I’d seen the map of the hydroponics bay on screen, but the actual scale of the place once you were standing in it was freaking huge. I totally saw now why Warrick wanted to have the bots harvest what we needed beforehand and pile it all in one spot near the main door so we could just grab and go. It was not an exaggeration for me to say that I couldn’t clearly see from one wall to the other, my less than stellar eyesight having absolutely nothing to do with that. It would probably take me a good ten to fifteen minutes to walk from one side to the other, and I didn’t dawdle when I walked.
I wasn’t a strategist by any stretch of the imagination, but even I could see that the layout of the place was great for an ambush. The plants weren’t just in beds at floor level but were stacked in raised beds a good fifteen up, too. Sure, they were all set out in perfectly straight rows, but it created a sort of jungle-feel to the place with all the greenery stretching way above our heads. There were even full-on trees twenty feet tall with fruit growing on them in one section.
Effie loved it.
Leaving him in the computer room hadn’t been an option. He’d have trashed the place as sure as I knew that I loved sucking cock. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that he trashed a space I was using. After the first time he’d done that to my condo, I made sure that anything irreplaceable was always someplace he couldn’t access. If he trashed the computer room because he was pissed at being left behind, I wasn’t in any position to replace any of the computers or other tech in the room. Questions would be asked, and I was sure there’d be hell to pay for having Effie along even though I hadn’t intentionally brought him in the first place.
Effie was currently running and climbing around the immediate area, chirping his pleasure at being able to explore something new. Hopefully, he wouldn’t eat anything that would make him sick. Or kill him. There were all kinds of plants from dozens of worlds, and it was a good bet that some of those plants would be dangerous or even deadly to not only Effie but also me and Warrick as well.
Effie was primarily a carnivore, but there were some plants and fruits he liked, too. He was especially fond of tart/sour fruit. I’d heard that if prey was scarce, a hy’prae could survive on bugs, plants, fruits and nuts for quite some time although I doubted they liked doing it. Eating meat was definitely their thing.
I’d told Effie to not wander off too far and to not eat anything. He’d probably listen. Maybe. Hopefully. As much as he drove me nuts at times, I’d be crushed if he died. I knew he’d come if I whistled for him, so I wasn’t too worried about him being out of eyesight. Hy’prae had really good hearing, and when I whistled for Effie, it was pretty damn loud, and he knew that meant “Come here right away”. He always came when I whistled for him. Always.
“This might take longer to load than I anticipated, Tohan,” Warrick said with a little frown as he looked at the fairly large pile of boxes stacked neatly by the door, courtesy of the harvesting bots.
“I programmed them to harvest what you told me to,” I replied as I looked at the pile of boxes. “But that is a shit-ton of boxes. The boxes are kinda big, too. I’d feel bad about leaving some behind because that seems wasteful especially since the inmates rely on what’s grown here for the bulk of their food supply. I could, however, command the bots to process whatever we don’t take into the general food supplies for the prisoners so it doesn’t go bad.”
“I didn’t anticipate the size of some of the plants. Or that the bots would harvest the entire plant and box it up when we only need the roots of some and the leaves of others,” Warrick said with a thoughtful look. “I suppose when the bots are harvesting during the regular cycle they take only what’s necessary. It wouldn’t make sense for the bots to routinely take the entire plant when that’s frequently not necessary.”
“You’re probably right. I didn’t delve into the harvesting routine before I commanded them to collect what we wanted. It didn’t seem important. I honestly didn’t think about being that specific when I gave the command to harvest what we needed. I thought the bots would follow whatever the regular procedure was for harvesting stuff even if it was out of the normal routine. Lesson learned.”
Warrick nodded and studied the pile of boxes. He was obviously thinking of something, so I stayed quiet and waited.
“Let’s load what we can onto the power cart. I calculate that we’ll need to leave approximately eighteen percent of what’s gathered here at the very least. The power cart has a maximum weight capacity. With the full plants the bots boxed up, the power cart will be over that load limit if we try and get all the boxes on, and then it won’t move. We’ll probably have a little trouble manoeuvring it once the power cart is fully loaded to capacity even without that eighteen percent extra as the cart basically moves like an old, overloaded cargo ship with bad thrusters at the best of times.”
