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New story - The LOPER (PG:13) 
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER
IN THE SILENCE OF THE NIGHT

0600 ships' time found Hawle sitting in his chair on the bridge and brooding. Despite the Vixen's assurances he was still reluctant to set foot on Celica and the planet now loomed close in his mind. Six hours until planetfall and no-one had tried to intercept them yet. He was concerned and it showed in his actions as he drummed his fingers on the arm rests before crossing his arms, un crossing them, tidied up his ear fur, crossed his legs, got up, walked the bridge from port to starboard and back, sat down and drummed his fingers on his front teeth. Silence cut across the usual noise of the bridge as the entire ship seemed to be holding its breath. Awaiting the inevitable. Pondering the imponderable. Waiting for the pounce... Perhaps he needed a drink. A Spice Coffee perhaps or a Radassha tea to whet the palate. But he couldn't leave the bridge. Grovan and Raven were on downtime so he was the only command officer available. Sure he could leave one of the others in charge, he told himself, but they had no 'in the chair' experience. Perhaps he should look through the security reports Pangal had told him she'd been logging. He tapped them up on screen. Nothing much, it seemed. Oh, there were the usual fines for fighting in the Starwheel and another request to close the place down that he had to turn down. Much as he disliked having one of those bars on the ship, it stopped the pilots and fighter engineers getting drunk in the Mess or their quarters. The other thing was a little less to his liking. Winsome had forwarded some details regarding computer film piracy and hacking attempts. The attempts at hacking didn't bother him as he knew the culprit to be himself testing Winsomes' security protocols. He made a note to tell the Squirrel, next time he saw him, that, although he'd repelled the attacks he'd failed to identify the source. For the identified case of film piracy Hawle doubled the fine Pangal had nominated for personal reasons. He thought sourly of an operation on Manussa and how he'd found a cell of 'liberationists' who'd financed themselves through those places. Several young lives had been lost to film finance fraudsters. He sent a note to Winsome to see if he could track the transmissions back somehow. Then he told Chapston that she had the bridge for a moment and went to get his coffee.


The door to the Morgue slid open silently slightly and Fontny slid in through the gap. He shivered in the cold presences and looked almost as though he expected the corpses to get up and walk about. He pulled his jacket closer around his shoulders and made for the far wall.


The last casket, twice the size of the others, was set aside for the thing and he almost vomited at the sight of it. It still glistened, even in death. It looked like it was still alive and, he noted as he picked up the head, it was damnably heavy. Carefully he opened the serrated beak of its mouth and forced in the implement the other Raitchian had given him. It scored along the insides of the creatures' mouth, shaving pieces off into a small holding container that...

A sound just outside the room had Fontny hide himself away in a dark corner and look for his options as the door opened.


Due to the early hour, Professor Jaques had less qualms about leaving his room and wandering down to the medical bay. He had showered and brushed and dressed himself in his cleanest clothes – just in case – and set off through the ship, keeping away from windows as best he could. Even in the corridors, tinted grey by the special glasses he wore for this sort of occasion so he wouldn't feel exposed, he found himself having to practically grip the walls on occasion. He'd almost hyperventilated going past the mess as he'd accidentally glanced in at the expanse inside but he'd brought himself back down and had got where he was going. Only one nurse was on duty at this time of night and she knew him well enough to let him fight through this on his own. He'd been here once or twice over the months and he wondered what had happened since the last time he'd been here. The room was full of sleeping Celicans. The Mican looked himself over in the rooms only mirror and, despite screwing his eyes closed a second or so after looking in, he thought he looked like someone they wouldn't eat. Too much cholesterol in him. Without a word, he crossed to the morgue door and tapped in his personal code. It opened with its usual efficiency, sticking when halfway across, and he stepped inside. As the door closed he had the feeling he wasn't alone in there; a cold feeling across his fur that excited certain chemicals in his stomach and made him want to throw up but he approached the carcass anyway, bringing up his instruments to gather new readings from the thing on the slab. In a bare few hours the thing would be handed off to Celican scientists and he'd lose any chance to make and record discoveries and the time frame of decomposition was fascinating to him. He ran his scanners over the prostrate form and examined the readings before he pushed a probe into the things mouth and took samples from the throat before taking video images and retracting the probe. He packed his things after several minutes in the dark, quiet, room and started to leave. Then he thought better of it and pulled out a laser scalpel. A sound made him turn, and he tentatively called out a few names, his voice shaking as he named the Nurse and Doctor Barleycorn before laughing shakily and turning back to the dark task. He powered up the scalpel and pressed it against one of the joints in the plate armour. The furious yellow light spat and bickered as it tried to cut and failed, illuminating the morgue and all its' locked body drawers in relief to the fight. Jaques turned it off and put the room in blue again before examining to see if he'd even marked the surface. He tutted as he observed it was still pristine and he headed for the door.


Fontny stayed still. He hardly dared to breathe. He didn't even want to open his eyes in here. Of all the places to be caught here was, by far, the worst. He thanked the heavens he had a strong stomach as he glanced the unseeing eyes next to him again, on their way home to Celica on their last journey. He sucked in a stale, cold, breath as the door closed and blinked to clear his eyes as he waited a moment to check the path was clear. Then he pushed himself clear of the tray, did his best to wipe it clean of black fur that might be his and exited once he saw the nurses back was turned. Then, once he was out of the room, Fontny re-entered the room and asked the Nurse if she'd like to go out with him.

The Feline Nurse replied that she would never, in any way, shape or form, go out with a tagged scumbag.

Fontny didn't mind. He had what he needed. Now, if anyone asked why his tag showed him there so late, he had a witness for the reason, didn't he?


Chapston noted a new blip on her board and reported it to the Captain as he sipped his tea. According to her details it was the U.S.C. Lancer, one of the other patrol frigates in the area.

Hawle put his tea down. “She's not supposed to be anywhere near here,” he said, “I don't like this.”

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Sat Dec 13, 2014 12:03 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER
I do like where this is going so far. Nice job on it! Though it needs more Hawle. xP

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Sat Dec 13, 2014 3:37 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER
I knew I'd forgotten something...

UNDERSTANDING IS A DANGEROUS THING TO DO


Hawle watched as the blip representing the Lancer came nearer on the screen and tapped his teeth. On his orders the ship hadn't sent a communication to her as he wanted them to make the first move. The other ship was coming in fast and would get to them before they got to Celica. He had shields ready to rise and the main cannons were charged and ready. Now it was in the hands of the gods which left mortal hands with little to do whilst the gods rolled the dice. “Time on intercept?” He asked Chapston rhetorically.

“Fourty-five minutes, sir,” she replied. “Sir, I know you said we shouldn't but...” she turned to face him. “shouldn't we at least attempt to contact the Lancer?”

“They're the ones who aren't supposed to be here, Ensign, let them show their colours and communicators first.” Hawle sat back, crossed his legs and propped his head up on a hand. “Still, you're right about us needing to talk. Comms, get me a line to Commander Hawthorne on Coverrian station. He waited for a moment before the Comms officer told him he had the link. He pulled it up on his armrest screen to ensure Chapston could use the main screen and smiled at the Dishevelled Doe on the station. “Keeping late hours?”

<<No joke, Commander,>> she said wearily. <<We have a missing ship. The...>>

“If you're about to say the Lancer, I rather think I know where she is. Chasing us. What information do you have?”

<<A Mican cruiser came across a derelict ship in the the Jevvak Asteroid belt. They found fifty bodies on board and twenty more alive in a hold that hadn't de-pressurised.>>

“Did they say how it happened?”


Harvey Winsome watched his computer banks as he slurped Panderan Coffee from a chipped mug that proclaimed him the services greatest Squirrel and he noted the outgoing communication request and the reply - from the station if the ident was correct. He often wondered if people knew he could monitor communications from here, watching whatever took his fancy and investigating wherever he needed. He really had to be careful about it unless Pangal or Hawle had authorised it due to the privacy laws. He watched the monitors and noted the slightest of spikes on the incoming signals and put his mug down before sitting up. He pulled himself close to the system and squinted at the display before pulling on his headset and entering the digital domain.


He arrived in a grey shaded expanse with neon lights shooting by above him in all directions. “Set to default again,” he said simply before changing it. The lights descended to ground level and became people as buildings sprouted all around him in a computerised facsimile of a Canine Market zone. Computer programs acted like individuals, bartering, bickering and interacting with stall holders and each other as Winsome sought out the purple furred one. That was how he'd tagged the station communication and... there she was, talking to the Rottian male at the café. He wondered if she was even aware of the puppy she had attached to her by a lead. Then he looked closer and realised that she was actually attached to the puppy and not the other way around. The puppy had the leash hoop, after all. He had to approach this carefully and he headed around the back of the café to approach from the pups blind side. He picked up a knife from the table and crept up behind it...

In real life he plugged a commstick into the computer and drained the infection into it for analysis. He also wished he hadn't bothered with the scene change to the market. Even though no-one could see him and the thing was a possible killer it had been one of the more unpleasant things he'd ever had to do. “Now to find out where you came from,” he whispered to the figure as he looked through its pockets and files for origin information. “That's impressive,” he muttered before cutting himself back out of the simulation and terminating all outgoing communications. “Winsome to the Bridge,” he said, tapping his link.

<<Hawle here,>> the Captain replied, <<Did you just cut off a command level communication, Harvey?>>

“No choice. There was an infection on the link. It wasn't coming from the station though. It was being narrow-beamed onto the communication from the Lancer. I...” he swallowed, “I cut out the infection but I'm going to need to sweep the system to make sure it didn't get into anything important like the engines or shields.”


“Quick as you can, Winsome,” Hawle complained before terminating the line. Hawthorne had been telling him that the Lancer computer systems had detected a loss of pressure throughout the ship and had gone to automatic evacuation protocols, forcing the crew to abandon ship before they suffocated. Then the pirates had captured them and sealed them in before taking off in the Lancer. “They reckon they have the upper hand,” he said to Raven.

“I want them dead,” she replied. She'd pulled grooves into her arm resets as she'd heard the news from the station. “No prisoners taken; no trials. Just dead.”

“These are just guns, Sarina,” Hawle replied drily. “Someone hired them and one of the people – probably the commander – knows that. I want him alive. Failing that I want the information. So you take Winsome with you when you board, got that?”

“You're setting me loose?” She looked shocked by the statement of trust. Most of her head fur hackled up in excitement at the forthcoming fight as she reasoned he was formulating a battle plan in that long-eared head of his.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “When in a war we use our sharpest weapons, don't we?” He leaned forward to look at the blip on the main viewer. “And these swines declared war on the Council and us the moment they attacked and killed the crew of that ship. And, by all the deities in all the heavens, they are NOT going to live long enough to gloat about it!”


THE LOPER LURE

With only her face visible in the silver chitinous armour and her eyes hidden behind black eyeplates, Pangal readied her troops, now wearing the combat armour they'd taken from the Celican ship and ran them through weapons checks. “Power up the shotguns,” she advised and watched as dull orange glows lit on the raised upper wrists on the right arms of the suits. “Power them down. Next up, check blades. To a choir of chak noises blades some two foot in length and rusting. “muffins and cookies but I wish we had time to run these old things in and clean them up. They've not been used in over a decade, it seems.” She sniffed. “Nor washed, it seems, in the last six months.” She slapped the muzzlepiece into place and spoke again. <<Communications check. Remember, don't shout, just whisper.>> She waited whilst her team reported in, standing still so the audio/visual system could match the heads up display with the person speaking. <<Yarva, are you having trouble re-naming your system?>>

<<Afraid so, Ma'am,>> the Mican reported, <<The command is saved with a passcode I can't crack.>>

<<Figured, 'Passion Fire'. See Winsome after the engagement. See if that little sod can crack it for you.>> She held up a hand. <<Comm connect,>> she declared, <<Loper command. >> She waited a second until the Communications station on the bridge reported in. <<Are you reading me, Loper? Less cheek please, I know I'm still aboard. I can't test the communications outside ship until I'm off it, can I? OK. Confirmed.. Comm disconnect.>> She continued running through the checks.


The nurses ran around the medical bay, setting up medical systems and tools for immediate use. The senior nurse, a Feline called Trilla, had taken enough courses, both real and holographic, that Barleycorn had promoted her to Paramedic and she was in charge of table two. Barleycorn herself moved to check the systems on table one. “Odan!” She shouted, attracting the attention of a male Canid. “Help Engineer Ekersley down to his quarters. We're going to need the bed.” She gestured to a Celican trying to stand in the corner and the Canid shifted over to assist him off the bed.

“Come on fella,” the Canid said, “let's leave the professionals to their jobs, shall we?”

The Celican said nothing but accepted the smaller male's assistance. The other Celicans had been forced into the Celican mess so he supposed he should be glad he had his own room to use but... “I'd rather go to Engineering,” he complained.

“I'm to take you to your digs,” the Canid said as they left the room. “But no-one said to lock you in,” he added as they headed to the apartments.

Barleycorn paged the bridge. “Medical bay as ready as we'll ever be,” she affirmed.


“Thanks, Medbay.” Raven replied before turning to Hawle. “All departments checked in, sir.”

“Sarina,” Hawle replied with exaggerated calm, “I realise they all have to report in to the Executive Officer but you do realise I'm sat next to you, yes?” He raised an eye ridge.

“I need to make sure you heard, sir,” Raven said in her defence. “I'm about to leave the bridge after all and I need to make sure it's all in order.”

“I suppose so,” Hawle remarked. “Just don't doubt the power of the ears, hmm?” He tapped his organic audio receptors before granting Raven permission to get down to security to link up with the team there. She passed by several of Pangal's officers on her way as they headed to the bridge entry point and another group heading to Engineering. She didn't have one of the new old suits waiting for her so she had to make do with the new ones. Better. Streamlined. Piece of crud comms. Officially she was taking command but having Pangal there as back up, armed with two shotguns, suited her well. The Rabbit was efficient despite her species, much like the Captain. If the two of them got together, Raven didn't want to think about the offspring as they sprung across space hunting the hunters. Well OK; she sometimes liked to think of it. She entered the room and headed across to her armour.


“Drop speed,” Hawle said quietly, before he wondered why he was whispering. “Start things to look like we're having engine trouble, Chapston.”

“Aye, sir,” The human replied, bringing the speed right down with a few icon taps and setting the impeller system to look like it was misfiring. She hated to think of the effect they were having on space as this action always had the side effect of minor fuel leakage and radiation contamination but it was better than the enemy having first shot, she supposed.

“Comms,” Hawle ordered, pointing to the officer, “start transmitting the general emergency signal. Uh, local space only. According to Winsome the program was set to disable long range communications. Gunny, make it look like weapons are offline.” He turned to face his second officer. “You've ensured the teleport blockers are on-line,” He asked the imperious Collian. “I don't want them to be able to beam us out when they arrive after all.”

“They're ready,” Grovan asserted, “checked them myself. AND the teleport chief did too.”

Hawle nodded. “Good, good. We're pretty much ready, I suppose.”

Grovan watched the blip on the screen that represented the Lancer get closer to theirs quite quickly now. “I'm not sure anyone could be ready for this,” he muttered.


The rogue frigate appeared some fifteen thousand kilometres behind them and down to the Port side. The angular vessel cut through space towards the vessel that was expelling green plasma from its engines. With the Lancer engines still working to full capacity it closed on the Loper with ease, moving past the slower moving debris that studded space. A chunk of black ice impacted on the hull and shattered.


Hawle watched intently as the frigate came closer, the bridge lit by the dim red alert lighting. “Make it look like we're trying to run, Chapston,” he ordered. “How long until that distress call reaches any nearby Celican vessels,” he asked the Mican comms officer.

“About an hour and a half, sir,” she replied.

“Oh good,” Hawle replied, “plenty of time for us to smash each other to matchsticks. Distance, Grovan?”

“Seven hundred kilometres,” the Collian replied. “I can't tell if they're weapons hot without scanning them.”

“Then we don't know. Because they'll know if we scan them. Any signals from them, Comms?”

“I'm about to put one through, sir,” she replied, “incoming now.”

“Wait a moment,” Hawle replied. He ran a hand through his head fur, pulling it up into disorganised clumps. He bent an ear over and turned his frown into a scared look. “Put them through.”

The screen cleared onto a Wolf of some thirty years of age. Tall, from what Hawle could see, with a muscular frame and a cold look in his eye. A trio of scars marred his muzzle from lower left to upper right and his voice sounded like ripped nails on satin as he spoke.
<<Surrender, Bunny..>> He said.

“I...I'm Commander Hawle of the Loper,” Hawle began, pushing himself up out of his chair, “We...we've had a cat...catastrophic system failure and...”

<<I know!>> the Wolf snapped. <<I gave it to you! I am Captain Lyserra! You have some things I want and I am going to get them from you if you're dead or alive! Save your crews' lives, Commander, and surrender now!>>

“He's now in weapons range, Captain,” Grovan said quietly.

Hawle swallowed and nodded, seemingly at the screen. “I sup...suppose I have no alternative...”

<<Smart Prey,>> Lyserra sneered. <<Wonders will never...>>

“Except to say,” Hawle said, jumping back into his seat with a single hop and swinging his feet up, “raise shields, bring us about and fire all weapons!”


SHIP-TO-SHIP

The element of surprise gave the Loper a few seconds grace that Chapston used to full advantage, bringing the starboard engines online at fifty percent over the port side to face the enemy even as they attempted to raise their shields. The ship slewed around until she gave a short burst to the port side engines to stabilize the ship. When facing the Lancer, she put both engines to maximum and the ship accelerated towards their opponent. Energy blasts raced between the two, ripping into the shields of the frigates and sparking briefly in the darkness.

“They got their shields up,” Gunny stated. “And we have intruders!” She concentrated on the firing outside the ship as Grovan confirmed the other news.

“They must have come across when we came about.”

“I don't care when they came on,” Hawle snapped, “I care about when they get off!” He jerked a hand towards the rear. “Go get them off my ship!”

“With pleasure,” Grovan said, unleashing a growl before he rose to his feet and pulled his gun out. “On my way, Captain.” He headed off the bridge.


Security, he told himself, if he was going to take command he needed to get to security. Pangal's deputy would be there with all the assignment points on a list. Then he'd see where he was needed. There were sounds of fighting up ahead, laser on laser, as crews armed with identical weapons fired on each other. It was the nightmare of inter ship combat and all you could use was your knowledge of your shipmates and the friend/foe tags to avoid getting toe tagged by your own side. The noise was quite loud now and he assumed the fight was just around the next corner. He dropped low and glanced around the edge to see the situation. Two dead guards with the Loper tags lay across the floorplates, bleeding out as their living compatriot fired on three invaders. Grovan computed the angles and chances, running a few digital simulations in his eye's mind before he swung into action, firing twice. The first he saw commit a direct hit, near dissolving the head of the creature he hit above the muzzle. The second punctured an ear on the second target but did no real damage. He fired again as the Loper guard scurried back for cover. “You alright?” He asked the Raitchian.

“Not so bad now, sir,” she replied, glancing out to fire down the passage before pulling her head back. “I called for back up but I guess they're busy!” She jumped slightly as a bolt scissored through the space her head had occupied a few seconds ago.

“Yeah, well,” Grovan grunted, firing bolts from his pistol, “until a security team gets here a command officer will have to do, won't I?”

The deck shook as Grovan silently instructed the guard to hold fire for just a moment. He put a finger in front of his mouth to indicate silence. After a moment he took his spare energy clip and tossed it into the passage. One of the opposition – the one giving cover fire to his advancing comrade – fired at the 'grenade' twice before the Raitchian guard swung into play, driving a shot into the armoured chest of the onrushing attacker. He staggered back as energy flowed over the micromesh covering and brought his weapon up to fire. The Loper guard managed to fire again, blowing out the assailants' left knee. He screeched in pain as his return shot went wild, impacting on an empty piece of wall as he dropped to the ground and crawled for cover. He didn't make it as Grovan took over, firing to the back of his head as security finally responded to the guards' call. “Clear up here,” Grovan ordered, “I'm headed to security.” He turned to the Raitchian. “What's your name?”

The guard stopped herself as she checked her gun, the question coming as a surprise. “I, um, I'm Rayberry, S...sir.”

“Well, Rayberry S-sir,” Grovan replied deadpan, “you're with me. It's probably not smart for me...” He put a hand to the bulkhead as the entire ship shook. “Not smart to be travelling the ship alone.” He picked up one of the security rifles from the floor and checked it was ready for use. “These guys can hold here. Come on.” With that he led her down the way.


Raven blinked inside her armour. She hated teleporting. She hated the knowledge that she was being blasted apart to the atomic level, sent as a digital signal and reassembled someplace new. It disturbed her that she'd died and come to life so many times over the years and she wondered if she was entirely the same Raven she was when she stood by her first booth at command school. The team assembled behind her in the cargo bay. “Their sensors have detected us,” she admitted to her comm system. “Pangal, take three members and try to get to engineering. The bridge is mine.”

<<Understood, Commander,>> The Chief replied, detailing two to accompany Raven. <<Her safety is your responsibility people. Don't let me down.>> Pangal lifted her old cannon and headed out towards engineering.

Raven scowled at her 'escort'. They'd just hold her back, she thought. They'd just get in the way. The hell with it. “Keep up and don't get killed,” she hissed before taking off at the best, clumping, speed the suit allowed. Hydraulic systems in the new pumped harder and faster than the old did and she made the door some five meters before her escort. She turned the corner and almost ran into a group of fighters. She swung her gauntlet up under the muzzle of the closest target and enjoyed the cracking sound his jaw and neck made as his compatriots unleashed a barrage of energy towards her. One missed but the other struck her in the chestplate. The effect threw her back to the floor and she scrambled to stand. “Their weapons are set to higher power, guys. They can hurt us.”

Her two companions didn't bother replying, they just raised their cannon arms and fired.


“Understood, Commander,” Pangal said, taking cover with her team as they ran into heavy opposition. Seven opponents barred their way to engineering and they had heavy weapons, a tripod mounted beam cannon that the chief knew was capable of killing even the armoured with a single shot. Her group was trapped behind the wrong side of wall to use the suit cannons efficiently so Pangal used her old handheld to harass the enemy. But she needed to get to engineering to complete her task. They had to get past the cannon. So she fished around for a flash grenade in her pouches and, finding one, tossed it down the passage. She waited the few seconds for the flash and followed after it down the passage as the enemy tried to react. Even anti-dazzle visors like they were wearing weren't a hundred percent effective but she only had a few seconds before their vision cleared. She fired the twin barrelled suit shotgun on the run as the beam cannon operator frantically tried to bring his weapon to bear and Pangals' troops moved in.


<<Reporting in,>> said an unfamiliar voice in Raven's ear as she moved towards the bridge.

“Who is this,” she demanded as a bolt of energy cracked into an arm section. She could feel it cut into her arm. Just a sliver, perhaps, but still a reminder of importance. “Put Pangal on.”

<<Can't, sir,>> the voice replied. <<This is Officer Lavvan. Chief Pangal is down.>>

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The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

Kilo - 2-8-3-9-10-2-5
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER
Great job on the next part of this story! I just love how it has turned out!

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Mon Jan 26, 2015 8:19 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER
FIGHTING STYLES

The Collian turned and fired down the passage, knocking an intruder off his feet with the impact. It fell against the dirty wall and Grovan strode towards the figure as it strained to get back up to his feet or bring his weapon to bear, actions that ceased when Grovan raised his weapon to the figures head. “We've no room for prisoners,” he declared, justifying his actions as he fired, point blank, into the headpiece. He looked back the way he'd come. “Is it clear back there?”

His 'protection', Security officer Rayberry, called in clear and stepped into view, making her way down towards him. “It's clear, sir,” she announced as she tried to clean blood off her armour but ended up smearing blood and fur further across herself.

“Stop that,” Grovan ordered. “Don't obsess on the details. Get it done, get it off and go on with your life.” He looked around. “We're not through the 'get it done' part yet so suck it in.” He led the way and entered the security office.


“OK;” Deputy chief Kavall said into the comm, “B group keep them pinned in the store-room and I'll have C move up to assist you.” He looked up. “Can I help you, Commander?” the Feline said wearily, “I'm kind of busy.”

“Are those the only remaining attackers on the ship?”

“Yes but we have them contained.”

“You're making work for your people without need,” Grovan said simply. “Seal them in and vent.”

Kavall's jaw dropped. His eyes widened as he tried to comprehend the order. “We... we can end this without...”

“Without endangering our people.” Grovan stepped around to the console, pushing the Feline away. “Your way is fine in normal situations,” he admitted, “Police situations. This is an invasion of a Military installation. Tell your people to get back away from the bulkheads. They have eight seconds.” Kaval passed on the order as Grovan entered his command over-ride. They watched on the security systems as the Loper forces backed up and the doors closed silently. Then they turned their attention to the other camera as the 'wind' picked up in the store room. They watched people struggling to keep handholds to fight the suction of the venting air. They watched the thermometer drop towards and past zero as the digital pressure gauge slumped steadily toward zero before lying flat at that ominous point. They watched the final, feeble, struggles of the pirates that...

“Sir?” Rayberry said, dragging Grovan back into the room.

“Right,” he said as he restored life support to the room. “That should have about done them in. I doubt they'll have much fight in them. Rayberry, you're with me. Let's check on Engineering.” With that said he headed out of the office.

“Sir?” Rayberry said as she caught him up.

“What?”

“Were you going to let them die?”

He didn't bother to turn to face her and just kept striding ahead, forcing her to jog to keep up with him. “What sort of an example would that have set?”

She couldn't answer that.


Fontny hoped it would be over soon. Hiding under the bed in his room didn't seem heroic but he'd rather be a coward with his brains inside his head than a hero with them leaking out all over the deck plates. Besides, the tagged pirate had only just given up that life, hadn't he? He was pretty sure he'd be useless without a gun, the Loper lot would probably shoot him if he had one and he probably had any number of enemies amongst the other lot. And then there was the firing. The firing that he could hear thudding against the shields. The lights had dimmed and gone out under the last barrage of earthquake causing blows. The bed had bounced as loose items had crashed and broken on the plates and he wondered about the efficiency of the helmet he had jammed over his ears and head. It wasn't stopping him feel all of it.


“We need a medic over here,” Groal shouted over the hissing noise as he lowered the scorched form of one of his engineers safely to the floor. He'd taken the full force of outpouring steam from the cooling system when the power had ruptured. The fragments of wall had mostly missed him but the pressure jet from the ruptured system had been at almost a hundred and twenty degrees. Not to mention the chemicals in the fluid which would help to boil away the skin... He held the rail as the ship shook again and the field medic from security took over looking after little Beyval.

“Reports coming in, sir,” the Raitchian Engineer Zayle said as he read his screen. “Ruptured lines, blown lights... There's a breach being reported on floor two forward!”

“Take Frakes,” Groal shouted as he located his wrench, “and get that breach patched now!” He forced the wrench around a nut and strained, showing his muscles and exacerbating his facial scar as he sealed the broken pipe off. The others hurried about their business as the medic closed Beyval's eyes and shook his head. Ggroal slapped the rail in frustration.


Raven stood down the passage from the bridge now, firing on the defenders that stood between her and her prize. They were well placed, these troops, and she was hard pushed to move them from behind their walls. She assessed the situation. She had no stun grenades, no plasma charges and the gun was running low on power. Plus she had an extra irritant.

<<You're contained,>> a smooth voice said over her speakers, <<your ship's almost destroyed. You have nowhere to go back to and no chance of victory. Why not surrender? I've had to write off what I was hoping to gain from your ship so ransoming hostages will do. You can still save your lives!>> He'd been like that for the last five minutes, chipping away at their confidence with every comment and she'd had enough of it.

“Come out here and we can discuss surrender Cat to Wolf corpse,” she snarled into the comm system.

<<Well I hear you're not really a Cat, Miss Raven,>> the voice said, <<but all you had... to do was ask.”

Raven turned as she reasoned the voice was behind her and a shot blasted into the head of the guard next to her. His helmet shattered under the impact and so did the head underneath. She looked at the imposing silver wolf holding the heavy assault laser on her.

“Drop the gun and take that armour off,” he ordered.

Silently she stood up and, as he watched her down the electronic sight, did as he'd requested until she stood in her light clothing. She watched him with fury in her eyes. They narrowed as she sneered at him.

He threw the gun aside and flexed his muscles. “For the ship?” He said.

Raven nodded and shucked her claws out. “To the death.”

EVERYTHING OR NOTHING

She stepped back as fingers cut the air in front of her, shining the reflection from the recessed lights from their Keratin tips as they arced past her nose and she slipped slightly to the lft as the claws owner snarled in close with speed. Sarina Raven knew she had, at best, a fifty fifty chance of killing this wolf but one thing she wasn't going to do was make it easy for him. She brought her hands around, fast, onto his back and attempted to run her claws across them. The skin moved underneath his fur as his muscles shifted to bring an arm back, into her stomach. It pushed the wind from her stomach and he doubled round to knock her against the bulkhead. He pinned her to the wall with one of his hands and pulled back the other arm to eviscerate her. Raven chopped her hand into the join of neck and shoulder and he released her on reflex. She tried to pull away but felt the pain as his claws scored a minor hit, ripping through the skin to her side. She put an elbow hard to the left side of his muzzle and pushed him back. He was bigger than her, she realised, and more powerful. But he also had had more guns trained on them than she had on him and she'd still had one guard he could kill. This way that guard stayed alive for at least a few more minutes but she wasn't fooled. If he killed her, the guard would still be his. If she killed him, the others holding the guard would kill both of them. It annoyed her. She'd managed to get him to expose a weakness on one or two occasions so far during this fight but she couldn't exploit them to end this, lovely day.


“Another one coming in,” Nurse Payle called as she pushed in a screaming Mican with deep lacerations to the face and a spreading red stain on her shirt.

