TURN 14: Escort

Gisele glared a hole in the back of Ti's head, as if to say 'if you screw up, they won't be the only ones trying to kill you'. She wasn't sure if he noticed. There was definitely tension between her and the big Russian, but it sure as hell wasn't love.

Diana closed on her quarry the fastest, using shadows and huge storage crates to good effect in concealing herself on an opposite side from Nadya, who skillfully eluded the security men's detection equally well. Even Ti managed to step softly as he lumbered toward the group of security men. Ed was backed up by Slave as he, too closed.

When Diana saw Ti just about to round the corner of the last obstacle, she leapt from the shadows, initiating the attack. Sliding around the man from behind, she grabbed him from behind, clamping a hand over his mouth and driving her knife into his midsection. Unfortunately, she discovered the man was wearing armorweave clothing and the knife failed to penetrate.

Ed nodded in acceptance of his task. He waited for the others to begin his move. He began focusing on one guard in particular. Once the others are in place to rapidly dispose of the other guards, Ed lashed out with his mind.

Ed surprised his target with a mental attack that warped the air and caused painful heart fluctuations. He clutched his heart and looked around desperately seeking his target. What he saw was Aleph skittering toward him like a bizarre humanoid bug. She attacked low. Viciously low, in fact, delivering a strong punch in the man's gonads to make sure he didn't make a nuisance of himself. He nerves overloaded with pain, the man dropped into a fetal position, threw up and floated into a happy dream world where his balls didn't cause lightning to flicker behind his eyelids or explode.

Nadya took Diana's cue and moved out. Tapping her target on the shoulder she held for him to turn toward her, then delivered a massive strike direct to his heart. He dropped immediately.

Ti, struggling to keep up with the others simply barrelled into his and delivered a full-strength punch which laid the man out cold.

There was only one conscious man left and he struggled to break free from Diana but failed. Diana, in turn, put him in a sleeper hold. He struggled vainly for a little while, but was soon unconscious.

"Gotta be done..." Ti muttered as he stepped to his fallen guard. He didn't like this end of the business and typically kept his hands clean when possible, but the situation now was pretty extreme. If any of the security team happened to wake up and sound the alarm before they reached the shuttle, it could be bad for them all. Death would be preferable to the hell the SS could make for them.

Placing one hand on the side of the man's head and the other on his neck, Ti exerted pressure and a sharp snapping sound could be heard.

Ed dragged his and Aleph's target towards the rest. Using their uniforms he tied and gagged them together as best as possible.

Nadya, seeing Ti kill his but Ed merely tie up the unconscious form of his guard, realized there wasn't necessarily a precedent set as to what to do with defeated foes. Since she had the choice, she decided to follow Ed's example and tie and gag her guard.

Diana watched as the other two merely bound and gag their foes. She saw Ti break the neck of his, and did the same to hers. For a long second, she thought about using her silenced pistol on the other two, with one round each to the back of the head, but decided against it.

She moved to her flanking position again, and waited for the band to move on.

The team assembled once more and checked the door. Finding no one immediately in sight, the group moved outside. Here the enormity of the place hit them.The flat launch area stretched for miles in three directions from here and was populated by a half dozen rockets with fast-looking shuttles mounted on them. From the amount of rocket parts fully and partially assembled in the hangar the team just exited, there were perhaps three more being readied there. And looking to the right (East), the team could see a behemoth hangar, a twin to the one they were leaving.

It was not difficult to identify where the military base was from here, either. Looking off to the northeast (forward and right), the military quarter could be seen complete with a high electric fence that was occasionally lit up by a spotlight. Razor wire inconveniently decorated the top of the fences. Getting to the base wasn't going to be easy, either. It looked to be well over a mile away, possibly farther because the flatness of the Center allowed the eye to easily see straight to the edges of this place. It was really a marvel of engineering.

Littering the route from here to the military base was one giant rocket labelled FrostGmbH on its lit-up sides, massive rocket movers, cargo hauling cars, fueling trucks, concrete blast shields, and of course several security patrols (which you couldn't necessarily see all of because of the various obstacles, but are almost certainly there). Then, of course, you could also see rapidly moving lights in the sky at low altitude. It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure those would probably be the Battleframes.

The Krupp Aerospace shuttle was clearly marked on the rocket due north (dead ahead). It was almost as far away as the military base and was the closest one to the command bunker at the far end of the MSLC.

Members of the team were able to take all this in at a quiet moment. Then, a bright light appeared in the sky, closing fast. It looked a bit like a comet but it soon became clear it was some kind of meteor, except that the thing whined like a scramjet engine. As it passed overhead, the air around you shuddered with a titanic BOOM as the shock wave ripped across the base. The object was far exceeding the speed of sound and it was headed for an impact.

And that's exactly what it did. Several miles north of the base, the object slammed into the ground, with a boom arriving over thirty seconds later. That even certainly stirred things up. The flying lights seemed to move around the MSLC commercial launch fields even more frantically, and a number of lights began to ascend from the military quadrant, leaving on a vector to intercept the impact site north of the base.

"Giselle... when we get done with this I'm going to find that damned switch of yours and weld it permanently away from the 'bitch' position," complained Ti.

Then Ti noticed the incoming meteor. Panic threatened to engulf the T-Man once more, but a twitchy glance at the metal bodied Giselle forestalled that as an option.

"Better hope that was Addy." He told the group. "If not... the clock is ticking."

"Ticking?" Echoed Ti. "Something's wrong. Ticking?"

"Wait a minute..." The big man looked up and around, focusing in on the military base and how fast and commited their reaction was to the impact.

"This isn't right." Like the European rail system, his train of thought moved slowly and had numerous delays, but reached its destination eventually.

"How many extra troops have they moved in? It looks abso-fraggin-lutely ridiculous. I mean, I know we're all bad-assed killers and enemies of the state and all, but they're set for world war four here."

"Do you really think this is all for our benefit? Maybe there's a SLIGHT chance that they were expecting someone else?"

Frederick smiled at this, "But we're not enemies of the state. This mission was started by the SS remember? We told you about it. But if this mission really is all about what Addy said it was, then there's a lot riding on it's outcome. Perhaps even more than we think."

Frederick continues. "Someone, or something seems to know what we're up to. Or at least that someone is doing this. And remember what Addy said we were after. If it's true, then not pulling off this mission will result in a World War. Most likely an apocholyptic war. Our only concern right now is getting into space. Our only decisions are which shuttle to steal and how to get to it. So let's stop jabbering and move."

Nadya noded curtly. "Da. This way." The woman began leading the group toward the military base.

Nadya, who had worn the same comset as she and Addy had been using on the off chance Adelaide might try to contact them, suddenly pauses, listening for a moment.

"Nyet," she said looking into the distance where the meteor-like object had impacted.

"Nyet!" she said again, more forcefully. Then, looked irate, she yanked off the set and tossed to Frederick.

"It is Adelaide. She will speak with you."

"Hey," comments a concerned Ti. "Ask her if that was her meteor."

Frederick said, "Must be pretty damned important to break silence." and put the headset on. Once it was in place he said simply, "Go."

"I see you from here," said the female voice on the set. "Congratulations on breaking their security system and coms. Be aware that the Battleframes and military are on separate systems. You have two patrols in your way, then you're going to have to break through that fence. And there's a problem. The base employs at least one military-grade SecSpyder. Try not to use noisy weapons if you can, but if you do, I'll create a distraction they can't ignore.

"By the way, Nadya says you didn't have anything to do with that meteor. That's bad news. Now you have two reasons to move faster. Number one: If I can see you from my position, the Battleframes around soon going to spot you. Number two: Something is coming toward the base from the direction of the meteor impact."

Frederick could hear Adelaide breathing hard and wind brushing the microphone, causing static.

"Run, Frederick! Get them to run!"

Frederick got a look of fear on his face when he realized the implication of what Addy had just said. Turning to the others, he said, "We're out of time. That wasn't a meteor, it was a landing pod. Whatever was in it is heading this way. We have to go, now!" His tone made it clear he was serious, and if necessary, he'll take point.

