from the coms exchange was that of Echo 1. The kids had already been taken out of Origin and into a neighboring wormhole system which meant that the Paradox's chances of catching them had just been cut in half. Meyan continued to ride the floating lift across the short expanse to one of the external docking hatches and willed the platform to go faster.

::Rosaline, as soon as you are done in Whisper we need you bubble-up on the Highsec exit in Echo 1. The shuttle may not know about it yet but they will. Also, can you take the Echo 1 hole with your bubble up like Doc did, that's a C1 hole and it might not last much longer with so much mass on it already.::Streya Jormagdnir

::Got it.:: Rosaline Banik

::No probes yet... but they are still bouncing between planets and now they just warped off to a safe, somewhere between Planet V and Planet II. Check Check! Core scanner probes are out now.:: Aaron Posh

::Ardellia, can we get your combat scanner into Echo 1 to scan down that safe?.:: Streya Jormagdnir

::Yeah, but I'd have to stop scanning in Whisper.:: Ardellia Blumenthal

::Umm.. Stay in Whisper, Pandemonious Horde is still the greater threat.:: Streya Jormagdnir

::I've got combat scanners on my Confessor, I'm just about to undock.:: Solu Terona

The hatch sealed behind Meyan and she suddenly heard Solu's disembodied voice from all around her telling her to take the third right and follow it to the pressure door at the end. It was surreal to listen to Solu talking simultaneously on coms while reverberating her voice through the ship to Meyan.

::Bluefire Echo 1.:: Xepharious Wryn

::Welcome back Xeph, objective achieved?:: Ardellia Blumenthal

::Indefinitely.:: Xepharious Wryn

Meyan reached the forward compartment even as she heard the finality and a hint of something much deeper within Xeph's voice. She tried to puzzle out what that something might be but her thoughts distracted her such that she didn't realize that she was making her way down the central corridor. She reached the hatch but as it opened before her she pulled herself up short. This was the bridge. Meyan could see only a few actual crew moving between otherwise unused stations. There was no sign of the typical captain's chair or even of a pilot, navigator, or first officer. Instead she found only the tactical and damage control central consoles in use and even those crew members seemed to be doing very little despite their insanely professional demeanor. As the awareness that the need for a bridge crew had been entirely replaced by just one immortal capsulleer hit her, her eyes also fell on the unattended screen built into the pilot's station and she gasped. They were already in space and moving quickly into warp.

::I've got eyes on the Echo 1 Highsec exit.:: Xepharious Wryn

::What are you in now?:: Streya Jormagdnir

::Stratios. But I have a little surprise in my cargo hold.:: Xepharious Wryn

::Rosaline, you still busy?:: Streya Jormagdnir

::Yeah:: Rosaline Banik

::Solu, how soon on those combat probes.:: Streya Jormagdnir

::Bluefire Echo 1:: Solu Terona

Meyan found a spot against the bulkhead within visual range of the pilot station's screen. The bulkhead she'd found butted up against a large round protuberance which jutted slightly into the bridge thus robbing even further space from the small area. The screen was automatically cycling through the various camera drones which displayed consecutive images of Solu's Confessor from an exterior view. Those cameras were just spreading out to their full distance from the ship when all of the sudden they all rushed tightly in close to the long cylindrical destroyer. The effect was slightly disorienting and left Meyan feeling as though she'd just been on the back and forth journey right with those tiny disposable drones. Suddenly the view snapped forward of the ship as the Confessor's nose disappeared into Echo 1's distortions. There was a pause in which the stillness and anticipation of what they might find on the other side was vibrating through the entire ship and crew. And with a breath, they were through and Meyan realized home was suddenly many light-years away. She failed to repress the shudder.

::Whisper's clear of hostiles.:: Sharlandra

There was a collective sigh of relief accompanied by what sounded a bit like adrenaline fueled celebratory laughter throughout the com channel.

::Thank you Shar. Let's keep com's clear please. We still have hostiles in Echo 1.:: Streya Jormagdnir

::I have a warp introduction generator on D-scan!:: Zerolaws

::A deployable?! Friendly?:: Streya Jormagdnir

::I told you I brought a surprise. Now go get 'em Solu.:: Xepharious Wryn

Meyan could practically feel the cold predatory chill which laced the Sub-Coordinator's chuckle

*******


"How the fedo'd fuck did he get to the exit before us?"