“If she's screaming she's not priority,” Barleycorn replied from besides a very silent Feline. She had him lying on his side so she could open it up to extricate the mess of shrapnel from the exploding console he'd been passing. “Get her to the Primary care station.” The nurse pushed the stricken officer across to the station and shifted her onto the bed despite her howl of protest.

The Ginger furred Canid on station ran a sensor over the patient. “I'm going to need to seal that artery,” he said before putting the sensor down and picking up the tools of his trade. Another trolley pulled up next to him. “I need assistance over here,” he called. “I only have one set of hands!”

“No-one's spare,” Barleycorn said with resignation.

“Which is exactly the cue I'd dream of,” Professor Jaques said as he came through the door in a clean shirt. “If I dreamt of cues, of course. I'd better get to work,” he added, pulling the new patient onto the bed with a huff.

“Professor?” Barleycorn wondered if she'd gone slightly batty in the last few minutes. What the hell was he doing here? He never left his cabin, did he?

“I'm fully trained in triage,” Jaques replied. “It's needed to be an anthropologist, you know? Something to do with showing an understanding of how the body works. So I can do the patchwork.”

“Wasn't going to argue that,” Barleycorn replied, carefully pulling out a jagged shard of metal. “I was thinking more of...”

“Oh, my bête noir?” Jaques interrupted as he began work with his supply of tools. “Believe me, I'm terrified. But we're under attack so I was scared in my own room. Might as well be busy and terrified.”

“Glad to have you. Let us know if you need help. Rogan, get me some more gauze pads, yeah?”

The Polar Cub headed to the replication machine as Jaques swallowed and nodded.


“Attack pattern Thomicron 14,” Hawle demanded and Chapston laid it in, beginning to turn to Port before realigning to starboard and attacking in an Oval arc as someone extinguished a small fire in the wall near the back of the bridge.

Gunny pushed her red ribboned head fur up out of her eyes and tied a strip of her shirt around her head to stop it coming back down. She'd smacked her head on the console next to her a few minutes back when her restraint belt had malfunctioned. The first aider had patched it whilst she sat at her station but the sealant hadn't held, hence the bandana. She licked her lips, running the tongue over her incisors as she went before drawing the tongue back in as she imagined biting it off. She felt her head shudder as the room rocked under yet another impact and she hit the firing stud, launching an intense volley of energy towards the captured Lancer as, down below...


… Winsome worked on the computer systems. “Would you cease trying to kill us,” he shouted into the darkness, “so I can crack your computers, shut you down and let us kill you?” He considered the question both rhetorical and irrelevant so went back to trying to break the firewalls the obviously talented Lancer computer sod had installed whilst keeping him or her out of the Loper systems. “If you were on my side,” he admitted as he fended off another attack, “I'd probably date you. Even if you were a guy. But then it'd just be a beer. Dang, but I need a girlfriend. I wonder if that Human, Chapston, is available? I'll ask her...” the lights dimmed as he heard something bang outside... “If I survive,” he added. He looked out over the cold bodies of an attacker and a defender and wondered for a second if he knew the defender. Then his computer beeped, making him jump. “He's through the fourth firewall,” he muttered, returning to the fight.


Raven couldn't see straight anymore. The Wolf had kept up his assault through her shots and he was almost wearing her down. Where was her opening, she wondered. She'd wounded him, she knew, from the way he was trying to protect his left side but his muscles kept moving, and he kept bleeding, but she could feel the effects of the damage he'd dealt her. Despite the heat of the fight she was beginning to feel cold.

“Why are... you still fighting?” The Captain said, covering her face with red spittle.
As he spoke the lights dipped to red and he looked up.


That was the moment. The one she'd been waiting for. The moment that told the other team had achieved their aim. The moment he was distracted and the guards were unsure of what was happening. She drove a fist hard against his wound to worsen it before spinning around and bringing the back of her closed fist into close conjunction with his temple. Weakly he swiped at her but, with his attention more on his own wounds, she was able to avoid the attack and stamped on the back of his left leg. She saw it buckle before she gripped the scruff of his shoulders and launched him into the wall with enough force to break his muzzle. Then she did it again in memory of the lost Lancer crew. Then she slipped on some of the blood and fell across him as the glow of energy fire faded. She couldn't get up. Was this it? All her energy seemed to have left her and she could hardly keep her eyes open..

“Would you like a hand up?” Chief Pangal asked.

ANXIETY

“I... thought y...you were dead?” Raven breathed, feeling her chest move with each syllable as she looked up at the unarmoured security Chief.

Pangal flexed her neck and rubbed her temples. “Nearly was,” she admitted. “energy cannon totalled the armour and nearly finished me.” She turned so the first officer could see the blackened streak across her back where the fur had been scorched off. “One piece swimsuits for now.”

Raven tried to get up but winced as one of Pangals people stepped forward and handed the chief a scanner. Pangal ran it over Raven and checked the results. “Get her to medical,” she instructed sharply. “Lets pray the auto Doc knows how to re-inflate a collapsed lung.” She readied her classic shotgun as one of her people scooted off to get a stretcher. “I'll take the bridge.” She knelt down by the fallen Wolf and held a hand up. The deputy took her hint and pulled his high security cuffs out and handed them to her. She shook the weighty product and the two sets of cuffs separated and a bar extended between the two until she was able to cuff the Wolf by hands and ankles behind his back. She stood up again as the other officer returned, pulling a soft fabric platform behind him. It floated on a gel layer over a metal and technology base that hummed as it deflected gravity . “That'll hold him for now. Are you people still here?” She headed up passage toward the bridge as they loaded the wounded Raven onto the 'bed' and pulled her past the corpses both sides had littered the passageways with.


Jaqui Pangal hissed slightly as she approached the closed bridge door. She'd not let on but bloody hell those burns hurt! Their agony was only mollified by what seemed to be a cracked rib or two. She had a feeling that 'surprises' were still in store for her here so she took the chance and tapped the intercom on the wall. “This is Sec...security Chief Pangal of the Loper,” she told whoever was listening on the bridge. “Your power's going and your Captain's defeated on the deck in single combat. Surrender now, before the shields fall...” She paused for breath as the ship shook bitterly. “...and you'll survive this.” She looked up at the ceiling as she heard a creaking sound. “Keep fighting and I'll just have to kill you. Your choice.” She stepped back, away from the door, and readied her weapon as the door opened.


Gunny fired flanking fire as the two ships skimmed past each other and Chapston angled them back around, behind the enemy ship. The bridge metalwork moaned contentiously under the manoeuvre and that almost distracted Hawle from the fact that the ship had stopped firing back. He'd noted the enemy shots getting lesser in strength over the last few moments and had associated it with damage given but now he wondered.,.

“The Lancer's hailing us, Captain,” said the bewildered looking communications officer. “It's.. Chief Pangal?”

Hawles' face broke into a broad smile. “Put her on. Hold fire, Gunny!”

“Aww,” said Gunny quietly before hoping the Captain hadn't heard her. Her ears flicked back and down as her eyes widened at her foolish nature.


The screen in front of Chapston changed to a distorting video imag that flickered between black and white and colour with swirling lines. “Report, Chief,” she heard Hawle demand.

<<Ship'zz securre,>> Pangal seemed to drawl as the transmission blurred and distorted. <<Had a lott'vve gunzzz thrown at me by thozze wanting to zzurrender. I could do wivvve a few more zzecurity and Doctorr Barleycorrn needz to treat Commander Raven. She'zz been badly injured.>>

And he'd thought he was going to get away with it. That last comment was like a punch in the gut to Hawle who suddenly thought of how he'd miss her. She was always there, to his right hand and loyal; never with a joke to cheer his mood but... He shook his head. “I'll get Grovan to send security and I'll get Barleycorn over there asap. You're now in temporary command of the Lancer, Pangal.”

<<Aye, sir,>> Pangal muttered.


“Can't do it, Captain,” Barleycorn replied at Hawle's announcement over the comm as Rogan held the small screen up to her

<<What the hell do you mean can't, Doctor? Do I have to make it an order?>>

Barleycorn instructed the Polar Cub to pan the camera around her medical bay. Every bed was occupied with teams working on each occupant. “I've got several in dangerous condition from shrapnel wounds and energy blasts,” she explained as Rogan panned down so the bridge could see the grotesque state of Engineer Berwick's leg as Barleycorn readied the laser saw. “I need to remove this leg because I can't save it, Captain. If I don't, I can't save the person. I'll send Nurse Payle to pre-op and I'll follow up when I can.” She powered up the saw and lowered it towards the leg. “Best I can do,” she added as Hawle hurredly closed the videolink.

Rogan could see her smile slightly under the surgical mask. She'd planned that.


Groal listened to his ship list its complaints as security ran past to the teleport bay. He didn't need to read the computer screens to know the situation. Like any good Doctor who'd been around the patient for a long time he could tell she was hurting simply by listening to her. Above his head she complained of metal fatigue and bruised frameworks. Around him he could feel the haemorrhaging of life juices in the walls and the coughing fit below his feet, that he could feel through the deck plating, told him there was an interruption on the feed to the engines. Not insubstantial repairs were needed, he reasoned with a sigh, and he really needed the Celica dockyards to do them in. He spun his wrench around and commenced repairs on the core as others beetled around on the repairs he'd ordered them to complete. He looked down at his radiation detector, a tablike thing he had clipped to his shorts. Yellow level. That wasn't good. There had to be a crack somewhere. A crack in the core. In the centre of engineering. He tapped his comm. “Groal to Hawle.”

<<Hawle here.>>

“Got to advise we don't go to hyperspace, Captain. We have a crack in the core. If we jump before it's found and fixed we'll probably explode.”

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER
Yay more Hawle! I just love more some more Hawle! Nice job!

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Thu Feb 12, 2015 4:04 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
ROOM TO ROOM

When Groal came around he wondered where he was. He'd dreamed he was at home, running and feasting with his family or friends. He'd been able to feel the breeze in his fur as he competed with the fabulously muscled and bright eyed hunters of his youth. He'd seen Kavak, his best friend, with his shocking pink tongue dribbling from the side of his mouth as he pursued a non-sentient training prey through the woods. He watched his friend vault a powerful fallen tree trunk as though it were mere inches in height and land with a cry of absolute victory as he took the hare by the legs, held the squirming creature tight and savagely twisted its neck until it snapped. Groal had smiled a blood smattered smile at him as he recalled pausing in the consumption of his own first kill. They raised their triumph high before making it a part of themselves forever.


He remembered screams of pain surrounding him as a Clipper Ship hovered into view of his school and started shooting. His parents hadn't told him much about what was going on but he'd pieced together that someone in charge of the Security Council wanted everyone to live under Council law. Not Celican or Feline or Lapinean or even Human but the law used in their military. Other Council ships had rebelled but he couldn't see them now as cannon bursts simply evaporated the lucky dead. Some of the living simply gibbered and curled and begged as the agent of devastation served its master well. A Vixen he liked died, leaving just her tail behind, in a war she had no part in before the other side arrived. A Council Rebel ship diving down into the sky from space. It brought the destroyer down onto his school. Something moaned after the crash of silence and he worked out it was a crash survivor.


He grabbed a chunk of ragged metal and felt the blood heat as he silenced the moan forever.


He could feel the heat now, making him dizzy and sick. His vision swam and tried to focus as he sat up on a bed. It wasn't the sick bay. His head swam as he tried to stand up.

<<I wouldn't do that if I were you, Mister Groal,>> said a voice from outside the room. He looked over at an active console and saw the visage of a slightly chubby Mouse looking back at him. <<You're in my room,>> the face he couldn't place explained. <<You took on a good load of radiation. I've managed to stabilize you with some anti radiation medications but we couldn't keep you in the medbay long. We had to clear the people out just to treat you.>>

“So why am I in your room?”

The figure took a bite out of a burrito. <<Because we're a frigate,>> he explained. <<Because the normal decontamination room is out of commission and because I'm presciently paranoid. I'm afraid of a lot of things, including being irradiated so I had my living room equipped with decontamination facilities.>> The picture miniaturised to a corner of the screen and a clock timer took over much of the screen. It read Sixteen hours and Thirty four minutes. <<It's how long until you're down to safe levels.>>

Groal looked around at the coffee ringed table, the worn wood sideboard, the unmade bed he was sitting on, the half broken sofa and the replicator system with sauce stains on it. “And I have to stay in this... this pigsty?”

<<Hey, that's my room you're talking of,>> Professor Jaques protested. <<If you don't like it? There's cleaning liquid in the sideboard., You can clean up. Now, if you don't mind, I have samples to analyse. Press F5 if you want me.>> With that, the visage left the screen. Groal looked around, felt the rough carpet under his footpads and decided he wasn't going to move in case he got infected by something.


“It's all going to plan,” the Raitchian said, swishing his tail around Fontny's small room in happiness.

Fontny looked up at him. His eyes narrowed as his cheeks dropped slightly and his ears twitched. “There's no way in Klasterva you can call this a plan, Doral!” He spread his arms as he sat back on his sofa. “This ship's been through it these last few days. It's being held together by Superglue and flypaper with a little wishful thinking!”

Doral stopped his pacing and leaned over Fontny. “Pangal's been reassigned until the Raven pulls through. There's an untested nit in charge of security now and the high ranks are in disarray. The ship needs repairs and, in this turmoil, someone could easily, um, slip away?”

Fontny rolled his eyes and thought about the cold coffee within reach. “You're not telling me this as a 'just so you know', are you?”

Doral grinned, showing cracked teeth. He pointed a finger towards Fontny. “I always thought you were a smart one. It's a good job no-one saw you taking the samples, isn't it? If I were to think someone had seen you I'd be worried about people talking. I might have to...” He smiled. “Silence a fat mouse before he talked? Just in case you'd told him something that led back to me?”

Fontny looked him straight in the eye. “I'm not exactly trusted around here,” he stated. “No-one would believe me if I say anything so I say nothing to anyone. No-one saw me!”

Doral smirked. “I'll believe that when I hear the meeting's taken place. Until then...” He pulled a small weapon fro his pocket and aimed it at the mug. A small metal bolt sprang from the barrel and sliced through the mug, causing it to fracture and break, spilling cold liquid over the table.

Fontny moved to stop the coffee running onto the carpet as Doral chuckled, flipped the weapon back into his pocket, retrieved the bolt and headed for the door. “...I know where you both live.” He swished out of the door as Fontny sighed and headed to get some tissues. He stopped for a moment by the wall-comm and thought about things.


Barleycorn sighed. She was in the Lancer medical bay, looking over the supplies and the injured Commander she had to treat. She'd looked at the autodoc's scans and consulted with the prepatory nurse. It wasn't great news but... “O.K.,” she said, clapping work-tired handpaws together, “we have a punctured lung, several dozen lacerations to the abdomen and that arm's hanging by the sinews. No time for coffee NOW. She's as stable as she's going to get and, if she's survived the last few hours – thanks to you, Payle – so we have a chance.” She pulled sleep from her eyes. “Let's get it on.”

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Sun Mar 08, 2015 4:52 am
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Really great new chapter that you put up! It looks very wonderful!

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)

A STITCH TO BREAK THE BACK


Engineering teams were at work all around him on the bridge as Hawle compiled data and reports. It wasn't good reading. They had fifteen dead and thirty treated in the medical bay. With Groal trapped with the Professor Berwick had stepped up amazingly with his metal skeleton artificial leg. He was acting as Groal's field manager, passing orders and making his own. Hawle recalled his engineering extension classes at the command college. He recalled his teacher stating that the classes were enough to strip a computer and put it back together but they needed to leave the heavy work to those who took Command as their extesion. He recalled sitting next to a Burman Feline there; one with a ring of black fur around her head. She didn't look on him as a sweetmeat and, one afternoon, when a couple of Celicans decided to 'roast' the newcomer, he'd found himself back to back with her. The classes had finished not long after that and they'd been assigned their ships. He'd gone on the Sarakka as a helm officer and she'd gone on the Clawwzona in Security. He'd kept a discrete tab on her and, when he got the chance, he'd given her a chance. He didn't even know if she remembered that fight amongst all the others she'd gotten into but he did. Every move, punch and kick of the day he was proven right about Celicans and wrong about Felines was etched in stone memory. And now she was barely alive. He knew Barleycorn was doing her best but... The Lancer had a medical unit that was no better stocked than theirs. Her only hope was the Celican medical station in orbit over Celica. Yet another stop on the voyage of destruction. “Comms,” Hawle said hoarsely, “contact the Lancer; find out the situation with Commander Raven and notify Playgrr station they have a senior officer coming in in two hours. Send them the medical report.”

“Got it, sir,” the Comms officer claimed before setting to her work.

“I'll be around,” Hawle said, “if you need me that is, Chapston. Otherwise? You have the conn.”

The Human swallowed and looked around. “You're sure, sir?”

“Don't question my orders, Ensign.”

“Right.”


Bone tired, the Captain headed down the way to inspect his ship as the crew worked around him. He hadn't even reached the end of the passage from the bridge and he knew the bills would be horrendous again. Still, he mused, he wasn't paying the bills.


He exited the stairwell and stepped out onto a passage with sparking lights and fallen masonry. “A little help here?”

The voice had cut through the fizzing and his maudlin memory and he looked around to see where it had come from. The tailor. He could see the old Feline struggling with her door. It was pinned by a fallen masonry beam in a quarter open position and she was just about poking her head around the gap. “I think I'm a little bit stuck.”

Hawle grinned and started to pull at the masonry. It shifted a little but not enough so he made his way around to the other side, put his back against the door and pushed hard with his feet. He strained , exposing his teeth as he closed his eyes and Rabbit muscles pushed the metal away from him even as his back threatened to push into the door.

“Is that Captain Hawle,” the tailor enquired. “I suppose it must be. I didn't <koff>do a shoulder belt accessory for anyone else.”

Hawle paused in his pushing to look at the Tailor. “Of course it's me, Emmarella, who el... oh.” He stopped himself as he looked at the shattered remnants of the tailor's glasses. “We'll have to get you some new ones,” he said with a smile she couldn't see. The old girl smiled back before she pushed on the door and Hawle could see the blood on her teeth. “You OK?”

“I'm trapped and it's cold in here,” she complained before coughing. “Half my room fell on me. So I'm not really OK, Captain.”

With the masonry shifted slightly clear, Hawle stepped down and felt his feet throb. He gripped hold of the door to pull. “Have you... uff... free in a minute,” he promised, straining his arm muscles as the door began to pull back, metal screeching as it slid into the wall.


Eventually there was room for the tailor to slip through and Hawle released his grip on the door. His fingers throbbed back into life and he looked at them as they pulsed back into life and the old lady came through.

“Oh, thank you, Captain,” the Tailor said with a chuckle that ended in a cough.

Hawle was still staring at his hands. He started to put two and two together as he saw the blood smears. They weren't his. They were from where she'd been pushing at the door. Which meant...


He caught her as she fell and held her close as she looked at the two long needles protruding from her blood-stained abdomen. “I never... never even noticed th..them,” she said, coughing again. She sighed. “I... I...”

“Don't try to talk,” Hawle said gently before using his comm to call medical attention.

She shook her head. “Don't... Don't bother them,” she said simply. “It...it's just... something that had to...” She swallowed. “had to happen one day soon anyhow... Per...perhaps the... next one will like... that bloody Pirate l...” She fell quiet and Hawle held her, counting the seconds until he felt the stiffness recede into nothing this universe could describe. He let his emotions reign for a moment before closing her eyes and lying her back down on the ground before wiping his nose. He sighed and pulled the needles through before stepping into her room. He located the remains of her bedding and pulled the blanket free, dislodging several of her old ornaments as he picked it free and carried it back to the passage. He covered the old girl up before he cancelled the medical alert.


As Hawle closed the link, Chapston called and he reactivated it. “What's up, Chapston?”

<<You should know, sir,>> the Human said, <<that we're approaching Celica. ETA in twenty minutes.>>

Hawle sighed. “On my way,” he said, closing the link and heading for the stairs.


ON ARRIVAL

Celica. If you look to the guidebooks, it's a world of wonders. A world where past culture mixes seamlessly with modern sensibilities. Mighty Mountains call to the adventurous souls eager to test their bodies to the extremes and the fifty mile long beaches beckon to the sun lovers who just want to slowly heat the body and soul under the influence of the Celican sun. You could explore the jungles and sail the seas that, thanks to ocean mounted monitors, never rise over a moderate wave. Rain falls roughly five inches throughout the given week. A world of wonders.


Or a world of danger. A world where old world cultures of blood lie just under the surface of multiculturalism. A world which only started to stop eating the inhabitants of neighbouring worlds when the Raitchians came up with the concept and physical truth of artificial meats. They still prefer the real stuff though, hence the booming 'Farm' industry on starships. You can never totally be sure of being alone in those mountains as there may be a hunter nearby, just watching you... The beaches are also a place you don't wish to go at night unless you're a predator.


It filled his viewscreen, this visage of horrific beauty. He could not see the people down there without engaging the zoom function but he could see the outline of continents from here. The West and the East. And the polar. He sorely wanted to land the sip near to Nuunavrick, the capital of the polar region, but local weather precluded anything like a spaceport being built there simply because everything froze, even space shuttles weren't immune in the high atmosphere. They couldn't build large structures like spaceports there; even their airport ended up in an underground zone with full heating to ensure the low level air shuttles didn't freeze. So he was going to have to go scheduled from the capital, Celica city.


He watched the menagerie of Celican ships between him and the planet as the medical shuttle took Raven away to save her life. Groal was still in the Professor's room, Pangal was commanding the Lancer and Grovan was acting as security chief. The bridge, therefore, seemed empty. Then again, he mused, so did the ship with the crew Pangal had appropriated to bring her up to skeleton level. He was surrounded by ensigns and gave fleeting consideration to promoting Chapston simply so he had an officer he could talk to but he needed her on the conn, not on his right hand. He watched as they pushed slowly through the Celican Defence Force armada and wondered if they'd placed the ships especially for him. “Do you see Celica Station yet, Chapston?”

Chapston shook her head to pull herself back to now. “Um, not yet, sir,” she confessed, “five minutes.”

“OK,” he said softly, putting a hand on the Humans shoulder. “I know you liked Mrs Interssol but I need you here for the moment, Sarah. Say the goodbyes later, eh?” He gave her shoulder a needed and unprofessional squeeze as her nod betrayed her face. He removed the hand from her shoulder and stepped back to his chair to sit. “I'd hate to have to foot the repair bill for this trip,” he muttered.


“I'm coming with,” Barleycorn stated as Rogan held her hand and hid behind her leg in the medical bay. “Someone insists.”

Hawle looked at her. He hadn't planned on this. He'd simply planned on picking the boy up and getting over to the station but here came the complication. “Doctor,” he stated, “I need you up here.”

Barleycorn crossed her arms defiantly. “Normally I'd be quite happy to, Captain, but the medical situation here is under control now the worst have gone to the medical station so I'm not expressly needed here and Rogan wants me with him.”

Hawle tried to think of an argument. Anything could happen, an accident could irradiate half the ship or... no, he thought, he had nothing. So he threw his arms up. “Why,” he demanded.

“Because he doesn't like you much,” Barleycorn announced. “You scare him.”

No, he thought, he still had nothing. “Well,” he said eventually, flapping a hand at the cub as his ears rose to full height, “I'm not a fan of the little sod either. Get your Winter gear, Doctor, you're coming with us.”

“Yes,” said Rogan, letting go of the Doctors hand before doing a little dance.

“Watch it, kid,” Hawle said half heartedly, pointing a finger at the cub as the Doctor tried to calm him with a hand.

Rogan waaited until after the Captain had left to beam a smile up at the medical officer.

She sighed. “I could do with a break,” she admitted.


As Hawle headed towards the main docking hatch, he wondered over his next encounter. He tapped up the list on his padd and entered the Tailors' name as an addendum to the list. He read over the names again on a list that was just too muffins and cookies long. He put it away and stepped into the reception room where a Celican sat waiting. “I apologise for keeping you you waiting Magrere Colbian,” he said, almost sounding positive as he addressed the green and dark grey robed male.

“Think nothing of it, Captain,” the Celican said, rising to his feet and refusing to smile, a gesture Hawle appreciated as it was nonthreatening. “do you have the list for the ceremony?”

Hawle sighed and handed over the pad. “Every name is on there,” he admitted.

Colbian fingered the triangular Icon hung around his neck. “By the Lords, this list is a long one.”

Hawle grumbled. “I added the Lancer crew onto this list,” he said eventually.

Colbian nodded. “I understand. Shall we proceed to the ceremony?”

Hawle nodded and, several minutes later, the half crews of two ships stood assembled in the main holo-room of the main Celican space station. The room was decorated with a large version of the pastors' icon on the far wall, glowing against the black. The Magrere stood at a raised pulpit underneath the icon as the last of the crew filed in and the doors closed into darkness that was then lit up by light flooding in from the 'windows' to either side. “As there was darkness,” the Celican intoned to the congregation, “so shall there be light.”

Captain Hawle, accompanied by Barleycorn and the rest of the senior crew, sat themselves down as the ceremony started.


And Fontny took his chance to wander off around the station, where he made contact with certain Celicans and passed them a phial he had hidden about his person.

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
I love that the momentum is beginning to pick up on this! Keep up on the good work!

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
SECURE AT STATION

It was getting closer, this offensive visage, creeping closer in his soul as it loomed closer in the view-screen. He'd be able to see the ground soon, then the people on it. He'd hoped never to end up here, he'd even turned down a post at the Council embassy here back in his cadet days, and he'd never felt really comfortable around Celicans. He was getting used to Celicans; the Vixen was helping with that, and Groal was a positive boon. The grease stained and dirt streaked engineer was far enough removed from the Celican norm that Hawle could stand being in a room with him for whole meetings at a time but...

Hawle flinched as Doctor Barleycorn pulled her hand back from his neck. “Did you just inject me with something?” He asked indignantly,

“Yep,” she replied languidly, showing him a small injector. “Just a minor sedative to knock the fear down a bit.”

“I could easily put you on a charge,” Hawle threatened.

“I'd rather be on a charge than explaining how my Captain died of a heart attack,” the Doctor said, putting the injector back inside her bag. “Seriously, your eyes were bugging.”

“Oh,” Hawle replied with an embarrassed smirk. “I suppose that could be alright then. Unless I mutate into a three headed Canid. In which case,” he added, wagging a finger at her as they dipped into the highest levels of the atmosphere, “consider yourself on report.”


Rogan leaned over the co-pilots' seat and watched with giddy anticipation as home closed in. It was winter in the capital so he was dressed in multicoloured shorts and a striped tee-shirt that moved over his slight, muscled, body as his tongue dribbled happy drool onto the co-pilot's back. The officer hadn't noted yet so Rogan tried not to bring his attention to it. He closed his mouth quietly and asked if there was anything to eat. He licked his lips as the drool target handed him a caged Rat.


“Which name is it you prefer to go by?” Grovan asked as he sat in his current chair in the security office. He watched the Raitchian squirm under the grip of two of his officers whose names he'd not managed to learn yet. “You seem to have had several over the last few weeks,” he added, tossing the pad he'd been reading onto the table.

“Zacharin Fontny,” the Raitchian replied proudly, his hands manacled behind his back as he looked straight ahead.

“Look me in the eye when you talk to me, convict,” Grovan said angrily, drawing back his lips to show his teeth.

“From here that would mean looking down on you,” Fontny replied.

“Humorous,” Grovan replied, grinning as he stood up. “You're fortunate the tag didn't blow your leg off before my people caught you, Pirate...”

“I'm not a pirate anymore,” Fontny interrupted as Grovan stepped around the desk.

“You engage in Pirate activities and it makes you a Pirate, scum.” He drew back his hand and cracked Fontny across the muzzle with a slap that echoed across the room. He grasped Fontny by the lapels as the guards looked on anxiously. They glanced at each other uncertainly. “As you're a Pirate again,” he snarled spittle into the Raitchian face as blood dribbled from the recipient's mouth, “I get to do whatever I need to do to soften you for questioning! Who were you meeting? What were you planning? Sabotage?” He put a fist into Fontny's stomach.

The Raitchian doubled over, his eyes opening wide like his mouth as the air was driven from him and he gasped for breath. “Pan...Pangal,” he gasped.

“Yeah, that soft old bunny might well have seen the good in you,” Grovan declared, forcing Fontny to stand upright again before he slapped him again.

“Sir,” one of the guards said questioningly, “we can't...”

“You two are dismissed,” Grovan snapped, still grinning. “I'll interrogate this swine myself!” He pulled a knee sharply into Fontny's groin.

“Before or after he's unable to speak, sir,” the other asked.

“Get gone!” Grovan shouted as Fontny struggled to get up from the floor. “That's an order!”


“Here's another,” said a sharp voice from outside the door. The occupants turned to see Jaqui Pangal step through the gap. “Arrest yourself.” She narrowed her eyes. “NOW.”


“I hate customs,” Hawle said whilst waiting for Barleycorn to be finished in the search room. He looked down at the Polar Cub he was charged with protecting. “Don't worry,” he said, “it's normal for her. Raitchian heritage sometimes means she's not trusted. At least there's a Canine female on duty today. They're not so insistent on the total search.” He patted the Doctors' medical case. “And we had your help in getting this through.”

“No trouble, sir,” Rogan said, wondering if he was allowed to the café. He supposed not. Boy, it smelled good to be home.


“You have no right to step in,” Grovan declared defiantly, gesturing wildly at the fallen Fontny as Pangal stayed in the doorway. “I had to act after your muffins and cookies weakness, Jaqui! Rescuing lost animals! Letting this... filth run loose on the ship! Were you blind as to what was going on?”

