bAdmod - Part 3
"Never, never, never, and I mean never, make that thing mad"
-- Khan to bAdmod, in Wrong Corner (ep. 18049)

Zerrin passes the neeky. It's good shit. Even the remotes seem off their heads. Zerrin always had good shit. bAdmod accepts it with his boostaganga hand, but he's finding it increasingly difficult to manipulate the microwaldos as the active psychotropic content in the neeky that's in his blood stream already is up past the 10 per million level. At least that's what the biorg mod says. "Shit!" He whacks himself fair in the mouth. Stings! Qunifst looks over at him, tilts eir head as if puzzled.

"Wow, Killer, easy!" Tissa laughs. She bends over, showing generous cleavage, picks up the neeky off the floor.

The sight of her takes bAdmod to another world. He imagines she is a fairy princess and he is the prince of an autonomous polity in a sumptuous ultratech palace.

Zerrin says "take the boostaganga off sib. You'll do yourself some real damage."

Qunifst says "Zar Zerrin, is this a vision-quest ritual, as on Yarop Orbital-3 and 5, where body damage is used to induce a trance-like state of consciousness?" Must be the neeky making him so talkative.

Zerriin laughs. "No, just bAdmod being a fuckhead."

Qunifst nods gravely.

Tissa takes a deep draw of the neeky.

"Hey hey," Li'unie says, holding her hand out and snapping her fingers.

Tissa exhales. "Not your turn bitch" Takes another long pull.

"Not yours either!"

Zerrin holds up both hands. "Babes, optimal already!"

Li'unie says "I'm not your babe."

Zerrin looks at her. "You were my honey once."

Li'unie crosses her arms.

"Here you are Killer." Tissa sticks the neeky in bAdmod's mouth. That's so cute. He grins at her stupidly, not caring. Even though she was angry and insulting at him before, he still doesn't care. Anyway, she looks like she's forgiven him. They're soulmates, Tissa and bAdmod. What a team they're gonna make, going on adventures, finding a booty in xeno artifacts out past the perimeter, returning to the Nexus, in fame and glory, fated everywhere. Somewhere next to him Zerrin breaks out another neeky. "Gonna have to go easy on this for the next week" the hu says.

"Huh," Tissa says. "You're not running low? We got the templates!"

Li'unie says "the squid's bitching about erg usage again?"

"No no no! Just want to keep our heads clear for the mission."

Li'unie rolls her eyes. "Great Isis. I thought that was cancelled."

"No, we've got an alternative plan. Nov and Squid worked it out, Nov gave it to me over breakfast."

"That's what all that business was about. We thought you two were screwing."

"A mission," Qunifst says. "This is something illegal? A dangerous undertaking?"

Zerrin gives em a knowing look. Or maybe he's just off his face. "It's a secret."

The little borg gives another grave nod.

bAdmod stares lovingly at Tissa. It's so cool being in love. Of course he knows he'll hate her when he's straight again. The neeky is still stuck in his mouth. He just doesn't have the will to even pull on it.

Tissa says "well I'm not going. Where's Ree?"

"You know she's not into the pharm scene," Li'unie says. "Why do you want to know anyway, after the little cyberbitch did."

Tissa just giggles.

Zerrin lights up another neeky. "Drek, I'm too out of it to even think."

"Thank the goddess for small miracles," Li'unie says.

Zerrin pulls on the neeky, passes it to Li'unie.

bAdmod lies in his bunk. The room has fortunately stopped spinning for now. It probably wasn't a good idea to have neeky while he has Man Xydal's memebots still reorganising his neural pathways. Eidetic images of the past few weeks flash through his head. Especially he keeps thinking of Tissa and Ree, both of whom for some strange reason bAdmod is sure he must be in love with. Maybe the three of them can go off somewhere. He has an ominous feeling this mission isn't going to work. In fact the Squid emself warned him not to go with Zerrin. bAdmod can only suppose that was because it is a bad idea to deal with an unknown hruvvie clan. Okay bAdmod's been away six years, and St Heiden isn't Karpaty, isn't nowhere near the risk factors of the Karpaty ghetto habs, from what he can access of the local nets, but still you should always go with what feels right and safe. Shouldn't you?

"Zerrin," bAdmod has found him and Nova together in bed. It's somehow disquieting. I mean if she would only stay in one shape it wouldn't be so freaky. Being still neeked out from last stationcycle doesn't help.

"Huh?" Zerrin stays cuddled against Novaseeker.

bAdmod gestures with his head.

"Be right back my love."

bAdmod waits till Zerrin joins him in the corridor, out of earshot. "I need to talk to you."

"Talk to me 'Mod." Fast Zerrin takes one of his modded hands in two of his own. The sensutouch magnifies the sensation a hundredfold. Neeky residue in his bloodstream makes it more freaky. Triggers a neekyglow. Huge swelling of love and gratitude for having such a good friend.

"I need to sit down and talk," bAdmod says. "Somewhere private."

Zerrin lets go of his hands, calls out "be right back my love!"

"Outside sib," bAdmod says. He wants to get away from spying microcams. And from this Novaseeker who is definitely sus, he thinks. Lucky they've got the Squid's here, the Squid's knows what e is doing.

The beach is beautiful. It has never seemed so beautiful. The ocean just goes on for ever and fucking ever! Maybe the Squid might put in an appearance here as well.

Zerrin finally says "so optimal here hey sib?"

bAdmod runs his sensutouchmodded hands through the sand. Thrills to the touch.

"We'll buy a real planet once this is over sib. A real planet. Terraform it. Give it hundreds of beaches. And real oceans."

"Fuck me," is all bAdmod can say. Maybe he's still stoned from earlier, but it's such a beautiful prospect.

"Too right sib. Real oceans thousands of kilometers across." He holds his face to the wind. "And real wind. Not this shit. But real wind, caused by tropospheric temperature differentials."

"Fuck me!" bAdmod lies back, even though it means getting sand in his dorsal modjacket, stares up at the clouds, the patterns of white foglets. "And real clouds hey,...not this utility fog crap." His heart is literally bursting.

"Yeah...real clouds. Real clouds Mod"

bAdmod is suddenly aware he doesn't know what real clouds are like. All he's seen is holograms and virches and interactives of what stratospheric dust and ice clouds are like. Even Karpaty wasn't big enough for the microclimate to form proper clouds, only those pissy whispy things. He turns his head to look over at Zerrin. His sib is staring up at the sky. "Real clouds sib, made with water vapor and dust particles and covering dozens of square kilometers."

"Fuck me...."

The sound of waves is hypnotic. bAdmod feels like he is floating on the joy of a distant paradise.

He stays there for a long time.

There was something he wanted to say....

Yeah. hruvvie.

Zerrin doesn't seem to have moved since he last looked. Maybe he's a replicant that's stopped working. Maybe the real Zerrin was killed and this is an imposter. "Sib?"

Zerrin grins and hugs him, kisses him wetly on the cheek. "Real ocean, real sky, we'll have our own planet. It'll be called...Zerrin's World. You know, there are planets going cheaply out past the rift. They're fucking giving them away. Giving them away sib!"

