SUNSWEPT CH15B


The anticipation of the hunt which had earlier filled Meyan with both intensity and adrenaline has long since waned. The realities of trying to get a scanning lock on something as small as a shuttle as it defiantly slipped from one safe spot in space to another were proving to have mind numbing effect on her moral. Still, Solu and the rest of the fleet persisted.

"Damn it, so close!" The minimal crew still present within the bridge didn't even seem to flinch at Solu's sudden explicative but after such a long stretch of silence Meyan jumped slightly.

"What's wrong?" With so many other things taking up Solu's attention Meyan didn't really expect an answer, but it just felt right to ask anyway.

When an answer did come, Solu's voice came only from a speaker very near Meyan. "Lt. Zikk and I almost had him."

"How, I can't tell anything from the nav screen." Meyan glanced again at the only display she could currently see, that of the empty pilot's console. Their own ship hadn't moved in quite some time as Solu continued to feverishly work her combat scanner probes in an effort to pin down the flitting shuttle. Given the inactivity, it hadn't taken Meyan long to realize that the pilot's console wasn't going to be of much help. She also wasn't about to interrupt Lt. Zikk in his own duties at tactical as he worked just as hard to review each of Solu's scans, looking for any pattern that the Capsuleer might have missed. At first, Meyan had thought the tactical role must have been rather superfluous given the awesome control over the ship which Solu clearly exerted. But as she watched him Meyan soon realized that while Solu was clearly the mind and will of the ship, Lt. Zikk was, in a way, like the subconsciousness of the ship. It was Lt. Zikk who initiated and managed countless additional minutia which in turn allowed Solu to focus closely on the most pressing tasks at hand. Solu would initiate an action, or start a scanning process with simply a command and the automated processes of the ship would instantly respond. But it was Lt. Zikk, as an extension of Solu's will, who watched for any abnormalities in those systems or any deviation from Solu's command in the software and instantly adjusted to correct it. Meyan had never really imagined that such oversight would be needed but the more she thought about it the more it surprised her that she hadn't before. In any combat situation any one of a billion things could go wrong or be damaged during a fight. A capsuleer expected their ship and the modules within it to function as expected, on time, every time, without fail. Sure, nanites, the ultimate 'magic' of the era, were good, but programming could only go so far. Those nanites could recognize a pattern of failure within a given system but they weren't empowered to adjust for that failure by, say, routing the commands through another system which might put undue strain on that system and cause it's nanaites to raise alarm. And thus, it was ultimately Lt. Zikk who made the snap decisions when even the nanites couldn't.

What was even stranger to her though was that all of this was done without either of the only two present crew members talking. All of their communication was actually being fed, via their implants, into the strata of digital information cascading directly into Solu's implants. It was in this realization that Meyan truly gained an appreciation for just how much more powerful a capsuleer's implants must truly be to handle such massive flows of raw information. To the capsuleer, even human thoughts were translated into just another system of their ship and whether Lt. Zikk had been a homo sapient or digital sapient wouldn't have mattered one bit, to the capsuleer he must have seemed just another processor, albeit a very, very good one.

But today, maybe not good enough. "Sorry, here." A holographic image of the entire system suddenly sprang to life, filling the entire forward portion of the small bridge. "Those five shaded red spheres, see those? This is a time dilated image of where the shuttle keeps landing and where I've almost gotten a lock on him each time." Meyan just nodded. "Well, I can't directly interface time dilation figures into my scanners so rather than being able to 'remember' where each of his safes is approximately, I've been focusing on just this one." One of the five spheres was suddenly highlighted and glowed a little brighter orange rather than the red of the others. "Every time he lands here I've been getting my scanners tighter and tighter in on his location."

"So it's only a matter of time?" Meyan allowed a little hope into her voice.

"That's what I thought, but he must have put some kind of special scattering equipment on that shuttle of his because even with my scanners in on their tightest setting, I just can't get a lock strong enough to warp to." Meyan could hear the defeat creeping into Solu's voice. "I think we might have to go reship into something with even stronger scanning equipment, but the longer we take..."

Meyan nodded. Solu was right, reshipping would mean having to fly all the way back into Origin and then the additional time to move her pod and any essential crew between ships. And that kind of time was something those kids out there might not have. Meyan had once heard of enemy capsuleers choosing to self-destruct rather than allow their harassers the pride of a kill. Meyan didn't imagine whoever had kidnapped Bee and the others to be possessed of such horrors, but she wasn't willing to chance that she might be wrong. Not when gambling with such high stakes.