"I agree, it's time to flat out go for it." Diana says. "The sneak and snail's pace is over, let's full tilt bust ass."

"Landing pod?" Diana said. ~oh, crap, they've found me again.~ was her first reaction. "Okay, then let's get the hell out of here, and be quick about it." she said. "no sense in drawing any unwanted attention."

As they moved out he relayed the rest, "Avoid noisy weapons. Two patrols in our way. There's at least one SecSpyder on the base. The Battleframes are still functional."

"Anymore good news?" Diana asked back.

The group set out heading for the military base with all the speed they could muster. Ti's ragged breathing as he fought to keep up seemed to help keep the time for everyone else so that a snappy pace was maintained.

Frederick's map led them on a slightly zig-zag path that kept them mostly hidden except for a few open places where the team had to dash to minimize their visibility to the Battleframes.

About midway there, the team met the second security force of the day. This time, however, surprise was not on their side. The security men and women saw the group and two began shouting, "Achtung!" and drawing pistols. One even began trying to wave down a Battleframe.

Nadya dropped to one knee for stability and opened up with her silenced MP10. Twenty rounds whispered from the machine and made multiple impacts on the four. Unfortunately, their clothing, too, must have been armored and it nullified most of the damage she tried to do.

As Nadya proceeded to shoot at the secuity, Ed switched weapons. He holstered his side arm and pulled the staff. He darted towards them just as the Nadya finished sending bullets out. With a flick of his wrist the staff elongated. Ed jabbed the leading end into the ground and vaulted forward at the first standing target within range.

Ed just managed to clip one. She had been struck more severely than the others by Nadya's machine gun attack. The woman's cap flipped forward as she took the kick in her stomach and she doubled over. She blacked out and lay prone.

As Nadya's initial shots rattled out, Gisele was afraid of return fire from the alerted guards. She moved quickly in front of Frederick, both pistols already in hand and leveled. But then the others started charging forward and she was forced to hold her fire than risk hitting her own teammates.

Diana sprang forward, for the moment putting her weapon away, and drawing her knife. It She targeted one that had been hit by Nadya, and attacked full force.

Diana sliced at the man across his unprotected throat. Blood spurted as the man scrabbled at his severed jugular and collapsed writhing on the ground.

Aleph dropped low to the ground, races forward on all fours toward the closest guard, jerking forward in syncopated movements to throw off any attack.

The fast cyborg closed on her quarry like an ant to sugar and attempted a grapple. She leapt at him but the man managed to spin out of the way and leveled his gun at her.

Ti didn't even hesitate as he ran forward, still a little behind the rest of the group. Grolwing softly, like an enraged bear, the big man grasped a posted sign in passing, ripping the perforated aluminum from it's concrete base like pulling a stick from mud. Swinging the weapon in long arcs, he tore into the security forces.

The huge man's legs pumped furiously as they hurled Victor's huge mass at his enemies. However, he wasn't quite able to cross enough ground to engage his enemy.

Aleph determinedly attacked her foe once more leaping at the guy again, but he proved too quick. She missed. Ti, too, was flailing at his opponent with his massive sign-club, but had as little luck as Aleph.

Ti's enemy had to draw and fire her gun at the same time, and this too-quick action almost cost her. Unfortunately, she managed to get two rounds off, the retorts echoing loudly through the area. The first smashed into Ti's heavily armored chest and bounced off harmlessly. The other nearly followed the first bullet and dug a deeper, more painful grove.

Aleph's target also squeezed off two rounds. He had already pulled his gun out, however and was ready to fire when she attacked. The first pinged off her leg and the second off her shoulder. She appeared unharmed and unslowed.

Ti swung again and connected, catching the woman across her hips. She flipped through the air like a tossed rag doll and landed in a pile fifteen feet away. She didn't move.

Aleph meanwhile seemed to be toying with her victim. Once more, he slid from her grip and squeezed off a couple shots, but missed completely. At last, she grabbed her victim and wrestled him to the ground. She then ignited her laser welder and fuzed him. Permanently.

Diana recoiled from the smell of burnt flesh. It was one smell she could never quite get over. "Let's get the hell out of here, now. Those shots are going to draw attention. Ti, you and Aleph get those bodies out of sight." Diana said.

She then drew her smg, and quickly took her usual position on one wing. She blended into the darkness, and waited. Sniffing the air, trying to gauge if any more patrols were around, and their distance. She also looked into the darkness trying to spot the battleframes that she could hear. No doubt, the gun shots had been picked up by them as well.

Indeed Diana detected no less than three Battleframes altering course and flying down toward her location. That is, they were until...

The security guards were down, but the noisy gunfire would certainly draw the attention of other patrols in the area. Worse, Battleframes will almost certainly soon be arriving to investigate the disturbance, unless something were done. Right now.

"Aw, damn..." Ti muttered as he fingered the (mostly) harmless bullet hole in his chest. "Gonna need a new shirt."

His attention was snagged once more by Diana's voice and he began gathering up the bodies with a sarcastic "Yes'm". It didn't take long for the fallen security to be hauled into hiding, draped over Ti's shoulder like sacks of wet flour.

"You get that one." He indicated to Slave the man whose throat had been cut.

Once that had been done, Ti's guns appeared in his hands once more and were made ready for work. This time, though, a fourth round was placed under the hammer of the massive revolver.

With the two barrels pointing towards the night sky he looked towards Aleph. A thought crossed his slushy mind.

"How strong are you?" He asked.

The comset in Frederick's ear crackled to life and he heard what must have been Adelaide breathing hard as if running and speaking to herself without realizing it. Very faintly, he heard her whisper in a shaky voice, "Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.... I'm not clear, I'm not clear yet..."

Then, as if she was cool and collected, Frederick heard her say loud and clear, "Okay boys and girls, here they come. I'm going to get them off your backs, though. Word to the wise: Don't look to your left. Good bye, Frederick."

A massive flash instantly flowered far off the left of the team's current heading. Frederick's skullcomp automatically calculated the distance based on previous observations and triangulated it: one mile away. Judging by the amount of light emitted, the computer determined that the force emitted would be equivalent of a small tactical nuclear weapon. The skullcomp advised putting a sturdier body between himself and the focus of the blast as shelter from the shockwave, which it calculated to be nonlethal to most humans at this range, but dangerous for Frederick. It recommended hanging on to his bodyguard.

The shockwave that arrived 6 seconds later had various effects. To Ti, it merely tousled his hair and made him go, "Wha?". Slave was still finding bits of living flesh to weld and was too heavy to be moved by the wind anyway. Gisele, too, was unbothered by the unleashed forces, Nadya was knocked off balance, but was easily able roll back to her feet without much bother. Diana, too, was knocked off balance, but probably would have recovered except that Ed was blown right into her. They landed in a pile on the ground, with Ed draped across Diana in an 'X' shaped pattern.

Looking across the MSLC field they immediately identified the cause of the destruction. Where once stood the Krupp Aerospace shuttle on its booster rockets, there lay a flaming, smoking ruin. It was difficult to tell if other rockets and shuttles were damaged, but of course with Radar and many security systems off line as well, none of them would be going anywhere for a long time. Numerous smaller secondary explosions were also going off as rocket fuel and other flammables gave in to the crushing heat.

Diana, still concerned about the approaching Battleframes watched them suddenly wobble crazily in the air as the shockwave hit, then turn and move with maximum speed to the vicinity of the blast.

Diana whistled under her breath.

She then pushed Ed off of her, and quickly got up. "Holy shit!" she said, not realizing that it was louder then she intended. "Okay, that's the break we needed, let's get the hell out of here, with all speed."

Then, she sees Nadya. For a minute, she feels sorry for her lover, and wants nothing more then to
run over and hug her. However, not isn't the time or place, and such sentimentality is quickly pushed out of her head.

She did her best to hurry the others along, no longer really caring about the bodies of the guards lying about. "Come on people, let's go!" she urged.

