Suddenly the control room door leading into the dark corridor was thrown open, the overhead lights clicked off and five large, hairy creatures burst into the room. Amanda screamed, "No, I don't wanna go! Don't let them take me again!" She threw her arms around Nike and held on as tightly as she could. Chelydra spun around to face them, clicking his shotgun's safety off.
Outside, Percy Jenkins remained at a dead stop in his tracks, but his eyes darted from the floating metal disk, to the floating medical bag, to Chelydra who was spinning around to face the inside of the control room. He heard a commotion just inside and noticed that the lights had gone off. He thought that he saw Amanda desperately clutching to Nike who was trying to leave the control room in an awful hurry. Then he saw several large humanoid shapes moving menacingly toward them.
"Waaiiitaminute!" he said aloud, but not very convincingly, as he tried to make out what could be yet another species of mutated sentience. "We can't fall back---my stuff is still in there ..." The words trailed off into unanswered silence as he realized that losing his bag of junk was the least of his worries. Another worry was that he still didn't know what had triggered his transformation into the Wolfoid. Was it proximity? Randomness? In any case, he tried to figure out what they were, what they used to be, perhaps, and what he was going to do about it. As he stood frozen in place from shock outside the control room, his headache knocked on the door of his brain and reminded him that it hadn't completely gone away.
Nearby, Zhaxier heard the frightened scream, but hesitated, still pissed that Claus had apparently abandoned him, and still wary that the hover-bot might be watching his every move. He crouched behind the cover of the brush and drew his pistol slowly, all the while watching the "watcher."
He noted with curious detachment how his hands shook. For a disembodied moment, he was beside himself, watching the absurd scene unfold. He had trained with a gun---or inherited the memory at least---but training had never covered this scenario. His pulse raced and hammered through his temples, and sweat dripped down his bald pate into his eyes. He realized he had a better chance of stabilizing an antimatter, pulse-modulated <insert gratuitous techno-babble here> feedback-loop with a torc wrench than he had of disabling the hover-bot.
The irony of his situation did not escape him. "Don't worry guys," he vowed to himself, "I ain't leavin' you this time." His thoughts briefly turned to Tinker in the elevator. "I'll be back for you, too, grizzly dude." Slowly, he put his shades in his bag and withdrew his laser pistol. He drew an unsteady bead on the doorway of the metal hut, "now if Butch would just get outta the way ..."
18:50 SCAN ENVIRO-TERRA CONTROL ROOM
18:51 SCAN ENVIRO-TERRA P3
18:52 PROCEDURE BETA INITIATED
18:53 WATCHER SURVEILLANCE LINKUP
.........-TRANSFER INFORMATION TO CC
.........-HOVER DROID IN TERRA P3
Nike backpedaled, dragging Amanda toward the exit door. She wasn't necessarily willing to give up their little haven, but at the same time, she didn't know what capabilities these creatures had, and she wanted to be able to exit quickly if need be. Besides, if they had to exit, then once outside, she and Chelydra could take cover behind the trees and hopefully pick them off one by one.
She reached for her stun gun, but in the dim light Nike could see that each creature held a slug-throwing type of machine gun pointed at either Nike or Chelydra. She knew weapons (even ancient ones) all too well, and realized that she was outgunned. If she fired her stun gun, they would fire back with bullets---lots of bullets.
An idea struck her, "what was it Amanda said?" she thought, "light sensitive eyes ..." While moving toward the door, she took a second to scan for an alternative light source, but there was no such light source and no seconds left before the large, hairy beasts were upon her. There was only enough time for Nike to make a split-second decision to accept what was happening, or die.
One of the hairy creatures grabbed Amanda by the hair and pulled her toward the hallway as she screamed. Chelydra couldn't fire his shotgun within the room for fear of hitting Nike or Amanda. Chelydra grit his teeth in frustration as he realized just how well the snatch and grab operation had been executed. His aim moved from one creature to another, but he held his fire. These creatures were smart and worked cohesively as a team. Their physical appearance, as Amanda had pointed out, explained why the overhead lights were shattered in the corridor beyond the room.
The creatures quickly backed out of the room, holding Amanda in front them. "No! Nike, please don't let them take me ... G10, Nike ... G10!" she screamed as the door closed and they were gone.
The former security officer hissed in frustration as Amanda was dragged off by the Dark Dwellers. "OK people, we have a hostage situation here. Let's inventory our weapons and gear and make a plan to get her back. The perps are better armed than we are, but if Zhaxier and his buddies make it back here, we have the advantage of numbers. They seem to like the dark, so anything we can do to make a light will work to our advantage."
"Agreed." Nike glanced around to see where each member of her group was and checked their status. "It isn't only Amanda that is at risk here. We have been watched, followed, and now surprised and a member of our group taken. We have to find whoever is responsible and get some answers, and in the process, get Amanda back as well."
