Chapter 19:  Heliopes and Hovertanks 19.01  19.02  19.03  19.04  19.05 19.06  19.07  19.08  19.09  19.10  19.11  19.12  (Time: 14.077 - 14.087)

Frontier Date 14.077
  During the trip from the priest's quarters to the pyramid Con returned the holoscreen to Raid and the electro stunner to it's proper owner.  Now inside the tank, he finally seeks out Sni'ktl to tend his wounds.
  After listening to the groans and moans as the team entered the hover tank, Sni'ktl establishes a temporary aid post in the Combat Center of the vehicle and treats his commander and Con first.  The Chief Medical Officer's treatment of xZot is successful (20 points back) and the yazirian commander quickly returns to the bridge, invigorated by his dose of Frontier pharmaceuticals.
  Sni'ktl's initial attempts at major surgery on Con are less successful, the human warrior only benefiting from minor surgery (20 points back) and the previous effects of his stimdose injection now having worn off.  Even so, Sni'ktl passes Con as fit for duty and he too returns to examining the controls of the control center.  Gloo rejoins Con when Snik completes some basic first aid treatment (10 points to Gloo) on the dralasite warrior.
  "..and keep applying the cream I gave you for that rash."  Finishes Sni'ktl as he sends his last patient out of the impromptu med bay.  Sni'ktl begins working with the alien symbols attempting to reconstruct at least the control components of the language based on what the more technical team members describe as the control functions.  As he scours the vehicle for artifacts and examples of text to help him understand more about the vehicle's progenitors Sni'ktl makes another fascinating discovery.  Moving about the vehicle is not as awkward as it would be in a similar vehicle of Frontier design.  Although the hover tank is clearly not vrusk technology, certainly the physical dimensions of the builders were not humanoid but more like a vrusk body shape.  The 'seats' inside the tank serve more like a stool for either vrusks or humanoids, than as a seat or chair.
  When Gleep exits the tank to examine the exterior turrets, Gloo follows him with Raid not far behind the dralasites.
  "I don't want anyone pilfering this stuff if my cycle gets left behind."  Raid says as he watches the pair of dralasites exiting the hatch.  Gleep continues up to the turret where he finds a simple twist lock opens an ingress panel in the turret.  Only one person can fit into a turret at one time.  Gleep chooses the starboard side turret, with what appears to be a rocket launcher and is able to quickly work out the controls intuitively before touching them.  The turret cannot fire when retracted into the side of the tank.  After figuring out how to fire the guns manually, Gleep begins to manoeuvre the turret manually.  The turrets have 360 degrees of traverse as well as lateral movement on the extension arm.  This makes it possible for someone in the turret to fire on the tank. 
  Gloo looks over the tank, "OOOO-K, we have this thing in the middle of some primitives, who live in huts, with no sign of any other building or structure of advanced origin with some strange hovering heliopes shooting up the place.  Ooh yeah just a typical day at the office," Gloo quips.  "I'm betting anything those hovering heliopes shooting up the village were combat bots, Boss."  Gloo clambers up the side to the top turret, this one armed with a heavy laser.  "But just where the Gods live in the sky and leaving this as a gift for them comes into play, beats the hell out of this Dral".
  Gloo listens as Gleep gives instructions for using the turrets,  "This is definitely a bizarre design, you have internal weapon controls and turret manual controls, so there is a redundancy in systems here, meaning this thing can take some punishment before giving up the ghost."  Gloo looks at turret controls and then moves the explorers gear into the tank, then looks for anything that might be a recharge station on board the tank to recharge packs.  After failing to find a compatible power outlet, Gloo sits down on the tanks' floor to rest and has something to eat, "I'm starved."
  xZot shakes his head in disgust as he watches the dralasite consume the contents of a standard ration pack straight through his skin.
  "After all that time on Volturnus I don't know how you can still eat those things."  The yazirian refers to Gloo's ration pack as he fantasizes about his own customised kitchen in his yet to be built apartment in the Eorna complex on Volturnus.  "And don't give me that crap about nutritious content Snik, I'm talking about taste!"  Then he rolls his eyes as he remembers some of the things vrusks consider 'delicacies'.  "At least some humans have adventurous tastes when it comes to food..."  He breaks off, rolling his eyes when he sees none other than Con stealing the cheese stick from Gloo's very same ration pack!
  Raid quickly brings the utility box of equipment from his cycle into the tank and sets up a workstation in the combat center.  Con turns to Raid, "Hey Raid you like gadgets, right?  I found these while I was searching the temple, maybe you can make heads or tail of them."  Raid accepts the gadgets from Con and sets to work figuring out the alien technology as best he can.  He pays special attention to the emergency radio receiver and looks for any radio equipment that may be hardwired inside the hover tank.
  "This thing is receiving something.  Where could the signal be coming from?  I wonder if I can get a direction finding on this."
  Gloo suddenly stops eating when he hears Raid mentioning receiving signals,  "Shouldn't the 'Last Leggs' be able to get a better fix on where its coming from?"
  "Why don't we try to start off in the direction the 'visitors' went as soon as we have a chance?"  Gleep suggests to xZot.  "Until then, we can best help this village see we aren't evil by helping put fires out."
  Sni'ktl has nagging concerns about who the hovering Heliopes were.  He also can't help admiring the Heliope king who seemed more concerned about his people than he was about the confrontation between the priests and the offworlders.  Something he hopes to offer his compliments on.
  "All right, is everyone in position?  Let's see if we can get this thing moving."  Barks xZot over the com.  "I think I've got this thing worked out"  xZot's voice peters out as he thinks out loud.  Gloo hears xZot's mentioning taking the tank out for a test run and heads back up to his turret,   "Well since we are going to take this beast out for a joyride, we should make sure the nearby huts are empty in case it doesn't handle too good, we've already defiled their sacred temple, killed their priests, might as well at least try not to do any more harm."
  "Agreed Gloo, I don't want to mow any huts down anyway but best to be sure that there are no bystanders." responds xZot over the com. "I wonder if this thing has a horn?"  He chuckles as he waits for the all clear before firing the engines up.
  Gloo climbs in the top turret for the joyride, "Ah Boss, just where do you plan to go, this village wasn't built with this thing moving in mind?"
  "I was planning to head to the waters edge and skim around the shoreline to the east a little way and then back.  I don't want to head offshore but I imagine that the tank will be over the water a little.  I need to be careful not to put the tank in the drink but other than that, I just want to know that if we need to, we can operate this thing."
  When everyone is in position xZot attempts to operates the control mechanisms, carefully watching the system responses, as he tentatively moves the tank from its resting place.  "Switching to internal comms."  xZot announces over the hovertanks intercom  "Sound off!"  xZot waits as each member of the crew reports back from their positions.  Both dralasites are in their turrets, Raid and Con take seats in the Combat Center as Sni'ktl takes the drivers seat next to xZot, though xZot maintains control of the vehicle from the captains chair.  He eases the hovertank out from the burned ruins of the pyramid and the dralasites begin rotating and manouevering their turrets on their arms as soon as they have clearance from the wrecked pyramid.
  Heading north and then east away from the pyramind xZot has little to worry about.  The fiery rampage by the floating heliope's that Gloo described as probably combots, is almost complete.  Most of the village structures are in flames, already charred ruins or well on the way to being so.  xZot get's a better feel for the controls whilst Raid and Con experiment with the remaining two turret controls from their own positions as well as monitoring the other tank controls.  During the trip Gloo experiments with the turrets controls and quickly manages to get it figured out and with Gleep in the other turret and Raid and Con operating turrets from inside the tank, the vehicle is quickly combat ready, even if the crew is still very green.
  xZot completes a circuit of the destroyed village and then experiments with using the hover tanks fans to blow out smaller fires  and also using the physical bulk of the vehicle to smother some ground fires.  Many heliopes gather to stare at the wonder from under their pyramid as the Black Hand Gang pilots the alien war machine around their home.
  As quickly as the heliope crowd gathers they disperse when the laser shooting, floating heliope apparitions sweep back into the village environs, back in the direction from whence they first came.
  "Heads up eveyone, we've got company."  xZot announces over the intercom as he swings the hover tank around to face the four advancing aggressors.  Perched behind fire controls and video monitors, his four gunners bring their weapons to bear as a volley of laser fire stabs out at the hover tank.
  "Range 250 meters."  Con confirms
  "Hold fire with the rockets until they get inside 200 meters."  xZot orders  "But those beam weapons might as well open up now.  Fire at will Gloo.
  Con looks at xZot, "Great!, another toy for the boys.  What are we going to do with this thing, Boss?  If we let Raid keep it, we won't have to buy him anything for the Holidays."  When Con is done with his poor attempt at humour, he turns back in his seat in the combat center and takes in the view on his monitors and range finder display.
  Gloo swivels his turret to face the new threat and messes with the targeting system,  "Does this thing come with night vision, that would be nice?"  He wonders aloud.  "Well time to see what this button does."  Gloo adds while targeting the 'Heliope' and firing his weapon after getting a lock.  "Is anyone checking for those signals?"  We should be getting a good reading if those things have anything to do with the signals, would be a good idea to check on them before we toast these things."
  Being security conscious, Raid had made certain that all access hatches to the tank's interior were closed before taking his seat.  "If anyone gets locked out, let me know and I'll get the door.  Also, if anything climbs onto the hull of this tank, please take into account your line of sight and weapon type before shooting at it."
  The dralasite warrior's skill and experience with beam weapons combine with the alien technology for lethal results.  The acquired target, disappearing in a flash of disintegrating parts and nuclear energy.  Gleep waits for the range to close but zeroes in his aim while he waits.  In the interim, Gleep says,
  "I need to get to my equipment in the explorer before I can try to find the direction on that signal.  I should be able to set up twin receivers and triangulate that way.  As long as the distance isn't too far, I shouldn't need too much distance between the receivers.  I also suggest that we don't leave the explorer or the hovercycle here in the village.  Maybe we can move it somewhere into the forest and leave a beacon on for relocation."
  Raid observes everyone claiming their own piece of artillery, so he settled behind the controls of the heavy laser.  Revving up the combat system he says,  "I guess this means I get the leftover targets, as well.  Or maybe what is left of the targets after Gleep and Gloo are done with them."  However before the second dralasite gets off a shot with the shorter ranged rocket launcher, Raid executes the firing solution for the forward turret and curses as his observation screen shows the beam miss the intended target.
  As the enemy close the gap between them and the rocket launchers, following xZot's instructions, hold fire, the crew can see a volley of laser fire lance out from the three remaining attackers.  Most of the beams miss at such long range and the only one to touch the hull fails to do more than scorch the paint.
  "Range, 200 meters and closing."  Con reports.
  "Fire rockets!"  xZot orders, Con and Gleep fire simultaneously.  A roar of excitement explodes across the tanks com system as both rockets find their mark (Gleep 82 points, Con 69 points), the shouts of victory quickly subside when both robots, for that is clearly what the advancing wreckage is, return fire along with the undamaged fourth robot.
  Three rockets arc toward the tank as xZot manipulates the controls of the vehicle, he manages to avoid one of the rockets but a target the size of this tank is hard to miss and the crew feel the impact of both hits (30 structural points each).  A brief power drop and a minor shock wave through the tank are the only apparent effects as xZot closes with the advancing robots
  "Boy this would have been fun to have had against the Pirates and Sathar."  Gloo chimes in after taking another shot.  "Damn!"  The dralasite swears when his second shot misses.  A chorus of cries, curses and moans comes back over the com as the rest of the gunners are also unable to repeat their initial successes.  The three attack robots split up, coming in on different attack vectors and changing course erratically to avoid the tanks targeting computers and manual turrets.