It was those words specifically which finally penetrated Bee's haze and dragged xer mind painfully back to consciousness. It took xer only a few moments to recognize that xe was no longer in the umbilical field and only a moment more to realize that xe was efficiently restrained.

"Can't we just warp to the hole and get out into high sec before he can target us?"

"Even if we had more than only the approximate location of either the exit or return hole, with warp disruption bubbles covering both we would be instantly sucked back out of phase and pulled to the very center of those bubbles well over fifteen kilometers from the event horizon. We couldn't hope to survive against that over such a distance."

Bee leaned xer head forward very, very slowly, just enough to glance around the edge of the open hatch. Xe did so just in time to see a man, very clearly the captain, pointing at the readout on the small tactical station. The bridge wasn't very large, much, much smaller than what xe was used to from BubbleBait, but it did boast a modest little tactical station and as xe strained xer eyes xe could just make out several lines of text scrolling out along the screen. Xe had no idea what they were, but they looked like the kind of things a hyper aggressive person might name their ship after. This realization along with the overall awareness that xe must now be just outside the bridge of the shuttle xer friends were captive on crystalized xer thoughts. The very irate woman who clearly thought that she was in charge continued screaming. "Well you had better find a way to get us out of here. You don't know these people like I do; they will HUNT. US. DOWN."

Bee could tell from his inflection that the Captain was at least equally impressed by whoever was hunting them but unlike the woman he was keeping his cool. Would xe have had reason to, xe would have categorized him amongst the elite commanders of some massive navy rather than as captain of a shuttle. "We have at least one safe so far and we'll be making another one shortly. In the meantime I request that you kindly allow me to do my job and fly my ship. I did not question your flight plan nor did I so much as scan the cargo you brought onboard from that transport but unless you are prepared to surrender it and yourself over to these people..." The woman's gaze didn't alter in the slightest to his question, "I suggest that you trust in my considerable experience."

"Was it your considerable experience which told your crew to knock out some little girl right in front of station cameras and drag her aboard?" The woman gestured momentarily in Bee's direction and xe suddenly hoped very very hard that no one would look over and notice xe had moved. No one did. "And if you or your crew had had even a speck of gray matter between you, you might have looked that little child up and discovered that she was some damned runaway and most recently in the custody of the OSS, maybe we wouldn't have stirred up the nest quite this much?" Her last words came out again at a full shout. Still, no one so much as glanced Bee's way, not that there were many around to glace. A ship even this size at battle stations, without the aid of a capsuleer, should have had at least several more crew on the bridge. The only reason Bee could think of for such a skeleton crew was that they must have left in a big, big hurry.

The lack of crew could work out in xer favor if xe could just get xerself free. Besides, where were Kip and H'Aki? The ship wasn't that big. Were they too busy trying to free the kids, or at least Sophia and Drake or worse, had they already been caught as well? Bee thought about it for a moment but ultimately turned the idea down. The woman had talked about Bee and only Bee, she would have also mentioned letting Kip and H'Aki slip in if they'd been found. So that meant that Kip and H'Aki either didn't know xe was here yet, or they knew but had no way to get to xer. Either option wasn't very heartening. Xe was going to have to try to figure xer way out of this one. Xer hands and feet were bound, too much movement would be recognized and while xe was pretty sure xer moderate combat skill could hold xer against the three people xe saw on the bridge, xe couldn't see all of the bridge and if they had so much as a stun baton or a gun between them, xer combat prowess wouldn't get her anywhere. That left the power of xer mind. It might not free xer from xer bonds, but maybe xe could find a different option within the computer system of the shuttle. Xe settled back down against the bulkhead and xer mind reached out to interface with the computer.


