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Jack Yorke led Har-Bak, Roar-Ree, and Stefan Kanoff, the latter of whom was holding a small vid screen displaying Basta in the med bay, into the comms room where BOB-5 is talking to Lloyd.

"And then she runs past me, screaming her head off," the robot says, "And when I made a crack about it, Risir tells me he gave her Anat'Ara."

"Are you shitting me?" Lloyd says, "He gave her Anat'Ara and she drank it? She was a fuckin' bartender; she should know better."

"A bartender on Ord Melul. You do remember how much your Secretary complains that there's no good booze on that planet, right?"

"Don't remind me," Lloyd says, rolling his eyes, "And I see your crewmates are here, so let's get down to business."

"So what's the job?" Yorke says, "I assume it's something to do with Risir and that artifact."

"It is. Risir owns a mansion on Bliss, which is where he went directly after the excavation. The artifact he found is likely there, as well. I need to confirm my suspicions as to what it is, so your job is to get in, grab the artifact, and get out. You're going to need to finish this in the next three days."

"You got blueprints or pictures or something of the mansion?"

"Yes. I'm sending them to your computer now. The mansion is very outwardly plain; looks like a mesa. It actually is a mesa, in fact, with the rooms carved out inside. From all accounts, decoration is functional. Risir doesn't much care to flaunt his wealth. The artifact will likely be in one of the study rooms he has.

Since this is on short notice, you're going to have to do the planning and division yourself. This mission must be completed within the next three days."

"This is our fifth mission, boss," BOB-5 says.

"So it is," Lloyd replies, "For every five missions, you get to choose a bonus reward. Be it some extra cash - I decide how much - a new weapon, or whatever else you like."

"How about a house on, say... Bliss?" Har-Bak asks, jokingly.

"If enough of you ask for a house, you will get one. Now I have things to attend to; I'll be on Ord Melul for the next three days. Report to me there with the artifact once you have it."

"We're in position." Yorke said overlooking at the mansion in the distance. "You all know your jobs here right? I don't want the mistakes to outweigh the success of the operation here. Roar-Ree was at his side preparing the map and his sidearm for once they entered the mansion.

"Don't worry about it, boss man. We got it from here although I'm not thinking it was such a good idea by tossing the cat with us here." BOB-5's robotic voice boomed from the other side. He was aboard the Dawn Voyager with the remainder of the crew meant to act as a diversion, while Yorke and Roar-Ree infiltrated the mansion and retrieved the artifact.

"I'm sure that you and Har-Bak are more than capable of making sure that she doesn't pull another move like on the last job." He saw Roar-Ree moving closer towards the mansion and using the map to look for any possible entrances and spotting one of the nearby ones.

"Found one, Yorke." he whispered and placed the map back into his pack.

"I'll be right there. Keep in contact, BOB. Yorke out."

"Alright team, we got shit to discuss!" Ending his conversation with Yorke, BOB yelled loudly in the ship's lounge to get his team's attention. As the group assembled around the robot, he laid out the blueprints of the mansion on a glass table in the center of the room.

"Take yer seats gentlemen, cat, we need to discuss how we're gon' be helping Yorke and the mutt over yonder. We can do this the easy way or the hard way, dress up as Girl Scouts or shoot the fuckin' place up! Me...I prefer the latter..."

Stefan chuckled a bit nervously. "Umm we can try to do the-!""Errrr!! Wrong! You already got me bored Kanoff!" interrupted BOB. "But you didn't let me explain!" replied Stefan. "Trust me kid, if it doesn't involve me going all out, then I lose interest quickly!" joked BOB.

"Ughh fine," said Kanoff. Basta laughs a little bit and looks back at BOB. "So you got anything in mind BOB?" asked Basta. "Haha right now nope, I just wanted to mess with Kanoff right here!"

"I'm with the droid on this one. And before you ask," With that, the Eurypt glared at Basta and Stefan, "As he and I are probably the most experienced members of this crew, we're going with that plan."

The two other crew members nodded, and Har-Bak continued. "Anyway, before we decide to go guns blazing into that fortress of a mansion, I want to check out the perimeter defenses."

"BOB, how close can you get us without getting detected?"

The robot shook his head, pointing at the map. "Sorry Scorp, but I have no idea what kind of radar that's been set up. Unless I find out, I ain't willing to risk trying to scout anything."

The Eurypt nodded silently, thinking to himself of a plan.

"Anybody got any other ideas 'bout how we're gonna do this?"

Basta looked up from her untouched glass, "Well, I was thinking if we could make Risir think his house is no longer safe and get him to leave in a hurry..."

BOB looked at her, "So we'd blow up his house?"

She shook her head, "Nothing that drastic, we make him think there's a bomb threat. Clear out all the guards and Risir to buy Roar and Yorke some more time. Doesn't have even be a bomb. Gas leak, carbon monoxide, anything to get him out in a hurry. I just don't want to wear a damned Girl Scout uniform."

Har-Bak shook his head, "No can do Cat, even if we do manage to get them all out, Risir isn't going to let that thing out of his sight. He'll leave with the artifact."

"Even then," BOB said leaning on a chair, "Risir would be willing to sacrifice those Ira. Might as well be giving him a fucking paper cut.

Basta shrugged, "Sorry for suggesting something a bit more subtle. In that case, I'll side with you guys. Let's blow shit up."

Risir flanked the front entrance to his home, two on each side. Two visible, each holding an automatic flechetté rifle designed by his species, while two more were concealed, using sniper rifles of the same design. He had spotted the man with an umbrella, black kimono accenting the metallic-white skin, several miles before he reached the mansion. He continues standing in silence as he approaches.

White Wolf walked up the wide steps, flanked by columns which concealed ten emplaced turrets, all but two TXM-130E Heavy Repeaters. The last two were based on designs recovered from the late Syra Iben's mansion, firing the same high-pressure, accelerated ferrofluid Oeh-Wje's Shitslicer uses.

"Anything to report?" Risir asks.

"Dawn Voyager's in port," White Wolf replies, looking at the space between Risir, "Two of the crew took a joyride a shuttle. Passed me on the way here."

"And they work for Lloyd. Wish I'd known before posting the request to the BCA. Figured they worked for one of his rival Handlers. This may be a problem."

"An attack?" White Wolf asks, tensing in anticipation of the fight ahead.

"Likely so. And you have may fight as you see fit."

"Alright team, le'z get a'tum, shall we?" BOB, Basta, Har-Bak, and Stefan analyzed the mansion atop the roof of a across from it, below them, two Ira guard the gate leading to the mesa. "Look at that, 'lil fucker's hidin' a secret in there I tell ya. No one has that many guards and that many guns for a mansion like that."

"Don't we already know what he's hiding?" Stefan asked. BOB turned his head to view the cyborg and quickly looked back at the mansion.

"I need some dramatic shit to spew, don't question it, bub. B'sides, he could be hidin' other shit."

"Okay then."

"Basta," BOB turned his attention to the Altaic, who jolted up as soon as she heard her name.

"Yeah?"

