The rest of the shuttle ride was spent trading general likes and dislikes between us. Tohan was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humour. Surprisingly, we had a lot of common interests and had similar likes and dislikes. As promised, Tohan regaled me with stories he swore were one hundred percent true about Moswen and his chaos effect. Tohan said that I could even check databases for some of the better known details. I did, and even if I was only able to confirm a very small part of what Tohan said, it was most definitely true and frankly astounding.
Like the fact that Moswen was a royal concubine to Kijika as well as his shu’anad and Lor’fei partner. Not only that, they had two children together, Jaiseki and Xinda, and the children were actually entirely theirs, Kijika having given birth to them. He was male, but the genetics on his maternal side made it possible for all males to become pregnant and give birth if they chose to do so. I thought it was fascinating that Kijika’s maternal side was also a triple-sexed species and winged. His paternal side was also winged although the style of wings was very different.
According to Tohan, the event that brought Kijika and Moswen together, in a roundabout way, namely Moswen’s significant role in the accidental destruction of a top secret military lab, also led to his brothers, Makis and Mered, becoming fathers under highly unusual circumstances several years later. They and their partner, Kushaiah, ended up adopting a Laiokian girl, Qetsiyah, which wouldn’t have been possible if Tohan’s brother, Tyhlian, hadn’t had Moswen’s help to escape Awh’an when he was unjustly put under an order of execution for his supposed dangerous insanity, thereby allowing Tyhlian to met his shu’anad and Lor’fei, Dakvir, who is Laiokian, while on the run from the Shal-hazal Hunter sent to eliminate Tyhlian. With the backing of the Shal-hazal House that Moswen and Tyhlian run with other family members, Dakvir was able to help hundreds upon hundreds of Teichle, a sub-group of Laiokians that are hated and feared by their fellow Laiokians, to immigrate to Awh’an. That immigration of Teichle to Awh’an also ended the government supported slavery of the Teichle for sale to other planets.
On Awh’an, the Teichle found a use for their uniqueness. In the past, Shal-hazal Litches had had to be put to death, going dangerously insane due to the nature of their abilities. The Teichle were able to maintain the Litches sanity, something the Litches and their families were exceedingly grateful for.
Tohan had not been kidding in the slightest about Moswen’s chaos effect when one considered that the entire chain of events began several years ago because Moswen wanted to poke around in the top secret lab his sister, Mahira, and her team had been guarding. She’d said no to sneaking him in, so he crept in on his own, got caught playing with chemicals in one of the labs by two people of his sister’s team, and had his silence bought by the ones who caught him when they asked him to say nothing if they let him join in on the sex they were about to have while on duty. Apparently, some chemicals were left cooking when Moswen jumped into the action, and although it took a few hours, the lab blew sky high. Casualties were minimal as it’d been during some sort of national holiday and during a shift change when most of the personnel were out of the building. Even more astounding was that with the lab being blown up, highly illegal activities involving weaponizing some of the native flora to be sold to the highest bidders by of some of the scientists was revealed. Most of the casualties involved those same scientists, and to hear Tohan speak of it, most Awh’anise seemed to feel it had been a good thing that the scientists were dead.
Epic stories indeed.
We were almost at the asteroid when Tohan began turning his head side to side and frowning. He seemed to be listening intently to something. Or perhaps trying to listen intently to something was a better way of putting it. He continued to turn his head back and forth, and the frown on his face deepened after several minutes.
“Can you hear that?” Tohan asked me.
“That noise. I’ve been hearing it off and on for the past half hour. It’s sort of an up and down wave of sound but also intermittent. Really low end of the frequency scale, too. Close to the bottom of my threshold. I know I’ve heard it before, or something a lot like it, but I can’t remember where at the moment. It’s driving me nuts.”
“No, I don’t hear anything. My hearing, while very good, isn’t as sensitive as yours. Are you sure it’s not some sort of sound vibration associated with the shuttle engines?”
“Not unless there’s something really wrong with them. I’m pretty sure you’d at least mention to me that there was an issue with the engines’ so I wouldn’t freak the hell out if we needed to do some sort of controlled crash landing or were about to be adrift in space with no engines.”
“Yes, I would mention that sort of thing to you. The computer hasn’t noted any issues.”
Tohan growled softly and unbuckled his harness. He stood and began slowly walking around the shuttle, stopping every now and again to listen, obviously trying to pin point where he was hearing the mystery sounds coming from. He got to the cargo area and stopped at his garish duffle bag. He crouched down and unzipped it, swearing in multiple languages at whatever he saw in the bag.