Just around the corner from the small girl, sitting in his usual spot, Jallif smiled as he watched Ghera practically explode in every direction. He didn't feel particularly happy, nor did he find the situation very funny, but there was just something about knowing you were utterly and completely fucked which just made even the most horrible things farcical. His time with Ghera over the past few days hadn't been entirely unpleasant, in fact parts of it had been, well, fun. She spent most of her time on planet anyway which left him to his own devices on board the ship. Their relationship, if you could call it as much, had also afforded him just a bit more standing here on the shuttle as she'd given him a direct communications link to her and directed him to 'keep an eye' on the captain. She also hadn't made that last bit secret from the captain either. And so, with his increased freedom and sense of power, Jallif had taken up residence in the Ambassador's suite and was even grudgingly accepted in his typical spot onboard the bridge. Yet, under it all, neither Ghera nor he had made any attempt to hide the truth from each other that what they had was a passing thing and that the moment either of them saw the whole operation going south, Jallif would be the first to bolt. Which was exactly what was going through his mind now.

The real trouble was, there wasn't much of a place to bolt to and his options were dwindling by the moment. Alright ya fedostick, you've been here before right? Where's the out? There's always an out. He stood from the little stool he'd usurped and turned the corner out of the bridge and into the narrow corridor to think. All of that noise from Ghera and the Captain wasn't going to help and if ever there was a time he needed a clear head it was now. Jallif stepped past the quiet sitting from of the bound girl but paid her little mind, she was in an even worse spot than him and so he didn't expect she'd figure into much. I could always take an escape pod, but to where? The only people to find him out here were exactly the people he was trying to get away from. And all because that stupid 'Businessman' fedofucker had to blow up some kids. He reached the end of the corridor and turned about to continue passing rather than actually enter the Ambassador's suite. At least there aren't enough other crew to step around this time. The shuttle was a bit more spacious without the full crew. His eyes lit gently on the only form in the passage which he did have to avoid tripping over, the restrained little girl. Something about her troubled him but still he paid it little mind. Focus. Where's the out? He decided to look at the problem a little differently. What if they didn't want to kill me? He had, after all, not triggered the explosion in that Market knowingly, he'd seen enough holofilms to understand the concept of 'turning state's evidence' so what if he had something to offer them? Ghera? No, there was no way he could guarantee that she wouldn't slip away somehow even if he could find a way to cripple the ship. And even then they really didn't need him to get her; Alexylva Paradox was doing a pretty good job of that already. Wait, they aren't after her now are they? They just want what she took.

Jallif hadn't been privy to all of her plans but between the many sessions of rather intense sex, she had told him at length all about how she dreamt of freeing all of the children from this horrible place and carrying them, like some damned savior seraphim, back to safety in the Federation. What if she'd actually done it, what if that cargo back there was actually a bunch of kids. Jallif actually paused mid stride at the thought. He'd seen first-hand what the public reaction had been to his inadvertent slaughter of even a couple children. He didn't have to imagine too hard to discern how they'd feel about someone absconding with tens or even hundreds of kids. He'd almost reached the end of the corridor leading back to the bridge and once more his gaze fell on the strange girl sitting peacefully against the bulkhead. Sitting peacefully... That wasn't right. She'd have to have been conscious to sit in that fashion, with her knees tucked into her. But if she was conscious she certainly didn't appear as some scared child. Her face was calm, almost serene, and she'd neither cried out nor even tried to wiggle down the corridor and away from the still shouting Ghera. She isn't afraid. The realization hit Jallif like a pile of asteroids and his thoughts crystallized. He'd found the way out, maybe.

"Who are you?" It came out almost as a whisper and at first Jallif was afraid the girl hadn't heard him. When she made no move to respond he glanced both ways before crouching down beside her and repeating his question. Before he even finished speaking though she responded with the same question back, also in a whisper.

"Who are you?"

"I..." Well, what am I supposed to tell her? "I want off this ship and not to die."

She gave an almost imperceptible nod. "Are you with her?" The last word was spoken almost more as a curse.

There was something eerie about this girl and they way in which she so peacefully responded to his questions spoke not of a little girl but of a full adult and of someone who truly knew that they controlled the situation. Jallif decided to trust his gut. "I was, but not anymore."

The answer produced another satisfactory little nod.

"You have a way off this ship, don't you?" Jallif knew he was being direct but he also knew that they were running out of time.