"Stop dozing off, we can't have that. Now, you got there a quality D-38 'Hammer' right there in ya hands, could blow a Eurypt's goddam torso off with the right shot. When I give the signal, take out those snipers guardin' the mansion entrance 'top those stairs, we'll take care of the gate guards, get in, and flank the livin' fuck outta the mansion! Got it?"

"Got it..."

"Good. Cyborg, Scorp, we got some snake to fry."

"Best line you could come up with?" Har-Bak joked.

"Fuck you, getta move on!"

Stefan loaded a mag into his MK. "All right then, we'll make this work." He picked up his Bower and slung it on his back. Har-Bak and BOB were looking at the mansion trying to see what they were facing.

"Any idea what we're up against?" asked Stefan. "We've got a couple of those sniper guards up top," BOB motioned towards the roof of the mesa. "A couple of guards near the gate, and about two or three patrols in front of the main mesa entrance."

"And that's just outside," said Har-Bak. "Who knows if he's set any other type of defenses, like turrets or mines. Not to mention if he has any more additional guards inside." Har-Bak continues to load more mags into his pouch.

Basta sat next to the three of them and looked through the scope of her rifle.

"What do you have in mind for you dramatic entrance BOB?" asked Stefan.

"Hehe you'll see," replied BOB. "And since it's the three of us hitting this place, I'd recommend you stay behind either me or Scorp here."

"Yeah I'm going to have to agree with BOB on this one Stefan," added Har.

Risir fires once, aimed at the men advancing on his mansion. He fired from a different angle immediately afterwards, aimed at a second. At the door, he took cover and aimed his assault rifles through slits. Within the security control room, he pressed a few buttons to move the still-concealed turrets to bear on the entrance and begin a lockdown of the mansion.

This all passed in silence, save for the noise of motion. No point in talking to yourself, after all.

"Fucking shit!"

Har-Bak sprays his Lancer at whatever he could get a sight on. The Scorp couldn't tell if he was hitting anything, and frankly, he didn't care.

"BOB, they're fucking everywhere!"

"You don't say? I'm working on it!"

BOB-5 loaded a grenade into his D-49 rifle, and blasted away once at the door of the mansion. This had little effect, only managing to break the glass on the windows.

"Well fuck, 'at didn't work. Cat, what's the news from your scope?"

To his response, three loud shots echoed in the night sky. One of Risir's Ira's head explodes as Basta hits dead on with her shot. "I got two of 'em real good, the third is still there."

"Fucking shit. BOB, give me some options."

The robot shook his head, taking cover. "Nope. That door is sealed up tighter than Cat's attitude. I ain't got shit."

Har-Bak looked for some way to advance forward, but peering over his cover was met with a hail of gunfire.

Basta lined up her scope with several more Ira and fired off four more shots, getting two of them, "I'll say one thing, this is a hell of a lot better practice than with Skeavers."

Taking a breath, she pulled the bolt back and scanned around a bit further, "If I know what I'm looking for I might be able to help you. Either that or start telling me what else needs to get shot."

"White Wolf," Risir says, looking at the sole non-Ira in the mansion, "Lure them into the turrets. If they get past... go to town on 'em."

White Wolf nods, picking up his yari umbrella and walking towards the door.

"Oh, and target their captain, if he's there. From their mission history, it looks like he's what's keeping them functional."

BOB, Har-Bak, and Stefan all crouched, laying up against a corner, the robot taking shots at any nearby Ira coming towards them.

"We're completely fucked." Har-Bak muttered in a saddened tone.

"BOB," Basta radioed in.

"What's goin' on, Cat, ain't got time for chit-chat at the moment!"

"Someone just exited the mansion, and it ain't an Ira, looks like that White Wolf guy."

"...Roger that." BOB turned to his two crew members. "Stefan..."

"...Yeah?"

"I'm givin' you two options. Either shoot me dead or run. 'Cause after this mission, I'm gun' fuckin' kill you."

Stefan moved to another part of the corner while staying in cover. Man either way I'm going to end up severely wounded, he thought.

Well shit.... thought Stefan.

Basta continues to scan the area with her rifle. They better prepared fast, otherwise this is going to be another short mission.

"Damn it all!" yelled BOB

The trio prepped up their weapons and prepared for a fight...

ShapeShapeRoar-Ree watched as Yorke moved closer to his position. "Hey, Yorke?" "Yes, Roar-Ree?" "I want everyone to know that I don't like this idea." Yorke chuckled, "And why is that?" "Because it's like robbing Yig to please Cthulhu. Either way, we're pissing off people that would make Lovecraft shit his pants." Yorke patted Roar-Ree on the shoulder and looked back at Risir's mansion. "To be honest, I'd rather piss off Risir than Lloyd." Roar-Ree sighed, "Great pep talk, captain. So, now that we've found the entrance, what's the plan?"

"We keep on the lookout till BOB and the others iron out the final details of the plan." Yorke said as tried looking any guards passing through the area and spotting none. Roar-Ree, meanwhile had an almost confused look on his face about the idea.

"You sure that's such a good idea? Not to doubt your leadership, but I'm not too sure that BOB-5 is going to go exactly stealthy or quiet on this one." The Lupinus offering his opinion and catching what he thought was one of the guards passing by.

"Which is why I offered BOB, two different personal ideas for plans before they do anything too risky ahead of the operation."

"And those are?"

"Plan A. Take shots from a distance thus ridding themselves of original resistance without making too much noise. Then, going in and doing some serious damage by firing upon the mansion, using explosives, etc. And we'll slip through while Risir's forces attempt to organize to the front."

"And the other?"

"Plan B. Use the ship's defense/weapons systems to distract the guards and fire upon the compound. This one tends to be the most damaging, but riskier if it does fail."

"Both of them sound good to me." Roar-Ree nodded his head upon hearing both plans. "So we wait till they call us and commence the operation?"

"That's the plan and he'll tell us which plan they'll be using. Can't be too careful when doing somethin like this."

Yorke and Roar-Ree relax in their shuttle, keeping an eye on the hidden entrance they had located and waiting for a signal from the distraction team.

"So, Roar-Ree," Yorke says, making small talk in the absence of anything else to do, "How did you come to learn about ancient Earth literature? I learned about it in the military academy - it's a required course - but you're from a culture that's incredibly isolationist."

Roar-Ree smiled. "Funny story, that. It is true that my species is a bunch of intelligence-hating assholes, but I was taught to read by missionaries. Tragically, the only book they had was about their god, and I wanted more. When I was on my own, I used what little money I had to buy food and books. As for all the Lovecraft, you'd be surprised what you can find on the black market." As he shifted in position, he asked, “How about you, Yorke? What kind of books did you read in the military academy?"

Yorke shrugged and replied, "Classics, mostly. Great Gatsby. Fahrenheit 451. Thin Red Line. Learning how to fight was top priority, though." Roar-Ree chuckled, "Great Gatsby, eh? I learn more about this crew every day."

"You ever taken the chance to read it before?" Yorke asked his interest peaked as he removed his eyes for a moment away from the compound.

"One of the first books that I actually had managed to get my hands upon. So you could imagine that I didn't know much about this whole 'Roaring 20s' the book went on about." Roar-Ree gave a hearty chuckle as he pictured his utter confusion at the text before he learned more about Earth culture.