When everyone started moving again she took her position on the flank, moving at her best speed, but not faster then the group.

Frederick's actions after the flash seemed almost childlike, until you considered that he was 6 feet tall and half the weight of any other member of the group. There was a look of terror on his face as he yelled, "Gisele." Running to his bodygaurd, he grabbed ahold of her and tucked his head in as if a child trying hide in its mother's arms. He held onto her tightly and used her cybernetic body as a shield to protect him from the shockwave.

He knew that finding out that Addy hadn't been clear would be painful to Nadya. He decided to wait and tell her once in space and on course. Until then it would only be a potentially lethal distraction.

Ed, needing no extra encouragement, sprang to his feet, collapsed his staff and darted out after Diana.

Frederick's cyborg bodyguard had run along with the rest, having no real concerns or ideas of her own to voice. Things were moving quickly, and speaking up without a definite plan would only slow matters down.

When something flashed in the distance, she didn't mind that Frederick clung to her for stability in the shockwave that followed, but she felt little of the force he apparently feared. Her mass was usually an
inconvenience, but at times it had its good points. She smiled slightly as she shaded her eyes from the light.

The team raced across the field, trying to make the last 3/4 mile run without attracting attention away from the explosion. Overall, they were reasonably successful.

As the got nearer the base, they began to get a glimpse of what they were really racing against. From the north, less than a quarter mile away from their position at the high fence, there seemed to be a wave of motion heading their way. It was a strangely fascinating, yet horribly writhing force that seemed to lash out from time to time to swat aside small teams of Platzwaffe guardsmen. It was difficult to tell at this distance and lighting if it was a single, immense beast, or several small creatures. Even at this distance and being unable to really see much detail, the way that it would occasionally pluck out a soldier, rip him apart and... EAT him, made the insides of those in the team that were still mostly human churn.Whatever it was, it looked like they were moving on the base. Although it was farther out, it was moving fast.

To get in the base and after that military escort, someone needed to cut a hole in that fence and they needed to do it fast.

"Ho...ly...SHIT!" Ti dropped both of his guns to the ground in mind numbing terror. Here they were, the terrors of Moscow. These were the guys that ate his best friend and killed his career all in one fell swoop. The hounds of hell still after him for escaping them the first time. How far were they going
to pursue him? He knew he should have never came back, but would Italy have kept him safe?

From this horde of evil? Not a chance.

Turning with as much speed as possible, he reached out to the fence with his armored, padded and, hopefully, insulated hands and ripped as much of the fence down as he could in one massive heave. Not waiting for his team, not even taking time to retrieve his discarded weapons, Ti ran for the shuttle.

Massive amounts of electricity coursed through the huge young man's body which should have been enough to knock most men on their ass. But then, Ti wasn't most men, either. He ripped a huge length of fence right out of the ground, crunching it up like an accordion and plowing right through. Instantly, the base alarm sounded.

He was so intent on making it to the shuttle, he almost missed the large SecSpyder which rounded a barracks to step in front of Ti. Most of the base's human personnel seemed otherwise distracted by destruction on the MSLC or by the strange invaders, but this thing was still performing its duties.

The large, tank-like spider cyborg heavy weapons pod swivelled toward the party and a mechanical voice uttered, "Achtung." [Halt.]

The pressure was certainly building. At the rear of the group, Gisele and Frederick, who occasionally checked for pursuit, noted that some of the Battleframes had turned to move north and engage the horrors there, while others seemed to be cutting up the Krupp shuttle wreckage, looking for something, perhaps the cause of the explosion. If the BattleFrames dealt with the invaders, then how long could it be before they come to investigate the military base disturbance?

Seeing Ti rip the fence down, Ed paused long enough to for the last fragments to fly away. He darted over the wreckage and continues on. Seeing Ti skid to a halt, Ed scanned forward with his eyes. Seeing the machine deftly move towards the tank-man, Ed dropped prone. "Get down!", he whispered harshly to those behind him. He forced his mind to listen to him as he scanned the creature.

Frederick picked up Ti's weapons. There's no way he could fire one of them without breaking his wrist, but Ti might need them.

Ti came to a halt before the SecSpyder and paused. His dark eyes cast towards the electronic horror, he faced the machine without fear because the nightmare behind him was far worse than any creation of man.

Stepping slowly and carefully he moved to one side, out of the security man's line of sight. From this position he would probably have a fine view of the encroaching hoard of demons as they moved through his fellows like an all devouring flood.

Frederick quickly moved up behind Ti. Pulling out the large guns, he placed one to each side of the large man so that he could grab them in cross-draw fashion. "Here. Kill the thing."

With a shrug, Ti accepted his guns as offered by Fred and calmly attempted to drill two large holes in the Spyder with his Jackhammer.

The SecSpyder noticed movement. It's mouth-mounted swivel cannon turned and locked on to Frederick and Ti. And it opened up.

"Yah!" Ti shouts as he desperately tried to discover a new route to China.

Ed concentrated and attempted to make contact with the device. He hoped it was like Aleph and had some form of a human in it.

Ducking down behind Ti, Frederick looks over the large man's form and examined the SecSpyder's structure for weaknesses.

Nadya took careful aim with her Jackhammer, not wanting to waste a shot and hoped that Ti could withstand a blast from the creature's guns.

Diana quickly sidestepped and moved around the Spyder, looking for an access plate or cover.

The SecSpyder unleashed a full-auto burst from it's heavy calibre weapon. The weapon itself looked wrong. The barrel looked like it should fire really slender grenades or gigantic amounts of solid metal. What in fact spewed for was something else entirely. To the observant eyes of Frederick, he thought the ammo was low-velocity, too as he caught glimpses of black streaks leaving the barrel. With a sinking feeling, Frederick got the impression this weapon would not meet Geneva Convention standards in any way, shape, or form.

Frederick felt the massive rounds rip the air all around he and Ti. Unfortunately Ti had an even closer experience. One round managed to plant itself firmly in his chest, right over his heart and lodged itself there. Fortunately it did only minor damage.

For his part, Frederick looked for a weakness in the massive, tank-like cyborg, but didn't find one that was obviously accessible from the ground. However, given that it rose to a height of 12 feet when it was on all six legs (two more are pincers and not useful for locomotion), taller when it reared up, it was difficult to tell if there was an access panel on top or not.

Ed seized an opportunity to mentally strike out at the creature but the warping bolt flung at the creature missed its target.

Ti and Frederick heard a whining sound coming from newly-drilled bullet holes in the ground around them and bits of dirt began to kick out of them as they dug deeper.

"What the hell is it shooting?!" Unfortunately, working for a security agency led Gisele to believe she was fairly on top of things in the anti-personnel weapons department, but this kind of took her by surprise.

Referring for a moment to his data stores in his SynChips, Frederick quickly brought up information on illegal weaponry. There was a new heading for weapons of this type. Screw Head Explosive Bullets, developed by the Ostereich Military Sciences branch brought a great deal of political clamor. Although this was removed from German news media, the discovery of the development of this weapon by Japan and American operatives brought immediate political repercussions.

These weapons were not specifically designed to kill military personnel as were standard, hollow point and armor piercing rounds. Instead, they were designed to actually burrow into their target, moving toward the largest heat source (almost always a major organ) and lodge there. If the target survived this process, they would be brought back to enemy MASH units for medical treatment by combat medics. Unfortunately, the large rounds were highly explosive and on a timer. Therefore, if the doctor treating the victim did not recognize the round, or could not extract it and get a bomb disposal unit to disarm it, it would explode. The device was meant to kill medical personnel attempting to treat the wounded.

Der Fuhrer, faced with trade repercussions on two sides of the world capitulated, stating that this device would become illegal under international law and that use of these weapons, even by its own military would be met with stern repercussions. The Japanese and Americans were partially mollified. However, German control over arabian oil fields eventually convinced them a trade embargo over this would be counter-productive.

blam BLAM blam!! Went Gisele's two pistols as they roared at the SecSpyder. The first shot went pretty wide, and the Jackhammer spent one round missing as well. The Spyder seemed pretty nimble for its size. However, Gisele did manage to get the thing's attention away from Ti as the next most dangerous target.

