idea was influenced by the movie "Runaway"
by M. Crichton. (credits and info about it at the end)
strongly corrupted by a "Clint Eastwood Video Festival"
while writing it. So don't wonder. ;)
If you want to get an
idea of how Lt. Nanata Clint looks alike: imagine "Eliza
Maza" about ten years older than she is in "Gargoyles".
at the end.
water rushed in soft streams across her already tingling skin.
Niko stretched comfortably under her shower and then shut it
down. Still relaxed, she enjoyed the feeling of the last water
droplets dripping down her body. Tiny metal feet clicked on the
tiled bathroom floor behind her. Her service droid must have
began its work. Already 06:45? She reached for her big
bath towel and noticed that it was wet. Seems I enjoyed my
morning shower too much today. The stabbing pain in her ankle
made her cry out.
through her leg. Blood flowed along with the last water down the
drain. The cleaning droid raised another of its eight spidery
legs to stab her again. The wet bath towel slammed it to the
side. Niko leaped out of the shower cabin and ran for her badge,
leaving a track of bloody left foot prints behind. The clicking
of rearranged metal droid legs closed in again.
grabbed her badge from the board next to her bed and a pulse of
her psionic powers left only a smoking heap of crumpled metal on
her shimmering green bedside rug. She dropped herself onto the
bed, panting. Lucky that I only own one of those things!
She collected herself, examined her bleeding ankle and limped
back into the bathroom to get an emergency dressing for her way
Zachary Fox stared with knitted brows at the remnants of his
service droid, which lay scattered all across the kitchen floor.
The thing tried to assault me! His eyes wandered across
the two gaps in the artificial skin of his bionic arm.
a glance at the wall chrono he got his jacket and headed for the
door. It would take quite a while to replace the damaged skin and
QBall wouldn't be too pleased to be called that early. "I've
got a lot of cleaning to do this evening," he grumbled,
leaving the apartment.
I'm late, Zach –" Niko stopped in the door and looked,
astonished, into the empty office.
am, too," came Zachary's answer from behind. "Good
Ditto." She made a limping step into the office and noticed
that he carried his jacket in his hand. One of his shirt sleeves
was rolled up. "What's with your arm?"
shook his head and threw his jacket on the back of his chair.
"You won't believe me, Niko, but my household
you," she finished the sentence.
nodded. "During breakfast. I got two cuts in the artificial
skin before I could smash it."
same with me." She headed for her desk. "But I wasn't
wounded." Fox saw that she favored her left foot.
caught me in the shower. It stabbed my ankle before I got my
badge and shattered it." She took a seat on the edge of her
desk and let the wounded leg dangle relaxed. "That's why I'm
late. MedoStat was really crowded."
He nodded towards her leg.
I'm fit for duty."
Doc hurried into the room, heavily breathing. "Please excuse
my late appearance but this morning was complete chaos!" He
dropped himself onto his chair and shook his head while he
powered his working console up. "It's a miracle that I'm
already here and not stuck somewhere in between breakfast and
Fox looked frowning
at the hacker. "What happened exactly, Doc?"
household AI shut down all my droids." Hartford snorted.
"The stupid thing told me something about a suddenly
activated execution prog. I had to do everything by hand!
got up from her desk and limped toward him. "It likely saved
your backside, Doc. Zachary and I weren't that lucky."
got half up from his seat, noticing for the first time Niko's
limping and the patch of new artificial skin on Zachary's bionic
arm. "You mean you actually were attacked by your
droids?" he asked disbelievingly.
Doc," Zachary confirmed, "we were. And it doesn't bear
thinking about what would have happened if my kids had been at
home instead of being on a class tour to Kirwin." At
least some good came from that toy invasion. They are on that
tour because of the extended repairs their school
droids... those things include hardware versions of Asimov's
robot laws because of the permanent closeness to people."
Doc swivelled his chair away from his desk and looked at his two
teammates. "And I own Dormins."
like me. The thing that decorates my kitchen at the moment was
also from Dormin."
What if other people's droids have malfunctions like that, too,
Goose?" Niko, forgetting her injured leg, jumped suddenly
up. "He had early shift today."
got up, too. "He should have been here for two hours
if one of his droids has gone mad, too?"
worry, Niko." Doc reminded her. "He's a Supertrooper.
He'd slam the thing through the next wall and that's
She ran. "Not if
he was caught sleeping."
hit the doorbell twice before Niko noticed that it obviously
wasn't working. "Doc. Can you get us in there?"
milady. No problem." He activated his CDU. "Tripwire.
It's a standard door system. Enter and open."
another nighty hunt, Doccie-Poo?= panted the program sparkle.
=Are you going to be a big bad–=
up and do your job!" He turned with a broad apologetic smile
towards his colleague. "Please remind me to never again
watch old fashioned movies with the CDU turned on." The
sparkle reappeared and jumped into its home. "Et voila!"
The door slid open.
thing they saw was a shattered and half molten metal thing near
the entrance on the floor and blaster marks where the door bell
should have been. The second was Gooseman, who shot
lightning-fast off his bed, blaster at the ready until he
recognized that the possible threats were his teammates and not
alien intruders, and lowered his weapon.
you okay?" Niko asked, worried.
Why I shouldn't be–?"
cut in. "You should be already on duty, Ranger. What do you
have to say in your defense?"
ST looked around till he spotted the molten metal heap on the
floor. "Shit. The fourth alarm clock this month!"
shot your alarm clock and didn't wake up doing it?" the
captain asked with raised brows.
the first shot hits, yes."
sleep with your blasters?" Doc asked with a grin, "my
habits die slowly." Goose's warning growl cut the hacker's
comment. He put his blaster back into the holster hanging at the
bedpost. "And what do you all want here? I overslept before
and none of you stormed my quarters."
thought you may've been at–" Niko stopped, noticing
for the first time that Goose was wearing nothing but black tight
fitting briefs, and turned away with flaming cheeks.
didn't seem to notice. "You thought what?" He looked
questioningly over to Zachary when Niko refused to say anything
The Captain shook his
head. "Get dressed first. We'll explain at the
"And for male
fairness." Doc put on a fake grim look. "We'll talk
about uniform regulations, Gooseman."
a moment Zachary explained with a sigh, "They insist on
going to control that, Sir?" Goose asked dryly.