"I can only imagine it." Yorke smiled as images of a seen as primitive race had somehow managed to gain proper reading comprehension and enjoyed Gatsby. "You ever read the Southern Victory books?"

"What?" The Lupinus raised his eyebrow in confusion upon hearing the name. "Never heard of anything called Southern Victory before."

"Well it’s this series of books written by Harry Turtledove." Yorke began explaining only gaining a glance from Roar-Ree still revealing the confusion about the novels. His radio soon started up and cutting him off before ending with a simple, "We'll talk more about this later."

Risir moves up to the rear entrance of his compound, using only a token guard of three, two with shotguns and a third manning a turret. This turret took inspiration from the same design as Oeh-Wje's Shitslicer, using similar plans and construction, but is an experimental model firing antimatter.

Roar-Ree listened attentively as Yorke picked up the radio and asked, "Are you in position?" Suddenly, BOB responded, "Yeah, we're in bloody position! Get a move on!" There was a burst of gunfire, and BOB hung up. Roar-Ree picked up his guns and looked at Yorke. "So what's the plan, captain?" Yorke holstered his pistol and replied, "I'll explain when we get there. We might not have much time before Risir figures out that this isn't a straight up attack." Roar-Ree nodded and said, "Well, let's survive, so we can talk about these Southern Victory books later." Yorke chuckled, "Will do, Roar-Ree."

Roar-Ree and Yorke began moving towards the mansion till a small gleam betrayed something previously unknown to them. Yorke stopped dead his tracks as he lifted his hand to get a better look at the object. His eyes widened as the shine of the metal gave way to a form, it was turret and it most definitely manned based on its movements.

"What's the hold up, Yorke?" Roar-Ree turned and stopped looking towards his captain when a round cracked near his position. Starling, the Lupinus he turned to see that the shot had been fired from the compound. The realization struck him as he turned tail and towards the human. Both had the same look in their eyes, they needed to formulate a plan and fast.

Yorke and Roar-Ree rushed towards the nearest bit of cover they could find, a cluster of large rocks, basically boulders to hide behind. Both knew the new challenged that had arisen from the sudden inclusion of armed guards on the very position they aimed as their way in, but now the situation had changed.

"So we need to assess the situation," Yorke whispered as he began looking through his current options. Both of their weapons were pistols thus ridding the option of trying to fire from far away to take out the guards. "All I know is that there is at least two guards and a turret there."

Upon hearing the term turret leave Yorke's mouth, Roar's ear perked up, "What did the turret look like?" Yorke relayed the information and based upon his own conclusions, Roar-Ree grinned to himself.

"We're dealing with antimatter!" Roar-Ree chuckled as he thought about the dumb luck they had just hit. His partner meanwhile just stared at him a bit confused about the situation.

"If that thing fires it might as well be setting off a bomb on itself!" The Lupinus Huntress continued to chuckle before another round slammed into cover.

After creating a quick plan, Yorke and Roar-Ree popped out from their cover and began firing towards the area containing the guards. The automatic fire from Roar-Ree's pistols managing to nail one of the guards causing him to collapse. Both once again returned to another nearby boulder and took cover behind it.

The turret operator turned the weapon towards the pair and lined his shot aiming at the captain of the Dawn Voyager. And with his trigger placing pressure upon the trigger is when an unusual sound was heard. Soon afterwards a sudden burst of flames engulfed both the gunner and the remaining guard.

"Holy shit!" Yorke shouted he shielded his faces both the falling bits of rock. Roar-Ree grinned as he saw the true failure of Risir to think ahead of the defense system he left in place.

"Guess we broke the clone's new toy," Roar-Ree said as both him and Yorke began making their way towards the gaping hole in the wall where the door once was. Aiming their weapons and looking for any of Risir's guards.

White Wolf steps out onto the stairway, looking coldly down at the advancing figures. He sees a glint from a rifle scope, and opens his umbrella to catch the rifle bullet flying towards him. He simply stands, opening and closing his umbrella to catch any bullets coming towards him. His presence shouts a challenge to the attackers below.

Shit, Stefan thought, This is bad.

He sees only one option, and steels himself for it.

"Bob, I'll draw his fire," he calls out, "Hit him when I do."

"Wait, Stefan!" BOB-5 calls out, but too late. Stefan charges into the opening, and is swiftly stalled by several plasma bolts shorting out his cybernetics and two holes in his gut from the ferrofluid cannons. He received a third wound in his leg as Har-Bak whipped out his tail, pulling him out of the line of fire by his leg.

"Goddamnit, Doc. You fucking suicidal?"

"I wasn't thinking, I figured-"

"Of course you weren't thinking, you dumb fucker."

BOB and Har-Bak continued to shoot at remaining Ira that advanced, but they continued to be almost infinite. Har-Bak threw one of his mines, managing to blow up several more.

"Cat, what you got in sight?"

Basta scanned the environment, looking for any possible route to advance.

"Okay listen; The Ira are mostly advancing from your left side. Their numbers, at least at the moment, are fifteen advancing. You got ten advancing in the center. On your right, you have 5. You got a total of 30 men."

BOB nodded, and fired his grenade launcher to the left. "Scorp, get your bug ass moving down our right flank. Me and the useless pile of crap here gonna try to cover you."

Har-Bak nodded, replacing his two revolvers with Stefan's dropped MK Rifle. As BOB and Stefan fired their firearms at the left side, the latter quite inaccurately, Har-Bak chucked his mines into the center.

Basta blasted apart the five Ira on the right flank. Har-Bak took his chance, and charged towards the cover of another rock outcropping. With a different angle to fight from, Har-Bak fired his two automatic weapons at any advancing Ira.

"Yorke, runt! Hurry the fuck up!"

Meanwhile, White Wolf watched with piqued curiosity at what was transpiring. He watched as the synthetic launched another grenade in his direction, and opened his umbrella to block the shrapnel.

White Wolf closed his umbrella and brought it back down to his side as the grenade smoke and shrapnel cleared. Looking up at the cyborg was BOB, still aiming his rifle at White Wolf. Time seemed to slow down as the two locked eyes, BOB loading another grenade into his launcher without moving his sole eye of the cyborg.

"BOB, we got more incoming, can't handle them all by myself!" Har-Bak yelled as another squad of Ira charged towards them. BOB turned his head towards the Eurypt.

"Guess you haven't fully matured after all, c'mon, time for a potty break." BOB looked back up to no sight of White Wolf. "I'll deal with you later anyways."

"BOB!"

"Let's kill these snake bastards!" BOB moved beside Har-Bak and fired at the incoming Ira.

Risir fired back, taking cover behind the turrets, as White Wolf stood near the entrance of the manor, still challenging his foes to approach.

"I can hold them here, Wolf. I think you might be more interested in the group trying to storm through the back entrance. They're near the auxiliary security station."

White Wolf nods and heads back inside, running towards the lower corridors.

"Fuckin' shit. This attack gone up the bloody shitter!"

BOB fired his assault rifle alongside Har-Bak, mowing down Ira after Ira. The gates remained within sprinting distance, their metal crest on top taunting the fighters as bullets flew across the battlefield.