Not sure if his minimal strength would help or not, Frederick decided to risk helping Ti get the S.H.E.B out of his chest.

"These rounds are explosive and on a timer. Once we get it out, you *must* throw it."

"Explosive?" Echoed Ti...

"Come on, you worthless piece of crap!" Gisele shouted at the SecSpyder in front of her. Keeping both pistols leveled at it, she began to sidestep quickly away from the others, hoping it would keep trained on her. Sure, Ti could take another round or two and stay standing like the human Panzer he was, but if even one of those touched Frederick, he'd be a lost cause. Ed, Diana, and Nadya seemed to be alright on their own, and they might even see to it that Gisele got out of this one alive.

"Honestly," she thought to herself in the strange introspective way that adrenaline led to. Time slowed down and let her conscious chastise herself properly. "What are you going to do against this thing? It's piece of military equipment. It's a weapon, and you're a puppet. Just a metal marionette."

As if just to ensure that the SecSpyder didn't get any funny ideas about turning on any of the others, she kept firing at it, unheeding of her increasingly low ammunition levels. She hadn't hit it properly yet, but there was always a chance, and it felt damned good to vent.

Diana moved quickly and leapt up on the giant Spyder. She hung there for a moment, seeming to stick to cyborg-tank like, well, a spider herself. She quickly scrabbled around to the top of the armored behemoth and began looking for an access panel.

Nadya decided she could not wait any longer. The spyder was either going to start snipping at Diana with its pincers or it would attack Gisele with a full barrage. She didn't know how well or if Gisele was armored, so now was the time. She squeezed the trigger.

The Jackhammer roared in Nadya's hands and drilled a hole straight through the SecSpyder's armored casing, burrowing into it's skull. It seemed not so long ago that this very same thing happened to another SecSpyder... Perhaps the manufacturer should increase the amount of armor to the head. At any rate, the thing /squealed/ as it collapsed. In one second it was reduced from a towering maelstrom of death-delivery, to a heap of junk.

Meanwhile, Ti managed to yank out the over-large slug as it whirred and attempted to drill into his body. Blood spurted and there was obvious significant damage as it was yanked out. Ti tossed it far enough away, that the explosive thing was no longer in sight.

Gisele fired a couple extra rounds into the thing to make sure it wouldn't get up again.

For a gasping moment, the team saw a clear path to the shuttle. A major portion of the security detachment had been dispatched to deal with the swarming threat fast approaching, and the blessedly short, and therefore minor skirmish hadn't attracted more attention than the other invaders.

It was still a gauntlet. There were enough MPs around that the team could be quickly overwhelmed if they tried to shoot their way through, and of course firing weapons anywhere in the direction of the military escort shuttle and its accompanying rockets would be worse than stupid since although small arms fire would probably not do significant damage to it, any small amount of damage could become lethal in space.

The team was reduced to one choice. Sprint.

"AYHHHHH!!!" Screamed Ti as the round was extracted in a wash of blood. Clamping one hand down over the injury, he watch the whirring thing spin useleslly on the ground. Rich and thick swearing in native Russian filled the air.

Looking toward the shuttle, he considered. As slow as he was even a full out sprint by the big man would get him there after the others if they leapt from hiding place to hiding place. What he needed, was invisibility.

"Smoke. Smoke grenades!" He crowed.

"Lay down a screen. Put a cloud between us and the shuttle, provide some running cover."

As the obstacle in front was stopped, Ed stood up and assessed his team mates. All looked like the could continue, so he took point and called back "Move out, quickly." he jogs a few steps to make sure they can keep up with him. Seeing that most can, he pours on the speed. Keeping a look out for potential engagements he warns with hand signals to the nears team member just so they are prepared.

Frederick realized almost immediately that it would take a miracle for Ti to get to the shuttle in one piece. He certainly hoped he'd make it. The hacker, too weak to even help Ti get to his feet, quickly joined Gisele ready to move quickly for the shuttle.

Diana paused for a moment. "Ti, that's not a bad idea." she said.

She then dug into the backpack she had on, and came out with all the smoke grenades that they had been able to buy. "Okay, shall we throw them all at once, and run like hell, or toss them as needed?" she asked, a nefarious smile on her lips.

"Toss, run. Keep the coud in front of us. Get on board fast."

The big man was already getting winded from the dash to the shuttle. He was pushing himself hard not to be left behind, but his lumbering progress was painfully slow compared to the others.

Gisele shot a sideways glance at Ti. He was a big boy, but he still might need someone to take care of him. But first things first. With a shrug of her shoulders, she slid her armored longcoat off and hung it around Frederick's shoulders.

She immediately cut off any backtalk from Frederick before it started. "Just take it." Bringing both guns across her chest and giving them a quick check, she looked at Ti one more time. No, she wouldn't be letting him fall behind any time soon.

The team took off at a run with Diana slightly ahead, tossing smoking grenades in front of them. Although this made their general location and heading known, it served to conceal them to a great extent. The few guards remaining were forced to fire blindly into the smoke in a vain hope of hitting something. Automatic fire showered the area at the team ran through, peppered by the occasional loud pop of a sniper rifle, or jackhammer pistol.

This probably saved Ti, who was normally more of a bullet-magnet than most of the team members. Aleph, Ed, Diana, Nadya and Gisele, too, escaped harm.

Frederick, however, was not so lucky. But he *was* grateful. One bullet impact him directly in the stomach, but the heavy armored longcoat saved him from any harm at all. The other hit managed to drill through his shoulder, though, causing the hacker to howl and clutch at his shoulder in pain.

Through the haze the lead member of the team could just make out the base of the escort shuttle and she drew back to toss the last grenade when another !crack! rang out across the base. Diana seemed to jump a little, her toss being ruined by the sudden impact of a high-calibre rifle round drilling clean through her back and chest. Without pausing, however, Nadya swept Diana over her shoulder and kicked the grenade out in front of the team. For a moment Diana was bewildered wondering how come she wasn't dead, or if she was dying, but the moment passed as she realized she was being carried along like a sack of potatoes.

Suddenly the firing stopped and the team realized they stood before the giant rocket engines. The launch vehicle for the military escort was different in design of the ship and the pad compared to the commercial shuttles. In order for the military to be able to scramble the escort as quickly as possible, the pad itself was sunk deep into the ground and the escort attached to the booster rockets much lower down. This allowed access to the shuttle merely by running up a ramp and jumping in through the cockpit door. And for some reason, it appeared that the shuttle had just been prepped as if they were preparing to launch a mission or intercept...

Nadya leapt through first, still carrying Diana, whom she deposited in one of twelve seats on her way to the cockpit. "I am sorry, Diana. I must begin launch sequence. Then we look at your wound. You hold on, da?" No one really had any idea how bad Diana had been hit, yet.

As everyone rushed in, Nadya gave instructions. "Frederick, up front. I need copilot on computers." She did a double-take as she noticed that Frederick had been hit, too. "You okay to work computer?" she asked.

Nadya continued to deliver her orders. "Gisele, Ti, you sit and put on harness. Check Diana. Aleph and Ed, you close hatch and watch door. When we lift off, Ed curl up and make a ball, Aleph can hang on." Nadya retreated to the pilot's cabin, leaving the door between the marine's quarters and the pilots cabin open to allow easy communication.

"Funk 'dat!" Snapped Ti at the pushy broad. "Point me towards the gunner's station, or whatever you call it on this flying bathtub."

"Take railgun turret. Warm up coils first, or you fire only duds." She appeared to be too preoccupied to be bothered by the tone of irritable passengers, as she began flipping switches and twisting dials.

"Frederick, you monitor computers. If a system registers failure, you tell me. If a system takes a long time to come up, you tell me that too. We leave in two minutes. That is as fast as we can, so we pray Ed and Aleph can hold the door."

Ed was the last to enter the rocket. He made sure everyone was on board before he enters.