Cmdr. Walsh's Office
Fox. I summoned you and your team thirty minutes ago. Why are you
Gooseman wasn't prepared in time, Sir."
ordered me to change all my clothes, Sir." Goose answered.
Niko next to him fought with a sudden coughing fit.
a short glance with brows threateningly drawn together, the
commander decided to leave it at that. "You may have already
noticed: household droids, even the most expensive ones, started
going mad this morning. We received several emergency calls from
base personnel and the situation in and around Phoenix is the
why MedoStat was so crowded this morning," Niko said. "My
droid cut my ankle before I destroyed it," she explained
shortly. "A lot of people must have been hurt by these
it's worse, Ranger Niko. I got a call for assistance by Phoenix'
chief of police. Some people got killed." Walsh stood up
behind his desk and, leaning forward, propped his hands on the
plate. "I decided to grant the requested assistance. Captain
Fox, you and your team of Galaxy Rangers are going to investigate
in the case of mad droids. Do whatever you have to to eliminate
the threat for the population."
Sir." The situation must be really bad. He gave us a
carte blanche for a job on Earth!
Gooseman." The commander turned to the ST directly. "This
is Earth. Don't you dare run around without your papers again. I
do not want to have to get you out of jail for driving without a
licence again. Clear?!"
Sir." Goose saluted. "Captain, can we make a short
detour to my quarters on our way out?"
wants to know?" came the brusque answer. The black haired
woman didn't look up from her terminal screen.
Captain Zachary Fox. We are Galaxy Rangers. BETA ordered us to
investigate the incidents with aggressive droids in and around
Phoenix. We were told to contact you."
Lt. Clint still concentrated on her monitor, entering requests.
"Look, Captain Whoever-You-Are–"
Fox, Ma'am. We need to see at least the places where people got
Zachary Fox, then. Me and my partner are stuffed with enough work
for half a year. All of it to be done yesterday. Those droid
cases include over 2,000 crime scenes. We're trying to find a
pattern in the attacks. We don't have time to hold hands and go
sightseeing with ya!"
We are ordered by our commanding officer and the chief of
Nanata shouted across the crowded room causing a couple of heads
to turn for her. "Martyn! Where are the holos from scene
#2542? I made them myself and they aren't in the comp!"
tall but skinny man with styrofoam mugs in his hands and a big
brown folder under his arm squeezed himself through the
overcrowded room, hurrying towards them. "Here." He
panted. "I couldn't enter them. The holo-system crashed
again. Conway said the tech comes tomorrow.
Lt. Clint threw a sarcastic look at the ceiling. "Big
Manitou obviously believes us undersupplied with work."
man called Martyn shoved himself past Niko and Doc and nearly
lost one of his coffee mugs as Gooseman growled at him when he
came too close to the telepath. "Who are those people,
from BETA. Sent to save us!"
Martyn looked up and gave a weak smile, "please excuse my
colleague. It's almost her third shift now." He pushed a
heap of files and single transparencies aside to put down the
mugs then handed his folder to his partner. "I'm Martyn
A door on the
far side of the hall slammed open and a shout thundered through
the room. "CLINT! EASTWOOD! IN HERE,
Chihuahua," Nanata sighed. "Let's go, Martyn. The boss
"I bet we'll
be ordered to help them."
S5's watched them making their way through the crowded hall.
"It's always great fun to work with local authorities,"
Doc said calmly.
is very dedicated to her job," Niko said, "I felt a
strong impulse of frustration about their helplessness towards
that droid problem. For her, we have to prove that we are useful
to solve that problem. Then we'll have all the support she can
thought, Niko." Zach nodded. "Doc, have a look at that
holo input sys. Get it working, if possible."
do, mon capitaine." He took Lt. Clint's seat. "Huh, a
password request. Sweet..." He rubbed his hands and
activated his CDU. "Pathfinder. I..."
What do you think you're doing?! Take your hands of my comp or
I'll shoot some holes into them!"
Doc turned round on the swivel chair with his hands in plain
sight. "What I'm doing is hacking. What I'm thinking is that
your holo system is back online now." He got up and offered
her a seat.
Lt. Clint frowned
and checked it. Then a broad smile lightened up her face. "Guess
I owe you a big apology. All of you. Sorry. You are
somewhat useful." She pushed her black hair back and turned
away from her desk. "Let's start again, okay? I'm Lt. Nanata
Clint and that's my partner," she made a gesture toward the
skinny man at the next desk, "Martyn Eastwood. And your
people, Captain Fox, are?"
playboy smile shone as he introduced himself: "Walter 'Doc'
Hartford, computer psychologist and genius, at your service for
hacking and fencing, Ma'am." He managed a short bow before
Goose pushed him in the back.
ignoring it, continued. "Rangers Niko and
The police woman
nodded at Niko, then scrutinized Gooseman. "Old enough to
drive, boy?" she asked.
enough to shoot," came the dry reply.
a group. Nanata thought by herself, Hartford entered our
compsys as if it's a public cafe, that woman is somewhat strange
and the big blond looks like he should still get milk and cookies
instead of coffee and donuts. Nice! She suppressed a sigh and
turned to their commanding officer, who seemed to be about her
age. "Captain. What are your orders and how can we
"We are ordered
to assist you in any possible way and to do our own
investigations with the aim to eliminate the problem because our
authority reaches farther than yours. – First, we'd like to
see some of the scenes. Fatal ones, if possible, since it looks
like those droids are programmed to kill."
lieutenant took her jacket. "Martyn, can you finish the holo
Eastwood shoved his coffee mug across the desk and squeezed
himself past Goose to get a seat at his console. A deep furious
growl with a clearly audible snap of teeth let him jump
backwards. "Whoa." Martyn held his hands raised in
plain sight. "You got Mattel's beast warrior set as a child,
don't you?" The ST just stared at the police man with
a popular toy company, Goose," Zachary explained hastily.
"It's no offense."
Mattel's?" Martyn Eastwood seemed astonished, "What did
you play with as a child?"