“You who has a bionic eye and yet sees nothing,” Pangal announced calmly, stepping closer to the Canine. “I've just helped station security take down an entire terrorist cell,” she growled. “A group that wanted to recreate that bio-horror we have in the morgue. And their agent here is being arrested as we speak.” She looked down to Fontny as he got himself up onto his knees. “Fontny came to me as soon as they came to him, you moron.” She reacted as Grovan moved towards him and struck him sharp across his ribs. “I knew they'd make attempt after attempt to steal what they wanted so I decided to let this run but HE volunteered to expose the lot,” she snarled before lowering her voice. “And you beat the crud out of yet another prisoner? Idiot.” She closed her eyes slightly. “Last time I had the option of the Captain's court. Now I don't. If you want any chance to save your career? Release him and arrest yourself. Now.” She stepped back. “Mansonna, Kuvrick, there will be an enquiry into why you stood back and let this happen but, if Commander Grovan doesn't comply in five seconds? Do it for him!”

She heard the clunk of cuffs being removed behind her as she stepped out of the room again.


AT THE AIRPORT


Rogan sipped at a cold, red, drink as he reclined on a sofa in the VIP section of the airport. Security guards had cleared out a few belligerent passengers and promised them refunds to clear the way and Hawle had felt at his collar uncomfortably at the thought of several annoyed Celicans coming after him for recompense. As for now, still awaiting the release of the good Doctor from security, Hawle paced the room. He stopped at the end of each length and looked out over the workings of one of the main space ports in the universe. Concrete and grey swept dust from the horizon to the windows he was stood behind without interruption from welcome virginal green. There was something... unholy about this grim place for him and he compared it with the cultivated ports on Lapis, where the port was kept largely arboreal with the landing pads between the artificially created hillocks that each possessed a link to an underground transit system to the main station. They could do with something like that here, he thought. It'd replace the travelators at least. He swallowed. With a bare few exceptions, everyone he'd seen out there today had been a Celican. Of course he'd expected that on Celica but, with several dozen interstellar concerns operating here, he'd expected more off-worlders. Oh, there were the Canids of course, including one whose Danian features weren't obscured by the Celican fur dye job he'd taken on – but there were no Felines or Micans to be seen.


“Can I turn the vid on?” Rogan asked from the sofa.

Hawle looked around to observe the child who'd been through so much recently. He'd almost frozen to death and then been near killed several times on the journey home. A Lanninean Child would have had trouble coping with all that and Hawle had to give the boy credit for his nerves. “Why are you asking me, Rogan? You know how to turn one on, don't you?”

“Of course,” Rogan replied, his voice betraying the shock at Hawle's tone. “I just... figured there would be channels you didn't want to hear is all.” He turned the vid on and selected a Celican children's channel.

Hawle looked to the ceiling and decided that he could slap himself. He stepped over to the sofa and sat close to the Polar youth. “Sorry,” he said, mostly meaning it. “I didn't mean to snap. I'm just anxious is all.”

Rogan sniffed. “One Rabbit and a Million Celicans?” He half grinned.

“Isn't it more like a billion?”

“Yeah but only a million can have seen you at the window.” He sipped his drink. “Million maximum.”

“Those are better odds,” Hawle admitted as the door opened and Barleycorn entered. “Standard Raitchian delay,” he asked of the black-fur mouse.

“We have arrived,” the Doctor replied testily, “in the middle of a massive technology expo. They're expecting smugglers.” She threw her coat down on a separate sofa and headed for the replication system. “I have every mind to sue them for discrimination,” she snapped before punching the machine.

“They could probably counter-sue for damages,” Hawle muttered to Rogan.

“I heard that! Tavallian Sunscreamer,” she ordered, “now.” The bright blue, sparkling and sparking, arrived and she slugged it back in one. “Another,” she ordered.

<<Confirm order,>> the computer requested.

“Repeat last order,” she said, taking the resultant cocktail and heading around to the sofa.

Hawle looked at the glasses she put down, both empty and full. “Collecting glassware,” he asked. “Do they give a bonus prize if you collect all six?”

“Yeah,” she drawled, “I get a pair of stick on Rabbit ears.”


The door opened again and a trio of Celicans stepped in. One female, a large male in a black waistcoat and shorts ensemble and a thin one in a thick winter layer and hood stepped in. A Government minister and crew, Hawle reckoned. “My apologies for keeping you waiting,” the waistcoated newcomer said as Hawle languidly pulled himself up to face him. “I am Minister Gaggary; interior office.” He offered a hand which Hawle ignored, preferring an informal salute instead. “Er, yes, I suppose,” the Minister said, returning the salute awkwardly.

“Commander Hawle. Pleased to meet you,” Hawle said, lying through his teeth.

“I'm sure,” Gaggary replied, sure that the Commander was lying. He sized him up and wondered how he'd got the guns on the holsters through customs and, indeed, why he needed two holsters in the first place. “Um, yes. Well. I'm sorry about the delay but we had to weatherproof the shuttle. We don't, ah, send many shuttles up there this time of year. Too much ice I suppose.” He waved a hand. “I don't understand the technical things. I understand you have your winter gear?”

Hawle gestured over to the cases they'd brought with them. “In those. Why isn't a Celican government official travelling with us?”

“The Polars requested we didn't,” Gaggary said, before indicating that the younger male should step forward, “but I did manage to get Yanaknan here assigned as your liason. To make sure you don't irritate the Polars after you've dropped young Roganie here off at home.”

“Could you make that sound any more condescending?” Barleycorn asked, a little tipsy.

“I am sure I could,” Gaggary replied, “I am a politician. Anyhow,” he continued, “the shuttle is ready now, I'm told.”


A half hour passed, in which the group moved to the government hired shuttle and Hawle reasoned the second reason Yanuknan had been assigned to them. Government shuttles were only actually licensed to fly if someone attached to the government was aboard and the little paranoid met that requirement. Now they were on the way to the Polar regions.

“Not a bad shuttle Augrie got for us, is it,” Rogan asked the room in general as he pushed back his seat, sucked a strawberry rizzle – at least that's what he'd told Hawle it was – through a curly straw and watched a survival program on the vid.

“Who,” Hawle asked, glancing over from his table.

“He means the Minister,” Yanuknan said distractedly.

“You know the minister, Rogan,” Barleycorn asked casually.

“Oh, yeah,” Rogan replied, sipping his drink, “Mom used to deal with him all the time when he was CEO of Celica medcare.”

Hawle thought for a moment. “Yanukuan...”

“Yanuk, please.”

“Yanuk. Are you ever going to put that hood down?”

“No.”

“What does the Minister think of you? Honestly?”

Yanuk snorted. “I didn't even think he knew I existed before he approached me about this!” He scoffed. “And my line manager said I was likely to get fired!”

“Ah.”

“What's the matter?”

“Yanuk, I think you've been set up.” He huffed. “The Polars are trying to get the government ousted. That probably means changing the people they supply their blood to. Without the blood, the main cure for the flu vanishes and Celica Medcare loses about forty percent of its stock.”

“More like sixty,” Yanuk agreed, his mouth hanging slack as his eye widened. “He'd lose tens of millions.”

“So he put a contract on Rogan here knowing he could leverage that to keep the Polars with Celica Medcare.” In a flash Hawle had a pistol trained on Yanuk as Barleycorn moved past him.

“I...I'm not a hired gun,” Yanuk protested, raising his hands.

“He may be telling the truth, Captain,” Barleycorn said from the pilot's cabin. “The pilot's dead. This is a silly question but... can you fly a shuttle?”

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Sun Apr 05, 2015 1:27 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Nice job on this chapter! I look forward to more!

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Mon Apr 06, 2015 6:31 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
CRASHDOWN

The four piled into the tiny cockpit, where the scenario played out in front of them. As Doctor Barleycorn had told them, the pilots were gone, having died, it seemed, some short time ago. Rigor mortis had begun to set in, their figures beginning to stiffen where they'd fallen across the controls. Hawle pulled the pilot back, away from the controls and tried not to look at the face as Rogan yelped. “Get him back, Night!” Hawle gestured to the boy and Doctor Barleycorn pulled the child back, away from the scene. “We need them out of the seats, Yanuk,” he declared, starting to pull the pilot free from his bindings and laid him out behind the chair as the government low ranker pulled at the co-pilot, trying not to cry with his distress.

“What... what are we going to... to do?”

“I don't know about you,” Hawle said, sitting in the pilot's seat, “but I intend to learn how to fly this thing.”

Yanuk looked at him in alarm. “You can't pilot a shuttle,” he squeaked with alarm. “But you're a Captain!”

“Why does everyone think being a Commanding Officer makes you an expert pilot?” Hawle looked over the incredibly unfamiliar controls and chewed his lip a little. “I came through engineering and light bridge work. I can take over a Council helm in emergencies but this...” He waved a hand at the controls. “This is not a Council ship! These icons are different! That looks like an altitude monitor,” he added, peering at an icon, “and that's yaw and pitch and that... Ah.”

“Ah?” Yanuk said, finally winning his fight with the dead and taking his seat.

“It looks like we're on cruise control...” Hawle began.

“That's good news,” Yanuk said.

“...and we're about to run out of fuel,” Hawle added. “That display there,” he added, tapping a line with a pointer icon on it that was notably closer to the red end, “is a fuel gauge. Get on the radio.”

Yanuk fiddled with the awkward headgear and pushed it under his hood as the shuttle swung itself over a bleak, uncompromisingly white landscape. “The microphone's dead,” he wailed as it refused to respond. What now?”

“Listen to it!”

“What... what am I listening for?”

“Static,” Hawle instructed, “a signal. Anything to give me a direction to turn. Look over here,” he added, gesturing to the instrument panel that stretched his half of the console. “No, never to mind; I've got it.” He tapped a control next to one glowing red and the ship began to shudder. “Nope,” he said, tapping the other control. “Which one's the cruise control?”

Yanuk took a look as he he kept the headphones to one ear and pointed at an icon.

“Good!” Hawle looked over at Yanuk. “Well? Unless you want a round of applause, get checking the radio! Then we can triangulate and get close to the transmitter.” Hawle brought back his lips and screwed his eyes shut for a second before he released the cruise control and released the controls to his service. The fuel monitor dropped closer to gone as no-one saw them from below.

“I have a signal,” Yanuk shouted across the small area, making Hawle wince. As the Rabbit strapped in. “Sorry.”

“Whatever. Can you make it stronger?”

“It's faint,” Yanuk complained, turning the dials as Hawle glanced across. “It's gone.”

Hawle said nothing. He'd seen the readings of longitude and Latitude and altered course towards them, however far away they were. “Keep scanning. If you get a stronger signal tell me.”

“How's it going in here?” Barleycorn said, poking her head into the cockpit as Yanuk strapped himself in.

“Swimmiongly,” Hawle replied sarcastically. “Yanuk's becoming a Radio Ham and I'm taking a crash course in shuttle piloting.”

“You can't fly a shuttle?”

Hawle threw back his hands in exasperation. “Of course I can fly a...” He put his hands back to the controls as the nose pitched down and he straightened her out again. “...Council shuttle,” he finished sheepishly. “Um,” he added, “get Rogainie into his winter gear; get yours on and brace.”

“For what?”

Yanuk beat Hawle to the response. “You're really asking that?”


Ten minutes passed, in which the Doctor hurriedly fussed Rogan into thick clothes, whether he wanted to get into them or not, and got equipped herself. She could feel the shuttle getting lower and lower as it strove across the tundraesque landscape. “Who lives out here,” she asked her expert, hoping to distract him.

“Loners,” Rogan said, the shake evident in his tone. “A few research stations, one or two minor settlements near mining complexes. Nuunavrick's about...” He looked at the digital display on the monitor that showed the shuttle and the capitol closing towards each other slightly. “About one hundred miles,” he added, swallowing. He decided Barleycorn probably needed him to do something brave now. Something brave like hug her.


“If I was a landing thruster,” Hawle muttered, chewing a clawtipped finger as he scanned the controls, “which one would I be?”

“Just ask,” Yanuk declared, pointing to a control.

“I was about to say that looked like one,” Hawle said, pulling the nose up. He felt himself pushed back into his seat and hoped the others were sat down and strapped in as the former pilot slid across the floor. He pushed the control Yanuk had indicated and felt the ship slow. He just hoped they could get down before the power gave out. They'd cleared a snow hill now and this was the best, flattest, place for miles. He felt they could have done with more slowing time but beggars couldn't be choosers.


The back landing skids engaged and impacted with the semi-frozen water below, cutting deep, long, lines into it as the ship sped along the plateau towards the next ridges. Hawle pushed the nose down. “Something I should tell you, Yanuk,” he said.

“What?”

“OK, ywo things. One. I hate Celica. Two?” he added as the nose came down below level, “the front landing skid is frozen.”

“Oh.”


The nose cracked onto the ground, ploughing into the snow covering and sending snow furrowing over the top of the ship as it bulldozed forward. Hawle only stopped himself going through the screen by being strapped in and the same was true for Yanuk, whose head bounced hard back and fore with every impact.


The ship stopped. Things went black for a second, then the lights came back on. “Yanuk,” Hawle drawled uncertainly. “Yanuk?” He tried again.

“You suck as a pilot,” the Celican replied. “I think I bit my tongue.”

The pair raised their aching heads and looked at the blackened, cracked screen in front of them. “I hope the back door opens,” Hawle remarked, before looking at Yanuk and the long orange ears with black tips that now stood upright on the Celican's head. Hawle blinked as Yanuk looked ashamed. “I'm a Celican,” he declared defiantly. “Even if some don't want me to be.”


ON THE WHITE SIDE

The group looked out over the blank landscape. A gentle wind dusted the snow dunes to the front and left of them as they each got used to the unfamiliar thermal boots that protected their feet from the cold. Doctor Barleycorn and Commander Hawle had also pulled on hooded jackets and gloves to match Yanuks. Rogan, of course, was back in his normal clothing. “Oh for your blood,” Barleycorn joked as he smirked up at her.

“I do get cold, you know,” the cub replied happily. “I might put a jacket on later.”

“Smartypants.”

“I AM Celican,” Rogan admitted, wiggling his posterior for a moment before Hawle came over to them from where he and Yanuk had been burying the pilots in the snow.

“And I'm a Rabbit among three meat eaters,” he said slyly. “We're alone, miles from help and without food...”

“There's stores in the shuttle,” Barleycorn said, indicating the ship behind them.

“...without edible food,” Hawle corrected without pausing, “and I'm probably first.”

“No way,” Rogan quipped, shaking his head. “Too tough and tasteless.”

“What are we going to do, Captain?”

Hawle took stock and looked in the direction the shuttle was pointing. “We go that way,” he said, pointing to one of the steeper hills of snow around them. “Grab what provisions can be carried from the shuttle, would you? I'll keep watch with Yanuk.”

“You're getting on well with that Celican, Barleycorn said with surprise.

“When in a crisis,” Hawle remarked, “anyone who's not an enemy is a friend.”


He crunched back to the cross-breed who he had left watching for enemies. “I'd be a more effective look out if I had a gun,” Yanuk complained.

“Do you know how to use a weapon? Ever fired one?”

“I've shot targets and some non-sentients,” Yanuk said defensively. “I'm sorry I've never killed anyone...”

Hawle put a gloved finger close to the Celican's fac. “NEVER apologise for that to me, yeah? But I've used it in anger so best I keep it, yeah?”

“Suppose.” The thin Celican looked around. “What are our chances?”

“Oh, the best,” Hawle lied. “We've got no communications worth anything out here and no-one knows where we are or that we're missing. Once they work it out the Loper will start looking for us so then things might change. Until then? We need to try and find our own help. Come on,” he added as Rogan and Barleycorn returned from the inside. He relieved the boy of his pack and slung it over his shoulders. “I'll lead,” he declared, starting on ahead.

Yanuk caugh up with him. “You haven't asked...”

“And you've not told.” Hawle snapped back, suddenly feeling on edge. “It's either your mother or father and I hope it was love. Anything else, I don't need to know. No, wait,” he added after a pause, “I DO need to know how you hide them in public.”

“There's a hat movement!” Yanuk called back, raising his voice over the rising wind.

Hawle had to laugh. It was a short, bitter, thing in his throat that shrivelled in the cold. Even under the mask he could feel his nose running. Not a good thing, he reckoned, as he'd need to clean it out regularly or drown in his own mucus. It was some way down in the list of how he wanted to go. Underneath being flayed alive by Tigrons but, curiously, still above a night with the fifty pleasure Does of...

“Captain!” Yanuk snapped, bringing Hawle out of his thoughts some five steps before a sharp, ten foot drop.

“Oh, thanks,” Hawle looked over the drop and, judging it safe, jumped down. He landed in the crisp covering, breaking the surface around his feet.

Yanuk landed beside him, covering the Captain's legs in snow. “If I have the heritage,” he admitted, “I might as well use it. How are the others to get down?”

Hawle looked around and pointed to a slighter incline fifteen paces to their left.


Barleycorn approached the ridge with caution. It still looked too steep to her, especially from up here. The Commander was beckoning to her, imploring her to hurry. She wished she could be as fearless as Rogan had been. He'd seen the slope, lain down and rolled down the slope, laughing as he did so. But she had to keep her clothes intact so... She took a breath and raced down the slope, gathering speed as she closed on the Commander at speed. She tried to slow herself but still cannoned into the Rabbit, bearing him to the ground. “Hello, Commander,” she said lightly as they were almost muzzle to muzzle.

“I've never felt this close to you, Doctor,” Hawle replied, looking up into her masked face. “Now get the heck off me.”

“Of course.” She stood up, pulled a thin towel from her pack and began drying Rogan. “Don't take chances, Rogan,” she complained as he complained about being dried, “we can't afford to have to carry you if you break something.”

“I've rolled down steeper,” the cub protested, doing his best to pull away from the Doctor as Hawle cleared his mask and put it back on before his fur froze.

“OK,” Hawle said loudly, “let's get a move on if we want to survive this!” So saying, he began to lead the way again.


Time passed and the sun dropped towards the horizon at speed. The group had covered several miles and were sat in a tight circle, eating some of the emergency rations from the shuttle and drinking an insta-heat drink each. Hawle had never deigned to try the Carrot juice insta-heat before and really wished he hadn't now as the sour taste squeezed down his throat. At least the thermal pack food was edible, even if the Celican version of a vegetarian meal was a hot salad. It just showed, he supposed, the prevailing attitude here. Intergalactic laws required them to have such an option but there was so little call for it that it wasn't worth their while making different trays.

“Can you hear something,” Yanuk asked.

Rogan cocked his head to listen. “I can't hear anything,” he said.

Hawle could, now that he was listening. A low growling noise of mechanical origin somewhere in the distance. He couldn't quite make out where it came from. And then he could as the snow buggy came into view. Yanuk stood up to call it over but Hawle pulled him back down. “People have been trying to kill us,” he whispered to the Celican. “We need to be smart about this.”

“Rogan!”

At Barleycorn's call, Hawle looked for the cub. He was striding out in front of the buggy. “Bloody hell,” Hawle breathed as the buggy slowed. One thing he did notice was that the rider was wearing Polar survival clothing. And carrying a rifle that he was taking off his shoulder.

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
What a very suspenseful chapter here! Nice job!

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Tue Apr 14, 2015 12:55 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
INTO THE FOXES DEN

Hawle stepped from cover, keeping the Celican hunter covered with his pistol. With the wind beginning to pick up, he hoped his movements would be taken in place of words as he saw the target look from Rogan to him and back to Rogan. He released the gun. And Yanuk swept forward to grab it despite their assailant making a movement towards it. Hawle kept the gun trained and, almost as soon as the Celican had started to react, he stopped, thinking better of it. Hawle stepped forward and put himself in front of Rogan. “Identify yourself,” he called.

“Can I put my hands down?”

“Identify yourself!”

“Sidranna Combern, Scientist,” the rider called back, dismounting from the snowbike. “Utterly harmless and concerned for his well being.”

“You won't be if you come much closer,” Hawle warned. “Do you have a radio?”

The Celican patted himself down. “Well,” he said, “not on me. I have a set at the station.” He shrugged. “Matter of fact it's a transmitter station so, y'know?”


Barleycorn stepped from her cover and across to Yanuk, gently putting a hand on the top of his gun and pointing it down, away from the scientist's head. “Peace at gunpoint,” she said, “is a little like whispering through a megaphone. The two don't go together well.”

Yanuk nodded towards Hawle. “I note you're not trying to take his gun,” he said, coughing slightly as the cold tickled his throat.

“I'm not insane, you know?”

“You're also not coughing,” Yanuk complained, coughing as he did so.

“Rat genes,” Barleycorn surmised, “stronger resistance to things. Or something.”


Groal stepped free and clear from the isolation room and threw up in Professor Jaques' bin. He held tight to the metal frame as his shoulders shuddered, forcing matter, both solid and fluid, to the extraction point.

“Lovely,” Jaques said from the other end of the room. “The final effect of the medicine kicks in five minutes early. Classic.” He indicated the bin. “I'll have to have that incinerated now. Sterilization doesn't completely deal with Celican Chunder, y'know? Probably too much Iron.”

“Doc,” the engineer groaned, “shut up.”

“I am not a Doctor,” the Mouse protested, “I am a Professor. It means I am far smarter. Now, if you've quite finished vomiting?” He indicated the door.

“I need to clean up.”

“Then do it in your own place,” Jaques protested. “You've already contaminated my living room whilst being decontaminated! I'll have to clean every inch! You're not using my bathroom too! I don't have enough tile cleaner.”

“Any, uhhh, news on the Captain?”

“None,” Jaques replied. “Pangal's been in communication with Celica City and Nuunavrick and they're looking for the shuttle but all they seem to agree on is that it's not in either city.”

Groal nodded shakily. “I'm going to go weather-proof one of the shuttles. Got a few ideas from that thing we found.”

“Right, well, be off with you.”

After the Celican left, Jaques voided the atmosphere in his room and refilled it fresh. Then he moved in there and, after sniffing, spritzed it with a floral air freshener.


Pangal was miserable. She had three superior officers on the crew roster and she was in command now as one was missing, one was in the seventh hour of surgery and one was in the brig. She wasn't sure what Hawle would do in such a situation. Then again... “Chappers,” she said, jolting the Human back from whatever void she'd been in, “move us into Low Polar orbit.”

After getting over the jolt of being addressed informally by a senior officer, Chapston complied, using thrusters to push the ship clear of the Celican vessels around them. “Uh, Captain,” she said after a minute, “I think we're being followed.”

“Show me.” The screen shifted to show a light cruiser, the Ratcatcher, following their course. “Keep an eye on her.”

“Will do, sir.”

The troop pushed through the snow laden scenery as the wind began to further whip the land against them. The scientist led the way as Hawle instructed, staying in front of him and his gun. He'd claimed he was only defending himself when he'd pointed his weapon at Rogan. Apparently some of the other stations had reported attacks by Polars and he'd been thinking it was an attack. Hawle wasn't totally sure he believed him. “What's a research station doing up here anyhow?” He asked.

“Immuno-research,” the scientist replied. “His lot,” he said, gesturing to Rogan as he sat on the back of the snow buggy being driven slowly by Doctor Barleycorn, “are immune to several viruses and contagions fatal to us. I'm trying to find out if something in the food cycle is to blame. So I keep this place going,” he added as the small procession entered the compound through a wire gate that Yanuk closed behind them. “I head out and catch the local wildlife and work with that.” He opened the door to the main unit and gestured for them to enter. “I'll sort out some coffee,” he said as the group disencumbered themselves of their cold weather gear and followed him down a passageway.

“Sensitive ears,” Yanuk claimed as Rogan looked up at his still hooded head.

“The comm-unit's in here,” Comberra said, opening a side door. “You lot call out and I'll deal with that coffee.”


Hawle led the way into the room and over to an old vid unit as the others crowded in behind him, hopeful to get messages to their loved ones and officials. He switched the unit on as the door closed behind them. He gave it a few seconds to power up and, when it didn't, he opened the panel to see... nothing. “What..?” He sniffed. “Gas!”

The Doctor pulled at the door. “It's locked!” She protested as she felt the gas taking a grip on her strength. She pulled anyway as Hawle and Yanuk added their strength.


A few minutes later, the door opened and Comberra stepped in over the Doctor. “Of course,” he said to no-one listening, “I didn't find anything so I decided I needed to go to the source.” He hoisted Rogan onto his shoulders and pulled the hood off Yanuk. “I thought so,” he sniffed as the ears fell loose. “Two crossbreeds and a Polar. Just think of what I can learn from your bodies!”

COMING AROUND

Black pitch faded to dark grey, noises swimming sickly in his head as he tried to think of a standard thought. A consideration eluded him as he tried to figure out what that was that was moving. His brain sent a word screaming around his synapses. Finger. Something told him that it was connected to something called a hand and that too could move if he told it to. It refused the command so he concentrated and fired the request again. This time it moved sharply, jumping with something called an arm. He felt the cold - good word that, he thought – floor he seemed to be sitting on and tried to open his gummy eyes. Some improvement, he told himself as things went from grey to fuzzy grey. His head was thumping fit to beat the band... His eyes closed and opened again as he blinked to try to clear them and he recalled the last actions he'd taken. He wasn't cuffed or dead so that was something but... The others. He opened his mouth to call them but what came out was more a strangled groan than anything else. His tongue felt like a loofah.


“So you're back with us,” said a voice from the grey.

His brain stumbled around for an answer and came up with scientist. It was one of those here, wasn't it?

“The others have been up for a little while,” Sidranna admitted. “Mind you, I wanted them awake.” Hawle heard the Celican stand near him and knew he'd bent down to speak to him when his voice sounded louder in his ear. “I study genetic differences,” the scientist confided, “and you've brought me such a trove of information. A Polar I can pull apart and TWO cross-breeds!” He laughed. “Oh, you have no idea the amount of breakthroughs I can make with all the genetics information these troves contain. I mean, your crossed DNA is nothing compared to theirs. Rat genes that have melded with Mican ones to render the immune system nearly invulnerable! The Pinpoint hearing and food absorption of a Rabbit broken apart and rammed back into Celican DNA! Hospitals won't let us harvest the information thanks to council regulations but out here?” He preened, Hawle could hear his mad grin. “And I only came out here to find out the reason for the Polar's resistance to the flu!”

Hawle could swimmingly see his tormentor now, an orange blur in the centre of his sight and tried to kick out without response from his foot or leg.

“After all,” Sidranna continued, as though nothing had happened, “it's not the flora and fauna here that's causing the immunity, is it? Oh, no. It's within them. It's in their coding and in their blood. A natural insulation that filters so much out. Unlocking the code could help so many Celicans and they'd have me to thank! Ooh, the prestige! The respect! The cash!”

OK, Hawle thought, this guy's a monkey in a desert. So far out of his tree it can't be picked up on satellite images. Wait, he added mentally, what 'damaged DNA'? He tried to ask the question but, once again, his mouth wouldn't work properly and it just made sounds.

“I know what you're trying to say,” Sidranna claimed, “and I know he's just a child.” He clapped his hand together once in mock consideration. “I'll just have to learn to live with that. For the information I need I have to go deeper and dig out more information than the Polars have ever let us do. I'm remarkably low on donors out here. The polars like to avoid me too so, you see? I can't afford to pass a chance like this up!”

Hawle could see him clearly now, standing there in a blood streaked surgical apron with flecks of red on his hands and a smile on his face. “Yeeewww...”

“Oh, don't worry, my Captain. Yes, I know you're a Council Captain under all that. More valuable to to me alive and, like I said, with a lot less interest inside, I'd only extracted a few... bone samples from the others right now. Science takes time!” With that, he headed out of the room, laughing.


His legs could pull him up if he tried, but could he actually stay upright? His hands wobbled and shook against the wall as he stood. A store room. He was stuck in a store room. How ridiculous. Still, Hawle thought, the others were dependant on him. He'd led them into this mess so now he had to get them free. The Psycho Celican had taken his guns and locked the door but he'd left the bandolier. Nice of him, Hawle thought. Shame he'd not put a lock pick in it. His epaulettes, however, were pinned in place. The old tailor had insisted on it for some reason. Not the best of lock picks, he considered, but any port in a storm. The lock was an old key lock that wouldn't give out if the power did and there was a chance he could pick it, even if it took a lot of time. He got to work as he swayed.


How long had it been since he'd started, Groal wondered as he worked on his project amid the hustle and bustle of the workplace. He heaved a new panel into place and riveted it on before moving on. Jaques had come through with a formula to closely match the armour of the beast and he'd had Berwick work on synthesising it and baking it onto new plates to cover the fuel lines and engines. It was slow work this time but, if they ever needed it in future... Plus he wanted to keep busy. He needed to keep busy. He needed to do something after so many hours of abject indolence. “The Professor said to give you this,” said a voice down by his feet. He pushed himself out on his trolley and looked up at the Raitchian Fontny as the convict held out a bottle.

“What's in it?”

“Some sort of fluid,” Fontny said, shrugging. “Like anti-freeze or summat is what he said.”

“He took some of the creature's blood,” Groal said, catching the bottle as Fontny instinctively dropped it. “Careful!”

“Sorry.”

“You will be,” Groal muttered. “This is a good back up. Might insulate the fuel from inside.” He hit his comm. “Any more plates coming, Berwick?”

<<We're out of spares, Chief,>> the Mouse replied.

“Right.” He closed the link and opened a new one. “Groal to Pangal,” he said, “Temperature tests begin in five minutes. If successful. We'll be ready in twenty.”

<<Spin it up, Groal,>> Pangal instructed, <<The Captain's down there.>>

“Right.” Groal pushed himself up and headed over to the liquid nitrogen tanks and readied himself to spray the new panels.


Hawle couldn't believe it. His throat was dry, his eyes were sore, his fingers were numb from the attempt but the lock was open. He pushed the door open and stepped free into a passageway. It was dark with a light at the one end and a double door. He could hear sounds from in there. To be more precise he could hear screaming.