"Yah, yah. I know how to fire a fucking railgun," Ti retorted.

This time the comment was in native Russian and carried the same tone Nadya was using. Plopping himself down in the gunner's chair, Ti logged into the console through his weapon link.

"Hey," He switched back to the more common German. "This is just like the interstage for Space Mariners IV. I think they used the same graphics engine, even."

"I love that game."

To his credit, the big kid did resist the urge to make 'explody' noises while the system finished it's online routines.

Fighting through the pain, Frederick quickly took a seat and jacked into the ship's systems.

Aleph scampered around the shuttle. She instinctively checked the craft's integrity before helping Ed secure the door.

Her "face" is of course expressionless, but she moves like an excited kid. More accurately, like a spider on meth, scuttling around the passenger cabin before clinging to the bulkhead beside the door and folding her limbs tight for take-off.

Frederick found a jack and connected directly to the on-board computer system. It had already launched a self-monitoring program and was rapidly ticking down seconds and tenths of a second toward ignition. All systems appeared to be coming on line in good order. Finally, the monitor registered the 30 second mark and issued its warning: "Inform crew: Thirty seconds to lift off. Mission cannot be aborted after the 10 second mark.

Ti had an excellent view from his railgun turret and he swiveled experimentally to see how if felt. Doing so immediately told him he'd need to strap down tightly on this wild puppy. This thing was meant to drill holes in the toughest ships hulls and space stations. It would probably slice through concrete and steel bunkers like paper, too. Likely the power of it would be reduced by being fired in the atmosphere, but it would undoubtedly tear the air like a lightning bolt as well. In addition, the weapon systems were only the finest quality (of course). There was a detailed radar readout which showed numerous fast-moving ground and air targets, and an ammo readout which read two sets of 50, one for each gun in the turret. The the chair allowed 360 degree movement along one plane and 270 degrees in another plane, covering all but the hopefully heavily armored belly of the craft. That's why he saw what was coming.

Ed and Aleph had an interesting view from the portal in the outer airlock door from which they stood watch. It seemed there was an old half-track careening crazily from side to side. There was a BattleFrame in pursuit which fired at it from the air. Tracers stitched a pattern in the ground as the BattleFrame drew up on its target and punched several holes through the middle of the machine. The half-track bucked and careened in response, crashing its way through the perimeter fence in a shower of electric blue sparks.

Now completely out of control, the front passenger side tire slammed into the still form of the fallen SecSpyder, popping the front end into the air. The BattleFrame continued its barrage and the heavy half-track twisted and hurled through the air, landing with a crash a dozen yards from the dead SecSpyder. Broken glass showered everywhere and a single form struggled free, grasping the ground with one hand and painfully dragging her black-clad form along the ground toward the ship.

She was a mess and had fifty yards to traverse, or she and everyone else in the blast radius would be burnt to a cinder. But Ed recognized her...

Ti scanned the air, the ground and watched the approaching mass of an alien hoard.

"Shit." He swore softly to himself through gritted teeth.

A digital trigger is tickled at a signal from the man's brain.

<choom, choom, choom>

Three sets of rounds explode from the twin barrels towards the battle frame, if not striking it than at least providing cover for a desperate rescue attempt.

"Aleph!" He shouted into his comm. "Fetch Addy."

Ti's Friend or Foe Radar also identified which were targets and which were not. The fast-moving little flying targets (the BattleFrames) didn't allow a lock (but Ti could eyeball it if he wanted to) since they were identified as "Friend". However, now slicing their way through the northern perimeter fence were a buch of things that could only be described as "blobby" on the radar. Several BattleFrames were enroute to engage them.

"Fred! get into the fire control and have the autolock recognize the Reichmachines as enemies."

<choom choom>

Frederick called out, "Thirty seconds to lift off. Is everyone in?"

Frederick quickly tried to isolate and shut down the IFF system. Wouldn't do to no be able to shoot at any SS or Abwehr that get in the way.

It was about this time, soon after Ti began shooting that the earth heaved. Ti's target, a Battleframe who began evasive maneuvers after the first very close call initiated some complicated aerial acrobatics, one loop of which brought him quite close to the ground. A round from the rail gun smashed into the earth like a titanic fist causing a wave of earth to fly high into the sky. It spun the BattleFrame out of control and he ricocheted off the up-turned half-track. The force of the blast also shook the earth and caused the rockets and shuttle to wobble wildly. The incidental shock wave tossed the small dark form like a rag doll and she went tumbling a good four yards.

"What the FUCK was THAT!" screamed Nadia as red lights light up all over the cockpit when the tremor passed. She began desperately flipping switches in an attempt to stabilize the launch systems.

"My bad!" Ti explained as he took his hands from the weapon controls.

In spite of the devistating effects of the first round, Frederick still attempted to disable the IFF. Though he advised Ti rather strongly against firing it before they were in the air.

"That's Adelaide", Ed whispered under his breath. Stopping the hatch from closing, Ed bolted from the rocket and towards the lone figure. Ed's legs blur as he tears across the field towards her.

Aleph opened the hatch and jumped from the shuttle. She hit the ground and rolled. Aleph was over taken momentarily by Ed as they raced to the place where Addy lay. She was a complete mess. Half her body was badly burned. One could even see the outlines of her arms on her face where she must have shielded herself from the rocket explosions. Her right arm was completely blown off midway between her elbow and her shoulder. Only dead wires and bits of titanium dangled there now. In addition, her right leg was bent in a sick angle at the knee. An hurried attempt had been made to stop the bleeding around the protruding bones with a tourniquet and make-shift splint (which looked like it hadn't work at all). And of course her entire right side looked like it had been chewed up by a rabid dog, exposing ripped body armor, bits of rib and bleeding flesh.

(Or, it occurs to Aleph, like she'd been pick up by something which had then proceeded to open her up with a large pair of metal shears.)

Of more immediate concern were the injuries sustained just a moment ago. Half her left had was now missing and bright little sparks leapt and danced as they vainly attempt to connect with the missing fingers. A large chunk of shrapnel was also now embedded in her left thigh. It had severed an artery and if it was simply removed, she would likely bleed out in moments.

The woman was conscious and aware enough to be in intense pain, and also shaking uncontrollably as her crippled cyberware shot erratic pulses through her nervous system. "E-E-Ed-d? I-is?" she tried to speak. "C-can't s-s-s-ee..."

Ed reached Addy first and stood between the Frame and her. He knew she could move faster than he can with weight. Seeing the Frame bore down on the group, he doubled back to the rocket. It was all he can do to keep up with the duo.

Sluggishly he climbed into the rocket and falls near Addy. His hands grasp her head by the temples. He closes his eyes and concentrates. Those watching see a glow flow from Ed to Addy. The glow got brighter as the seconds pass. Addy's gashes and wounds closed by themselves leaving no scars. Ed's features became gaunt, he yelled through clenched teeth. The glow where he was touching Addy became bright. It was almost blinding. Ed jerks away and fell down. He bled from his nose, and eyes.

Adelaide stared up in wonder at Ed as he worked his magic upon her and in moments, even before he had completed his Healing, she slipped into a restful slumber.

Frederick began a verbal countdown in 5 sec intervals. Once reaching 10 seconds, he counted every second.

Once back inside the shuttle, Aleph secured Ed and Addy for launch by stretching over them and anchoring to the floor on either side of their bodies.

Gisele's hands tightened on the straps of her seat harness. If her knuckles could turn white, they would have. If she could sweat freely, she would have. And as the ship rocked dangerously for a few very tense seconds, if she could have wet herself, she would have, and nearly did anyway.

"I hate these fucking things. I hate these fucking things," she repeated under her breath as a quiet mantra, eyes screwed tightly shut. Air travel didn't bother her. Never did. Sitting directly on top of a huge reserve of
liquid fuel, enough to burn her so well it would only leave a melted metal skeleton, while being shot at and otherwise threatened in the middle of a makeshift warzone, on the other hand, scared the living shit out of her.

And watching Addy's mangled form being dragged into the rocket was not a pleasant reminder of what possibly lay ahead of them. Or just below them.