Shane strode for the elevator. Needless to say, he didn't
have to shove through the crowded room: a free path appeared
mysteriously in front of him. Niko smiled and followed in his
Eastwood's mouth popped
open then he laughed uncertainly. "Your man has a weird
sense of humor, Captain. Where did he get it from?"
better not to ask, detective." Zachary said grimly and, too,
turned for the lift.
shrugged, took his seat and entered his password. "Anything
else?" he called after his leaving colleague.
the cross-check of what brands of droids are involved." She
affirmatively. "Okay, Nan. I'll do my best."
Zach held the lift door open and sent Doc back. "Help Lt.
Eastwood with his research. Use your programs for it and contact
us as soon as you find something."
I use your terminal, Ma'am?"
You'll do it even if I say no. Right?"
flashed a toothpaste smile at the already closed lift door.
"Believe me, it's just because I'm commanded to do so."
Crime Scene #2007
door was closed with a great cross of yellow plastic tape –
as far as Zachary knew such tape had been in use for more than a
hundred years now to mark an area as restricted by police –
but the computer pad attached above the access key panel was
quite modern: an AI's blurring eyeball bopped on the tiny LED
screen. =Palm press identification.= it demanded. Lt. Clint
pressed her hand on the sensor field below it and told her name
and rank. =Identity confirmed: Nanata Clint, Police Lieutenant,
First Precinct.= The AI chirped. =Access granted.= The door slid
"It's unlikely that
you'll find additional information. Our people have scanned the
place almost down to the molecular level," Nanata said and
stepped aside to let the three Rangers in.
search in other ways, Lieutenant." Niko said faintly. The
first impressions of violence throbbed against her shields and
she put her hand to her temple in an involuntary gesture of
The police woman
shrugged. "As you say. The victims were over there. In the
her. Some bright orange colored tape lines marked the position of
the corpses on the bed. "Do you have holos of the scene?"
Zachary asked while Gooseman squeezed past him and started to
examine the scene.
Lt. Clint pulled out her complink and entered a short request.
"It'll take a while. The precinct comps are pretty
overloaded after all the trouble these devroids
devil and droid," Nanata shrugged. "Our boss has a
foible for word creations."
straightened beside the bed. "Captain. It looks as if the
left victim was caught sleeping and died immediately, but the
right was awake for a while." Zachary left Lt. Clint and
came over to him. The ST pointed at some splattered blood
droplets. "From the pattern of the blood trails it looks
like those things assaulted the second one first at feet or legs
and then climbed up along the body toward abdomen and
droids were involved?"
to say, Captain." The ST shrugged. "From the trails and
the smeared prints on the quilt I'd say three, maybe
Squad told us the same. But they needed two hours for it."
Lt. Clint joined them. "The droids got completely shattered
as we entered the house. Our precinct's techno wizard is still
working on the way they were linked for the
Gooseman shook his
head, almost amused. "Not linked. Damn inefficient tactics.
They weren't coordinated, otherwise the second victim wouldn't
have had that much time to splatter blood."
Niko said, very composed, "this is going to be quite
difficult. If everybody would give me some room, please."
She reached for her badge, fingers slightly
not sure she should use her powers in here," Gooseman said
in a low voice without letting Niko out of his sight, "it
could be too rough."
agree. But it's her decision."
started awake. Deadly spiders swarmed over her, coming from her
husband's body lying in his blood next to her, climbed up her
legs, stabbing her through thighs and abdomen. She cringed,
twisting in agony. Tearing her mind free of the dying woman's
self she scanned the spiders, sensed for the foreign mind that
had to be there, that she had to touch, to pull her self out of
the death emanations. But nothing was there. Death dragged her,
showed sharp spider legs stabbing for her covered with their
what's going on here?" Lt. Nanata Clint demanded to
Zachary started to
explain. "Psionic read–"
stiffened and nearly collapsed. Goose caught her before she could
fall. She propped an arm against his chest, shivering violently,
"Are you okay?" he asked, worried.
she panted, eyes still wide and unfocused, mentally grasping for
the feeling of vitality inside him. "Zach, no other people
than the victims were involved in this."
mean only them and the droids?" Zachary frowned. "I'd
expected at least someone who'd programmed the things."
shook her head and straightened, slowly leaving the support
Gooseman offered. "No, nobody touched them but the owners
and the workers in the factory that built them."
we can safely assume that the owners didn't program their own
death," Goose said dryly. "That leaves the workers
still in question."
more generally, the company," Lt. Clint threw in. "I
don't get how you got the information we're talking about, but
that's my two cents worth."
Lieutenant," Zachary said. "Are your holos already
She had a
glance at her pad. "Yes, they're here. But they won't show
anything you haven't already found out." Her wristcom
beeped. "'scuse me. – Jefferson Plaza Hightower? –
About two minutes. – Yes. On my way." Nanata Clint
whirled round. "Okay, folks. This's finished. We've got an
emergency call and I'm the closest. Captain, either your group
comes with me or you stay behind, but whatever you do, get out of
here now. I've got to seal the apartment again." She chased
the Rangers like chickens out of the door.
accompany you, lieutenant."
wristcom beeped. "Yes?"
here, Captain. Lt. Eastwood and I are about three quarters
through the files. From what shows up so far, it seems that
mostly Dormins are affected.=
frowned. "What do you mean by mostly?"
85 till 90%. The rest is scattered across all brands on the
market, mostly older ones. But the Dormins are the most and also
the only brand-new ones.=
there a big Dormin factory outside the city?" Zach
"Yes, Captain, "
Lt. Clint answered from the backseat, "in the outskirts.
Elwood Industrial Belt."
you hear that, Doc?"
Zach. What do you want me to do?=
threw a look out of the racing glider. "We are on 19th
Avenue, heading for Jefferson Plaza. Get a glider and pick Niko
up at there." He looked up from the tiny screen. "How
long till we get there?"
shrugged, "Ten, fifteen minutes. Depends on the
there in about three minutes. Goose's driving. You two sniff
through Dormin's. I think something's smelly in that
lay his head back and stared with narrowed eyes at the top of the
building. "Up there, Lieutenant?" he
confirmed. "148th floor and the lifts are deactivated
because of the droids."
almost as far down from the roof as it is up from here." Fox
thought aloud. "Unfortunate situation."
at least two hours without the elevators, counting a bare minute
for a floor, Captain."
people will be dead when we arrive," Zachary sighed. "Any
ideas to make it faster, Goose?"
have a chopper?"