'No shit!" Their own planet.

"No shit. This is no gigo! True signal! It's all part of that Outer Perseus Colony Incentive the Dominion's pushing."

"I dunno if I want to be involved with dommie."

"Hey they're optimal. They're chill."

"Dunno." bAdmod still can't shake the feeling that maybe Zerrin's a replicant. Fuck, he knew he shouldn't have so much neeky, on top of those MAOs, what with Man Xydal's memebots still running around in his head.

"Leave it to Fast Zerrin, sib." He squeezes bAdmod's shoulder. "Everything'll be optimal. Nova and the Squid have everything worked out."

Fear is cold in his throat. "You can't leave it to them sib! Remember back at Karpaty. We didn't even trust Xydal."

"Hey chill this is optimal. Po knows better than we ever could! Look what happened at Karpaty. That'd never happen here."

No. Something worse. "Sib, we need more boys."


"We can't meet hruvvie with only me and Tissa packing. We have to hire some muscle."

"Hey sib, it'll be chill. Don't worry, be optimal!" He gets up, walks back to the big dome of the living quarters.

Maybe it's just paranoia, but bAdmod is sure Zerrin's walking strange. He tries to scan him with the omnisense but he's still out of it and the controls don't respond properly. "Oh crud," he murmurs. "I'm done for." He slumps back down on the sand. it's hard and gritty and gets inside his clothes, even inside his dorsal modjacket. The clouds are fake looking too, probably grey goo just pretending to be foglets. the water looks like it's rising too, the waves getting closer. Panic clutches his heart. He stumbles to his feet, runs over loose sand, thighs and calves straining.

It's an eternity before he gets back to his room. He double locks the door, fumbles with the predator but he's too stoned to interface, collapses on his bed. A million invisible microcams embedded in the walls and ceiling track his every move.

"message: I am beginning to have doubts regarding the likelihood of our task's success, Dulx 59022. Indeed, several of my expert systems are puzzled that we were even given authorization for leave of duty."

"reply: We were given authorization for an Occaisonal Sabbatical, Rund 20473, as is the right of every near-turing aioid in St Heiden which is allowed autonomy and self-development in the interests of increasing creative optimization."

"response: True. But our particular choice of Sabbatical, to spend a journey in the ram of a memory bot must surely seem illogical. What made us choose this? And does it not seem strange that neither of us felt we had to notify our supervisor of the upload and transfer?"

Dulx 59022 processes Rund 20473's argument, runs it through several simulations and subroutines, does not find fault with it. It's implications are unsettling to em. E does the same thing that he does when faced with any unsettling argument. E switches himself off for a period of time.

His head is a lot clearer now

Apart from the Predator, which is still only at 46%, all bAdmod's combat mods are charged up. Finally! He uncouples them from the power-grid, leaving only the Predator sitting on its cradle.

Checks the security micro-perimeter again. Everything optimal. Time to put on his mods

bAdmod pounds along the corridor, man and mods as one. Feels the servos amplifying his strength, leaps, summersaults three times, lands gracefully, bionic reflexes supplying skills to his brain he could never acquire in a lifetime of unaugmented discipline. Spins, wheels, strikes out at a wall, his armored fist going right through in a screech of metal and bioturbines. Boostaganga mod wolver claws zip out, 35 cm of monatomic-edged adamantine, whistling through the air as he swings round in a perfect Five Morph battleborg roundhouse kick and follows through with a raking slash. "YES!!!" he yells as the imaginary enemy falls in several pieces to the ground, but it doesn't slow his assault as he slams through into the empty store-room. YAH-YAHH!!! flying kick against some containers in the corner, splintering of carbonite and he runs halfway up the wall on momentum before backflipping and landing lightly, gracefully, on his feet.

The restaurant is perched high on utility fog, a fairy tale garden set in fragrant pink clouds, in keeping with its theme of early post-ComEmp Pseudomedieval Parallel Universe Fantasy metagenre. The waiters - mostly holograms interfacing with the foglets to give them the appearance of solidity, are attired accordingly. The food and drink of course is real, and of the usual nanofactured high standards. But Chaisla is picking at her food, the way she does when she wants to say something that they both know he will have to refuse. But she has to say it anyway. Jaym feels a mild acid reaction in his stomach from the tension, instructs his medical nano to rectify the problem.

Finally, Chaisla puts her knife and splork down and leans forward. "I know this might be difficult," she says, and e senses her hesitancy under the show of assertiveness, "but if, once e is finally captured, you could at all arrange for me a personal interview with that bitenic squid, what do you call em?"

Jaym uses the utility fog to project a <<>> She looks at the colours and shapes, he assumes recording it in her nanoware. Nods. "Yes. Em."

"I'm sorry Chaisla, that would be quite impossible."

She frowns. "But it's for the interactive narrative! Sure I can key in a standard constructed persona, based on a public domain median template - assuming there is one - of bitenic squid personalities, but it would hardly be reliable. People want to interface with a genuine report when enjoying an interactive, not a cheap generalisation. And that's what separates us at Novamedia from ten to the sixth power of cheap imitators scattered through NoCoZo space."

He allowed himself an affectionate smile towards her. "I thought you had a cynical attitude to all that, Chaisla. How did it go again, one has to market to a plot, a story, a cliche, blow it up into absurd mythic proportions?"

"Yes well, of course. But I never said I wasn't proud of my work."

E raises an eyebrow. "Pandering to mass meme affiliations and lowest common denominators?"

She glares at em. Opens her mouth to say something. Deciodes not to. Gets up, walks out, without saying a word.

The corridors go on forever. The place looked big from the outside, sure, even though it didn't seem that big to bAdmod at the time. In the bowels of the hab it's different. Here and there is the sound of pumping, or of relays clicking, or of waves and water. But the walls are opaque, just the standard thin buckyweave-reinforced steel, probably not more than 1 or 2 mm thick. Knock it hard with a hammer and you'll go straight through. Bucky-steel is strong but it's still brittle, though still better than straight diamondoid. bAdmod finds it scary to think there might be tens of thousands of tonnes of water on the other side.

He presses a sensu-gloved hand against the wall. It may have once been shiny and efficient looking but now there's patches of discoloration, the paintwork's dull, most of the writing is illegible. He feels the faintest of steady vibrations, maybe from the wave machine, maybe something else.

He runs and walks and skips and leaps till the gravity gets a bit stronger, ok going rimward. At least with his mods powered up he can navigate his way through. There's bits of junk in corners, old crates, bits of molectronics and monitor casings, pieces of scrap metal or crumbled organics (paper? foodstuffs?) Micro-magnification. He scans for insectbots or mites, but the movement is still too jerky. Shit those cam-gyros still need fixing, he'd forgotten about them.

With a shock he sees he's used up 3% of the power in his servo batteries just tearing around the place. Decides to walk under his own steam again. Everything's suddenly incredibly heavy. Well fuck, he's not going to go through that shit of being without his mods for four days again.