FREEDOM FIGHT

Hawle stepped around a cold metal table and ran his finger along it to see recent use and cleanliness. It came clean, telling of several days disuse in the half light. Wherever the screaming had been coming from, he knew this wasn't it. This operation room hadn't been wiped and, insane though he had to be, Sidranna wasn't one to contaminate his 'experiment' like this. There was a computer in here, he noted, and he turned it on to see if he could link to anywhere. The power cranked bleakly into life, flickering onto the screen as rows of green text. He cursed silently as he tried to recall the Celican for 'activate netfold' to get online. What was it? He tried to silence his ears to the cries he could hear again as he put his memories to the task and came up with something that spoke of familiarity. He typed Activate network in and frowned as No response showed up. He tapped his teeth as he thought, screwing his eyes closed as he heard another cry. Time was running out. He tapped in Connect System and and blew a breath as it accepted the command, linking him into the local systems. He tried calling out for assistance but the link was so slow that he couldn't see it going through. It seemed there were drawbacks to being in a place hundreds of miles from anywhere. He gritted his teeth as he heard one more scream. Enough, he decided, was enough. He turned away from the computer and headed towards the door.


Elsewhere the noise was earbleeding but the face mask wearing surgeon still bore the edges of a visible smile as he looked down on Rogan. The boy lay on his chest, manacled to each corner of the bed as Sidranna pulled genetic material from a cut on the boy's back, delving deep into the boy's body with forceps to pull up slivers as Rogan cried and yelled in pain underneath him. “Oh, I DO apologise,” Sidranna said through his blood spackered mask, “but, really speaking, it is a good thing. I have no nurse around to apply anesthetic and, if you're vocal, it means you're not dying yet. Oh, and I'm sorry I started on Yanuk first.” He leaned in closer and pulled the mask down so he could whisper into Rogan's ear and watch the cub flinch. “I really wanted to find out about his leg muscles. Oh, do stop whining. I'm sure he'll walk again someday.”

“Which is more that I can say for you,” declared a strident voice from behind him. Sidranna turned even as Hawle hit him across the face, sending him spilling sideways across the room. The laser scalpel and forceps fell across the floor, marking their passage with a clatter as they hit the floor. The scientist forced himself back up even as the annoyed Captain struck to his stomach. The Celican had more muscle than him, Hawle realised, and sharper natural instincts but there was no training there, no finesse. He had the edge there, but, on sheer power and alertness, the scientist had it and showed it as he charged Hawle.


“We can't be sure how long the new proofing's going to last,” Groal called aloud as brought the lander shuttle in to land next to the half covered airshuttle. The new, carapace styled plating, glistened wetly in the light reflecting off the snow from the landers own lights as they picked out the shell of the craft until the lander was in too low and it extended snow landing struts. “Set the thermal generators around the landing mechanisms,” he instructed. “We don't want those freezing up.”


Thermal clothing protected the Squad engineer and the guards as they headed to investigate the crash. Groal stayed aboard to keep the engine running and the heat up generally. Even here, he was wearing thermals, having chosen to keep the internal temperature in the bare few positive degrees to reduce power wastage. He ran scans on local signals, trying to ping the Commanders comm and working out the local emergency transmitters. It was a principle that any scientific development out here had to have a transmitter that could guide lost locals in as a safety measure. It wasn't one he'd ever want to use but...

<<Grovan to Groal,>> a voice said through the cold.

Groal looked skywards. He supposed the normal away team leader was a good choice for an away team and the Collian had mellowed since Pangal had thrown him in the brig but there was still something grossly annoying about being in a room with him. “Groal here,” he replied, flicking the communicator switch. “Go ahead, Grovan.”

<<Two dead here,>> the officer replied without emotion. <<The Pilot and Co-Pilot, looks like. There's no sign of our missing trio. Heading back.>>

“Negative on that,” Groal replied. “I'll turn the lights on. You need to see if there's any print proof of which way they went. Some may have survived the wind and I can guess but confirming would be smart.”

He heard the grumbling acknowledgement from his supposed superior and enjoyed the feeling it gave him.


Hawle fell against a tray carrying surgical instruments and gasped as a laser scalpel pulsed a hole through his left ear. His hands scrabbled behind him, amongst the scissors and forceps, as the Celican advanced on him and he struggled to rise. He pushed himself upright and twisted around, bringing a Kidney tray around, hard, into Sidranna's mouth. A Tooth dislodged and sailed overhead to skitter on the floor as the scientist's head went sideways and his eye closed. Hawle brought the metal tray back into use, trying to hit the other side of Sidranna's mouth but he only scored a glancing hit as the scientist saw it. He caught Hawle's arm and twisted it to make him drop the weapon and tried to pull the Rabbit closer. Hawle took the opportunity of being pulled in to put a punch into Sidranna's upper chest, grab the scientist's shoulder and throw him bodily into a wall.

The scientist shook his head to clear it as the Captain made to kick him in the back of the legs. But remained upright and dove for the dropped and scattered weaponry. His hand began to close on one of the scissors as Hawle put the boot in heavy to his ribs. He gasped as he swung the blades into Hawle's leg, causing the muffins and cookies Rabbit to yelp with pain and jump away instinctively so he could get up again, despite his cracked and bruised bones. He grinned again as Hawle took up an 'open palm' Martial arts position. Then he frowned as he saw Hawle begin to grin. “What's so funny, Commander?” He asked, tossing the scissors from hand to hand and wincing at how the missing teeth affected his tone.

Hawle continued smiling and turned his wrist to face Sidranna. The scientist saw the attached comm. And the flashing light. Hawle watched the smile drip like blood from the scientists face even before he heard the craft landing outside.


“Do you know the difference between you and me,” Hawle said through broken teeth as he faced the scientist across the medical room. He didn't wait for a reply. “I'm never sent anywhere on my own.” He moved between Sidranna and the boy again, leaving the scientist with a clear exit route that the Celican glanced at suspiciously. “I don't give a stuff about you,” The Commander lied, His ears twisting slightly as he listened for others. “You can escape,” he offered and the scientist bolted for the door, only to be hit by it as Groal opened it from the other side.


The engineer took in the situation at a glance. “What the..?” he glanced from Hawles bloodied face down to the Celican, over to Rogan and back to the Celican as a growl formed in his throat. His skin drew back from his teeth as he snarled. He pulled his fingers into hard curves, with his bone claw tips ready to strike as the unknown newcomer tried to get back up. Groal lashed out, catching the scientist under the jaw and lifting him off his feet. His target curled backwards in the air, crashed heavily back to the floor and lay still. “Wimp,” the engineer spat. “You alright, sir?”

“We need medics,” Hawle replied, leaning on the nearest wall as half his strength sagged from him as he heard Rogan begin to cry.

“We have a medic,” Groal replied, tapping his comm. “Grovan, get the medic in here now. Contact Nuunavrick and get a team here, now.”

<<Teaching me to suck eggs, Engineer” the canine snapped back at him from the shuttle as the guard with the medical kit arrived.

“I think Barleycorn's through there,” Hawle said, gesturing to the other door. “Get... get her up and running and...”

Groal dashed to catch his Captain as the Rabbit slipped floorwards.

---------------------------------------------------------------

“Is he awake yet?” A voice that spoke like treacle oozed into his ears and almost made it into his brain. He could alost make out its sex. Male or Female, he wondered.

“Almost,” said a more physical tone. There was a creaking of springs as the body that owned the voice leaned in over him. “Wake up, you scrawny little git!”

His eyes snapped open and tried to focus. He knew that voice. He knew it well and tried to grin as a blue furred face loomed into view. He tried to form words. “Wha..?”

Raven straightened up and turned to an open mouthed polar Celican. “NOW he's awake, Madame President,” she said.

“R...Raven? How... how long was I out?”

Raven shrugged and winced. “About twelve hours.” The Celican coughed lightly behind her and Raven gave her captain a smile that scared him. “Oh,” she said, “President Gulvey here wants to say something. Back in a mo.”

After his first Officer left, Hawle turned his head slowly towards the other female figure in the room, in front of the gifts someone had brought. Flowers and confections including chocolate stuffed hearts lay all over the cabinet behind the Robe wearing Polar who moved with grace and power into a place where he could more easily see her. “My thanks for delivering my son safely home, Commander,” she said with all the warmth a career politician who lived in minus thirty degrees could muster. “He's up and about, by the way. Your Doctor Barleycorn was able to repair most of the damage that maniac had tried to do.” Only the change of tone on the word 'maniac' told of her mask fracturing here.
“He wants to see you,” she added. “I think he wants the chocolate hearts,” she confessed. “He did buy them, after all.”

Hawle chuckled and felt the pain. “What's my condition?” he asked, feeling his throat rasp under the stress of the words.

“From what I'm told there was a punctured lung, several pulled muscles, some trauma.” She swung her hands into the air. “There's a reason they call us predators, Captain. We're good at killing. We're built for it. Going toe-to-toe with a fully fit Celican, even a scientist? You have more guts than brains.”

“Been said of me a lot,” Hawle grumbled.

“I'm glad of that.” She leaned over and gave him a small lick on the cheek.

He knew it was a thank you but he couldn't quite stop himself from wanting to shudder. He calmed himself by thinking of the bar owner on the ship and he looked up again. “No trouble,” he struggled to say. “What else has... has happened?”

The President considered telling him that the information could wait but a look in his eye told her he wasn't planning to rest until she told him. “Minister Gaggary has been relieved on suspicion of corruption – which will inevitably be unproven in the long run – and his company's stock has plummetted as a result. Rogan's refusing to let your engineer leave his side and I wish that Celican knew what a shower was but I suppose Rogan should learn how to deal with those who don't try to be perfect as much as anyone else. The one called Yaraknan is in a chair for now. Our Doctors can probably get him walking again so the warmzone Celicans will certainly be able to... What? Your face looks like his did when we told him.”

Hawle coughed. “They... they hate crossbreed's down there,” he said, taking several breaths. “Why... why not treat him here? As... as a consulate officer or something?”

The president looked around, as though judging the reactions of the bodyguards she'd brought with her. “I suppose we could...”

The guards moved instinctively, almost pulling their guns free as Raven stepped back in with some vegetable nutrient drinks. “Fifty credits for a couple of drinks,” she complained.

“We don't get much call for it,” the President remarked. “That might change if we let the cross stay.” She closed her eyes. “It's a crisis time, Commander.”

He nodded, slowly and painfully, as he considered it. A government minister involved in corruption and attempted murder and, of course, actual murder. If too much came out it could bring down the entire government in the warmer climate. He had a feeling the Polars would use that to their benefit to try to offset the loss of income from blood sales.

“On the plus side,” Raven said, fighting to open Hawle's drink, “You'll get more tourism if you can make use of Groal's genius. Ow.” After sucking a finger, she popped claws and ripped the top off the drink. “He and Jaques managed to find a way to use that thing to plate the shuttle, offering protection against the cold.”

“That's...” Hawle croaked so Raven let him have some liquid. “That's disgusting,” he finished. “That's how you got down?”

Raven's tail swished. “No,” she said irritably, “I came by the Celican capital. The protection wasn't total and failed upon landing. There's a rather fetching statue of a shuttle out there.”

Hawle laughed. “Criminey, that hurts. Requisition... requisition a new one, will you?” He grinned. “Perhaps the Admiral will let us have one on credit?”

“I can imagine his response to that.”

And so could Hawle.

THE CREW (AND SHIP) WILL RETURN

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Wed Jun 03, 2015 6:42 am
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
So glad that this is a thing again! I like anything that has more Hawle in it!

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Wed Jun 03, 2015 2:42 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
I need to compile this into a single file one day. Haven't read it, plan to, but I haven't. It's just difficult when reading is a side thing for you and your phone insists on refreshing the page and you forget where you were at so you reread the same part over and over again, so you reread the same part over and over again.

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Thu Jun 11, 2015 3:19 am
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
I'll put the new story in here as Hawle will be showing up. But it needs background.

Loper is one of the ships of the Unified Security Council, a multi-racial body that tries to keep the rules in the galaxy. if it's on Celica, Celican rules apply. If on Mica, Mican rules. If in space, the U.S.C. has a big say. In the area known as the 'patch', new colonies are being established. Mican, celican, Canine, Raitchian, Human, they all have their colonies there. So the USC has a presence that was based on Cabbary Space Station with the heavy Battleship Rodomont, commanded by Commander Postain, as it's flagship in the area - and it's only real fighting ship.

The Civilian agency known as the IOC (formerly the Investigations Oversight Commission) has several small bases in the area and a large one on the Mican Colony of Pandera. under Mican Henry Postlethwaite's command, it became an efficient tool.

Then the war happened.

Pirates looking to profit encouraged a war between the U.S.C. and the un-met neighbours in space, the Star Council. The USC poured ships into the area having gained a last minute indication of the pirates intent. Planets were destroyed. The U.S.C. command station on Cabbary was destroyed as was the IOC command on Pandera before the war was brought to an end by a Raitchian fleet and the U.S.C. warship Fauntleroy coming to the Star Council's aid when the Pirates attempted to take their command world.

IOC Pandera currently consists of:-

Command agent Feldar Jones. A Feline/Human cross breed, Jones has human features but all-over Orange fur. He can also make his fingers into razor-sharp claws when he needs to.

Agent Adriette Beran . A Raitchian female who generally operates a 'by the books' approach. She has mellowed recently, following being shot and tracking down her long lost cousin Grayne. She's also adopted a girl called Gelda that she found trying to rob her.

Agent Patcha Karl. A Wolf female prone to extreme violence first and thought as an afterthought. Beautiful and deadly.

Agent Corran Garva. A young canine who doesn't need to be there. He's rich following a major win in the Felis lottery. He's not exactly the computer guy as he's mostly a field agent but, until feldar can convince one to fill the gap left by the murder of Agent Masta during the war? Garva's the guy.

Pandera was badly hit during the war. Even now, a year or so later, the restructuring and rebuilding has barely begun...

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Wed Jun 24, 2015 4:27 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
I really do like how this chapter has come out! Great job!

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
ONE

“That's not exactly a helpful comment, Patcha,” Acting chief Jones said as they looked up at the blank monitor. Around them the command room of IOC Pandera pulsed with activity, analysts, technicians and agents of every stripe, creed, race and fur pattern roamed but here and now it was all about the Human in the corner.

A new arrival in the base, transferred from the Earth World Pasteur colony to make up for the lack of a computing specialist, John Stapleton didn't much want to be here, especially with the reactions he was getting here. He'd qualified from CalTech, hadn't he? OK, it was only a 1.2 but it had still helped him get into the IOC academy, hadn't it? And he'd qualified, hadn't he? So why was he unable to get any respect around here? Was it his fault he wasn't as great as the sainted Kalbanna Masta or Corran Garva? No. And these systems were all primed for... “Got it,” he said, sending the correct information through to the main screen. “Last strain of the virus,” he admitted. “Dealt wi...”

“I lost interest straight after you said virus,” Patcha Karl snapped and he glared at the back of the Wolf female's head. She was worse than Feldar Jones. At least the half human feline was gentle with his scorn. Karl didn't give a toss for feelings or him.


Near nine months ago, the sector had been at war. In the stars above, two vast star empires smacked the hell out of each other and, on the land of Pandera colony, the IOC and the local police had fought a running battle with an insane Pirate commander who sought to prolong the situation. Before being killed elsewhere, the pirate had almost been winning. The old IOC base had been destroyed, Police headquarters had been hit, Agent Masta had been assassinated and two others had been put on long term sick following the struggle and the rebuilding had begun. Agent Corran Garva, a canine of some fortune thanks to a planetary lottery win, had returned from where he'd been temporarily assigned with tales of how Talbary Communal Space station was open for business again as the hub of U.S.C. military operation in the patch following the destruction of Cabbary Station during the war and he'd been drafted.

“Do I need to bite you?” Karl demanded irritably.

“Karl,” Jones warned, glancing at her. “Stop comparing him to Kalbanna. It doesn't help.” He turned his face towards Stapleton, “What can you tell us about her,” he asked politely.

Stapleton still found it a bit odd to look into a furclad human face but did his best to make eye contact with his boss before turning to the screen again. “Uh,” he reported, “She's Gaylen Kole, a Raitchian from, uh, the Farra colony...” He looked at the picture of the grey furred Raitchian on the screen and her lengthy record of larceny, robbery and burglary. “She's, um, thirty-one, and wanted on several worlds for a string of offences, some of which have occurred on U.S.C. property. The Bank on Fowldin space station, for example.”

“How did she rob a bank on a space station and get off there?” Karl demanded of the screen.

“The screen, uh, doesn't know,” Stapleton confessed, avoiding eye contact with the Wolf as her head whipped around to glare at him, her eyes narrowing and her lips pulling back to reveal her teeth. “And, um, nor do we,” he added quickly. “She broke no seals getting in and there are no cameras in the vault. She only seems to select banks that don't record in the vaults.”

“O.K.,” Karl admitted grudgingly, “So the female's cunning. Rats often are...” Karl sniffed and grinned a full seconds before the door opened, revealing a Raitchian female some ten years her senior in a flowery shirt and glasses that she took off to greet her colleagues. “Where's the Mouse,” she asked, “did you misplace him?”


Adriette Beran looked at her colleague and blinked. She blinked again. “I've been out of action for the best part of a year and all you can say is '”where's the \mouse?'”

Karl shifted her gaze. “Well, I'm hardly going to say I missed you, am I?” She gave the tiniest hint of a half smile as Jones scoffed, muttering 'out of action my foot'.

Beran thumbed over her shoulder. “Corp's having an argument with the security guard over his parking spot.”

“He hasn't got one,” Jones announced, turning back to face Adriette. “Nor do you, yet. I didn't know when you were coming back. So when are you back?”

Adriette yawned slightly before answering. She looked over the room, taking in the monitors, people and coffee pots before coming back to the world. “Soon as you'll have us,”

Jones indicated his office. “Not until you're debriefed.”

Beran rolled her eyes and pulled her hands up. “I've been debriefed by the Raitchians, spoken to by the Rabbits, dealt with several council judges...”

“...and told me nothing of Grayne or Gelda. Am I ever going to meet them?”


Adriette wandered past him towards his office, swiggling her hips as she walked and Corp entered behind them. He placed one of the bags on what he hoped was Garva's desk and presented another one to Karl's face. She didn't move so he jiggled it a little until she huffed and snatched the package from him. “Welcome back, Corp,” she said before opening the bag. “Sunglasses?” She looked at the Mican. “Do I look like I wear sunglasses?”

Corp shrugged. “They're a traditional gift after returning from holiday.”

Karl closed the bag. “The Liver yoghurt's appreciated.”

“Figured.” Corp nodded to the picture. “You want a hand?”

“Picking up a bank robber?” She looked at him with annoyance. “Not if both my arms were broke. But I know the regs. I'll take back-up.” She gestured to John as he stood up and armed himself with a 20 shot Pinta-554 energy pistol and a spare power pack. “You're lucky Corran's caught in traffic, Stapleton. You get to face the danger today.”

“Oh, great,” Stapleton said reluctantly as Karl swept from the room. “I guess, uh, I'm driving, then,” he asked thin air.

“Don't be so unhappy,” Corp told him as he looked around for his keys.. “She hates everyone. Even her best friends.”

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Tue Jun 30, 2015 5:19 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Really nice update here! It is really wonderful!

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
5.2

The Car floated over the surface of the road as it pushed its way into the city controlling Panderan City policy and turned left into the suburban route past homes and businesses still being rebuilt after the war. Construction gangs were everywhere, repairing the damage wrought by the Star Council attackers. A Celican team, assisted by the local Mican military, were pulling a wrecked fighter free with three hover cranes taking the weight as the IOC car pushed past.


“Quite a spirit they have here, don't they?” Stapleton said, trying to start a conversation with his travelling companion. Twenty minutes had passed since leaving the IOC base and it had passed without comment. As soon as he'd turned the radio on, Karl had turned it off. Now she was resting her elbow on the door frame with her head resting on the palm.

“What would you rather they do,” she asked as she regarded the situation around them, “lay down and die? People get on. They survive. It's what's done. Just drive us to the Belvedere.”

“It's a bit odd, isn't it?”

“What's odd, Stapleton?” She didn't look at him for his response. She looked out at the dusty, debris laden, streets they were skimming across. She looked at the people and knew herself to be a liar. Their eyes and slumped shoulders told of the dearth of hope these people were feeling. Money was coming in for repairs, sure, but it wasn't getting to these people here, it was getting to the city council and the colonial presidents office, sure, and they were spending it on getting things back up and running but it wasn't getting down to the people. Charities and farms from outside the devastated areas were doing what they could but malnutrition and the associated diseases were rising. They passed by a U.S.C. Council street clinic where a youngster was huddled, crying, on the ground outside, her thin frame giving tell to part of her problem at least.

“She's a smart thief,” Stapleton said with concern, “known for her skill and judgement but she rents a room at the Belvedere? A place that's known for its cost and security?”

“Never underestimate stupidity, Human,” Karl said simply, “it makes you stupid. Or it could be that she wants you to think her stupid. There's a load of reasons, Stapleton.”

“You could always call me John,” he offered as he took a right onto Mainway and lifted the car above the traffic jam that seemed to be a permanent part of the road these days.

“Not really, Stapleton,” She replied, looking down on those around them. “Have you thought of just driving? Oh, look. That construction company has Humans. You should 'hang out' with them. You have so much in common.”

Stapleton shrugged and brought the car in to land by the Belvedere hotel.


Karl got out and sniffed the air. It still had a tang of energy to it even now. It still scorched her eyes, even when she slept. The fallen tower, the crashed homes and crushed people she'd failed to help. Corp had encouraged her to remember she couldn't save everyone and she'd taken comfort in him being a constant but then he'd gone off with Adriette for months on a personal jaunt, leaving her and Garva to mind the shop. And now she was here with one of the 'sore thumb' species, expecting to protect him as she'd failed so many others. She set her mind to the task and slammed the car door rather too sharply after it settled down into a parking space and the tyres took the weight again.

Stapleton looked to the sky through the car roof and wondered what he was doing wrong. Then he stepped out into the fresh air and followed the senior agent, who was actually six years younger than him, up the cracked marble effect steps to the Belvedere.


The pair stepped through a gold pained arch into a deep red carpet and sloughed through, underneath a crystal and diamond chandelier, to the reception area where a tall Mican in a suit looked over at them. “I take it you're here on business?”

“Like I'd lie in an ostentatious craphole like this,” Karl snarled, showing her badge. “IOC agents Karl and Stapleton,” she declared, flipping her pad so it showed a picture of the targetted Raitchian. “Which room?”

“507,” the receptionist replied without looking it up.

“Don't you need to check that,” Stapleton asked, trying to smile.

“She's the only one checked in in the last few days, sir.”

“Ah. OK.”

“You were aware she's a felon,” Stapleton questioned.

The Receptionist nodded. “Oh, indeed. Rentals are down so the current practice is to book them in one night paid in advance and THEN call the authorities.” He held out a keycard. “You'll need this for the room.”

Karl swiped the card before Stapleton could move for it. “Thanks,” she said gruffly, heading into the interior. She looked right, into the mirrored walls of the passage that reflected the gold inlaid walls to her left, and knew a plush cocoon when she saw one. It was the bosses who stayed here, the CEO's and CFO's and billionaire owners, not the workers. The air conditioning pumped warm air in, keeping it at a constant eighteen C and she spotted Stapleton fidgeting with that stupid 'Jack Et' thing again. He pulled at the sleeve again as they stopped by the lifts and waited for their carriage.


A wood panel and metal box pulled up on the other side of a white marble door and the pair stepped in. Stapleton reached for the button but, again, Karl beat him to it.

He looked at her as the door closed and finally asked the question. “Do you have some sort of problem with me?”

“Nope,” Karl replied, not looking him in the eye. “So long as you do everything I tell you and don't die I'm fine with you. Why?”

“You've been treating me like a total number 2 since I've got here.”

Karl's nose wrinkled as she considered that. “I do that,” she admitted whilst pulling her gun ready and checked it before putting it back in the holster. “It doesn't mean I hate you, Hume, it means I don't know you. Are you going to check that weapon?” She nodded to his waist holster and he ran his check on the gun. It was loaded. Good. "And the old slug thrower thing?"

He looked taken aback. "Safe in the car. You... You know about the Mauser?"

"Sometimes you smell like gunpowder." She narrowed her eyes. "DON'T let Jones find out about it. He wouldn't approve."


They stepped out on the required floor and located the door they needed. Karl took herself to the left of the frame with Stapleton to the right. She ducked down, gun in hand, as the human shoved the keycard in the lock and turned the handle. The door opened and Karl twisted her way in, calling out in identification as she went and Stapleton followed her in, twisting the other way up high so they covered as much of the room as possible. No-one there. Karl straightened up. “Search the room. Be careful.” She headed for the bathroom to see what she could find and, looking in the bin, she found fur dye. Midnight Blue Moonlight. She bagged it and continued to search.


Stapleton opened the bedroom door and entered a thickly furnished luxury bedroom with drawers and wardrobe's in solid mahogany – or whatever the local version was – and the bed taking up two thirds of the room. He walked on the white rug, looking for clues. He opened drawers and riffled through the few things he found within, extracting a data crystal from the back of a drawer. Then he moved to the wardrobe, opened it,... and stepped back as he regarded the bomb inside.

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Fri Jul 03, 2015 2:54 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
5.3

“There's a standard response to finding a bomb in a hotel room,” Karl told Stapleton as she examined the squat, grey, box with pipes that sat in the wardrobe for weak points. “And that,” she added, standing upright, “is to do this.” She walked back into the main room, grabbed a few things off the table, and walked out into the passageway. When the rather unsure human joined her, she pulled the fire alarm. “The populace panic when hit by a bomb alarm,” she said over the raucous din, “but they know what to do in a fire.” She pointed to the stairs. “Get down to the lobby! Tell the manager what's happening. I'll work on clearing the floors.”

Four flights, Stapleton thought as he looked at the square loop of stairs going downwards. Still, he told himself, it was all down hill. He set off into the throng of exiting guests.


Corran Garva frowned at the screen. The Collian had been late into work and had walked from his car to the main door and back again to stare at Davidstow's vehicle for a moment so that had made him even later into the bull-pen to shake hands with Corp. They'd greeted before Corran sat down and turned on his computer. Then he'd frowned. “Patcha and John went to arrest someone at the Belvedere, you say,” he asked Corp.

The Mouse stepped over and rested his elbows on Corran's monitor. “Yup,” he said with a slight affected drawl. “Bank robber. Why? What's the flap?”

“They're evacuating the hotel,” Corran said, almost reaching to turn the monitor from under the impinging elbows as he read the incoming emergency reports. “Four scale fire..., No,” he corrected, “a bomb alert.”

Corp sighed. “You go away for a few months and people start bombing hotels. I'll tell the boss.” He looked up to Feldar's office where the catman and the Raitchian were still talking. “Out of interest,” he said to Corran, “is that boy of yours up for a new classmate?”


Corran Garva chuckled bitterly and looked into his empty coffee mug. “He's invisible to tech and slightly telepathic; she's a street rat. The question is 'when she finds out, is the school ready for them'?”

Corp ran through the scenario in his mind and nodded. “We should keep them apart.”


There had been several successful attempts over the last three decades to create super-abilities in people to sell them to nefarious individuals. The principles largely involved torture and brainwashing techniques that made the old soldier shudder. There was a Raitchian in the IOC somewhere with the ability to create sonic shockwaves with her hands and, when they'd taken out the last experiments, here on Pandera, it had been with help from young Quince, who'd used his abilities to escape capture and seek help. The boy hadn't known how to read and write and he wouldn't speak for months, letting his ability to send his voice into other heads do all his talking. Corran had taken the boy on and got him to talk and he was now making friends at school after learning how to read and write with the help of a natural telepath. “You'll have to tell him to keep that under wraps,” he advised.


“Come on, come on!” Karl had an old female Canine in a fireman's lift and was pushing a Rabbit couple towards the stairs as the device continued to threaten lives behind them.

“Such impatience,” the Canine on her shoulder snapped. “I don't even smell any fire!”

“Perhaps your nose needs looking at,” Karl growled as the Rabbitoid in front of her stopped. “What?” She snapped.

The Rabbit lifted his eyes up to hers. “I can't smell anything either.”

“I'm telling you it's there.”

“I don't think there is a fire,” the Rabbit said, standing his ground defiantly. “I think you're trying to trick us and, let me tell you, as the C.E.O of...”

“All right,” Karl growled, shutting him up mid-word as she pulled her badge with her free hand, “the fire declaration was to avoid a panic. The truth, you stupid thing, is that there is a bomb in the hotel. There's no timer so it could go off at any time and bring this ediface to opulence crashing down on our heads.”

“I don't believe you.” The Rabbit stood his ground.


Downstairs Stapleton helped the staff escort the guests out of the building and to the fire points where local police were assisting in keeping everyone calm and safe. Some of the surviving local shops had begun to offer hot drinks on the cold day in the hope of being able to charge the hotel later whilst looking good on TV as reporters started popping up beyond the police cordons and they all looked on the scene. With them now at safety, they were being told the truth on the situation and there has been one or two needing treatment in waiting ambulances as Stapleton helped the last few out and looked to the stairwell as Karl kicked it open and emerged with one female Rabbit hitting her ineffectually, another Rabbit being dragged behind her by his ears and a Canine over her shoulder. She released the Rabbit she was pulling and his ears flopped.

“I'm going to complain to your superior,” the Rabbit complained, pulling himself upright.

“Get knotted,” was Karl's witty reply so Stapleton headed across.

“Agent Karl,” he said, trying to sound official, “why have you released this citizen inside the Hotel? Don't you appreciate the fact that there's an explosive device about to go off?”

“Are you her superior,” the Doe said, “she has been most unpleasant and...”

