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Chapter 14: Armory

21:12 SEARCH AND DESTROY PROTOCOLS RUNNING
21:12 S&D TEAM 2 - APPROACHING TARGET: ALPHA
21:13 S&D TEAM 3 - ACTIVATED
21:15 S&D TEAM 3 - TARGET ACQUIRED: BETA
21:15 S&D TEAM 3 - APPROACHING TARGET: BETA

Gregory put on the brakes and swung out his arms to keep the woman from running past him. She stopped, breathless from running. "Wait!" he said, looking down at the sad, poor, sick-looking thing on the floor. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" he asked her. She looked at him bewilderedly.

"We could use him as a shield in case those autobots get us in range again!"

She was shocked at his words. Use the poor sick-looking thing on the floor as a non-human shield? "No, no, no, I'm not thinking that at all, not even a little! Ugh, with all the technological advances, why do men always have to stay the same?"

"Now ma'am," Gregory countered, "this is hardly the time nor place for debating gender ethics!"

She ducked under his arm and rushed to the creature's side. "Awww, it's so cute and cuddly!" She knelt to pet the sad, sickly-looking thing. "It reminds me of a stuffed rabbit toy I used to have. I called him Peter-wabbit," she heard herself saying, but in her mind she heard, "E=mc2! A dysfunctional childhood, too much math in my office, nicknamed 'quasi-infinite' ... go figure I would have problems with men. All I've ever wanted was a pay raise, and instead I'm running down corridors following men blindly. Now where's the logic in that?"

"I couldn't have scored better," Rufus thought as the human female pet him. "A chick! Chicks dig me. Hopefully this'll pan out ... some chow, a soft bed ... maybe even some extracurricular petting," he thought. "Wrood wroo prees hrelp mree?" Rufus feigned with the woman, all the while sizing up the male with her. Rufus looked up at Gregory, smiled widely, wagged his tail and panted with a sort of 'c'mon I'll be your bud ... I'll fetch your slippers ...' look.

Amanda looked up at Gregory as well, glaring at him, waiting for him to help. "Don't just stand there! Come and help me. Let's take it with us!"

Gregory felt that Rufus was much more intelligent than he was letting on. He had a strong feeling that whatever this creature was, it was an opportunist. He already felt like he was being played. "The autobots will be here any minute! We might have something a lot worse thrown at us if we don't get to a lifeboat soon, ma'am!"

"You sure know how to ruin the mood," she said, "and my name is Amanda: A... m... anda."

"Well Amanda, if you want to take this dog-mutant with us, then you'd best hurry!" Gregory didn't wait to see if it could walk. He started to jog on ahead of them.

She pulled Rufus to his feet. "Oh come on my petty wetty, we have to hurry uppy." She wondered if Rufus could understand anything she was saying. She hurried to keep up with Gregory, pulling Rufus along with her. "Anyway, it's not a dog-mutant," she called out to Gregory, "it's a rabbit-mutant, ummm, I think. I think its ears are a dead giveaway, but then again I'm not a biologist, I'm a mathematician."

Gregory didn't reply. He didn't slow down, either. "All the world's a stage," Amanda said to herself, "and we are in a sea of troubles."

"All the world has mange," Rufus thought, "and oh! Fleas are the trouble! I hope they are going to lead me somewhere safer than the gallows." His two companions didn't seem very calm. It must have been the noise and the faint purple light, he figured. Hmmm ... he'd tag along for a while, if just to see how the chow situation was. "Wrut's wrup?" Rufus asked Amanda.

"We're trying to avoid being vaporized by the Watcher's security 'bots," Amanda panted as she hurried to catch up with Gregory.

"Hmm ... these folks are in even more trouble than I was ... and there's no food ... Does blaster-cooked human sound appealing," he wondered.

BLAMM!! An explosion rocked the corridor! The initial sound came from the hallway ahead of Gregory, but it reverberated down the hall and back again innumerable times.