One of the time dilated spheres that Solu wasn't focusing on suddenly pulsed a bit smaller and a bit brighter. A moment later so did another one. It took Meyan a second to see it, but soon a steady glow accompanied each of them and a chart appeared to the bottom left of the holo display. The chart was showing signal return strength from each of the target spheres and Meyan suddenly realized that she was actually seeing exactly how Solu was 'hearing' Lt. Zikk's communications; as pure data representing changes in the status of everything around them. The integration was simply humbling.

"Huh... I see it too, on a third one now?" Solu was vocalizing what would otherwise have been entirely electronically transferred thoughts for Meyan's sake. Sure enough, Meyan watched a third of the spheres get smaller and brighter.

There were no more spoken words for almost a full minute as one after another each of the spheres got smaller and brighter until the pattern wrapped back on itself and the first of those spheres to change then became even smaller and brighter than it had before. The readout in the lower left changed and now Meyan could see an entirely new type of signature listed beside that of 'Ship'.

"Their warp beacons?" The disbelief in Solu's voice was profound.

In response to her question the next sphere in the pattern reduced in size and got brighter.

*******


If there was a new, comprehensive definition of insanity Ghera was certain she had just discovered it. Her hands clawed at the safety bar which encircled the tiny tactical station just to the left of where the captain still stood stiff as tritanium and displaying the emotions of a black hole. In her white-knuckled rage she glared at him with a hate that churned her stomach. Each moment on this endless bounce between inevitable doom and certain death had ticked away at her resolve until there was nearly nothing left. He thought her pacified, he thought her properly put down while he went right on ignoring her every word. He was very, very wrong.

"Sir, a Manticore... and an Astero just flashed on D-scan."

"Acknowledged Lieutenant." That pompous jackass, their doom was mounting and still he flitted about uselessly.

"Sir, I have that new Flycatcher within a five degree scan of the star now too."

"Understood." There was no avenue left to them, none really left to her now either. It was all over. Eventually the Paradox would catch up to the Captain's useless gambit and when they did, it would be all over. Their only hope was, had ever been, to make a run on one of the exits and maybe slip through. But this fedo-for-brains clock-jockey was wasting time and letting more and more ships join the hunt.

Ghera's sanity clung to only one thread now. If she was patient, if she timed it right, she still stood a chance of getting her precious cargo to safety. If she timed her move... just... right...

"Sir..." The Lieutenant's face screwed up as he reviewed new information which his interfaced implants were feeding him. "I'm getting a strange return from the safe we just left." There was a pause. "Sir, and from the one we are just about to get to. Like some kind of sensor echo."

"Could it be a ship with a faulty cloaking module?" The Captain was reaching for straws and Ghera knew it.

"Negative sir, it's not even showing up as a ship. Sir, it's resonating on the navigational beacon frequency?"

The Captain turned to give his Lieutenant a very puzzled look and Ghera finally saw her chance. Every fiber of her being which had been held taught waiting instantly sprang and she launched herself into the air, and across the bridge, directly for her target.


The last of the stasis pods ejected out of the ventral port and Kip risked a moment for a huge grin that they'd done it, really done it. The last two pods had been Sophia and Drake respectively and part of him was just as uneasy about having them out in space as he would have been had they kept them inside. The group had argued at length about the decision to eject both Drake and Sophia but in the end Kip had given in. He'd wanted to keep them on the ship and simply try to retake the bridge all together but both H'Aki and Bee had flat out refused. Kip still wasn't convinced it was the wrong choice but when faced with opposition from the other two he'd had little chance. In the end they'd decided to keep their friends for last, giving them the least amount of risk out in the vast emptiness of space, and the least chance of being spotted or accidentally hit by the shuttle as it jumped from safe to safe. Only some quick thinking on his part had actually saved themm from the former fate. Emergency pod beacons were typically set to broadcast on the same frequency as hazard and navigational frequencies. These frequencies were important enough that just about any ship would be listening to them as it traveled through space. The trouble was, the shuttle they were on would also have been listening to that frequency as well. So, pulling a little trick he'd vaguely recalled from a distant childhood of watching juvenile 'space hero' holo's, Kip had recommended that they adjust the beacons to a slightly different frequency used by historical points of interest or often given to ancient ruins or spaceborne artifacts. The shuttle had no reason to be looking for those, but anyone who was blasting away at both passive and active scanners was bound to eventually pick up something even if the beacons were severely underpowered in favor of extending the life support parameters to last as long as possible.