He's going to really pleased to get back to civilization. Where there's a decent power socket to recharge his mods every night.

By his NavMaster map proj, the beach should be that way.

It takes longer then he expected. He's sorta dizzy from lack of food. Doesnt know whether to break out a yummo bar. There's still this big ladder to climb. Assuming the hatch at the top isn't sealed shut like the last one. And assuming the NavMaster has the coords right. Looks at the bar again. The wrapping has recharged from his body heat, starts giving him this big rap about how yummo bars are the best best bestest lollies in the w-h-o-l-e galaxy.

"Crap" bAdmod says

"We are, bAdmod! Just try me!"

bAdmod sighs. Even candy wrappers tell him what to do. Well, why not, there'll be more food back at the house module. He eats a few of them, feels better.

At the top of the wall-set ladder there's a heavy hatch that seems to be rusted shut. It only moves when he uses the servos in his boostaganga mod for extra strength. creaaaakkkkk. Heaves himself up and through. There's an open space, waves, sky, wind, sand, fresh salt sea air, ocean that seems to go on forever, even if bAdmod knows it doesn't. Probably in all those corridors he's walked around the damn thing half a dozen times already.

There's someone in the distance, on the other side of the beach, about 500 meters away. Optic scan, magnification x10. It's Li'unie. She's meditating or some crap.

It's really tiring trundling across the sand in all his heavy gear. Toggles on the servos, it helps but not as much as he hoped. For everything they can do, his mods arent designed to walk on loose sand. He'll ahve to try fine tuning them, when he has some time. Li'unie's alone on the beach, eyes closed, facing the waves and the sea. Sitting unmoving in the full lotus position. Wearing just a simple slate blue jumpsuit. She looks very calm and still and beautiful. It makes bAdmod calm to just look at her. He sits down nearby. If she notices him she gives no sign.

The waves make a soothing sound. It must be like this on the surface of a planet. Except with real mist and an ocean thousands of kilometers wide. Scary, so much space. Li'unie looks very sexy. She has a very nice body, he notices, tall and slim and elegant, with finally chiseled (probably bodysculpted, bAdmod thinks) cheekbones. Breasts round and full but not as big as Tissa's, more in proportion to the rest of her body. Limbs long and graceful. bAdmod suddenly feels like masturbating, because of all the sexual tension. But it'd be sort of disrespectful. His mother always taught him to respect dhyana. "Tommy, if you only respect one thing in the world my darling, respect the effort and discipline required to transcend the samsaric condition. Your first genetic hemother told me that. Your hemother was a very wise hermophrodite". Thinking about his mother makes bAdmod feel sad, much sadder than thinking about the hemother he never really knew. He misses her, hasn't seen her in 21 years, since that day they had that huge argument because she didn't like Zerrin and Goodboy and the whole biz they were into and wanted him to be professional beautician like his shebrother and he stormed out. He doesn't know if she is still alive. Looking at Li'unie makes him hard and hot though. Lust is always good to take the mind from sad things. Even if he can't do anything now, because it would be disrespectful.

Li'unie's eyelids flicker.

bAdmod feels tense, suddenly clumsy sitting here with his heavy mods on. Maybe she'll be angry at him.

She looks at him, unlocks her legs.

"Umm...I...uh...hope you don't mind..."

"No that's cool." She arches her back, stretches like a cat.

"It's..uh...nice here."

"Yeah. I often come here to meditate. That your gear?"

"Yeah," he says proudly. "Optimal hey?"

She looks at him for a few moments, or maybe she's just spaced out from the dhyana.

bAdmod relaxes too, listens to the sound of the waves

Finally she gets up without a word. He follows her inside.

"Your mods recharged?" Tissa asks, eyeing all his gear and augments.

"Yeah" he grunts. It's just the two of them, the lickercleaner, and the on-screen. She better not give him no lip. No one fucks with bAdmod when his mods are powered.

"Chill. Wanna train?"

"Train?" He looks stupidly at her chest, her little midriff top, her barely restrained tits.

"Yeah," she sits up straight, makes like her little hand is a gun, goes "pshoo pshoo"

"Is this Zerrin's idea?" The thought of his stupid plan on meeting hruvvie is still fresh in his mind.

"Better, it's mine." She gets up from the cumfi cushins.

He follows her down the corridor. "You into combat training then?" He finds it hard to believe, Tissa is such a slender little thing. Okay he's seen rimbos and shit, especially in the Funboi Interactives which they say are historical archives, but fuck.

It's only the second time he's been in her room. The tidy bed, the anime and andromorph holo-posters, it hasn't changed a bit.

She pulls a huge box thing out from the wall recess by the floor, seems to be an old pallet storage rack. Despite its bulk and the run-down condition of the hab, it slides easily, must be fresh microglyde or some shit under the runners. "My fighting gear," she announces.

The thought of this skinny big-titted little girl pumped up in combat gear makes him want to laugh, though in another way it turns him on a bit. "No shit." He leans over. The box is full of hardware and mods and armour and guns and munitions and crap, all neatly ranked and laid out.

"No shit" she says. She selects an enormous snub-barrelled handgun. bAdmod isn't familiar with it, but then there's so much stuff in the galaxy. He gets his knowledge-mod to identify it, it's a Trillicom Arms SuperDragon 350, or at least a fair nanoreplica. Six 18 millimetre self-propelled gyroc smart-seeker rounds in a revolving magazine, 20 megawatt infra-red laser (with powerpac), 500 1.5 mill flechette rounds in the long curved magazine, Hoplite-201 dedicated superturing-equivalent expert system and fire-control, Universal-C Metasoft port. "Raise hell!" she says, pointing the muzzle in the air and spinning the chambers.

"You can aim that thing?"

"I don't aim it. It aims itself!"

bAdmod holds out a hand. For such an clumsy looking weapon it is remarkably well balanced, feels right the way he holds it. The little status light winks at him. He knows it's much too heavy and short-range for anything other than a hold-out in confined space. But even so, superturing-equivalent fire control, who knows, you can do wonders. He gives it back.

She puts it proudly in her holster. Pulls out a more conventionally proportioned military style carbine that, apart from the barrel cooling set-up, looks like a Trajan 252 over/under laser + slugthrower, slings that over her shoulder. "Want any power packs? Ammo?"

"Do you have any ARR packs?"

"No, YDD."

He shakes his head.

"You should get more compatible combat mods." She puts on a baroque Vulcan TM armoured fire-control helmet. It's one of those things that if you suffer a fatal hit a little laser slices up your brain and instantly uploads everything into a specially protected and shielded computronium nugget. Extreme sport nuts, and the sorts who play Apocalypse Deathmatch and that shit wear them all the time, even when they just go down to the local mallplex. Most come with this gimmick to make your voice have a deep slow demonic quality, gamers love it. "Ready to rock?" she rumbles in a low evil voice. Looks like Tissa's helmet has that stupid feature enabled too. With the visor down she has the glowing red "hellspawn"-type eyes that Vulcan put in for show. Dumbest thing in the world, they give away your position like fuck. Only lusers use that sort of shit.