The Eurypt soldier looked around, squinting to see if there was some other kind of opportunity.

"BOB, got any bright ideas?"

"I'm thinking Scorp! Give me a minute..."

Calculating range, BOB unleashed a volley of grenades. One blast weakened the fence, and a second outright destroyed it. Shrapnel pierced the side of one of the turret operators, and he collapsed.

BOB changed from an impact grenade to a standard frag, launching the projectile directly at part of the hole. Precisely calculated in a split second, the explosive ricocheted off a side of the hole and right into a turret, causing it to explode.

"Well, that's one down for the count!"

"Nice ka-boom BOB, but you still have some comin in from the left." Basta replied as she fired at another Ira, grazing it, but not killing it, "I'll try to thin their numbers while you guys cover the good doctor."

Taking aim, she fired at the same Ira again, this time fully hitting it, but not killing it.

Calm down Basta, deep breaths, she reminded herself, Once you get out of this, you're training your ass off. They may not like you, but they're keeping you alive. You owe them.

Firing a third time, she nailed the Ira again, but this time it went down for good. Using the remainder of her clip, she was able to take out four more Ira, typically wounding them before they dropped.

The Ira kept firing, using the turrets to cover their small-arms fire. "We're bloody pinned," Bob yells through his communicator, "Can't you thin their numbers any, Furry?"

"I'm trying," Basta says, taking a shaky shot and missing, "I've only been doing this for a few days, you know."

"Can't you use your grenades?" Har-Bak shouts, "They did the trick earlier."

"Not without getting scrapped. I'm not ready for tha' just yet."

Suddenly, the turrets stopped. The three conscious members of the distraction team freeze before Yorke's voice floats out of the comm: "Roar-Ree cut the power," he says, "You should have an easier time out there."

BOB looked up in the sky and laughed, garnering strange looks from Har-Bak beside him. "You alright, Bob?"

"Alright? Alright!? I'm fan-fucking-tastic! Thanks Cap'm! Let's mow these fuckers down!" Across from the distraction team, the defending Ira were confused and angered at the turrets guarding them, peeking their heads out to fire in rage, the Ira were quickly picked off by BOB, Har-Bak, and Basta.

Shit. Need to get some non-automated weapons systems outside, Risir thinks as he goes to the front door in wave after wave while he - those of him on his ship - look through his inventory. There we go. Let's see how they hold up against some of the new atom flayers.

Har-Bak sprinted past the gate, looking around before more Ira could approach. Seeing some cover within jumping distance and a grenade thrown his way, Har-Bak jumped behind it. Landing on his stomach and with a clumsy thump, Har-Bak aimed his ORG-Lancer at the doors of the mansion and fired.

"Basta, how's your line of sight?"

Basta zoomed in on the windows of the mansion. "We're good so far. I'll keep an eye out for troops in the house, but outside is all you."

As Har-Bak reloaded, he heard BOB chuckling behind him.

"What the bloody hell was that? So kinda Scorp version of the worm?"

The two shared a laugh, and Har-Bak looked to see a large stream of Ira running out. The Eurypt sighed.

"Well that's a fuck load of people to kill..."

Basta groaned as more Ira populated the battlefield, "How many of the goddamn things does Risir have?"

Shifting her aim back to the Ira, she sighed, "Keep them bunched together. Makes it easier to hit them. If they get too far apart, I'll just be wasting ammo." Firing around at a cluster of five, she was able to nail one.

"No, really?" Har-Bak snipped at her as he and BOB began to return fire against the newest wave of Ira, "Now shut up and snipe you fucking furry!"

Basta gritted her teeth at the insult and focused on what she had been assigned to do.

"The hell are those things?" Har-Bak asked, looking at what seemed to be air hoses being brought up by Risir.

"If tha' damned snake has it, it's nothin' good," BOB-5 replies, ducking back behind his cover to avoid the sweeping rifle fire covering the Ira using the new weapons. One of them points it at the bit of rubble Har-Bak is hiding behind and presses a button.

The piece starts to shrink, almost as if it was melting. BOB-5, thinking quickly, launches a grenade towards it, succeeding more in keeping Risir's heads down than actually doing damage. Har-Bak changes cover during the distraction.

"That's a Murkanic Tools Atom Flayer!" Basta says, "They were in mechanic shops everywhere back home."

"Wouldn't expect a bunch a' hippie furballs to have a weapon like that," Har-Bak says.

"It's an industrial tool, not a weapon," Basta snaps.

"It will be soon," BOB-5 predicts, "But we need to get rid of the ones in front of us right now."

The trio fired rapidly at the strange hoses in front of them, dealing damage but not enough to stop them from melting the group's cover.

"These things are gon' melt me next if we don't take them out soon, lads? Basta, you know these fuckin' things, any bright ideas?"

That'll teach me to use a starship weapon in the atmosphere... Risir thinks, looking at the multitude of monitors to try and see where the intruders went as he rushes down to check. The annihilation had not only killed him at the turret, but also at the auxiliary security station a few meters down the corridor from the blast.

"Good thinking, Roar-Ree." Yorke commented as he stepped over the corpse of one of the Ira. Roar-Ree shrugged and replied, "Eh, I just pointed it out. It was your plan." He stopped to kick the corpse of one of the Ira, then chuckled. "I wonder if Risir felt them getting deep-fried." As Yorke stepped inside, he looked around, then gestured for Roar-Ree to keep following him. "We'll ponder later. Right now, we've got a job to do." Roar-Ree nodded, then quickly went inside. The explosion had no doubt tipped Risir off to the two of them, and they needed to move before reinforcements arrived.

Both men shifted their movements and stuck together, keeping a lookout for any patrols looking to investigate their method of entry. After all, Risir himself had experienced the force of the explosion and no doubt knew of the pair who were now in his mansion.

The echoing of gun fire echoed throughout the house, signifying that his group had continued to keep up their end of the bargain, albeit with tremendous difficulty that had now been placed upon them. C'mon Bob, keep them distracted. The more tossing themselves at you, the less we have to make acquaintances with.

Checking one of the side rooms, Roar-Ree quickly skimmed through the room and took note of the small desk that had papers strewn about. Yorke took the opportunity to join his engineer and began looking through the room for anything of interest. Before reaching the desk and a piece of paper in particular had stuck out underneath all of the trash above it.

Quickly removing all of the junk that lay on top of the paper had revealed its true contents. Yorke smiled, "Jackpot." He whispered as looked at the map that displayed the basic layout of the entire mansion.

Risir initiates a lockdown within his manor, sending doors crashing down and creating chokepoints where he lay in wait, setting up emplaced machine guns and other defenses while waiting for his foe to come to him.

Stopping to look at the map, Yorke pointed left and said, "This way." Sprinting on all fours, Roar-Ree cursed as he saw that the doors had crashed down, stopping him and Yorke in their tracks. "Of course just walking up to it turned out to be too goddamn easy. We gotta deal with new walls!" As Roar-Ree fumed, Yorke looked at the map and said, "Wait, I think we can go around. C'mon!" As they attempted to reroute, they found themselves down the barrels of two turrets.