"Now what" He looked up from the sealed ventral port at Bee and H'Aki.

They each glanced at one another and then at Jallif, the strange ally who Kip had only just learned the name of. "How do we get off?"

Jallif paused to think. "Well, there is an escape pod in the Ambassador's suite, and maybe a couple in the security detachment barracks down the other corridor. But otherwise everything else is on the bridge." He looked pleadingly at all three of them as if they might actually take all the pods and leave him. Whatever horors he'd committed, Kip didn't think that Bee was about to go back on xer word to take him with xer when they left. So that meant just one or two escape pods wouldn't cut it in the long run.

Bee started for the doors to the suite. "We might as well start in here then." Xe was already through the doors and moving across the cabin to the emergency escape chamber along the far wall before Kip caught up. "Yeah, just one. It's kinda roomy though." Xe seemed to be inspecting something via xer implant. "No, couldn't sustain two people though. We need another option."

Kip noticed something near the refreshment counter. "What about the cold stasis unit? It might be a little chilly, but it is a stasis unit right?"

H'Aki looked at him like he was the greatest genius in the system but Bee shook xer head. "Sorry Kip, the external structure isn't strong enough. It's fabricated for internal use only, the pressure of space would pop it like a soap bubble." Well, xe didn't have to be that descriptive.

It was Jallif's turn to suggest something. "The security barracks are just through that door." He nodded toward the only door leading out of the suite other than the one they'd entered through. Bee and H'Aki's faces brightened slightly but Kip smelled a massive 'but' coming. "The only trouble though, is that we're at battle stations, and the pods are on the other side of the barracks, past about six fully suited marines."

H'Aki's eyes bugged but it was Bee who responded. "They're still on the ship?"

Jallif nodded. "Ghera didn't trust em, said they were the Captain's, not her's... or something like that. So they stayed here."

Bee actually rolled xer eyes which then caused Kip's eyes to grow just a bit. Xe was getting better at those silly little mannerisms.

"So we go in from the corridor and fight 'em of if we have to." Everyone turned to look at H'Aki who'd followed her declaration by putting her hands on her hips and challenging them all to say otherwise."

"Won't taking the bridge be ea-" Bee cut xerself off mid word and xer face suddenly went very, very pale. "The Captain's just found the pods... and he just took personal command of all navigation control for some reason. This ship's actually got a civilian grade autocannon on it!? I need to..." Bee's voice trailed off under what looked to be considerable mental strain. "I'm... locking him out of the firing controls now... But I can't get to the navigation." No one dared move. "Gah! As long... as I have him locked... out of fire control he can't use... the gun..."

"But he can steer the ship into those pods can't he?" H'Aki quickly completed Bee's fears.

"There is at least one escape... pod on the bridge and all we need to do is knock out the Captain... and I can keep anyone else from steering into... the pods." Bee seemed to be straining more just to hold up the conversation now.

"Then we all go to the Bridge and fight." It was H'Aki who said it but Kip was right there with her.

"No! You three get to the pods in the Barracks, I can do this alone."

Kip found words first while H'Aki was at a loss for them. "But-"

"Kip! No, you three have to live. So you will get in those pods. You'll do it for me, Understood!?"

Kip saw H'Aki nod and felt his own head join hers. To the side Jallif seemed only too happy to comply.

"Good, now go!" With that Bee ran back out into the corridor heading for the bridge. The other three took only a second to remember themselves and then they too were out of the suite and turning right towards the other entrance to the Barracks.

It was a very short run so none of them had time for anything other than to prepare for the fight that was to come. As H'Aki was first to reach the door she slammed her hand onto the access pad and swung herself back to let it open. Whoever was inside saw only an empty corridor for a few split seconds before H'Aki whipped her hand back to the base of her mohawk, extracted the deadly tool within, and leapt into the room.

Considerable shouting erupted but by the time Kip even rounded the corner just in front of Jallif to join in, H'Aki had cleanly sliced each of the three guard's throats even as they remained tightly strapped into their shock harnesses. They'd never even had time to unbuckle a single restraint. Kip could only stare at the two men and woman his friend had just killed.