It took some time for her to respond and his mind filled that time with all manner of worries. Will she trust me enough? What if she is some sort of spy for Ghera? No, that's stupid. Why won't she answ-

"Did you know that your communicator would set off the bio-explosion?"

Holy fedo'd fucking shit! "How did you... Wait, NO! No, I had no idea!" He just barely managed to keep his voice to that of a whisper as his mind whiplashed from panic to painfully clear intuition. Whoever she was, if she could find out about that then he had just about nothing left to hide from her anyway. He realized he was sweating from fear and quickly whipped his hands on his shirt. Please believe me. Fucking Please.

"Can you undo my binds; quietly?"

His entire body exhaled. "Yes." He looked both ways. Ghera and the Captain were still arguing though now her shouting and his calm rebuttal focused on the combat scanners they'd just seen and on the pattern of safes they were now trying to constantly jump between. Neither they nor any other crew were paying the corridor any attention. Jallif pulled out a nanostraw and started removing her binds, an action to which the girl simply grinned. "What's so funny?"

She glanced reflexively right at the nanostraw. "Nothing."

The binds released and the girl set them gently to the floor before standing up. "What's your name?"

She was already glancing down towards the end of the corridor which held both the entrance to the Ambassador's suite as well as the passage around to the expanded cargo bays. "Why?"

"Well I can't just call you 'Girl' now can I?" He tried to seem genuinely amused but with all of the pressure to be moving and away from Ghera, who he'd just betrayed, it came out flat.

"Fine, Bee... and I'm not a girl."

Bee started moving cautiously down the corridor so he followed. "Boy?"

"Not that either."

Well now he was thoroughly confused. "Um, Sure... Bee." He glanced back to be sure no one had seen them leave from within the bridge. "By the way, where are we going?"

Xe turned for only a moment to size him up but must have decided it was honest curiosity because xe turned xer head back forward and continued. "To find my friends."


Several minutes and two narrow corridors later Bee and Jallif opened the hatch into the cargo bay and found themselves face to face with a rather odd scene. Two automated cargo drones had gingerly lifted one of the crew members carefully into the air where his unconscious form was being carefully wrapped in a protective packaging foam from the neck down. Jallif's reaction was to immediately stop and gape while Bee just pushed forward with a grin. "You can come out, it's me."

Two figures suddenly relaxed from either side of the hatch as Bee crossed the threshold into the bay. "Bee!" H'Aki was the first to greet xer but Kip wasn't far behind.

"You're on the ship? Wait, how did you get on the ship?"

Kip's expression changed abruptly from confusion to a snarl as he saw Jallif behind xer. "Shit! It's the guy who lives in the suite." H'Aki seemed to understand what Kip was talking about because she instantly resumed a fighting stance and looked as though she was about to spring right past Bee.

"No, wait, he's with me." Both Kip and H'Aki's faces resumed their confused looks. "Well, sort of. He's the one who set of that bomb that started this whole mess. But I think he also wants to help get us out of here so..." Bee trailed off but followed the comment with a shrug. "I think we might need him."

Jallif's gaze shifted from looking at all three kids like they were insane back to the poor crewman who had now been sufficiently packaged.

"Oh, that was me." Kip gave a halfhearted smile. "The foam bit anyway, H'Aki gets credit for knocking him out. But yeah, how did you get on the ship?"Kip seemd unwilling to take his eyes off of Jallif but pointed his head at Bee.

Bee was already moving further into the small cargo hold which had been packed nearly full save for the five by ten meter section in which they were now all standing. "No time, those the kids?" Xe pointed to several uniform crates which filled the rest of the bay.

"Yeah, best as we could tell, this seems to be the only place with 'em on the ship." H'Aki moved over to assess the latch mechanism on the closest crate. "We were just about to open one when we heard you two coming."

Bee nodded and moved to join H'Aki, Kip gave Jallif another close examination but otherwise stayed where he was. Bee noticed H'Aki pull back from the mechanism. "Are they locked?"

H'Aki shook her head. "No, but we better hope that it's only these two crates."

"Why?" Kip asked from standing beside the still unsure Jallif.