“Yeah, the cornering on this thing sucks giant, hairy balls,” I said with a little laugh as I patted the handle of the power cart. “I’d have designed this to have power steering at the very least. A better wheel-turning base wouldn’t hurt anything either. Maybe a load-shift compensator, too, if I was to get all fancy about it.”
“And pin-striping with maybe a little brushed chrome detailing?” Warrick asked with a smile.
“Yeah and some comfort grips with... hey! Just because something has utilitarian use doesn’t mean it needs to <i>be</i> utilitarian in looks. Have you no sense of design flare?” I asked with a bit of a narrow look at Warrick.
“I was teasing you, Tohan. I can appreciate the aesthetics of mechanical design quite well actually. I’d say the chassis I’m using is very pleasing aesthetically, combining form and function rather nicely. I believe you find it exceptionally pleasing on multiple levels,” Warrick said, his smile turning into a grin that held a hint of a leer.
I snorted softly and trailed a finger over the thick hose that ran vertically where the side of his ribs would be. I smirked when I caught the sudden hint of his arousal in the air. I ran my finger up and down the hose lightly, enjoying the teasing scent of Warrick’s arousal as it subtly increased. Somebody definitely liked that, and it would be my pure pleasure to keep touching him as he liked. He said he could feel stuff through sensors on his chassis, and his reaction was very promising for us and future foreplay. I wondered what his reaction would be if I started stroking the hose like I would a dick. My grin turned downright lecherous at that idea.
“Your chassis is very pleasing to me visually. I like that just a simple touch like this is arousing to you. I can think of all kinds of very fun things to do if you get excited by just this light touch,” I said as I continued to stroke the hose up and down with my finger.
“How do you know I find that arousing?” Warrick asked with just a little huskiness to his voice.
“Awh’anise awesome sense of smell. I could smell the little shot of arousal when I stroked the hose. If I wasn’t as focused on you as I am, I’d probably have missed it because it is pretty faint right now. If we were in a room with a bunch of other people, I might’ve missed it then, too, because of the other competing smells. But with basically just you and me here, I could catch even that small change.”
Warrick seemed to be struggling just a little to gather his thoughts before he spoke as I continued to fondle his hose. I smirked a bit at the thought that what could’ve been a euphuism was actually the dead honest truth. The barest hint of pink tinged his cheek bones, the smell of his arousal gradually getting stronger. Sweet!
“The hoses are made of a more flexible, thinner material than the rest of the chassis and thus have greater sensitivity. I can dial that back, of course, but I don’t think I will in this case. Or at least when we’re intimate I won’t. I’m intrigued as to these ideas you mentioned with regards to the sensitivity level I have over the surface of the hoses.”
Warrick’s voice was still a little on the husky side, and he hadn’t told me to stop yet. Fan-freaking-tastic. Naturally, I would stop if he asked me to, but he didn’t seem to be inclined to do that any time soon. I was so totally down with that. This was a new and exciting take on foreplay for both of us unless I missed my guess.
“Because I’m a sharing kind of guy, I’ll be more than happy to show you those ideas. I’m a big fan of being pro active, and I think it helps people understand better when you show as opposed to just tell someone your ideas. Where appropriate, of course,” I said as I gave the hose a light squeeze before sliding my hand down from the top of the hose to where it connected back into his chassis near his hip.
Warrick’s breath shuddered out of him, and the scent of arousal coming from him easily doubled. Awesome! He gave me a stern look that I thought was hot as hell and gently removed my hand from the hose, much to both our disappointment. We were so going to play around with that sensitivity of his later. Warrick cleared his throat, the soft pink tinting the bone-white skin of his cheeks even more noticeable than before.
“I will be looking forward to your demonstration later. This area is not secure and, therefore, not appropriate for any personal types of exploration despite how much I’d like to. I’ve now scaled back the general sensitivity of my chassis to damage indicators during work hours. Off-hours, it will be turned up to levels more appropriate to intimate encounters. I’m telling you this only so you don’t think I’m ignoring or rejecting your advances, which I most certainly am not, should you touch me again in a sexual way before our work day is finished. Given what I know about you, it is highly likely you’ll touch me in that way again. It’s not professional of me, but I enjoy it, and thus, I need to adjust my sensitivity to maintain my professionalism during work hours.”
I gave him a put-upon sigh. “Neatly cock-blocked by duty and technology when I only have the most impure intentions towards you.”