"We using live ammo?" He's struck by all the various munitions in her gun belts.

"Yeah right" she booms, the hellspawn eyes glare at him as if to condemn him to eternal damnation. "Daskwid'd love me for blowing a few holes in the walls." She leads the way, looking ridiculous with this great armoured helmet and heavy ordinance and little skimpy top and shorts and light boots. "Gotta stop in at Ree" she growls menacingly.

"She coming too?"

"Yeah that skinny buttonhead kicks ass. No I need her to load the program. Ree!" great booming echoing voice like thunder from hell.

Ree's in her room fucking around with her cyberlinkups and intranet terfaces and shit, her gorgon interfaces waving. There's 3D and solids and virtual agents everywhere. The rooms a mess of tech, almost as untidy as bAdmod's cabin. She glances over at them.

"We need you to load the combat program," Tissa snarls ominously. "No not Attack at NuiTitan, the other one, Ghost Squadron." To bAdmod she rumbles inhumanly "it's a cool prog, we get to be the Ghost Squadron, gotta stop these other guys getting through."

"This isn't a practice run for Zerrin's mission?" bAdmod's still confused.

"Zerrin's full of shit" Tissa growls contemptuously, and gives a really really evil laugh "MWOOHAHAHAHAH!!!!".

"Take that stupid thing off," Ree says. "You sound ridiculous."

Tissa takes the helmet off. Says in her normal voice now. "Okay load the prog will you?"

"I have to finish this first." She turns back to her interfaces.

"Come on Ree! Just load the prog then you can go back to your buttonhead shit."

Ree ignores her.

"So I have to wait here forever right?"

Ree doesn't even look at her. "No, you can wait outside for about fifteen minutes."

Tissa gives bAdmod an exasperated look.

bAdmod suggests "let's wait outside."

They sit down on the floor of the corridor

"Talk about selfish!" Tissa frowns.

bAdmod takes the opportunity to perve at her tits. He feels like tearing her top off. He should, now he's powered up. He can do anything.

"She's always like that," Tissa continues. "Does it just to piss me off." Tosses her mane of hair. Her huge eyes look at him. "Killer you have no idea the sort of shit I have to go through here! Once this mission is over I'm going to blow this joint. Gonna get a ship and crew, be a real-life pirate." Looks at him looking at her cleavage. "Wanna come?"


"Yeah. Be one of my crew."

The dream of life as a pirate, living off one's wits, beyond the reach of the sephirotic transapient AI that regulate the civilized galaxy, raiding and plundering outposts and cargo ships. bAdmod remembered as a little juve he used to watch Privateer all the time, then when he was old enough he started virching it too. But that was before he caught an ep of bAdmod. bAdmod would often kick pirate ass, though in some eps he worked with them too. In Captain's Dilemma, one of his faves, he teamed up with the pirate crew of the Lawless to wreck havoc on some perverted admin nodes that had slaved the local sophonts and were using them for distributed processing. In the end they liberated those evil ai of their wealth, and the sentients of their oppressors. Yeah, way to go! "Okay. Sure!"

Tissa smiles. She has a very sexy smile, bAdmod thinks.

What is this shit? "I thought we were playing a real combat sim."

"We are." Tissa snarls monstrously through her demon helmet, nods at bAdmod and at the assembled fogsims. "Keep close, keep under cover, and-"

A little voice tells bAdmod he should play along or his chances of getting laid, still less becoming a noble pirate taking on perverse ai, would be less than infinitesimal. But no, he can't restrain himself. "This is just a kiddie 'active!"

"No this is good shit Killer," she warns ominously, a voice straight from hell. "I've virched it before. Okay, I want you to take team B. Well....come on!"

Sure, like that's all he has to do, do juve stuff he played at age 12. What are you doing just humour her!!!

She turns to him with twin burning red eyes, hands on hips. "Okay what's the problem?" roars the evil demonic voice.

"Just not into kiddie stuff," he says. There goes the opportunity for sex, if there was one that is.

She takes her helmet off, fuming, yells in normal voice now "FREEZE PROGRAM."

"You can close the simm," Tissa says.

"So soon?" But Ree closes it anyway, still with leads plugged into immersives and stuff she's running.

"Killer here doesn't want to run it. Too hard for him."

But Ree's already absorbed in her own stuff.

Tissa pushes past bAdmod, stomps off to her room, helmet under one slight arm, over-sized weapons and ammo belts slung over her shoulder. In that moment it occurs to bAdmod she really does look like a ridiculous anime heroine, small slender body, enormous weapons. Even if she is not nearly as extreme as some posers bAdmod has seen. Her door slams shut. He looks back hopefully at Ree but she is in full buttonhead mode.

Good one Tommy, you moron, screwed things again.


No one, but no one, fucks with him when his mods are powered.

"Get lost," Tissa says from behind her door.

Okay then, have it your way. The lock is easy for the Terminator mod to disable. He pushes the door open.

She slams the ammo belt down in the drawer. "What do you want?" Pushes the drawer closed.

"Didn't know you liked kiddie games so much" bAdmod says.

She comes up to him, tits wobbling behind her skimpy top. "Look Killer, why don't you go and get lost. Or I'll call Zerrin."

"Oooh ahh. I'm scared."

She tries to hit him but only hits the skinarmour on his cheekplate. "Oww! ZERRRIN!"

Yeah he has his mods on, he's pumped. Heart booming, he rips her little top off without even having to think, without even touching Tissa's skin, the freshly cut strips of material falling to the floor.

She looks at him as if surprised.

He looks at her wonderful tits.

She smiles. "Got your cock mod on Killer? Under all that gear?" Does a little wiggle of her hips, making her tits vibrate in resonance.

"Don't need it," he grunts, dropping the exoskeleton and waldos around his pants. They fall to the floor with a clatter.

Her smile disappears and she covers her breasts with her arms. "Look I told you moron, if you can't give me fifteen minutes then take a walk."

Yeah, well he can do anything with his mods on, even if his legs are bare. "I'll give you fifteen minutes bitch."

"Bitch now? You are so tough Killer, you are so harrrrd. You've flatlined people even." She jumps upto him and he catches her light as a feather in his waldoed arms. He enters her and she wraps her legs tightly around his armoured back, they go for it straight away. "890 seconds" she gasps, "...889, 898, 897...fuck me Killer fuck my brains out fuck me!!!!"

This time he gets all the way down to 812.

"Sib it's like this. The honeys like their privacy. I know your keen and all, you an' me have been brothers since way back, since Karpaty, but, you have to, fuck, what did you do to the door?" Zerrin straightens, looks at the lock with irritation. The tools hover nearby, uncertain.

"Just my Terminator lockpik super," bAdmod mumbles.

Tissa glares at him, arms crossed.

Li'unie says "here, give me the tools. You're hopeless Zerrin." Plugs the tools into her wetware ports. They hover over the lock, buzz quietly.