I heard chittering seconds before Tohan was knocked flat on his back by a large, multi-legged something that landed on his chest and pinned him to the floor. Sharp chirps and whistles sounded, and Tohan appeared to be struggling to get the creature off him all while still swearing in multiple languages. I had my harness undone and was on my way to save Tohan from whatever was attacking him only to freeze in place at Tohan’s command.
“Warrick, don’t move. I’m fine. This is Effie. Little bastard stowed away. I didn’t know he could work zippers. That’s new. He’d tried to crawl into my bag twice when I was packing, and I dumped him out both times. I thought he fucked off in a huff because he’s done that before, but he obviously waited until I finished packing and left the room and then got in the bag closing himself inside it. Crap. I have no idea what he might’ve taken out of my bag to make room for himself. Moswen’s comment about bringing a bag of rocks makes total sense now since he was the one carrying this bag for me while I had the bag of personal computer shit I’ll need.”
Effie was quite large. I’d guesstimate he stood probably knee-high and weighed around fifty pounds from the look of him. Effie’s eight legs were not spindly like the spiders I’d seen. They were about as thick around as my forearm and looked powerful. There seemed to be some sort of short, purple-black hair or fur tipped in dark green covering Effie’s body and legs much like the pictures I’d seen of tarantulas. There were six eyes in three matched pairs on Effie’s head. The smallest set was closest to the mouth/fangs with the eyes increasing in size the further back from the mouth they were located. The eyes were arranged in a v-shape with the point of the V over the fangs. The smallest eyes were barely bigger than my thumb nail while the largest set of eyes looked to be roughly the size of my palm.
Tohan sighed and stayed on his back for a few minutes while Effie chirped and whistled softly and shoved his large head with wickedly long, thin fangs into Tohan’s face. The most forward pair of Effie’s legs combed through Tohan’s hair and patted his cheeks. Finally Tohan shoved Effie off his chest with a grunt and considerable effort. He stood, and Effie immediately scrambled up Tohan’s legs and clung to Tohan’s chest, cheeping softly. Tohan sighed again and looked up at the roof of the shuttle as if seeking patience before looking down at Effie.
“Bad, Effie. Very, very bad, Effie. I told you I’d be back and that Kushaiah was going to check in on you while I was gone. You weren’t supposed to come with me. It might be dangerous.”
Effie peeped pitifully, and an impossibly long, bright blue tongue curled out of Effie’s mouth to swipe over Tohan cheek. Tohan avoided the tongue licking over his lips only because he jerked his head to the side.
“No, kisses don’t make it better. Stop that. I know you’re faking the whole I’m sorry thing, too, so you can knock that off as well,” Tohan said in a firm tone.
The sad-sounding peeping stopped like a switch had been flipped. Effie still didn’t let go of Tohan though. The hy’prae turned his head and stared at me. That look was a bit unsettling as it seemed like there was a good deal of intelligence in the eyes that studied me so critically. Effie seemed to be plotting something as he stared at me. Tohan’s arms immediately went around Effie, holding the hy’prae to his chest.
“Don’t you even dream of attacking Warrick. I need him to protect me and help me. I’m also going to fuck him later, and I swear to all the gods above and below, if you mess that up, I will make sure you can never, ever get back in the house again, and I won’t let you be in my life. I mean it, Effie. No attacking Warrick. Ever.”
Effie stared at me for several long seconds before looking away. I got the distinct impression that I’d just been dismissed as unimportant. I couldn’t help but smile at that. Tohan blew out a soft breath and moved back to his seat, Effie still clinging to his chest. I watched Tohan sit and then struggle to get his hands between Effie and his chest. He pushed for several minutes, finally wedging his forearm between Effie and his chest and continued to push. After nearly five minutes of shoving, Effie let go reluctantly and immediately settled in Tohan’s lap, the hy’prae’s legs wrapping around Tohan’s thighs as much as possible. It did not escape my attention that Effie positioned himself so that he was facing me, watching me.
“See? Separation issues and possessive tendencies. He also thinks he’s prime lap-sitting material despite being the size of a freaking toddler and just as heavy as one. That’s probably my fault as he was a lot smaller when he first entered my life, and it wasn’t a problem then to have ten pounds or so of hy’prae sitting in my lap while I worked or watched vids. I think he’ll be okay around you because he knows I was serious about the no attacking thing, but I’d advise you not to let your guard down. Just because I told him not to do something doesn’t mean he’ll actually listen to me for longer than he feels is convenient for him. He can be sneaky as fuck and a real little shit. That’s actually sort of one of their things.”