“Begging your pardon,” Stapleton said with barely disguised impatience as he clasped the Doe by her shoulders and manoeuvred her towards the door, “but we ARE trying to save your skins so if you could save the complaints and assist the Canine lady to the Police line there?” He pointed to the barricade on the left that people were headed for. “Thank you,” he added as the Canine shuffled forward.

“Come along,” the Canine ordered. The Rabbits took an arm each and helped her out as Stapleton watched and Karl approached behind him.

“Quick thinking,” she admitted grudgingly. “But NEVER boss me around again. What are you waiting for?”

“Twenty seconds...” Stapleton said as he watched the final three go. “Good enough. Shall we?”

“Yup.”


The pair burst from the hotel, took the steps three at a time, opened the doors to the car, got in and drove to the right hand barricade. “Let's let the bomb squad handle it,” Karl said.

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Sat Jul 11, 2015 3:18 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Really great job on this chapter! I look forward to more!

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Sat Jul 11, 2015 3:40 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Ta, Dayzee. That last bit was me getting something out of my system. In how many films and cop shows does the untrained officer hero engage in defusing a bomb? And somehow they nearly always succeed. The only two failures i know of are the 'Grab the cat' scene in Lethal Weapon III and the end to SLEDGEHAMMER! series one where Hammer tries to defuse a nuclear bomb. (season two is set five years BEFORE season one.)

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Sat Jul 11, 2015 4:07 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Well it did come out very nice! You could put those other scenes to shame! :mrgreen:

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
5.4

Sirens blared in the mid-morning gloom as the crowds watched on from either end of the street. A single large police van had pulled up inside the perimeter and a group had got out with a camera/disposal drone which was currently hovering it's way up to Gaylen Kole's room to see if it was going to explode. Karl knew how it would go. When it reached the correct floor a precise laser would cut through the glass in precise fashion before the drone could enter. Then it would use the digital grappling hands- precisely controlled by the trooper in the Virtual Reality suit – to open the door and examine the bomb. So predictable, Karl thought, so safe... so what was it doing here anyhow? “This Rat's a thief, not a terrorist,” she said for Stapleton's benefit, “what's she doing bombing her hotel room?”

“I don't know,” Stapleton replied, raising his voice over the general hubbub. “Perhaps she's making a political statement?”

“What, that she hates pretentious guff in over-priced rooms? Something like that gets her nothing. The targets have no financial value unless...” She looked over to the right. Past the crowd of onlookers and at a street side garbage bin. “...unless there's a second device targeted at soft targets!” She ran to a uniformed officer and hauled the female Mican around. “Get on to your compatriots on the other side,” she ordered, “tell them to check every bin and post receptacle in that area for secondary devices!” She turned back to Stapleton and began to say his name but he wasn't there.


It was full of peels and papers and boxes and needles and food and bones and things that were more slime than solid but Stapleton didn't hang around when he got to it; he just put on his thick, special, gloves and plunged his arms in to begin shoveling. He pulled out reams of garbage and hurled them freely onto the street. Lottery tickets flew upwards as week old food slopped around his fingers and he grimaced as the stench of rot and rain drenched cardboard afflicted his senses. He leaned into the bin and gagged as he pulled the last few items free. There was nothing here. It was empty. And he was overbalancing. Falling in until a pair of hands grabbed his belt and pulled him back upright.

“Relax, hume,” Adriette said lightly, “the B team's here.” She looked around. “Not many cops here for a bombing. Find anything whilst dumpster diving?”

“Nothing, ma'am,” Stapleton responded automatically, shaking his head and failing to shift the stink from his nose as Adriette continued looking over the scene.

“I recall a bombing on Raitche,” she said as the drone cut its way through the window high above them and entered the room, “the hotel was less exclusive and about as public and there were a lot more police there. Of course,” she shrugged, “half of them were on the payroll of people who lived in the hotel so they were protecting their own interests but... Hang on.” She pulled up her Comm. “Beran to Chiefy-poo,” she said.

<<Please don't call me that, Beran,>> Feldar's voice replied, coming from her small device. <<What do you want?>>

“Anything else going on around the city at the moment?”

<<A moment...>> Adriette could his claw free fingers tapping away on the keys as he logged fully into the Pandera City Police systems, using his handshake codes to identify himself. <<Oh, hello,>> Jones continued, <<You might be onto something. Apparently someone matching the description of one Karrel Sobra was seen entering an office block on the west side of town.>>

Adriette looked up for a moment as she worked the name through her brain without receiving the ding of recognition. “Who's Sobra?”

<<She's a local hit-Raitchian of growing repute. Three dead on Caldera, two on Tannis and, just last month? The deputy commissioner down in Suberra City. Locals are hot to get this girl.>>

Adriette nodded. She recalled the times Raitchian Special Constables had been shot. How the entire local organisation had concentrated on finding the attackers or killers, almost to the exclusion of everything else. You kill a cop? Expect more. “When was it called in?”

<<About twenty minutes ago. Why?>>

She sighed. “Because it's beyond co-incidence that two of the most wanted Raitchians in the sector are here and occupying the thoughts of so many cops at the same time, don't you think?”


Stapleton watched her work with a quiet admiration. Unlike Karl, who thought fast and reacted faster, Beran seemed to take the measure of things and gather what information she could before acting. She told him she needed a map and he quickly provided one from a paper based A-Z he kept in the car in case Gal-Net ever went down again. She looked it over, pulled a pen and circled their current location before circling the other locations. “You pull police from here to all these locations,” she said rhetorically, “and what do you get?”

“I...”

“I'll tell you,” she continued. “You get virtually no police in this area.” She tapped the map in the clear area near the centre of the picture. She looked at the map. “A lot of galleries, banks, interstellar financial institutes, government buildings. Five hundred and One targets to choose from.” She handed the map back to Stapleton. “Where would you suggest we begin to look?”

Stapleton considered the question. “With... traffic?”

“Go on?”

“Well,” the human continued, his hair beginning to wave in the breeze as people looked up to see what was happening in the room, “what areas are now conspicuously free of traffic? If we find those...”

The ground rocked as smoke, ash and debris rose into the air as a result of several ounces of high explosive positioned in a sensitive spot detonated and destroyed everything around it in a fifteen yard radius and, three miles away, the people watched as the cloud rose into the sky.

Stapleton breathed out and put his hands on the car as others screamed. “For a moment I thought...”

“We all did,” Adriette contributed. “We still might,” she added, looking up. “Time to go, Karl and Corp!” The others looked and nodded as Stapleton got back into his car and waited for his partner.

She slid in and he started the vehicle, lifting it off the ground, before she spoke. “Where was that?”

“Looked like Baynton,” Stapleton advised.

She huffed. “Karl to Control,” she said to her comm after tapping it on, “where was that explosion?”

The response took a moment. When it came through it was one simple, troubling, sentence. <<It's the Presidential compound.>>

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Mon Jul 20, 2015 4:51 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Nice job on the story!

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Ta. Don't worry about the ship we've not seen yet. We will...

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The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

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Tue Jul 21, 2015 1:45 am
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Well, was finally able to read all that, and well it may be a little late... Really incredible job on writing all that Welsh, that's some imagination there. Hope you continue on with this story, looking forward to seeing were this great stuff goes.

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
5.5

Corp Davidstow thumped his horn impatiently as he fought his way through the downtown traffic. The simple fact that he was going against the flow wasn't much of a help here as people had been trying to overtake those fleeing slower than they had been, in vacant lanes, only to find they couldn't get back in at any point so were now fully jammed. Adriette had even jammed the emergency services siren and lights on but cars could only part so far and their progress was inchingly slow compared to some. Stapleton and Karl had zimmed past overhead a few minutes ago, skimmed past a huge lorry, and vanished from view. “I want one of those hover cars,” he said, complaining to Adriette for the third time in five minutes.

“Maybe the next time Jones gets a surplus in the budget,” Adriette responded. The first time she'd said 'I want my feet on the ground'. The second time it had been 'me too'. “It seems Jones had a surplus after saving on the wages and expenses of two agents for the last four months.”

“Huh,” Corp mused, “we did some good after all.” He wound the window down and stuck his head out into the dull wind. “Come on, you lot,” he shouted, “some of us are trying to save the world!” He smacked the horn again and pushed forward a few feet.


The army had been alerted, Karl noticed as they rounded the corner onto the presidential parade and found themselves looking down the barrels of two MK.XIV battle tanks. “It might be an idea to land, Stapleton,” she said with bored abandon, “it seems the army want to be seen doing something.”

Stapleton nodded. “Probably best to land under our own power.” He lowered the craft down to the ground and the guns followed them down. “Not at all intimidating,” he muttered.

“Exactly what it should be if an army's to be any use,” Karl said, helping herself out of the car and standing tall against the Mican Commanding Officer. “Agent Patcha Karl, IOC,” she said in introduction. “What's the situation?”

“The situation,” the Mican replied, craning his neck so he could look Karl straight in the jaw, “is that I'm in charge. I'm Commander Mitchelstowe of the 2nd light armour division and, if you're wishing to help, I suppose I can allow you access to the crime scene.”

“This is a civilian location,” Karl replied, keeping her temper, “I don't need your permission.”

“The president,” Mitchelstowe said, pointing a finger at Karl but keeping it a safe distance from her teeth, “is not a Civilian. He's the local head of the military forces and, therefore, we protect him!”

Karl recalled the first meeting with Davidstow, when he'd been on the personal guard trying to defend Colony President Entwhistle from a killer bodybuilding feline. Now Entwhistle was into his sixteenth year as president with another election coming up in five months. If... “Was he harmed? Entwhistle, I mean?”

“The President,” Mitchelstowe stipulated, “was in a different part of the compound when the attack happened.”

“Did anyone see what happened?”

“Yes, there were... wait a minute,” Mitchelstowe said violently, stopping himself as he paced around, “I'm supposed to be in command here!”

Karl had to fight not to laugh at him as the funny little officer failed to keep his composure.

“And you are,” Stapleton said, thinking the time for diplomacy had arrived. “You're doing a great job but you know specialist investigators need to get to the site fast to start investigating. Asking questions and taking pictures quick, that sort of thing?”

Mitchelstowe gestured wildly with his arms before coming to a decision. “I...Ah, all right!” He turned to his troopers. “Flitwick!” A female Mican trotted over and saluted. He flipped a salute back. “Escort these two around the scene, would you?”

“Sir,” she replied.


Karl, Stapleton and their escort stepped onto the presidential grounds and the Wolf satisfied her curiosity as to the difference between presidential grass and the rest of the world. “Modified grass,” she said.

“Of course ma'am,” Flitwick advised as they headed towards the impact site, “it has to look good for all the tourists.”

“Nothing like a well manicured lawn and a gaping hole for the tourists, eh?” Stapleton asked, keeping his hands behind his back as he strode over the subject of conversation.

“Something like that, sir,” she continued. “It beats guarding the rebuilding gold at Rammington base, that's for sure.” She trotted off the path. “The impact zone's over here.”

“Impact zone?” Karl looked down at the escort. “Not a bomb then?”

“Nope,” the Mican said, skipping slightly as she reached the gravel path and they headed around the corner towards where the impact had happened. Flitwick flashed her ID to the Presidential guard as they started waling through charred bricks and shattered plastic and ceramics. “It was a drone. Small, hard to hit and, even when the anti-aircraft defences shot it from the air, it was a wee bit too close. It hit the guest block.” She allowed herself a smirk. “Blew the Celican ambassador off the khazi, so I heard.”

“Never listen to tittle-tattle, girl,” Karl warned without a smile. “It's usually wrong.” She stooped to examine the remains of the drone. She picked a stick up and used it to turn a piece of wrecked plastic over. “Lightweight, durable but cheap. Pretty much available anywhere.” She nodded over to a quad cannon that had raised itself from the ground automatically. “That what shot it down?”

“It is indeed,” Flitwick confirmed.

“Hmm.”



Garva pulled up the city surveillance network cameras onto the main screen at IOC headquarters and entered his over-ride code of twenty-seven digits to access the high security areas around consulates, embassies and the Presidential complex from the time five minutes prior to the the explosion. He pulled the best angle and pulled it back to get the widest view. He saw the drone approach from a fifth storey camera mounted on the Weather network building. He watched the incoming fire from the gun platform. “Why would anyone want to kill Entwhistle?” He turned, pausing the replay, as Jones spoke from behind him.

“It's all change here in the Patch, Corran,” the Cross-breed mentioned. “New incoming businesses, new colonies, new powerbases and mostly new leaders.” The Chief paused for a moment. “And then there's Entwhistle. A popular president in an unprecedented fourth term. He's also a traditionalist, refusing some changes. Did you know he's personally blocked attempts to form species specific political parties?”

Garva nodded politely. “Good for him. They only create divisions between the races and...”

“Might end with a non-mican in the Presidential Office on a Mican world, yeah? As they both offered funds for rebuilding provisional on that that money fell away. Guess which part got leaked?”

Garva sniffed. He didn't need to guess. He knew. Always guess the rotten. He turned back to what Karl had called him on and followed the drone in. And he watched it dive. “It didn't hit it,” he breathed. “It missed.”

“That thing must be able to prevent guns getting a lock-on,” Jones mused. “It's too small for much damage so...” He growled and slapped his head. “lovely day, Garva! There's two things possible here! The army's all there. The Police are at the bomb sites and the Army are all there. Rammington base must be on Skeleton staff right now.”

“So..?” Garva cursed himself. “That's where the gold is, isn't it?”

Jones nodded tightly. “Too much for any one bank.” The edge of his mouth curled up as he continued talking. “There's billions there, Garva. Billions of credits worth. That's why the army were guarding it.” He made to contact Davidstow but paused. “I'm not sure if that's better of worse than option two.”

“Option Two?”

Jones frowned. “It could be a test run for a much bigger device.”


5.6


One of the few advantages, Corp decided as he fought to turn the car, to being trapped near the end of a massive jam of traffic was that it meant you were close to the end if you had to turn around. Of course there was still trouble, even that way and the IOC car had a five minute slog before hitting the freedom of moderately heavy traffic and he slewed the car around a slower moving truck as Adriette held on tight. He pushed the accelerator down, breaching the local speed laws, as he turned onto the Maddal highway, the primary link between Pandera City and Rammington Base. The car rose a level as the road passed over the main local river into the suburban green belt beyond. “You can slow down, Corp,” Adriette said as her driver undertook a green city car.

“I really can't,” Corp said, gritting his teeth as he stared straight ahead. “If the main division's out and about then Rammington's only defence is a small headquarters division of clerical warriors. Up against a group able to pull off a heist like this? They need us there now.”

“They're trained soldiers Corp,” Adriette protested calmly, keeping her hand tight on the hand grip at the top of the window.

“They were,” Corp corrected, “but HQ division can't keep up to date on their fitness and battle readiness drills, their full time job of running administration won't allow it and besides,” he continued as he pushed the car down the off-ramp to Rammville, “their Commanding Officers are professional managers, not soldiers. They'll have a few real soldiers but...” he sucked in a breath as they headed towards the main gate.


Adriette looked around at the wood and glass homes and decided that she wanted to move here one day. They reminded her of her home on Raitche with the small front gardens on calm, backwater, streets that were visibly untouched by the ravages that had hit the city nearby. Perhaps the cars were less used and the rust growing on the posts in the sports field spoke to the poverty they were feeling but it wasn't as though the children weren't still playing in the field around those posts. In fact, she realised, there were more children than usual. Perhaps their galnet accounts had been frozen? Anyhow it was a picture of tranquillity and even Corp seemed to be calmed by the scene, lessening the pressure on the accelerator as they travelled. They were using the main entrance, not the one that the Army would have used to get to the highway as that had far too many checkpoints to travel through. Any illicit action would come this way, without direct access to any secure areas but it'd be easy enough to blast through if needed and the comms relay was on the housing side. This side. “Karl alerted the Military,” she said, “but she doesn't think Flitwick believed her.”

“Yeah, well,” Corp grumbled, “I remember Flitwick. He's the kind of moron that gives Military Officialdom a bad name. Acts on any orders from above and requires absolute proof before he changes his mind.”

“Can't think for himself,” Adriette mused as they approached the guard post.

“He'd need a warrant to do that,” Corp admitted, powering the window down and showing his pass to the Mican guard. “IOC,” he told the Corporal, “have any large vehicles come through here in the last half hour?”

“Well, uh...” The Corporal said, trying to work out if IOC, a civilian agency attached to the Unified Security Council had any jurisdiction on a Mican Army Base. It took him a few seconds to work out that they were on the same side and respond. “A removals lorry for a new family billet came through twenty minutes back...”

“Where?” Corp withdrew the pass.

“Near the main block. We inspected...”

“Nothing suspicious?”

The sentry shrugged. “Seemed a fair few people for that amount of furniture but...”

“Muster what forces you can,” Corp said quickly, “get them to that lorry!” He stepped on the accelerator and crashed through the barrier as the Sentry called it in.


Corp pulled to a stop near the main block of apartments and parked up near the lorry belonging to 'Pandera City Movers'. He pulled himself out of the car as Adriette exited her side. He walked towards the Raitchian driver who was watching him from the driver's seat. “We got a new one moving in, have we,” he asked conversationally. “Which apartment?”

“Like they'd tell me,” the Raitchian replied, looking down from the cabin at the former soldier. “I'm just the driver. I'm just waiting here for the guys.”


“Don't believe a word of it,” Corp advised as they passed by the open back of the truck and reunited. “The vaults are behind the housing units and...”

Adriette charged Corp into a wall as a blast ripped through the block opposite. “That was close,” she said.

“I think that was the canteen,” he replied, looking into her eyes. “It's another diversion. It's loud and designed to attract attention.” Adriette pulled herself back as he pushed further into the block. “For their escape, probably.” He kept his weapon holstered as Army families ran past, ignoring the rules they'd been trained in. Blocking their way. Making it harder for...


There. Cutting across the corridor and heading for a side exit. A removal crew of Raitchians and Canines pushing hover-loaders. Loaded ones. They pushed through the throng, with Corp gesturing silently to Adriette to confirm his suspicions as the locals thinned out around them. Now, Corp thought. He made his move as a fourth mover headed past, unclipping his holster and drawing his weapon. “IOC! Hands in the air!”


The Canine being threatened, twisted, bringing a gun to bear ineffectually as Corp shot him straight in the upper chest, forcing him to take a step back under the impact. He pulled himself upright again and, understanding the body armour, Corp shot him in the head before someone else returned fire, scorching a line through the air between himself and Adriette as someone screamed behind them. They took cover and fired back at the Mican sniping at them as, outside, the lorry roared into life. The Mican looked panicked as he realized his friends were leaving him behind and he made a break for it, running and shooting as he went.


Adriette took the lead, her more powerful frame eating up the distance between them and slamming the Mican into a wall as Corp made it outside in time to see the lorry move off. He ducked back inside as the heist crew opened fire, energy stitching the wall beside him. He heard the lorry crush his car and winced at the thought of the expenses report to come as soldiers opened fire on the lorry. Their shots reflected off as it gathered speed and crashed through the gatehouse. He sighed and headed back in.


5.7


Beran looked into the well lit interrogation room and tried to judge it's one occupant.as he sat there and fidgeted as best he could when manacled to the desk. The Mican was frightened, that much was obvious. He was also matted with dirt and thin with calloused handpads. He looked up and brought the chip on his front teeth into relief as his blue eyes fixed on the camera. His throat twitched as he swallowed and Beran realised she could follow the effect all the way down to his slightly built main body. She wasn't looking on him as someone she'd use in a heist but as someone who desperately needed a sandwich. His coverall clothes were ill-fitting, as though the smallest he'd found were still half a size too big, and that told her that the removals thing was a total fabrication – at least in his case. Removals operations gave their people clothes that fitted. “What do you make of him,” she asked Davidstow as he watched from beside her.

“Not the sort I'd take as a heavy lifter,” Corp grunted, looking up from the crossword he was filling in.. “And he's not on the systems either, according to Garva. So he's either very good or very new and, being as how he can't shoot straight, I'm going for the latter.”

Adriette turned her head to grin at him. “You'd rather he'd shot me?”

“No,” Corp said with forced grumpiness, “because then I'd be taking on a professional.” He gave her a smile to show that he wasn't being serious.


The door opened into the room and Michealstone entered, striding with purpose across to the chair opposite the prisoner. He slapped a datapad down onto the desk, turned the chair around and sat on it, letting his tail droop free as he leaned on the new front of the chair.

“I wonder how many clichés military intelligence is going to pull out of his butt,” Adriette wondered before remembering Corp's former occupation. “Uh, no offence?”

Corp chuckled as the staring in the room beyond them continued. “None taken, pretty lady,” he said as the door to their left opened and Stapleton stepped in, sipping from a mug of soup.

“They said I could watch,” the Human said apologetically before wondering what he would be apologizing for.

“In you come, Agent,” Adriette commanded. “Shut the door.”


“Let's see,” Michealstone said eventually, reaching for the pad to ostensibly remind himself of the charges against his prisoner, who he'd arranged to be taken off IOC hands by dint of this being his home base with soldiers and guns. “What do we have?” He tutted as he scrolled through the list. “Endangerment of lives, links to two attempted bombings, links to the terrorist attack on the presidential compound, the bombing of the cookhouse here – for which we might have thanked you if it didn't mean we've now all got to make our own lunches – breaking into our vault, the illegal withdrawl of a significant amount of the bullion there and the attempted murder of an IOC agent. The charges are fair piled against you,” Michealstone said, putting the pad back down. “What's your name?”


“What,” Corp muttered absently as he used his stylus to fill in another answer in his crossword, “is a six letter word meaning a legal representative?”


“I want a lawyer,” the Mican said.

“That can be arranged but I need a name to tell them when they get here.”

“I'll tell them when they get here.”

Michealstone leaned in closer. “It's better for you if you co-operate,” he promised, failing to disguise the edge in his voice that promised danger.


“I'll be back in a moment,” Adriette said, taking Stapleton's soup off him as she headed out of the door.


Less than five seconds later, she stepped into the interrogation room. “IOC Agent Adriette Beran has just entered the room,” she said for the record, taking a slight drink from the soup before passing it over to the prisoner. He looked from it to her as Michealstone snarled and demanded to know what she was doing there. “Assisting in the interrogation,” she advised. “It IS a joint investigation, after all. Soup's yours, by the way,” she added, gesturing to the prisoner. “You were, of course, going to feed him,” she asked Michealstone as the prisoner gulped greedily at Stapleton's drink.

“I was going to have him brought something after, yes,” Michealstone said, fury in his eye.

“Why not make that 'after' the time between him giving his name and his lawyer arriving,” Adriette said sweetly. “After all, he is a civilian until proven a terrorist and, thus, is entitled to legal representation, yes?”

Michaelstone stomped to the door and opened it. “A word,” he said sharply. “Now.”


The pair stepped into the passageway and the Army officer pulled the door shut behind him. “What the hell was that, Agent,” he demanded, looking like he was only just restraining himself from hitting her. “How dare you interrupt my interrogation...”

“Your interrogation,” Adriette interrupted, poking a finger toward his muzzle, “wasn't working. You showed the guy the stick and clammed him up so fast you couldn't even get his muffins and cookies name!”

Michealstone threw up his hands. “I've interrogated dozens of soldiers and agents! They all start this way! You should keep out!”

Adriette burned with anger as the Mican Officer stepped away and grasped his arm. “And what you need to realise,” she hissed, “is that this guy is a civilian. They have different sensibilities and moralities. They're not trained in interrogation techniques so they either open up or shut down. You can't torture them for information or get caught denying their rights if you want to ensure a conviction and they know enough to either tell you what you want to know straight away or clam up until someone better qualified to defend their position comes along. Maybe he'd have opened up if you'd brought him food. He's obviously starving.”

With an effort, Michealstone controlled himself, simmeriing down. “You... you're right,” he admitted, “I missed that one and I shouldn't have. If you let me lead the interrogation, you can stand in. Be his 'carrot', so to speak.”

The pair walked back in.


“So who are you,” Michealstone asked.

The prisoner smiled. “Julius Chichester Durham,” he said succinctly, with a new strength to his tone. “Pandera City PD, undercover. Thanks for the soup.”


5.8


<<Is this line secure>>, Police Chief Kerala asked over the video-link. The Rabbit female, the first of her species to hold the rank on Pandera, looked a little haggard after the events of the day. Her shoulders were sagged, the uniform creased and sagged and her left ear tip drooping into her eyeline. She'd been in the post less than a year and Feldar Jones knew this was the first major crisis she'd had to face. The mayor would be in her ear more than he was in Jones' and the pressure was telling.

The IOC chief crossed his arms in front of the huge screen that took up a good quarter of the wall in his office. “It's as secure as we can make it, Chief. Now,” he added, “what's the answer to the question?”

<<The answer, Agent Jones, is complicated by circumstance.>>

Jones sat himself on his desk and hung his feet free as Kerala chose her words <<You've heard of the 'Reclaim the cash' activists?>>

Feldar nodded. It had been a growing thing on the streets these last few months. People living in the ruins of the cities who saw the money being put into the city centres to rebuild the industries there. The home of big business taking priority over the homes of the people, so it seemed. Jones himself subscribed to the trickle-down idea, where successful large corporations setting up in a location boosted the smaller industries around them by increasing the local cash flow but then he wasn't talking from a shattered building over the bodies of his family so what did he know? They were mostly protesters, marching and picketing building sites whilst hacktivists linked to their cause promoted the hiring of higher paid anti-hackers to keep them out of financial systems but he'd been hearing talk that some of them were getting more militant and less open to discussion. The fact that fully a third of the money raised was going to buying and shipping food and building supplies wasn't enough for them. Not nearly enough. “I know of them,” he admitted.

<<I brought Officer Chichester over from Caldera to infiltrate one of the activist cells here. He was born on the colony and raised here so he was perfectly suited. He was assigned to Sergeant Cavill.>>

“Ah,” Feldar nodded, dropping his feet to the floor and standing before casting his eyes down to the pad with the active reports from this morning. Topmost among them was the report into the motor accident that had killed the aforementioned officer. They were still investigating it, chasing down the driver of the other vehicle. “You suspect he might have gone native?”

<<It certainly ranks as a possibility,>> Kerala admitted. She sucked in a breath. <<We need to know what he knows but can we trust him to tell the truth? If he's on our side then he has enough information to put several people away for a long time.>>

“And,” Feldar continued, “if he's on their side, he's probably responsible for the death of at least one officer. Great.” He took a breath to think on things. “We'll keep an eye on him for you if you can talk to the people on Caldera; see what they say about him.”

<<Sounds like a plan. Let's keep each other in the loop.>>


She cut the link from the other end and Feldar looked at the blank screen for a moment before calling in his Collian underling, Corran Garva. “Do we have anything,” he asked.

“Oh, plenty,” the Canine replied, typing away at the chief's computer. “And it's all interesting. For starters,” he continued, bringing up the picture of a grainy street in black and white on the main screen, “this was taken from a security camera outside the Belvedere a few moments before Gaylen Kole was supposed to check in.” He paused the playback as a taxicab drew up and advanced it slowly.

Jones looked at the stop-motion movement and thought absently about a slower paced life. Having time to consider every move had a certain appeal at times but now wasn't one of those times and he drummed his fingers on the wall untilthe figure started getting out of the cab. A slender Raitchian female who, even in the shonky picture, wasn't as matte black as the usual. She looked up to the camera. “That's Gaylen Kole,” he said with more surprise than he had intended.

“Computer match systems say 'Bingo',” Garva agreed. “The thief we're after really was there. Hmm.” He tapped rewind and ran the footage again. “Is it me or is a professional thief making identifying her really easy here?”

“You're guessing she wanted to be seen?”

Feldar looked exasperated. “Corran, I'm not guessing! I never guess!” He circled the desk to his chair and swung the faux leather item out to sit on it. “I know. Look,” he asked, his tone getting more urgent, “what are the chances that this is just a co-incidence? \That Gaylen Kole just happens to show up here now and makes herself known, leading us to a bomb set by impoverished terrorists and where did they get the cash for this anyhow? Bombs and trucks and missiles are a bit out of the budget for people who protest that they can't feed their families!”

“I'd say little to none,” Garva agreed, “especially as we can confirm Karrel Sobra's in the area too. She stuck up a convenience store in the South of the City just after the bomb was found in the hotel. Left the cashier shaken, I can tell you.”

Feldar looked at him as though he'd grown a second head. The chief's eyes widened slightly as he leaned forward over the desk. “She's an assassin, Corran,” he declared with amazement, “she doesn't leave witnesses OR rob convenience stores!” He slapped the pad across the table. “These guys are connected!”

“What if.?” Garva said, thinking whilst pacing the room. “What if they're working together? I mean Sobra, Kole and the local muscle? They've stolen more than enough to make up for any financial outlay a few hundred times over.”

“Possible,” Feldar admitted, making Garva's tail wag at the potential. He looked around at the moving object. “Never play poker, Garva,” he advised. “And find out if there have been any shuttles bought or sold in the last few weeks. Also,” he added, “we need to make sure no 'unscheduled' shuttles leave the planet without being checked. If Sobra and Kole are in this, they'll be looking to leave fast. Does the Council have any ships in orbit or do we need to use local Militia ships?” Feldar hoped they didn't need the locals here. No doubt some of them had been bought off or were disgruntled or, frankly, incompetent at their job. A council ship would be far more efficient and, frankly, better armed.

“Um,” Corran said, consulting his files, “we have two here, apparently,” he said, looking up. “The Rodomont's on patrol here...”

“Good,” Feldar said. He knew the ship. It was the U.S.C. Command ship for the patch; a battered battleship under the command of a battered Canine called Postain. Tough, rough and unpleasant to know, he was one you wanted on your side when you could get him. “Postain's here. Who's the other ship?”

