Chapter Sixteen: Unleashed
Rekaterin stepped in front of the viewing monitor in the main hangar control room. He turned to the woman operating the door controls, "Prep the doors."
He then directed his attention towards the man regulating the communications equipment. "Inform the pilot of the emissary ship that he should be ready to land momentarily."
Seconds later Rekaterin was notified that the monstrous doors leading into the belly of the station were ready. At about the same time the pilot of the Paloridian ship sent the message that the ship was ready outside.
Rekaterin stepped up to the monitor and turned his head and snapped at the woman at the door controls,"Let them in."
As the words were spoken an alarm went off inside the hangar, one that could be heard through the many feet of solid metal standing between it and Rekaterin.
On the monitor, Rekaterin could see bright red lights blinking in and out of existence on the screen as the mouth of the hangar grinded open, inviting the ship carrying the two men who would determine the merit of his last years worth of effort and work inside.
To Rekaterin, it was vastly insulting. Even the thought of the officials no doubt lounging comfortably on that ship gave him cause to scowl.
He watched as the vessel glided between the teeth of the doors into the airlock.
Arrogant, ruthless, power-hungry, vindictive, and cruel, that's what they were. These were men who had been granted their high positions based on a single defining qualiy, their capacity for inhumanity.
All these traits he could approve of, except when they inconvenienced him, which was exactly what he was going to have to pretend they were not doing now.
"Only a few moments," Rekaterin thought to himself.
Just a few moments playing the part of the submissive kowtowing dog and he could move forward. That was all it would take. So he left the room, leaving orders to reseal the bay doors as soon as the ship set down.
Rekaterin readied himself for his next act…
In the holding pen, seven cages now rested, filled with dozens of terrifying enormous bat-like creatures.
The cages were full to the point that it became impossible to see clearly into them. The notion of distinguishing how many of the bats occupied the space was quickly abandoned by the pen staff once the head handler had a piece of meat tossed into the cages. The result of the experiment was… messy.
It was for these reasons, and because the bats never ceased to move inside the cages, that the invisible shapes inside went unnoticed by staff or scanners. The former of which had left to clean the holding cell the bats would be moved to shortly.
While they were gone, a voice, seemingly from out of empty space, spoke to another empty space next to it inside the cage closest to the door. Through all the screeches and growls and whimpers amassed through the room it was left unheard by the handlers. "Do we go now sir?"
"Not yet Maliek, we have to wait half an hour before we make a move. That was what the captain wanted."
There was a brief pause, where only the sounds from the animals were heard. Then Maliek spoke again, this time sounding like he was distracted, looking for something. "I don't see them anywhere… do you?"
Clay had been looking too, and his results had been just as disappointing. "No I don't. But we didn't think that they would be here anyway. Now be quite, I don't want to take any chances."
"What if we can't find them in time?"
"Then we'll leave… and they'll die… now be quite."
Back in the main hangar, before entering and greet his unwelcome guests, Rekaterin reached into his lab coat pocket and withdrew two heavy gloves. After gingerly inserting his hands into them, he moved his fingers deftly over the combination interface and entered the hangar.
Inside he was given full view of about half of the Paloridian ship.
It was something to behold. A Paloridian cruiser was not a ship to be trifled with. Nothing to do with the Paloridian was to be trifled with really, but especially not their ships. They were among the most ferocious in the system.
In the outer empires scarcely five of any given nations best vessels could take on a single Paloridian cruiser of any class but the very lightest.
And inside this ship Rekaterin could see immerging two people deserving of the reputations that circled Paloridian Inquisitors.
Inquisitor Marburg and Inquisitor Deza.
One a tall looming hairless man with skin as pale and translucent as paper, across it a tattoo splashed like a bottle of spilled ink. His face was consumed by a hooked nose and bones that stretched his skin tight. Dark heavy bags sagged beneath tombstone grey eyes lined with yellow.
He looked like a skeleton, given life and made to roam the cosmos, bringing quiet and pitiless death wherever he went. Fear and terror were his followers.
This was Inquisitor Marburg.
The other a man was shorter, younger, with dark skin. It had been baked a leathery brown on the planet he had grown up on. It was unmarked, save for seven scars all across his face. And from that face stared red eyes. Red because he'd had them replaced once. An imprisoned alien had managed to free itself and lash out at him, costing him both eyes. But it had done nothing. He liked the scars. And he liked the eyes he'd gained from it. He was short, skinny, imp-like and small.
But the malice that radiated from him was anything but small. This was a man of unrestrained power and cruelty, imaginativeand soulless. Compassionate as fire. Void of feeling. This was Inquisitor Deza.
And Rekaterin thought of them both as little more than passing nuisances.
He was everything they were, except he put his mind to work, rather than squandering his abilities on mindless entertainment.
Anyone could torture people. But not many could do it and achieve what he had done at the same time.
This was Rekaterin's thinking as he stepped up to his emerging judges, extending his gloved hand.
Marburg took it first. His voice was low, and he spoke softly. It held authority born of itself, extending outward in a constant tremor. "Doctor Rekaterin. I've been looking forward to our visit this year. It is whispered among us that you are to reveal the fruit of a great labor."
Rekaterin winced at the grip beneath the glove. "And I have been looking forward to revealing it to you."
Inquisitor Deza took his hand next, and this time the grip was harder.
Rekaterin cringed and brought his arm back to his side, cradling it against the sharp but brief spasm of pain.
"You shrink at our grasp Doctor, have you been damaged in some ill founded experiment?" The spiteful humor in Inquisitor Deza's voice was unmistakable.
Rekaterin swallowed his pride and looked up with a perturbing smile, "Oh I assure you inquisitor, an explanation will arise forthwith. In fact, if you would just follow me, I think that everything will come into perspective."
Inquisitor Marburg, "Then let us go. I look forward to seeing your results this year Rekaterin, based on your funding I should expect them to be nothing short of spectacular."
Out loud Rekaterin smiled and said, "Oh, I assure you, they are, now if you'll please just follow me…"
He led them past the door and into a corridor leading to a special room he had always used for such occasions. It was segmented. Split in half by a three foot thick piece of transparent one way glass. There were two doors, one leading into the room, the other into the cell. In front of the glass several red chairs sat to help one better observe whatever might be held inside the cell. Heavy shelves filled with books containing Rekaterin's noted lined the walls. It was, in the simplest sense, a viewing room.