"Oh for fuck's sake." Roar-Ree grumbled as he pushed Yorke back and dived into cover, yelping as a round passed through his tail. "Shit, now I'm gonna be like Strongjaw!" "Who?" "My brother. He's an asshole. Tell ya more later. If we survive." Yorke attempted to peek out of cover, then ducked back in as a chorus of rounds flew by him. "Any ideas, Roar-Ree?" Roar-Ree grimly shook his head, and replied, "Nope. I feel so powerless." Suddenly, realization dawned in Roar-Ree's eyes. "Power! I got an idea! Yorke, hand me the map."

Yorke complied, and Roar-Ree chuckled to himself as he looked it over. "Alright, here's the plan. So, Risir has all this fancy equipment, but it can't be running on its own. He's gotta have a generator, and he does. But, the tricky part is this security. Risir, without a doubt, is smart enough to put these precautions around the generator, meaning a direct approach is impossible. But, he's also smart enough to link it to the security stations mentioned here." He pointed to a spot on the map. "If I can get to one of the stations, I can shut down the whole mansion. It'll be a cakewalk after that. Well, maybe not a cakewalk, but a-" Yorke cut him off by saying, "I get the point, let's shut them down!"

As they followed the map, avoiding turrets and gunning down the odd Ira on patrol, BOB called in. "Ey Cap'n, I got a bit of a bad news." Yorke sighed, "What is it, BOB?" "Welp, fuckup M.D went and got his arse kicked, so he's bloody well out of the fight. And ya got metalman headed your way, so ya better get ready. Let's hope he don't try and blow up the runt again, eh? Better get back to it. Eh, ya bloody want some? Well come and-" There was gunfire, then BOB disconnected. "That couldn't have been good." Roar-Ree grinned as he saw the security station, guarded by two Ira. With two shots, they were taken care of.

"Alright, Yorke, cover me." Roar-Ree hunched over the station and went to work bypassing any lock measures while Yorke watched his back. "Man, I wonder who Risir's IT guy is, 'cause this stuff is well-guarded. Well, it WAS well-guarded. Alright, overloading reactors, and away we...go." There was a pause, and suddenly the entire mansion went dark, the turrets shut down, and the doors retracted. Roar-Ree whistled. "Man, do I deserve a raise or what?"

"Well, if I could've seen through all of this; then I would've been much more inclined to agree." Yorke said his hands cutting through the darkness to further express his point. Well, at least the systems are down for the time being and our friends have a fighting chance.

"Oh, sorry about that. Forgot that Humans aren't the best in terms of nocturnal vision." Roar-Ree said clutching his weapon as his eyes began shifting around. "Look at it this way, Lupinus got a little perk with these little peppers of mine. I can be our guide, just keep close and we'll finish the job."

"Lead the way." Yorke said as felt for his Peacekeeper and inserted a new cylinder this time of different rounds than the previous standard plasma slugs.

Squinting his eyes lead him to take notice of Roar-Ree's hand motions as he began following the alien. Silence was to be golden for the time being as speaking would more than certainly lead to some unwanted attention from the patrols still stationed around the mansion and of course the less than welcoming emplaced turrets.

Roar-Ree clutched the map as he returned the firearm back to its holster. And quickly began re-examining the map to stop for any possible locations that were available for quick shortcuts and in their best attempts to avoid dead ends.

So we've been quiet and quick long enough or just plain lucky to avoid the guards. Heh, maybe we finally scored the jackpot here.

Three shots rang out, missing Roar-Ree by a hair. The Lupinus and Yorke scramble behind cover. "I didn't know Ira'Preja could see in the dark," Roar-Ree groans.

"They can't," Yorke says, recalling an article he read on GalNet while in transit to their last job, "They see infrared." He slips his hand into his pocket. "Well, since he seems to be able to see us, a little light won't hurt."

He pulls out one of the plasma rounds, gripping it by the shell casing. The incandescent glow of the round lit up the area around him like a powerful glowstick.

"Never would've thought of using those that way," Roar-Ree says, looking impressed. Yorke simply shrugs.

"Old campaign trick. You pick up a few when you've fought as much as I have."

Risir milled about, aiming to harass the intruders without actually killing them. He needed to either know what they were after before he killed them or stalled until White Wolf arrived.

White Wolf stalked through the mansion's hallways, accompanied by a small drone that lit up an area around him. He was on the scent, and would not let his prey escape.

Roar-Ree dodged another burst of fire and cut down another Ira as he and Yorke worked their way through the dark hallways to the artifact. Roar-Ree wanted to ask why this artifact was so important that Lloyd was willing to send them into Risir's home for it, but he figured that could wait until they weren't in a huge gunfight in the pitch-black to ask.

"Roar-Ree, about how much till we get there?" Yorke asked looking ahead for any possible Ira’Preja defensive positions. Peacekeeper at the ready as the Lupinus took a moment to read the map.

"Not much." The Lupinus answered while reading the map and examining the next few turns that had to be taken. "So long as we don't take anymore detours and the others run into any other 'distractions'.

"Good to hear." Yorke answered before a round whipped past their position and nearly hitting the Lupinus; flying past his neck and hitting a wall behind them. Taking aiming, Yorke tried focusing his aim, but his vision being limited he could only make the figure slightly.

"Yorke, move your pistol a bit more to the left!" Roar-Ree shouted and Yorke complying, thus firing two rounds into the darkness. A small grunt was heard and then things returned silent once again.

"Thanks for the assist there, Roar-Ree. Well, let's get going."

Yorke and Roar-Ree continued to move through the hallways, guided by the light of the plasma round Yorke held. The bright light lit up the surroundings efficiently, reaching fairly far. Unfortunately, Risir was intelligent enough to keep outside the lighted area.

And without it, they probably would have noticed the light coming down a connecting hallway before they heard the running footsteps.

Yorke threw the round down the hall and drew his second revolver, while turning to see White Wolf bringing his cane sword down at his shoulder. He reacted on instinct, years of campaigning conditioning his muscles to bring up his revolver and catch the blade on the faceplate of the cylinder. Trusting in the custom-machined starship-grade steel to protect his left hand, he moved his right hand up to aim at his foe's head.

As he pulled slack from the trigger, White Wolf bent at the waist. Yorke again put complete faith in his instincts, and let go of the trigger while swinging the revolver in a short arc to catch the wakizashi aimed at his stomach.

Yorke kicked off the ground, putting about a yard of distance between them, while firing his revolvers at White Wolf. For his part, the metallic samurai dropped his swords and picked up his umbrella, opening the canvass to deflect the three rounds coming towards him. The two glared at each other as the canvass snapped closed, enmity punctuated by the sound of the thrown plasma round hitting the floor.

Roar-Ree stepped forward to assist, but Yorke shook up his head, stopping him. Suddenly, a bullet whizzed by Roar-Ree's head, and he turned to see a group of Ira moving in. Roar-Ree cursed, then opened fire. They were likely trying to cut down Yorke while he was dueling White Wolf. What the hell ever happened to chivalry? He quickly began to cover Yorke as he dueled White Wolf.