“Noted. Couldn’t you ask Moswen to come get Effie and take him back to your house on Awh’an? This mission has the potential to be dangerous.”
“I could ask, but Effie steers well clear of Moswen and frequently hides from him. I think Effie can sense that chaos effect of Moswen’s and wants nothing to do with it. I’d go so far as to say Effie is a little afraid of Moswen, and hy’prae are known for their fearlessness so it’s definitely something to take note of. And while it might sound easy to put Effie in a room and wait for Moswen to show to take him home, I swear, I can lock Effie in a room with nothing in it, and he’ll find somewhere to hide.
“I’m not exaggerating that either. I once locked him in my storage room when I had to clean up the mess he’d made when he brought home a fresh kill. The storage room is like a five-foot by six-foot box that had nothing in it but empty shelves. When I went to let him out an hour later, he wasn’t in there. To this day, I have no idea where he was but he couldn’t have gotten out as he can’t open locked doors. Well, at least not that type of locked door since it locked with a key.”
I wasn’t sure I quite believed that. Not that I thought Tohan was lying to me, but there had to be a reasonable explanation. Then again, I’d had Moswen take me to what basically amounted to an alternate reality using nothing but the power of his mind, which was staggering. Who was to say that hy’prae couldn’t pull off some sort of inter-dimensional phasing to get out of places they didn’t want to be in? I had no information that said they could do that, but by the same token, I had nothing that said they couldn’t do that either.
From the information Moswen had put in my head, there didn’t seem to be a lot known about hy’prae. They made very poor lab subjects for further study, either seeming to commit suicide if they couldn’t get free or killing the scientists and escaping the lab. Trying to force one to be a pet usually ended badly, with the hopeful owner becoming a meal for the hy’prae. Even for the people who had hy’prae that decided to be with them, like Tohan, information was provided by the person the hy’prae befriended, and it was more anecdotal than scientific. There was also the amount of time that a person had with a hy’prae, which tended to vary wildly, generally from hours to weeks, with a few reporting months. Hy’prae spending the amount of time Effie had with Tohan was very unusual, but not unheard of. The longest noted time period was slightly less than two years.
I soon picked up the controls of the shuttle, preparing for the landing. I logged into the security system of the asteroid and keyed in the access code I’d been given that would keep the lasers in orbit from firing on us. It was a temporary code and only good for the one use. Using the code again would have the lasers auto-target the shuttle and blow us from orbit without warning. Once the job was done, a second code would be sent to me via my secure military encrypted link, allowing us to leave without being vaporized.
Tohan stayed silent as I guided the shuttle to the docking hub. The shuttle touched down gently, and I began my shut-down procedures for the shuttle. Tohan unbuckled his harness and stood. I couldn’t help the chuckle when Effie stubbornly remained clinging to his legs. Tohan shot me a dirty look which only made another short laugh escape me. I couldn’t help it. He looked funny standing there with Effie hanging off his non-existent lap.
“Get off of me, Effie. I’m not carrying you, and I can’t walk like this. Stop being a dick. Just don’t wander off, okay?”
Effie refused to move for another minute or two before climbing down to the floor, possibly to prove that he’d decided to get off of Tohan on his own and not because Tohan told him to. He followed Tohan to the back of the shuttle, and I turned a little in my seat to watch for a moment. Effie was very nearly underfoot as Tohan started unstrapping the transport boxes until he seemed to realize what Tohan was doing.
I almost couldn’t believe it when Effie started working on undoing a strap on one of the boxes. He had a couple of false starts before he eventually figured out what to do from watching Tohan and having a little trial and error of his own. He took longer to undo a strap than Tohan, but I thought that was more to do with just learning how to do it than problems manipulating the strap. His legs seemed to be quite dexterous, and I wouldn’t have minded getting a closer look at them if I wasn’t nearly positive that Effie would try to eat my face. Comments in the reports regarding the complex puzzle-solving abilities and intelligence of the hy’prae in general didn’t appear to be overstated in the least. They might’ve been understated.