Chelydra began to look around for something, anything that could be used as a weapon, armour or a light source. The idea of not going after Amanda had not even entered his brain. His actions made it clear that he considered himself a man with a mission and was much happier for it.
Nike moved to the doorway, and looked out. "Everyone get in here, we need to form a plan!" she called quietly, but loudly enough.
Before he could fully digest what had happened, Percy's headache subsided almost as quickly as it had made itself known, as if it had changed its mind or maybe forgot something and had to go back to that roughly ninety percent of his brain that he didn't use. Well, all bets were off now with his strange metamorphosing behavior. Maybe he had tapped into some strange, unexplored portion of his brain latent in all humans?
He walked past Nike and entered the control room. Nike shielded her mouth from the possible view of any cameras and whispered to Percy and Chelydra (whose search for anything else useful in the control room had been fruitless), "We have to make two plans---plan A for the Watcher's benefit, in the open where he can think we're doing one thing, and plan B where we perform the real action and retain the element of surprise!"
18:55 SCAN ENVIRO-TERRA P3 - RECOVER M5
18:56 PROCEDURE BETA INITIATED - CODE 3 ALPHA
19:00 WATCHER SURVEILLANCE LINKUP
.........-TRANSFER INFORMATION TO CC
.........-HOVER DROID IN TERRA P3 NEAR CONTROL ROOM
Noise. Sounds. Hunger.
Sharneste heard them almost before she smelled them. Strange scents, like the ones she smelled before. They spoke to each other ...
A frown crossed her face as she crept up closer. Hungry. Sounds alive. Makes sounds like alive. Smells alive.
As she got closer, the sounds became clearer. Something was shouting. She recognized the noises as words, and slumped in disappointment. "Yes, Papa. I still know. If it talk, not food. But I so hungry." Sighing, she continued towards the noise, more out of curiosity than anything else.
As Zhaxier's shades disappeared into his bag, a large and powerful figure stepped out of the woods behind him, creeping up slowly toward the shrub as Sharneste sniffed the air. She stopped just inches from him, watching the activity at the door intently. Sharneste had always lived in the environmental bay, never venturing outside, although she'd heard many rumors that such an area existed. Although she didn't seem to see Zhaxier, she started sniffing the air again, turning her nose in his general direction.
With his weapon aimed at the door, Zhaxier turned his head to see a mutated lioness sniffing him. "Aaah!" he yelled. He jumped forward, fell to the ground, and looked back at her. He knew from the look of her that if she had wanted him dead, he already would be. Maybe she wasn't hungry, maybe she had already eaten Claus ... maybe, Zhaxier thought.
"Hider," Sharneste sniffed with recognition after Zhaxier's startled leap. His scent told her his sex, but the only thing visible was the pistol (presumably in his blended hand) and a small nylon bag lying nearby. "You too noisy, Hider." The lioness said, grinning at the Blendoid as she stared at him. It had been a long time since she had snuck up on one, and it was usually great fun to see their reaction.
"What you steal now? More shinies? Food?" She turned toward the building again, sniffing the air. "Do other noisy ones have food?"
Zhaxier held his pistol out with shaky arms and stammered softly, "N-nn-no. And I'm n-nn-not tasty either, so d-d-don't even th-think about it!"
The lioness stared at Zhaxier, looking slightly hurt. "Papa say if it talk, it not food. I say this to hiders," she said in a deep and throaty voice. A Wolfoid howl in the distance caught Sharneste's attention. She knew Wolfoids never entered the forest, but they were still very dangerous, and if she feared anything, she feared them.
Zhaxier noted the creature's startled jerk at the Wolfoid howl, and his fear dissipated at the honest glimpse of her vulnerability. He unblended and lowered his weapon. "I'm Zhaxier. That's my medical bag, though I'm not a doctor. And I'm no thief. I'm an engineer. I fix shinies. You didn't happen to see a mutant housecat prowling around here, eh? Maybe he left for some take-out."
"What is take-out? Is it food? Does mewteed house-cat thing come back with food? Can I have some?"
Judging from her response, he figured the odds were stacked against her being the (botched) clone of a former crewmate, and his heart sank a bit. She had used the term "hider" to refer to him. Were there others like him? "Look, miss, I'm starving. I was hoping they'd have food too. The other noisy ones are my friends," he looked behind him toward the hut.
Percy and Chelydra had just gone back inside and all was quiet again. "They aren't tasty either, but something bad just happened in there, and they might need help." He reached toward his bag slowly, and traded his gun for his shades, which he flicked open and popped on his face as he blended out of view. "Wanna help?" the Cool-Mo-G glasses said, as they rose along with the hovering nylon bag.
"I help," she said as she bounded for the house. "Maybe they get food later. Hunting bad today." She stopped halfway to the door, looked back over her shoulder at the floating black thing, and asked, "What is meedicul bag?"