“Uh, a frigate. She's been assigned to bring the new Lappinean ambassador here. A gesture to the Rabbits from the council apparently. She's due on station over the south in a few hours. She's called the Loper.”

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The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

Kilo - 2-8-3-9-10-2-5
Kilo
Leslie – 4-6-4-5-6-9-7
Leslie
David Campbell - 7 – 8 – 9 – 5 – 4 – 4 – 6
Corp Davidstow 6 - 6 - 7 - 3 - 6 - 6 - 5 (reactions 7 Combat 9)


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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Nice job on this chapter! Came along great!

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
5.9

As he strode along the metal decking of the battered battleship, Commander Hawle thought that he wasn't really looking forward to this. He hadn't been looking forward to it in the shuttle from his own ship, he hadn't been looking forward to it whilst getting dressed in his room this morning nor on the trip here. He had a strange feeling that there was no coincidence in the Loper being chosen to bring the ambassador here and he wasn't buying the idea of it being a gesture to the Lappinians. Oh no, he'd not come down in the last shower. He looked around at the people he passed on the way to the Captain's office and did his best to see past the uniforms and notice the people underneath. They seemed just like his people, a little less happy, perhaps, but that could simply be his imagination or the fact that their commander was reputed to have a steel tube up the stick that people said was up his ar...

“Thoughts like that won't win him over, y'know?” The voice pulled him around to see a blue furred Erminian reclining against a door, wearing jeans and a purple tee shirt declaring herself “Sexy and smart – the perfect package” to the whole world. She stepped forward, uncrossing her arms to reveal the small badge that identified her as a telepath. “Jastan Dakari,” she said in greeting. “Telepath and councillor.” She lowered her voice. “It's very easy for me to analyse people,” she admitted, “when I can see all their thoughts. That one you just had is rude. Accurate but rude.”

Hawle, who was pretty sure he'd just been working out the price of coffee in his head but wasn't quite sure now, said nothing about that and tried to change the subject. “Been out here long?”

“Since before the war,” she admitted simply, “and you better go meet the boss.” She turned around, drawing a dart from her pocket. “What's next for me today?” She tossed the dart and Hawle heard it land with a soft thunk in what he hoped was a dartboard. “Ooh,” he heard Dakari say, “Lunch. Three fifty in the morning. About time Lunch came around.”

Three fifty, Hawle thought. And here he was acting like it was Four Ten in the afternoon. Still running on Lappinian time, he reasoned. He'd have to change the clocks when he got back, he supposed as he neared the bridge. He stopped outside the office and pressed the buzzer.

“Enter,” said a voice from inside the room and the Rabbit entered to see the Dog.


Captain Postain looked up from the report he was reading and watched the slim Rabbit enter. The edge of his mouth curled up slightly as his eye narrowed. This wasn't quite what he'd been expecting from all the reports. “Yes?”

The Rabbit stood on the other side of the Oak table and refused to be intimidated as he took in the wood panelling on the wall with pictures of other ships that had borne the name Rodomont. Postain knew the one the Rabbit would linger on. The R.S.C. Rodomont. The automated Canine Defence Force vessel that had developed a fully functioning A.I. A hundred or so years back, killed it's crew before they could sabotage it and taken itself off. They'd found it a few years ago and managed to convince the ship times were different so the ship had taken itself off into deep space to see what was out there. It had said it would report back – someday. Postain watched Hawle and noticed him refuse to be overawed by the room or the Captain himself. It was impressive at least but disappointing in Postain's eyes. “Commander Hawle reporting for duty,” the Rabbit said.

“I know,” Postain said, looking up properly. “Where's the Pirate stuff?”

“On the Loper,” Hawle replied. “I keep it where I can wear it.”

“Good.” Postain stood, using his arms to push himself up so Hawle could see the Rottian musculature moving underneath his uniform before the old warrior stepped around the table and around behind him. “I prefer the new so, as long as you wear that when here, I don't care. Now, you know why you're here?”

Hawle looked at the senior officer as he completed his circuit and stood next to the replication machine. “I was ordered to pass on Admiral Keggin's compliments when I got here,” he admitted, keeping his hands behind his back to keep from fidgeting with them.

“You don't believe that. Tarquilla Tea.” The light from the machine sparkled into life, fizzing into the shape of a white, ceramic, mug with a light blue liquid inside. Postain could feel the Commander's throat moving behind him, as though in concern. “You don't believe you're just passing on compliments,” Postain remarked with a smile. “You've been transferred.”

Hawle's left foot hammered the deckplate once. “May I ask why,” he asked as Postain took his drink back to his seat.

“Simple,” the Captain said, sipping the tea. “there's a little thing about almost starting a Civil War that tickles Admirals in places they'd rather not have tickled. The fact that you did it exposing corruption is just about the only thing that saved your career, Commander. Keeping you on that patrol route was a unanimous no-no from the council military board and I think that's the first unanimous vote that board has ever cast so well done.” He put the cup back down on the table. “So now you're mine.”

“It does seem so.” Hawle frowned, puckering his headfur.

“What,” Postain demanded.

“It's just...” Hawle took a breath. “Don't sector command usually operate from a Space station?”

“The last one was blown up,” Postain grunted. “The new one's under the command of a Civilian officer. I prefer to keep my military command mobile. I presume you have no trouble with that?” He looked up, almost expecting a fight.

Hawle looked straight ahead. “No, sir. Not now it's explained.”

“If you want explanations for everything I expect you to do, Commander, get promoted. Twice. If I order something, you do it. Or I'll break you to the ranks. Understand?”

Hawle nodded slightly. “Aye, sir.”

“As of now, though, I have something else for you.” He swung a monitor Hawle's way and let the Rabbit see the situation on Pandera. “The IOC down there want our eyes open and watching for shuttles and I want a liaison down there on the ground with them. How's your security Chief?”

“Pangal?” Hawle looked down slightly for a moment then returned his gaze to the wall. “Efficient and able to take command but...”

“But?”

“If it's a liaison officer, I might be better off sending someone who knows the comms systems?”

“You have one that isn't your main comms officer?”

“I do.”

“Fair enough. On your head be it, Commander. Dismissed.”


Yup, Hawle thought as he commed through the command for Chapston to head down to the city, that wasn't as bad as he'd feared. It had been worse.

<<Told you,>> said Dakari's voice in his head.


5.10


“Are you sure about this, sir?” Sarah Chapston could hardly credit her ears as she stood in front of her Captain. “Is... iss it something I've done?”

Hawle felt for her She looked hurt, distressed even, if he was reading her face right. With her being Human it was hard to tell sometimes but the tell-tale voice spoke to her discomfort even more than the fact she was clearly fidgeting behind her back. She looked as though she had insects in her britches. “It' not a punishment, Chapston,” he replied, signing his name on a pad to order a thousand fresh chickens for the Celican bar. He'd changed back into his high-booted, double bandoleered, outfit before he'd returned to his office and he felt totally at home again. “And I can handle the helm, thanks for asking. Captain Postain, the mutt in charge, wants to have a liaison officer with the IOC. It's felt – and I agree with the feeling – that you're the best officer for the job. Always approachable, never knowingly flapped, professional and most in need of a night out.” He swung around in his chair. “I added that last bit myself after checking your downtime logs.”

“I'm well under in my time off, sir. I make sure of it.”

Hawle huffed. “I know. In fact,” he added, “the fact that I'm having to explain to you why you're being temporarily reassigned to have some downtime screams as to why it's you needs some. The decision's made. Head down with Officer Galven. He's been owed two days R&R for about as long as you have. See you in a few days at most. Dismissed.”


Hawle waited until she'd left before he checked in with Raven on the command deck. She confirmed there had been nothing on the scanner yet. Nothing leaving the planet since the IOC put the block on. He wondered how long they could keep the interstellar commerce of an entire planet static like this. He felt it wouldn't be long before the protests started and knew that Postain had sent security teams to assist in clearing ships for departure. Already they were gathering up here, the ships that wanted to get down to the planet. His security Chief, Pangal, was running scans and boarding parties over the ships heading for the Southern Continent before allowing them down before their fuel ran out.


Chapston sat in the pilots' seat of her shuttle as Officer Galven ran checks over the vehicle. He stood up and smacked his long, black and white, ears on the roof of the shuttle.

“I AM a competent flier, Galven,” Chapston said sharply as the Security officer checked the luggage compartments.

“Sorry, Ensign,” he replied, facing into a fliptop unit. “I used to work with Captain Postain. When he says everything gets checked he means it.”

“Oh,” Chapstone said, beginning start up procedures, flicking switches and pressing buttons on her touchscreen. “He's one of those, is he?”

Galven chuckled a dry, whispering, laugh. “More like they're one of him.”

“Right,” Chapston remarked, starting the engines. “You may want to sit down unless you want to be one with the bulkhead.” She strapped herself down as he joined her and looked over the panel before strapping himself in likewise.

“Not trusting me with the controls,” he asked, grinning as he indicated his panel; the greyed out board indicating there was no power there.

“Never a need for a side seat driver,” Chapston remarked heavily as the shuttle lifted sharply off the floor of the main bay and hovered some six feet up before the horizontal thrust pushed them both slightly into their seats as they passed through into the main launch zone. They waited as the door sealed behind them and, then, the one in front of them opened, pulling the air out of the zone quickly, sucking the shuttle down and out into the sparkling darkness. The sun lay behind the Loper, casting the ships' shadow across them as Chapston laid in a course for entry that would bring them in for landing at Pandera City Spaceport.

“Can I say you seem unhappy, Sir,” Galven said after a few minutes of watching Chapston concentrate in silence, a time in which the Rabbitoid security officer had drummed an entire opera out in his head and pondered the inconsistencies in the last series of 'Country Down Night Cops' and how the reality program had gone south since the Canine with the pneumatic cleavage who had trouble getting out of the squad car and didn't know much about policing had been posted there. Tourism had gone up in the area, though, and so had the local economy. Now, though, he was bored. Now he was trying his best.

“I'm not happy, Galven,” Chapston replied, “and you can call me Sarah.”

“I don't think I'm comfortable with that, sir.”

“What's your first name?”

“Fayson,” the Rabbit replied automatically.

“Well, Fayson,” Chapston replied, keeping a rein on her temper, as she spoke through gritted teeth, “whilst we're 'on holiday', I'm ordering you to call me Sarah.”

Galven chuckled with more humour this time. “If we're on holiday I don't have to take orders.”

Despite herself, Chapston smiled as she adjusted their entry vector, pitching them down a degree. “On my first holiday after graduating from Uni in Bristol,” she announced, “I got married. The next holiday I found he was cheating on me with the hotel's tennis pro, something I'd been thinking of as he was quite fit but, y'know?” She shrugged. “Found out he weren't the first, neither. Two women and a Feline male.”

“Ow,” Galven winced at the thought.

“Suffice to say that every holiday I've had has been a rolling disaster, yeah? Got so drunk on one occasion that I woke up on a ship headed for the academy.”

Galven laughed. “You signed up drunk and got away with it?”

Chapston put her head down for a moment, then flicked it back. “Wish I could say it was my finest moment,” she said, “but I honestly don't recall!”


An hour passed in which the two talked about nothing and passed over the battle scarred landscape and came in close over the city towards the IOC compound. Then an alert beeped. “Hang on,” Chapston snapped, “we're being targeted!”


5.11


<<This is Pandera IOC to incoming shuttle,>> the voice said from the shuttles' communications system, <<This is currently a high security area; please send your ID code.>> Chapston breathed out in an exaggerated fashion and tapped the code into the system.

<<Okey-Dokie 'Hopper one',>> the voice confirmed, <have a safe landing.>>

“Guess that confirms it,” Chapston said, trying to look as though she'd never thought they'd been in danger.

“Confirms what,” Galven asked, retracting his claws from the seat arm-rests and having to pull one free, popping a fragment of filling free on the tip which he picked off.

“That IOC have anti aircraft defences here.” Chapston brought the shuttle low over the station, past the four mounted cannons and shield generator, and put the shuttle down heavily in the reserve car park.

“Oof,” Galven said as the ship thunked to the ground. “Too much time piloting ships that don't land?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Chapston complained as she flicked the switches off. “Any landing you can walk away from...”


Corran Garva ran the monitors again, watching for any sign of the truck Corp had reported; waiting to see where it went. It wasn't helped by the simple fact that, outside the city, CCTV coverage was wildly sparse with miles between each camera. The thing had definitely gone past junction ten but had never shown at junction nine and it was annoying. He had Corp complaining into his left ear, Jones hovering over his shoulder and Karl on the video-link at the same time as he was watching the streets, pulling up documents and road blueprints and making sure the rooftop guns didn't shoot down a shuttle he'd not been expecting until it was almost on top of them and he quite needed a drink. “Aha,” he said, looking at the road blueprints.

<<What?>> Said Karl and Corp in stereo, making Corran wince.

“Um, well,” Corp said, gathering his wits after the verbal assault, “there's a maintenance access to the road from a storage area about a mile before junction nine. It leads to several abandoned warehouses and...” He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle with his fingers. “It leads to the city too.”


“So they could be anywhere,” Karl snapped angrily, thumping the cars' dashboard as Stapleton kept the car moving through the edges of the city at speed. “Right, Garva, calm down. Send me the location of the city side entrance. I'll take that with Stapleton and Corp can take the other with Adriette and the other Mouseguy.”

“Chichester,” Stapleton muttered, directing the car onto Voldinger Street, a hotchpotch of greyscale brick houses and small scale cafes that had, apparently, once served the best Jevran Stew in the city until a rogue heat seeking missile mistook its' overheating kitchen for a Mican sub orbital fighter and exploded it, the chef, the proprietor and half the street with it. Now they were building again, rebuilding lives. It wouldn't be the same though. War, Stapleton thought bitterly, changed everything and everyone it touched. He could imagine whole groups here, once. Not now, though.
Now they were few and far between, the joys here, whilst the money was spent elsewhere. He could almost understand it, he supposed. The cash resentment had been building, probably for some time...

“We're not flaming social workers,” Karl said irritably. “And they're not working class heroes. They didn't care if anyone was injured by their attacks today so stop thinking of them as Robert Hood types and get us there so I can cut something!” She tapped the satnav hard with her clawtip and sat back, her arms folded, as the Human followed the set course towards the outer edge.

“You do realise they have several miles head start on us, don't you,” Stapleton asked.

“And they have even MORE of an advantage with every passing second! Floor it!” Stapleton rolled his eyes and sped up, pushing the hover vehicle up several feet to get clear road.


He pulled it over a truck and blew the hat off a Lappinean as he banked around a corner close to the target road and blinked as he looked straight at the truck they were searching for.

“HAH,” Karl barked happily, slapping his arm hard, “I told you! Bring us over the trailer!”

Stapleton looked at her as she slipped off her seatbelt. “Oh, you're going to jump out, aren't you?” He rolled his eyes again.

“No-one'll insure me anyway,” Karl admitted before grinning, an action that didn't encourage Stapleton. “I might as well benefit from the situation by being reckless. Close the door would you? It's about to get draughty.” She waited until Stapleton had the car stabilized over the swerving juggernaut and opened the door. The wind whipped into the interior and almost knocked Stapleton's hands off the wheel. The vehicle jerked sharply and Karl fell back against the Human. “Get it under control,” she snapped as she pulled herself back off him.

“Not easy when they're evading pursuit,” Stapleton protested as the truck forced a car off the road, clipping it into a wall. “I'll call that in soon as I do this,” he added, forcing the car back above its target and slightly to the side. He worked to match its speed as he lowed the height slightly.


And then she was gone, throwing herself onto the roof. The impact knocked her off her feet and the Wolf agent scrabbled to grip the top as the wind whipped her fur furiously and the truck swerved hard to the left. She saw the underside of her own vehicle as Stapleton pulled back before she turned herself, muzzle down, to the roof and began pulling herself along. She kept herself low as the vehicle thundered under overhanging lights and swiped a lamp post. Sparks showered around her as metal connected grindingly with metal. She huffed and strained and pulled herself along as police cars tried to overtake. She could see the strobe lights in the cab's wing mirror but couldn't hear the sirens before the lorry pulled across in that direction. Behind the cab now, she made her way over to the one side and gripped onto the bar at the top of the windscreen. With that, she twisted around so she was almost feet down on the bonnet, looking into the cab at two youngsters who barely looked old enough to drive, let alone swipe another car off the road as they were doing now, launching it into a garden where it landed on its roof and skidded to a halt. Keeva growled, feeling the strain on her gripping arm, and used the free arm and hand to draw her gun and point it between the two. The driver, a Canine Cub, pulled the vehicle sharp to the right and almost got his co-conspirator a hole in the head as Karl shot the windscreen, then swung back slightly and put her boot through the damaged windscreen. “You die if I fire again, idiots,” she yelled. “IOC! Stop this thing NOW!”


By the time Stapleton pulled up, Karl had them both on the floor, almost undamaged save for signs of having to pacify the driver. “Joy-riders,” she spat. “Found the truck near the deserted depot and decided to take it for a spin. Look at that.” She looked over at the ambulances and police gathering to treat the wounded and the situation and, as Stapleton turned around, she kicked the driver, taking pleasure in his gasp of pain. “People are probably dead because you wanted a jolly! You stay here, Stapleton,”she declared. “When the locals have their immediate forensics on the lorry, get it back to base so we can take it apart.” She stomped to the hovercar before he could protest and took herself away from the scene before she did worse to the driver.

_________________
The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

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Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:05 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
I was wondering when we would see more from you with this! Nice job!

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Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:41 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
5.12


“A joyrider,” Corp said with obvious distaste in his tone as his car crunched along the gravel track to the warehouses and parked up outside the abandoned guard hut and the closed gate next to it. “Of all the stupid..”

“Don't worry too much about them,” said a voice from the back seat. Julius Chichester 'Chich' Durham, undercover operative of Pandera Police, rubbed his wrists with enthusiasm and rustled amongst the discarded wrappers on the seat. He'd eaten a grainburger, a steak sandwich, three cartons of fast food chips (with salt, vinegar and pepper that had made Beran sneeze when she handed the food back from the self service window) and a thick shake to wash it down. Corp had protested at the stop for refreshments but acquiesced when Beran pointed out Durham probably hadn't eaten in days – apart from the soup. “I'd worry more about what we're going to <urp> find in here.”

“You're the specialist,” Beran muttered, readying her firearm for use by checking its' power pack and grip, “you tell us.” She gestured to the several buildings outside.


Beyond the gate lay a dust car park surrounded on all sides by dilapidated warehouses, left to die silently after the war. Possibly their owners had been killed in those dark days or they had gone bankrupt in the days after, as so many had. Either way, it was strange to see the area so silent, so still and Beran took a moment of contemplation for the lost before stepping out into the suddenly warm day. The silence assaulted her ears and she took some relief in the sound of birdsong in the distance to prove the silence was an honestly natural one. She heard the sounds of car doors closing behind her and turned to face her two compatriots as they ascended from the vehicle. She looked Chich up and down. “Your survival vest doesn't fit,” she told him.

“It was fine the last time I tried it,” the undercover replied, “I might have slimmed a bit since then.” He pulled at the straps to tighten it.

“An ill-fitting belt is next to useless,” Corp admonished, donning his usual long coat and checking that his knife rig was still as operational as it had been that morning.

“I know, I know. Still,” Chich said, pulling his headgear on, “as it's Cupar who had the money, he'll be aiming for my head anyhow.” He stepped over to the guard hut, holding a handpaw out to stop Adriette as she made for the gate. “I wouldn't, pretty lady,” he warned before reaching under the desk and wincing as he twisted his arm searching for a control. He sighed slightly in relief as his arm returned to its' normal angle when he pushed a button and the gates slid open. “Gate still has a pretty powerful charge running through it,” he explained. “Terrorists, partisans and freedom fighters don't want rogue people wandering their bases, even if they are trying to keep a low profile. This way?” He shrugged, “they just peel them off after, strip them of all belongings and throw the body in the river.”

“Why strip them?”

“You can reuse shoes and clothes,” Chich said happily as he stepped through the gate. “You can sell vidlinks, comms, cars, watches… You get pennies to the credit, of course, but money's bread when feeding your kids.” He scooched down by tracks in the dirt. “Definite signs someone's still here,” he said.

Beran nodded. “Tracks go up to the gate,” she said, stealing his thunder, “then come back again. They loaded up the truck here,” she continued, pointing to an area that was more scuffed and dug into, “and took the gold back. You can see where...”

“the heavier tacks cut across the lighter ones, yes.” Chich grinned up at her. “I also got that merit badge when I was a Kit Scout.” He looked around. “Where the heck's Corp gone?”

“Hunting,” Beran advised, taking the safety off her weapon. “Something we need to do.” Cautiously, she followed the tracks back to their point of origin behind one of the warehouses. Any step could be a trap, she knew, and the closer they got the higher the chance but they were in a bare killzone anyhow so what did they have to lose? So she advanced quickly, taking herself closer to the nearest warehouse to use as cover. A flash from one of the far warehouses' cracked and broken windows had her twisting away as a bolt of light energy screeched through the air where she had been standing a few seconds before and she returned fire as she darted for cover.

Behind her, Chich took close cover behind the bare shell of a dead tree; only moving to better cover when he was sure they were more interested in shooting at Beran. He took something from his pocket and, dodging the blasts coming his way, lobbed it towards the firing position, calling out 'Grenade' as he went before throwing himself down to the ground.

Beran looked at the device for a second. It was a lighter and unlikely to…


The lighter exploded against the wall with a blast that blew a jagged hole in the wall and sent the gunners in the building flying, blasted by bricks and debris. The noise reverberated through the area, shaking dust and dirt free all over Beran as she looked agape at the hole. “If Corp was in there I'm gonna kill you, Durham!”

“What?” Durham called back. “No, he won't be there yet! Not if he's good.”

Beran looked on in exasperation. “Where the heck did you get a grenade anyhow? You had explosives on you when we were in the fire fight earlier?”

Durham glowered at her. “Never go undercover without weapons, you know?”

Beran moved forward, carefully watching her surroundings before speeding up until she was near to the impromptu door.

Durham moved in beside her, taking the low angle to the right as they moved into the building. He almost stood up into Beran's lower muzzle as she took the turn to the right too.

“You were supposed to turn left,” Durham protested.

“I always go to the right on entry,” Beran retorted.


The sound of a gunshot from the left spun them both around, pulling their weapons up. A figure fell back and slumped to the ground as Corp appeared. “If you throw grenades without knowing the location of your team again, Durham, I'll kneecap you myself!”

Durham nodded. “So warned.”

“We've got something of a problem,” Corp said. “Find someone alive here. We're going to need them to talk.”

“What for,” Durham asked. He headed across the half shattered beams and posts to the military mouse when Corp beckoned and followed him outside to where a truck stood idling by the river access. “So they've shifted it to boats,” Durham said, “Cupar always did like boats.”

“This Cupar guy got any distinguishing features,” Corp asked, stepping around to the side of the truck.

“Well built, half a tail missing,” Durham said, thinking on the matter, “two scars on the face...”

Corp called him over again. “You'll have to be more specific, I think.”


Durham walked around and looked. It was definitely Cupar there, stretched tight between against the side of the trailer, held up by ropes from each corner. Blood from his corpse dripped to the ground. “Oh, within the automobile,” was all Durham could think of to say.

5.13

The gates to the IOC compound opened and a truck entered as the sun hit the horizon towards the end of the day. Flanked by police vehicles, it parked up besides an unloading bay and, when the escort teams were in place, the ramp to the back was lowered and Patcha Karl strode up to the first mobile cell. She opened it onto a sullen Female Mouse. “Out,” she instructed.

“So you can torture us?” The Mican stared at her. “I prefer passive resistance.” She remained sat.

“Out or I taze you seven ways from Sunday and the others drag you out! I'm not interested in your politics so much as those you were working with,” she leaned in closer to the manacled Mouse, “and I, like them, don't give a flying muffins and cookies about your rights. OUT.” She grabbed the Mican by her shoulders and hauled her upright before throwing her out of the room and shoving her sprawlingly down the ramp to where Chapston and Stapleton both grabbed her to stop her falling over.

She brought the cuffs up into Stapleton's nose and he held it as he felt blood begin to swim down the ruptured passage. “Score one for me,” the Mican said.

“And one for us,” Chapston replied brightly. “You just assaulted a Federal Officer.”

The Mican looked between the two of them in astonishment, her ears folding back and her mouth twitching. “You humans have really infiltrated all levels of government, haven't you? Where's the traitor?”


The 'traitor' was waiting for the occupants of the truck inside, Feldar Jones at his shoulder, in the interrogation room. He had his feet up on the table and was eating a packet of Corn chips as the Mican was brought in. “Allissana,” he said gallantly, offering the packet, “want a chip?”

She said nothing as Chapston led her around the desk to the interrogation side and removed the cuff from her one wrist and applied it to the holding circle on the table. “Get lost… What is your name anyhow?”

“Chichester Durham. Chich'll do.”

She sneered. “That's a Girl's name.”

“What fun.” Durham put his feet down on the floor. “You know why you're here?”

The Mican female relaxed. “So you people can horse-whip me? Brow beat me into telling you everything about our operations, CHICH?” her body language turned hostile as she levered herself over the table towards the undercover agent. “You're getting nothing. All your spying? Your betrayal of people? Nowhere! You got nowhere!” She spat in his face. “You've just helped them take more food from our children! I hope you're proud!”

“Sit.” Feldar spoke and it wasn't an offer but a command that had Allissana obeying as Durham wiped his face. “Here's what we know,” he added from the corner of the room. “Your 'foodbank warriors' allied themselves with a number of off-worlders who claimed to have the same interests as you...”

“No claimed about it, freakshow,” Allissana said to the crossbreed. They come to us to help!”

“To help themselves, Allie,” Durham said slowly, tossing a pad across the table to where she could see it. “That's how we found Cupar.”

Her eyes flicked down to the screen and then back up again. “I don't believe you,” she stated.

“I'm pretty sure even you can tell it wasn't the police that did that to him, Allie.” Durham kept his voice low now, empathising with her as much as he dared to try and gain her trust again. “They tied him to the wheel and tortured him, Allie. Probably for those codes of his he guarded so zealously, remember? He mentioned them once, the...” he clicked his fingers as he tried to remember.

“...the Combinus codes,” Allissana sighed. “I don't know much more than you, traitor but it was something to do with his past job.”

“Which was?”

She shook her head. “he never told me. Never told any of us. We didn't want to know. After all, we knew he was one of us, didn't we?”


Feldar looked up to the camera and, in the room outside, Garva took the hint. He turned from watching the screen to the computer banks and started running Cupar's face through the network. With it coming back empty he expanded the list to defence contractors and came up with a hit in minutes. It didn;'t ease his nerves.


Aboard the Loper, it had long ceased being evening and several members of the senior staff had gone to their beds, leaving Commander Hawle and a few night operatives in charge and even hawle was halfway asleep and dreaming of a Vixen who had been dampening his fear of the species of late whilst he recovered from his escapades on Celica. It wasn't easy as, even when he dreamed of her, a Captain called Postain kept calling at the worst time and asking him for updates on the lack of ships coming his way. It was really quite annoying. And quite boring. The new ship's tailor, a frustratingly happy Shrew called Cleevin, had been the worst thing about this trip, forever trying to change what the previous tailor had constructed for them. They LIKED the clothes, dang it, and they'd liked the old Feline. This little upstart… Well, maybe he'd settle down. Maybe Hawle would put his fist in the fellow's snout or he'd let Raven have a one-on-one tailoring session soon. But probably not.

“Sir?” The Comms officer called him and dragged him out of his half dream.

He blinked and looked up. “What's going on, Cha… uh, Narwenna?”

“We...” the Raitchian looked for the right words as she tried to make heads of the situation on her screen. “We have some ships lifting off from the surface?”

Hawle sat up and pulled the back of his shirt down. “Hail the ship,” he said before realising what Narwenna had said. “Ships?”

“Yes, sir. There's about twenty ships headed our way.”

“What?” Hawle looked a little concerned...

_________________
The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

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Sun Feb 14, 2016 4:58 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Looking great as always! I wanna see more from Hawle though.

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Sun Feb 14, 2016 5:04 pm
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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
5.14

“Could you repeat that, Commander?” Postain sat forward in his chair and looked the ten foot tall visage of Hawle in the face.
<<We have twenty armed fighters headed our way, Captain. We could probably do with some back up. Not so much on the firepower asin we might have...>>

“Trouble stopping so many getting past,” Postain rumbled. “I'm not a moron or one of those desk jockeys you so often meet, Hawle.Launch your fighters. Target all different ships. Do what you can. The Cruiser Shannara will join you shortly. Postain out.”


Without waiting for Hawle to acknowledge, Postain terminated the call and looked to Maxim, his Mican first officer. “Breakout or feint?”

She mused, rubbing her jowls with the backs of her hands as she considered the options, running them over in her mind. “I'd say feint. They're orbital fighters, not capable of going to warp velocities on their own.”

Postain nodded. “What I figured.” He nodded. “Send the message to the Shannara to assist Loper. Select five of the ships to escort them half way around the planet. We'll be escorting them too. If they want a hole, we'll give them one.” He stood up and headed over to the replication machine to get a coffee. He punched in the code and took the drink back to his seat. “Put us on yellow alert.” He took a layer off his drink and grimaced against the bitterness. “About time we got to shoot at someone,” he growled.


“Can't you get those codes to work,” Jones asked as Garva worked at the computer in the IOC command room.

The canine's hands were going as fast as possible over the surface, typing in glyphs and letters, numbers and codes as he tried to get into the fighter systems. “Not so easy, sir,” he told his senior agent. “Whoever used the codes our local terrorists supplied went in locked the doors behind them.” he looked up into the crossbreed's face. “They changed the codes, sir and launched all the ships. All the ones from the Micans will let us do right now is look, not touch.” He looked back to the screen. “I just wish Masta were still here.”