I finished my shut-down procedures and locked the shuttle console. If somebody was very determined, he or she could probably gain access to the shuttle but, without the codes to the orbiting lasers, wouldn’t get very far in it. Tohan would also be working on the problem very soon, making it even harder for the code breakers to do what they needed to in order to leave the asteroid. I left my seat and helped Tohan and Effie finish unstrapping the boxes.
“I’m going to go find a cart for us. Please stay in the shuttle while I’m gone. This is supposed to be a secure area, but prisoners have somehow gotten into the docking bay before. I have no doubts that they are fully aware that we’ve landed here. They might try something to either capture the shuttle or us or even both going by the previous experiences with the crews that were sent here. I’ll be as quick as I can, but stay alert for anything.”
Tohan nodded. “I’ll move as much as I can close to the door so we can chuck the stuff on the cart as soon as you pull up with it and then get the hell to the computer room.”
I smiled at Tohan grateful he understood the urgency to get loaded and into a truly secure area as quickly as possible. There weren’t a lot of boxes. Maybe a dozen medium-sized ones. I had no idea the weight of them, but even if they were relatively light, it would just be awkward, if not impossible, to try to carry all of the boxes at once. I opened the hatch and cautiously looked around. Nothing moved, but I still waited for a full minute, scanning the area, before heading out of the shuttle.
I knew the layout of the docking hub from a map uploading into my head and where the carts were supposed to be stored. That didn’t necessarily mean I’d find a cart there. I was hopeful though.
I found a cart before reaching the place where they were stored and it even showed that it was charged three-quarters of the way to full. Excellent. I powered it up and quickly headed back to the shuttle. There was still no sign of anything or anyone, which was good. True to his word, Tohan had piled all the boxes near the door and immediately began dumping them on the cart before I stopped. My lips twitched up in amusement at Effie shoving boxes close to the door when he realized what Tohan was doing. He was turning out to be quite the little helper. Interestingly, there was nothing in the information on hy’prae that said they helped out the person they befriended like Effie was currently doing, and I wondered why.
“Shake your tail, Warrick. Something is making the hairs on my tail puff up. I haven’t seen movement or heard anything, but Effie is twitchy, too. It’s not his being in a new place or me knowing that we’re in the super max prison in this corner of the galaxy. Something feels... off.”
As much as I was trained to discount gut feelings in favour of known facts and gathered intelligence, trusting in a gut feeling had paid off more than once for not only me but clients of mine as well. There was also the small but significant-to-me detail about the Awh’anise and their uncannily accurate instincts. Moving faster to get to a safe zone quicker was simply a smart move as well with no downside.
I helped Tohan get the rest of the boxes on the cart and took the extra two minutes to secure them. If we needed to really move, I didn’t want to risk losing the load from jouncing them around. There still wasn’t anything I could call suspicious in the docking hub. Whether it was Tohan’s words or the way Effie was sticking close to Tohan—body held low to the ground, his head swinging back and forth as if looking for something—I was starting to get a twitchy feel down my spine, too. I closed the shuttle door, keyed in the lock code, and gestured for Tohan to start pushing the cart towards the set of doors that would take us to the computer room while I scanned the area for potential threats.
We were halfway between the shuttle and exit when the ambush happened.
I grabbed Tohan and threw him to the ground behind the cart as things pinged off the smooth stone floor of the docking bay and whizzed over our heads. I hoped the transport boxes were sturdy because they were currently providing us with some cover from whatever type of projectile weapons the prisoners were using to pin us down. The prisoners were either incredibly bad shots, or they weren’t really trying to kill us. That said to me that they were more interested in capture than kill. Knowing that didn’t make me feel any better about being shot at.
My pistols were out and in my hands almost before Tohan hit the floor. I didn’t return fire as there was no solid target to shoot at yet. The gunfire was coming from several places at once, and it would take me half a minute to calculate where the greatest concentration was coming from before returning fire. I had no idea where Effie was, but I sincerely hoped he hadn’t taken a hit somewhere fatal in the initial burst of gunfire. Tohan was irritated with Effie for stowing away, but he clearly loved the hy’prae, and I’d hate for him to lose Effie.
I waited for a lull in the sounds of firing, my calculations complete, before I popped up and snapped off a few shots from the direction most of the fire seemed to be coming from. I knew I wouldn’t hit anyone, but I was hoping that they might re-think their assault plan if they knew they were outgunned. Laser fire had a very distinct sound that most people recognized. That hope died when a flurry of shots peppered the transport boxes in response to my shots.
“Fuck. Can you see anybody well enough to blow their head open?” Tohan asked as he crouched next to me.