Goose asked the detective.
It's one of our newest acquisitions. But Chang's the only one who
can fly it."
call him, Lieutenant," Zach urged.
droid cut his arm nerves, Captain. He's in the hospital."
except Chang's allowed to use the thing."
I can do it with a heli, but I thought you'd like to keep that
building," Goose seemed to be eager about it.
can you fly it?"
ST shrugged, "I flew the prototypes a while ago. The final
version can only be easier to handle."
Fox turned for Lt. Clint. "Where's the
of Precinct 1. We have to ret–" She didn't finish her
sentence as Goose floored the pedal.
stopped at the driveway to the landing field. Nanata nodded
towards a cabin at the entrance of the landing field. "The
gatekeeper looks after the keycards."
man in the bulletproof glass cabin looked up. "The chopper?"
Lt. Clint confirmed.
"Yes, Morris. It's okay."
He mumbled past his chewing gum.
keycard, please." Zachary ordered.
spat his chewing gum into the waste basket. "I need to see
the special flyer licence of the guy who's going to use the
people are in danger during this discussion."
Goose snapped, "I'll short-circuit the heap." He
grinned cruelly and turned for the landing field. "If they
hate their city enough to want me flying around here
without fly-by-wire. Okay, no problem with me–"
stopped him. "No way, Goose. I'll be onboard, too. –
Hand over the keycard, officer."
licence, no key, Ranger."
Zachary took a deep breath.
hand lay on his arm. "Wait, Captain." He started to
search his pockets and finally found a transparent plastic card
in his left back pocket which he slammed on the counter in front
of the police man. "That should do it."
jaw flapped open, as he stared on it. "That's... that's
a..." he stuttered.
Zachary asked, amazed.
licence, Zach. Whatever's on this planet, I'm allowed to drive or
fly it," the ST explained with a smile showing slightly too
many teeth to be reassuring. "Though I don't really know
what difference it makes."
only seen something like that once," Lt. Nanata Clint's
voice sounded very impressed. "And that man was the
Premier's chief bodyguard."
ignored it. "Keycard!" he growled at the man behind the
counter and held out his hand. "Now." Morris never
before moved that fast.
Zachary's voice sounded sharp – he didn't feel well in
choppers, specially not in choppers with Goose at the
controls – and kept his eyes on the altimeter, "we
should be at level 148."
Everybody fasten their safety-belts please." The ST said
with a grim smile, "I'm going to hit the wall!"
I fasten mine any tighter I'm going to need resuscitation,"
me, Captain. I've got–" the tiny, fragile looking
chopper banged with a loud clong against the wall, "–enough
to do." Goose fired the detonation bolts to attach it
firmly. After all six LED's blinked green, he retracted the rotor
blades and turned in his seat. "Okay, Captain. Burn the
Clint, in the rear seat next to Zachary, mumbled while he
adjusted the construction laser with the controls in front of his
seat, "I'm using the stairs going down, even if it takes me
there," Lt. Clint pointed along the marble corridor, "it's
apartment F." Arriving at the door she reached for the
Goose pushed her hand aside. "Don't warn
Zachary ordered with a short nod. "Open."
The door withstood only one of his kicks.
Fox turned toward Lt. Clint. "Are you sure the call came
him suddenly raised his head, sniffing, eyes flashing around. "We
are right," and continued in a grim voice: "And too
late. I smell death."
The Ranger Captain didn't seem to be surprised by his teammate's
Gooseman nodded towards a wide double door to what must be the
salon of the first class apartment.
his blaster at the ready, pushed it open. "Goose.
must be–" Nanata began and a group of metal spiders
jumped at them.
immediately. Three droids exploded before Lt. Clint, standing in
the entrance, could even aim her service weapon. She fired and
missed. The droid exploded as the big blond ranger whirled round
and fired again. Fox's hand gripped her shoulder. "Keep out
of there. He can handle it better if he doesn't have to worry
about where we are."
next moment was complete chaos as all remaining four droids
seemed to leap at the intruder and ended up at smoking heaps on
the carpet. The ST straightened. "Captain."
Clint looked at the remnants as she entered the room behind Fox.
"The AK-1011 wasn't a joke, right?" she asked
"No, Ma'am. –
The corpse is over there, behind the sofa."
my job, " Nanata said bluntly and pulled out her
investigation pad, "I'm sorry, Captain, but my
captain is going to roast me if I don't do at least the primary
data collection before anyone comes near it." She entered
the commands for suspected homicide.
sizzled and a yellow-white flash flared up behind the couch. Lt.
Clint jumped back and was nearly hit. Goose leaped across the
sofa and drove his fingers into the household droid which was
caught by one of its legs, still stuck in the bloody, ripped body
of its owner. It sizzled and spat sparks as it sent another
electric shock through its surface material. Goose pulled the
wildly stabbing droid with a short jerk out of the
cried warningly. "That's a window cleaner. They can produce
20,000 Volt shocks!" But it was too late, the droid already
flamed up around the young ranger, as it faded, his left hand
seemed to be made of ceramic. He held the struggling droid up.
"Funny sort," he grinned broadly and shook it.
"Captain, do we want to save 'em up for later?"
Maybe QBall can tell us more if he gets a functioning one."
Fox holstered his weapon, obviously unimpressed.
Clint stared from Goose to Zachary and back. "You told me
who you are," she began, "but, hell, what are
showing unmistakable eyeteeth. "Special forces, Ma'am."
Dormin Household Droids – factory in the outskirts of
hit the brakes in front of the big facility and looked around.
"Wow. That I call large." He turned for his
teammate. "Where do we start?"
start with the boss."
advice?" he grinned.
sense," Niko replied. "Don't waste your time with the
servants, catch the top critter!"
like something Goose would say."
smiled. "He did say it. – Over there. There's a sign
for the direction area."
were directed to a large, very elegant reception room all covered
in soft creme colored carpet and tapestries. After some minutes a
tall, burly man with a red face wearing a construction overall
entered the elegant room through a side door. "You wanted to
talk to me?" he asked, smiling.
need to talk with the authority responsible for the factory and
production of droids in this facility," Niko said carefully.