Warrick laughed and gave my hand a little squeeze before picking up a box from the pile and setting it on the power cart. I joined him in moving boxes, grunting a little at the weight. Warrick seemed to be lifting the fairly heavy boxes with no effort, and I wondered how strong he was. His upper body was organic, and he was pretty far from bulging with muscles, so how was he doing it? The interesting bio-mechanic puzzle aside, I got an intense zing of anticipation when the idea of him holding me down and me being unable to break free as he nailed my very fine ass whipped through my head. Damn, that would be wicked cool and massively erotic. I’d have to mention that to him at some point.
“The data on your people was very clear about your species being pushy and aggressive in general and suggested that a very firm <i>no</i> was necessary to curb your sexual attention towards someone. The sexual no I’m telling you now is working hours related only. I’m only temporarily cock-blocking both of us so that we can get the job done that we came here to do.”
“You do have an undeniable point there. We are pushy and aggressive, and a firm <i>no</i> is generally required to make us turn our sexual attention away from someone. Damn Moswen for including that bit about the firm <i>no</i>. Not that I think somebody being gentle with a no actually means keep trying and it’ll eventually change to <i>yes</i>. Consent is everything to us. But I really like touching you even just casually. It’s satisfying to me.”
“I didn’t say you had to stop touching me entirely, Tohan. Only that my reaction to your touches during work hours will not get you a sexual response from me. I know how touch dependant your people are. I like when you touch me outside of a sexual way just as much as when it is sexual. It feels... I’m not really sure how to describe it. I just... like it. Please, feel free to continue with the friendly touching you’ve been doing.”
“Oh. Sweet. Some species get irritated with all the touching us Awh’anise do, sexual and non-sexual. Most of the time we don’t even realize we’re almost constantly touching someone. If it does get to be too much for you, say so, and I’ll make an effort to scale it back. I’m not going to be offended. Honest. Dunno how successful I’ll be at keeping my hands to myself, but I’ll try.”
“I don’t see the amount you touch me as being a problem, but thank you for being willing to curb your instincts should I ask you to,” Warrick said with a smile.
We continued to load the boxes on the power cart, and I wondered just how much food Warrick thought we were going to eat. I would frequently skip meals when I was working and not really notice the passage of time, so what we were loading seemed a bit excessive even if Warrick managed to drag my attention away from what I was doing more often than not.
“So not to question your judgement or anything, but why is there so much stuff? I mean aside from the obvious of having the whole plant harvested and boxed up instead of just the parts we needed,” I asked.
“I looked for things that had good shelf-life. The bulk of the plants harvested will be perfectly fine to sit out at room temperature for up to a week or slightly longer before they start to spoil. Some are more time sensitive, a couple of days at most, but have excellent nutritional value and are quite tasty, so I thought the trade-off was worth it to add those to the list. I think we’d both appreciate a little variety in our diet, too.”
“You are awesome. I didn’t think of it at the time I was ordering the bots into harvesting this stuff, but would some of the things you picked be tart or sour? It’s not a big deal or anything, but Effie likes tart or sour stuff. You can rent his affections for a while if you give him something he likes to eat. I mean, if you care about that.”
Warrick placed the box he was holding on to the power cart and got a thoughtful look on his face.
“I assumed that this was all for us and that it would make up roughly half of our meals. Effie will have to make do with only the dehydrated meals. That’s part of the reason I asked you to harvest so much. I’m not sure about reactions between Effie’s system and plants from another world. I could make the assumption that since both of you are native to Awh’an, what’s fine for you would be fine for him, too. But there is a more than minimal risk that might not be the case as you are two different species regardless of being from the same home world.
“I can’t test for the compatibility of Effie’s system and the other foods like I did for me and my possible reactions to Sliaru since that test kit is specifically designed for my system, and I am not Awh’anise of any type. Because your people have been to a fairly large number of worlds, there’s a great deal of documentation on what’s safe for you to eat and what’s to be avoided. However, to the best of my knowledge, Effie is the first hy’prae to leave Awh’an, so there’s nothing tested for him when it comes to eating non-Awh’anise food. Although he did seem just fine after eating some of that prisoner in the docking bay.”