“No. I’d say most of the prisoners here have more than a casual idea of how a shoot out works. If somebody does stick their head out a little too far, I will pulp their brains provided I see them do it. I don’t think killing us is the goal. Capture seems more likely given that they could’ve, at the very least, gravely wounded one or both of us when they first started to fire on us,” I said as I pulled a small mirror from a compartment in the torso of my chassis.
I extended the little wand on a mirror and slowly moved the edge of the mirror above the boxes, trying to spot our attackers without alerting them to what I was doing. I caught sight of part of one person, his or her leg sticking out a little past the column he or she was hiding behind. I brought the barrel of my laser up to the top of the box and sighted using the mirror. It was an awkward, backward position to hold my pistol and fire, but it wouldn’t be first time I’d done it. I squeezed off the shot, smiling when I took out most of the person’s knee. The woman screamed and fell forward as her leg gave way, and I fired again, boring a neat hole through her head before she hit the floor. Tohan stared at me with wide eyes before he grinned and kissed me hard and fast on the lips.
“That was fucking cooler than cool, Warrick.”
His hands slipped under the open edges of his pants for a moment, and I was about to mention that now would be a very inappropriate time to become sexual. Before I could say anything, I saw that he now held a short, skinny metal stick in each fist. He flicked his wrists hard and the sticks telescoped into three-foot-long staffs. He rapped the butt ends together, and sharp-looking, curved blades popped out. Tohan grinned at me when he saw my surprised expression.
“You didn’t seriously think I was going to dance my sweet ass into a super max prison where the prisoners have free-roaming of the place without some sort of weapon on me, did you? Yeah, I’m a computer nerd, but I’m also from a species that lives to fight from one of the more hostile planets in the universe. Most Awh’anise are armed with some type of weapon all the time. It’s a matter of survival even in the cities because you never know when the next swarm or herd of deadly whatever’s will invade and try to kill you.”
“I’m glad you’re prepared, more or less. Your batons won’t do much good against whatever they’re using to fire on us, which I’m sure you know, but if somebody gets close, feel free to bash their head in. Stay close to me, and I’ll do my best to get us out of here and to safety. I don’t know where Effie went.”
“Effie likely went to play. When the screaming starts, I suggest pushing the cart like crazy.”
Tohan just grinned at me. Within a few minutes, there was a shriek of pure terror that was cut off abruptly. A few seconds later, there was another scream along with a small spate of gunfire. A third scream sounded almost immediately after the second one stopped just as abruptly as the first. Tohan did something to retract one of his batons and slipped it back under his pants. He held the remaining baton in one hand and gripped the side of the cart with his other before he began to push the cart awkwardly to the exit doors.
“What’s going on?” I asked as I helped him push the cart without exposing either of us to the people trying to shoot us. I hated having to put up one of my pistols to be able to push the cart, but holding both and pushing and steering the cart at the same time was not going to work for me.
“Effie takes huge offense to people trying to hurt me. He knows the sound of gunfire and that people can die after being shot. He watches vids with me frequently and rarely misses my favourite show which usually involves a lot of gunfire, explosions, and sledge chases as well as the standard beat-the-snot-out-of-someone that you’ll see in virtually any Awh’anise show.
“Hy’pre are scary-good ambush predators. They can move very fast and almost soundlessly. Usually, you never even know one was stalking you until it pounces on you and injects you with the paralytic toxin they produce. Once that shit hits your system, you’re pretty much dead although you don’t need to actually be dead before the hy’prae starts eating you.”
“So Effie is... eating people?”
I knew they were deadly animals, but I hadn’t expected to actually see Effie eat anybody. It was a morbidly fascinating idea. Could he even eat a whole person? How long would that take? How did he eat things? Swallow it whole or tear chunks off it? There was no information on the eating habits of hy’prae in the data I had except for the note that they’d eat whatever they could catch and that they frequently took down prey much larger than they were.
“Probably not yet because he’s eliminating the threat he sees to me. He’ll want to come back for whatever he kills later. He might web them up and stash them somewhere so he can eat at his leisure, but he won’t take the time to do that now. He’s weirdly picky about how stuff gets webbed and will spend quite a bit of time doing it to his idea of just right. Don’t be freaked out if he brings me body parts. He’s sharing his kill with me. It’s gross, but it means he thinks I’m family or part of his raze.”