The man looked like an assembly line worker.
grinned broadly. "That's me." He wiped his hand across
his overall and held it out. "My name's Mike Orson. I'm the
founder of the company. How can I help you?"
this morning a lot of household droids in and around Phoenix went
mad. A lot of people are injured. We have been ordered to
investigate the incidents."
lord. I hope nothing serious happened." Orson seemed to be
"I fear it
has, Mr. Orson," Doc cut in. "We have several deaths
reported. You must understand that in circumstances like this we
have to check out all possibilities. We hope we'll have your full
course. Of course." The technician leaned himself against
the marble desk in the center of the room. "I can't believe
it. How could something like that happen? The safety rules are
built into the hardware. Even the most careless customer can't
change them accidentally." He wiped across his forehead and
straightened. "I'll help you as much as I can."
we'd like to have a look around your production facility. Have
you had any suspicious incidents during the last weeks?
Burglaries, irregularities in the depots, anything like
"No, Ranger. We
haven't." Orson pushed himself off the desk and waved them
towards the side door through which he entered the office. "I
never feel comfortable in here. Doesn't suit me, I think. Come
on. I'll show you everything. – Mad droids..." He
shook his head again. "People hurt. That shouldn't happen!"
assembly line was in a huge hall, crowded with construction
machines, robots, and people. Doc had stayed behind in the
computer room, checking the databases. The hall was illuminated
brightly, with walls painted in friendly colors. Niko looked
around, astonished. The appearance of this facility didn't fit
with the grey-black spidery droids they were producing. Something
tapped against her boot.
Niko leaped and whirled round, reaching for her
"Don't worry, Miss."
The friendly, burly technician had stuffed his hands in the
pockets of his overall and smiled. "You're pretty
"I had an
encounter with one of your products myself this morning,"
she said coldly, "It's not so easy to forget being stabbed
by a droid." and looked skeptically at the round, bright red
colored droid on six ball rolls with two grip antennae. It rolled
slightly back and blinked its big yellow spotlight 'eyes' at
The tech explained. "She's the first droid we built in here,
about ten years ago. None of us could bear to sell
raised her brows at it and the droid rotated slowly on its place
before it bumbled against its creators boots. Niko giggled. "It
looks like a big ladybug."
Orson smiled. "That was intentional. Sunshine's heirs were
our best products, were selling like hot cakes, but then, the new
fashion with ankle-deep carpets came in and there was no way to
make our little ladybugs able to work their way through them and
clean. The rollers always got caught in the long threads."
He shook his head. "We nearly went bankrupt those days till
we gave up and used the spider-design." Mike's mouth
twitched. "It worked. We got orders en masse again. But
somehow... I never liked them. I didn't like building droids that
ugly." He gave the red droid a wink and it raced around
them, brightly blinking with rotating antennae, then appearing
next to Niko again, pointing its 'spotlight eyes' at her. "She
likes you," Orson grinned.
couldn't help but smile. "It's cute. – Those
long-haired carpets aren't used any longer. Why do you still
snorted. "We were nearly bankrupt before we changed the
production line. Without some investors our factory would have
been closed. Dormin's a consortium now and all of those types
have something to say about what we do or don't do. I voted to
switch back to building 'Sunshines' – with the newest
technology available of course – like most of the old staff
around here, but the investors vetoed the idea. So we're still
building spiders." He crinkled his nose and looked straight
at Niko. "I founded this company, built up the main factory
here, was the head of the team that designed our little Sunshine
here. And now all I can do is watching hundreds of ugly dark grey
spiders leaving the assembly line. It sucks!" He stopped and
apologized. "I'm sorry, Miss. I didn't want to be rude. If I
can help you somehow–"
finished." Doc appeared, his CDU still in his hands. "I
congratulate you, Sir. It's been a long time that I saw a compsys
that good under service."
you," Orson was pleased, "the making of droids depends
strongly on accurate computer programming. That's why I am always
after my people to do it properly."
threw another glance around the wide hall, looked again at the
ladybug-droid trundling around blinking with its funny eyes. "Mr.
Orson, we are finished for the moment. But it's likely that we'll
need to talk to you again once we get further
course, Miss. Do you want my number?"
objects from every one of your products," Doc
"Sure. It's in our
own interest to get those incidents solved as fast as possible."
nice factory." Doc said on their way back to BETA.
something doesn't fit in there." Niko thought aloud. "I
can't really say what it is, but the things they produce and the
place they produce them in feel completely different. That
shouldn't be that way." After a moment she added
thoughtfully: "Mr. Orson didn't tell us the whole
"You mean he
lied to us?"
But he left things out in his tale." She shrugged. "I
can't be more specific. Maybe after QBall's checked the test
droids I'll try to get a reading of them."
took you so long?" Niko asked as Zach and Goose entered the
room. "Doc and I have been waiting for more than three hours
didn't want to use the parachute fall of the chopper," Goose
informed her, grinning.
with you at the controls and one of your hands busy with that
thing." He didn't indicate if he meant the droid or the
chopper with 'thing'.
shrugged and held out the sizzling, sparking droid that cut the
air with its sharp spidery legs. "Where's QBall? Little
Sizzley needs a cage. Preferably an isolated one."
there somewhere." She nodded into the lab and suppressed a
shudder at the mad droid.
burdened with droid parts, came towards the work plate on which
Niko was sitting. "I'm sorry, Niko, but I can't find
anything on these droids. They're totally normal." Lost in
thought, he shoved Zachary aside, pushed his glasses up his nose
"WATCH OUT! This
one isn't!" Goose shouted and raised the mad droid high
above his head as QBall came too near to him.
What?" The skinny scientist looked up from his droid
fragments in surprise. "Which one isn't? I've checked them
all. None of th–"
mean this one." Goose held out the black spider droid that
struggled with its blood covered legs. "And you almost ran
"This is a
mad one?" QBall looked closely at it and Gooseman pulled it
a bit away as the droid slashed out at the scientist's face. "Are
still stuck in the body of its owner when I found it."
stuck?" Niko asked, horrified.