Back in the holding block, fifteen handlers were attempting to move the seven cages into the one large cell where the bats would be kept.
The head handler, by name of Fielder, was standing aside providing directions to his underlings.
Under his direction, everything was going very smoothly, that was until they had the cages in the cell.
The moment the last one was in, all seven cages sprung open as if of their own accord.
There was a moment of stillness.
The bats looked out at the handlers.
The handlers looked in at the bats.
Back in the viewing room Rekaterin had begun his speech.
"…what is waiting behind this screen is undoubtedly unlike anything you've ever seen. I this know because I created it," He paused a moment, "In this room we are all aware of the ease with which we create life, sometimes with such regularity that we reduce the idea to idea a trifle. But what I have made is not a trifle, nor is it in the least bit regular." He lifted his hand to the curtain that, up to now, had obscured the viewing window. "What I have made, gentlemen, is-"
Inquisitor Deza saw fit to interrupt here. "Enough of your self-indulgent pomp Rekaterin, what is it?"
Rekaterin would have snarled if it wasn't for the curtain. Instead of sliding it smoothly along its railing as he had been planning, he vented his anger by ripping it off of its frail cords with a viciously decisive yank.
Half the curtain now hung awkwardly from it mounts, while the other still clung sorrowfully to its sad position, covering the remaining half of the viewing window.
The Inquisitors stood up to approach the uncovered part of the window.
It was covered with claw marks, deep ones, as was most of the room. But to the surprise of all, nothing seemed to be in the room.
Marburg voiced the question bordering the minds of his colleagues first. His voice sounded almost whimsical in its distance. It sounded wrong. "Rekaterin… where is it?"
Rekaterin scanned the room. "…. I'm not sure…"
Deza's head whipped from the window to Rekaterin. "What do you mean you aren't sure?!"
At that exact instant, just as the last word fell from his lips, Deza was overcome with a sensation of shocked horror.
He could see it now, it was staring at him. And it was inches away from his face.
It had been hiding on the ceiling in its cell. Rekaterin looked at it and it seemed to him that the creature was exhibiting that same bizarre quality he had observed in the simulation, when he'd set on Leo and Aeris. It was a quality that gave him the distinct impression that, if it could, it would be laughing.
He wasn't sure of course, but the notion struck him as comical. He loved the creature's sense of humor.
Though from his newfound place on the floor, where he'd fallen after he recoiled from the glass, it seemed that Inquisitor Deza did not share in Rekaterin's opinion.
"How dare you?!"
Rekaterin raised an eyebrow. "How dare I what?!"
Deza blustered from the floor, "How dare you arrange such a ridiculous prank on my person?! Don't play that you didn't plan this. I am an Inquisitor, I always know."
Rekaterin stood perfectly still and raised his eyebrow a second time, this time adding the stylish accent of slightly lowering the other one. "I'm afraid that I don't quite understand what you're saying Inquisitor Deza. What precisely do you know?"
Inquisitor Marburg foresaw the situation escalating to a level with which he was not comfortable very quickly. So knowing this, he did something he very rarely did. He raised his voice.
"Be quite Deza."
Deza was taken aback for a moment. "What?"
Marburg took his hands, placed them beneath Deza's armpits, and with surprising strength, heaved Deza onto his feet. "I said…. Be quite. The Doctor is not at fault for your clumsiness… nor your week heartedness."
Deza was once again taken aback. "You suggest…. What entitles you to make such a-"
From his full height Marburg stooped, towering darkly over Deza, and stared down into him like an angel of death staring into the soul of an unrepentant sinner, judging everything. "I am still seven years your senior Deza…. I will remind you not to forget it," he sneered, "you are beneath me."
Deza was silent.
Marburg swiveled his eyes to Rekaterin. "Now Doctor…."
Rekaterin was surprised at what had just transpired. He'd never seen the Inquisitor behave thus. It was a revealing insight into a potential enemy he now deemed very much more dangerous. "Yes Inquisitor."
Marburg drifted past a still Deza to stand by the window. He lifted a hand to his chin and pointed a finger into the cell. "If you would explain this creature to me… what is its purpose?"
Rekaterin smiled. "Of course Inquisitor Marburg, it would be my pleasure. Tell me, do you have a spare slave lying around?"
Back in the holding pen, chaos had continued to erupt.
Immediately after the bats had made their spontaneous escape the handlers had attempted to flee the cell. But to their dismay, they found that as soon as one of them, they couldn't see who, made it out, he immediately turned around and locked the cell door behind him.
Through the small porthole in the door, Fielder, the head handler, was standing with his palm pressed against the locking pad.
But when he turned around, he ran into something that wasn't there and fell against the door with a metallic clank.
It was now that Maliek uncloaked himself.
He looked at Fielder. Then he looked in through the porthole at Fielder's screaming comrades. Then he looked back at Fielder and shook his head. He made a tuttingsound while shaking his head. "Lad lad lad… you've made a very bad mistake."
Fielder's voice was shaking. "What?"
Maliek smiled. "You locked yourself out of the safe place…"
Just a short while later, in the holding unit, six bodies littered the floor all along the corridor, all wearing handlers' uniforms.
Fielder was sitting in the control room babbling hurriedly into the com. "Lieutenant Reaves! Please report immediately to holding unit B in sector 1-H immediately. There are six men unconscious on the ground in the holding area. Possible contamination."
Fielder then turned around and opened his mouth to speak.
He was interrupted.
It was Clay's voice, but no visible body accompanied it.
Maliek's disembodied voice was there too. "Turn back around."
Fielder grew frustrated, but he did it. For this he received a sharp clap on the back swiftly followed by the sound of Maliek providing instruction.
"Good, now I want to act just like if you were actually concerned that there was something in there bothering your "friends". Run scans for foreign contaminants or something. And while you're doing that I want a full blueprint of this facility, I know you said that there were secret rooms everywhere that wouldn't show up on that, but that's not what we're interested in so don't mention it again."
Fielder did as he was told and said nothing. Meanwhile Maliek busied himself by watching every move that he made to ensure that nothing was amiss.
Clay on the other hand was busy brooding over the plan.
Not more than a few moments before he had explained his intentions to Maliek.
The plan had been straightforward and fairly simple.