Well, damn. I hadn’t thought about that at all. Thank the gods that Warrick was that fucking good at his job that he thought about all of that. Thank the stars Effie wasn’t a picky eater. He’d probably try to steal my food, but he always did that anyway. That was mostly my fault to start with since I frequently gave him pieces of whatever from my plate and had done that from pretty much day one with him. I was sure he thought he was entitled to whatever was on my plate. To be fair, he did bring his kills to me to share even if I’d never eat what he brought.
I put another box on the cart and just about jumped out of my skin when Effie landed on top of the box from gods only knows where and started growling very low in his throat interspersed with short, high-pitched chirps while waving his front legs in my face. I froze for a few seconds interpreting his display.
Oh shit. This was bad.
Effie made a ton of sounds and gestures, and they all meant something different. With him being pretty much a daily presence in my life, I’d learned what a lot of the sounds and gestures meant. Or what I assumed they meant based on Effie’s reactions to my reactions. It was an on-going learning process. I was actually toying with writing a paper on communication with a hy’prae. I thought there would be a lot of interest in that.
Academic project aside, the sounds and gestures Effie was making was his, <i>“Danger, Tohan, danger,</i>” thing. He’d only used it a handful of times, but it wasn’t something to be ignored. I couldn’t think of anything in hydroponics that would trigger that reaction though. He knew what bots were, in general, and unless one broke programming and was chasing him, which was highly unlikely, he wouldn’t pay any attention to the bots. In my mind, that meant it had to be something else that he considered a threat. People didn’t scare him, and he generally didn’t see them as threatening unless there was a group of them too large for him to take down by himself. Then they weren’t only a threat to him but a threat to me as well. Effie didn’t respond kindly to perceived threats to me. Territorial and murderous were good descriptions of his reactions.
I tapped rapidly on my wrist comm, accessing the hydroponics bay cameras. I couldn’t see much of anything with the limited number of cameras in such a huge area, and the towering rows of plants that effectively blocked much of what was in camera range. I switched my view to thermal and scanned rapidly again. I swore loudly when I saw a clump of red spots moving in our general direction. The spots were too close together to get an accurate estimate, but on a guess, I’d have said there were at least two dozen of them. They were still a way off, but if we didn’t get our asses in gear, they’d be all over us pretty damn soon if they kept going on the course they were on.
“Fucking shitty, stinking, hairy balls.”
“Tohan?” Warrick asked as he moved another box onto the cart. “What’s Effie doing, and why do I get the feeling you weren’t swearing at him for his antics?”
“Because I wasn’t,” I said as I grabbed one of the straps attached to the bottom of the cart and threw it over the boxes so we could start tying down the load. “Good boy, Effie. Stay here. Do not go hunting. We’re leaving. Now.”
“Care to share the reason for the sudden rush to leave, Tohan?” Warrick asked calmly as he grabbed a strap and flicked it over the boxes without me needing to ask him to. He secured the strap before moving to the next one.
“Those noises and gestures Effie was making is his danger warning. He doesn’t do it often because hy’prae are pretty fearless. Something set him off though, and it would be massively stupid of me to ignore his alert. So, I checked the bay with the cameras and saw nothing, mostly because the plants are huge and there’s a serious lack of cameras in here. I turned the cameras to thermal, and that’s when I saw what I think made Effie give me the warning. We’ve got a large group of most likely unfriendlies, given that they’re inmates, in here with us. They’re heading our way more or less. Effie warned me because he thought there were too many for him to handle alone.
“That’s mega not good in case you didn’t know. He could wipe out a dozen people by himself without most of them even being aware of what the fuck was going on before it was too late. You saw what he did in the docking bay. I can’t tell how many there are for sure. The cameras aren’t that good. But it’s a pretty big blob of heat signatures—maybe two dozen people on a guess. We need to get the fuck out of here right now before they stumble into us and fuck our shit up.”
“Shit. How did they know we were here? Or is this just some random chance encounter? How did they even get in here, and why aren’t the bots detaining them? I thought you said it didn’t look like the inmates had gained access to the hydroponics bay.”
“No idea how they entered. I haven’t got a clue why the bots aren’t capturing them either. I didn’t do anything to change that part of the program. I only added us to the list of do-not-detain so that group of people should have the bots all up in their business. Unless, of course, they’ve figured out a way to avoid the bots or make the bots ignore them. They didn’t come in the main door because we’re standing almost right in front of it. Then again, they weren’t supposed to be able to access the docking bay, but we ran into them there. I’m guessing they have alternate ways into places that aren’t the official entry points. We might be fucked in a totally unfun way when we open the main door. There could be a whole crew of them waiting for us.”