  As the weapons fire is exchanged across the ruined village, heliope villagers once again run for the cover of the forest while Maximillian dashes behind the explorer wondering how safe his hiding spot is from the gun fight.  From this vantage point the ever curious vrusk explorer notices something a little bit odd.
  "What have we here?"  He mutters as he plucks a piece of wrapping plastic from a bolt head on Raid's hovercycle.  As Max dived for cover his optical lenses ended up only centimetres from the hovercycle parked next to the team's explorer.  "This bike's only just been taken out of it's shrink wrapping and that model is over 50 years old?"  Another round of fire brings Max back to the here and now of the raging gun battle.  As Max peeks around the front of the explorer he sees xZot swerve the tank again to miss another missile as two more crash into the tanks hull (30 structural points each).  The second explosion almost penetrates the armour directly in front of the bridge area, showering xZot and Sni'ktl with several small ricocheting bolt heads in the bridge (7 points to xZot, half to suit, 5 to Snik, half to suit)
  Gloo makes notes of the targeting system during the fight trying to increase his knowledge of the combat systems in the turrets.  "It would have been damn nice if the people who made this left a operations manual behind for us, yesss indeeeed."  Gloo adds in with a chuckle, then his mood changes as a thought strikes him.  "Just had a thought Snik, since we've already defiled their temple, killed off some of their priests, and these things burning their village to the ground, it wouldn't be too much of an extra burden if this cannon was irradiating the countryside around where they lived would it, ya might want to check any sensors to see if it is.  TAKE THAT!" Gloo fires the cannon again at the undamaged attack bot.  "Hey Max you might want to get in the explorer and get out of the area."  Gloo suggests as the robot explodes in a ball of flame and light.  Raid adds to the light show with the heavy laser when he strikes a damaged bot in it's center mass (120 points), the albedo armour coating fails to protect the bot from the laser beam dialled up to maximum setting.  Con's next rocket misses but a rocket from Gleep's turret (75 points) finishes the engagement before the robots can fire a third volley.
  xZot pulls the hover tank to a halt beside the team's explorer and calls a quick debrief while various members of the team change positions.  "Raid you may not need the equipment from the explorer to track their signal beams.  Here, have a look at this."  xZot brings up another screen on his monitor and shows Raid the audio controls he has also identified.
  "I HAVE GOT TO GET ME ONE OF THESE!"  Gloo yells through the comm.  After the tank has stopped Gloo takes a look at the tank exterior to see
what damage has been sustained.  "Hey boss is the ol' girl OK, that last hit sounded pretty solid?"  Gloo asks xZot while looking at the most damaging impact point.  The dral trooper looks back at the blasted bots "I guess there's not much left to investigate."
  "We should put that hovercycle in the explorer and convoy with two of us in the explorer and the rest crewing the tank."  Gleep suggests  "We can man the most weapons that way and provide better cover in case we are attacked again.  I will ride in the explorer."  He volunteers,  "We can use both systems to track the signal that way and be more sure about the source.  I think Gloo should stay on that big gun, he has already taken two heavy robots out with it.  I might think it best to stop at least a click from the suspected source and scout from there."
  "I agree with Gleep we should take all the vehicles, we definitely need the hover cycle.  Raid could sneak up on the base and scout around in his camo field, providing they don't find us first."  Says Gloo as he climbs down off the tank, "Everyone should have their own tank."
  Raid moves over to the radio controls that xZot found and takes a seat.  "This is just what I was hoping to find, xZot.  Tracking down whatever is transmitting that signal, should answer a lot of questions."  He co-ordinates his RDF efforts with the dralasites to speed up the calculations.  "Amazing!  This tank's computers still work.  How old can it be?"  A quick analysis of the instruments xZot indicates show that the signal strength and source have already been estimated by the hover tanks advanced combat control systems and Raid discovers that the signal beams are coming from the north east.
  Outside the tank several of the team examine the wreckage of the hover bots in the diminishing light.  An examination of the destroyed robots reveals differences in the alien technology, this is not the same technology as the hover tank.  "So these bots are alien tech but not the same tech as the tank, well this is about the normal turn of events for us."  Gloo observes wryly, his mastery of human emotions and responses growing more and more each day it seems sometimes.
  "What else is new?  More strange technology in a place that the locals should not have, but is different than the technology they have, which they should not have."  Says Con, who is starting to sound like a dralasite.  If Sni'ktl had an eyebrow it would arched higher than the Arc De Kaboom in the town of Paa Rii, at this apparent swap of racial traits between Con and Gloo.  The vrusk scientist produces a data pad and begins taking some notations.
  "Long term exposure in highly emotive and adrenaline charged environments appears to have certain personality imprinting traits on drals and humans..."
  Oblivious of Snik's epiphany Con wonders aloud, "Do you think the technology could be from any of the frontier races?  Sathar, maybe?"
  Max, Raid and several other members of the team look over the wreckage in turn.  "Well we know for a fact that the tank is beyond anything in the Frontier,"  Raid answers for the rest of the techs, "but these robots don't seem to be all that much more advanced than our own tech.  They use hover technology to move, same as my bike and these look like holovid projectors to me, which would explain why they looked like floating heliopes.  Raid says, indicating the fused and burnt parts as he talks.  "Their weaponry was certainly nothing unusual like that nuclear rifle on the tank but I don't recognize the tech immediately."
  "We haven't seen any Sathar technology like this before," Sni'ktl adds "but that doesn't rule them out at this stage."  Max is surprised by Snik's mention of having seen Sathar technology before and begins to wonder again about his 'passengers' origins and motivations.  Max had guessed that they held some reservations about him, he himself wasn't sure if it was the hope of finding treasure or his own thirst for knowledge that had brought him back to Starmist but he was here now and the mystery was only getting deeper.  Holding his tongue for now, Max accepted the role of passenger as his employees pondered their options and considered their next course of action.
  After establishing an approximate location of the source of the alien signal, Raid sets about loading his hovercycle aboard the explorer before it gets dark.  Taking a look at the hovercycle, Max ponders on the myriad possible courses and plans.  Looking at Raid with half and eye cluster, and at the contraption with the rest of his visual organs, the vrusk produces his pistol most unexpectedly.  Sni'ktl is taken aback momentarily, resisting the urge to draw for his own weapon when he sees that Max points to the cycle's left axle and lowers himself a few dozen centimetres.  "If these beams were soldered properly," he turns now completely towards Raid while still pointing.  "We could collapse the vehicle and reattach them with snap-off clamps later.  Versatility balances vitality," the roboticist pontificates the prose of his native Prenglar.
  Back inside the tank Gloo joined xZot on the bridge, looking over the commanders' shoulder at the monitor and then at the map,  "North east huh?  Lots of places for a base to be."  The ever practical dralasite comments before adding some advice, "Boss I don't think we should stick around here long, more of these bots' friends might show up to find out what happened, not to mention it'll be harder to see the tank at night rather the gleaming hull in the day, besides I think we've done enough damage to the Heliopes."
  "Of course, you're right."  Nods xZot, who swivels in his seat and flicks on the tank comm system as well as his chronocom to address the entire group.  "Let's mount up people, I want to be away from this village before the sun disappears.  Let's leave the villagers to put their homes back in order while we try to find out who did this and why?"
  Gleep and Max climb into the cab of the explorer as the rest of the team enter the hatch of the war tank.  After satisfying his curiosity the Con re-enters the war tank and finds xZot still on the bridge.  "If you want, Boss, I'll scout towards the north east to see what lies ahead.  Maybe it is better to check things out before we bring the whole team into Great Maker knows what." 
  "For now I think we are all safer inside the vehicles, we can patrol on foot when we get closer to the target area."  As dusk quickly falls, xZot steers the massive hover tank through the trees away from the village, attempting to follow the line of least resistance in the direction of the signal beams.  The bulk of the tank clears away any possible obstacles for the all terrain explorer and the team make reasonable time through the dark forest before xZot calls a halt for the evening.  Unwilling to travel to far in the dark on an alien planet with possible hostiles in the area, xZot orders the group to make camp for the evening but to keep all lights and noise to a minimum.
  While the vrusks and xZot prepare an evening meal from the ration packs the rest of the team use some of the debris in their path to camouflage both vehicles but the path itself, created by the passage of the vehicles is impossible hide.  Max takes the opportunity to contact the crew of his ship letting them know the whereabouts of xZot and Co and also their expected destination and route before getting some sleep along with much of the rest of the team.  The vrusks were by far the most comfortable that night, the furnishings of the tank being well suited to their needs and the dralasites, well a dralasite can hibernate just about anywhere!  Most of the groans the next morning came from yazirians and humans from sleeping on the cold metal floors of the vehicles, xZot having insisted that no-one sleep outside that night.
Frontier Date 14.078
    The journey east through the forest the following morning takes the best part of five hours to travel 10 kilometres and reach the narrow gorge.  Here the forest thins out to nothing but sand and rock for a further three kilometres where xZot calls a short break in their journey to eat, stretch and decide which way to go.  "There's really only two options, stay on this side of the river and work our way up through this forest.  Or cross the river here, where it's narrow, work along the south bank until we reach that south eastern river and cross over to the plains on the north.  I think I prefer being out in the open where we can manoeuvre, we'll cross here.  Gleep you take point on the river crossings, but stay behind us when we get onto the open plains so we show a smaller profile."
  "Roger that boss."  Answers the dral driver as he steers the explorer down the river bank and into the water.  The first crossing is effected without incident and xZot brings the hover tank back into the lead to plough another path through the forest to the east.  By the time the small convoy reaches a suitable place to ford the river onto the northern plain dusk is falling.  xZot flicks on the team chronocom channel,
  "I think we'll keep the river between us and them tonight, we'll cross first thing in the morning.  I figure across those plains we should do pretty good time, get to the north east of the lake before lunch tomorrow."
  "Not much wildlife about."  Sni'ktl observes that evening as the team huddles around a small fire xZot allows for the meal.  "Plenty of Flora and not much Fauna so far.  There must be more species on this planet with this much plant life, surely."
  "Well we won't be taking any unnecessary chances tonight either."  xZot says before insisting everyone spend the night inside the vehicles again despite his own discomfort.  Also Raid and Max, I'd like both of you to look at some of the instruments I've been monitoring since we left the village.  There's definitely a count down of some kind going on and it's gradually accelerating."
Frontier Date 14.079
   The next morning, xZot and the technical staff agree with xZot's diagnosis and his observations.  On of the displays is definitely a counter or timer of some sort.  Although they cannot establish exactly how long the countdown remains, Raid and xZot calculate they have at least several more days but they both take readings on their datapads for reference later in the day.
  The morning river crossing goes without a hitch and xZot leads the team north across the plains of the rift floor.  The plains are rolling hills covered by grass from 1 to 2 m high.  The trek north is much quicker than xZot initially anticipated and within hours the tank and explorer have crossed the open rolling plains to reach the northern end of the lake.  Before you is a peaceful scene of a green bluff, scattered trees, and a quiet pond.  Utter stillness prevails as xZot calls a brief halt several kilometres from the edge of the plains.  After a quick scan of the horizon, xZot orders the vehicles forward again, with all available weapons manned, loaded and ready.