There were now intermittent screams and shouted curses mixed with gunfire. We were nearly at the exit when a man staggered in front of us, clutching his arm to his chest, his eyes wild. I could clearly see the white of bone through the strips of flesh hanging in tatters from his wrist to his elbow. With the amount of blood on the man’s clothes and what was still dripping from his wound, it was amazing he was even standing never mind moving around. He saw us a second before Effie leapt on his back from gods only knew where, knocking the man flat on the ground and making him squeal like a frightened, wounded prey animal; which I supposed he was as far as Effie was concerned.
Effie’s mouth opened wide enough that I could’ve easily fit my foot into it with room to spare. Backwards curved teeth that were serrated on the inner curve and the length of my baby finger lined Effie’s top and bottom jaws in addition to the very long fangs he sported. He clamped his mouth over the back of the man’s neck, gave his head a vicious side-to-side shake, and jerked his head back. I heard the unmistakable crunch of bone breaking. Blood sprayed upward as Effie tore out the back of the man’s neck, taking the entire section of spine at the neck, too. It was both fascinating and nauseating to watch and hear Effie chew what he’d torn free and then swallow. Well, I supposed that answered my question of how Effie ate things. Damned if he didn’t look very pleased with himself, too.
“Good boy, Effie. Come here. We have to go now. No. Leave it. You’re not dragging that with you. I said leave it. You can come back for it later. We need to go. Now,” Tohan said as he held out his hand to Effie.
Effie looked back and forth between the corpse and Tohan. He obviously wanted to stay and finish his meal, but just as obviously, he wanted to follow Tohan. He reluctantly left the body and approached Tohan, peeping at him. Tohan put his hand out pressing it on Effie’s head between his sets of eyes, holding the hy’prae at bay with some effort.
“I know I said you’re a good boy, but just no. I’m not letting you rub against me when you’re covered in gore. You need a bath before I’m going to rub your belly. Don’t run off. I don’t want you getting lost.”
Effie followed close to Tohan but didn’t touch him. He kept peeping at Tohan as we pushed the cart to the exit. Tohan ignored him. I had no idea how because the sound quickly got on my last nerve until I wanted to yell at Effie to shut the fuck up. We weren’t attacked again as we cleared the docking hub, Effie having effectively thrown our ambushers into complete confusion and disarray. That was actually pretty damn cool. While I technically hadn’t done my job in eliminating the threat to Tohan’s safety, I had kept Tohan safe.
Once through the doors, I entered a lock code and hoped that would buy us enough time to get to the computer room. Hopefully, the prisoners hadn’t had enough time from noticing the shuttle begin to descend to the docking bay and mobilizing the surprise attack to also have anybody lying in wait for us down the hallways we needed to use. I jogged alongside Tohan as he pushed the cart and kept an eye and my pistol out for any potential trouble. Effie had jumped on top of the boxes on the cart as soon as it picked up speed. His annoying peeping finally stopped, but now, he was warbling and rocking his body back and forth as we zipped down the hall.
“Is he okay?” I asked Tohan.
“He likes going for rides in the sledge. The faster the better. Scares the shit out of the other drivers when he hangs halfway out the window. That’s his go faster warble.”
Effie was turning out to be very interesting, potentially eating off my face aside. I directed Tohan to the computer room door and keyed in the code. I scanned the large, open room, but there was nothing inside except computers and some furniture. I motioned Tohan in, followed him, and keyed in the door code to close and lock it. I immediately punched in the override, changed the lock code, and pushed the thick metal manual lock bar into place. I moved quickly to the door at the far end of the room that led to the locker room and checked that for unwanted guests. Finding nobody, I relaxed and put my pistol away.
“We should be reasonably safe now. I’ve changed the lock code for the door, but it wouldn’t hurt anything if you could get into the security protocols and change the override codes. We can’t be sure that the prisoners don’t know what those are. Judging by their attack in the docking bay, they have at least some of the override codes that allow them access to places they shouldn’t have. The metal bar lock would buy us some time if they tried to get in here, but I’d feel better about our safety if you could get on changing the overrides right away for this room at least.”
“Sure. That’s easy. If you could start unloading the boxes, that’d be a help. I have to see if anything I need for my work was damaged by the gunfire. I’m hoping not, but I’m almost willing to lay money on something critical being damaged,” Tohan said as he dropped into a chair in front of a computer and started typing.
“Not a very positive outlook, Tohan,” I teased as I approached the cart.