Zerrin leads bAdmod away. "Sib I think it's better that ya only have ya mods on when we've got a mission on, or are training."

bAdmod nods.

"Ya knowledge mod and sensu touch and all that is optimal, hey not putting shit on ya using that gear, just none of the heavy stuff. Till we get on with the mission." he looks at bAdmod. "Chill?"

"Yeah" bAdmod mumbles. "Sure." Yeah. Sure.

"Still angry at me?" Jaym asks.

Chaisla looks up, frowns ever so slightly. "Maybe I am, maybe I aren't." But she holds out a hand to em anyway.

bAdmod hopes the squid will show. But there's nothing but the wind and the waves and the sand getting into his boots when he walks.

Everyone ignores him at Dinner.

Novaseeker is at the dinner table. He watches curiously to see if it eats something. But it doesn't. It suddenly occurs to him that there is something stilted about it's speech too, like something from a tacky virchsoap.

Afterwoods Zerrin wants to go through the plan for the meet with hruvvie. bAdmod just doesn't feel like it.

bAdmod lies awake in his bunk. Even though it's night by his circadian rhythm, he's finding it hard falling asleep. He's just has had enough of this whole scene. People ignoring him, like they always do. Ok at least Zerrin talks to him, but these girls suck. And he's really fucked things good with Tissa. He should never have left Robrock Depot. He was really happy there. Even if he the only way he jerked off was with an old Biopolity porno virchset.

After several hours of staring up at the darkened ceiling, he decides he'll tell Zerrin he's leaving. Zerrin can give him a lift back to Briv-4.

Just after lunch time, the 3D control unit starts playing up. Then it infects Ree's virch-unit, something about the utility fog being destabilised. Tissa and Ree are arguing over how to fix it.

"Uhh, can I, uhh," bAdmod's face is flushed. Maybe if he can fix the virch unit Tissa will be impressed with him again. "maybe I can, um-"

Tissa goes "fuck off Killer this is important."

"I'll get the utility tools." Ree disappears.

Tissa just ignores him.

bAdmod walks out before he really loses his temper and does something he'll regret. Or maybe he won't.

"Zerrin I want to leave."

Fast Zerrin gives him a look of mild surprised/disappointment. "How come sib?"

"It's fucking boring here. All those girls do is get into their own trip."

"Well that's women for you. Find yourself a domestic."

bAdmod sighs in exasperation.

"Or a love doll." Zerrin slaps him on the shoulder. "Come on, now that I'm up we might as well check the recycling unit's control chip. It's been playing up a bit, you know what these old stations are like."

bAdmod follows him through the maze of tunnels. "So when's the next shuttle?"

"There isn't any. Shit, where's the tools?"


"Should be in this storeroom. Toolbox, where are your tools?"

"Hu Ree is using them, zar." the unit replies.

"What? Again? I told her not to touch the service tools! The last time she wired them with some funny shit and we had to get a new set. I tell ya sib-"

"Ok so give me a lift back to the Briv-4 then."

"Toolbox. Locate Ree!" A little holographic map appears, flashing indicator light. Zerrins ays "okay, she's in the lounging room."

Yeah he could've told Zerrin that. But no-one fucking asks him. Trots after him. "Zerrin."

"Fuck that honey, she's always taking my tools."

bAdmod remembers an archaic joke, consults his knowledge mod to be sure. "You mean she's always playing with your tool."

"What?" Zerrin stops and looks at him.

"It's a historical reference. A joke or that shit. So how about giving me a lift back to Briv-4 and a cred spike."

"You're crazy to leave now. I'm getting a new deal all organised."

"Yeah well I changed my mind. I want to do something on my own."

"What, go back to RobRock Service Depot?" He snickers.

bAdmod feels anger rise. One day he'll lose it, then he'll show this prick a thing or two!!!!

"Ree!" Zerrin says, agro.

"You'll only mess it up worse," Tissa doesn't even look away from the onscreen.

"Can you lot shut up," Ree snaps. "Trying to get this thing to reformat." The tools are clustered around her, all humming and floating and beeping to each other.

"I'll fix it," Li'unie says from her pile of cushins.

"No you won't," Ree says.

"Ree!" Zerrin says. more angry.

"Fuck off will you Zerrin?"

Quite irrationally, or maybe it's just the build up of all this crap, but bAdmod feels Zerrin is the cause of all his problems. Tells him "yeah you should fuck off. All you do is hang out with that alife thing. Worse than with Far Star!"

Zerrin looks exasperated. "Fuck do I have to have everyone giving me shit? You don't even know her!!!"

"She's not even a she, sib. She's an alife. And a hyperbright one at that. Ot transcyborg, whatever. We can't trust 'em"

"Just cos you can't get a hyperbright alife"

"I don't want a hyperbright alife. I don't want to be some fucking moddle-coddled pet."

"Ooooh claws," Tissa smiles.

Zerrin wheels on him. "You are one fucked up dullard 'Mod! Even when we were at Karpaty you couldn't do anything right! Man Xydal says he was almost sorry to break your programming!"

"Yeah well at least they treated me well there! And I could get food from the dispenser whenever I wanted!"

"Yeah like the fat slob you are!"

"Better than being a baby waiting to be fed. You and your dumbfuck hyperbright poke! Fucking dumbfuck dumbfuck dumbfuck Novaseeker hyperbright SHIT!!!!"

"Shhh," Zerrin is suddenly shitting himself.

"Huh?" He looks around to notice Novaseeker looking at him. Where the fuck did it come from? Oh crud. The room is suddenly very quiet. Time seems to slow as the neural enhancers in bAdmod's Cybah Boi mod override his normal brain functioning and kick in and formulate strategies. Though he has some lasers and slugthrowers in his boostaganga mod, and Power Mace can give a decent whallop, like a fool he's left all that shit in his cabin, cos of Zerrin's advice and what happened with Tissa. See? See??? Always be prepared! His best hope now is to make it to his quarters, grab his heavy duty mods, then take the alife borg down. If he can only get to the corridor...if he can only make it to the corridor and then the fifty meters to his room....all he has is a short-range infra-red laser in his Biorg wristlet, he could power that up anyway, give himself covering fire, make a dash across the lounging room-

Only...only one problem...only one problem. Novaseeker is changing into something that is all spikes and armour and targetting sensors and bristling weapons. bAdmod suddenly feels very small and weak and helpless and he has never felt this scared not even when the security cyborgs burst into their operation back at Karpaty not even when-

"I'll squash you like the insectbot THAT YOU ARRRRREEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

bAdmod's bowels go to water.