"Ohhh ... this isn't good!" Gregory hollered back to Amanda and Rufus. He waited for them to catch up at an intersection in the corridor. The sound of an autobot's anti-gravity device was growing behind them, limiting their choices. He decided to use Amanda and Rufus as shields from either direction. "Come on," he said, "I can't protect you if you don't keep up!" He grabbed Rufus by the arm and helped Amanda to pull him faster, admiring her face as he did so, smiling a toothy grin.

Amanda followed as fast as she could. "What am I doing?" she asked herself. She felt like an engineer crossed with a lemming, running back and forth down the same corridor; a little woolly and jumping to the wrong conclusions at every turn. "Whenever the math turns out to be impossible, you have to invent new physics," she told herself. Of course, it did very little to help. "Oh, come now, stop delaying the inevitable," said Death, somewhere in the recesses of her mathematical mind. She felt weak and paradoxical. Fatigue had begun to take its toll on her. She tried to ignore it and ran.

Rufus had abandoned hope of finding food anytime soon. "Better go with plan ... uh ... C: 'Run until the shooting stops'."

Rufus and Gregory shared a desire, although neither of them knew it, to reach the next bit of cover. But, alas, there was no cover to be had. A long dash seemed to be the only option as the motley threesome ran pell-mell down the hallway. Every now and again Amanda fell behind and Gregory paused to pull her and her scruffy companion forward more quickly. They passed through an intersection that they hadn't seen until they were nearly upon it, then through a section of hallway that seemed to have already seen some action. Large bits of pipe, steel, and sharp jagged sections of wall were lying about. A thin, wispy smoke made everything seem very strange.

Around the next corner, a long series of doors appeared on either side of them, almost all of which were labeled with the letter 'S' followed by a number. They came to a stop at a four-way intersection. Gregory stood still, listening. He thought he could hear human voices down one of the corridors.

With unexpected grace, Rufus tumbled toward a pile of debris in search of a suitably wicked piece of edged-something-or-other. He held his nose close to the floor and snorted the wispy smoke away from his nostrils. He perked up his jackal ears and scanned through the rubble until at last he was rewarded with a long, jagged shard of steel that was still partially attached to a piece of pliable door molding. The molding was about 13 centimeters long, and the jagged steel was 36 centimeters long. It seemed as if the two materials had been smelted together, probably from blast heat. "Wruuvy!", he said with his tongue lolling and his tail wagging happily. He brandished the wicked piece of debris and rejoined his newly found targets who weren't him. Oh, if only he had an energy pistol, like his old Cougaroid weapons-master had taught him to use! He hoped he could stay alive long enough to secure one. In the meantime, his axe would have to do.

Gregory let out his held breath. "Just as I'd hoped," he said. "Those explosions must mean that the autobots have already swept this corridor and moved on."

"If we could only be so lucky that they have forgotten us," Amanda replied, partly to herself.

No sooner had Amanda finished speaking than a pair of autobots rounded a corner behind them. He winced, "Ok, so they check things twice." They ran off quickly in the direction of the distant voices.

21:18 SEARCH AND DESTROY PROTOCOLS RUNNING
21:18 S&D TEAM 2 - APPROACHING TARGET: ALPHA
21:19 S&D TEAM 3 - APPROACHING TARGET: BETA
21:21 S&D TEAM 2 - TARGET ALPHA ENTERING FIRING RANGE

Percy heard little besides his own labored panting and the sound of rubble beneath his feet as he ran. He hadn't recognize any of the corridors that he had passed through. His cloned body had had insufficient muscular stimulation to prepare him for this sprint---only just enough to make his muscles work as requested by his cloned brain. "Dang ..." he thought, completely amazed that the cloning process had worked at all.

In the distance behind them, the autobots were beginning to gain ground. Zhaxier began to notice room numbers; S8323, S8324, S8325. Under each number was a name. Unfortunately, before he could stop to look at one more closely, BLAM! The corridor behind Chelydra, who was bringing up the rear, exploded in a fiery display of color as shards of steel and other metals flew madly. The good news was that the damage was still about 15 meters behind them; the bad news was that the autobots now considered them to be in firing range, and they were closing in. Everyone's adrenaline pumped some extra speed into their lagging strides, everyone except Tinker that is. Even carrying Sharneste, he easily maintained a fast pace. "Let's get outta this hallway," Arkady said quietly.