Effie, realizing that his ride was over, jumped down from the boxes, ignored me completely, and began exploring the room. It wasn’t an overly large room. Maybe twenty by twenty feet. A good portion of the room along the walls was occupied by computer work stations. I knew the servers were located in another secure room not far away and that we’d need to check those soon as well. There was a small alcove with a counter, sink, beverage dispenser, and cooker. Next to that was a small table, a few chairs, and a sofa that had seen better days. A door on the far wall led to a small locker room with a shower, three sinks, and three toilets. Our home for the next couple of weeks was definitely lacking in some of the more comfortable aspects of even a cheap hotel room. But, it was reasonably safe from being breeched by the prisoners, which was more important to me than a bed and five hundred channels worth of porn.
I unstrapped the boxes and began sorting them into two piles, damaged boxes in one pile and undamaged in another. Fortunately, the weapons the prisoners managed to cobble together didn’t seem to have a lot of power behind them, and most of the damage seemed confined to the boxes that took the brunt of the shots on the one side of the cart. There were two boxes on the side we’d been hiding behind with a hole going in one side but no exit hole. I finished sorting the boxes almost right when Tohan declared the overrides changed. Out of twelve boxes, eight were damaged to varying degrees.
“Whoever is doing their hacking is going to have a heck of a time figuring out the codes unless they speak Awh’anise, Laiokian, Vylfian, and Naemo. The odds of that are very, very, very small. Basically, they’d need to be someone from my immediate family, and last I checked, none of them had been sentenced here.”
I waved my hand at the boxes. “These took some damage. Those appear to be fine. Shall we get to seeing what we’re going to have to live without?”
Tohan nodded, and we began opening the damaged boxes. I was only on the second of the damaged boxes when Tohan swore loudly. I looked up to see him throw a mangled package in disgust back into the box he’d opened.
“I take it that’s not good?”
“It’s our part of our food supply. Easily half the packages have been torn open, and there’s some scorching on a bunch of others. I’ve no idea what they were firing at us, but it didn’t play nice with the food packets, specifically the self-heat ones. We’ll salvage what we can obviously, but our food options just went way down. With Effie here, even if we’d had all the food undamaged, it still would’ve been a bit tight. Effie is a bit of an eating machine.
“On the plus side, Effie will eat anything. I know he’ll want to go get the prisoners he killed, and he’ll be more than happy eating them, so we probably don’t need to worry about his food as long as he can get his kills or hunt new stuff down. I dunno about you, but I’m really not into eating the prisoners Effie killed. I mean, if I were in a fight and went feral, under the right circumstances, it might happen that I’d start to eat the person I beat, but those would be some pretty extreme circumstances and not at all about eating because I was hungry.”
“Your people eat your fallen foes?” I hadn’t come across that nugget of information yet.
“Not anymore. Well, not usually. It has to be a really intense situation like if your shu’anad is mortally threatened or something. Throw-backs like Moswen, they still do it more frequently than your typical Awh’anise, but even then, it’s not a common thing. I don’t even know anybody who’s done that.”
“Good to know.” I knew the reputation of the Awh’anise as savage and very skilled fighters was well deserved, but I hadn’t realized that they were cannibalistic.
“You’re not going to be all weird around me now, are you? I swear to you, I’ve never even been tempted to eat anyone. I’ll swallow your come, and I don’t mind eating out my partner’s ass, but that’s as far as I’ll go.”
“No, I’m not going to be ‘weird’ around you. You have to admit that’s not something you typically drop into a conversation.”
Tohan shrugged. “Thought you already knew about that from Moswen’s data dump.”
“I’m still processing. It’s a vast amount of information on a staggering number of topics. I’ll tell you when I’ve finished.”
“Okay. Cool. Let’s finish up with these boxes, tally up how fucked we are, and make a plan to get as close to unfucked as we can.”
We finished with the boxes fairly quickly. It could’ve been worse, but not by a lot. One of the inflatable pads was riddled with holes and utterly useless. The other had two holes, but I could repair it with pieces of the garbage one and some glue. The blankets had some holes as well but were still serviceable. Tohan was rightly pissed that some of the computer equipment, while packed in padded boxes, was damaged beyond repair. Another box containing food was in the same condition as the first box Tohan had opened, and the third box of food was, by some miracle, completely fine.