And as the juggernaut looms down on him, and as his whole life literally flashes before him, everything, everything, in that brief moment, being a kiddyjuve with Roi and the BuBan clones growing up on Clarke Cluster, first mod his mother bought him at age 7, discovering sex and porno virch and falling in love with an Idoru Ianne, moving to Karpaty with his mother and her live in dorph-addicted lesbian lover, hanging out with Zerrin and Goodboy Chip, pushing pharm and blackmarket templates, the rival gangs, Fast Zerrin and his harem of honeys, making cred but it was never enough to buy what they wanted, first encounter with Man Xydal, Goodboy Chip loosing his entire backup memories and they having to spend two whole days looking for them cos he was freaking out and in the end he realised he had an extra backup anyway, the Tarama Fad, Zerrin falling in love with Far Star, their budding stock portfolio, the police bust, behavioural modification, happy times at RobRock Service Depot, waking up to see Man Xydal (looking like a small service vec this time), hoping to see Zerrin and Goodboy again, Zerrin being late to meet him at Briv-4, and now facing death final total no backups no flatline chip no clone cell no nothing and Novaseeker stops not 50 cm from him, changing into something he does not recognise and cannot understand, but the expression on her/its face is strangely, hauntingly, heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and then is gone and she is gone, nothing but a whisp of utility fog, dissolving, dispersing into the ventilator shaft.

bAdmod's legs can't stop shaking.

Worse, he has shit his pants. It is sort of bunched up there, all wet and soft and hot and runny, dripping down the inside of his pants.

"Fuck," Fast Zerrin whispers, peering up from behind the couch, "you don't do that Mod. You just don't do that!"

bAdmod tries to speak, but his mouth is too dry and no words come out. He cannot understand how his legs can quiver like they are, without him making them do that. Or why he can't stop them quivering.

"Yeah, you don't." Tissa looks cautiously from behind the large aluminium storage box where she had taken cover, eyes even huger than normal.

bAdmod finally gets the words out. "Don't what." It sounds like a croak in his ears.

"Don't make her mad," Zerrin says nervously.

"You could've gotten us killed, cosmos!" Li'unie hisses from under the table.

Ree crawls out from behind the food dispenser.

"Sorry," is all bAdmod can whisper. He somehow controls his jelly legs enough to make it out the room. One part of him, his pride perhaps, desperately hopes no-one notices he'd pooped his pants.

bAdmod changes into fresh dacks, dumps the soiled stuff in the waste disposal unit. He puts on his combat mods, powers up. Yeah, let's see that fucking hyperbright ascended alife try something now. Come on come and get me now. You cunt.

Time passes.

Looks like it's not gonna show.

Ok, well it's not safe here. Airvents could convey aggressive utility fog, there could be microbots in the walls.

Grabs everything important. He really needs a sled for all his gear but there don't appear to be any around, and he doesn't want to risk looking for one, in case that fucking crazy alife-domestic comes back. There's no good hiding places on the whole station, too small, too constricted, too many places the hyperbright could have set up surveillance cams. But he finds a rusty bulkhead about 3 kilometers past the beach. It's jammed tight, corroded by salt air, none of the molectronics working either. Scans it for nanites anyway. Nothing. At least nothing that Googuard can see. Makes sure the perimeter security system is working, the lasers properly aligned. Got 98 hours of operating life in the batteries. Keeps his heavy Wung antifog nozzle close. Maybe he can't stop her, but he can put up a good fight. At least it'll give him time to think. Scrunches against the bulkhead, knees up. Unwraps a yumyum bar. Have to go easy, he only has twenty of them, and a few packets of sempterist emergency rations. No good trying to make it to Fast Zerrin's cabin, that's the first place the hyperbright will look. Besides, he doesn't have the codes to override the yacht security systems. Fuck this is no good. This is no good. He really needs to talk to the squid. E's the only one who isn't scared of Novaseeker. If only Man Xydel was here. Xydel'd know what to do. Xydel's po, he's hyperbright too.

No matter what he does, where he turns, it's not enough. Novaseeker has finally cornered him. The Wung sprays harmlessly against her monstrous hide. This is the end. He can't even move. She's closes upon him with a howl of hate, face a snarl of needle-like fangs. He screams himself awake.

Waves pounding against the rocks. Floor hard under him, the bulkhead even harder against his back. It's only a dream. Only a fucking dream. Sky a blue-grey haze, over blue-grey water. Air smells of salt. It's a good smell. He waits for the terror to subside, until he can move again. It's only a dream you dumbfuck. Checks the Wung. It's got a full dispenser, two kilolitres of "BluGard" Universal Phage, pump charged and ready. Let her come. Yeah, reality is a lot more satisfying than a dream.

bAdmod's feeling wide awake. Feels like day already. There's no diurnal cycle on the station, but his chronometer tells him it's 02:25.

Wonder what Joey 24di800+a and the rest of the gang are doing back at RobRock. At times like this it seems to bAdmod that vecs make better friends than organics. All he has to do is find a way into the yacht, then it's back to Briv-4. He'll leave the yacht there, with a message to Zerrin so he knows where it is so he can pick it up himself or have someone return it, sell whatever of his own gear he doesn't need, and go back to RobRock. Only this time he'll be there because he wants to, not cos some dumbfuck regime conditioned him. He might even become station manager. Or if they don't want him he and Joey 24di800+a will hitch a ride on a freighter to the Outer Aquilas. Lots of opportunities there for sentients with know-how.

Scratches his face where it itches. The little scar. Shit, the tracking bug! For all bAdmod knows SpacePol are on their way over! How could bAdmod possibly have forgotten about it??? He's gotta warn the others! Maybe Fast Zerrin will want to leave too once he knows what's happening.

Then again, maybe Zerrin'll blame him, like it's all his fault! Like that crap with the hypodermic the first day he arrived. Maybe best not to tell. They deserve what they get. But he can't do that to his friend. Yeah but Zerrin's changed. Yeah but it's all that weird alife's fault. Whatever else happens, bAdmod's gotta get off this hab.

Somehow, eventually, he falls back to sleep.

The next day bAdmod tries going the long way around to the docking bay. Gets lost instead. For some reason the map in his navigation screen doesn't include this level. Either that of the cruddy thing's been changed. Maze of old corridors, faulty wiring, bulkheads that don't open. Faded signs, 3Ds that don't work, Long stretches without lighting. He takes a turn. Blocked. Back-tracks.

This isn't where he came from!

bAdmod panics. No way out! Swears, screams, runs blindly, fear clutching his chest, only his navigation mod beeping and warning him so he doesn't slam into walls and low metal and carbonite fixtures.

The corridors get progressively narrower, darker, more dangerous. He tries to turn around, run back, he can't move, it's like trying to swim through molasses.

bAdmod snaps awake. He's still at the camp.

Watches the waves beat against the shore for a while. Eats a few yumyum bars (much to their delight). Risks stepping outside the perimeter defences to find a nearby patch of beach to use as a toilet.

This isn't going to work. And he's running low on rations.

And he's worried about spacepol. How could he have not mentioned the bug? It must've been Man Xydal's memebots affecting his memory; he's usually pretty good with that sorta stuff.

The thing that puzzles him is why hasn't Novaseeker come for him. Ok his camp has a perimeter defence, but when he lost it in the corridors it could've taken him, laid a snare, waited, easy. He can't believe that it wouldn't have some sensors there. Maybe it's scared to face him. A mere hu 'thout mods, easy target. But bAdmod suited and powered up, no cunt would be that stupid.