"They weren't my first..." H'Aki's eyes met Kips and what he saw reflected in them made him shiver deeply, not out of fear, but out of the loss that they betrayed from deep within her.

Jallif broke the moment. "We need to get the fedo fuck out of here, stop staring and get to those tubes!"

Kip turned to look as Jallif was already leaping into one of only two emergency pod tubes. He quickly did the math and turned to H'Aki. "You take the other one; I'll run back to the one in the suite."

H'Aki looked as though she was about to argue but Kip shook his head. "No, you take this one. The 'big wig' one might be DNA locked or some shit like that so I might need this." By practiced repetition Kip had his nano-straw out and in his hand as he flashed it in front of H'Aki. DNA locking an escape pod was another one of those silly things that seemed to be coming back to him along with many other memories of a childhood he'd repressed. He didn't really expect the pod to be locked, but he had needed something to convince H'Aki to get into this one and apparently his DNA bit had worked.

Behind her, Jallif's emergency tube burped as it spat him and his pod quickly through the hull and out into space. The fast repressurization of the room cause Kip's ears to pop and so he never heard what H'Aki said before she stepped quickly forward and kissed him. It wasn't a kiss of passion or of some deep newly discovered love, but of a confused affection, a wish for good luck, and a thank you. But to Kip, what the kiss was for didn't matter. Who it was from did. For a brief moment in time and space everything stopped. In that moment the entire universe was here in this cramped little barracks, among the dying or those fleeing death's grasp, and glowing out of the girl he loved who truly cared about him right back.

Then the moment was over and H'Aki was gone. Kip didn't wait for her pod to eject either, he had his own to find. He spun about and ran back out into the hall. Kip took the corner at a dead run but just as he was about to turn again into the suite he stole a glance down the corridor towards the bridge. He stopped faster than he thought it possible for a moving object to do so. There, at the far end of the corridor, was Bee. Xe was staggered heavily against the bulkhead just outside of the bridge and clasping her own head. Through the hatch into the bridge Kip could hear the colorful expletives of someone who could only possible be the Captain as he tried in vain to discover why his guns wouldn't; couldn't respond.

Kip forgot about the other pod and ran down the corridor to Bee. "Bee, what's wrong?!"

"Too... much effort... Can't hold... both."

Kip realized that xe must have been trying to lock out both the Captain and his tactical crew. The Captain must not have discovered the solution of just trying to ram each pod yet but knowing Bee xe'd be trying to hack back into the navigation and piloting systems too, which meant xe was possibly trying to hack into the Captain's implants themselves? He didn't think it was possible, but he'd already given up trying to hold Bee to 'possible' feats. He knew what he had to do. Kip sprinted forward and into the bridge.

Almost immediately to his left as he entered the frantic chamber Kip noticed a bound and gagged woman struggling just to scream. He had no idea what that was about but as she was fully restrained he paid her little more attention. The Captain was leaning heavily against what must have been the navigational console while a massive gash in his left arm seeped blood down his elbow and onto the decking. A rake of claw marks glistened on his right cheek and all of this attention was directed at the tactical crewman whose eyes were held wide in near panic. Those eyes flicked up to notice Kip and went even wider. Then Kip looked over to see the rather lanky figure standing over two massive inert and bleeding goons. The ghoulish man straightened and looked first to the Captain, then to the bound woman, and finally to Kip.

"Ahh, don't just stand there. Kill him Riggers." The Ghoul moved with blinding speed towards Kip who could only but shift back into the fighting stance he'd spent so many countless hours trying so hard to obtain.


Bee felt the Captain's sudden distraction like a ten tonne weight lifting from xer brain. Finally xe was able to right xerself from the corridor bulkhead and make it the final meter into the doorway to the bridge... where xe was suddenly knocked aside by Kip who leapt desperately to sidestep an opponent's sudden charge. Xe hit the deck hard just to the right of the hatch while xe watched Kip try and fail to stab at his assailant with what looked like a shiv Kip must have been hiding. I bet he learned that from H'Aki. The lanky man dodged the stab but was forced out through the hatch and into the corridor. Bee had to think fast. Kip was absolutely no match for so skilled a fighter and very soon he'd be dead and the Captain's distraction would be gone. Bee abandoned xer attempts to wrestle control over the Captain's implant transmitter, xe'd been losing that battle anyway and at most had just caused the shuttle not to leap back into warp quite as quickly this last time. Instead xe maintained xer hack on the weapons system against the Lieutenants pitiful virus skills and diverted the rest of xer efforts into a system so mundane it had very few lockouts at all. Why should it? Emergency bulkheads were meant to be foolproof, why would anyone ever want to prevent one from engaging?