“I’d guess we have about a week of food if we’re careful. Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about water since we have a beverage dispenser in here. By the way, don’t drink any of the water out of the taps as it’s not potable. While the sofa doesn’t look very comfortable, it’s better than sleeping on the bare floor. Unless you want the inflatable pad? Technically, I don’t need anything to sleep on. I can lock the joints of my chassis and sleep standing up without much discomfort. How much harder is your job going to be without the computer things that are damaged?”
“Not too much harder. Some things are going to be tedious though, which is why I requested that equipment,” Tohan said with a heavy sigh. “As for sleeping arrangements, I’m cool with whatever. I don’t mind sharing a bed with you either if you want to. And I do mean for sleeping, not just fucking. Just be advised that Effie likes to sleep wrapped around my back, and he’s like a miniature sun as far as heat goes. I have no idea how he’ll react to us sharing a bed if you want to. The situation has never come up before. What’re we gonna do about the food for us?”
“There are food dispensers spread around the station, including ones in the prisoners quarters. Problem is food gets doled out via retinal scan but we’re not in the system. You could probably hack your way around it, but I’d rather not be out in the open and exposed for longer than we need to be trying to get food and then running back here with it. Employees are required to bring their own food as the station only makes enough for the prisoners, so there’re no food dispensers in the secure area of the station. We’d be exposed to possible attack from the inmates if we tried to use their food dispensers.
“There is a hydroponics section. That would probably be a better target for us. You should be able to access the security codes for that fairly easily, and since it is in the secure area, the inmates shouldn’t have gotten into it. Yet. Drones do all the work tending the plants, harvesting them, and preparing them for the meals that the prisoners get. If someone living goes in there, he or she needs clearance, or the drones will incapacitate the person and hold him or her until someone with the proper clearance comes and gets the individual. With no personnel on the station, the drones would hold the trespasser indefinitely, and there is a real threat of the person dying from lack of food or water since their program is only to hold not feed and give water to their captive.”
“Getting access to hydroponics doesn’t sound too hard. I’ll have to see just what the security is like and give us clearance to be in there, but I don’t anticipate a huge problem. When did you want to do that? I’m assuming before we reach a critical stage for our food.”
“Yes. I suggest we tap into whatever cameras are functioning and try to get an idea of what the inmates are up to. Cameras are frequently down or destroyed in areas where the inmates are free to roam however they will. The last security report had the cameras functional in most of the secured area, but some of the cameras were offline for unknown reasons.”
“Sounds like a plan. Know your enemy and all that. Effie has been quiet a little too long, and I don’t see him. I’m going to go find him, hose him down of the blood on him, and then see what I can see. Unless you can access the cameras?”
“I can. I’ll get started on that. Effie’s probably in the locker room since I don’t see him in here.”
Tohan headed for the locker room while I went to the nearest computer. I pushed the chair out of the way, not sure if it could take my weight. I looked like I weighed about one hundred and eighty-five pounds; however, while I was in my preferred chassis, I weighed a total of three hundred and twelve pounds. That was actually a huge improvement over the standard cyborg chassis of four hundred and twenty-six pounds. Add in the fifty to seventy-five pounds of the cyborg, depending on size and sex, and the total weight was right around the five hundred pound mark, which sometimes presented problems when sitting on standard chairs or being on things that weren’t meant to hold that sort of load. I bent my knees and locked them in place so that it looked like I was sitting on a chair and started clicking through the various pages until I reached the cameras.
“Effie built himself a web in the middle toilet stall. No, I have no idea why he made a web there. At least it’s out of the way. It fucking sucks to walk into one of his webs. He’s sleeping now. Figured out what the sound was in the shuttle when I found him in the stall. It was him snoring. He doesn’t do it a lot, which is why I couldn’t place it right away. What have you found on the cameras? Anything useful?” Tohan asked as he peered over my shoulder.
“Not really. The secure area cameras aren’t that helpful, and of the few that are working where the inmates live, there’s nothing moving. It’s a bit strange actually. I’d expect to see at least a little movement when I checked quickly through the last several hours, but there is absolutely nothing moving within camera range.”
Tohan hummed, moved the recording backward and forward in time, and eventually reached around me, typing quickly and one-handed. He sighed, hit a few more keys, and the still picture I’d been looking at flickered and went dark. I turned my head to look at Tohan.
“What just happened?”
“I cut the loop feed to that camera. The camera isn’t working, but someone went to a bit of trouble to make it look like it was. That’s probably not good.”
“No, I don’t think that’s good either,” I agreed as I stared at the black screen.
I got a gut feeling that there was going to be quite a few unsettling things to discover about the prison over the next two weeks.