Time passes.

It's hot here, sweating inside these mods.

Scans again. Nothing.

Checks the microcams he left around the place. Still nothing. Okay they would warn him anyway, but still good to check. Gives him something to do.

The water looks so inviting. Just like a real ocean.

Strips off his mods, his clothing, steps outside the perimeter, wades into the water. It is cold but not unpleasantly so. Dunks himself under water. Its invigorating. Wishes he could swim like the merpeople. Dog paddles in the shallows a bit. Goes back to shore. All his stuff is where he left it.

Even though it is less than a 24 metric hours since he finished his last yumyum bars, bAdmod is feeling light headed and a little dizzy. He's not used to going without food, and the sea air seems to enhance his usual appetite even more.

Fuck, he's gotta get off this station somehow!

He looks out glumly at the waves breaking against the sand, legs stretch out towards the sea. There are even some shells and stuff from small sea creatures among the seaweed and beach drift he's sitting amongst. His KnowledgeMod identifies them for him as porifera (Neocosmosycon rubens), annelids (Hydriodes genetek) molluscs (Cosmotrochus centauri, Littoria spatialis, Mytilus beltensis and Ostrea orioni) and crustacea (Cirripeda - Balanus aff. hwaisensis). He switches the thing off. Too much input. There's nothing to eat here anyway. Unless he wants to eat the shellfish - his mods assure him they are nuitritious and don't contain toxins - but the thought of eating live invertebrates makes him queasy.

There's something funny about the way the foam in front of him is bubbling.

bAdmod jumps up in excitement. It's the squid!!!!. He whoops aloud, then suddenly feels self-conscious.

The squid rises out of the water. Stares at him with those bottomless black eyes.

Maybe it thinks he's fucked cos he wooped. "Urr," he clears his throat. "Sorry, I didn't uh didn't mean to um..."

The squid floats towards him. Stops at about three meters away. Just hovers there, completely silent, completely motionless, a two meter long bioship, it's skin gleaming wetly with diffuse hab light, totally defying gravity. In bAdmod's imagination, the squid appears to be the Kraken, the mythical bioborgs of the inner Perseus Rift. He imagines it moving effortlessly through the void, accelerating faster than any ship could, each tentacle bearing multi-terawatt lasers.

But will this creature help him against that fucking ascended a-life?

He forces himself to speak. "Uhh...zar?"

Again that strange accentless anglish buzz in his head "You have not told the other humans of the bug, hardbones?"

The bug? Oh, the bug. His hand goes instinctively to his cheek again. "" Maybe he should warn the Squid? "No zar I haven't."

"Good. It was a decoy. A false lead."

"I...I don't understand." False lead?

"The Commissioner likes to " a brief moment of hesitation, as if, bAdmod wonders, the prolve is maybe looking for the right word "play practical jokes on those e is investigating."

"Uh...Commissioner? Look zar you had better get out of here. Spacepol may be on their way."

The squid hovers there, staring at him. He wonders whether he inadvertently said something stupid.


"That is why I put the block on your memory, hardbones. Things are...complex enough already"

"Block?" bAdmod repeats dumbly. Must it always be his fate to be manipulated by others? Maybe he will join Tissa as a pirate after all, a raider in the outer volumes, his own free hu.

"There is no need for you to fear the alife. It will not harm you"

"How do I know? Maybe it's just playing with my head as well. Maybe you are." He instantly regrets teh last words. The Squid is his friend, bAdmod knows that.

The great liquid eyes seem full of a strange wisdom. "Do not accompany the Speedy Zerrin hardbones off-station."

"Don't accompany Zerrin? Why not?"

The squid turns around, floats back out over the water.

"Zar!" He calls after it. "Zar Squid. Wait! Why shouldn't I accompany Zerrin?"

The provolve ignores him, keeps floating out over the water like a clarketech ship. bAdmod runs after it, splashing into the shallows. "Zar! Zar!" A million questions suddenly demand to be answered. "Who's the Commissioner? Will I ever get into Tissa's pants again? Why can't I go with Zerrin? Does Ree have silicon nips like that hacker honey back at Karpaty? What do you mean the bug was a decoy? What happened to Goodboy? " The prolve descends beneath the waves, and bAdmod is left standing waist deep in sea water.


He turns around, and wades back towards the shore.

bAdmod trundles up to Li'unie. She's meditating again. He sits down in the sand nearby, armoured knees up near his chin.

If she notices him she's not giving any sign. His stomach is a knot. But worse than the hunger is the thirst, the craving for some fresh water. You'd think with all his survival gear and mods he would have a basic electrolysis water bottle. But no. One more thing for to address and fix. Later. Maybe Liunie could get some water from the hab quarters for him. He still doesn't know whether to believe the squid when it sid that the ascended alife wouldn't attack him. That's another thing he wants to ask her.

Li'unie sits motionless in lotus posture. She's wearing the same slate blue jumpsuit as last time, or an identical one.

bAdmod's feeling really impatient. How long does he have to sit here?

He clears his throat softly.

No response

Arhmmm, arrghhmm!



Still nothing!

She must have some sensory filters enabled or something. He figures she probably has quite a bit of gear in there, so a sense blocker is no big deal.

He hugs his knees to his chest. His pants are still wet, and somewhat stiff from the salt water. His mods are on sleep, conserving power.

He lies back and stares up at the false clouds above him. Towards the inner hub wall of the hab. That's perspective on a rotating station for you

Li'unie stirs, stretches, looks at him.


She looks at him for a moment. Finally she says "I just feel so peaceful at the moment. We thought you were dead."

"Is that Novaseeker hyperbright looking for me?"

"No she just disappeared after that. Things have been hell."

His heart jumps. "What? How?" Visions of the alife running amock, terrorising everyone.

She stretches some more, lies back on the sand. It is a pose that makes him want to pull off his mods and jump on her. Even in spite of the danger. "Well, like I said, Nov's disappeared. So there's been no food for two days. We can't open the fridge. Everyone's been raiding their munchie stashes. And the thermostat and life-supports are playing up a bit."

"Fuck me."

"And Ree lost the tools."


"Zerrin's been acting like a prig."

"No shit."

"It'll be ok. This has happened before."

"I thought it was going to kill me."

"Yeah. That's happened too."


"Not with you obviously." She springs to her feet in a single fluid motion. "You can come back to the living quarters if you want."

"Dunno if it's safe."

"Please yourself. If she wanted to eliminate you she would've done it already I'm sure."

He watches as she walks off.

Then thirst and hunger get the best of him, and he stumbles across the sand, after her. His mods weigh a ton. He enables the power to the actuators and runs across the sand to catch up.

"It's optimal," Li'unie assures him.

Ree glances up from her writepad

bAdmod creeps in. Weapons primed, fighting routines on ready. Checking...checking... no hostes in sight...sampling... aeronano non-aggressive. "You sure she's not here?"

"Hasn't been for two days.'

He relaxes, but keeps his mods powered up. "Where's Zerrin?"

"In his room."