“Can you remote access the cameras in the hallway to see if we have a nasty surprise waiting for us when we open the door?” Warrick asked as he finished securing the remaining straps on the power cart.
“Does a hy’prae shit in the jungle?” I asked with a little smirk already doing that on my wrist comm.
Warrick rolled his eyes at me. I called up the camera feed outside the hydroponics bay main door and blew out a soft breath of relief. There wasn’t so much as a bug scuttling over the floor, thank the fucking stars.
“We’re clear. Dunno how long that’ll be the case, but for now, we’re good to go. There’s a small blind spot immediately in front of the door, but there’s only enough room for maybe two really skinny people who are <i>very</i> friendly with each other to hide in that blind spot. I suggest we don’t dawdle because that red blob of people is definitely coming closer to where we’re standing.”
“Excellent suggestion. We’re leaving more food here than I want to, but I agree that it’s best to go now to avoid any possible capture or injury. We got better than three-quarters of what I anticipated us gathering, which is better than nothing and will definitely help stretch our food supplies.
“Because of the unexpected turn of events, it may also be difficult to come back here undetected. Leaving the food here could make someone suspicious as to why it’s here. If it does, they may leave some people to watch for whomever gathered the food in the first place and jump them when they come back to get the rest. At least that’s what I’d do if I came across this situation.”
Fuck. Everything Warrick said made perfect sense. Gods damn it all to fucking hell.
“I’ll send the bots to dispose of it once we’re back in the computer room. I don’t think we have time for me to fuck around with that, and my wrist comm isn’t set up to do that sort of thing right now either. They might think it was other prisoners who piled the food here. It’s not like any of the inmates would know we have some issues with food supplies and assume it was us. If we’re lucky, anybody checking the food pile will assume it was bad or something and shrug it off or not worry about it. The plants aren’t harvested like they normally would’ve been, and that might work in our favour in this instance. At least, I’m going to really, really fucking hope that’s the case.”
Warrick nodded and gestured for me to get behind the power cart and push. Effie was still on top of the box he’d landed on, making his danger sounds. I told him to stay and nodded at Warrick that I was ready for him to open the door. Warrick drew one of his laser pistols in readiness and punched in the security code to open the door. The door opened smoothly to an empty hallway, and I let out a little breath I hadn’t been aware I was holding. So far, so good.
I pushed the cart out of the hydroponics bay and punched in the code again, closing and locking the door behind us while Warrick scanned the hall for potential threats. I felt a touch better about having the solid steel of the firmly locked door between us and whomever had been heading towards us. We weren’t free and clear yet, but we’d avoided running into people it would be very good for us to <i>not</i> run into. It was all about the little victories.
“I need you to check the camera feeds for any possible inmates that might be between us and the computer room. There’re a couple of corners and some halls that intersect the one we need to use, and I’d prefer not to be surprised,” Warrick said.
“You and me both,” I agreed.
The way back to the computer seemed way longer than when we’d first went to the hydroponics bay. I was sure that was only because I was feeling a little twitchy. Warrick was calm, cool, and focused on getting us safely back into the computer room. I was totally good with that. I was damn fond of getting back into the safety of the computer room unscathed.
Whenever we were coming up to a corner in the hall or where another hall connected to the one we were using, Warrick would have me stop the cart a little distance from the intersection, pull up the camera feed to check if we were clear, and then continue on our way if there was nobody in our way. Doing so didn’t slow us down much, but it did add a little to my overall nervousness. Effie stopped doing his danger stuff and seemed more relaxed once the door to the hydroponics bay was shut. He was still making unhappy noises now and again, but that probably wouldn’t stop until we were somewhere he felt was safe. I didn’t doubt for a second that he was picking up on my low-grade nervousness and Warrick’s caution.
“Uhhh, Warrick, we have a problem,” I said in a quiet voice as I checked the camera feed for a hall that branched off the one we were travelling through.
“How many and are they armed or not?” Warrick asked softly.
“That’s the problem. The camera is dead in the hall. I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not. It was wonky already and cut out on me twice before we left the computer room. There might be a short in the wires or something simple like that. Or it could be sabotage. I got it back up before by making it pan but that didn’t do shit this time. There probably isn’t anybody there. Maybe. Hopefully.”