Kip's stab whistled harmlessly by the Ghoul but after his collision with Bee he'd been completely off balance anyway. He was tumbling forward and out of balance with only his knife hand having any chance to cushion the fall. He let go of the makeshift knife he'd pulled from the pocket hem of the 'runaway' pants he still wore and let it clang and skitter across the decking as his hand barely managed to keep the rest of his body and head from making full and striking contact with that same deck. He looked up again just in time to see the Ghoul picking up that same knife out in the corridor and smiling back at him. His mind raced back to the image of the Ghoul standing over the two massive men and Kip swallowed hard.

The Ghoul wasn't even hurrying to get back onto the bridge, instead his smile pierced into Kips heart and held him in that sheer moment of terror. Kip barely managed to get back to his feet as the Ghoul finally reached the threshold back into the bridge. Kip battled to regain his senses and he even managed some faint spark of hope as he thought of H'Aki and Sophie finally safe. He thought of Drake and part of his mind acknowledged Bee laying on the deck beside him. Xe still needed him now. And he wouldn't let down his friend. His vision tunneled as his will finally started fighting back against the onset of dread. All he could see now was the Ghoul; and he was no longer afraid.

Suddenly everything in his vision went to a dull gray and it took Kip a few moments to recognize the mottled gray paint of the emergency bulkhead for what it was. It was time he didn't have. In his accepted tunnel vision he had managed to overcome his opponents seemingly paralytic effect but he'd also failed to realize that both the Captain and the Lieutenant were no longer at their consoles; they were running full out to engage him.


Bee had the advantage Kip lacked. Xe had felt the Lieutenant's attacks on xer hack stop, and from xer position on the decking xe could see the Captain fighting the pain in his arm to rush over to join his Lieutenant. Xe had only enough time to shout Kip's name before they were on him. Xe tried to stand up but instantly winced and fell again as a sudden blazing pain shot through xer leg. Bee looked down to see a shard of bone just poking out from what should have been xer shin. The sight caused xer to lose all awareness of Kip, his assailants, or even the hack xe had been maintaining. It was as if xer own internal sensors had completely malfunctioned. Xe tried an internal diagnostic but something in the chemistry of xer very human body seemed to be blocking all sensation from the entire leg right then. Bee had never before experienced something so utterly disembodied, and xe had once existed simply as a line of code in a traffic system too. It was so... foreign.

Xer attention was ripped back into the moment as Kip whirled around in front of xer to face the oncoming Lieutenant. Instinctively he leaned back to his left to accept the charge, using his forearm to divert the Lieutenants fist even as Kips right foot slid forward to catch the Lieutenant's trailing foot. The resulting shift in momentum catapulted the Lieutenant's weight out over his still firm foot but caused him to careen way off his original attack and heavily into the sobbing mess that had once been the woman in charge of the whole operation. But while Bee's attention followed the Lieutenant into his unwitting tangle with Ghera and what used to be Jallif's stool, the bane of Kip's many nights at practice finally kicked into place, literally. Even as he pivoted his weight forward from his left to his right foot his eyes found the oncoming Captain just in time. Kip's left foot wound up as his neck and head pitched down and just as the Captain found his way into range the devastating heel of Kip's left boot landed firmly across the Captain's left bicep.

Had the situation been different, a roundhouse from some kid half the captain's size would have been only enough to momentarily stagger him. But Kip had placed and timed his kick perfectly. The slight tread covering the soles of his boots was deep enough to catch on the open gash along the Captain's arm and Kip's momentum rendered flesh from tendon and tendon from bone. The wound erupted into a mist of blood and the pain that shot through the Captain was enough to stagger his charge. But Kip hadn't stopped either. With his kicking foot once more finding solid decking he shifted his weight to it and kicked up and out with his right foot to halt any final momentum the Captain might have retained.

Captain Adders crashed to the decking as his body reflexively curled about what was left of his genitals and his dignity.


Alarms started off, shocking Kip from his stance over the crumpled man. He glanced quickly to the Lieutenant who looked as though he might actually have been about to free himself from the hysterical bound woman. Now the Lieutenant could only stare transfixed at what little he could see of his tactical screen. Kip tried to follow his gaze but he couldn't understand the codes he saw there. Nor did the tenor or insistency of the alarms inform him. It wasn't until he finally looked back to Bee and saw xer leg that his awareness fully returned.