Once they had hitched a ride into the station via the bat cages they were to escape and incapacitate anyone who could interfere. And so they had.
Next they were to acquire the layout of the station and interpret it, as Fielder was doing for them now.
Following that, the group would release very animal and beast in the holding pens and open the doors into the station from the holding block. And set of every alarm they could from the control room.
In the commotion, under cover of their cloaking suits, they were to strategically place very small, but very powerful, explosives in key areas throughout the station.
But against all his better judgment, Clay had decided to change the plan.
Had Captain Theron not mentioned his meeting with Lieutenant Reaves it was very likely that Clay would have done nothing. It was almost certain that Clay would have done exactly as he had been told.
But Captain Theron had mentioned the conversation and the infectious seed of an idea had planted itself Clay's head. And as hard as he'd tried, Clay had been unable to stifle it.
The plan had changed.
Before releasing the monsters Rekaterin kept and setting the alarms, he and Maliek would wait for Reaves and whoever happened to accompany him to arrive.
Meanwhile their men had stolen handlers' uniforms and were now lying in wait back in the holding block hallway, pretending to be unconscious.
When Reaves and company arrived Clay and Maliek would have to make quick work of Reaves' escort what other way necessary and then convince Reaves himself to lead them to where the two cat-people were hidden.
If they accomplished that then the plan would resume normally, except that now Clay and Maliek would be escorted by Reaves, in whom they would be forced to place absolute trust, to Leo and Aeris who, if they were lucky, they would be able to sneak onto their own ship under the pretense that Reaves was moving them to a more "secure area", assuming that Leo and Aeris were both alive and capable of moving, a fact of which Clay was not even remotely sure of.
Then, if nothing went horribly wrong, they would blow up the station and make a clean getaway, leaving Rekaterin's space station either in ruin or completely destroyed, only then to face the wrath of Captain Theron.
And this entire plan hinged on them not dying between then and now.
Though abandoning the plan was something he would never do, Cay liked his situation less and less, to the point where he began talking out loud to himself. With a sigh, "How do I get myself into these things?"
Maliek overheard the question. Rhetorical or not, Maliek had an answer ready. "Maybe you just hang around the wrong types of people. You wouldn't call our crew or customers friendly would you?"
"…thank you Maliek. I think I understand the problem now."
Completely ignoring Clay's sarcasm, Maliek smiled without ever drawing his eyes off Fielder. "You're welcome. Now you can stop your whining and we can all be happy."
Clay rolled his eyes silently.
So they waited in silence, Maliek contentedly watching Fielder's every move, Clay still brooding in the corner, now watching the monitors for Reaves.
He didn't have long to wait.
Less than five minutes passed before Lieutenant Reaves arrived, accompanied by two other guards.
As soon as they entered Fielder stood and saluted, "Lieutenant."
Reaves had his helmet on once again, so his response was muted and distorted by the static when he began interrogating Fielder.
"Fielder, I got the message. This must be serious of you called me here... so what's the problem?"
Fielder had been expecting Maliek and Clay to have done something by now and so was caught unprepared to offer any explanation to a very aggravated Reaves.
The lieutenant removed his helmet to better glare at Fielder. "By all means, take your time."
The only thing Fielder could manage was babbling, incoherently. "Well I… you…. It's…. Oh for god's sake they're right behind you!"
Reaves and his two counterparts looked behind them to see what on earth it was that Fielder was babbling about. Of course finding nothing, Reaves turned back around to confront a now very nervous Fielder on his erratic behavior.
His voice took a dangerous edge, "Fielder…. either you just dragged me here for nothing or you lost your mind. If you're lucky, the doctor will tell me it's that second one…"
The shout, which had come from Clay, was swiftly followed by the two guards on either side of Reaves being yanked away and hurled against either wall. The invisible Clay and Maliek followed up on their surprise attack with a new weapon.
Each placed a hand on the metal plates of the guard uniforms and activated the new feature on their stealth suits, shock gloves.
For a moment each guard convulsed violently before collapsing in heaps on the ground.
Before Reaves could respond to any of this he found himself placed in a submissive hold from behind. But it didn't last long. While Reaves struggled against his invisible opponent Clay materialized in front of him and removed his face mask.
"Reaves, Reaves, it's me, Clay."
As soon as Clay announced who he was Reaves halted in his attempts to escape and Maliek relinquished his grip.
While all this transpired, Fielder had been attempting to quietly slip away to sound the alarm. He would have done it there, but Fielder was, above all else, a coward, and if he'd set off the alarm in the control room, he could only guess that his captors would be less than kind to him after. Unfortunately for him, Fielder felt a vice like grip crushing his shoulder before he could reach the door.
The owner of the hand, who stood behind him, was a disappointed looking Maliek, shaking his head in disdain. "Fielder, I'm not happy. Not even a little." Maliek looked away from Fielder and smiled at Clay. "Can you believe it Clay, Fielder was trying to sell us out to the guards, again."
Clay rolled his eyes. "Maliek, enough games, just take care of him so that we can make it out of here before anyone gets suspicious."
Maliek smiled wider. "You got it." He looked back to Fielder. "Well I guess this is the end of the trip for you Fielder. Sweet dreams"
With that Maliek removed the hand that had been gripping fielder in place up to now and activated the electrocution feature on his suit.
In a last feeble attempt at escape Fielder leapt for the door. The moment he reached it, Maliek landed behind him and delivered the crippling blow.
After Fielder collapsed from the shock Maliek turned around while examining his hands. He walked back to the other two people in the room, who had been watching him. "Love these gloves."
Clay angled his head and nodded slightly, gracing the comment with an affirmative grunt of indifference. "Go get the others and tell them to get their explosives ready, we move in a minute."
"You go it."
After Maliek walked out of the room, Reaves brought Clay's attention to himself. "So Clay, it's nice to see you again, but unless Cutler's changed a lot more than I thought, I'm going to guess that you're not here just to say hello. So what are you here for?"
Clay, seeming to drop out of a trance, looked up at Reaves. "… I've got a deal for you."
"What kind of deal's that?"
Clay smirked. 'The kind where you lead me and Maliek to two people we're looking for and then "escort" them onto our ship, where you receive the special gift of not exploding along with this space station."
For a moment, Reaves chewed on the information presented to him, going so far as to recall his conversation with Captain Theron only a short while earlier. Suddenly it seemed much clearer what he had been hinting at back then. "Sneaky, oh you're sneaky…."