One of its legs got stuck in the pelvic bone."
telepath shuddered at the cold description.
it over here. I have to examine it immediately." QBall was
all business now. "It's the first mad one I got to see
functioning. Fine. Let's have–" He reached out for the
backplate and the droid sizzled with electric sparkles. QBall
jerked his hand back.
I forgot to mention: it's a barbecue fan." Goose grinned.
"Electro-roasts your sausages in no time!"
hurrying back into the depths of his lab, murmured. "Guess
I'd better get an isolated container. And gloves. And a..."
long do you think the examination will take?" Zachary Fox
looked at his watch. "We are stuck as long as we don't have
shrugged, still concentrating on the controls of the isolated
mechanical arm that he used to examine the droid. "Hard to
say. It takes much longer working this way..." he murmured
did you say?" Zachary pressed him.
morning." He snorted. "Early tomorrow morning, if none
of you disturbs me any longer!"
Zachary sighed. "That's it for today. We won't get the
results before tomorrow morning. Meeting here at 8:00. On time,
Gooseman." He threw a flaring glance at the ST.
The ST stretched. "Can somebody wake me? With all this
trouble today I haven't had time to get a new alarm
"If you don't
shoot me, I can." Doc made no effort whatsoever to hide his
grin. "That saves the others from getting in trouble with
your neighbors for the noise in the corridor."
ST grunted. "No guarantees, Doc." He nodded at Zachary.
door slid shut behind them. "And least we've still got some
time to clean up the mess our droids left behind." Niko
said, slinging her jacket over her shoulder. "There are
still bloody footprints on my carpet. Hope I can wash them
"And my droid's
still scattered across my kitchen." Fox made a face
regarding the household work in front of him.
I hope this is the last mech problem this month," Goose said
dryly. When his captain frowned he specified: "First your
arm and now this! I fear I'm going to develop an allergy to
Shane!" Niko laughed. "You're our secret weapon against
groaned. "At least I'm safe."
home-tech could be affected, too." Doc reminded him,
grinning. "Except your mechanical friends are too frightened
to try it with you."
and Triton behaved normal."
hardware programming, an AI can't include that, my Gooseman."
household droids seemed to be affected by it. Especially the
newer ones." Niko told him about the results she and Doc had
"Then I'm really
safe," he grinned and stuffed his hands in his pockets while
defenses?" she assumed.
All three looked astonished at him. "But how are your
quarters cleaned?" Niko asked him.
service," he shrugged.
service?!" Fox started. "Only the quarters of high
officers are cleaned by base personnel, Gooseman. Even my rank is
too low for that!"
looked – now astonished himself – at his captain. "I
didn't know that, Zach. It's been done once a week since I moved
in. I thought it was normal."
for today." Nanata took her jacket from the back of her
chair and threw her colleague who still worked fascinated at the
comp, an amused look. "Hey, Martyn. What's up? Usually, you
hate comp work."
what the Ranger did, Nan." He still concentrated on his
screen. "Somehow he sped up the mainframe." He shook
his head. "It's more than twice as fast as before. I can't
find out what he did. And..." he entered a new commando
sequence, fascinated, "he has left a password behind that
grants us calculation priority one if we use it."
That would be wonderful. What is it?" Clint asked
Hartford, called Doc, called genius, called – more simply –
hacker, leaned back at his console and gazed, frustrated and
slightly angry, across his chaotic living room. My sainted
mother was right, he thought sadly, I'm definitely not
much of a housekeeper. I have to fix that droid problem as fast
as possible. He sighed theatrically and started doing what he
did best. But first I find out why Mr. Muscle isn't disturbed
by such a nuisance...
minutes later, the information glowed in soft yellow letters on
his screen: "Order for cleaning of BMMP Apt. 217 placed
by... J. Walsh, base commander."
the devil serves at McDonald's," Doc grumbled and pulled a
smelly sock off his monitor. "I just wonder why." But
that information wasn't likely to be found inside the memory
door slid back and Doc entered with a broad smile on his face the
room. "Hello, my Goose man. It's already past half past six.
Time to get–" He ducked and jumped to the side as the
ST shot up from his bed, already grabbing his blaster. "HEY,
GOOSE. It's me, DOC. REALLY!" He held his hands in
plain sight as he slowly got up from behind the footboard, just
in time to see Gooseman dropping back on his mattress, pulling
his blanket up over his ears.
I'm here to wake you."
figure beneath the quilt grumbled and rolled to the other side,
turning his back to Doc.
chance, Goose." Carefully, the hacker came closer to the
bed. "I promised to wake you and you are going to WAKE
The result of his
shout was that Goose pulled his pillow out under his head and
pressed it over his face, crossing his arms over
"Gooseman. I'm going to
tell you the whole lecture on politeness that I got in Ms.
Abercrombie's Charm School if you don't get up now."
mumbling from beneath the pillow sounded much like: "...starts
in the sewer and all stairs go downwards..." Doc plucked up
some courage and grabbed the pillow. Goose's sleepy gaze met his
and Shane's next sentence was clear: "I'm gonna hate this
Doc grinned. "You're
going to start a lot of days like this, my Goose man. I'm going
to make sure that you always come to work on time from now
The ST growled and put
his feet to the floor. "I have to increase the security
level of my quarters."
door system will never keep me out, you know?",
Hartford grinned and patted against the doorframe.
challenge me? With this?" He knocked again on the door.
"Now, that's going to be fun. You'll soon be used to
starting the day with looking in my smiling face." He ducked
as a boot flew in his direction and leaped out of the door.
my Gooseman, are you going to fulfill the regulations for
underwear from now on?" Doc asked, teasing, as they headed
together for QBall's Lab a quarter of an hour later.
surely as Zach is going to control it, Doc."
we have here is a formidable proof," QBall put a box with
droid parts onto the main table. "of the old lesson about
Zachary interrupted the slim scientist, "the short version.
style," Goose grumbled.
had a rough start of the day," Doc explained,
you'll have a rough early end of the day, Doc!" The
ST shot back.