  The hover tank with the team's explorer in tow quickly approach to within 3 kilometres of the bluff ahead when they come under fire.  An explosion off to the right of the vehicles is the first sign of trouble.  xZot begins accelerating toward the bluff not wanting to manoeuvre too much and expose the explorer behind the tank.  A second explosion closer to the tank looks to be from a long range projectile weapon, as opposed to a beam weapon.
  "Anyone got a target lock yet?"  xZot questions his crew over the comm system.
  "Not yet boss!"
  "It's coming from the bluff somewhere but I'm sure exactly!"
  "They must be screened, I can't see anything but a few trees."  A third shell lands closer again to the tank as xZot prepares to return fire.
  Holding his tongue for now, Max accepts the role of passenger as his employees ponder their options and consider their next course of action.  Fidgeting with his clothes and gadgets, the nervous roboticist resolves to review Sni'ktl's résumé the next time he's alone.
  A fourth shell explodes 50 meters to the front of the war tank.  "That's a recoilless rifle boss!"  Gloo reports over the chronocom, "Rate of fire is a dead give away, and of course the size of the impact crater.  Poor accuracy at this range unless they've got some pretty damn smart computers driving it."
  "Acknowledged Gloo."  xZot responds  "Maintain evasive manoeuvres and continue to close on the source of that shelling."
  "You're sure it's to the northeast?  You've double-checked the grid's integrity?" Maximillian confirms.  "Scouting always seems like a plausible plan until someone gets separated from the group.  Take along another, and make sure the radios are fully charged.  Last thing we need now is to go on a rescue mission.  Enough complications, enough complexity," the carapaced man clicks.
  xZot smiles to himself as the excited vrusk captain rambles on.  It wasn't so long ago when xZot himself might have resorted to conversation to ease his own nervousness.  "It seems our good captain hasn't been under artillery fire before lads."  xZot chuckles to his team across the comm system.  Raid pipes in changing the subject completely to take the vrusk's mind away from the sound of the recoilless shells crumping around the war tank.
  "Hey Max."  Raid replies to the recently freed captain and treasure hunter. "I think the hoverfans can be unplugged from the central power supply without much difficulty though.  I've got the tools.  It's just a hassle to disconnect and reconnect the components each time."
  "Huh?  What are you talking about?"  A very confused Maximillian answers.
  "The hovercycle, you know, making it into a collapsible model"
  "Very well, Raid.  You've got carte blanche as they say in your neck of the Frontier,"  Maximillian gives the technical expert the authority to weld away.  xZot just shakes his head at how easily Raid has distracted the vrusk pilot.
  "Has anyone got a target lock yet?"  xZot repeats to his crew
  "Target lock?  Yeah I can lock on all the trees you want, that's all I can see."  Quips Gloo, "If you can't see a muzzle flash then they'd have to be screened.  If they had a laser, you could shoot at where the beam originated at least."  Gloo scans for any sign of a muzzle flash and prepares to fire at it, but is prepared to just fire in the general direction if unable to locate it.
  "Start laying down suppressing fire on that ridge line Gloo."  xZot commands.  "Let's see what sort of capability your weapon has eh?"  Gloo complies immediately, opening up on the ridge at over two and a half kilometres range.  The dralasite trooper is temporarily awe struck by the design and power of his weapon when he realizes that the target ridge is easily inside the range of his weapon.
  "Damn shame I can't see what I'm shooting at!"  he grumbles as he pulls the trigger again, traversing his fire along the tree line.  The small comfort Sni'ktl took from crossing the river and the consequent reduction in defoliation caused by the tank erupted in the explosions of projectiles and the exchange of photo nucleonic blasts that devastates any potential habitat for the as yet un-sociable local fauna.
  "How did Con find dinner last night?".  Sni'ktl makes a note to question the big human later, having found that his militaristic compatriots prefer not to converse on ecological or social issues during combat.  "Hmm must also ask him about how is sleeping."  He adds, recalling the cry that awoke the Gang this morning.  The excited voice of Gloo cuts across the tank comm system again.
  "Boss we're dead if you don't get us moving very quickly, they have all the advantages, cover, concealment, superior firing positions, and surprise.  We have nothing but a big shiny tank in the open that's cover for an explorer in the rear."
  "We're at maximum speed now and the defences of this vehicle should keep us relatively safe for now."  xZot reassures his crew as he scans the instrument panels of the bridge.  "We took four direct hit's from rockets in that action against the robots in the village.  None of the critical systems were damaged then and the defensive inertia screen is still operating.  Raid what's the range on that heavy laser?"
  "Two clicks boss."
  "OK, open up as soon as you can.  What about those rocket batteries?"
  "A thousand meters maximum."  Con answers  "Half that with any kind of accuracy though."
  "The only thing I can think of is charging forward as fast as possible with all weapons firing," suggests Gloo "that makes us the primary target and should give the explorer a chance to run around to cover."
  "I think Gloo is right.  We should close the distance as quickly as possible."  Raid adds as the heavy laser finally comes into range at two thousand meters.  Raid fires a few blasts from a heavy laser turret to probe whatever energy screen lies ahead on the bluff.  He tries to avoid crossing beams with Con or the others.  "I'm guessing there will be some noticeable effect when this laser beam comes into contact with the defences.  Or, at the very least, we'll know when the beam hits nothing but dirt."  Seconds after Raid begins firing, lasers reply from the ridge line.  The rate of fire indicating two enemy heavy laser batteries.
  A beam from the second volley slams into the front of the tank near Con's turret, tearing away huge chunks of armour from the tanks forward slope (100 points).  A shudder through the tank shakes the entire crew but the hovertank suspension system quickly compensates as the alien fighting vehicle continues relentlessly forward.
  "Damn this thing is built!"
  Following behind in the explorer, Gleep and Max see the hover tank take the laser hit in it's stride but both are becoming concerned about the increased rate of fire.  Gleep calls across the comm, "It might be best to back out of here and try sneaking in on the ground rather than getting hit with that weapon?"  Gleep follows the lead of the tank, but is getting nervous, not having as much armour to protect him and Max.  "There is also the option of splitting off and seeing if there is more than one weapon to deal with."
  "Negative Gleep,"  answers Commander xZot  "their laser batteries have opened up and they will probably have more in close defence.  Stay in close behind us, we'll cover you in as much as possible.  If we can neutralize some of that incoming fire you might be able to make a dash when we get in closer."
  Meanwhile Sni'ktl's attention turns to Max.  He had earlier noted his fellow vrusk's curious glances and the vibrato tones of Max's scritches, indicate an uneasiness that Sni'ktl has been trying hard not to reflect.  Still Sni'ktl is sure that the vrusk Captain's spacefaring history may hold knowledge that could assist the gang understand the nature of their current adversaries.  Sni'ktl cricks greetings to Max and enquires as to his opinion of the threat currently faced.
  "If the tank we are in was used by one group of aliens on a mission to hunt another group, perhaps a group that has been hidden here for some time that would explain the apparent covert entrenchment of the former and their apparent hostility to us" contributes Sni'ktl.  "Perhaps we'd have received a different welcome if we weren't in the tank?" he adds, characteristically late to reach a useful point in his reasoning.
  "I hadn't thought of that."  Raid answers,  "Maybe we should try the radio."  Then Gloo chimes in.
  "Guys, these people don't seem to care who they kill, remember they shot up the natives village before we even found the tank, and I doubt this had anything to do with the tank or whose it was.  The pyramid was the only building large enough to house it and those bots would have been shooting it up, not everything they saw.  Besides, we can theorize why the sky isn't purple AFTER the shooting stops."
  "I agree," xZot echoes the sentiment of his two gunners, "we need to get up there fast."  Driving the tank at it's top speed, xZot maintains the slightly random wander toward the bluff hoping to reduce the change of a hit.  "Range?"
  "Sixteen hundred meters!"
  "Whoa!"  A roar goes up inside the war tank
  "Hit!"  Cries Raid  "I got 'em!"
  "Damn!"  An explosion and the sound of searing metal drowns out Raid's celebration (100 points).
  "We're hit!"  Reports Con from his turret.  "Lasers tore off another chunk of armour on the other side but everything else looks OK out here.  Then aliens seemed to be lacking in albedo technology guys, that's what's doing all the damage."
  "Unfortunately our opponents don't have the same handicap."  xZot answers.  "I saw what looked suspiciously like an albedo flash when Raid scored his hit."  The yazirian continues grimly.  "As soon as the rockets are in range, fire."
  The countdown that xZot discovered earlier still worries Raid, constantly nagging in the back of his mind and reminding him vaguely of the sathar artefact on Volturnus with its automatic transmitter.  "Does anyone think it is connected to more than just this tank?"  He wonders aloud.
  "What's that?"  xZot's voice crackles over Raid's comm.
  "Sorry boss, just a bit shook up from that second hit."  Raid shakes his head and continues to pour in suppressing fire on the enemy ridge.  Above him in the top turret, Gloo continues his own traversing fire cursing at himself still unable to land a blow of their screened foe.
  "Holoscreened and albedo screens with probably an entire weapons complement.  I wonder if they have anti tank mines that can defeat the alien hover tech?"  Gloo continues firing as fast as the weapon can at a muzzle flash or in the area it seems to be firing from.  "This is why you don't move a single vehicle/s into an open field without covering vehicles and reconnaissance."
  The wartank continues to glide forward on it's cushion of air occasionally buffeted by explosions from the incoming laser and recoilless rifle fire .  "Range?"  Barks xZot, anxious to get the rocket batteries into the fray.
  "Twelve hundred meters boss."  Gloo and Raid continue to pour their fire onto the ridge line as xZot weaves closer to the enemy batteries.
  "Stay in close behind us Gleep."  xZot orders the explorer driver as the rocket batteries come into range."
  "One thousand meters commander!"
  "Fire all batteries."  The young yazirian orders.  All four guns open fire and the team are rewarded with the sight a brief explosion.  Gloo finally landed a blast near the point of origin of the recoilless rifle fire.  Seconds later another recoilless shell lands nearby eliciting a groan from the dralasite as he realizes his target is still in action.
  The intensity and accuracy of fire from both sides increases as the range continues to close.  A flurry of near misses and hits from both sides sends the adrenaline levels of all the combatants sky rocketing and the wartank shudders again.
  "Awww relax, Maxie.  What's the good of hiring help if you got to do work."  Con quips to his employer as he concentrates on his rocket battery firing when a target of opportunity is available.  As the opposition returns artillery fire, he notices that Max is experiencing something quite new.  Con is unfazed by the return fire, he has seen it before.  Turning to Max the humoured warrior says, "I love the smell of artillery fire in the morning." Con beats his chest as he laughs at Max's uneasiness.
  Once Con sees the opposition's firing line on the ridge, he will make his shots count.  "Boss, I am going to try and take out some of their artillery."  A brief flash of light and telltale wisps of smoke signal a hit by Con's rocket battery while the wartank is rocked by another hit from the enemy laser battery.  "Damn Boss, that hurt.  They took out some armor with that."  After remarking on the lack of return rocket fire.  "Space...that was close.  Maybe I should concentrate on them missing the bloody tank.".
   Another section of armour (100 points) is burned away from the forward section of the tank and followed seconds later by a hit from the recoilless rifle then another hit from a laser battery (100 points).  Whilst the laser battery only tears away more armour, the recoilless rifle shell manages to penetrate the inertia screen and punch into the armour above the combat center and bridge.  Shrapnel and flying bolt heads spray through the bridge and combat center cause surprising light casualties (38 points to tank, 7 to xZot, 5 to Raid).
  "Yeah!  Take that!  Whooo!"  Gloo roars over the comm system as he scores a bullseye on one of the laser batteries.  An explosion followed by a pillar of smoke and slackening of laser fire confirms Gloo's success.
  "They haven't responded with rockets of their own, maybe we're through the worst of it boss?"  Con wonders aloud.  As if hearing the humans'  comment, the accuracy of the enemy fire briefly improves and the tank crew is bounced around by another pair of hits, one from the remaining laser battery and another from the recoilless rifle.  The rifle shell misses any critical areas (35 points) but the laser blast tears away most of the armour around Gloo's turret (100 points) and the residual blast injures the dralasite slightly as well (10 points).