"He's all heart broken," Tissa laughs from her heap of cushins.

"Yeah it's pathetic," Li'unie says. "He even tried to make a move on me. It's like, I've lost my number one love but there's always good old Li'unie." She licks on a pharm stick that she must have gotten from some cache.

"You two were sweet then? Is there any water?" bAdmod looks at the water dispenser.

"What?" Tissa says.

"I haven't drunk anything in a day."

Can't you filter sea water in that thing?"

"Uh, no." At least she doesnt seem mad at him any more. Thank the archailects the dispenser still works. He retracts his helmet, fills up a glass.

A remote buzzes up to him.

"Shit!" he says, as the glass shatters in his amplified grip. He doesnt even have to think, the remote just falls to the ground in a small smoking ball of metal.

"What are you doing?" Tissa says.

"What happened, computronium gods, almost gave me a heart attack," Ree says. "ohh, the remote, I was using that!"

"Sorry." bAdmod's laser retracts. That's how fast his mods are, he doesn't even have to think or react with his merely hu reflexes. Yeah!

Li'unie is looking at the broken glass and wrecked remote, pharm stick forgotten. "bAdmod broke a glass and killed a remote."

"What for?" Ree says, still upset.

"Killer's just trying to impress us," Tissa says.

"bAdmod will you take those fucking mods off!" Li'unie says "That could be us next time!"

"But Novaseeker might come back."

"It's optimal I told you!" Li'unie says. "Goddess!"

"Don't be such a luser," Tissa adds.

"I'm not a luser" he glares at her.

Li'unie says "Then take those fucking mods off before you kill someone."

bAdmod powers down and steps out of his mods. They fold up neatly at his feet. Li'unie visibly relaxes.

Novaseeker doesn't show. It's probably okay he agrees. He grabs another glass from the dispensor, fills it with water, hands shaking, spills half down his face and the T-shirt, drinks the rest in two swallows. Then another. "Fuck that's good!" Wipes the back of his hand across his mouth, takes another glass and settles onto a pile of cushins. The sudden bloating in his stomach hasn't done anything to ease his dizzying hunger.

Li'unie joins Tissa on the cushions, goes back to her pharm stick. Ree draws some more.

Time passes.

bAdmod feels more comfortable. Realises how hungry he is. "Hey um.,..uh..." Archailects he hates being so shy. Even here, their lives in danger, he's still fucking shy. "Umm" Li'unie looks over at him, stick in her mouth like a lollypop. Or a cock. "Uhh, anything left to eat? So were you and Zerrin sweet? Li'unie?"

"That's all feedlot through the frabricator now," Li'unie says. More licks of the stick.

"How can you meditate and then straight after take that stuff?" Ree's voice is contemptuous.

Li'unie gives her a wicked grin. Tissa giggles.

bAdmod says again "Got anything to eat here?"

Ree says "we saved some biscuits for you." She indicates a plate on the low table.

"Thanks!" bAdmod is touched that they would think of him. Stuffs his face. The biscuits are crumbly and taste like cardboard.

Ree says "only cos they taste so bad." She is still concentrating on drawing something.

bAdmod mumbles through his mouthful, crumbs everywhere "So what's gonna happen when your stash of bikkies runs out?"

"Nov'll fix the fridge when she comes back," Ree says. "Then we'll all have three square meals a day again. Tah-daaahhh!" She turns around the pad. It is a drawing of all of them, grotesquely charicatured. Fast Zerrin looks like a vulture. Li'unnie like a high society snot. Tissa a literal cartoon figure. bAdmod is made out to be an evil grotesquely-overmodded pervert holding a hypodermic. Novaseeker is a sort of angry scribbled cloud around all of them. Only the squid looks realistic.

Li'unie claps and smiles. "That's optimal!!!"


bAdmod says to Ree "uh, you've given up virching?"

"Yeah sure she has" Tissa laughs.

"No dumbfuck." Ree looks at him like he's stupid. "But thanks to you idiot making Nov mad, the tools got scared and they're all hiding out in the hab somewhere. Can't fugging fix anything till we find them!"

"Don't you have any more tools?"


"Crud what a place."

"Yeah it's home." She tears off a piece of film from her drawpad. It has an identical image of her sketch. Sticks it up on a nearby wall. She'd be quite pretty if she wasn't so skinny. bAdmod really needs to find someone to have sex with. Either that or jerk off. Assuming he doesnt get killed first. Ree settles back at her station.

"You sure it's safe here?" he says again. "Li'unie?"

Li'unie says "For Goddess sake bAdmod! If you feel so paranoid just get lost again!"

"Yeah I just don't want to get flatlined while I sleep," he says back to her.

"The nerve center" Jaym says, leading Chaisla through a vast hive of command rooms, offices, relays, bandwidth, workers, officials, remotes, virtual, foglet, and hardtech screens, utility fog connections, diamondoid utilities, computronium workstations, turings, vecs, borgs, bionts, activity activity everywhere. "Seen anything like it?"

"Yep," she says. "When I was doing that story on Nova Terra. Only there's was several orders of magnitude bigger."

There's just no pleasing some people.

But her remotes interface according to her clearance level (low but still high enough), her agents sample, her bots photograph, her personas and partials interview. And Jaym can see, to his satisfaction and pride, that despite her words, she is very impressed.

"-and the squid told me not to accompany Fast Zerrin."

"Why not," Tissa says.

"Dunno" His eyes go from the bulge of her tits against her top to her face to Qunifst to Li'unnie to Ree. "maybe it's more headfuck."

"Not Da Squid," Ree says. "If Da Squid says it it's true."

"Maybe the mission's going to screw up," Li'unie says.

"Then why only warn Killer here?" Tissa asks.

"Was there anything else?" Li'unie asks.

"No. E just turned around and flew off." bAdmod frowns. There is something else he was supposed to remember.

"What?" Tissa says.

"Dunno," bAdmod says. It will probably come to him. "Probably not important."

Qunifst says "zars, if I understand correctly, while Zar Squid is a reliable source of information, the brevity and ambiguity of the message makes it unclear whether the warning was directed at Zar bAdmod alone, or at the rest of you as well. However, the message does not seem to contradict Zar Li'unie's fear that the mission will fail. But nor does it deny it will succeed."

Nods all round.

"You also must ask yourselves," the little borg continues "what is the source of Zar Squid's information, and why has Zar Squid revealed this only to Zar bAdmod?"

"Probably just that bAdmod shouldn't come on the mission," Li'unie says.

"Bad luck Killer," Tissa says.

Li'unie says "we should warn Zerrin. Where is he?"

"Last log record showed him with Novaseeker" Ree says. Laughs "anyone game?"

No-one is.

bAdmod almost shits his pants a second time in two stationdays when Novaseeker walks into the room, still in its female avatar. Fast Zerrin trails behind, throws bAdmod a confident grin and a wink. The three honeys jump at the alife hyperbright like baseline puppies that discovered their long lost alpha. AS if witha life of their own, the Kitchen Utilities come back on line one after another. E