Fox intervened. "We've got work to do." He turned to
QBall. "Please continue." When the scientist took a
deep breath: "In brief, please."
sniffed indignantly. "Short," he muttered, "they
always want it short. No one cares for details, and backgrounds,
and..." Fox threw him a dark look. "It's the
central chip. The hardware programming includes kind of a
countdown that starts an execution program. As far as I could
determine it's targeted against all human beings."
jumped up. "That's impossible! The Asimov Laws–"
central chip doesn't include them," QBall said drily,
placing the chip in plain sight for all of them on the table.
"Not even the slightest hint of them. Instead there's the
execution program that starts at preset times."
Lord! When's the next?"
two days, Captain Fox."
our tele-killer likes to give his babies time to find new
"Or to allow
the escapees of the first slaughter to buy new – safer –
droids with another killer chip inside." QBall took the chip
Zachary frowned. "You
mean someone intercepted the deliveries and replaced the standard
chip with the fatal ones?"
The socket doesn't look as if it was connected twice. The fatal
chips are built in during the production cycle."
fits." Doc had a close look at the chip. "Niko and I
already got the opinion that something's wrong at
slowly shook her head. "I'm not so sure, Doc. The shock
about the events I felt within Orson was real, also his pride
about his factory and the work they do there – despite his
dislike of the spider droids. I can't imagine that he would do
something that does harm to people and would compromise work he's
loved for years."
most of the killer droids are from Dormin?" the captain
Doc hit a key on his CDU
and had a look at the tiny display. "92.6 percent,
"As I said
yesterday, all brands equally likely, mostly older models. It
looks as if someone repaired them with killer chips."
frowned. "That doesn't make sense. If someone was selling
the dangerous chips, there would be far more of other brands
involved. And a company like Dormin doesn't sell essential parts
of their products to keep rival products working."
we should put more pressure on Dormin," Niko suggested.
"There's something odd about their production facility with
respect to the things they make."
nodded. "I'll go myself. Call for our PPD contacts. It's
their responsibility, too."
"Doc, Niko, you
two stay here and help QBall, maybe he can discover something
more about the chip if he dissects it."
Dormin Household Droids – factory in the outskirts of
hit the brakes and brought the glider to a screaming halt next to
the armored police glider with Lt. Clint already waiting near the
entrance of the factory's main building.
outside with the vehicles, Goose," Zachary said getting out
of the glider. "I don't want anyone to tamper with our
electronics while I question their boss."
"And have a look
at the exits. Maybe we'll stir someone up."
believe us at Dormin to be responsible for all this
horror?!!" Mike Orson just gaped at the Ranger Captain who
entered his factory hall and addressed him directly in front of
his workers without any preamble. "Our company has had the
highest reputation for more than twenty years–"
Orson," Lt. Clint standing next to Fox cut in, blinking with
her police badge, "we don't care about your company's
history, we are concerned about the present! So how do you
explain that mostly your droids are running mad?"
I can't believe that anyone around here would do..." He
swayed and breathed heavily. "That's impossible,
Nanata corrected him icily. "And it is possible. We can show
you the data that proves it."
Orson." Fox took over the conversation. "The central
control chips are the reason for all this madness. And they
weren't replaced later in the process, they were built in right
from the beginning."
how are you going to explain that the control chips your company
is using lack the primary safety rules?" Lt. Clint snapped.
a violation of League Law to use unsecured processors in droids,"
Zachary added firmly.
Mike Orson clenched his hands then answered finally. "we
checked the seals and safety labels on the crates when they were
delivered and everything was fine–"
Fox interrupted him. "You use foreign
The company chief
seemed to feel discomforted. "Yes, we do," he admitted
in a low voice. Nanata Clint frowned but said nothing. "We
didn't have a choice."
not? The whole story, please."
a deep sigh the chief of Dormin continued. "As I told your
colleagues yesterday, we were nearly bankrupt before we decided
to skip our familiar design in favor of the spider style. We
needed capital for the restructuring of the production line, for
the materials needed for the first series of the droids and for
the presentation necessary to sell them. It was a very close
shave, but finally we found an investor who brought in the
capital that we needed - but he insisted on very extended rights
within the supervisory board."
is this mysterious investor?" Lt. Clint asked.
don't expect me to believe that, do you?" she
deal was arranged and confirmed by one of the most famous
industrial lawyers on Earth. The capital was given immediately
and we never got in trouble with him afterwards. Since the new
droids, in spite their ugliness, sold like hot cakes because of
their efficiency, he made good profits out of his investment. The
money was sent online and every one of the transactions was
there's more to it than you're telling us," Zachary pressed
him. "You mentioned extended rights you had to grant
Orson stared at his shoes. "About two months ago he insisted
that we reduce the production costs for the spider series by
using imported chips instead of our own."
produced these chips?"
don't know who produced them. They are no-brand ware." At
Fox darkened expression Orson added hastily. "We knew it was
risky, but one of the rights our investor got was the choice of
pretty stupid to me," Nanata said and attached her badge to
her belt next to her clearly visible service
possible in such contracts, Lieutenant," Orson said faintly,
"there are no limits except law and it isn't unlawful to
split responsibilities under such circumstances." A bright
red ladybug-like droid bumbled against his boots and he shoved it
aside, "Away, Sunshine. Clean the floor." He gave the
two officers in front of him an apologetic smile and grew very
earnest again. "We were very concerned that our investor
suddenly used this particular right of his and I personally
insisted that the foreign processors be put through the strongest
checkups and tests we have. They passed." He swallowed. "But
Asimov's Laws aren't included in the test procedure. Fundamental
as they are, no chip with failures - or lacking them - would
leave a production facility."