"This is for you, Dante." Ti thought as he keyed the pickup directly into his brain.

"I rememer ya, buddy."

Strong fingers clenched nervously as the countdown continued. He itched to fire round after round into the murdurous, inhuman army charging below.

"Wait for it... wait for it."

He was looking for the precise moment, when the shuttle would lift off, spewing liquid death in a wash of cleansing flame over the rushing creatures. Hopefully more than a few would be caught in the burning exhaust.

As the countdown narrowed to it's conclusion, Ti witnessed the horrid mass of them slicing their way toward the ship. There must have been a score of the monstrous things as they slithered and ripped their way along the ground. They paused only when an unfortunate soldier got in range of their tentacles, when they'd lash out to knock them to the ground. Then they'd pick up the helpless victim and hold them over their up-turned maws and slice them open, allowing the juicy innards to spill over the alien and its toothy feeding hole.

So Ti got to live with THAT image, now. But on the bright side, the BattleFrames were doing grim damage to the things, even if the base MPs were only providing the aliens lunch. The heavy weapons of the BattleFrames blew one and then another of them apart as the aliens closed in on the shuttle. In seconds there were only half the original twenty still moving, but these broke the BattleFrame lines and closed with all speed on the still-helpless ship. Suddenly, as if turning off a switch, all BattleFrames ceased their attack and withdrew at speed. The reason why was clear in a moment.

"3.. 2.. 1.. Ignition," announced Frederick. For a deathly still moment there was no sound but a slithery swishing of the aliens as they crept onto the hull of the ship. Then there was a dull roared that increased in volume and power as the rockets roared to life. Ti suddenly found himself staring eye to eye with one of the things as it prepared to smash through the turret. G-forces hit everyone at that moment as Nadya pushed the engine nozzle wide open. With a screech, the alien tumbled free of the turret and fell away, to be drowned in a fiery sea of rocket exhaust.

Minutes later Nadya ejected the booster rockets and the ship lurched forward under its own fusion drive which provided a milder but steady acceleration. In that time, Frederick managed to switch off the Friend or Foe recognition.

"You may move around now if you are careful. We will arrive at TriTech black station in three days," advised Nadya to the rest of the team. Ed and Addy slept curled together under the protection of Aleph's steady arms for a short while still. Already Addy looked in better shape than before, with a healthier glow replacing the deathly pallor she wore only a very short while ago. It could only have been due to Ed's gift.

After waking up from the G-forces, Frederick double checked the coordinates of the Black station and adjusted the course the autopilot was on to a tangent course. It wouldn't due to head directly for the target.
This way it would appear that they were only going to pass within a couple miles of it, while heading elsewhere.

Unstrapping from his seat, he proceeded back to check on the others, and to see how bad Addy was. She'd been caught in the explosion she'd set off and then by the round Ti had fired, she couldn't be in very good shape. While he couldn't do anything about stablizing her condition, he did know a few things about cybernetics and might be able to repair some of her systems.

Upon reaching Addy's location, Frederick paused and survey'd the damage. It didn't look as bad as he had expected.

"Is she stable?"

"Sh-sh-sh-sh-she sh-sh-sh-should b-b-b-be." Pulling away from the woman he saved, he tried not to shake her to much. "B-b-b-butler m-m-m-medical scan." When no response happens, Ed looks around. "Oh, right. N-n-n-no m-m-m-more b-b-b-butler."

Holding himself in place, Ed grogilly sat up. "Sh-sh-sh-sh-she w-w-w-will n-n-n-n-need a d-d-d-d-doctor or s-s-s-s-something t-t-to l-l-l-look at her. Sh-sh-sh-she w-w-w-won't d-d-d-d-die, b-b-b-but sh-sh-sh-sh-she w-w-w-w-will n-n-n-need m-m-m-medical attention or sh-sh-sh-she m-m-m-may n-n-n-not b-b-b-be able t-t-t-to m-m-m-move."

"Ti, please stay at post," Nadya told him. "I expect intercept soon. You keep them off us, then everybody owe you their life. This ship has AI for guns and piloting, but I do not trust it."

"Sweet..." The big man hissed as he continued to adjust to the controls. He was in the process of targeting various stars and pretending to blast them into dust when Nadya's edict came through.

Frederick considered this. "It'll be at least a week before we can get her some help. Might want to go ahead and remove any shrapnel that might be life threatening in the long run. I can take a look at her cyber systems and see if I can..."

Frederick had to stablize himself on bulkhead. Once he'd regained his balance, he reached into the armored longcoat an pull back out a hand covered in blood.

"Anybody here a paramedic? I think I need some stitches."

Ed closed his eyes and concentrated on bringing up his mental power. He felt the beginings of it, but knew that it was not enough. He just slumped forward and shook his head.

Nadya got up from the cockpit and stalked toward the passenger compartment. "You need basic medical skills, so you pay attention," she told Ed, Frederick, Gisele, and Aleph.

Nadya looked to Diana, who already knew first aid, but was injured herself. Nadya was worried enough about it she wanted to see to the treatment of the wound herself rather than trust someone unskilled. She picked Diana under the guise of needing an example, and her husky voice was cold as she described what she was doing to the onlookers. Her touch was not cold, however. Instead she was gently careful and mindful to not allow the wound to reopen.

"You apply gauze here. Inject this here. It will stop infection. Use this tape for these, but not this. Use this for stitches and sterilize needle between uses if you can't get a new one. See? Now I have dressed Diana's wound in her back. I am sure she will show you more. I go to cockpit to watch for intercept now."

After being the guinea pig for Nadya, and being stitched up, Diana rose to her feet.  She was still in some pain, however, her feline enhanced body was quickly working on repairing the damage that the bullet had done.

After seeing to the others who were injured, and doing what she could, she moved to the cockpit to be with Nadya.

She took the co-pilot's seat, and just sat there, looking out into the atmosphere, and space, beyond that.

She just sat and stared.  She was lost for the moment in the past, to one of her three trips into space.

All three had been completed missions, however, only one of them had gone to hell.  They had been sent to "rescue" hostages that had been "taken captive by terrorists."  The real mission was a search and destroy.  The space station had been taken over by "dissadent" scientists, who, to put it simply, refused to do the dirty work for the Abwehr anymore.

From the begining, things had gone to hell.  The mission briefing had been wrong.  Instead of four armed personnel, there were 25, and instead of four scientists, there were 15.  All 40 occupants had been armed, and knew they were coming. 

While the mission had, basically, turned into a slaughter, her team, and two other teams that had been sent in, had taken some casualties, with six wounded, and three dead.

When she returned she had been furious enough to kill the briefing officer.  However, she would learn, much to her dismay, that the whole thing had been a live fire exorcise in how the teams worked together under fire, worked on the fly, and worked with other teams.

She finally came back to reality.  She hated space based missions, she really did.

Nadya smiled at the arrival of company in the cockpit when she realized it was Diana and she greeted her with a warm kiss.

She noticed Diana's long face. "Do not worry Diana. Everything is now in our favor. We can succeed now."

Nadya reached over and flipped a screen. It was green and showed three blips on the edge of it. "They try to intercept, see? But I do not think they catch us now. We will go around moon, they think we run, da? But we skim low, near moon's surface and wing back around. We will smash them to pieces, then go toTriTech station!" Nadya was proud of her little plan. There were probably a few problems with it, such as the potential for lunar bases to interfere, but it was clear she thought it would work.


Addy's eyes blinked open a few moments later and she looked around a little from her position on the floor, taking in the team members who were nearby. Her eyes settled on Ed.

"What's happening?" she asked, looking confused. "I feel... strange." She struggle to sit up and tried unsuccessfully to get out of her longcoat. Her arms didn't work at all and she didn't seem strong enough to get up on partially-healed broken legs, either. Every small movement was very slow and seemed clumsy.

"Y-y-y-you are hurt", Ed replied. "T-t-t-take it easy." Doing his best to soothe her.