The dark hall seemed too long to offer any hope of salvation from the merciless robots behind them. No nearby intersection offered an alternate route, but Zhaxier saw two indented archways on either side of the hallway in front of him. The others behind him saw his medical bag and laser pistol come together as the Blendoid ducked into one of the alcoves. Inside it, a doorway was labeled 'G10'. Across the corridor, a similar door in the other alcove was labeled 'G11'. Some optimistic part of him harbored the hope that, despite the elephantine nature of The Warden, this was the same 'G10' that Dr. Flockheart had mentioned. Zhaxier didn't know why he hoped this, nor did he take the time to reflect.

As Arkady and Nike caught up with Zhaxier, they noted the huge sign printed in red metallic letters that graced the doors on either side of the hallway, 'AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY!'.

Tinker pulled in behind them and Sharneste dropped off his back, glad to be on her own paws again. "Shiny thing not run anymore?" she asked. "Okay, we fight now?" She didn't know what autobots were, but the others seemed afraid of them and the things that they threw looked painful. "I ready to fight!"

In the eerie silence they heard the futile sound of Zhaxier trying to open the locked door. "I have the means to cut it open," Tinker offered.

"That'll take some time," Nike said, "and might set off some type of anti-crime measures. Maybe one of us used to have this clearance, and if so, scanning our badge should open it." She removed her badge and took up a defensive position, ready for the 'bots. She knew that they wouldn't stand much of a chance with their present weaponry, but she wasn't going to be vaporized without a fight. Maybe the 'bots wouldn't know which room they would go into. "Yeah, right," she thought.

Zhaxier slid his card in the door reader several times with no result. He quickly stepped aside and yelled over the din of another explosion, "Well what're you waiting for, Butch?"

While Nike quietly seethed, Arkady removed his ID card and hoped that it would open the door. As he reached toward the door with it, he had a vision of himself defending his new friends against security 'bots with his bare knuckles. "Hey Tinker," he said, "you got any spare weapons in that trunk of yours?"

"None effective against these Arnolds, I'm afraid," Tinker replied, a metallic hint of regret in his voice. "Damn that tubecrawler!" he muttered. If Devon had not robbed him in the environment bay, Arkady would have had his pick from a veritable arsenal. At the present, the two beam pistols he wielded and the rubber slug thrower in his chest compartment were all that Tinker had. They would be useless against armored drones. Arkady, meanwhile, had been unsuccessful in his attempt to open the door.

Chelydra and Percy finally arrived, taking refuge in the less crowded alcove across the hall - 'G11'. Percy recognized the rooms prefixed with 'S' as Sleeper rooms, or crew quarters, but he couldn't recall what the 'G' rooms were. He guessed that they weren't lifeboats. "Waaaaaitaminute! This doesn't look like an escape pod launch bay!?" he exclaimed to Nike and Zhaxier. "Of course, I don't remember what one looks like ...," he thought, cursing his incomplete memory. "What're we stopping for, Z?" Percy asked.

Before Zhaxier could answer, another blast hit close by. BLAMM!! Hot molten shards sprayed in the hallway outside the alcoves. Chelydra readied his weapon and assumed a defensive posture. He felt calm; comfortable. The thought of death didn't bother him much anymore, but the prospect of taking out a 'bot was a bit thrilling. His adrenaline had assumed a steady, rapid-stream delivery method. He felt it embolden his every muscle and instinct.

Zhaxier turned around to face Percy and Chelydra in the opposite alcove. "Lifeboats are 25 doors down the hall!" he shouted. "Meet there if we get separated!"

Zhaxier took a quick peek around the corner and then crouched behind Tinker, who was keeping a bead on the approaching 'bots with his blaster pistol. "Can you see them?"

"Their optical signatures are fuzzy but detectable. I don't see infra-red."

"That's better than me." Zhaxier stuffed his laser pistol into the robot's free brachial appendage. "Take this. You're a better shot. And this," he added, reaching around to pop open the robot's chest compartment. He shoved in his medical bag and closed the hatch. Zhaxier popped his ID card into his mouth - making him completely invisible. "S8346 is 21 doors down, Tink."