Clay graced Reaves with a perplexed look. "What?"
Reaves was finished processing. "Nothin' Clay, but I think my new captain has a different way of recruiting than most."
Clay smiled. "I'd say so too, if this was his idea."
Reaves returned the smile. "I've been thinking that it was time for a career change." He became serious. "So these two people you're looking for, I think I might have an idea where to find them. They don't happen to have cat tails, cat ears, and a real bad habit of getting themselves in trouble?"
Maliek walked back into the room at that moment. "Sounds like them to me."
"Gentlemen, what you see before you is a near perfect example of a living, breathing, killing machine; for all intents and purposes, an organic weapon of mass destruction."
Rekaterin did so love this part. For everything he hated about these visits, showcasing his work made it all worth it… almost.
Deza interrupted, "You say it's almost perfect. What's wrong with it?"
Rekaterin's jaw clenched. "There is nothing wrong with it. There were some unanticipated attributes that were carried over from its host but what you're looking at is in essence the prototype. Nothing is missing. This version is every bit as lethal as the final model, which I will be giving to you, if anything, this one is more dangerous."
Rekaterin had seated the inquisitors after the first little incident and Marburg now leaned forward in his chair. His eyes never left the creature. He was analyzing it.
While Marburg was analyzing it, it was analyzing Marburg. To it, the human looked outwardly frail, but the creature recognized something familiar about and it has seen the tall boney ape descendant heft the irritating short man with little effort.
It turned its head and blinked back at Marburg, its translucent eyelid sweeping horizontally down its eye, and decided that it wasn't interested in the human. So it crawled down to the floor to see if anything had changed there.
Marburg clasped his fingers. "My mind presents me with a question Doctor. If of the two versions this is the more lethal, then why is the weaker strain the one you expect us to accept?"
Rekaterin looked into the viewing window at the very first of several different varieties of his design. "Because this one is not suited to your purposes," he looked back at Marburg, "What I mean to say is that this creature serves only one purpose, its own entertainment."
"How do you mean?"
"…when I made it, it struck me that it would be entertaining to deliver it into the world via a host organism." Rekaterin smiled cruelly, "Of course I could have simply grown it in one of the organic generation chambers, but what fun would have been lost had I abandoned such an opportunity."
Inside its cage, the creature was still searching for anything interesting on the floor. It of course found nothing. And all throughout it was listening to what was being said in the other room, understanding every word of it.
It was unamused. It hadn't been enjoying itself at all in this place. The ape men talking were boring, its cage was boring, and as far as it could tell nothing was likely to change soon. So it consigned itself to simply sitting there, quietly observing until an opportunity
Deza's foot was tapping impatiently. "Are you fast approaching a point Rekaterin?"
Rekaterin practically ignored the question. "The genetic models that followed this one are only interested in feeding, mating, and killing. They lack base survival instinct. I designed them to be less an organism, and more a plague."
Rekaterin swept his hand in front of him, "They will obliterate anything they can eat, reproducing at alarming rates, as many as two hundred offspring spawned per parent. Eventually they will consume everything. And when they starve, the infrastructure and vegetation will be left primarily intact for whatever party desired the planet enough to let loose an apocalypse. In this case, you, that party being you."
To people such as those in the viewing room this idea was miraculous. Even Deza couldn't contain a certain fascination with the idea. And so for the first time Deza asked a serious question. "And in what time frame could we expect a planet to be wiped clean?"
Rekaterin's eyes narrowed imperceptibly. Twice now Deza had completely deviated from his ordinary behavior, so too had Inquisitor Marburg. "It seems that this is a day for firsts."
That thought put aside, he answered the question. "With the ordinary version? If you were to plant one in each major city simultaneously it would take perhaps three to four weeks to empty them; to completely empty the planet, perhaps a month or two. Unfortunately, as I said, Makinis's interests extend beyond pure mindless killing. He seeks to entertain himself. So my demonstration will not be a perfect example of the species usual behavior."
As if to clarify Rekaterin's point, a horrendous shrieking filled the room, its source, a newly amused Makanis scraping his razor like claws down the glass window of his prison.
His work finished, Makanis scuttled across the floor and began scratching the beginnings of a pattern into the opposite wall.
Rekaterin gestured into the cell, "You see my point." He began pacing, shaping a ball of air in his hands as he explained, lost in his memories. "When I was searching for a host I required that it posses certain inherent qualities required for the design. A level of compatibility was needed or the host body would reject the fetus and both subjects would shortly perish." He shook his head, "This occurred many times before I eventually found one I believed to be a suitable candidate."
Marburg turned his head to better watch Rekaterin, "You called the creature Makinis a moment ago. Why?"
Rekaterin smiled. "As I am the creator of this new species I though it only fitting to name it, The species will be called Makinis Ne'igalomeatiganus, after the alien from which our lovely friend in the cell crawled out of."
"and this candidate was…"
"…an amphibious species of alien, one that seemed the most physically compatible with the design."
Deza and Marburg exchanged approving glances.
Deza thought to voice what had been mutually understood between himself and his partner. "An alien you say? How fitting. If you have a positive quality, it's your ability to select the best of test subjects."
Rekaterin took a small bow. "Why thank you. Your opinion on the matter is extremely valuable to me." Now that he was finished patronizing Deza in his "not so secret" fashion, Rekaterin returned to the subject at hand. "Sadly, what I did not consider were the effects of that species psychological trends and how they would influence my creation before and after its conception."
Marburg interrupted to pose a question. "I'm not entirely certain of what you're suggesting. In what way could the parent's psychology interfere?"
"Well to begin with the subject was male and some…. modifications were necessary. In truth I anticipated that complications might arise from that alone." "But what's more important is that the host species has evolved with near perfect memories, phenomenal intellect, and in the barbaric outer nations they are considered among the foremost of the thinking peoples in the system. I knew that simply having a physical parent would result in some imperfections and among those that developed were cognizance."
To this Deza responded in his more usual, acerbic, manner, "And of course knowing all of this, you proceeded. How characteristically foolish."
Even Marburg found himself agreeing, grudgingly. "I confess Doctor, it does strain on the bounds of what falls within acceptable reason."