Yorke and White Wolf continued to stare down each other, as if dare to the other to make the first move. Roar-Ree meanwhile was busy returning fire against Risir's forces as small sparks of light flashed through the darkness.

Yorke made the first move and fired off both his Peacekeepers causing Wolf to react immediately upon inspecting the movement of his trigger fingers. Opening his umbrella to block the incoming round. Yorke shifted his aim, but before he could fire, the umbrella had closed and Wolf had taken the opportunity to reunite with his wakizashi. Not soon after Wolf had moved into close the distance, bending down and pointing the blade upward to impale the man's head.

Shifting his balance, Yorke narrowly avoided it as the whooshing noise ripped before his eyes and blade stopping just centimeters from his face. With a flick of his wrist, he lowered his right hand and fired another round towards Wolf. This one just managing to nick his side and letting a small gasp escape the assassin's lips.

Guess that 'skin' of yours ain't much good against plasma. York thought a thin smile forming across his lips, but stopped short as sharp pain shot through his body. A fist had collided with stomach causing him to slam into a nearby wall, knocking the wind out of him.

Roar-Ree turned for a moment and was about to fire when another burst of rounds turned his attention away from the scene before him. He once again continued firing into the darkness with shouts filling the hallways as more Risir were cut down. Still, they steadily began approaching the battle as their numbers began to increase slightly.

Wolf rushed towards his target intent on delivering the killing blow. His eyes matching that of a predatory animal seeing that its prey had been cornered. Yorke, on the other hand had just regained enough of his breath to aim the revolver at Wolf's face and pulled the trigger.

The round propelling itself from the barrel of the firearm and directly towards the assassin, but in a quick flash, Wolf had avoided the round, but in doing so also threw his sword off course and impeded it into a nearby wall, inches away from Yorke.

Hmmph. Perhaps you're more than you seem. White Wolf thoughts fly through his head as his gaze returned towards the Captain.

White Wolf withdraws his wakizashi, snapping it to the left as soon as it clears the wall. Yorke ducks and springs into a roll, firing three shots blindly behind him as he does so to keep White Wolf off of him as he creates distance. He makes a half turn to keep his opponent in view, and has to jump to the side to avoid getting impaled.

Shit, this guy’s fast, Yorke thinks, getting off a couple more shots as White Wolf recovers. The assassin is able to move so that these graze him, and he kicks a piece of rubble disturbed by their fight at Yorke’s head. Yorke ducks and fires again as White Wolf charges, moving at a very slight angle to move outside of Yorke’s firing angle. He stabs the wakizashi forward as Yorke dodges, bringing his revolver up against White Wolf’s head as the assassin moves past him. Gotcha!

White Wolf pivots on his spine as Yorke pulls slack from the trigger, slamming a hammerfist with his off-hand into Yorke’s sternum. Yorke moves with the blow, lessening the impact, but his shot goes wide and he feels his ribs creak. He continues to backpedal, driven by the momentum of the blow. He fires at White Wolf, aiming as best he can while he recovers. White Wolf charges again, predatory glint in his glare. Yorke fires twice, but White Wolf ducks under them. Yorke brings his left revolver in a short arc, aiming to catch the wakizashi along one of the few attack vectors White Wolf had left to him. He succeeds, as much by luck as strategy.

Once again, he levels his right revolver at White Wolf’s head and pulls the trigger, only to be forced to swerve slightly to the right to avoid getting impaled, as White Wolf kicked his cane sword up by the guard, aiming directly at Yorke’s heart. Yorke’s dodge saved his life, though it left him with a nasty gash. Again, the shot goes wide due to the last-minute dodge. Yorke kicks off the ground again, creating distance. White Wolf sheathes his swords and picks up his Yari after Yorke completes his first jump, and he then jumps back again while firing at White Wolf, who again opens the umbrella to catch the shots.

click

Yorke’s ammo runs out. Fuck me, no time to reload. He takes a quick look around and leaps towards the bullet he had thrown earlier, holstering his left revolver while popping open the cylinder on his right. He slides the bullet in, closing the cylinder, and fires, closing his eyes. White Wolf tracks the shot and umps to the left, snapping open his umbrella again. The move saves his life, as it deflects the shock and heat of the light-providing drone exploding. The intense heat also blinds Risir momentarily, giving Roar-Ree time to kill a couple before breaking away.

“Yorke,” he says, “Follow me. The room’s at the end of the hall.” Yorke follows, but he's not the only one who heard. White Wolf throws his yari at the voice, which soars through the air and rips through the Lupinus’ left flank. The bleeding pair races down the hallway and through the vault door, engaging the manual lock as Risir and White Wolf adjust to the darkness. Yorke gives a quick salute with his gun in the direction of the door, acknowledging White Wolf as a worthy foe.

“Been a while since I’ve had to fight like that,” he says, as the pair start to bandage their wounds.

Roar-Ree scoffed as he treated his wounds. "Well, I'm glad you had fun, because I'm sick of that guy. First, he tries to blow me up, then he tries to impale me. What a prick." He turned to look at the vault around him. "Welp, let's find this artifact and get out of here. I'd like to see something besides snake-people and endless mansions." Yorke nodded, then stopped to call BOB. "BOB, we're in the vault. If Risir keeps the artifact here, we'll find it." BOB strained to be heard over gunfire,"Oi, then get a bloody move-on! We haven't got all day!"

Yorke finished up patching up the remains of his wounds before responding, "We're almost done here, BOB. Get ready to move out as soon as I give the word." Awaiting for a response which was soon received.

"Can't some soon enough, Yorke. Ain't the best spot at the moment and the constant stream of Risir throwing their fancy new toys ain't makin' things on our end any easier." BOB-5 shouted over the comms as his voice once again was drowned out by sudden wave of gunfire filling the air.

Cutting off his comms, Yorke took notice of Roar-Ree who had just finished cleaning and dressing his wounds. The Lupinus giving him a quick nod, confirming that he had finished his basic aid. Both rushed down the hall, knowing that their mission was soon to be complete and the artifact was near.

The rest of their trip was mildly uninteresting as both continued down the dark corridor in silence. And within the next few minutes they'd finally managed to reach their destination. A giant door that gave off a light sliverish-gleam to it in the darkness and was cold to the touch. Roar-Ree went immediately to the door to ensure that the system weren't running on some sort of back-up power.

"You're clear, Yorke." Roar-Ree said as he opened the doors, revealing the room with the artifact on the far side of the room.

Smiling to himself, Yorke prepped the storage device designed to contain the artifact. "Anything else that I should worry about before I go into the important room of the house of horrors?" Partially joking, but also giving a serious hint in his tone.

"If I were a better sniper, I could try hitting the power packs on the machines," Basta says, "But I can't do that as I currently am."

BOB-5 loads a grenade into his launcher. "Guide me," he says, "Oi'll put a 'nade in the bugger's face. Har-Bak, put tha' exoskeleton to use and cover me while I aim."

"I guess it's my turn to be the meat shield."

With that, the Scorp quickly stepped out into the open, hissing as several small caliber collided with his exoskeleton. "Anytime now, BOB!"