"It's got stuff to fix wounds with, but I mostly use it to carry all my loot! See?" Zhaxier briefly opened the bag so she could look in, then turned for the hut and smacked right into a shrub. "Frak!" the shrub exclaimed as it parted and shook unnaturally. "Heheh, sure is getting dark in here, ain't it?" the disembodied voice asked.
Zhaxier put his glasses back in his bag, then led Sharneste to the hut just as Nike looked out and quietly whispered his name. "Hiya, Butch!" he replied.
A medical bag bobbed around in mid air nearby an upright, busty cat-woman combine that gave Percy sufficient reason to flee for stability and sanity. "That's Claus?!?" he stammered upon seeing the lioness.
The lioness walked in, sniffing the turtle curiously as she entered.
"Well, no, Claus got bored and left."
Chelydra's eyes widened for a moment as he made a mental note to talk to this other person who, like him, seemed to be a blend of human and animal. Where did she come from? Were there more species of hybrids? He was beginning to feel like he was on the starship of Dr. Moreau.
"This is ... hey, what'd you say your name was again?" Zhaxier's voice wafted over toward the lioness.
"Name?" The lioness said, as if not understanding for a moment. Then she perked up and said "Sharneste. Papa called me Sharneste. Hider said you need help. You give food if I help? What's a Claus?"
Before anyone could answer, Zhaxier said, "Hey Chelydra, check this out, dude," as he withdrew the laser pistol from his bag and handed it stock first to the turtle-man for his approval. "If we go back for Tinker, he's got two of these puppies in rifle format, and I know where we can get more. So what happened in here? Where's the blonde chick?" Zhaxier's voice queried in Percy's direction.
Percy shrugged and whispered inconspicuously, "Nike, Chelydra, what's the plan?" Clearly, Nike was trying to keep a low key, so Percy followed suit.
Zhaxier asked, "Why are we whispering?"
Nike glanced at Zhaxier and then decided not to respond to his question. Had he been around a minute ago, common sense would have answered the question for him. She had a feeling that had he thought about it before he spoke, he would have known the answer, but his personality seemed to tend toward action first, thinking later.
In full voice, Nike began, "Ok people, listen up! We're going to attack the wolf-men encampment to get more weapons, and then bust through this door and split into two groups. Chelydra, you'll lead one group to the right, while I take the second group to the left. Percy! You're with me. The others go with Chelydra. The first to find Amanda, fall back to the control room and alert the others by this whistle." Nike whistled loudly. "Alright, let's move!"
She quickly moved over to Chelydra and Zhaxier and whispered (again covering her mouth to avoid lip-reading by any cameras,) "forget the wolf-men, we can't leave this control room unless we find Amanda's key. I don't know if she put it back in her pocket or in her pack. If we find it, let's retrieve Zhaxier's buddy, get his weapons before total darkness, return here and bust through then. Afterwards, we'll all stay together once inside the corridors, going left." She paused and looked around, then asked Percy for the map so they could recall where the wolf-men were, to maintain the charade for the Watcher.
She continued in hushed tones, mouth covered. "If we can't find the key, we can't just abandon Amanda. I say we go ahead into the corridors, and do recon, staying out of their way until we have enough info to make a strike. Who knows? Maybe we'll find a weapons locker?" She laughed out loud at the thought of anything going in their favor, and moved to look at the map that Percy held out to maintain the charade for a few more minutes, and to give Chelydra and Zhaxier a chance for input.
Zhaxier's voice emanated in Chelydra's direction. "Is it just me, or is she acting really weird?" he thumbed uselessly in Nike's direction. He continued to sift through the snippets of conversation that he'd heard, and efficiently plugged the gaps like he would pressure cracks in a plasma conduit. Amanda, Nike, Percy, the Watcher: names finally fit with faces; concepts matched perceived antagonists. "Any 'Watcher' worth his gyro-scopes would have listening devices in place too," he muttered aloud, turning toward Nike. "Surprise and subterfuge are eliminated from our options. And congratulations: it's too dark now. There goes another. Now what?" He sighed audibly.
"Well, Mr. Sarcastic, she called him the 'Watcher' not the 'Listener,'" Nike wanted to say, but didn't think it would help the situation any, so she kept it to herself. "He is such an arrogant and annoying little shit," she thought. "If he were a new marine recruit, I'd have eaten him for lunch and sent him home to Mommy crying." But what actually came out of her mouth was a bit more diplomatic.
"The truth is, Zhaxier, that all we can confirm is that he or it or whatever can see us. We do not know if it can hear us, or if it can hear only what is said in full voice, etc. Therefore, it is in our best interests to take precautionary measures that might better our cause."
Sharneste had been silently listening. Suddenly she looked at Nike with interest. "You know, there is a village of your kind not far from here," she offered, pointing at Nike with a clawed finger, "but I don't go there. They call us Pfui ... twisted ones." Her statement was factual and not meant as an insult.
Then the lights shut off inside the control room and in the environmental bay and their options evaporated.
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