"It's the proximity alarm! Someone has the ship weapons-locked!" Bee seemed to be concentrating again and Kip was momentarily distracted by the gleam of white he suddenly saw on xer shin. "It's the fleet! They have us in a bubble and are demanding immediate surrender! I'm trying to transmit our sur-"

Kip heard the fetal form of the Captain mumble something as Bee's words cut off and xer face once more went ash white. Xer eyes shot over to an escape tube only about three meters from where Kip stood and his eyes followed.

"Kip, go, now!"

He turned back to look at xer but the panic in xer eyes stopped his mouth from working.

"He activated the self destruct and I can't stop it! Kip, you can die! Go! Now!"

"Kip was torn. How could he just leave xer, how could he leave his friend? But then something in the way xe had said it struck him. He can die. Xe'd said it that way earlier too. In a flash of brilliance borne on pure adrenaline Kib finally understood. Bee could be re-lifed, but he couldn't!

He gave his friend one final nod and willed every last bit of his emotions and care for xer into his eyes before he turned and sprinted for the tube.


Bee could only watch as Kip lept the final meter into the open pod in one stride. There was nothing xe could do to help him now, no way to enhance the pods ejection speed or even will it's trajectory to send him clear of any possible wreckage or explosion cascade. Nor was there anything left to hack within the doomed ship. The Captain's victory over xer had been complete. He no longer strived to gain control of the auto cannon, nor did he try to even stand. He'd accepted his fate the moment he'd uttered the command to self-destruct. Bee watched as though in slow motion as the Lieutenant tried to leap for his tactical console as though some how it might grant him access to the fully secured self-destruct system which even xe couldn't crack. As the seal to Kips pod swiveled into place and pressurized Bee watched his eyes through the small clear view port and xe remembered the strange holo-vids xe'd shared with him, the way he'd finally opened up to xer, of all people, about his past. Xe thought of how he might finally get the chance to find his mother again. Xe thought of all these things but xe also thought about xer own future. Xe thought about what it might be like to be born again. Xe could do it right this time too. When they re-lifed xer, if they did, it might not be the same body, but at least this time xe'd finally be born to people who actually loved xer. Xe'd finally be born into a home.

Time was moving very slowly now for xer. The individual chemical reactions which ignited beneath Kip's pod to give it that extra boost were just starting to flicker as Bee wondered just how much time might be left on the count down. Xe hoped it would be enough.

What would death be like? Maybe it would feel like nothing. Maybe it would hurt? Something about the lyrics of Kip's holo-vid found their way into xer mind now. It was odd how music could do that. Xe'd never really experienced 'getting a song stuck in xer head' before but maybe that's what this was. Xe wouldn't remember any of this though. Xer new clone would have only the memories up until about two days ago. But maybe that clone would remember the song again too.

Kip's pod started moving inexorably slowly up the tube. Bee could now feel the rumbling quake from deep within the ship as it's reactor initiated critical failure. Xe looked again to where the bottom of Kip's pod was still visible just below the top of where xe could no longer see further up the tube. He wasn't going to make it in time.

As the massive wave of unleashed reactor energy scoured and mauled its way out of the ship and towards where the bridge sat, nestled safely back beneath the ship's armor plating, Bee found new meaning in the words of Kip's song. A lone tear found its way down xer cheek and silently xe wept for xer friend. The lyrics found their way to xer head, to her heart, and then to her lips as xe sang openly and out loud for xer friend. Xe managed only the first words of the chorus but it was enough...

"I'm only human... I blee-"

The reactor's wrath found xer then.


Solu had changed the holo-image spread throughout the bridge from the highly technical looking system map and scanning metrics to a slightly translucent exterior view. Had she even suspected the utter insanity of the shuttle's commander Solu never would have done so. An Astero, Flycatcher, and Confessor, their capsuleers, and their crew could only look on in horror as their quarry and the precious treasure she held bubbled, rippled, then vaporized into a brilliant flash of light.

::We have confirmation, 34 clone pods and two emergency stasis pods have been recovered. No information yet on occupants.:: Aaron Posh

::Understood.:: Streya Jormagdnir

Meyan's heart felt as heavy as Straya's mental voice sounded. She couldn't even begin to understand what might have just been lost.