"Calm down mate, almost got it...."

BOB launched a grenade forward, the projectile exploding in the face of an atom flayer wielding Risir. Har-Bak also fired a small burst of fire, hitting the leg of another.

Successful, BOB was quickly tackled behind cover as Har-Bak shoved him out of the way the atom flayers.

Okay, if I can't get them to shut down by hitting the power, maybe I can hit a bigger target.

"Those tanks the Flayers are attached to, aim for those. They can't shoot if they don't have any ammo." Basta said running to a new position to avoid gunfire, "BOB, what are you the best shot with?"

"My pistols lass." The synth said as he and Har-Bak ran for new cover as their old one melted away, "Or I could blow it up with another 'nade."

Basta dove for cover herself as one of the Flayers took aim for her, "Don't really care what you use, just shut them down! I can't get a shot in with these things shooting at me!"

Before making another run for more cover, Basta switched channels to her captain, "Yorke, they got Atom Flayers out here! The longer we're out here, the bigger guns he keeps pulling out! How long do you think you'll be?"

"Fuckin' shit, I can't get a good shot off!" BOB-5 says, "Har-Bak, you bring those TMX Repeaters?"

"Left 'em on the ship," Har-Bak says, spraying fire with his ORG Lancer, downing several Ira.

"Damnit," BOB-5 says, taking a few potshots with his pistol. "Basta, how far away is the nearest Atom Flayer?"

"You've got about 750 yards, Bob," Basta says, using the rangefinder on her scope while still trying to find cover, "Same one you blew the face off the operator for, but a new Ira's taken over."

"Wind? Elevation compared to me?"

"No wind. Can't exactly tell elevation; maybe a few hundred feet?"

"Here goes nothin', then." Bob puts the data into his targeting systems and launches the grenade at a 2π/3 angle. It arcs up, and then drops like a mortar onto the Atom Flayer. The explosion wrecks the machine and takes out several Ira.

"Fuck yhe," BOB-5 says. "Let's do it again, kitty."

Basta feeds BOB-5 more information, and he shoots another grenade into the air.

Risir takes aim with a sniper rifle and fires, blowing up the grenade as it rises. Shrapnel rains down on both sides, inflicting minor injuries.

Several fragments of shrapnel impaled themselves in BOB's arm as he attempted to shield himself from the sudden grenade burst above. Looking to his left as he crouched down for cover, Har-Bak continued firing at Risir, unfazed by the small pieces of shrapnel lodged in his legs.

"Shit, sniper! And a damn fuckin' good'un too." BOB remarked as he ripped out the shrapnel from his armed one by one. "Kitty, you alright?"

"No injuries on my end, Bob."

"Bloke thinks he's gonna stop us with that? Ha!" BOB attached his rifle to his back and reached down to his hips. "Didn't count on these bad boys." Bringing up his D-66 "Demon" Pistols, BOB took several shots at the second Atom Flayer's tank and managing to penetrate it with the powerful 12.7mm rounds, exploding and killing several Ira.

The trio in front of the entrance fire away at the onrushing mass of Ira, trying to buy time for the ones inside. They’d taken out the Atom Flayers, making their job far easier. Until Risir walks out with what seems to be a long-range plasma cutter. Har-Bak takes a quick look at them and yells for them to duck.

They do so in the nick of time, feeling the scorching heat of the wide-range beams of plasma, dangerously unregulated, pass overhead.

“How’d you know to duck, Scorp?” BOB-5 asks while firing, “I’ve never seen those used that way.”

“One of the Black Eclipse we fought on the Flame of Ares did the same thing.” he says, also returning fire. “Goddamn snake keeps pulling out trick after trick.”

“Hurry up in there, Yorke,” Basta says through the communicator, “I don’t know how long we can last out here.”

Har-Bak looked overhead, watching as more Risir armed with their large plasma cutters emerged. The Eurypt fired sporadically with his ORG, keeping them at a distance.

"BOB, this bastard's gonna start lighting shit up like a Sunday barbecue! When he stops, you gotta take your opportunity right away!"

Har-Bak looked cautiously over his cover, seeing the Risir glare at him. "Oh fuck."

BOB-5 launched a grenade at the clustered group, managing to kill two plasma cutter wielding Risir. "I'll cover you; aim for the barrels."

With that plan, Har-Bak let loose with his ORG at the Risir.

Watching from her new position, Basta kept doing her best in keeping the Risir from attempting to flank BOB-5 and Har-Bak.

Reloading as she switched her aim to the left flank, she noticed the Eurypt and the Synth were now focused on a crew of Risir wielding plasma cutters. She was about to check in, but she was sure that they were handling themselves well as an explosion was then followed up by a second, this one seemingly coming from the Risir with a Plasma Cutter.

Focus Basta, She thought as she lined the shot up with a Risir trying to cut it wide around the battlefield, They have more experience than you'll ever see. Stick to what you've been assigned to doing. She fired and managed to hit the lower body of the Risir, causing it to stumble and drop its weapon. Another shot managed to drop the Risir itself.

"How long before we pull all the way back?" Basta called through the radio as she tried to line up another shot.

"We'll get moving when Roar-Ree and I get the artifact, Cat," Yorke's voice snaps over the comm, "Now stop bothering me, do your job, and let me do mine."

Okay then, Basta thinks, let's see how you like mixing your own drinks.

She spots another Ira creeping around and takes a shot at it, hitting it in the arm. It turns to face her, and she hurriedly shoots it in the head before scanning around for more targets.

That was just a single Risir, she thinks, still looking, If it didn't tell the others, I'm fine.

She feels a sudden, intense heat milliseconds later, and shrieks in pain. Unlike her impression of it, all the Ira below were Risir. They all shared a single mind, allowing him to pinpoint her position from a single Ira seeing her. This complete, astounding ignorance of the defining characteristics of the Ira'Preja species, something she could have very easily looked up on GalNet during the day and a half of preparation time and something that most beings would make a priority to learn about if they're facing the species, nearly lead to her death.

In the end, what saved her was Har-Bak spraying the Ira shooting the plasma torch with his ORG Lancer, killing it and leaving Basta just enough time to drop to the ground and roll to put out the fire before she was completely burned to a crisp.

As BOB quickly wasted Risir, he turned his attention towards sudden screaming behind him, looking around, the robot saw Har-Bak looming over the burnt Basta.

"Shit kid, what the hell happened here?" BOB asked as he walked over towards his two comrades.

"Risir got her good, must've been some plasma blast." Har-Bak answered.

"Now might not be the best time, but we should get her out of here, move her to a safe area." BOB said.

"Move her by Stefan?"

"Shit, forgotta 'bout him!"

"I don't think so," Roar-Ree says, "Though according to the map, there's a tunnel from here back out to where we landed."

"Excellent," Yorke replies, "I'll get the artifact while you search for the passage."

The two split up, Roar-Ree searching the walls and floor of the room while Yorke strides over to the artifact, which lies on a workbench, seemingly abandoned in a hurry. He carefully taps it into the container and seals it tight, being extra careful not to touch it directly.

