“There’s nothing suspicious here,” the unflappable android’s voice sounded in Crimson’s ear.
“Snake spit!” she replied.
She, Shaak-Rom, and Andross were wedged into a service junction between all the pipes and tubes trying to use the space. Crimson herself was perched precariously on a ledge. The boys we half on, half off the ladder in the vertical shaft. “Nuthing!” She informed them.
“They’re taking them somewhere else.” Shaak-Rom surmised.
Micron had taken the lead to examine the medical facilities of the Irglikerrg. A link burst from the Rival (still 18.6 minutes from arrival) had informed them that the homing beacon on Tager had moved to somewhere near the shuttle bay and then disappeared. Either it’d been deactivated or the captured bounty hunters had been taken into a ‘dark room:’ sensor proof and reeking of trouble.
Crimson felt her stomach tighten another rotation in the deep-seated knot. For a moment her Mindframe went silent. Tubes and pipes all around her. She felt her vision narrowing.
Shaak-Rom was trying to be helpful. “Where were they when the Rival lost sight of them?”
Crimson’s biological components were feeling woozy. Her words sounded far away and slurred to herself, “Somewhere… ‘round the cargo bays.”
“Let me go ahead,” Micron’s head appeared above them in the next service tube. His skin was a matte, stealth black. His bright, hominal eyes stood out like saucers in the dank tunnels. It snapped Crimson back to focus. “I could link the data from the Rival to my schematics. In reconnaissance-mode I could find the cargo bays and see if any of them are locked off, or off circuit. Clearly there’s a section of the station that no one wants people getting into.”
“Do it.” Crimson was already shrugging her backpack off her human shoulder. In a moment her clunky, old tactical computer was displaying the cargo decks of Irglikerrg. A bright ping showed where Tager’s beacon had last been seen.
Micron lithely swung down among them. He typed a series of commands into display while Crimson’s robot hand held it up. A red line traced from their location to the spot.
“Follow that line,” Micron announced. “I’ll voicechip you when I find something.”
“Don’t get caught,” Crimson warned, more worry in her voice than she was used to hearing.
Micron revved his wrist-wheels with an electronic whir. “I won’t be caught. Don’t get caught yourselves.”
Tager and the others were herded through a series of passageways, coated with industrial grime. It was far from a Qualvanan atmosphere, but as he recovered from the lack of oxygen in the cargo pod, the more Tager felt like his insides were being coated with old engine grease.
They hadn’t gone far, but the honeycomb network of passages confused Tager’s sense of direction. They had left the heavy cargo bays, and were coming to smaller units. In the corner junctions of the halls he saw the notoriously black sensor dampeners. Not a good sign. One of the Gortasa guards punched a sequence on a door panel, and with a heavy grind the door opened. A rectangular room with steel shelves on both long walls stood revealed. Steel chairs sat beneath the shelves. The guards prodded them through with their hooked poles.
Once inside Tager and the others turned back. The lead Gortassa grunted, “Workers prepped here. Take off your clothes in preparation for your examination and surgical enhancements.”
One of the other slaves, a Waskelnec, a hardworking but simple race, asked in a heavy accent, “What about our Optipad work, and credentials?” The Waskelnec was short and broad, and after the fearful journey here was starting to suspect the horrific trap. He pushed forward. Several guards barred his way with poles outstretched.
“Take off your clothes and prepare for examination and surgery!” repeated the leader.
Tager cringed. It escalated quickly. The Waskelnec tried to brush the poles aside repeating his question louder. The Guards reacted swiftly. In a moment it was a beating.
Tager grit his teeth and raised his hand to protect his head. Diving forward he yelled, “Stop! Stop!” he threw his weight onto the Waskelnec, at once restraining him and pinning him to the floor. Fear spiked in his head, as brutal blows from the rods struck his own shoulder and arms. “We’ll comply! We’ll comply!” Tager shouted.
The stinging blows paused. Tager waited for anther fiery blue explosion of pain against the back of his clenched eyes, but it didn’t come; slowly opened his them.
Olper and Jumondo had rushed forward. The huge troll, bedraggled but intimidating, had both hands extended over them. Olper was repeating, “We will get ready…” over and over in his thick desert accent.
Tager looped a hand under the Waskelnec’s arm and sat back away from the Gortassa guards, pulling the battered slave awkwardly with him. Sitting on his butt and pushing with his legs, Tager hauled the groaning alien along with him.
The lead Gortassa, a seething, purple brute, recited his short script: “You will take off your clothes and prepare!” With a murderous glare he turned and they sealed the heavy door between them.
With painful grunt Tager levered himself up, rotating his right shoulder to shake out the numbing impact of the blows,. The Waskelnec only sat up. He was bleeding from several facial cuts and his nose. Tager bent and tried to catch his pitiful eyes. “Hey. We go with them for a little more. It’s safer. But these guys… they’re not good. We have to be careful.”
“We gotta’ plan?” asked Jumondo. He scratched his furry head, like one of Silpine Beaches’ genuinely bewildered surfers.
Tager straightened again, looking around the lifeless room. Security cameras lurked in two corners.