"Your point? Four doors down from that is our lifeboat. What's so special ..."

"Not close enough. These 'bots are too fast! Look, Amanda yelled 'G10' when they grabbed her. This room is important too. Cover me."

Tinker calculated a hunch regarding what the Blendoid engineer might be planning. "Not even I will be able to track you in this lighting, Zhaxier."

"You koh hair koo hieng hee," he replied with some difficulty. The Blendoid dashed down the hall toward room 'S8346'. The electro-magnetic spectrum warped around him lovingly like hydraulic fluid around an air bubble, and, for the time being, Heisenberg himself would have found neither his position nor his momentum scrutable.

As Zhaxier blinked from existence, Arkady watched the ripples of his passing as he left the alcove. Even though he had just met these people an hour and 30 minutes ago, he didn't like the fact that their party had split up. "Oh, to be peacefully stuffing my face again back in that cafeteria," he thought blissfully.

Percy darted his head forward and peered down the hall. What could he do to stop the hovering autobots or give his fellow shipmates more time? Nothing came to mind and he ducked back into the alcove. He noticed the room's access panel and wondered if he could hack into the door's computer system. He dropped his garbage bag against a corner of the alcove, carefully leaving the sharp ends of the crude Wolfoid spears against the wall. He unzipped his fanny pouch. "Let's see, needle injector, letter opener, nail file, hmm ... what's this?" He shuffled through a few of the smaller items he had dropped into his pouch earlier and retrieved a black, hard plastic, pocket-sized case. He opened the case and discovered that it was a toolkit. Inside were a pair of tweezers, a mini-laser welder, some kind of hooked tool that he didn't recognize - although he thought he should have - a pair of mini-pliers and, resting comfortably in a vinyl pocket inside the toolkit ...

... an ID card.

"Hey, whattaya know," he thought, not completely surprised by the existence of the card. He removed it from his pouch. He closed the toolkit, dropped it back into his pack and zipped it up. He swiped his card across the door panel. Nothing happened. Percy was once again not surprised. After all, a software programmer and technical trainer would have had access to some computer systems, but not the whole ship. Regarding the nature of the 'G' rooms, he still had no idea, but apparently his former self had had no access to them.

"Here Percy, try this," the turtle-man flipped his security ID to his companion. Percy turned as Chelydra's card smacked him in the chest. "Who knows, maybe I've still got clearence," he said as he turned to face the corridor behind them to await the arrival of their tormentors. He only had two shells left. He'd have to make them count.

Percy quickly tried Chelydra's badge. The panel lit with a green aura and read, "SECURITY ACCESS GRANTED. HELLO LIEUTENANT JACKSON." The door made a series of noises from the inside, then slid open to reveal walls covered in spacesuits, uniforms, flak-vests, and other armor. Percy raised an eyebrow and peered in, intrigued.

Across the hall, Nike moved quickly to swipe her ID card. The small panel read, "COMMAND ACCESS GRANTED. HELLO CAPTAIN THOMASON." The door slid open in a similar fashion, revealing a large room with weapons cabinets on all of the walls. "An A&W depot!" she thought, amazed at their good fortune. "How did Amanda know about this?" she wondered, grateful to her friend for her help, even in her absence.

Nike, Arkady, Tinker and Sharneste entered the room together - Nike and Tinker with pistols held in front of them. They quickly determined that they were the room's only occupants. They were safe for the time being. The cabinets that faced them were like a dream dreamt by someone being chased down by security 'bots with phasers set to kill, especially if that someone was wearing a red shirt!

Tinker rushed to open the cabinets, but they were locked fast. Quickly, he pulled out his drill to attempt a break in, but he heard Nike's voice say, "STOP! Do not drill that lock!" She moved closer to him and flashed her ID badge across the sensor on the lock. "You trying to get us all killed?"

"No more than the approaching Arnolds! Dead is dead, no matter how you die."