Rekaterin shifted his head side to side in a suggestion of indifference to their opinions. "Perhaps, but the point of the matter was not to create perfection. It was purely for my own amusement. It did however produce unexpectedly positive results. This creature has been instrumental in several other experiments involving complex neural simulators."
At this point Rekaterin had had far too much of explaining himself. "But it's inadvertent alterations aside, please, allow me to demonstrate it's ahhhh… features for you. I can assure you, they're quite impressive to watch."
Clay directed his attention to the remaining seven people in the room. "I want to make myself very clear here." He pointed towards each of the seven men. "After we open all the cells each of you is still to position the explosives just like before. The difference is that Maliek and I will not be going with you."
Maliek interjected. "Instead we're going to go have some fun with our new friend here" He clapped Reaves on the back enthusiastically to stress his "friendliness". "Oh, and you'll also be dropping our other friend-" he pointed at fielder, who was slumped unconscious in the corner, "-in the cell with the other guards before you let the animals loose."
Clay resumed from where he'd left off, "After positioning the bombs wait five minutes, five you understand, and then detonate. After that we rendezvous back hangar thirteen, which you now all have marked on the blueprint we've given you. It's a small hanger and should only have one or two small outer maintenance ships. We'll steal one and return to The Corsair. One thing though, if you're caught then we're all as good as dead, so if you do get caught kill everything, kill everything and then either head for an escape pod or kill yourself. This is the last place you want to be a prisoner in and we all know why."
He let his words sink in a moment before asking, "Am I understood?"
Everyone in the room nodded. Not a single question was raised about where Maliek, Clay, and the tall guard were going. Everyone simply prepared their weapons and then prepared themselves.
Clay nodded his approval. "Good, now everyone engage your stealth suits and let's get moving."
It had taken only a few short minutes for the Inquisitors to have a slave summoned and brought to the viewing room.
Now that slave was starring, terrified, at the door she was meant to go through.
Rekaterin placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. She stood about five nine to his six two, so the weight of Rekaterin's hand was not lost on the slave.
His voiced washed over her like oily slime laced with false sugar, "Now now my dear, there is no need to worry yourself. You'll be entirely fine, I promise you."
The girl, of age twenty perhaps, looked up at him with a familiar face. He'd seen it a million times and he would see it a million more. It was the expression of an animal that understands that death is coming, of an animal that knows its fate and fears it above all things.
Rekaterin's false smile shifted slightly, creating a small crack in his mask of sincere comfort, opening a window to the madness inside. "Just step forward…. You'll be fine."
In spite of her fear and her mistrust, the slave girl did as Rekaterin asked and stepped toward the threshold of the corridor leading into the room covered by the curtain a moment before.
No sooner had her foot past the frame of the first door did Rekaterin shove her viciously into the hall.
The door slammed shut behind her immediately and the second opened, the one leading further into the cell. Then the floor shifted, angling itself up and pushing her into the room.
She clawed desperately at the smooth metal, but her frantic attempts to flee were pointless. The floor moved ever finally she was forced inside the slave girl saw the curtain go back. Rekaterin's face mocked her silently behind the glass.
But worse than what she saw outside was what she saw waiting for her inside.
The instant she laid on that thing, as was the only word she could think to describe it, it turned from the wall it had been scraping and stared at her.
Makanis had of course noticed the human earlier. He had heard her screams through the door when it had shut behind her, but she posed little interest to him then. But now she was in the room. She had invaded his territory. This would not do.
What the slave girl saw was its head turn towards her. It blinked at her twice and then its skin changed color. To her it even seemed to grow more coarse and grainy, almost to match the metal surrounding it.
That was the last thing she saw.
It didn't take long. With no room for his prey to run, Makanis found the prospect of play inadequate, so it was a swift death. In any case, he was hungry. Play would come later.
Makanis blurred across the room and severed the girls head from her shoulders. She didn't even have time to gasp.
Makanis began feeding.
Meanwhile Rekaterin was busy on the other side of the window, explaining events as they transpired.
"… you see how it's jaw opens?"
Marburg answered. "Yes."
"In each of those eight fangs resides venom of my own design, in a manner of speaking. It's actually a combination two venoms derived from two rare species native to the planet earth. A cure was actually developed for one of the two, but when the colonies left earth it faded into obscurity. It took years to find both species and then months to extract the venoms, successfully replicate them, and finally develop and antidote for them. Following that we faced the issue of synthesis and finding a cure for the new venom. In all the process took three and a half years."
"The effects of the venom are many fold. One of the main components is a neurotoxin by name of tetrodotoxin, which it also secretes through its skin as a defense mechanism. That, Inquisitor Deza, is the reason for my gloves."
Rekaterin lifted his hands, as he felt Deza required the visual aid.
"Now, there is the second venom, which I only happened upon it while reading a very obscure text on venomous earth species. It's comes from a jellyfish is no bigger than your thumbnail. Though few deaths were ever recorded, its venom was noted for several other valuable qualities. It was famed for the immense pain it caused, sometimes for days or even weeks and it instilled a sense of impending doom."
"But here are of course other features to be explored. For instance, like many amphibians, it breathes through its skin. While we're discussing its skin you may wish to note that it can change color. As they age, the species develops greater control over this, to the point of altering texture and even shape to match its environment when necessary. Something that you not know of course is how rapidly it has grown since its birth."
Rekaterin was correct of course, it had grown much since its birth, only two days previous. At almost four feet in length, its wiry tail adding another three feet to that measurement, it approached the size of a young jaguar. Rekaterin of course capitalized on the swiftness of its growth patterns beautifully.
"From birth to maturity, the process takes about one week. When Makanis was born, he was little more than a meter in length from head to tail, now he passes that mark in body length alone. Of course, he'll grow no further from now on, but his bones and his brain aren't quite finished developing yet."
Deza walked up to the window and tapped the glass. "You said that these creatures would die off once their food supply was extinguished?"
"Yes, I did."
Deza scrutinized Makanis while he ate. For Makanis the feeling was obnoxious, he did not enjoy having an audience while he ate his meal. Deza didn't know this, but it didn't matter. He reached his point, "So how long would they survive if they were to be fed constantly, until death."
Rekaterin was surprised by the question, so surprised that he gave a serious answer. "In truth I haven't considered it. Except for Makanis, it was never my intention that they live as normal creatures do. With their design in mind, it would be impossible in nature."