“Fuck. Can you smell or hear anything that would say people to you without getting closer? I don’t want to put you in a position of danger by moving you closer to a potential threat to see if there’s a potential threat.”
I inhaled, but all I could smell was me, Warrick, Effie and a big cart of greens and dirt. The hum of the power cart was relatively quiet and didn’t interfere with any other sounds going on. I could even faintly hear the sound of the ventilation system moving the recycled air through the hallway. I couldn’t hear or smell any people though.
“If there is someone, or a group of someones in the hall, they are being super quiet. But, I’d need to be a lot closer to hear someone breathing or their heartbeat. I can’t smell anything that says people aside from us. To smell someone else, I generally need to be closer even with my excellent nose, but unless they’re giving off fear or arousal or just general nervousness or excitement, I’d need to be a hell of a lot closer than I am now to catch a whiff of them.”
“Do you think Effie could smell someone from here? His sense of smell is better than yours, isn’t it? Or would he already be reacting to a stranger’s scent if there was one?”
“Maybe? I don’t know. If he thought the person was a threat, he’d react. But if he’s just smelling someone nearby, he probably won’t think of them as a threat unless they do something. But that’s a total guess on my part. This is a unique situation that neither of us has ever been in before. He’s a bit unsettled from what I can tell, but I think that’s more because we’re twitchy and he’s picking up on that. What’s our next move, Warrick?”
Warrick frowned a little, and I could just about see his thought process happening. Intense and bad-ass was a super hot look for him.
“I’ll scout ahead. Wait here and stay alert. I’m not going to check the whole hall. I’m only going to confirm that there’s nobody in the immediate area that could turn into a problem for us. If I tell you to run, do it. Don’t wait for me. My mission is to keep you safe and protected. Are we clear?”
“Yeah. For the record, I don’t like not waiting for you or letting you go check that hall by yourself. I’ll do it, but I really don’t like it. I should be backing you up,” I said with a little scowl.
“That’s not in your mission parameters, and it’s not up for discussion, Tohan. I’ll signal you if it’s clear and yell if you need to run. Leave the cart if you need to run. Make sure Effie goes with you. He’s not part of my official mission parameters, but I’m adding him, which I can do, because you’ll work more efficiently if he’s safe, too.”
I got a warm and fuzzy feeling in my chest at Warrick’s words. Effie was a total unexpected addition to the mission and, honestly, not something Warrick even had to worry about. But he was because he could see how much Effie meant to me. Warrick was an awesome guy. And fucking hot when he took command.
“This bossy side of you is damn hot. I could really get use to it,” I said with a leer before I grabbed him by the front of his short jacket and jerked him close for a fast and hard kiss.
Warrick returned the kiss with surprising-to-me hunger given his earlier words about scaling back his sexual responses during work hours before pulling my hands from his jacket. He grinned at me and moved silently ahead to where the mystery hall connected to the one we were using. I squinted, silently bitching about my less than stellar eyesight, and watched him take what I assumed was the little mirror he’d used in the docking bay from his chassis. He crouched down and slowly inched the mirror around the corner near floor level. He was motionless for several long seconds before he swiftly stood and motioned me forward.
I blew out a soft breath in relief and pushed the cart past him, hurrying to get us and our food to the safety of the computer room. Effie was still hunkered down on the boxes stacked on the cart, low growls coming from him now and again. If he could talk, I’d have said he was muttering to himself about how this whole situation was turning into a total shit show. From where that hall connected, it was a straight run of maybe two hundred yards to the computer room and I felt a little relief at that. Awesome! We were nearly home free.
I yelped in surprise when a section of the wall next to me suddenly slid aside and somebody stepped out. I had a split second to stare at a male who was looking at me in just as much surprise. Instinct and training took over, and I lashed out, my claws extended to their fullest. The guy didn’t have time to do much of anything before my claws tore through his throat, silencing any sound he might have tried to make, blood spraying high over the wall and even onto the ceiling.
Effie launched himself at the man at the same time I slashed, a hostile snarl coming from him. Effie’s mouth open wide before snapping shut on the hapless man’s face, crushing the bones of the face with brutal efficiency. I heard Warrick swear, but he didn’t fire a shot, both me and Effie being in his way. Even so, the unfortunate male Effie and I attacked was dead twice over before his body fell to the floor.