"Found it, Yorke!" Roar-Ree says, waving his captain over after he finishes storing the artifact. The two open the concealed door, which creaks on its rusted mechanism. They get it open, and follow the long, dark passage out to the back entrance, guided by the light of Yorke's plasma rounds. They hop on their shuttle - a mobile personnel carrier Stefan had somehow called in a few favors to get - and lifted off.

"Bob, we're done here," Yorke shouts through his communicator.

"Good!" comes the reply. "Stefan and Basta are badly wounded. I've talked to Lloyd, and he's indicated Tumulus Memorial is a good bet again. Meet you there."

With that, Bob-5 shuts off the communicator and bundles the barely-conscious Stefan and Basta onto the transport, covered by Har-Bak with his ORG Lancer. BOB-5 sprays a couple more bursts to keep Risir's heads down as Har-Bak climbed in, and took off as Har-Bak returned to providing covering fire.


The group rushes into Tumulus Memorial Hospital, carrying their injured comrades. "Who might you be?" the Altaic receptionist asks, as her human counterpart helps the orderlies to load Stefan and Basta onto gurneys and take them into the ICU while Roar-Ree limped alongside a physician.

"We work on the Moirai," Yorke says.

"Ah," she says, nodding, "We'll keep them safe for you." She bends down behind her desk and puts two items on the table. "The tablet is for you," she says, loading the shotgun she placed beside it, "Your employer left a message."

Curious, Yorke turned the tablet on. As usual, a simple, terse message popped up on the screen:



Bring artifact to Ord Melul. Same office as before. Secretary will let you in.



-Lloyd



"Come on, Bob," Yorke says, waving BOB-5 over, "We need to get to Ord Melul. Har-Bak, they're obviously expecting trouble. We'll have your TMX Repeaters sent over. Help them hold the place."

"You got it, boss," Har-Bak says, to a grateful glance from the receptionist.

Upon returning to the ship, Yorke delivered a few quick orders to his pilot as they he began the last bit of preparations to launch the ship off. "Ready, sir. Hope you're holding your ass because this ain't the smoothest take-off that I've done." BOB-5 announced as he began pressing the last few buttons.

Yorke, on the other hand was viewing the container being held in place by a stand with the container on top. Thoughts of what exactly the value of the contents inside and what made it so important for both Risir and Lloyd. He snapped out of these thoughts momentarily to approve of BOB-5's take-off.

The ship engines began to start-up and gently the Dawn Voyager began tearing itself from the port and launched itself in the direction of Ord Melul. The quiet noise emitted from the engines was the only sound that filled the ship as both Yorke and BOB-5 were determined on their goal of arriving rather than sending time with idle chatter.

Upon landing both, Yorke and BOB-5 grabbed small bits of equipment and a firearm or two along the way. And in cradled with Yorke was the sliverish-container as both continued towards where he had gained his employment. Just what are you?

The man and machine walked through the hallways of the BCA starport, navigating their way to Lloyd's office. They open the door and step in, BOB-5 waving to the Niso secretary. The robot opens his compartment and places a large bottle of whiskey - the seventh bottle of alcohol on the desk - in front of her, and she waves them in, pinging Lloyd.

"You caught him at just the right time," she says, "He was about to take a trip to the Deep Core Data Station."

The two enter, striding over to Lloyd's desk. Yorke places the canister on the desk, and Lloyd opens it, lifting out the artifact inside.

"Shit," he says, calling up a console to soundproof the room and jam any bugs he may have missed, "It's a Key."

"You can tell just by looking?" Yorke says, puzzled.

"I can recognize my own handiwork."

"Wait, you don't mean..." Bob says, trailing off.

"Yes, Duster. It's exactly that."

"Exactly what?" Yorke says, puzzled.

"One of the eight Keys that set off the Scouring."

Yorke felt the color drain from his face drain as the words processed through his head. He almost wanted to laugh, he couldn't have possibly just held something that led to a mass extinction in hands just moments ago. This has to be all some sort of joke. Come on, Lloyd show me that you got a sense of humor, although a really horrifying one.

But the dead serious look in Lloyd's eyes had dispelled this notion. And the air around him felt thick and he placed a palm upon his head. He was beginning to feel light-headed as he continued to process what was going on.

"Snap out of it, Yorke." Lloyd said getting the man's attention and allowing him to focus on reality once more.

BOB-5, meanwhile just looked at the artifact and being a robot it was impossible to tell the exact thoughts that were crossing through his mind. Lloyd looked in his direction and nodded which BOB responded to, but didn't speak an odd event, but considering the news it certainly was to be expected.

Lloyd returned to the object and held almost as if it was a child. "Now this is a hatchet that I had long since hoped would stay in the ground where in belonged." His gaze not leaving the artifact as it continued to give off a dull glow.

"Risir getting his hands on these is the second-worst possible thing that can happen," Lloyd says, "Because he will use it."

"How are we going to prevent him from getting it?" Yorke asks.

"We get them before he does," Lloyd says, "Fortunately, I was about to go visit Sela. We'll go through the algorithm used to place the artifacts and figure out where they are. The other problem is Risir. He shouldn't even be aware of the Keys' existence, much less what they do."

"If he does, Boss, then there's a leak within the Handlers."

"Exactly, Duster. And to avoid a panic, Yorke, you and your crew are going to be the only ones dealing with this."

"Wait, don't you have other crews to assist us?"

"There's a saying that most species and cultures, regardless of time and location, come up with: 'Three can keep a secret if two are dead.' The more who know about this, the less we're able to keep a lid on it."

"Won't that be best for us, though?" Yorke asks.

"Have you ever seen an entire galaxy in a state of panic, Yorke? It's the third-worst possible thing that can happen. On top of that, there's no end to power-hungry fools who would try and steal these to use it at the slightest provocation. The more people who know about it, the worse it will be. I'd rather rely on one team than be cursing the galaxy's sudden but inevitable betrayal again."

He looks up suddenly.

"Enough about that, at least until I learn more. You just successfully completed your fifth mission as part of the BCA. I mentioned earlier in the mission that you would get rewards of your choosing. Have you thought any?"

"Aye," Yorke says, clearly glad for the subject change, "I had my team write down what they wanted." He fiddles with his tablet and hands it to Lloyd. "Here they are."

Lloyd takes it and presses the intercom.

"Please have a Rail Rifle and an Annihilator ready for Yorke and Duster, respectively. Send a Heckler and Colt rifle, a Horus Arms flechetté pistol, and a set of armor to Tumulus Memorial for Roar-Ree, Basta, and Har-Bak, respectively. Find a woman named Cassi, who works in the Jethro District, and set her up with a small apartment and a job on Bliss."

"Will do," the secretary's voice replies.

"You are dismissed," Lloyd says, "I have some last minute packing to do."

Yorke and BOB-5 walk out, seeing two weapons on the table in the lobby. The one on the left had a rectangular buttstock and an ovoid body that was separated into four rails. The other was nearly cylindrical, and the stock seemed to be a welded-on wedge.

Yorke picked up the left-hand gun, testing its weight, while BOB-5 did the same to the right.

"I hope you like them," the Niso secretary behind them says, half-finished the bottle of whiskey BOB-5 gave her.