Marburg also stood. "What about in captivity then, like this one? How long would you then predict they would survive?"
For the first time in many years Rekaterin found himself without an answer. "I…" An alarm went off. It's piercing shriek flooding every square inch of space throughout the entire station. Shouting over it Rekaterin salvaged what he could from his last sentence, "I will answer your question in a moment. Excuse me."
He left the room and quickly seized a passing guard. Dozens of them were all running in the same direction, towards the holding cells.
"What's going on!?"
The guard recoiled from Rekaterin's wrath, but cracked from under his gasmask, "Sir, an alarm was set off in holding unit B. We have reports that the entire unit is overrun with the animals. They got out somehow."
Rekaterin's blood surged to a boil, "Who is responsible for this?!"
More crackling, "We don't know, all of the handlers have gone missing. A message was sent earlier requesting Lieutenant Reaves assistance, stating a possible contamination. He went, but no subsequent messages have been sent from inside, just the alarm. Not even bodies have been found yet sir."
Rekaterin relinquished his grip on the guard. His anger had faded, replaced by thoughtfulness. Something about this situation struck him as unusual. "Go, go and have all the guards put on duty. I don't care if they're training, on leisure time, or asleep, I want every man and woman on duty, am I understood?"
The guard saluted. "Yes sir."
"Good, then do it."
Inside, Deza and Marburg sat back down. Seconds later they were arguing. Over what was happening, Rekaterin and his work, and what they were to put in the report. They only could agree that something very peculiar was going on and that they both were going to find out what.
His business temporarily settled outside, Rekaterin stepped back into the room for a moment just before he would have to leave again.
Deza began shouting as soon as he saw the Doctor's head. "Rekaterin I demand to know-"
Rekaterin interrupted, "-Yes, I'm sure you do. And if you'll just excuse me for a moment I will go and find out what you want to know. This might take me some time. Try to occupy yourselves in my absence."
With that Rekaterin left the room. He shut the door behind him fully intent on returning with an explanation, something he was very anxious to have himself in that moment.
In the corridors of the space station Reaves Clay and Maliek were all walking along single file, Clay and Maliek drifting behind Reaves with their cloaked suits.
In order to maintain the illusion that Reaves was in fact alone, each person had confined themselves to silence. And it was because of this that they all found their thoughts wandering.
Clay was brooding, considering all the things that could possibly go wrong with the plan.
Reaves was more contemplative of the future, wondering what his role might be in this abrupt change to his life plans.
And Maliek was busy reassuring himself that Leo and Aeris would willingly go with the people who were responsible for their being here. Reaves had of course explained that they were both physically stable and completely lucid in their secret chamber, so Maliek rested more or less easy.
Besides, they were almost there. What could happen in a few short minutes?
"…you didn't have to do that you know, and you shouldn't have done it."
Leo turned his head from where he was sitting. Aeris winced once the still seeping gash staining the left side of his face came into view. Then Leo asked, in complete seriousness, "Done what?"
"Oh come on Leo, your fucking face is still covered in blood, your blood; you know what I'm talking about…you should have sat there and not said anything."
Leo surprised Aeris. He was neither angry, nor defensive, nor sad, nor repentant. What he said, he conveyed as a matter of fact. "I couldn't have done that."
"Well why not?" Aeris stomped. "Why couldn't you have just stayed out of it and spared yourself the pain. I made him angry; it was me he was focused on. I didn't need your help. If it was going to be one of us, it should have been me."
"Well he was going to hurt you", Leo explained. "What kind of friend would I be if I just sat there and let it happen?" He smiled deviously, "It's all part of my job description."
Aeris glanced back at Leo over her shoulder.
All this time, she'd been taking care of Leo, looking out for him, keeping him out of trouble as best she could. She'd considered it a thankless task; but thinking back on it, she saw truth in what Leo had said, the bloodied tear down his face lodging a stark reinforcement to it.
Aeris sighed and her shoulders slumped in defeat, she'd lost the argument. She probably would have done the same as Leo in any case and there was no sense in arguing the point further.
So instead she walked back across the room and slumped against the wall next to Leo.
Leo looked at her with a question on his lips before Aeris latched herself to his right arm and pulled him next to her. "Alright Leo, I get it." She looked up at him, "But do me a favor."
"Be more careful in the future, as much as I like tick-tack-toe, I don't want to play it on your face."
Leo scoffed, "It doesn't hurt that much."
Aeris looked back down and rested her head against Leo's shoulder.
Leo had no idea what to say, but he was liking this so he instead and chose to say nothing and savor the moment.
They had been sitting like this for a little, both with their eyes closed, enjoying the first real moments of peace that they'd felt in what to them seemed an eternity, when Leo realized that there was something he should say now that he had the opportunity.
Aeris had begun to doze."Hmm?"
"I think I should tell you something, before anything else happens…"
Aeris opened one eye and navigated it to Leo's. "And what might that be?"
"-will have to wait until later because it's time to go."
The voice had crackled through the speakers in each corner of the room. But it had belonged, not to Rekaterin as Leo or Aeris had suspected, but to Maliek.
In the minutes that had followed his arrival, the scene of chaos in the holding cells had erupted with a storm of orders barreling over the noise like thunder from Rekaterin's lips.
To his surprise it took less effort than expected to rally the guards into one cooperative group and subsequently retake the holding area from the animals. Of course in the confusion before his arrival some had escaped and where enjoying a temporary free reign over the station, but the situation had been largely contained, enough so that the unconscious shapes of the handlers could be found, a very disgruntled Fielder and several guards walking about among them.
Distinguishing Fielders uniform markings as those of the head handler, Rekaterin descended onto a newly terrified Fielder.
"Now I want to you to tell me, you insufferably incompetent little cretin, who is responsible for this?"
Rekaterin twisted his face from into a grisly, warped, evil smile that would have made even a worm's skin crawl, "I hope for your sake that it wasn't you, was it?"
When faced with Rekaterin and his smile, Fielder panicked. "I don't know!"
Rekaterin stood over Fielder and looked down on him with disgust. "Do you genuinely expect me to believe that Mister Fielder?"
Fielder looked up and shook his head hurriedly. "N-no sir. I meant to say that I couldn't see them."
Rekaterin's curiosity was aroused. "Couldn't see who?"