“Tohan? You good?” Warrick asked as he moved next to me, his pistol still trained on the male even though he was very obviously dead.
“Yeah. Just about shit my pants when the dude popped out of the wall next to me, but I’m fine,” I said as I shook blood and little bits of flesh off my claws.
Effie was making pleased sounds as he ripped off half the guy’s head when he pulled back and happily chewed noisily, grinding bones into tiny pieces with his powerful jaws. I looked away. Watching Effie eat was not something you wanted to do if you planned on eating within the next several days. Seeing him cheerfully scarfing down flesh, bones, hair, and sometimes even clothes, depending on what or who he ate, was not pleasant. It was also creepy-gross to have to dispose of his “baggage” several hours later when I knew what, or who, he’d eaten.
Hy’prae baggage was the indigestible material they ate, tightly compacted into a mass that was puked back up several hours later. Usually, hair, fur, feathers, and things like shreds of clothing and jewellery if they happened to eat a person were in the baggage. The size of the baggage varied depending on what they ate with the largest being roughly the size of a small loaf of bread.
The only good thing about hy’prae baggage was that the coating or shell around the mass was hard and not slimy despite it being something that was puked up. Baggage was frequently sold to jewellers for a very nice profit since the hard shell was considered a natural, iridescent gemstone and was cut into brilliant cabochons for very high-end jewellery. I had a nice little bit of extra cash in my bank account thanks to Effie’s baggage.
Warrick moved to the opening in the wall. The door panel was trying to close automatically but couldn’t because one of the feet of the dead guy was blocking the path and making the door bounce open over and over. Warrick studied the dimly-lit, narrow, hidden passage and frowned a little. He crouched next to the dead guy despite Effie’s warning growl and just stared critically for several minutes. I thought he risked losing his own hand when he dared to pick up the dead guy’s hand closest to him and pushed up the sleeve exposing dead guy’s wrist.
A metal bracelet roughly half an inch wide circled the dead guy’s wrist. Warrick turned the bracelet around the dead guy’s wrist and made a soft, annoyed sound in his throat. A panel opened in the calf of his chassis, and he pulled out a long, heavy-looking blade. My eyes widened when he swiftly chopped off the dead guy’s hand in one smooth stroke. He slipped the bracelet from the arm stump and tossed the hand at Effie, who easily snapped it out of the air and immediately began chewing, a happy, slightly muffled warbling coming from him.
Warrick looked at me and pursed his lips as he held up the bracelet. He turned it back and forth, examining it. I didn’t think it was anything special, but Warrick seemed to have a different view of it.
“It’s highly unlikely this man is a prisoner here and this passage isn’t on any of the plans I have for the facility. This bracelet, or one very similar to it, is for facility personnel only and allows them keyless entry to all the prisoner restricted areas of the facility. It’s keyed genetically to whomever is wearing it. Should that individual die or if the device is removed without the proper code, which the one wearing it doesn’t have, it’s automatically deactivated immediately to prevent any prisoners from using it to access areas they shouldn’t.
“I want to explore this passage. I think I need to explore this passage. I also have the suspicion that for whatever is down there, I’ll need this bracelet functioning to access it. If this is one of the facility personnel bracelets, it’s entirely possible it controls access to this passage and maybe others like it as well. I at least want to see where this passage goes right now as I think the door will close tight the moment we move the body out of the way of the door. It would present an unacceptable risk of discovery by either inmates or more facility personnel that may be down this passage to jam the door wide open. I know you’ve never seen this bracelet before, but could you do something to make it work, even briefly?”
“I’m totally warmed to the tip of my tail that you think my tech skills are that awesome. Short answer to your question is maybe. I’m good with electronics and a coding god, but until I crack that bad boy open, I can’t say for sure one way or another whether or not I could make it work even temporarily. There’s also the strong possibility that once I do open it up, I can bastardize it into working easy enough but lack the parts to do it. There are a lot of ifs and maybes involved. I’d say let’s go with the open door right now and see what we can see. I can try making the bracelet work after our little trip into the bowels of the unknown is done.”
Warrick stood and handed me the bracelet with a small frown.
“You’re not going down there with me, Tohan. Take the cart and go to the computer room with Effie. See what you can do with the bracelet, if anything, while I’m checking this out.”