  "Shit boss, we've lost most of the external armour."  Con reports from his turret.  "Those lasers cut us up pretty bad."
  At the next sign of a shot xZot gives the signal to blast away at the bluff  "Lets see if we can smoke 'em out" he murmurs.  Opening a link to the explorer  "Gleep, you can hang in the back if you like but with your speed and manoeuvrability you might be best out on your own;  we'll draw their fire while you race for cover."
  "xZot, your wish is my suggestion."  Gleep follows the tank until things get too hot, then he plans to split off and make a run for the bluff.    Sni'ktl scritches with tension as the range closes to less than 500 meters.  The tank's turrets fire again at their camouflaged attackers.  Enraged by his latest injury and finally close enough to pin point his targets, Gloo blasts away at the remaining laser turret.
  "Alright!"  The dralasite hollers.  "The second laser battery is toast boss."  Gloo follows up as he watches the resulting fireworks display from his handiwork with the nuclear rifle.  xZot continues hovering forward under the slackening fire of the enemy bunker.  As xZot's team approaches within 300 meters of the enemy firing positions the tank takes another minor scratch from the recoilless rifle (30 points)
  "Hey...have any of you guys heard of defensive driving?  If you keep this up we won't have a tank when we get there!"
  At two hundred meters the wartank takes it's last hit from the enemy defences.  A recoilless rifle shell hits the tank exterior (36 points) taking away most of the remaining armour.  At one hundred meters every weapon in the tank's arsenal saturates the enemy defences.  Gloo's nuclear rifle takes care of the fourth enemy turret, a weapon that for some reason had not been brought to bear against the tank.  Rockets from Con and xZot's batteries also produce explosions and columns of smoke while Raids laser continues to sweep the ridge line.
  Before the tank is a peaceful scene of a green bluff, scattered trees, and a quiet pond.  Utter stillness prevails.  As the tank penetrates the enemy holoscreen, vision in the area is distorted for about 6 meters.  As the tank drives through the screen the scene changes.
  Before you stretches a large, still pond.  The shore is lined with heavy reeds and flotsam.  Although there is no wind, as you watch a ripple appears in the pond's center, and you hear a "Ploop!" as if something has moved in the water.  All of a sudden a huge slither with plant like growths on its back emerges from the water and rushes toward you.
  Raid swings his turret around to bear on the horribly familiar beast rushing toward their vehicle.  Raid's aim is true and his weapon burns a hole down the creatures flank (123 points) as it continues toward the war tank.
  "A Slither?"  xZot stares dumbfounded at the display screen in front of him.  "Take it out!"  He snaps into the comm system as he adjusts the targeting of his rocket battery.  The rest of the team take their cue from their commander, immediately targeting this new threat.
  "Slither?"  Sni'ktl chirps.  "Did I hear someone say slither?  Here on Starmist?"  The vrusk scientist continues to speculate aloud while xZot's gunners bring their weapons to bear.  "But the slither is a sathar construct?"
  In the cab of the explorer Gleep follows the tank until the firing stops.  As soon as he hears the radio chatter about a slither Gleep steers to the right and stops 50 meters away.  Grabbing his laser rifle, he takes aim at the beastie using the window frame to steady his aim.  Gleeps pushes the power setting to maximum as he squeezes the trigger, cursing when his beam is off target.
  "Yeah.  That's definitely a slither."  Raid says as he takes aim again.  "And the last slither we saw didn't use recoilless rifles or lasers.  That means whoever was just shooting at us is likely to be a sathar, and they must still be nearby."  Raid shout's for joy when he hits the slither a second time (114 points).  Upon the confirmation of the slither, Con concentrates his rocket battery on the new target, wreaking more damage on the sathar genetically engineered monstrosity (75 points).  With a couple of tweaks of the targeting system xZot puts another rocket into the slither's side, almost tearing it apart.  The body of the slither slams into the hull of the hovertank having no noticeable effect on the vehicle.
  Gloo fires another blast of his nuclear rifle at the defences on the ridge line but the enemy turrets are now protected by the reverse slope from the Black Hand Gang's position.
  From the window of the drivers cab in the explorer Gleep fires again, dropping the slither in a heap beside the wartank as xZot brings their vehicle to a halt.  Raid keeps his eyes and ears open for any suspicious movement near or even inside the hovertank.  "It does have a few holes in its hull now, after all."  He mumbles to himself as he feels for the old sonic knife on his belt that he took from the Star Devil base.  It would come in handy for any surprise encounters within the confines of the tank he thought.
  "Have we reached the source of the signal?"  Raid asks as the wartank comes to a stop.
  Myriad intricacies and hypotheses encircle Sni'ktl thoughts as he filters fact for fantasy, interest from priority.  Slithers on Starmist, sathar too, the wartank could be an artefact from some Sathar foe or a Sathar renegade faction, possible allies?  Armour blown away, slither closing, sathar somewhere.  Sni'ktl ensures that B1 and B2 are ready to roll, brings his medkit to hand and keeps a wary antenna aloft for signs of sathar mind tricks.
  As the rest of the team prepare to disembark, xZot makes a final visual sweep of the collection of buildings in the surrounding area via the the tanks sensors.  Across the pond to the north of their position is a building  25 meters long and 15 meters wide.  North and west of this building are a trio of large, geodesic domes with a single door in one side.  The opaque walls are made of a heavy-duty plastic.  There are no windows or visible lights.  Another collection of geodesic domes form a building west of the three domes.
  West of the southern most portion of the pond is the third building, shaped like a trapezoid.  Parked near the building are two familiar vehicles.  Five meters from the door to a building is an unattended standard UPF jetcopter.  The copter doors are closed and there are no markings on the outside.  From the front of the machine extends the barrel of a heavy beam weapon.  An empty hover car is parked 10 meters from a building.  It is unmarked and has space for six passengers.  A heavy projectile weapon extends from the front of the vehicle.
  Thirty seconds later xZot as his team are deployed outside their vehicles, weapons at the ready and preparing to enter the enemy encampment.
  "No sign of enemy troops yet boss."  Gloo reports
  "Maybe it's an automated defence system?"  Con offers but xZot shakes his head after looking up from the slither carcass.
  "I wouldn't count on it Con.  Somehow gentlemen, I think we've managed to cross the Frontier and stumble on the sathar again."  Max pricks up his antennae at xZot's comment but keeps silent, hoping to learn more about his curious crew.
  Gloo looks around and stares at the helicopter.  "But, guys why is there an armed Federation helicopter sitting there?"
  "Well, I'll be damned, a Federation 'copter."  Says Raid, "What an interesting place to find one, too.  I have a couple of theories, guys.  Theory 1: The worms acquired one for some devious plot they intend to unleash.  Theory 2: There was a Federation patrol around here and the copter was captured.  Theory 3: Maybe some of those Federation weasels are secretly working for the worms.  What do you think...Maxie?"  Says Raid as he turns one eye on his employer.
  Before we go tromping around a sathar base we should disable the vehicles including the explorer."  Observes Gloo  "We don't want them taking off and if they do, they wouldn't get too far.  Gloo looks over at the slither, "What, no sample doc?  As much as you study everything you really need to get a holovid camera."
  Raid cuts another sample of brain tissue from the dead slither to add to his specimen collection, sealing it in a small plastic bag.  He plans to analyse it later on when he gets the time and to compare its genetic information with that of his last sample from Volturnus.
  Silent, Max has been all along.  Raid has been dissecting a slither corpse while xZot has been effective in commandeering the operation at hand.  "Do they have large talons?" he absentmindedly asks.
  "Huh?" Raid turns and raises his eyebrows.
  "Never mind," Maximillian replies, a million thoughts in mind, a lifetime of calculations keeping him preoccupied.  "It would be best to try to avoid a hostile initiative with these," he almost tells himself.  "Perhaps I should... no."
  "It's too bad we made a mess with the Heliopes, we could have tried to get their help in this.  Void only knows how many sathar if any are in there."  Gloo observes.  "We going to try and keep a prisoner or waste everyone of the worms we come across?"
  Turning to xZot  "Boss, before we go in there maybe we should get some intel first.  How 'bout me with some magnigoggles from a high vantage point?  Since I ain't got anyone waiting for me back home"  Con then places his magni goggles on the top of his head and slings his laser rifle over his shoulder waiting for the word from xZot.
  Gleep says, "If we disable the copter, we might want to make sure we can fix it fast, in case we need to make a quick getaway.  We need to check these buildings out, maybe teams of 2 or 3 can sweep around them and check for entrances and listen for sounds."
  "Gloo looks over the buildings carefully,  "So Boss where do we start first?  Since they know we are here, wouldn't it be prudent to get the invisible man over here to be point?  I hate ambushes and if I recall you guys bumbled into some kind of trap the last sathar facility you checked out."
  Gloo looks over at Gleep "Well of course, disabling them means they just can't get in and go.  By the time they figure out what's wrong we should have caught up to them.  Before we separate, we need to check this area out, unless you think a couple of us can take on another slither or god knows what they have around here."
  Gleep replies "You may be right, but I would think if there were another slither near, we wouldn't have time to discuss this.  Whatever we do, let's git 'er done!"
  "I could check out that jetcopter."  Raid glances in xZot's direction.  "What is the plan?"
  The lines in xZot's forehead deepen as he studies the building and vehicles in front of them.  "I think you are right Gloo, we don't want anything using those vehicles without our knowledge."
  Turning to Raid xZot quickly confirms that his chief science officer still has the holoscreen  "Raid, looks like you're on point, make sure it's all clear up there.  We're going to make sure nothing is going to sneak away in those and then we'll check out the building.  Con, you keep an eye on the surrounds but stick with us."
  While Raid scouts out the territory, Sni'ktl begins work on the slither.  Reams of jellied fat putrid with the beast's vile body juices sluice across the fetid carcass.  Sni'ktl nimbly skitters along the spinal column, slicing judiciously with his laser scalpel unravelling nerve bundles intertwined with wiring of a more vermian artifice.  Tracing node and wire he locates what appear to be the control interfaces between animal and machine.  These he extracts and delivers to the team's more technical members for their ponderance.  "If the Sathar are using some kind of signal to control these things perhaps we can block it or scramble it in some way?"  He suggests. "I hope that's the last I need to use these tools on this mission." he kriks, stowing his surgical gear back in B1.
  "All right everyone, lets form up and move in."  Barks xZot.
  "Wait up Boss."  Raid reports before the team can move out.  Flicking the power switch on the holoscreen, Raid shimmers back into view.  "We've got a sentry robot of some kind lurking behind the jetcopter and the damn thing's got a holoscreen.  Almost walking right into it before I spotted the holofield.  We need to neutralize that thing before we can approach the south side of that building.  I've never seen anything like it Boss, definitely not Frontier tech.  That thing has two arms, a pair of tentacles and looks like it's got a Rocket Launcher as it's main armament, it's also packin' at least one laser rifle.  I didn't stick around for a closer look"  xZot nods at Raid's report and sends the team's scout around to the north of the building while he discusses options with the rest of the team.  "And watch out for more screened sentries."  xZot adds as Raid flicks his camouflage screen back on.
  "Any volunteers to draw it out into the open?  Or do we just rush the sentry 'bot?"
  "Let me slip up alongside the building and soften him up with a couple of these."  Gloo plucks a pair of frag grenades from his bandolier  "When he moves to come after me, you guys blast him with everything you've got."  xZot nods his agreement.
  "Sounds like a plan to me.  Con, Gleep you take positions under that tree to the south, I'm going to get some altitude.  Snik, you hang back with your dissection study and stand by to render medical assistance if needed."  The commander thumbs his chronocom and alerts Raid that they are about to move on the robot sentry.  From his position in between the two main buildings Raid props and scans east and west for more sentries.