“So do I most days.” Jones sighed, recalling the agent who'd fallen in the early days of the war. “I'll contact Sunderland on the Rodomont, he might have more luck.”

“No!” Garva held a hand up backwards to halt his boss. “I have this, boss. No troubles.” Garva swallowed. He knew he could do this. He knew he was capable. No longer the newbie. No longer the rich kid. He was the smart one. “If they're letting me look-see… I might be able to track where they're coming from and… Yes! It's...” he frowned. “The business district?”

“Lock on,” Jones said, “get Davidstow and Beran on the way.”


Adriette pulled the seat back as she was driving this time and Corp put his seatbelt on before pulling his passenger seat forward. “I am not that much bigger than you, Corp,” Beran protested.

“Seats disagree, Adriette,” He grinned at her. Since that night…. Since they'd found her cousin and a new kid to adopt they'd hardly had any time to themselves, especially on the way back but now, with Gelda in school and Grayne off enjoying the world he had hoped… But no. Straight back to duty. Jones wasn't a hard case like Postlethwaite had been but he wasn't going to allow them to show too much 'togetherness' in the office. So they were back to hiding it from themselves from nine to five and not letting it be too visible at any other time. It was arduous but at least he got to stay close to her.

“Corp,” Adriette said, “stop staring and shut your muffins and cookies door.”

He closed the door and the car powered into life, purring forward out of the gate and into the world.


“Ok,” Hawle said as the flotiila of ships came nearer, “we got any idea as to how many are on those ships?”

“Not a clue, sir,” Science Officer Yayle reported with all the clipped formality of a convict trying to gain favour with the Commander. Hawle couldn't even look at him. He'd killed twenty in that 'accident' on Felis and had been looking at natural life before he'd plea bargained and sold out other corrupt scientists for a life on tag away from Felis. The Admiral had sicced him on Hawle to fill the gap he'd had for a while. It wasn't an easy fit. “They're putting out a scramble field,” Yayle finished.

“Penetrate it, Yayle.”

“Your wish, my command, sir.”

“Don't make me ask twice,” Hawle said, waiting on weapons range as his small force of fighters launched and spread out to intercept as many as they could. “Keep us away from the fighters and stand ready to fire. It should be fish in a barrel.”

“Fish,” Yayle said questioningly, looking around at the magic word. “Oh, I locked on to the scrambler, by the way.” He tapped a ship on his little unit top screen and a ship glowed on the main monitor. “Knock that out with a positron beam and we'll be able to see who's on board...” He tailed off as he saw Hawle tapping his armrest as he rested his jaw on his other hand.

“You could have done the pulse in the time it took you to say that, Yayle,” Hawle said, more into his hand than anywhere else.

“Uh, yes, sir.” Yayle set up the pulse and fired it directly at the targeted ship.


Hawle couldn't see the weapon fire but he could certainly see the effects as ship after ship turned up on his armrest miniscreen. And none had any lifesigns. “They're all running on automatic?”

“Seems so,” Yayle advised, “and they're all armed and...”

The ship shuddered as energy shots sparked against the hull. “Yup,” Hawle said. “Got the idea. Open fire, people.”

5.15

Corp pulled up outside a building in the business district and looked up into the reflection of the setting sun. It rippled from the mirrorglass windows around him in the first section of the city to be reopened. He put a hand over his eyes to shield them from the glare. “Garva got a better lock on these guys yet,” he asked Beran as he heard her exit the vehicle.

Beran sneezed into the sun. “Your guess is as good as mine,” she said before looking over the car at him… and sneezing on the roof. “Better, usually. He's blacked out CCTV though.”

“Bless you,” Corp said, wiping the top of the car with a handkerchief. He pointed at the nearest door. “Eeney, meeny, miney, mo,” he intoned, pointing at each building in turn, “which of you is about to blow?” when he got to 'blow', he randomly pointed at one of the buildings belonging to Maclean Tabar financial. “That one.” He started towards it and stopped by the door as Beran joined him.

“Why this one,” she hissed.

Corp shrugged. “Why not?” He pointed up to the top of the door where two small metal plates touched each other. “The electrocution trap's a giveaway too.”

“Shall we disarm it?”

Corp looked around. “Ah. Shoot the camera, would you,” he said before heading down the way to a Café. He took one of their chairs, as he heard Adriette shoot, brought it back to the scene and hurled it through a window.

“I guess not,” Adriette replied, hauling Corp back behind a pillar. A moment passed before a masked Celican appeared, armed with a general purpose energy rifle. He stepped over to the chair and examined it. Adriette swivelled into the open and fired, her stun shot probably doing more than stun as it impacted the top of the Celican's skull, knocking him down and back to all fours before he slumped forward. “My gun,” she told Corp.

“Only if you get to it first,” Corp said, running for the fallen weapon.



Stapleton waited. He was good at that. He had the capability to calm in these moments before and between the crises and he had a good tactic for the moment. He had a book. Not an electronic pad but a real, old fashioned, book printed on thin plastic sheets. Waterproof and unlikely to suffer a power failure, Stapleton relaxed in the ancient world of 'Pride and Prejudice' and the simple times it represented. No starships, no aliens, no car chases and gun fights. Just a mother trying to set her girls up with men of money and power. OK, he supposed, it's not that different. He turned the page and tried not to pay too much attention to the Wolf rending the carpet as she practically ran up and down the small space. “Why don't you try relaxing,” he asked eventually when he changed pages and saw her still pacing, “read a book?”

“Reading is for the old and wise and I am neither,” Karl snapped

“You do realise you just insulted yourself, right? We're here until needed so relax. Take the weight off your feet and lighten the carpet repair bill?”

Karl slumped herself into a seat and commenced picking carpet fragments from her foot claws.


Corp led the way into the core of the building as he'd grabbed the gun before Beran. She'd compensated herself with two fusion grenades from his pockets and a knife from his ankle holster. Corp had sighed as he saw it and identified it as an Obsidian brigade training blade. Given to last year cadets before they graduated. She tapped Corp on the arm. “Graduate to what,” she asked.

Corp gritted his teeth. He'd hoped she'd not ask that right now. She'd been a Cop, he'd been a soldier. He knew that blade from reputation. “Celican special forces,” he admitted bitterly, waving her back.

Another team had them spotted and Corp pulled himself back before a spot laser flashed past his eyes. It was a pulse just a milly imetre in depth that flashed past without divulging the location of the shooter in open spaces. An assassin weapon. It would have struck home except for Corp's instincts. The same instincts that had once propelled him out of a second storey window because he knew there would be a safe landing below and a bomb behind him. He did try not to think on that one too hard – he'd landed in a shop full of Salt & Vinegar crisps - but it was always useful to have a skill as Beran's arm swept to one side of his head and released the fusion grenade which skittered towards the shooters position on the stairs beforethe hand grabbed Corp's shoulder and hauled him back into cover as the building rocked.


“I'm in,” Garva said happily. “Something knocked their power off-line and I got in.” he frowned. “They're trying to break back through but I'm keeping them… No, I'm not… What?”
A sentence appeared on his screen.


Five hundred miles up, a figure sat, surrounded in darkness, lit only by the faint glow of computers. He wore a reality headset that meant, wherever his body was, his mind wasn't. For Jacob Sunderland, Mican tech specialist on the Rodomont, artificial reality was a way of life more real than reality itself. He was currently in a Western VR-scape where his 'travelling Marshal Sheriff' had moseyed on into town just in time to find the local deputy in a gunfight with varmints trying to get in the back door. So he slammed the door in their faces and took up position guarding the rear. “Corran Garva,” he said, causing his words to appear on Garva's screen, “you deal with the problem in front of you, I'll take the rear!” He fired an anti-viral bullet through the window and killed a batch of enemy code.


Hawle fired again as the ships in front of him seemed to lose power. A ship blew apart under fire. “Hold fire,” he ordered as they local Militia ships stopped moving and just… hung there. “Did someone forget to pay their electric bills?”

“Do we destroy them,” the gunnery officer asked.

“And get a repair bill from the Micans?” Hawle shook his head. “Get teams on all the surviving vessels and turn the muffins and cookies wi-fi off!”


Corp advanced on the smoking crater carefully, weapon raised. “Didn't we need to go upstairs at some point,” he asked as he reached the tangled mass that had once been a stairwell.

“Possib...” Corp spun around as he heard the thunk of hilt to flesh. A ragged looking Celican with a shattered gun stood over Beran's folded form and looked back at him with hate in his eyes. Corp raised the gun. It failed to fire. DNA coded probably, Corp thought as the Celican pulled a large, serrated, blade common to the Obsidians. He threw the rifle away as the Celican advanced on him and straightened his arms to activate his knife rig. Blades appeared in both his hands.


5.16


The Celican stepped slightly inward, watching Corp's eyes as he wavered amongst the dirt and dust. He knew Corp was sizing him up, looking at the scratches and wounds from the Grenade that had shredded his combat armour. He could also tell Corp was analysing his battle stance so he shifted it to a Canine configuration to confuse the intent as Corp brought his arms up to cross his knives slightly. He'd shifted to a defensive stance, the Celican knew, inviting the first blow in. The hunter could threaten the fallen but, no, there wasn't any honour in that – nor, indeed, in any of this endeavour. He shifted his foot position and watched Corp deliberately react into a slightly incorrect position. A wily one, this Mouse. The soldier stepped in and aimed a swipe with almost no force that Corp turned aside easily with his right hand blade, allowing the Mouse to swipe at the Celicans' upper leg with his left blade. It was a blow easily evaded by the simple action of stepping back. He left it a little late though, his senses still a little off thanks to the explosion, and Corps' blade trimmed his trousers lining before he shifted his weight, dropped back and down and caught Corp a glancing blow to the leg with his left foot.


Corp rolled with the blow, twisting around to lessen the impact, and returned to sure footing at the same time as the soldier. He wasn't a bad fighter, this Celican, and Corp appreciated a good challenge but here, in a devastated office building, wasn't his chosen spot. The Celican was wounded, he knew, but not seriously enough to make victory easy. The last time he'd fought a fully fit one he'd barely survived and he had no inclination to go through that again. He stepped into the fight again, feigning a low blow, then striking high as the Celican reacted. Corp still scored a ripping blow on the Celican's cheek, tearing a path from the jowl to the ear as the Celican reversed his move, splitting the stitching on Corps' coat and digging a few inches into his stomach fur and flesh. No words passed between the two of them as they began circling again, the Celican tossing his blade from hand to hand.


Chapston sat next to Stapleton as he watched Chich engage in verbal badinage with his one-time friend in the interrogation room. Neither of them seemed to be sure how the confrontation was going now, with the Cupar connection that had united them for a short time now blowing in the wind. She'd clammed up again and Chapston turned to her fellow Human. “Where you from,” she asked pleasantly.

Stapleton smiled, turning up the left corner of his mouth. “Little place called Earth. You might have heard of it?”

“Once or twice,” she joked back. “Whereabouts, I meant, Clothead.”

“Well,” Stapleton admitted, “when I say 'Earth', I really mean Pasteur Colony.”

Chapston tutted and crossed her arms. “And there goes one of the few things we had in common. I was hoping we might have known some similar people at University or something.”

Stapleton considered it for a moment, sucking his pen as he thought. “Nah. But we might have known some of the same people at bars.”


In the days since teleporters had become commonplace, the leading universities had come up with an interesting use for them. The student unions of the top hundred universities had all compiled a list of the best student bars in their areas and they tended to visit different ones in different cities across the world every Thursday night, increasing international co-operation and getting blitzed regularly like only students can when they have class in the morning. Stapleton had visited Bristol when the University there had squeaked into the top one hundred. New cities were always great to check out. He'd been arrested in Brisbane once and spent the night in custody, only just getting back to Pasadena for the first lecture without his breakfast. Good times.

“Where's your partner,” Chapman said, bringing him back down to Earth...uh, Pandera.

Stapleton looked around, almost as though he expected Agent Karl to come now that her name had been mentioned. “Oh, she said she was going to the toilet.” He looked at his watch. “That was seven minutes back.”


Corp tightened his grip on his left knife to counter the pain of the torn flesh down his arm and across his flank as he brought a diagonal blow across the chest at 45 degrees upwards with his right knife whilst he used his left to intercept the deadly fighting knife, sliding blade against blade until the larger blade his his hilt and stopped. The Celican twisted the knife down, cutting the back of Corp's fingers even as Corp's other blade cut deep across him, barely missing the vital arteries in his abdomen on it's path. He knew the Celican would have to hold himself in now and his was the advantage. He didn't say anything as he circled back around for the attack again.


The Celican's eyes were swimming slightly from a cut above the left ridge and he saw Corp in varying shades of red. The Mouse had lost more of it down the left side, it seemed, with the serrated arm being one of the worst wounds. If only he'd been able to score a deeper hit on that right leg. But there wasn't much point to wishes. He feinted a straight blow and twisted into a low kick as Corp moved to block the first blow. The mouse clattered down to the floor but the Celican struggled to take advantage with his injuries and slipped on the blood on the floor., losing his grip on his knife as he put a hand out to stop him falling to the ground. Corp pulled himself up and, as the Celican tried to force himself back up to his feet, Corp switched his grip to an 'icepick' grip and brought the blade down into the Celicans' back, right down to the hilt. The Celican pitched forward to the floor and lay still.

A voice swore at him from behind and Corp turned to face a new opponent. This one had full armour and looked unharmed. Corp sighed and forced himself back into his stance, bloodied knives ready.


An explosion behind him almost made him jump and he heard something whistle past his ear before the armour faceplate of the Celican split into pieces around a circular mark, then fell apart to reveal a similar hole in his head. Corp turned as the soldier dropped to the floor and glared at Patcha Karl as she pulled down the old fashioned pistol.

She shrugged. “What?” She indicated the gun. “Anti-energy armour is lousy against slug throwers, everyone knows that!” She headed past as Beran began to come around. “Ambulance is coming,” she said, leaping to the still standing framework of the stairs and using that to get up to the second level as corp took the combat knife from his opponent. “Why,” he wondered, “are Celican special forces robbing the Panderan treasury?” Then he dropped to his knees and Beran moved to support him.

_________________
The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

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Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
PATCHA VS THE WORLD (17)

Patcha Karl had broken several speed rules on her way to the building but, quite frankly, the traffic cops could go hang and it had been quicker to annoy the heck out of them than it would have been to ask their help. She could hear their arriving sirens even as she made her way through the second floor without making a sound. Somewhere up here was something she needed to hit, apparently, if Garva was to be believed. She trusted him, she did, but he was sometimes fooled into unthinking action by his own enthusiasm. They'd wasted time before but the action here seemed to indicate this was the right place. She sniffed and scented nothing over the blood from below. Scent dampers, she reasoned. Great. She listened, straining her ears to hear the slightest sound. Someone was breathing to her left so she headed that way quietly, keeping to the door frames. She sliced to the side of a doorway as she sensed someone approaching. She flexed her fingers and brought them straight up into the unprotected area under the muzzle in a one strike kill blow through the skin. She held the corpse up before shifting it around to the wall and sitting it down quietly, removing the Celican's headset to listen in on their radio. They were talking about combat positions and how the mission seemed to be going south. Apparently someone called Hawle was taking back the ships they'd stolen or something. Apparently they knew of him before and they weren't complimentary. And then there was the trouble with the local cops downstairs but at least the flatfoots had blown up the stairs so they could bed in. Karl heard someone hiss at them to be silent as she slid along the wall into the first of a row of offices. She kept low, her slug thrower ready for action as she made sure the room was empty. Someone in her radio ear whispered that he couldn't believe the local Detective had killed Javelin. The same, official, voice told them to shut up. Then he asked Krashkart for an update. When there was no reply he called again. Karl guessed she knew who 'Krashkart' was and opened a line. “I'm coming for you,” was all she said. And then she took a combat position as the radio lines went silent.


Beran had just got back to her feet when four of Pandera City's finest police arrived and she staggered as she showed them her identification and told them to get the ambulance immediately. One of the officers radioed it in and another began triage on Corp with the small medical kit she carried. The other kept watch as Beran woozed around the area. “You OK, Agent Beran,” he asked, glancing back at her as she shook her head.

“No,” she replied, “but I will be if he survives. He… he was, um, wounded a few… few months back,” she said, recalling an escapade from when he'd helped her find her cousin. “Tortured, even. I… He...”

She stopped as the paramedics came in and took over from the police officer.

“Who drilled this one,” the officer questioned again.

Beran battled the cobwebs back and came to take a look as the medics stabilized Corp. “Looks like an old human weapon,” she said with admiration. “If there is then there should be… yes.” She stepped over to a squashed piece of red metal and picked it up. “A solid slug, I think they call them.” She thought. “We've, um, got a human at the, uh, base here. I wonder if, um, he um...” She drawled off.

“OK,” one of the paramedics said, taking her arm, “You're coming with me. Reckon you've got concussion.”

“We'll handle it from here,” the police officer nearest the shattered stairs consoled. Even so, he hoped he had back-up coming.


Feldar Jones could hardly credit what he was hearing from John Stapleton. He smacked his hands down on his desk. “A Mauser?” he said incredulously.

Stapleton kept his eyes low with embarrassment. He couldn't look Jones in the eyes right now. “It's a… relic my father gave me. A gu...”

“I KNOW WHAT A MAUSER IS!” Jones fought to control himself and moved one hand to his temple. “What I DON'T know,” he continued, almost keeping his temper as his hands flexed to claws and the one holding the desk scored deep into it, “is why you were keeping an undisclosed firearm in your car!”

“It seemed the safest place for, um, it,” Stapleton mumbled.

“Safest place?” Jones raised an eye ridge. “The safest place for the gun was in your locker… With the ammunition on Earth! Now Karl's offbase with an unauthorised weapon and the only reason you tell me is she's stolen your car? She doesn't even have a licence! She crashed the simulator last time!” He paused whilst the first report from the scene came in. “And now she's used it,” he breathed before looking at the report again. “Anti-energy armour? What the sod?” He indicated that Stapleton should come around to join him. “You're not in the clear, by the way,” he continued. “Two weeks without pay and she stole your car because you always park next to the door.” He indicated the screen. “What do you make of this, Stapleton?”

The human leaned in and peered at the display, showing Karl's victim. “Celicans are getting everywhere,” he said.

“Their banks are contributing massively to the reclamation,” Jones said, “so they're entitled to be. No, what I'm referring to is the armour.”

Stapleton looked closer. “That's top of the line,” he said. “Available only to...”

“Celican special forces,” Jones finished, standing up. “And, since we've had the planet on lock-down since the attacks, they've been here all the time.” He growled at the screen and smacked his comm. “Garva! Get me the Rodomont and the President's office! In that order!”


Karl knew they were coming closer. They had the upper hand, of course. They had three against her one. They had machine lasers and she had this antiquated , thunder-loud, slug thrower and her pistol which would do bupkis against energy armour. She'd shifted position out into the corridor by necessity and had taken cover behind a snack machine. From here she could see down the passage by glancing around. She pulled her head back quickly as a shot blazed past and threw her energy pistol overarm towards the scene. It ran through the charge cycle she'd programmed into it and exploded in the doorway as she ran towards it, using the distraction to get into the room. She fired a shot on entry, almost shooting her own hand off before she took a shot across her arm. She vaulted their cover as they drew their blades and put a bullet into one's stomach then head before she blocked the other's incoming knife with her arm. She felt it cut deep before she pulled her other arm around and cracked the ancient gun into the jaw of her other opponent. He lurched back slightly and Karl knew it was a trap. Two of them, she reasoned. Where was the third? The living opponent ran from the desk and Karl knew. He came out of another office and lifted a rocket launcher to his shoulder. She ran as he fired on the desk.

18

The missile was faster than her but not as desperate as she launched herself towards the pot plant in the corner of the room, about a second ahead of half a million creds of explosive that rushed towards the desk she'd just left. She landed on her arms and stomach as it his the wooden structure. Instead of exploding, the projectile burst through the weak shield and jetted towards the window as Karl began to force herself around to face her assailant. She could just see the fire from the missile's tail amongst the expanding ring of splinters as the missile skrashed through the window and struck the building opposite as Karl fought the pain of her stunned arms to bring her borrowed automatic to bear. She took a shot but the Celican had moved out of the doorway and back along the passage. Karl had to move and she tried getting up. It wasn't easy and a glance at her side and feet told her why. She had shards of desk cutting deep into her legs and feet. She grimaced, gripped the worst one in the sole of her foot and pulled it out. She yelped at the pain and pulled the other one out, looking at the shining red on the wood before throwing it away. She could stand on the foot again. With pain but, heck, pain was her life. She limped a little but she could catch a Celican on her worst day. She pulled back as she got to the door. muffins and cookies her ego, she thought as energy spacked past her head. She was pinned. “So you know,” she called, “I'm IOC.”

“Really,” the voice replied, “you're a Wolf on Pandera and you don't think I KNOW you're Patcha Karl? What the heck does this have to do with IOC anyhow?”

“You launch terror strikes on this city and you wonder why we're involved?” Karl edged closer to the door. “You're some kinda cracked, pal.”

“Not I,” the voice said. “This isn't as simple as you think, agent. You look back to your first line of investigation. We're secondary.”

“Not right now you're not,” Karl replied. Was it getting colder in here, she wondered.

“I will be in a minute,” he laughed and Karl heard a click and hum.


“The Celican ambassador was been summoned to the president's compound to answer a few things,” Jones said as Karl sat on a stretcher having splinters removed from her leg by a paramedic.

“Ow,” Karl said as the Mican medic removed a lengthy sliver from her thigh. “What the hell were they doing here?”

“Apparently there's some sort of arrests taking place on Celica,” Jones grinned. “The banks got wind of the heist apparently. “

“They – OW! Careful, medic or you'll need some spacking attention yourself, got it? They didn't tell us? Why not?”

Behind them, Adriette sighed and stood up. “It's an almighty fraud, Patcha,” she explained. “The banks are stretching themselves financing this reclamation here. They hear someone's after the money so they make a plan. Hire troops to infiltrate the thieves with an offer of help and steal the money back. Then they collect on the insurance from the Mican government – who guaranteed security for their cash – and then, after gaining better terms, they say they can loan the Panderan reclamation the same amount.”

“What sort of terms?”

“Oh,” Beran breezed, waving a hand, “better interest, more influence over how it;'s spent. That sort of thing.”

“I have to cut this one out,” the Paramedic said nervously. “Pleasedon'tkillme!”

Karl growled. “Not this time, Mouse.” She looked up at Jones. “Not a chance the Celican government didn't know,” she snapped, “the Military elite can't just do a mission like this without their...” She growled as the medic used a scalpel to cut a three inch line in her leg to get at a deep splinter. “Permission,” she finished with hate in her tone.

“Try proving it,” Jones said with a shrug. “We can't. The Celican's are in a bit of disarray right now. The government's not as 'on the ball' as it was thanks to several ministers being implicated in a high ranking kidnap plot recently. Things are… 'slipping through the cracks'. Officially, that is.”

“So what now?”


“I got to thinking,” Chapston said, facing Allissana over the table and relaxing whilst Chich walked behind her, “that, if the Celicans were helping you get the money out… At least one, I suppose, infiltrated your lot, yeah?”

Allissana mumbled.

“I'll take that as a yes, I suppose,” the human said. “Well, if they were helping with the out, the original pair we were looking for might just be on the planet too?” She pushed the pictures of Gaylen Kole and Karrel Sobra, the bank robber and bomber pair that had been seen just that morning. “Have you seen these two around? This one's responsible for a number of high profit bank robberies around the cosmos. High profit for her pocket, I mean, not any local concern. This 'un's a killer,” she continued, tapping Sobra's picture. “She's killed a fair few and bombs are her speciality.” Chapston sat back. “You reckon this city could do with more bombs?”

Allissana sighed. “They came to us with the offer of help. They'd help us plan the theft and then, on the day, they'd pull your lot about all over the place so we could run the heist.” She looked utterly downcast, her hands behind her head. “They screwed us over completely, didn't they?”


Garva called Jones a moment or so later and the Chief took the call on the paw free system in his car as he closed in on the base again. “So she confirms Kole and Sobra are here?”

<<Yes, sir,>> Garva replied. <<Um, if you don't mind me saying, this doesn't sound like something Sobra would normally be involved in. I mean… She's a bomb expert, sir.>>

“And the plan didn't involve bombs, I know. Hmm,” Jones mused. “You're right. Something still doesn't scan true. Some...” He pulled his car around and put his foot down. “Get Commander Mitchelstowe on the horn! Tell him the danger's not over! The Celican's are practically in civil war mode right now and their Ambassador's in with the President! They blew a hole in the compound earlier remember? It wasn't an attack then… But it is now! Get his forces back there and get Beran on her way!”

19

“Are you telling me it was a giant con job?” President Entwhistle demanded of the Celican ambassador as they sat in his Valnawood panelled office, sipping Lappinean Rum from small, square, glasses under the unseeing gaze of several former presidents in frames. The matter had already been discussed by lower functionaries in the preceding hour but now was time for the 'big boys' to talk. And so they were, in comfortable armchairs with both of them having a guard stood at their side, listening to the conversation but not interacting. The lightness of Entwhistle's tone belied the anger he was currently feeling as he talked with his nearest ranking Celican. Right now he didn't trust the Celican's as far as he could throw him but, still, the old politician had to be politic.

“Oh, I am afraid I have to admit that,” Ambassador Cerix said, looking resplendent in a red velvet jacket, white frilled shirt and cream trousers as he sat back in the high armchair and lifted his purple drink up in one hand. The glint of humour in his eye, hidden from Entwhistle's view by the glass, wasn't reflected in his tone of voice as he spoke. “The bounders – for want of a more impolite term – have been caught. Our police service moved as fast as they could.” He took a sip of the drink. “The '94? One of their better years.”

“Yes,” Entwhistle agreed, “a present from the Lapas ambassador. I shall want them extradited, by the way.”

Cerix thought about making a joke as to why Entwhistle would want the Lappineans extradited but wisely held it in. “I imagine that can be arranged.”

Entwhistle stood, his five foot three, aging, frame refusing to intimidate the erudite Celican hunter. “The crimes were commited here on Pandera,” he warned.

“But organised on Celica,” Cerix replied smoothly. He paused for a moment before sucking his teeth and continuing. “Our judiciary would be... reluctant to contemplate a terminal end to its relationship with such prominent members of the Celican heirarchy.” He crossed his legs, allowing Entwhistle to see the black and white leather shoes he was wearing.

Entwhistle thought he wore a lot of clothes for a Celican. A few years ago it would have been inconceivable to see a high ranker in so much clothing but now..? “They'd like the death penalty dropped, I take it?”

“They wouldn't like to be seen to be influencing local procedure but I was given to understanding that there was serious consideration to that punishment being meted out for fraud on this scale.”

“Austerity measures, Ambassador. Of course, I'll have to give my people something or someone.”

“Now we come to the numbers,” Cerix smiled. “The prey of all hunts. If things can be kept… civil, shall we say? Some tried here, some tried on Celica… splitting the trial costs...”

“To which Celica will contribute...”

“Agreed but don't push it… then I suppose we both get much of what we want, even if we cannot get everything and lose...”


His reverie was interrupted by the room rocking and shaking, several of the paintings coming down off the wall and their frames splintering as they impacted the floor. The glass in the picture frames spider-webbed out from the points of impact even as the office main windows stood resolute. The doors shook heavily against the walls that trapped them in. A crack appeared in one as the frame began to buckle, the weight of the wall having slipped onto it, jamming the door shut by its sheer weight as the lights went out.


“Looks like they've started,” Stapleton told Karl after he ran up the road towards her. “You owe me fifteen credits for the taxi,” he huffed as he put his hands on his knees.

“You needed the lesson,” Karl told him without looking at him. “Fifteen credit value.” She cast her eye over the situation as Stapleton handed her her usual gun. He left his hand out.

“What?” She asked.

“My Mauser?”

“Oh, that. It's not an official weapon. You can have it back when we're not on an op.” She started towards the devastation.


It had gone off inside the outhouse building that had been drone-bombed a day or so before and Karl had an inkling as to what had happened. There had been so many of varied races helping in the clean up that it would have been fairly easy for someone to have played the role of a rescue tech or a bomb tech and hidden it somewhere useful. Now the locals were back in action but there was something else bothering her. Weren't Jones and Beran supposed to be here?


Beran coughed as the dust fell and Jones looked up at her from his position in the flowerbed he'd been thrown into when part of the nearby building had exploded. He tried to get his bearing as the soldier who had been taking them inside groaned and pulled himself up.

“Still think they won't believe us,” Beran asked, her voice sounding like reverberating gravel in the guards' ears as the stunned silence was broken by the ringing of alarms.


Troops ran to the fore, surrounding them but lowering their weapons when the escort guard gestured for them to be lowered and Jones pulled himself unsteadily to his feet. He put one hand on his knees and held the other out to show his credentials. He could taste blood in his mouth and he wasn't sure exactly where his senses were but he had his badge out. “The… the attack's still on,” he rasped, realizing he'd been lucky not to bite his tongue off. “The… the pres'dent's in danger.” Why, he wondered, wouldn't the world stop spinning like he was a ball in a bingo barrel?


“We're quite safe in here,” Entwhistle told the guest. The room's safe.

“You're sure about that,” the Celican ambassador's bodyguard said. Before the other armed figure in the room could react, he'd drawn his weapon and shot his own ambassador in the head The Mican bodyguard pushed the president out of the firing line and shot back, clipping the assassin's shoulderblade and ripping the fur clean off his neck before the Celican fired again, blitzing a hole clean through the other fighters' chest. The jerk reflex fired the dead guard's gun and snapped a shot that had the killer falling backwards and down to die before the hammering started at the door. Entwhistle pushed the release button even as he felt there was someone else in the room.