"The men who did this. They came in the cages then let the animals out. I couldn't see any of them until they had me call Lieutenant Reaves and two others, then they ambushed them and knocked me out."
"What?!" Rekaterin roared, seizing Fielder by the collar of his uniform and yanking him violently in from of him. "Before you were unconscious, did they say anything, names, plans, anything?!"
Fielder almost squeaked in terror, "They didn't say anything about their plans."
Rekaterin eyes glazed over. Without a word Rekaterin threw Fielder away and drew the dart gun he'd taken to carrying after his first meeting with Makanis and pointed it at Fielder.
From the ground Fielder shouted, "But I did here a name! Two of them!"
Rekaterin lifted the pistol ever so slightly up. "Go on…."
"Ah-eh, one of them was named… mm, mmaa, M-Maliek! Yes Maliek!"
Rekaertin trained the pistol back onto fielders head. "That doesn't rings any bells mister Feilder…"
"No please! The other one was named ah- god what was it- Clay! The leaders name was Clay!"
Rekaterin's eyes widened.
Fielder was instantaneously forgotten as Rekaterin wheeled onto the nearest guard and began shouting, "You there!"
The guard turned mid-step and snapped to attention, dropping the mop he'd been carrying with a small clatter. "Yes sir!"
"Has Lieutenant Reaves been found among these bodies?"
"No sir, but two other guards have."
"Alert all senior officers, Lieutenant Reaves has been compromised. I want him apprehended at any and all costs. Tell them that the station has been infiltrated and to seal off all exits. We are as of yet unsure of total enemy numbers, only that they are equipped with stealth suits and at least some are either holding Lieutenant Reaves hostage or being accompanied by him. Tell them search everywhere and to start in sector 7-C. There's something they'll be looking for there, and Lieutenant Reaves knows where it is."
The guard saluted and sped off to fulfill his orders.
Rekaterin, for his part, was confident that Clay and his simple-minded friends would shortly be found, subdued, and summarily executed.
And yet… he was still concerned. Surely a group equipped in the way the Fielder had described would not come here merely to rescue a pair is ill-fortuned anthromorphs, no matter how valuable they might be to Captain Theron, or how foolish Clay might be. "So if not for them, then what other reason could they have for being here?"
Rekaterin's answer didn't keep him waiting.
From the other side of the station an explosion erupted. It shook the station down from top to bottom, rattling it like a hollow tin can, wrenching the ground from under Rekaterin's feet, sending smoke billowing through the ventilation system and igniting bright orange emergency lights.
Through the smoke now pouring through the vents, Rekaterin rose to his feet and shouted after the guard to no avail, "Belay the orders you! Get back here and listen!"
But his shouting was pointless, the guard was long gone from earshot, so Rekaterin instead found a different guard and gave his orders to him.
"Listen closely, I want you to contact whoever is in charge in the absence of the Lieutenant and I want you to tell them to begin scouring the ship for any more explosives, there are bound to be at least four more devices. Tell them also if they see anyone, anyone at all whom they do not recognize, that they are to be shot on sight, understood?"
"Yes sir. And the Inquisitors-"
"-can die in the inferno for all I care! Just get me those explosives!"
With that the new guard darted off in the same direction as the last one.
Rekaterin traced his path for a moment before heading for his office. He needed to be somewhere right now…
Before the first explosion had struck, the Inquisitors were still in the viewing room, where they had obediently remained after Rekaterin had left, having no desire to get lost in the elaborate complex of the station.
But this did nothing to prevent Deza from marching about the room complaining while Marburg calmly sat down so that he could ignore Deza in comfort.
"… it isn't normal."
Marburg sighed and took the bait. "What precisely isn't normal Inquisitor Deza?"
"What goes on in this station! Everything that idiot scientist does stretches the boundaries of our law to the breaking point! It's a wonder he hasn't done anything blatantly illegal yet…"
"Deza don't be ridiculous. The Doctor may enjoy certain… privileges, extended to him because of his usefulness, but that does not warrant condemning him as either an idiot or a traitor. In fact", Marburg stood and approached the glass, "I would say that he is about to extend to us a weapon of phenomenal usefulness."
Deza sneered, "I don't see what has you so infatuated with that abomination. The idea of using it as a weapon is absurd. Even if it worked in that way he says, we have no need of it. It's more dangerous than it's worth."
"Deza, you're attitude is going to get you in serious trouble some day."
Deza waved his hand dismissively in the air without so much as glancing back at Marburg. "Whatever."
Stillness filled the air then. Nothing was said, nothing was done, and only the small scratching from Makanis inside the cell broke through the barrier of silence.
Deza had not expected the change in subject. "What are you talking about?"
"It's been ten long, long, years since you were placed under me," Marburg turned from the glass and stared at Deza, "and you still behave like a spoiled child. You're unstable, egotistical, rash, unprofessional and not nearly as brilliant as I know you think you are." Marburg stretched to his full height. "Tell me something Deza; do you know why you haven't been promoted for the last decade?"
Marburg's lip curled in satisfaction, "Because of me Deza. At every opportunity I've blocked you from rising any higher."
Marburg descended into another chair. "I've had enough, and before we go back to the ship, were the camera will be watching us, I want to be the one to inform you of where you stand in this life. It's high time that you realized that the universe will not bend to your whims." Marburg smiled with genuine pleasure, "When we return, you will be stripped of your rank and all its privileges and I'll be there to see both, because I will be the one doing it. And do you know what the best part is?"
Marburg spread his arms out wide in front of him, "The best part is that there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop me."
It was only then that the explosion, the same one that had shaken Rekaterin in one of the holding units, blasted it way through the station. But this room had been closer than the holding cells, so then the effect was amplified many times over.
The lights went out and smoke filled the room. Books were thrown from shelves and the shelves themselves were toppled from the walls and onto the floor.
Then the dull orange of the emergency set the room alight.
It was only after the last of the shudders passed that Deza noticed that he was unharmed. He'd been standing by the door to the room when the shockwave had hit and had so been spared from anything more than a ringing in his ears and a slight ache in one knee from falling on it.
Marburg, on the other hand, had not been so lucky.
When the explosion struck, he'd toppled sideways in his chair. After that the shelf behind him hand fallen. Though he was sparred being completely crushed thanks to his chair he was still pinned with chest to the floor by the weight.