  Gloo slips north to the building north of the jetcopter and hugs the wall as he approaches the niche where Raid spotted the sentry.  He sets the primers on both his grenades and lobs them around the corner before ducking back for cover, drawing his laser pistol as he darts away.  One of Gloo's grenades lands squarely in front of the screened security bot, the second bounces past the metallic sentry but still manages to inflict some minor damage (63 points total).  The robot immediately moves into action, moving forward on it's hover engines and sliding rapidly around the corner in Gloo's direction.  As soon as the robot swings around the corner Con fires twice at the shimmering sentry, hitting with his second laser blast.  The diffusion of Con's beam reveals the sentry's albedo defence as xZot and Gleep join the fusillade.  xZot curses when both his pistol shots miss but Gleep is ecstatic when both his blasts strike home (61 points).  Even with it's albedo protection the alien robot topples and falls under the barrage of laser fire.
  "Whew!"  Gloo exclaims in an almost human sigh of relief as he turns back toward the robot sentry.  Cocking his head in the direction of the gun battle, Raid holds his position until xZot reports over the chronocom that the sentry is neutralized.  When he gets the all clear from xZot, Raid completes a circuit of the northern building and returns to find xZot and the rest of his team mates completing their booby trapping of both vehicles.
  "No sign of any other sentries or occupants so far boss.  What now?"
  "Time to clear the buildings, you've got point Raid.  Gloo, Gleep you follow Raid.  Con, you and Snik keep and eye out behind us, just in case."  Raid shimmers out of sight before pushing the access panel beside the door exit to the jetcopter and steps through the door as it slides open.
  Inside this geodesic dome are two rooms, one containing a large tub with plumbing connections, the other empty.  Both rooms show evidence that other plumbing related equipment was once located here.  Outer doors are located on the south and north.  The wall material is a hard, opaque plastic; there are no windows.  The tub is a bathtub and the water supply is still working.  None of the doors are locked.  The exit door to the north leads onto a porch that runs west for 35 meters and is covered but open to the sides.  The building is 15 meters in diameter.  Power is on, but the lights are turned off.
  "Which way?"  The ghostly figure of Raid asks.  xZot points to the eastern doorway first and Raid opens the door.  This building, shaped like a trapezoid, is empty except for ceiling lights and papers and other trash on the floor.  Along the walls are small power outlets as might be used for office equipment.  There is no light and no windows, but the east and west walls have doors.  The ceiling lights are turned on by Raid touching a simple floor switch near the doors.  The east wall is 25 meters wide and the west wall is 15 meters wide.  The north and south walls are 16 meters long.  After establishing that nothing of value is in the room xZot directs his team back through the entry room and along the external corridor to the western end of the complex.  The 5x7 porch runs east and west.  Its floor and roof are made of wooden slats.  Lightweight wooden beams support the roof.  There is no railing.  Raid opens the door at the end of the porch leading into another office.
  The east wall of this empty room is slightly concave.  There are closed doors in the north, west, and south walls.  Equipment, such as communications gear, panels, switching units, and connectors lies on the floor.  Crates stand about the room.  Those that are open are either empty or contain additional equipment.  A large viewing screen, dismounted, is propped against the east wall.  The lights are off.
  After a cursory search of the room the team continues through the west door.  The west wall of this 10 meter x15 meter room is slightly curved.  Open crates stand about as well as complex units of bent metal bars.  In the northwest corner of the floor is a large square shaft.  Something is moving in the shaft.
  "What?"  Raid exclaims as the room is filled with the sound of automatic weapons fire.  The Black Hand Gang dive for cover as lead fills the air.  Too late Raid's warning or the search for cover as the spray of bullets find their marks (15 points each to Raid, Gloo, Gleep & xZot, half to skien suits).  Nearest to the attacker and first to react, Raid sprays off return laser fire to no effect.  At virtually point blank range Gloo fires his first shot in anger with his shotgun and is rewarded with a cry of pain (20 points of damage).  Beside him, Gleep fires as well, a pair of laser beams shoot forward and light up the opponents albedo screen (14 SEUs), emptying Gleep's clip and briefly lighting up the alien target.
  "A worm!"
  "Damn!"  The startled cries fill the room while xZot empties his clip at the sathar as it ducks back into the elevator shaft.  This was an equipment storage and lounge area.  The elevator has no walls and its floor is a few feet below the floor of the room.
  "Nooo!" a nervous Maximillian shakes his arms wildly about and exclaims.  He ducks, seeking cover at the rear of the group while a frustrated Con pushes past him at the sound of automatic weapons fire. 
  "Get outta my way!"  Con roars as he rushes to help his injured friends.  That panic that now governs Max will inevitably subside, though for the moment, his blood thickens with the rush that comes as lasers and gyrojets fly by.  "I fear I have led us to certain doom," he pronounces the Vrusk syllables with rigorous strain as he fumbles for his sidearm.  Gleep reloads while moving to take cover.
  "Dang worms!  Why don't they crawl back into the primordial sludge they came from!"
  "That's the question though."  Replies xZot as he ejects the spent clip from his pistol and reaches for another.  "Damn, I'm outta clips."  The yazirian mutters as he plugs his sidearm into his power beltpack, the sam one running his albedo screen.  "This isn't good."  He observes aloud.  Nearest to their assailant, Raid aims another laser blast to the best of his ability, attempting to bring down the target.  The beam burns a scar in the floor near the target but does little else when the room is filled with the blast of Gloo's shotgun.  Again the plucky dralasite is rewarded with a cry of pain as he wounds the worm when it pops it's head up to return fire (17 points).
  Unfazed by it's injury the sathar defender sprays more lead around the elevator lobby and Gloo reels back as he takes more fire (29 points, 15 to his skiensuit) from one of two auto pistols their enemy is wielding.  The second blast, directed at Raid, is equally effective despite his holoscreen (34 points, half to skien suit), driving him behind the hard cover of the doorway.
  At the sight of blood appearing on his comrades protective suits, Sni'ktl scuttles forward, spray hypo in hand to attend their wounds.  Once Con is able to get into the room, the enforcer tries to position himself behind cover.  Con looks for a position that will afford him a nice shot at the elevator shaft.
  "Enough messing around."  xZot states to his team  "Let's finish him, everyone concentrate your fire on the elevator shaft."  xZot and Gleep finish reloading and on their commanders signal, the entire team swing into action, bringing their weapons to bear for what they hope to be the final exchange of fire.  This time Con is the first to pull the trigger as he steps into the doorway.  The sathar albedo screen flashes twice, lighting up the target for the rest of the crew (21 SEU's total).  Additional laser fire from Raid and xZot do little to improve the situation but Gloo's shotgun speaks again with the same result (17 points) and a flurry of shots from Gleep's gyrojet pistol cause enough damage (7 points) to knock the sathar back from the edge of the elevator shaft as Max joins the fray with a blast from his laser pistol.   The civilian pilot looks away with disgust, and shoots at the sathar's albedo screen, hoping to hit.
  Secondary explosions from the shaft immediately after the volley of fire are enough to keep heads down for several more heartbeats before xZot sends Raid forward under his holoscreen to scout the result.  When Raid reaches the edge of the shaft he flicks off the screen and waves the rest of the team forward.
  "I'm not sure how boss, but his head's blown clean away.  Check this out!"  The rest of the Black Hand Gang gather around the edge of the shaft staring down at the mangled remains of the sathar defender.
  "Boss, we need to find out where that worm came from, that is probably the path to whatever is running this."
  "Agreed," xZot answers Raid "but he sure ain't telling us!"  Sni'ktl climbs down to examine the body and quickly confirms the presence of an explosive charge implanted in the creatures head.
  "The explosive must have been surgically embedded with a trigger activated on the death of the subject."  The vrusk scientist muses as he wipes worm juices from his claws.
  "I would like to take a closer look at the communication equipment in the other room boss?"  Raid asks.  "I wonder who they are talking with on the radio, or were they just listening to us?"
  "Get to it." xZot replies as he watches Snik triage the team after their short, sharp combat.
  "Now what boss?"  Asks Con  "Should we check out the rest of the buildings or follow the elevator shaft?"
    Raid returns to xZot and Co. after a quick examination of the communications gear reveals little more than the knowledge that the room was a communications centre but nothing is currently in operation and there are no radio logs or other clues about the operators.
  Scared out of his wits and fumbling with his only sidearm, Max stares down at his trembling claws.  In a dull haze the vrusk pilot is vaguely aware of his surroundings as the Black Hand Gang regroup.  Gloo looks at his tattered defence suit,
  "Well this just sucks the mighty void, I'm so in the need for some meds here."  Seeing the state of their pilot and hearing Gloo's concerns xZot orders his chief medic to work.
  "Hey Snik, you better check out Max make sure he's OK and see to Gloo's injuries as well."
  "I'm on it Commander."  The vrusk answers as he completes basic First Aid treatment on himself before tending the other wounded.  "This might take a while boss, Con, Raid and Gloo all need some serious work before we can move on."  The CMO reports before beginning Major Surgery on his patients.
  "Don't these worm bastards ever give up?  How many times do we have to beat the bat snot out of them before they go away."  Says Con, shaking his head.  "Exploding head trick, nice touch.  That's one way to avoid capture!"  The enforcer turns to xZot.  "That still doesn't account for the jet copter outside."
  Gloo looks around at the mess.  "I'd like to know what's going on here, are they closing down shop here?  So far it looks like they are taking things down and moving them.  Or was this an existing facility they captured and they are now remodelling it to suit them?"
  "Well, that makes taking a tissue sample quite easy."  Raid says, bending over the dead sathar.  "I don't even need to use a scalpel."  He scrapes a sample from the elevator wall and seals it in one of the small plastic bags he always carries.
  After completing further First Aid treatment on Gleep, Snik sits xZot down and goes to work, carrying out Minor Surgery on the yazirian commander while the rest of the team investigates the immediate surroundings or stand watch.
  "Well they should know we are here, after all this racket, so we shouldn't presume we have surprise"  Gloo points out, "The only thing we have going for us then is the fact that they have to use the elevator to come get us, unless they have troops up here.  The bad part is they can set up an ambush at the elevator and hose those inside when the doors open."  Mulling over the tactical options Gloo speaks up again.  "Mr. Holoboy here," Gloo indicates toward Raid, "should go down alone and scope it out, if it's clear then the skinny folk go down and then us
rather bulky folk go."
  Once the carcass of the Sathar is removed and poked and prodded, Con climbs in the elevator.  A few feet below the edge of the shaft, which is 5 meters square, is a floor with no walls.  On the floor is a small pedal.  While the carcass removal is going on, Con checks the clips in his laser pistol and laser rifle, as well as make sure his sonic disruptor is ready just in case he needs more fire power.
  "Anyone else low on supplies?"  Gloo asks, I would suggest everyone check themselves and then load up back at the explorer, there are some power clips and packs in the back, no point in heading into the jaws of death without ammo."  Gloo plops down and has a fast drink and snack and a bit of rest.
  Raid puts anything that looks like a sathar radio out of commission with a point blank blast from his laser pistol, then returns to the others.  From inside the elevator he hears Con say
  "Second floor!  Women's fashions, fine Jewellery, Weapons and Ammunition and Sathar Scumbags.  Going Up!
  "Women's fashions?"  Raid wonders if Con is feeling alright.  It could be that the stress is getting to him.  Con turns to Raid,
  "Comedy, ever hear of it?  Geez no one has a sense of humour anymore.  At least the Dralasites appreciate it."  Behind Raid the dralasites are indeed chuckling at Con's twisted sense of humour before xZot grunts out orders for Con to step out of the elevator and let Raid scout the way ahead.  The team's tech scout steps into the elevator and has a look around.  The open sided elevator operates automatically once the pedal on the floor is pressed.  Raid waits, camouflaged once more by his holoscreen as he descends 10 meters, stops, shifts, and then travels horizontally eastward toward the bluff and the weapons bunker.  After travelling around 50 meters the elevator stops and rises into the bunker.  When it stops again the west wall of the shaft slides aside to reveal the next corridor.