He looked up to see a large, female, brown Rat looking down at him. She gripped him as the door opened and Jones led a team into the room. The Rat vanished with the President.

“So that's how she does it,” Jones breathed.

_________________
The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

Kilo - 2-8-3-9-10-2-5
Kilo
Leslie – 4-6-4-5-6-9-7
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David Campbell - 7 – 8 – 9 – 5 – 4 – 4 – 6
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Tue May 03, 2016 4:30 pm
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Location: Wales, a luverrly land with noisy neighbours.
Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
UPDATE


Postain wasn't a politician. The Captain of the Rodomont had been so proficient at the noble art of diplomacy that he'd been sent out to the remote regions as a punishment. Now he, along with the Civilian chief Postlethwaite on Talbary Communal Space Station, stood in active, overall, control of the sector as far as the Council was concerned. His was the final say on interplanetary affairs.


Which was why he was currently talking to a rather angry Celican official on his office screen. The Chicken-eater's spittle practically flew from the screen out at him in its fury. <<And just what the fething hell are you doing about this situation?>> He demanded angrily. <<Our Ambassador was murdered on Mican territory...>>

“And the Colony president was abducted,” Postain chipped in.

<<Colony Presidents can be replaced,>> The Celican spat, <<Ambassadors take years to be trained!>> He pointed a finger towards the screen to emphasise his next statement. <<Mark me well, Captain, if this situation is not resolved soon, we may take steps to help you resolve it!>>

At that, Postain stood up and walked away from the screem. “This… situation has largely been caused by your own people, ambassador and...”

<<We are still investigating those allegations...>>

“AND,” Postain recommenced, moving back to the table so the Ambassador could see him again, “the deputy president has informed me that, as the situation has so much Celican involvement, any 'help' resolving the situation from your quarter will not only be unwelcome but also regarded as a hostile act tantamount to invasion!”

<<That is hardly...>>

“And, if the issue is pressed,” Postain said over the interruption, “any Council ship in the area would be required to assist in planetary defence. And mark this.” He stopped walking and leaned into the screen to bare his teeth, “our defence will be a VERY aggressive one. The patch is NOT willing to be the relief switch for your problems at home, ambassador. Keep. Clear.” He switched the link off and connected to Jones before the Ambassador could call again. “I've just had a major disagreement with a Celican Ambassador who made open threats about sending in the hunters.”


Down in IOC headquarters, Feldar Jones sucked in a breath as he looked at the Rottian face. “I hope you dissuaded him. With the way things are going down here… Police and Army are everywhere and tensions are extreme. We're chasing down every lead we can, especially at the low rent shuttle depots and anywhere else a shuttle can launch from.” He slapped a data pad on his desk. “Did you know there were three people on the colony with enough cash to buy floating launch pads that travel the ocean so they can launch and land short range shuttles from their yachts? They bought them before the war and they're currently missing. The Air Force is looking for three specks that could have nothing to do with anything...”

<<Calm down, Jones. Getting frustrated helps no-one.>>

Jones sat down in his chair and heard it creak underneath him. He hoped it was the leather and not a reminder he needed to lose weight or get a stronger chair. “Makes me feel better, though. We really need to hear something soon. Kole and Sobra have gone into too much planning with this, with or without the Celicans. They have the ultimate Ace card now. One presidents worth. Equal to a fortune in bullion or not? And DRAT the Celicans for messing this up!” He threw the pad across the room and watched the screen crack as it hit the wall. “Their empire is falling apart and they're intent on grabbing as much as they can to take down with them!”

<<Tell me about it.>>

“And, on top of all that, I have barely a team functional down here! Karl's wounded, Davidstow's in the hospital, even that muffins and cookies undercover cop's gone off on his own!”

<<Adapt, Agent!>> Postain snapped. <<Or should I tell Postlethwaite that I don't think you can handle the situation?>>


For a moment Jones considered that idea with merit. Have the old Mouse come back and take command. Tell him what to do and how to do it. He could be relieved of the pressure of having both his hunters down and wounded right now, when he needed them most. He could see the cameras already pulling up outside the compound and knew the press wanted their pound of flesh. His officers had been at all the scenes, at all the danger. It was their case and he was their leader. He had to lead. “That won't be needed, Captain,” he said, his tone speaking of a strength it was beginning to regain. “If you can spare some troop shuttles to help the search we should be able to tie this up.”

<<Done.>> Postain cut the link as Chapston approached from behind.

“Uh, sir..?” She smiled and wrung her hands. “Chichester didn't exactly go alone...”


Down south, in the port of Soleria, the war was a memory. It had never been a big target and, thus, had only suffered one or two encounters in the skies. One of those encounters lay with just the tip of its' tailfin sticking out of the waves, its Mican colony flag barely visible above the white foam. The ferries ran from here and a couple of other locations between each other and the southern continent ports. Amongst the buildings nestled a collection of bars and businesses that the local Police had deemed 'watchable'. Since the activity in Pandera City the docks were on lockdown, no-one in, no-one out. The coastguard was forcibly turning ships back, even firing on those who failed to turn at first warning. So the bars were full to the gills of annoyed maritimers and businesspeople when Chich powered into town on the first of two motor cycles that parked up outside a wood panelled building near the harbour. They turned off their lights and removed their helmets, letting their heads breathe. The clothes they'd chosen were ripped and soft from use and he looked up to his companion. “Let me do the talking,” he advised.


Raven grunted. This was something she was getting used to. Being the 'muscle' in the action. Why hawle had agreed to the cop's idea she didn't know but she could guess who'd mentioned her. She'd need a word with Chapston later. Ow. That would be a good word but she cast the thought aside as she followed the Rodent into the bar.


OPEN BAR


The bar was shouting loud as Chich and Raven entered and pushed their way through the consortium of species towards the bar. It was standing room only and Raven had to push a few people back hard as the two of them were pressed in on all sides. The noises they could identify were complaining about the lack of ships and the smells and and the inability to get to the toilets.

Chichester reckoned this was a good location for pickpockets and he grasped a wrist as the hand attached to it entered his pocket. He worked out the location of the thumb and pulled it back until the Female Canine yelped in pain before he released her and Raven pushed her away. Eventually he managed to get to the bar and leaned against it.


The barman shuddered as he looked at Mr Blue's bodyguard. He'd heard things had gone screwy up in the big city – it was swelling his coffers today – and the arrival of Mr Blue only served to confirm it. He had a feeling he knew who the Mouse was after but he wasn't going to be easy to get to, not with all the tourists and bargoers wanting his attention, waving credit chits in vain attempts to push themselves up the list. He looked down when something grabbed his attention and suddenly realised he was playing music. He'd been playing it for at least thirty minutes in fact and he'd not heard a single note. He switched it off and the noise lowered precisely not a jot. His electric bill would go down slightly though. He served a Raitchian male a Dark Malt from the local brewery and pushed across towards Mr Blue. He knew it was a fake name but he didn't much care. You didn't use your real name when dealing with Miss Craydle. After three attempts, he finally got to Blue and accepted the order and a preloaded chit. When he returned with the drink, Mr Blue pocketed the chit and pointed to the corner, near an internal bar. The bodyguard nodded, set her eyes to 'hate' and started pushing through with Mr Blue directly behind her, riding the wake of space she created.


Chichester sat in the chair next to the door after the two place holders moved aside and he sipped his drink. He wasn't partial to things served in glasses that were more stem than body but Mr. Blue was. He was a cover Chichester had used last time he'd been down here, learning about how the terror group moved from one continent to the other. Miss Craydle was connected up to and probably including colonial government level. She certainly worked for Mica secret services from time to time, he knew. Someone like this was always of use to the dark paw brigades as, if they can get people out, they can get them in. And she was right behind the door. He also knew the procedure. You drank your order before you opened the door. If you bolted it, the cops were hot on your heels and you would be met by a locked door. If you drank it too leisurely, you weren't in any danger. You could be a cop. You had to be relaxed. And so Mr. Blue was. It took two minutes to slick back the clear mixture and, as before, he left the olive. He then stood up, stretched, and inserted the credit chit into the door. It booped three times quickly, then opened to allow them access.


The pair stepped into a small passageway, flanked with wood panelled walls, that led to a door some five paces further down. It opened before them and Raven could see the frame of the door was a weapons scanner. Just as well she wasn't carrying anything and she couldn't see that Chichester would be. He knew about this place and… the alarm was beeping. They were flanked by two guards with guns drawn and they were ready to kill. Raven tensed for the fight, drawing her centre into herself and readying her muscles for the fight. Then she heard a sound. Chichester laughing.

“Am I stupid,” he said, pulling a small clip blaster from his pocket. “I totally forgot I had this.”


A lithe figure separated itself from the shadows and Raven took in the sight of a Feline female of about forty years of age who clearly kept herself in fine fettle. Her fur shone with reflected light that highlighted the light blue designer suit she wore atop her Tortoiseshell colouring. Her green eyes lied to her smile. “Just one gun, Mister Blue?” she asked as he handed the clip over to one of the guards.

Chichester shrugged as the other guard frisked Raven. “Lean times,” he said. He took a seat as she moved around the table to face him. “Two,” he said. “One...” The clip exploded in the guard's face, sending him slumping hard against the back wall as Raven brought both her elbows down on her guard. She pulled the stunned figure up, drew her fist back and broke his front teeth before slamming his head into the wall noisily.

Miss Craydle started to move, then saw Chichester had another clip blaster pointed at her, this one a ceramic one. “Where were you hiding that?” She retook the seat opposite.

“Ask me no questions I'll tell you no face saving lies.” Chichester sat up. “Now, I'm afraid we need answers fast. Now we know you're well connected but the President's been kidnapped, the city's been bombed and Martial law's probably about fifteen minutes away. Your connections might well stay away. And then there's the fact my bodyguard is psychotically violent...” He turned around to where Raven was. “Will you stop punching him? He's pretty much dead.”

Raven drew back her fist for one last blow. “He fondled me, sir.”

Chichester shrugged and turned to Craydle. “Heck of a fatal mistake to make.”

“He'd enjoy it,” Craydle said, pulling herself in towards the desk.

Chichester levelled the weapon at her and she stopped. “I think I much prefer you away from the distress button and the gun you've got. Now,” he said casually, “tell me what you know about high ranking exit plans.”


“The presidential transponder just signalled,” Garva called as he watched over his computers. They'd been given access to the signal a short while ago and Garva hadn't given it any hope of working but then… There it was again.

“Location,” Jones demanded, moving to his sub-ordinate’s shoulder. He looked it over and sent out a comm signal. “Jones to Karl and Stapleton, get to these co-ordinates. Potential lead on the president. His transponder is sounding there, amongst the coffee plantations. Be careful… Wait one...” he looked the location over again. “that's where we found an experimental lab in the early days… Our teleporter has returned home.”


COFFEE RUN


Karl gritted her teeth as she drove. Stapleton fastened himself into the passenger seat. She'd hardly let him get into the car before slamming the accelerator down. He'd been taken by surprise when she'd said she would drive and had wondered if this was an apology for stealing his weapon earlier. Now, though, he thought it was something different. Something angrier and meaner. Mutates weren't unknown but many still didn't know of the horrific secrets of their birth. Injections, operations, procedures and experiments that killed more than they saved. Some of the people rescued from the few labs that had been discovered over the last twenty years had been absorbed into the civilian services and police structures and most had gone into normal life. But some, of course, viewed the universe with hate and suspicion and had either joined the pirate armies that roamed the space lanes or had melted into the criminal fraternity. The Raitchian fleet had obliterated one of the largest pirate forces a year or so back but that just left the hardest to stop. The ones who didn't travel by ship and who blended in. And now they had a teleporter and a bomb maker to stop. Beran was on her way with Chapston but Corp was down, Chich was out of the picture, Garva was trying to lock onto any signals and jam them and the military was rousting every criminal in the city in case they had the president underneath the back seat. So it was them leading the way out of the city.


“Slap the blues and twos on,” Karl growled.

Stapleton looked to her and blinked. “Huh?”

“The sirens and lights,” she snapped. “Military;'s up ahead. Roadblock. Tell 'em we're cops.”

“We don't have any,” Stapleton remarked as they approached the Armed Mican next to the Armoured Personnel Carrier with the Five thousand terrawatt directed pulse cannon atop it. “We're not cops. We're not allowed to have them...” He grimaced as the vehicle came closer, faster and bigger in the screen.

“Pass us your ID then.”

He held it out. “What are you..?” He looked aghast as Karl threw the card out of the window, moved the car past the troop at eighty miles an hour as he dove aside and she ran the barricade. She looked back and watched him pick up his gun and radio. “I hope he checks your ID before telling the next lot to shoot to kill,” she grumbled.

“Why couldn't we have taken the hover car,” Stapleton asked, trying not to show he was scared half to death.

“I can't drive that muffins and cookies ting, you know that!” She grimaced. “Oh, look, the next roadblock. And they've brought friends.” She slowed this time. The hover tank insisted on it as it hummed in across the field to join the APC full of troops that had set up across the road.
“Let me do the talking,” Karl growled.

Stapleton looked at her as the vehicle slid to a halt. “You HAVE to be joking. Or insane.” He put his hands up and got out of the car when the army insisted. “I'm Agent Stapleton of the IOC, “ he called as soldiers put him to the floor and tried to put his hands behind his back.

“Prove it,” the soldier said.

“We don't have time for this,” Karl shouted from her side of the car, where six troops were keeping her covered from a distance. “I threw his ID away.”

“It's in my upper left inside pocket,” Stapleton corrected.

Karl froze for a second and turned toward him. “Did you make me throw MY ID out of the window?”

“You never use it,” Stapleton said as the Mouse soldier checked the agents pocket and pulled out his ID.

“Why'd you run the last roadblock?” the Sergeant demanded.

“I didn't have time to stop,” Karl said hotly, “and I still don't! We have a lead on the presidents whereabouts and you idiots are getting in my way!” She spoke the last words with such a tone and flash of menace in her eyes that the soldiers watching her instinctively took a step back, much to the Sergeant's frustration.

“What my senior agent means,” Stapleton said smoothly, “is we would really like the military assistance on this, Sergeant...” he read the Mousemans' name panel. “Sergeant Whitehaven, and we don't have the time to go through official channels. You've checked my ID?”

Whitehaven had indeed been running his scanner over the identity card and the machine had just beeped with the results that this odd, furless, thing in front of him was indeed a human with a weird surname and he was IOC. “We'll need to run this through the channels, I'm afraid, but, if you happen to go on ahead and tell us where you're going, we can follow on?”

Stapleton passed on the information, took back his ID and got back in the car at the same time Karl did. He found himself facing her as she gripped him under the chin with almost enough pressure to break the skin and pulled his head around. “If you EVER let me throw my identification out of the car again, I'll throw you out to get it. Clear?”

Stapleton simply nodded. Karl released her hold and started the car, moving it past the checkpoint and flooring it into the coffee fields.


“Touch that radio and I rip your hand off, Stapleton.” Two hours into the drive and she still hadn't lightened up. There was no sign of the Army behind them but Stapleton wasn't surprised by that. Red tape was infamous for preventing common sense. They'd probably only got on the road half an hour back. It was them. Them alone. He looked to the ceiling. “And stop complaining,” Karl added, turning onto a side road. She drove hard up the path, turning the headlights out halfway up.

“I think they know we're here,” Stapleton remarked. “Even with our lights off.”

“I can't see red spots through the headlights,” Karl said, looking out through the wind-shield.


She pulled the car up outside the main block and, carefully, they got out. “Follow me,” Karl said quietly. “Keep low, keep silent and we'll...”

She didn't get much further as the Raitchian teleporter exploded into existence behind Stapleton, grabbed him and teleported nearly all of him away.

Karl raced over and picked up what she'd left. Stapleton's right shoe and foot. “OK,” she snarled, “guess I do it alone.” She swept towards the door.


TRAPS


Shock and pain. Blackness, shock, and pain. The deafening silence in the ears that echoed in the fallen dark behind his eyes. Somewhere in the soreness of his throat he could hear his own screams of pain.

“I’m quite impressed with this one,” Kole said, raising her voice to be heard over Stapleton as Sobra worked on a small device. “He’s screaming down the pain. Most people just pass out.”

The other looked up at her, flipping up his goggles. “He NEEDS to pass out,” she stated sharply. “His cried are going to lead the wolf right to us!” She swept a half full cup of coffee off the table. “Why you couldn’t have grabbed the Wolf, I don’t know!”

“YOU go grab a psychotic death machine who kills Celican troops by the squad! I reduced their troops to one.”

“BY one, you mean,” Sobra mused, indicating the screen, where the army was beginning to pull up. “I’d better set up the devices. Lord knows you’re useless for the next twenty. Pop an energy drink, see if that speeds it up.”

Kole scowled. “You have no idea, do you?” She picked a pen-like item off the table and examined it. “What is this thing?”

“It’s a Pen…” Sobra remarked, holding a handpaw out to accept the item back. Kole slapped the pen down.

Sobra jumped backwards, almost falling from the chair. “ARE you trying to kill us?” She picked the pen up carefully and put it away. “As I was going to say, it’s a pen with two ounces of thermal explosive in it.” She watched the monitor as more troops entered. “No more than five visitors at any one time, please.” She pressed a button and the screen fizzed and blanked.
“Where was that one?”

“Trash bin. You going to go check on Entwhistle?”

“Yup. Keep them busy. And find the Wolf.”


Hunting in a maze wasn’t something new to Patcha Karl. The Wolf hadn’t been allowed to even leave home before becoming proficient in attacking behind enemy lines. Observing alarms and cameras and manipulating them for her own use. If the camera had an arc you could hide underneath it until it had passed. If it was pointing in one, locked off, direction you could use that too. Disable it and you might bring guards running into your trap or, with the simple act of not hurrying your passage confused them. As it was she faced a revolving camera and a white passageway. It looked too clear. Too easy. So it had to be more difficult. She pulled a scanning monocle into play and looked again. Yup, there was the red line. Three quarters of the way down the passage and moving diagonally from the height of the camera down to the floor and back again. So she held herself. She pulled back and tensed for her moment. The moment when the camera and beam were in the right places… She bounced in place as the camera pointed nearly fifty degrees towards the other end and the beam started its downwards sweep. As she reached the camera it was just beginning to turn back on itself and the beam lowered to the floor. She kept apace and sprang up and forwards in a roll. She could see the beam from here as it swept up towards her feet so she pushed her front half down, allowing her other end to pivot up slightly. She kept her tail out of the beam as her handpaw pads squashed and flattened on impact with the floor before rolling back to her feet and sprinting around the corner. She took in the camera sweeping the passage and darted into one of the adjacent offices. Had she been spotted? She growled slightly. It didn’t matter, she’d decided. She was going to find that Rat Schlutt and she was going to teleport Kole’s liver out without a mutant power. And then, for what she’d done to Stapleton, she just might feed it to her. It was probably poisonous. She felt the explosion near the door and knew she’d been correct to find the window and break the glass.


The place had been deserted for years but Karl could sense why people stayed away from here. It had been used for evil purposes and the blood was soaked into the concrete, invisible to the eye but her nose told her it was there and the discontinuity was making her imagine things. The screams of the long dead and rescued tricked her brain and she shut them away. They weren’t real, no matter how much they insisted they had corporeal base. There were only a handful of real ones here…

And there was one now! The shadow of a Raitchian played across the wall and Karl shot out after it. It went around the corner, past the camera, and Karl ran at speed to catch up. She didn’t care much for the cameras now, although she kept the monocle in to scan for wires and beams.


“Are you good?”

The question took Entwhistle by surprise and the president scrambled to look at the metal door that had been reset when the Holden Company had planned to re-open the facility as an educational museum. He could see the Raitchian woman looking in at him. “I’ve been better,” he claimed.

“Be thankful you’re small,” she said though the grill. “I just tried to teleport a Human. I left a foot behind.”

“You don’t sound like you enjoyed it,” Entwhistle said, latching onto the tone of her voice as only a politician could.

“Pointless wounding is stupid. As for you? We’ll be going soon. Heading for the stars. You ever been out among them? Just visiting, I mean, not on official travel?”

“When I was young,” Entwhistle said, reminiscing on trips with his father. “It made me feel free.”

“As it should be,” Kole agreed. “When something so small sees something so vasr… It’s the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. If you have the cash. That’s what I’m in for,” she finished.

“And those you killed?”

“I spent YEARS in this place before the IOC found it,” Kole said, spitting. “The people who financed this place… They moved their money through all those banks and the banks did nothing but profit. I made them pay and only killed when needed. Or when I met the really evil ones. Then I gave justice. We’ll put out the message soon. Then we’ll be off. When we’re safe from pursuit you’ll be put in an escape pod and launched towards Talbary. Stay calm, Mr President. You’ll be home safe soon.”

The panel snapped back into place, leaving the president in the half dark. “Well crumbs,” he said.


WOLF HUNT


Karl knew something was wrong well before she came across the silo in which Corp and Beran had once nearly died. She was faced with an opponent who could pop into existence, grab her arm or leg or head and teleport it away again, So what was worrying her was the fact that she wasn't dead yet. She sniffed the decaying scent of Rodent and knew Kole hadn't passed this way in some time so it wasn't important to them. Mark it down, she told herself, and move on. The security Office couldn't be that far away and, unless they'd rerouted the feeds, someone had to be in there and she was of a mind to make someone bleed.


The smell was there. As she entered the main hall. The target had just come in the room. Somewhere close, too. This place was two storeys tall with walkways above her head and offices – rooms rather – all around her on both levels. She tensed, then decided to keep walking around the side of the room, her back to the wall as she tried something she hoped would make Beran proud. She tried talking. “I've seen your record,” she claimed sharply. “No unnecessary kills. You're smarter than that. Smarter than Sobra, anyhow.”

“Leaving the foot was an accident,” said a voice that echoed around the hall.

Karl's eyes snapped up to a location. Nothing there. Just an echo as she moved. “Is he still alive?” She asked from a need to know almost as prevalent as her need to locate the rat female.

“He was the last time I saw him,” the voice said as Karl kept trying to locate it.

The Wolf edged across a doorway and realised her mistake, circling low and fast to the other side of the doorway. No attack came. Karl looked straight up. It was the only place Kole could be, she decided. It was the only place the Raitchian couldn't have seen her make that error in the doorway. Where, Karl wondered, were the stairs? Where had been Kole's cell? “Felt the call of home,” Karl called. “I'd be surprised if you felt safe here.”

“I don't,” the voice admitted, clearer now, “but I do know it well.”

“Your friend's a killer,” Karl stated as a device went off elsewhere in the complex. “She's killing people now.”

“Not a friend,” Kole said, appearing before Karl in a half blinding flash of light. She kept her eyes half closed and her arms extended to show the lack of weapons. “You ever get into a situation that spiralled out of your control?” She stepped forward.

Karl brought her gun up. “Stop,” she commanded, unwilling to let the hostile in close. “Are you surrendering,” she asked.

“I rob banks,” Kole replied, standing still. “I've shot a few when I've had to but this? Mass theft? Low level terrorism? Presidential kidnapping? Assaulting Federal Officers? That's not me...” She put her hands down.

“Keep 'em up!” Karl waited until the hands were back up. “Are you surrendering?”

“I want revenge over the companies and corporations that did all this to me, not the President who didn't know it was going on. Some of the money comes from those companies, Agent Karl. It's tainted by blood. MY blood and...”

“I. Don't. CARE!” Karl shouted through gritted teeth as her fingers fought not to fire the blaster. “Are you surrendering?”

Kole thought for a moment looking at, or rather, through the wall. She lowered a hand to her pocket and, slowly, tossed a tourist map to the floor. Karl recognised it from the plans they'd once had for this place but kept her eyes tight on the Rat. “Maybe to them,” Kole said before flashing out. Karl's shot went through the void before she stooped to pick up the leaflet. She sniffed a little. It had a layout of the base on it from when they'd had museum plans. It showed the way to the security room and Karl took off that way, rounding the corners at speed. She heard something beep as she swept past it and was thrown forward by the blast as her ears fizzed into silence, her nose filled with the smell of vomit and blood and the floor came up, oh so quickly. With her eyes, she glimpsed another device attached to the wall ahead of her and she stuck an arm out onto the floor to adjust her path away from it. Rather than landing in front of it, her armbones crunched, drawing a grimace of pain from her teeth as she twisted her back towards the device. She was pushed down, against the wall, as her arm twisted under her and she thanked Stapleton for his persistence in getting her to wear a protective jacket as she felt the punching her back and legs were taking from things like the beautiful, tiny, stars that fizzed past her face as it lay, unprotected, on the floor. She hunched up to minimize the exposed area and felt the pain of her arm before the legs chimed in. She felt dizzy and disoriented but she focussed the pain to clear her head. The right arm was useless but she seemed able to walk on the bandy legs so she pushed her bloodied way up the wall to stand upright and paused a second to check her gun. Undamaged. Her swirling brain recognised that as good as she took wavering aim at a spot further down on the wall. It looked like one of the wall bomb things and she tried to pick out which was the physically true one of the rotating eight she could see. Her ears filled with pain as her eyes washed. She shook her head and almost fell over. She took aim again and fired, missing by several feet. She felt something and knew she was hallucinating as a ghostly Stapleton pushed into her mind next to her and helped her take aim. She fired again and the bomb exploded. She made her way down the passage, announcing her presence with every shot and hoping she didn't miss even one.


Sobra watched her move on the cameras. The Wolf had a broken arm, lacerated legs, concussion, possible internal bleeding and other wounds and still she was coming, leaving a trail behind her. There was something impressive about it but also, she figured, something totally desperate with it too. At least the human had quietened now. She could hear him breathing in the back room now…. No, she thought, she couldn't. And he'd make a good hostage too. She slipped over towards the door and opened it…


Stapleton was so close to passing out. If his foot hadn't been somehow cauterised by the teleport he'd be dead already and he'd taken to his remaining foot as he'd pushed up the wall in a way similar to Karl. He put down the pain that threatened to stop his heart because he could see her pushing him on, telling him humans weren't as weak as she'd assumed and that she was impressed.


Far above, Winsome the telepath told his Captain he'd located the agents and Hawle gave him a smile.


Sobra opened the door and Stapleton half jumped and half fell on her in a last, desperate, attempt to escape. The pair struggled for the weapon even as she was pushed to the floor by the humans' weight. Both were uncoordinated but only one uninjured and she pushed him off as he fought to get his breath back. Sobra scrambled up and turned back towards him, pulling out a pen.

It clattered to the floor as Karl put her arm around Sobra's throat and pulled her back so the Wolf's teeth could worry at the back of her neck until things were done.


As the body dropped away and Karl collapsed next to her partner, she had the vision of shimmering figures…


...Her eyes wobbled open, whispering truth to life still clinging to her as an unknown voice spoke quietly. “She's back in the land of the living,” a black-furred mouse said as Karl pulled against the restraints. “And she's trying to get up already. Settle down, Agent,” she continued. “You're on the Loper and I'm Doctor Barleycorn.”

“Where..?” Karl said. It didn't sound like her voice. It sounded weak, like the weakest prey in the final begging moment and that was what she was doing? Begging?

“The Human's fine,” Barleycorn said. “He's in recovery. Reattaching a foot is no mean skill. Fortunately, I'm one of the best mean skillers around.”

“What happened with the President,” Karl managed to say, coughing through the line.

Barleycorn leaned close. “I neither have the need to know nor the clearance to tell you but we sent down a rescue team right after we locked on to your location, hmm?” She smiled and let Karl pass back into sleep.


Feldar Jones kept his hands behind his back as he walked along the riverside in Pandera city, escorted by several dozen troops as he spoke with President Entwhistle. “That's actually the first time I've been kidnapped,” Entwhistle said nonchalantly.. “Makes me feel I can look the others in the eye now. I've been where they've been and don't need to imagine it.”

“We would have rescued you sooner if...”

“...If wishes were all it needed,” the Old Mouse said, turning to look at the crossbreed. “Your lot got there as fast as they could and no sooner. There's no blame. Much of the money's back and certain troublemakers have been hamstrung.” He poked a finger towards Jones. “It's your lot that have the big problem, Jones.”

Feldar kicked at a loose stone. “Yeah. The Celican government's not exactly stable at the moment, is it?”

“It needs help from the major governments. I'll put the word in with President Hawick on Mica but I don't have the say I used to have and, even if I DO have my way, you're the one's going to have to keep the rebels and dissident groups from causing trouble.”

“Huh. Tell me about it,” Jones said. “I'm going to need to add to my team to help keep things stable here. Chich,” he mused, “might be a good fit.”

“I'm sure you'll sort it,” Entwhistle said. “If you need my help getting anyone you need… Oh, your agents in hospital? It's on the Presidential bill. They've all pulled far over their weight in this.”


“That they have, sir, that they have.”


And the group walked into the early evening, the sun dipping behind the rising high rises.

_________________
The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

Kilo - 2-8-3-9-10-2-5
Kilo
Leslie – 4-6-4-5-6-9-7
Leslie
David Campbell - 7 – 8 – 9 – 5 – 4 – 4 – 6
Corp Davidstow 6 - 6 - 7 - 3 - 6 - 6 - 5 (reactions 7 Combat 9)


Wed May 11, 2016 3:53 pm
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Location: Wales, a luverrly land with noisy neighbours.
Post Re: New story - The LOPER (PG:13)
Here's the link for the next story. viewtopic.php?f=7&t=3792

_________________
The avatar is Corp Davidstow, STEELHAVEN's Chief of Security.

Kilo - 2-8-3-9-10-2-5
Kilo
Leslie – 4-6-4-5-6-9-7
Leslie
David Campbell - 7 – 8 – 9 – 5 – 4 – 4 – 6
Corp Davidstow 6 - 6 - 7 - 3 - 6 - 6 - 5 (reactions 7 Combat 9)


Wed May 11, 2016 4:08 pm
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