“Uhhh, no. You want to go poke around in an unknown passage and face stars only knows what without backup? Seriously, no. Not going to happen, Warrick.”
I was not going to let Warrick go down there by himself. That was just asking for trouble to run up and fuck him hard. It would be like the opening kill scene of damn near every horror vid ever made. You never split the party, and you never went into creepy secret passages alone unless you were trying to die.
“You’re not coming with me, Tohan. I’m responsible for your safety, and I can’t guarantee it if you follow me down that unknown passage. I know you can fight and fight well, the dead guy on the floor makes that point for me. That’s not the issue. You need to be safe and to keep working on solving the hacking issue. That is what you’re being paid to do, and this sort of thing is what I’m here to do, more or less. I will see what I can, secure the passage, if feasible, and come back to you,” Warrick said in a tone that told me he wouldn’t budge on the issue.
I scowled and crossed my arms over my chest, my tail swishing behind me in annoyance. He was right, and it pissed me off in a way that he was right and would be heading into stars knew what alone while I went back to the safety of the computer room and waited for him to come back. Unless....
“Fine. Take Effie with you then. Either that, or I will follow you into that passage. I’m not comfortable with you going in there with no backup,” I said with my own tone of not relenting.
Warrick sighed. “Effie and I aren’t exactly best friends, Tohan. What’s to say he wouldn’t jump me and eat me once we’re down that passage?”
“That’s easy,” I said with a tiny smirk.
I knelt next to Effie and chirped at him. He stopped eating and looked at me expectantly. I probably had a horrible hy’prae accent, but he generally paid a lot better attention to what I tried to get him to do if I used his sounds instead of speaking to him in Awh’anise. It didn’t guarantee his actions, but he knew I was super serious when I made the effort to communicate on his level.
I chirped and peeped and growled and waved my hands, hoping I was getting across what I wanted him to do. Effie stared at me and made a few petulant peeping sounds before looking at Warrick for several long seconds. Effie looked at me again, chirped in a way that definitely sounded put upon, bit off the dead guy’s other hand and ambled over to Warrick. Effie looked back and forth between the body and me several times, and I sighed.
“Fine, I’ll drag the body back for you to eat later if it’ll make you go with Warrick as back up. I’ll throw it into your nest for you. Be helpful to Warrick, and I’ll give you chin rubs when you come back with him, alive and in one piece.”
Effie warbled and did a funny little bouncing dance around Warrick’s legs. He’d do almost anything for chin rubs. And Warrick had tossed him a hand to eat so he was feeling friendly towards Warrick at the moment.
“Effie will watch your back. I’ll go to the computer room and see what, if anything, I can do with the bracelet. Don’t take chances, Warrick. I want you and Effie back in once piece,” I said as I stepped up to him and kissed him hard once more.
Warrick kissed me back just as hard. “I’m always careful. I’ll watch out for Effie, too.”
I nodded and bent down to pet Effie, giving him a little chin rub. He warbled in pleasure and licked my hand. I took off one of the sticks strapped to my thigh, popped the curved blade open and jammed that into the base of the secret door so it couldn’t close completely. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but I didn’t want Warrick and Effie to possibly be trapped in the passage if the bracelet was the only way to operate the door. Warrick grinned at me and headed into the passage with Effie following closely behind him. I watched them walk down the passage until they disappeared from my sight, which didn’t take long. Creepy passage was creepy.
I turned to the dead guy and frowned. I didn’t want to get covered in blood by carrying the guy, and I didn’t want his blood dripping all over the plants that we’d be eating in the very near future. I thought for a minute before stripping his pants off him, tying the legs around his neck and tying the ankles of the pants to one of the straps on the power cart. I pushed the cart into motion and headed down the hall to the computer room.
Should anyone wander down the hall, they were going to have one hell of a bunch of question of just what the fuck had happened. There was a good-sized pool of blood on the floor where the guy died, with some blood sprayed over the wall and onto the ceiling from when I’d slashed out his throat. Then, there was a trail of blood smeared across the floor in what was obviously a body being dragged away. Even somebody without the barest first aid training would be able to guess that whomever had been dragged away was very probably dead from blood loss. That the blood smear on the floor led to the computer room was going to raise all manner of questions if someone saw it.
I really hoped my day didn’t get any more exciting than it already had.