Bunker Profile

  The corridor stretches before Raid for 20 meters, thirteen meters ahead there is a door in the north wall and one directly across in the south wall.  Another Sathar robot stands near the doors and turns toward the elevator.  Raid squeezes himself back into the elevator and steps on the foot controller to return himself back to xZot and the rest of the team.
  "It's just like Gloo said boss."  Raid reports back when the elevator comes to a halt in the lobby.  "There's another one of those sathar 'bots about a dozen meters from the exit from the elevator.  The elevator door is only about one meter wide at the other end and I can see no other way in.  How we gonna handle this?"  Raid asks his companions as Snik finishes up his medical procedures on the walking wounded.
  xZot looks askance at his team for suggestions as he sums up the situation.  "Well it looks like Snik has us back up to full strength from a medical and fitness view point, I assume you are all reloaded and ready to rock.  Any volunteers?"
  Gleep asks,  "Is there any way to stop the elevator short of full access to the robot?  Like about a foot of shooting room?  We can unload a barrage on it, but not give it much room to shoot at us."  Raid shakes his head as he replies in the negative.
  "The whole system is automated, no brakes that I could see anywhere."  Then Gleep suggests another plan, "One alternative is to go down the elevator as a group and be ready to fire.  Raid can tell us the last known location of the robot and we can aim in the vicinity and correct when it comes in sight.  We can spread out from there.  If only a couple go down, they might take a lot more damage and not be able to cause it as quickly as a larger group."
  After Con gets some medical treatment he turns to xZot,  "I'm game Boss.  Let's go kick some Sathar ass, again!"
  "It's too bad we don't have an explosive bowling ball."  Raid laughs.  "That hall between the elevator and the robot would make a perfect lane to roll it down."
  Con looks at Raid.  "Brilliant!  I am surprised not one of our tech guys have tried that yet.  I want a green swirly design one!"  xZot smiles to himself as he watches his comrades joke about the coming violence before assuming his Commander's role once more.
  "We go in hard together."  xZot announces drily.  "One volley of grenades, then we all hook in with weapons fire.  Everybody targets the sathar bot until it goes down, then we pick off any other targets of opportunity."  xZot eyeballs each individual of his small command to make sure they all know the plan.  Turning to the vrusk contingent, xZot adds "Snik and Max bring up the rear and keep an eyestalk out on our rear and flanks."
  Con makes sure that all his equipment is ready for battle.  Then moves to the elevator to get ready for the ride up.  Turning to whomever is closest.  "These Sathar scum bags, I swear they are stuck on stupid"
  xZot and his team clamber into the elevator and Raid takes them down the route he travelled only minutes before, alone and holoscreened.  With the feedback loop activated, rendering Raid almost invisible, Raid feels only slightly less conspicuous now that he is surrounded by his oh so visible friends.  Hands and pseudopods reach for grenade pins and timers as the elevator ride comes to it's end.
  Con leaps clear of the braking elevator car and hurls his last frag grenade, Raid and xZot also let fly with a brace of frag grenades but only Con lobs his near enough to cause any real damage (38 points).  As the grenades shatter the silence of the underground bunker and inflict minor damage on the robot, the Sathar Attack Simulacra Interior (SASI) returns fire with a volley of automatic fire supplemented with a sonic stunner and a rocket for good measure.  Despite his camouflage, Raid is caught in the field of fire along with his friends, he staggers when struck by the beam of a sonic stunner but remains on his feet as bullets rake the front row of xZot's assault team (30 points each to xZot, Con & Raid, less skiensuit absorbs).  Gleep and Goo tumble out of the elevator car as the rocket explodes harmlessly behind them.  Gloo's frag grenade bounces down the corridor behind the SASI but Gleep manages to drop an incendiary grenade on target (19 points) as the team draw their side arms.
  Back down the elevator shaft Snik and Max wait nervously for the return of the elevator car.  At the sound of explosions Max glances over at his fellow vrusk but Snik simply shrugs, "They'll be fine, we've been through a lot worse than this before, I think."
  From the second rank Gloo hurls a second grenade, this time with more accuracy (37 points) while Raid draws his gyrojet pistol and pulls the trigger 3 times, swearing when the third time is rewarded with an empty click instead of the kick of his hand gun.  Raid's 2nd shell strikes home (8 points) but he fails to notice the small victory as he ejects the empty magazine and reaches for a replacement.  Beside Raid, Con has both laser pistols drawn and blazes away at the bot, burning away some of the albedo skin and causing more minor damage (13 points) but it is a second incendiary grenade from Gleep that delivers the Coup-de-grace, knocking out the Sathar defence bot.
  xZot signals for Raid the proceed down to the end of the corridor, "Gloo, Gleep, check these doors."  The yazirian commander indicates the doors each side of the wrecked sentry robot, "Con and I will cover you."  As the pair of dralasites move to their respective doorways, xZot flicks on his chronocom to speak with the vrusks.  "Snik, we've taken out the robot, you and Max get down here ASAP."
  Raid reaches the end of the corridor at the same instant the dralasites fling open their doors, then all hell breaks loose...