Frederick, cursing himself for not picking up a paramedic synchip while he'd been shopping, held his shoulder and looked down at Addy.

"That's a heck of a trick you pulled off back there, Lady. Someday you'll have to tell me how you survived that explosion. I heard you say you weren't clear. Looks like the rocket took a toll on you though. You rest
for now. Later I'll take a look at your cyber systems."

He then began to speak more generally to everyone on the ship.

"Anybody have any idea what those things were that were after us? They made a bee-line for the rocket, so they were apparently trying to keep us from taking off."

"Yeah. I know." Ti said, at first almost so quietly that no one heard. Clearing his throat he reiterated the statement a little louder.

"Yeah. I know. I've seen them before, back in Moscow. I managed to escape from them once... though I had no idea there were so many of them. Christ, the whole city must be about ready to just explode with the
bastards. How many more are still underground?"

"And they were after me. I guess they don't like people getting away." Now that he's actually admitted what he knows, found the strength to talk about it, he seems to relax visibly. Letting out a breath that he hadn't
know he'd been holding.

"I figured they'd chase me, but I didn't know how far. Maybe if I'd have stayed away from Moscow like I wanted they'd have never come out like that. But I must have been a pretty choice morsel, so close to their nest and all. I'm surprised the waited as long they did."

"At least they're not working for the Nazis. I was a little afraid that they'd have tried to make an alliance with them, or something. Good to see that the two aren't associated with each other."

Frederick looked at Ti for a moment, wondering just how dense the man was.

Aleph secured Addy into a chair. Then Ed. Then she listened to the exchange between Fredrick and Victor, looking back and forth at the two like watching a tennis match.

"Ti, you know that big meteor looking thing that landed near the base? That was them. They didn't come out of some underground lair, they came from somewhere in orbit. Probably the Black Station. Which means they weren't after you specifically, but all of us in general. That means someone knows we're coming."

"But why risk discovery? Why didn't they just sick their Abwehr connections on us? Unless the one pulling the strings isn't actually working for Tri-Tech anymore?"

"And as for an aliance with the Fatherland, Ti, Hadn't you noticed that the SS and Abwehr tend to fight each other?"

Ti rolled his eyes in frustration. His face was still towards his instrument panel, but his reply was to Frederick.

"They're ALIENS, Herr Datenvolf. They probably have spaceships for getting around... what, they're going to hitchike from Moscow?"

"I'm guessing they launched from some field or piece of farmland just in the Moscow suburbs. Probably one that's close enough to be connected by the water table or city infrastrcture, but far enough away that no one stumbles over them accidently. Take off from there and head here, but that dosen't mean they came from the Black Station."

"Geez... hasn't he ever seen a scifi movie in his life?" Victor wondered to himself.

"The only other thing they could have been after was the shuttle itself. But, if they already had their own ships, why would they need it? They were trying to get in, yeah, but it couldn't have been to commandeer the craft. Did you see which section they went straight towards?"

A beefy thumb jerks to Ti's bloody chest.

"Mine. Me. They were after MY head, allright. If they just wanted us dead, then why not shoot the shuttle out from under us? Shouldn't have been too hard what with their advanced technology and all."

"No, they wanted me and probably alive. Theat way they could suck my brain out with a straw."

Addy, hearing Frederick's and Victor's conversations, added, "They don't suck brains. They eat people. I saw them." She shuddered at the memory.

"They sure looked like brain suckers. I saw it in a movie once..." Ti said quietly.

All this talk about slicing off runied limbs and people being eaten disturbed the bruiser immensly, and he went back to watch his nice, clinically clean and emotionally detached viewscreen. At least killing people this way didn't get a person covered in blood.

Ed slept for a while.  He intended to check on Addy throughout the day.  Around mid day, he would put himself in a meditative trance.
[This conversation goes on in Ed's head]

.oO('I know you are there.') 

'So you have figured it out, have you?'  The other entity seems rather cocky.

.oO('I think so.')

'No you do not.  You need help.'

.oO('What do you mean?')

'You need to focus your thoughts more.  You need to get something to help you do that.'

.oO('Like what?')  Ed seemed thoroughly intrigued.

'You know.  It is all in here.  You just have to find it.'

Ed began searching his mind.  He ran across his training.  He found his teachers.  They ranged from the hardes drill instructor, to the most pacifistic monk.  .oO('There!  What is that?')  Ed was indicating the small item hanging from his mental teacher's necks.

'AHHHHhhhh.  There you go.'  Ed retreated to his entrance area.

.oO('Where do I get one of those...those crystals??')

'That is a good question.  You must find the one that is looking for you.'
Ed jerked and threw open his eyes.  He breathing was a little quick but he is otherwise fine.  A quick survey told him where he was and what time it aws.  His whole journey took only 30 minutes.  That was his longest time under.  He knew why too.

Gisele floated free of her safety restraints, though whether they were for her safety or the others' was a point of debate. It reminded her of what almost happened in the van. Her landing on someone wouldn't be pretty, especially with the G's they just went through.

Free floating. Zero G. She'd never been in it before. A little bit later, she would definitely have to experiment.

She clumsily sailed over to watch Nadya's first aid demonstration, then afterwards toward Frederick. She put a hand on the back of his chair to stop herself. She ignored his question about the 'things'. She didn't have a

"Is your shoulder alright?" she asked quietly. With apparently three days to spare, Frederick needed to have it taken care of, and Gisele wasn't sure how she felt about the injury. She'd given him the coat, but it still wasn't good enough.

Frederick looked down at his shoulder, then up to Gisele.

"It's just a scratch. Nothing compared to what would have happened if you hadn't given me your longcoat. I doubt my Armourweave would have stopped that round I took in the gut. You've now officially earned your pay. I'll have Ed due his vodoo mind thing after he's gotten some rest. I should be fine. I'm more worried about Addy. We need to do something to get her at least able to fire a weapon. She'll probably end up waiting on the ship, and she'll need to be able to defend herself."

"Hey Frederick? Look. I'm not going to be able to fire a gun. Look at me Frederick. My right arms been completely ripped off by the rocket explosion and half my left hand is gone from the railgun impact. I can't hold a gun without a thumb and forefinger and unless you have a couple of new cyber arms sitting around, I'm not going to be much use to anyone anymore. My boosters are offline, too. I had to abuse them so badly I don't know when I'll be able to move or even stop shaking. I'm way overloaded here.

"The best thing you can do for me Frederick is to just cut the damn things off and disconnect the stumps from my nervous system. At least then they won't hurt anymore."

Frederick looked coldly at the injured woman. "I can do that, but are you sure that's what you want?"

"No, I'm not sure," she said with a shaky voice. She was either scared or in pain.

"But they are really hurting me." Pain it was, then. It was a little odd that the cyberlimbs would cause pain unless the wiring is shorting. That would mean she was probably getting a nasty little shock direct to her nerves.

Addy looked up at Ed. "Can you help me down there, Ed?"

A quick deep breath and Ed looks at the wounds. He looks at all the wounds. He only knew what he could heal, but had no extra knowledge of medicine or first aid. "Ummmm.....It l-l-l-looks l-l-l-likes y-y-y-you are h-h-h-healing y-y-y-yourself." Ed looks a little deeper. He had seen this type of technology with his previous employer. They had talked about implanting their operatives with them, but had not gotten around to it.

"Y-y-y-you have n-n-n-nanites, or s-s-s-something r-r-r-real s-s-s-similiar. Th-th-th-they are r-r-r-re-p-p-p-pairing y-y-y-y-you."

"Sounds like they're shorting out." said Frederick, considering Addy's ruined cyber arms. "We need to remove the damaged parts. The one arm will probably have to be removed at the root., but I might be
able to save the other."

"How could that be?" wondered Addy about the nanites. "I had a friend who gave a device to me a couple years back." She bit her lip and shuddered as some system or other gave her another shock. "He said it would enhance my ability to heal, but he didn't say anything about fixing fractures like that." Addy thought about it for a moment more, wincing once as another short ripped up her damaged right arm.