"Well, these two are as wide as the bay together, if there are any more they'll be behind these two and I don't know about you but I don't have super-human strength to move 'em."

Understanding dawned on Kip and even Jallif but Bee was already moving to release the latch." Guess the only way to find out is to open one up." Xe finished releasing the latch and the side-by-side doors of the secure crate parted down the middle. Inside sat three neat rows of pods each with a happy green glowing indicator light. Each row was six pods deep and after some very quick math both Bee and H'Aki let out a shared sigh of relief, they wouldn't have to move any of the crates. But now they had the next obstacle which H'Aki willingly voiced, "Ok, what do we do with 'em now?"


Jallif mind just simply refused to accept what he was seeing. It was like watching children playing some sort of distorted playground game. The most disturbing aspect was that they actually seemed... well... competent. He spared another glance to the crewman who'd been carefully deposited in the corner along with his protective packaging and Jallif decided that maybe, through more sheer luck and a little bit of gut instinct, he'd picked the right side after all.

"Ok, what do we do with 'em now?" He glanced back over at the small dark girl talking. Girl? Yeah... pretty sure this one was a girl. Her question was entirely warranted. They'd managed to get this far but only someone who actually knew more about this ship was going to help them now. Luckily he'd spent more time on this damned shuttle than he really wanted to have spent.

"Why not just drop 'em with locater beacons in space each time the ship jumps safes?" They all looked at him suddenly as though it was either the silliest or most brilliant idea ever. It's not like it was that novel of an idea, in fact it had been one of the first options he'd considered for himself. He'd of course rejected it because the only people looking for locater beacons right now also happened to want to find him very badly as well. But That was exactly the part he was trying to fix. "Look, all your friends are out there chasing us right now, but they can't seem to get a good lock on us because the crazy-ass Captain of this ship keeps warping between about five different safes. So why not just jettison each one out of the ventral port, then we each grab a pod ourselves and 'pop', out we go?" Each of the kids was considering it and not for the first time Jallif tried to imagine why in space he was waiting for a child's approval on something.

"Use the drones to lift them?" That was the boy.

Bee was nodding but the girl was shaking her head. "What about Sophia and Drake, we have to get them out."

Bee responded, which was good because Jallif had no idea who Drake and Sophia were. "We don't have the right facilities here, even if we did it would take too long for them to clear their heads from stasis." Xe looked back at Jallif and shrugged. "Guess it's still on us. Where's this ventral port?

"Back here." Jallif started making his way out of the bay and back down the short corridor that ran horizontally across the width of the shuttle. When he came nearly to the junction with the main lengthwise corridor, the one leading between the suite and the bridge, he turned abruptly and pointed down a shallow but wide cylinder leading to what looked like another hatch. "It should be just wide enough for one of those pods to squeeze through."

The boy and Bee had followed him. Bee nodded but the boy looked skeptical. "Why would anyone ever need a ventral port so big?"

Jallif had once wondered that too but the answer, as it turned out, hadn't been quite as mysterious as he'd thought. "That port is built to interface directly into the dorsal port of a capsuleer's ship. The original owner of this vessel preferred to bring his entire pod directly aboard the shuttle before emerging. And it meant only a couple steps from here to the suite." Jallif gestured to the Ambassador's suite only about five steps away.

Neither kid was fully convinced but as with most beings who weren't members of that demi-god caste, they just shook their heads and brought their minds back to the task at hand.

"We just jumped back into warp so we'd better get started with these pods, there seem to be a lot of them. Sophia's notes say something close to 34."

"How did you know..."

Bee shook xer head in response to Jallif's unfinished question. "No time." The boy had already started back, probably to start instructing the two cargo drones.

It took the four of them nearly two additional warp jumps just to get the drones moving but once they had the process of unloading, moving, and then loading the pods into the ejection port went rather quick. Jallif again marveled at the efficiency of his new, if only temporary, allies and he thanked whoever was listening that most of the crew who might have stumbled into their little operation were either firmly rooted in their stations or left behind back in Origin.

As the ship realigned to make its next jump into warp the first of a long line of pods 'thunked' out of the port and into space.

*******