  Meanwhile, halfway across the Frontier, the wrecked hulk of a spacecraft orbiting near a shipyard at Truane's Star receives a shipment of parts and the attention of a repair crew as the hull of the hulk begins major repairs.  An Engineer hired by the Volturnus Trading Company begins drawing up designs to refit the old freighter as the new flagship for the Volturnus Trading Company.  No one questions the identity of this X'anthe who's signature appears on the appropriate documentation.  All the bills for the space ship refurbishment are paid promptly, giving no one any cause to examine how long the VTC accounts have been dormant until so recently.  As the reports of the work on the spacecraft come in, X'anthe makes a note to ask xZot and the rest of the team what name to recommission the ship under.
  The two other members of the secretive Black Hand Gang in Truane's Star, James McKilin and Crisbel Ori Jatuan have immersed themselves in their own personal projects while X'anthe oversees the VTC office.  For Crisbel that means spending as much time as he can on his own, or at least away from anyone he'd spent the last 77 years sleeping with.  For James it is the opposite, he uses every excuse he could think of just to be near X'anthe.  Something about the sleek, dusky warrior utterly enchants the young medic and X'anthe seems almost completely oblivious of him, at least that's how James feels.

  On Prenglar, an operation of a completely different nature is underway.  OMAC aka Gunny aka Shocker and his partner in crime, Borovski have embarked on a seemingly endless bender, visiting every bar, club, saloon and casino within 10 kilometres of the Port Loren starport.  Eventually the pair acquire accommodation and set up an  office for the VTC but manage to avoid doing any actual work for weeks.
  Waking up after a particularly late evening at the Spacers Rest, OMAC staggers into the kitchenette of the apartment he shares with Borovski,  "Hey Boro, what do you reckon xZot and the others are up to right now?"
  The seedy dralasite swivels a spidery eyespot toward his human companion, "I don't know, but they can't feel as bad as I do right now."  Boro rasps through his screaming migraine.  I should never have had that last caramel bulb!"  The dralasite moans.  From his position standing half in and half out of the refrigerated food storage unit, OMAC groans in stereo.

  On Araks, Mr Sp'ock and Siu-Ling have managed to find a workable equilibrium.  Mr Sp'ock quickly establishes a retail outlet for the VTC while Siu-Ling absorbs the local culture and handles public relations and promotions for the VTC on Araks.  Their common interest in the martial arts gives both VTC executives the discipline to be efficient and the appreciation to enjoy their recreational activities as well as the occasional sparring partner.

  Nathaniel Kane stopped scanning the datanets when he stumbled on the article about the Volturnus Trading Company.  "Where do I know that name from?"  He wondered aloud, then he remembered history text he'd read in the local library about the Battle of Volturnus, back before the Sathar War.  The Volturnus Trading Company was supposed to have been the salvage company set up by the survivors of the rescue mission.  "Nah, couldn't be them still, surely?"
  The stories surrounding the rescue mission and subsequent battle for the planet of Volturnus were the stuff of boyhood dreams.  Those stories shaped Nathaniels' childhood and to some extent the man he had become today.  "Yeah, an out of safety officer!"  He muttered again to himself.  "Ah what the heck, nothing ventured, nothing gained."  He reached for the comm system and started keying in the number...