"Frederick, I don't mean to be pushy or anything, but could we do this? Or maybe Gisele." She looked away from the preoccupied hacker to his bodyguard. "Can you remove the 'ware? I'll worry about fixing things later."

Gisele bounded back down and away from Frederick to stop at Addy's side. The picture wasn't pretty, but it reminded her of what her own skeleton looked like. She'd seen the majority of her arms and legs without the
synthetic flesh, and the sight was at least familiar. The thought randomly entered her brain that she'd never seen her *face* without the synth-skin on it, but then again, she didn't really want to.

"That would be easiest," Gisele said with a nod. Disconnecting the ware was the immediate solution, because at least it would stop the pain impulses. She stared at the limb for a moment, peeling bits of Addy's synth-skin away to get a clear view of the hardware. Gisele at least knew how to do it, but she'd never done it from this angle before.

Gisele tried to engage Addy in some light conversation to take her mind off the sensations. Switching off the ware for disconnection often resulted in the fabled 'phantom limb' syndrome. She talked quietly as she popped plate covers, unscrewed fasteners, and unplugged wires.

"... So anyway, I know someone in Berlin who would give you a good price if you wanted to get some of this remade. I do a lot of business there. He does good work. I know." She gave a smile, and continued unhooking Addy's shattered limbs.

Gisele is managed the removal of Adelaide's arms without difficulty. Without her arms, the poor woman looked, well, rather sad and more than a little helpless and it might have been difficult for some not to look at her without some pity. At least she did begin to look more healthy as time went on.

The odd thing was that her shaking didn't stop with the removal of the limbs. Then it occurred to Gisele. Nerve Boosters were very popular with street sams because it gave a person a massive boost to reflexes and can even improve one's grace. However, it was well known that if the system was used for more than 60 minutes out of a 24 hour period, the street sam would begin getting 'the shakes'. Since a Nerve Booster basically worked by pumping up adrenalin and overloading a person's nervous system, abuse can lead to real problems later. In the short term it means that the user's nervous system is just plain shot. As fast as they were with the system on full power, they'd be that much slower after it was turned off. God knows how long Addy had to overuse her Nerve Boosters to keep ahead of security while she waited all that time for the team to show up. In the short term, it was likely she'd be messed up for the rest of the day, but she should recover with rest.

Addy looked ashamed. "Thank you Gisele. I-It doesn't h-hurt anymore. Damn that itches. I think, uh, I think I'm just gonna sleep now."

"Say Fred." Asked Ti without preamble. "If you had the military ident code for a ship, could you hack into using on board communication gear?"

Frederick gives Ti a hard stare. "It's Frederick. And of course I could. What do you have in mind?"

"Not letting these guys get within weapons range."

He indicated his radar screen which of course, from his angle, Frederick was unable to see.

Frederick's response seems almost casual.

"Oh, that. Well, If they've been sent after us, that means they've probably had thier IFF system adjusted. Which means their system will consider any signal from this ship to be an outside source. It's too late to shut them down. They'll have to be shot down."

"I'm more worried about whether any of those creatures managed to get into the ship before liftoff. That would be a much more pressing issue. Aleph and Gisele are the best candidates to check out the rest of the ship. Plus anybody else not wounded or engaged in repelling our persuers."

Adelaide drifted quietly off to sleep in the seat next to Ed after Gisele's help with her wrecked cyberware.

Meanwhile, Ti quietly sat in his turret waiting for the suspected enemy ships to get closer. Unfortunately, they were closing very slowly, if at all. I looked like the team would keep their lead for a while, but sooner or later those smaller ships would have to make their move before they ran out of nuclear fuel.

Ti was contentedly playing with his instruments on 'his' guns when he heard it. He stopped for a moment, wondering if he really heard something. There it was again, a serious of tapping, like a half-dozen little footsteps clicking on a metal floor or wall. The sound echoed through the ship making identification of the source impossible to determine.

[Internal systems online... Yessir, Mr. Melendez, sir. What can we do for you? Panic? Oh, no problem, sir. Panic systems for this unit have been recently upgraded and higly tuned. Panic is not a problem....

Personel? Well, we have the finest panic personel people in the business. Sweat? No problem, sweat valves open to full. Choking noises? We have the sound effects crew working on that already.

What's that, Mr. Melendez sir? Teeth grinding? Well yes, that doesn't seem as productive as the other panic systems might prove to be, but we are here to accomodate our client's wishes. Enage teeth gridning gears, men.

Sir, we have a problem!

What is it, ensign?

The 'uncontrolled unrination' and 'drop load in pants' circuits seem to have been fused. I'm afraid our client won't be able to soil himself.

Fused? How so?

Apparently the muscle locking equipment, when simultaneously activated along with the 'gun draw' reflex uses up too much of the systems resources. The 'teeth grind' mechanism created a fatal overload and locked up most of the major musclegroups. We can't get the sphincter to unclench.

Damn... I knew it was a mistake to initiate that gearing system. Well, do what you can. Maybe activate the drool-and-spit reserves while bumping up sweat output? That should compensate adequately.


Mr. Melendez, how are things going on your end? Panic systems operating satisfactorily?]

"Glrrrblllrblgmfmmfmff..." Squaggles Ti with absolutely no chance of the others comprehending his statement. The big man suddenly finds himself spazaming while being hurled from his chair and going for his jackhammer all at the same time. Arms flail as he reaches for the free-floating weapon which sails across the interior of the ship.

The gun sailed through the air out of Ti's panicked grasp and careened into the passenger compartment. It bounced butt first off the floor which reversed its spin and sent it zipping past Adelaide's sleeping face. Tink! it went as the barrel hit the side wall and reversed the gun's spin again. It hurled up toward the cockpit, slowed due to the acceleration, and began falling back to the middle of the floor spinning crazily.

Ti sailed crazily after the gun, trying to catch it. "They're here! They're on board! I heard one of the things! We gotta killit... killit now!"

As luck would have it Ti's nearly uncontrolled exit from the turret sent him tumbling (much like the gun) on much the same trajectory. In fact, Ti and the gun looked to be headed to the same place -- right in the middle of the floor.

Seeing the gun spinning through the air, Frederick kicked on his Neural booster and made a grab for it. The young hacker may not be able to hit hard, and firing a Jackhammer would break his wrist, but he almost never missed what he was aiming at.

Frederick's thin arms and long hands prove to be both quick and graceful as he snatches the gun out of Ti's path and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

Ti thudded into the floor and stayed there, his beefy body absorbing the mild impact, and lays across the middle of the floor on top of the hatch.

"Ow!" Ti complained when he impacted the hull. Rubbing his head, he attempted to sit.

Frederick put the Jackhammer in his belt. "No Jackhammers. Use your smart link if you have one. Make sure you don't hit a bulkhead, or we're all dead. The thing is vicious and tough, so lets do it by the number. First we need to pinpoint its location."

Frederick then checked the internal sensors of the ship for thermal signatures.

"Check outside, too. There was one on my canopy just as we lifted off, but I saw him get dropped by the acceleration." Ti was calming down now, putting an ear to the hatch. "Still, it might be on the hull."

Frederick tapped the security panel and brought up the on-board security systems. A voice came on-line.

"I'm sorry sir. I'm afraid I am unable to provide data to you about anything below your current deck. It would appear that something has damaged both my video camera and infrared sensors on the cargo, weapons, and engineering decks. Would you like me to raise the alert status now?"

"No. I'd like you to furnish me with a clean change of shorts now."

Frederick responded to the voice, "Negative. Replay internal sensor logs begining at moment of take-off." Then to the others he commented, "Maybe we can find out how many there are."

Nothing unusual appeared on the Infrared sensors. However, the video cameras showed a sudden movement seconds before ignition. Cameras in the cargo area noted a fast moving blur zip past before going dead. This process was repeated a total of six times as the whatever-it-is attacked each video camera on the cargo, weapons and engineering decks (in that order).

Frederick frowned and said, "Looks like just one. But as easily as they went through the Frames back there, we need to be careful."