"There are usually other means than force." Nike flashed her card for the lock: it gleamed green, beeped twice, and snapped unlocked. Inside were solar cells, chemical cells, hydrogen energy cells, disruptor pistols, paralysis rods, pistols, torches, and rifles. Tinker selected a particularly high-powered metal disruptor rifle and emitted, "Hello, Disruptor M-3000. Welcome to Poppa." <chick-chack> He also picked up two laser pistols, four hydrogen energy cells, and two solar cells. Sharneste grabbed a paralysis rod.


Laser Pistol

Disruptor M-3000

Paralysis Rod

"We should get these doors shut ASAP," Arkady shouted loudly enough for his comrades across the hall to hear. "We sure could use a few extra minutes!"

"Then we'd be trapped! It's lock, load and leave, flyboy---and I'll cover you." Tinker whipped around the alcove's edge and fired the Disruptor at the approaching security robots. The head bot's right extender arm disintegrated into tiny bits of goo with a loud KABOOM.

Nike grabbed two Disruptor pistols (metal and protein), a mini-scope, a laser pistol, a special auto-adapting stun gun that would stun 'anything', a dart ejector, two solar cells, a hydrogen cell and some shotgun shells. The laser pistol she stuffed into her left holster; the metal disruptor, her right. The protein disruptor, scope, dart ejector and power cells she placed into a munitions bag that she found in another cabinet; she then stuffed the bag with more energy cells of various sorts. As she clipped the bag onto her suit and hooked it around her left arm, the entryway filled with bright light as an explosion rocked the room.


Disruptor M-150

Disruptor P-150

Dart Ejector

Auto-Adapting Stun Gun

Laser Pistol

Arkady grabbed a pod launcher, along with a bag full of pods. Some were blue; some green; some red. He wasn't sure what they did, but they looked menacing, and the launcher was huge, which gave him some comfort. He fiddled with the pod launcher and a red pod, wondering, "Now, how exactly do I load this thing?"

As if she had read his mind, Nike replied, "That's an energy pod launcher, Arkady. It won't do you any good in the ship, unless you want us all to join the meandering spacedust outside. We need to join them across the hall. Go GO GO!" she yelled, dashing into the sparks just as the light from another explosion subsided. Arkady tightened his grip on the energy weapon in fear and sprinted across the hall after her with Sharneste right behind him.

Meanwhile, Percy and Chelydra had moved into the armory. "Here, you better take your ID card back, Chelydra." He handed the card back to Lt. Jackson, "er, that is, Lieutenant!" Percy put his own ID card in his belt zipper pack and zipped it up.

Somehow, Chelydra knew his ID badge would access the cabinet locks as it had the entryway, as if he had done this before. He flashed it in front of a lock, and presto! They passed through the security measures and had almost every imaginable type of armor at their disposal.

Chelydra, already armored with a built-in carapace, grabbed a light, duralloy-plated suit and threw it at Percy, "quick man, put this on!" Percy caught the suit and quickly began putting it on. With only two shots left in his shotgun, Chelydra feared he was going to need something large to protect him, so he grabbed a duralloy helmet and shield. He turned to check the aftermath of an explosion and saw Nike slide into the room on her side.

"Hey," Percy said to Nike hurriedly as he buttoned, fastened, straightened, and adjusted his suit. He couldn't remember ever donning one in the past, but it wasn't too complicated. "Look what we found!" he finished, as Nike seemed already to have sized up the armory. Then he noticed she was carrying a small arsenal. "Shoo-whee! Looks like you guys hit the jackpot, too!"

Percy steeled himself for the close combat that would surely follow, and realized his wrench wasn't going to help much against steel-plated security 'bots. "One of those shooters for me, Cap?" he said reluctantly. He couldn't remember how good his skills were with a firearm, but he guessed he would know soon enough.

Nike smiled at Percy's nickname for her. "Actually, yeah---here ya go," she said as she tossed the laser pistol to him. "Got some ammo for you, Chelydra." She offered, extending a hand full of ammo, while reaching with the other to grab a helmet from the rack. "C'mon, we've got to get out of here!"

"Thanks Cap'n, I was getting awful low," the turtle-man said, gratefully accepting the ammo. "Right behind you ... Into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred, or something like that, wasn't it?"

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