  Back on Starmist, Snik and Max climb into the elevator car as soon as it arrives.  Down in the bunker, Raid reaches the end of the corridor as another SASI rounds the corner from the south, headed directly towards the scene of the battle.  The startled technician manages to side-step the robot as it barrels on toward the rest of the team.
  Through the northern door, opened by Gloo, the dralasite sees an unwelcome sight.  This room measures 10x15 m.  There is a door in the south end of the east wall and one in the east end of the south wall.  Along the east wall is a moving conveyor belt.  The area under the belt is sealed and three mechanical arms protrude from the wall along its length.  It disappears into a block of machinery that extends to the roof in the northeast corner.  Lights on the side of the machine are glowing.  An opening is in the east side of the machine and a smaller belt runs from it to a massive, solid tube in the northwest corner.  The belt stops at an opening in the tube's east side.  One meter from the west wall sits a large computer.  On a small dais in the southwest corner is a chair formed of bars.  Several electronic units are attached to it and lights are glowing on their panels.  A Sathar attack robot is standing guard.
  Gleep spies an equally unwelcome sight through the southern doorway.  This 6x10 m room has doors in the northeast section of the north wall and in the center of the south wall.  There are no windows.  Four saddle like chairs made of bent bars are here, each on a raised dais.  Controls are inset into the chair arms.  In the chair in the southeast corner is a Sathar; in the southwest chair a Dralasite; and in the two northwest chairs a Vrusk and a human.  All are armed.  The Sathar is wearing a gas mask and the others wear skeinsuits.
  In the chaos that ensues, Con is the first to react, bringing his laser rifle to bear on the SASI in the northern room.  "Shall we take out the combat robot first, Skipper?"  Con asks,  "We may be able to take some prisoners if we save the rest of those purple-pissing pinheads as we clean-up."  Before xZot can answer, Con fires twice, burning away albedo defences and external armour (26 points) from the alien bot.
  xZot replies as he hurls a grenade into the southern room.  "Fire at will gentlemen, take 'em all down any way you can."  The yazirian lobs his last incendiary grenade at the sathar in the chair device immediately to his south.  The grenade lands in front of the sathar and the resulting explosion reveals an inertia screen defending the occupant of the chair (11 points to target).  The human occupying the northern most chair produces a needler pistol and returns fire at xZot, slightly wounding the commander with a burst of needles (1 point, 2 to suit)
  Sni'ktl and Max alight from the underground elevator into the hallway just as the ragged volley of firing begins.  "Oh dear!"  The vrusks cry out in stereo as they dart into the corridor seeking scant cover.
  At the other end of the corridor Raid looks for an access panel on the bot as it passes him, and moves quickly to deactivate it.  He hopes to take the robot by surprise from behind and distract it from any attacks on his friends.  In this much Raid succeeds, but as he attempts to remove the access panel the brave technician is jolted by an electrical defence system (15 points) that throws him back and against the wall of the corridor.  Instead of firing at Raid's friends, the robot turns and discharges another pulse of energy at technician but Raid is unaffected by the stun pistol.
  The sathar injured by xZot, writhes in pain from the burning phosphorous as he wrestles with some of the controls on his chair and then reaches for a laser pistol, squeezing off a quick shot at his attacker in vain.
  Gloo lobs another grenade from his satchel at the SASI in the north room then ducks back into the corridor also seeking cover.  As disappointed as he is about watching his grenade explode behind the SASI there is worse to come.  "Oh no, this looks bad!" he cries when he sees the second SASI already in the corridor and firing at Raid and another fire fight behind him where xZot has opened fire.  Gloo spins back around in time to see the SASI in the northern room fire a rocket at Con, the result is devastating.
  The rocket smashes into the wall and door frame near Con's head and sprays shrapnel into the warrior's head and chest (64 points) knocking his limp body to the floor.  "Man down!" screams Gloo but Snik had also witnessed the horrific wounds suffered by his long time companion and has sudden flashbacks of Bruce on Volturnus.
  As Snik races to aid his friend, dragging a protesting Max along behind him, Gleep throws in his last two doze grenades hoping to reduce the number of enemy combatants quickly.  Figuring the rest of the BHG will be busy with the robots Gleep mutters to himself.  "I have been through too many tough fights to be taken by just 4!"  He declares stoically.  One of his grenades explodes near the man with the needler pistol but has no affect on him.  The vrusk in the chair to the southwest fires a sonic disruptor at Gleep, wounding the dralasite only slightly at this range (9 points), while the dralasite in the remaining chair fires twice with a laser pistol, lighting up Gleep's albedo screen (7 SEUs).
  Down at the far end of the corridor, Raid still lies prone from his shock, the SASI remains facing in his direction and obviously scanning for Raid but the feedback loop of his hollow screen appears to be functioning well until the SASI switches attack modes and presents a pair of auto pistols.  Raids ears are left ringing from the roar of automatic fire after the SASI fires both bursts into the wall above a deafened Raid.  "If I could just disconnect the robot's power supply, that would be enough."  Raid thinks to himself, but the robots electric defence system won't allow him access to shut the robot down.  "At least up close it can't really fire rockets at me."  Raid thinks to himself as he draws his sonic knife, ducks forward and plunges the invisible blade into the robots central mass (16 points).
  Surprisingly the SASI in the northern room stands down as soon as Con's body crumples to the ground allowing Snik to drag Con's unconscious form out of the doorway and prepare to inject the downed man with staydose.
  In the room to the south, the vrusk fires at Gleep again with his sonic disruptor and the human fires off another grouping of needles at xZot.  Both of the sathar sympathizers fail to succeed, xZot and Gleep both avoid injury.  Gleep goes to work keeping heads down and hurls another grenade, this time a tangler and has far better success.  The grenade bounces off the west wall of the room landing behind the vrusk and throwing sticky tendrils all over the vrusk and the chair he is now imprisoned in when it explodes.  "Yesss!"  The dralasite shouts at the success of this new tactic that plays on the lack of reflexes of the chair bound defenders.
  In the hallway, Gloo un-slings his laser rifle and slides the power setting to maximum.  As he un-slings the weapon Gloo takes note of the SASI in the northern room appearing to stand down.  He decides to turn his attention to the other SASI at the far end of the corridor, covering Sni'ktl and Con as the team medic works feverishly on their team mate.
  "Skipper, I think I am going to try to target anything that looks like a sensor."  Con calls out to his commander in his unconscious mind.  "If we can blind him somehow, it may make things easier for us."  The warrior dreams on,  "Let's do this!!!"  In his mind, Con leads the team toward the glorious white light.  "You know, on second thought; that bowling ball thingie would be really useful about now!"  Con thinks to himself, hell if I ever get off this rock and not stuck back in the freezer like some TV dinner, I could use a vacation..."
  The sathar sprayed with flammable material from the incendiary grenades hisses in pain as his flesh continues to burn (10 points) then fires his laser pistol at Gleep.  Gleep's albedo screen flares up again (9 SEUs) protecting him from any possible injury.
  xZot attempts to mirror Gleep's success and hurls his last tangler grenade at the dralasite in the south west corner of the room, and again an overthrow rebounds back onto it's target.  The dralasites' chair is entangled in the grenade's threads and the odds seem to be swinging in favour of xZot and his team.
  Turning to face the sathar, Gleep tries his luck again with another tangler grenade but this time his aim is wide and the grenade explodes harmlessly.  The human in the last chair fires another grouping of needles at xZot, this time striking him in the chest, destroying the remaining shreds of his defensive skien suit and almost knocking the commander to the ground (12 points).
  To the north, Sni'ktl, Max and Con remain undisturbed by the SASI in the room to the north and the medic is able to temporarily stabilize the comatose Con while the skittish vrusk captain casts nervously about, his eyestalks coming to rest on the SASI threat at the end of the corridor.  Gloo gets his best sight picture of the SASI at the end of the corridor, still facing the wall where Raid was last seen.  His carefully aimed blast slams into the rear of the SASI's torso (53 points) and tears away large sections of albedo armour.
  Max cries out excitedly when he sees Gloo's well aimed blast.  "Shot!"  Perhaps a second later, Raid plunges his sonic knife into the robot once more (17 points) as the robot fires it's sonic stunner and another pair of automatic fire bursts in Raid's general direction.  The sheer volume of fire is impossible for Raid to avoid and bullets from the auto pistol slam into his body (22 points) as he is also struck by the sonic stunner and slumps to the ground, unconscious.  "Oh my!"  Max exclaims as he spots Raid's shimmering form slide to the floor.
  With Max's assistance, Sni'ktl drags Con's body to the elevator and the Chief Medical Officer orders the erstwhile captain of their transportation vessel, to take the injured man back to the surface while he turns to attend to the other wounded members of the Black Hand Gang.
  Back in the southern command room, as xZot now thinks of the place, the sathar fires at Gleep again, this time missing while xZot draws his laser pistol and prepares to take aim at his opposite number.  Before xZot can fire, the sathar lights up Gleep's albedo screen once more (6 SEUs), trying to burn away Gleep's defensive power. 
  Having dealt with the threat from Raid, the SASI at the western end of the corridor turn to face Gloo.  The SASI immediately launches a rocket at the diminutive target but firing high and slamming the missile into the end of the corridor.  Sni'ktl dives for cover into the elevator shaft behind the retreating form of Con and Max in the elevator and avoids the blast as Gloo takes a beam from the SASI sonic stunner in the chest.  Shrugging off the stunner beam at this range, Gloo returns fire rapidly pumping two more high wattage laser beams into the SASI, tearing away huge pieces of the robot's torso and upper limbs.  The wreckage of the SASI clatters to the floor of the corridor as Gloo leads Snik toward Raid's stunned form lying among the robotic carnage.
  The human sympathizer fires his last needle into the wall beside xZot's head as the yazirian fires twice at the sathar commander.  xZot is surprised when his first beam strikes home (23 points) but he is absolutely ecstatic when his second blast kills the sathar (32 points) outright.  Gleep draws his gyrojet pistol and fires the last shell from his current magazine.  The shell penetrates the inertia screen protecting the occupant of the chair and cause minor damage (8 points) to the last man standing, or in this case, sitting.
  Sni'ktl races past Gloo and gropes around until he finds Raid's holoscreened form and administers a shot of stimdose to revive the stunned technician.
  As xZot is about to turn toward the last man, he sees the sathar's head explode as several implanted explosives in his body activate at his death.  "Damn!  Not this crap again!"  xZot explodes in frustration then suddenly whips his head around.  "Dead man switch!  We gotta get everyone outta here now."  The excited young yazirian flips on his chronocom and repeats the order to the entire team.  "We're not taking any chances, get everyone out of here pronto.  Back to the vehicles now."
  "What about them?"  Gleep points toward the entangled sathar sympathizers and the man reloading his needler pistol in the last chair.
  "Gleep, Gloo, you pair cover out retreat.  Raid, you and Snik get back to Con and Max and get the hell out of here.  I'll be right behind you."  As Snik and the wounded clamber into the returning elevator, the pair of dralasites put in more suppressing fire to keep the last sathar sympathizer's head down.
  Gleep takes a quick look around as he covers the entangled prisoners. He looks to see if there is any unique technology which might be quickly grabbed, but eventually he backs out of the room empty handed. Reaching the door to the hall Gleep watches carefully as Gloo covers the retreat of Snik and Raid.
  Cons' subconscious mind continues to replay the events of the enforcer reeling from the blows he has taken. He fires as he drops to his knees. The wound is too much he stops firing and falls to the ground and slips into unconsciousness.  As the battle rages around him he sees a long dark passage. At the end is a brilliant light.
   Silhouetted in the light is a famillar face. She beckons to him. The enforcer is torn between going into the light or returning to his body to help his mates. The voices in his head distort and crackle and finally resolve into the clicks and pops of Sni'ktl's heavily accented PanGal as Con's life force briefly flickers between this world and the next.
  Jolted awake but the hypo of stimdose from the team medic, Raid wakes up and hears the command to pull out. "I hear you. Let's get out of here!"  When Raid and Sni'ktl reach the upper level via the elevator Raid groggily helps lift Con from the floor, attempting an injured-man-carry technique that he had seen in the holovids. "Hang in there man. We'll get you fixed up on the ship."  Seeing that Con can't hear him, he looks over at Snik. "I think we can get him to that jetcopter we saw parked outside, then fly him out." Sni'ktl nods in agreement as they exit the sathar complex.

  While the elevator makes a last trip to collect xZot and the dralasites, Con is bundled into the jetcopter by Raid and the vrusks. Raid clambers into the cockpit and begins an instrument check prior to takeoff. Snik starts moving tward the Hovertank when he realises Max is no longer next to him, looking back Snik sees the other vrusk climb into the hovercar next to the jetcopter. With a very human like shrug, Sni'ktl turns back and heads for the Hovertank but when xZot and the dralasites emerge from the elevator shaft zXot sends Sni'ktl back to join Raid and Con in the jetcopter.
  "Get Con back to the ship and safely secured, we'll bring the other vehicles back as quick as we can." Sni'ktl nods his agreement and rushes back to join Raid in the cockpit of the chopper. As the various vehicles under xZot's command fire up their propulsion systems, xZot flicks on his chronocom and advises his drivers to keep their vehicles in chronocom range whilst in convoy. xZot pilots the Hovertank with Gloo in the Nuclear Rifle turret, Gleep takes the wheel of the teams explorer and pulls in behind xZot as he leads off across the grassy plains and Max brings up the rear with the Hovercar.
  As Raid lifts off in the jetcopter with Raid and Snik on board, a series of explosions rips through the sathar complex, confirming xZot's fears of the dead man switch in the dead sathars' body. Only hours later, Sni'ktl is in the sickbay of Maximillian's ship attending to Con while Raid checks out the captured jetcopter thoroughly in preparation for an expected flight the next morning.
  That evening xZot uses the Radiophone aboard the Explorer to contact the VSS Last Legs. "I'm convinced the count down sequence in the Hovertank is accelerating. Considering the power of this things armaments I want to make sure we park it a long way from us and the locals before we abandon it. We'll retrace our original tracks back to the Heliope village, although we will skirt the locals and avoid their village. Then back through the forest and across the plains to the ship. We'll leave the Hovertank somewhere on the plains and observe from a distance until we know it's done whatever it's going to do." xZot then instructs Raid to stay with the ship unless xZot's team call for help. "We'll probably be another two days travelling before we get back to the ship."
  "Roger that." Raid finishes the conversation and heads off to the galley for a feed before hitting the sack.
Frontier Date 14.080
  The next morning Sni'ktl begins work on healing Con's injuries. Although some of his initial attempts are not up to Sni'ktl's usual high standard, he does eventually succeed in reviving the badly wounded warrior. (Failed Major surgery, successful Minor Surgery and First Aid, 30 points back to Con). After reviving Con, Sni'ktl orders Raid to report to the sick bay where he successfully treats Raid's injuries as well as his own minor wounds.
  Over the following two days xZot becomes more and more anxious about the rapidly accelerating countdown in the Hovertank. Eventually he decides to abandon the vehicle about halfway across the plain between the forest to the ship. The yazirian commander calls on Raid to fly out and observe the alien vehicle from a safe distance while xZot brings the rest of his team back too base. Several hours after abandoning the Hovertank, Raid reports a rather spectacular explosion from what looked like the vehicles power plant and the smoking ruins are now scattered over a substantial area of the Starmist plains. Looking back in the direction they came, xZot and his team watch as a column of smoke rises into the air from the location of the hovertank.
  As soon as xZot boards the VSS Last Legs and gives the order to depart, Sni'ktl rushes him off to the sick bay for treatment. When Snik is finished with his commander he tends to the wounds of the dralasites. Several days into the journey back to Araks, Sni'ktl pronounces the entire team fit for duty once more. Even the seriously injured Con is recovering quite well. xZot and his team spend the remainder of the trip recoperating, writing reports on their encounters and taking stock of their situation and this latest piece in the Sathar puzzle.

1 Experience Point

2 Experience Points

3 Experience Points

Bonus Points - e-mail

Bonus Points - Special



GleepGlooup, Gloo, xZot, Sn'iktl, Raid, Con


GleepGlooup, Gloo, xZot, Sn'iktl, Raid, Con

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