As soon as he was able he began struggling to get up but found he could not.
Deza saw all of this, and it gave him an idea.
"So… Inquisitor Marburg, it would strike me that you've trapped yourself in a very precarious situation."
"Just be silent Deza." He grunted. "This shelf is painfully heavy, help me lift it."
Deza faked interest and consideration of Marburg plea for a moment.
"…no… I think I have a better idea than that."
Deza mad his way to the door into Makinis's cell. "Do you recall what your said, about what Rekaterin was giving us?" He lifted his hand to the panel, "Let's see how valuable you find that creature now you pompous old fool," and pressed the keys to unseal both doors.
Inside Makinis noticed immediately and flew out of his cell in wild excitement. Then he noticed the tall ape man from before, trapped under a bookshelf…
Deza had fled from the room, slamming the door behind him before the ones from the cell were even fully unlocked.
He glanced behind only once and all he saw was a glimpse of vague writhing shapes in the dark. Without the glass in the way, he could hear the sound of Marburg screaming as he was ripped apart.
But he had no idea how long it would be before the creature tried to escape, or before the entire more bombs went off, so Deza denied himself the pleasure of watching his old superior die and ran for the ship, his ship.
But when he ran Deza failed to do one very important thing. He failed to lock the door.
When the explosion had gone off Clay, Maliek, Reaves, Leo, and Aeris had been navigating the halls and were well on their way to hangar thirteen.
They hadn't been running, but rather walking briskly, in case maintaining the illusion that Leo and Aeris were still simple prisoners became suddenly necessary.
To that effect Leo and Aeris had been placed in shackles similar to the ones they'd had on The Corsair, the difference being that these ones were not in fact activated. In addition, heavy leashes were attached to their shock collars, which had been reattached after they'd been removed from the simulator.
But after the first explosion, the easy pace they'd been setting changed.
As soon as an invisible Clay was standing he began talking to Maliek, "That was too early. We were supposed to be at the hangar before the first explosion went off."
"Then we have to run. If they get there to long before us then they'll probably assume we're dead and leave"
"Fine. Reaves, please-"
"-unhook the cats. I know."
"Leaves the cuffs and the collars on and keep the remote for them out just in case. It'll make our story a bit flimsy, but if we run into anyone you might at least be able to stall long enough for Maliek and me to take out any patrols. Let's just hope we don't run into a big group."
Then they ran.
At every empty corner they passed a silent exhale of relief was sent. Even after the explosion they were lucky enough to run into only single guards running to and fro about the station.
Each of these was quickly subdued by either Clay or Maliek then they would keep running.
All was going well until a group of guards no less than thirty guards came rushing out of a door they had already passed.
The guards instantly spotted both Leo and Aeris.
"STOP!" one of them yelled. He looked at Reaves, who was facing the opposite direction. "Identify yourself. What are you doing with these test subjects?"
Reaves straitened himself and turned around, "I am your commanding officer. Lieutenant Reaves." He gestured at the markings on his sleeves and shoulders as proof. "Now lower your weapons, I'm delivering these prisoners to somewhere more secure at the instruction of Doctor Rekaterin."
But this did not have the results Reaves had been expecting. Rather than lower their weapons, ever guard in the group suddenly had them trained directly on him.
But Reaves remained calm. "You realize the punishment for disobeying a direct order from me don't you?"
The leader of the guards, "We are under orders from Doctor Rekaterin to apprehend you and anyone you are with Lieutenant. You are not our commanding officer. Now come quietly."
To Leo it seemed that the jig was up. He'd been so excited, but now he was going to lose it all again. Even with their stealth suits, Leo possessed the combat experience to appreciate that with the weapons they had they would very quickly die if they fought, and there was nowhere to run but down the hall, and they couldn't outrun bullets. Aeris thought much the same.
The small band of escapees all shared one thought in that moment, "…we don't stand a chance."
Or so they thought, until a door into one of the side rooms behind the guards slammed open suddenly. Only a few guards turned around and only one managed to begin a completely sentence.
"What in the name of god is that?!"
He was never to receive an answer. But he was to receive a firsthand level of understanding what the creature could do.
Makanis leapt at the man and stuck its claws up through his mask and into his jaw.
Then he ripped both off.
Blood went everywhere.
Another guard tried to shoot the monster, but missed and instead shot the jawless guard in the head, ending his pain.
Rifle fire surged from inside amid a hail of blood as the creature darted through them, butchering indiscriminately.
Reaves chose not to waste this opportunity, Hefting Leo and Aeris each in one arm he yelled in the general direction of Maliek and Clay, "Run!"
And run they did.
But in the in the carnage, Makanis saw something that caught his eye, a distinct color running for the door down the hall.
Time blurred for Leo and Aeris.
Before they realized what had happened they found themselves on the maintenance ship, headed for what Maliek had described as "Their new luxury cruise home."
Leo looked at Aeris, "Hey you know what?"
"I just realized something."
"That really sucked."
From the bridge of Captain Theron's new ship, The Corsair, a sleek, fast looking vessel completely black, Captain Theron himself watched closely as the space station was torn apart by the explosions and the vacuum of space.
In all only five ships escaped, the rest were in pieces, drifting through space aimlessly.
Of those that escaped one was the Paloridian vessel he'd seen docking before, another was the maintenance ship he knew his crew to be aboard, and three escape pos scattered in different directions.
The weapons master on duty cocked his head towards the captain. "Shall we fire on any of the escape pods sir?"
Cutler didn't' take his eyes off the screen displaying the wreckage for a moment. "No, we don't want to alert the Paloridian ship to our presence, besides, there's no real reason to destroy the escape pods, we've done what we came for. Now prepare to accept passengers."
A/N: It's been two months, two long long months since my last chapter.
I know it probably felt like I abandoned you but I promise that's not what it was. I've been working very hard to make this chapter perfect and it unexpectedly turned into this ten thousand word chapter.
I really hope you enjoy it and rest assured that I'm not finished yet, not nearly finished. This story is about to take an entirely different turn.
But now I have to get to my next project, a collab some of us have been doing (though I feel guilty that I haven't because I've been working on this)
Sadly I must dash, even now I am hurriedly typing this before a very long drive to city of LA for a five day trip to take care of some things.
Until we meet again, I hope that my longest chapter to date (Whoo! Ten thousand plus words!) is satisfactory.