Earth!" Zachary snapped, "on Earth maybe. Outside... "
he snorted. "So you don't know who produces these chips. Do
you at least know where they come from?"
crates carry the customs label of Oregon."
narrowed his eyes. "That's near the frontier to Tortuna,"
he muttered. "Do you have any further information about
"No, I'm sorry,
Captain. I wish I could–" he interrupted himself and
turned for Lt. Clint. "We have to shut down immediately,
right?" he asked her, pleading that he was wrong.
right, Mister," she snapped, "and you have to call all
delivered droids back right now!. You are lucky that I
don't lock up you and all your personnel for possible mass-murder
and attempted mass-murder." She turned on her heels. "Stay
within reach, Mr. Orson. The same for your personnel."
their way back to their gliders: "You and your people are
going to track these chips down, aren't you?"
nodded. "Indeed, Lieutenant." He threw a short look at
the police lieutenant. "I don't believe that the people at
Dormin's are responsible for this whole mess."
do I. It's likely that they won't get more than a stern warning
and strict security conditions as long as it isn't unlawful to
use imported parts..."
itself uses imported technology. Most of our vessels come from
Andor's shipyards. Our own production facilities are still under
construction." He narrowed his eyes and looked ahead at the
wide main entrance doors. "That's not the problem. But the
technology safety standards have been in effect for more than
fifty years. And because of that people who never left Earth are
usually too confident regarding technology."
confident?" The woman at his side snorted. "You mean
Zach smiled grimly. "Our chief technician discovered a
countdown embedded in the chips. It starts the kill program at
looked over to him. "When's the next?"
make sure that the droids are switched off until then." She
turned briskly at her glider, already unlocking it with her
sender, and looked back at him. "Please keep me informed
about your search. I'd like to know what's behind it."
smiled at that. "I'll do. Promised."
ST leaned against their glider, waiting. "Has anything
But one of the warehouses stood open and–"
Zachary got into the front passenger seat and adjusted his safety
belt carefully. "You didn't leave the glider out of your
sight, did you?"
at all. It's a huge warehouse, with a huge gate,"
Gooseman grinned. "The glider fits perfect through the
Fox rolled his eyes.
The ST powered
the engine on and floored the pedal. "Lots of dirty empty
crates, Sir. Things stunk like a sidewalk in Sorry End."
has a mysterious investor from outside Earth who forces them to
import the central chips from outer space, likely Oregon."
Zach briefed the others shortly.
fits with what we found out, Zach." Niko pushed herself off
the working table with the fine scanner she had been working
with. "There are still no perceptible psionic imprints on
them, but the plastic of the chip hull isn't very clean. There
are a lot of embedded particles and the concentration of the
different elements differs from what one expects on Earth. The
plastic hull must have been formed on a different
able to discover where?" Fox asked.
positive identification. But from the elements I found so far, a
world with fewer oceans and more deserts than Earth. Oregon would
fit into the pattern, especially the dry plains around the
capital. But a lot of other worlds, too."
have a track running to Oregon." Fox said grimly. "We'll
follow it. – But there are still the mad
chips pass all standard tests as long as the first of the preset
times isn't reached." Qball brought in. "I tested
hundreds of them from the unsold, therefore previously
unactivated, Dormin droids and found nothing."
Dormin wouldn't sell essential components to be used in foreign
systems. Nor would they allow them to be sold." Doc
contered. "That's economically suicidal."
forgot to ask." Goose pushed a dissected chip aside and took
a seat on the table edge.
looked up. "The open warehouse. Dormin's not best in company
area security. Goose could drive the glider through it without
wouldn't notice a cargo transport in there, Captain."
what's the total amount of affected non-Dormin droids?"
hacker threw a glance at his CDU. "427."
many chips are in one crate?"
would be 500, Captain Fox." QBall said.
that maybe not all cases had been detected already, and that
there's the chance that some of the chips hadn't been in use so
far, it fits with a stolen single crate."
could be carried in a personal glider's trunk. Single
Goose." Fox decided. "Most of the chips had already
been used. We need to find the source where they come from. –
Okay, Rangers. It's Oregon for us."
Ranger-1 at Calahan Space Port - Box 5
hate night shifts."
isn't night here, Goose." Niko activated Mel and checked her
my Goose man." Doc seemed shocked to the bone. "Look,
the sun's high up in the sky. It's midday here."
don't care about that damned star." He mounted Triton and
took the reins up, briefly answering the cybersteed's greeting.
"At my bed it's midnight. And that's all that counts for
"Always look on
the bright side, Goose," Niko smiled. "Doc won't wake
you this morning–"
Rangers." Fox took the lead and ended the quarrel. "We'll
go to the local customs office first."
[12:32 LST] Luther Whitney Lane 2211
reined in their steeds in front of the white painted five-story
house. Zachary tilted his head back and looked at it. "According
to the customs officer is this the address of 'Hunter
Enterprises'." He frowned. "Doesn't look like a office
building, more like a hotel."
is one. Look at the sign next to the entrance." Niko pointed
at the white plate with blue letters: 'Rooms to Rent. 10 Credits
a night. Please ring.'
shook his head, dismounted and walked up onto the porch. "I'll
check it out." He vanished into the house.
address is correct," he confirmed when he reappeared. "The
owner said the company rented the rooms right under the
"A company in a
boarding house?" Doc grinned. "And that hotelier wasn't
astonished about it?"
not." Zachary shrugged. "She said the customer's one of
her most polite guests, pays his rent in time, and hasn't caused
trouble so far. The lady was pretty shocked that a law
enforcement man asked for him." He fetched his rifle out of
Brutus' saddle-holster. "Doc, Niko, we go in there. Goose,
have a look at the surroundings. It isn't likely that that crook
stores his killer chips under the bed."
no one in there. I can't sense anyone's presence." Niko
looked up. "But I have a feeling it's someone we
"I'm not sure.
But we know this guy." She concentrated again. "It's a
mechanical lock. Just a..." The lock clicked. "...moment."
She pushed the door open.
scanned the two connected rooms quickly. A big, proper desk
covered with hyper-modern styled – obviously unused –
utilities; a rubber plant that seemed to have gotten too much
water judging by its drooping leaves; a filing cabinet without
files... The first room seemed like a parody of a high class
"Looks good, but
here's nothing that answers our questions." Doc pushed open
the door to the second room and made a hasty step back. "Phew!"
He waved his hand in front of his face with a nauseated
Niko threw a look
into the room from her position behind Doc. "Needs a good
horde of Dormins wouldn't be able to clean that mess! That needs
the Biohazard Dept. at least."
glanced into the room and agreed wordlessly: the disheveled bed
with stinky socks and underwear on the stained quilt, the open
wardrobe that seemed to be also the 'dirty clothes hamper', the
remnants of at least a dozen meals on the table told enough.
Unfortunately, it didn't tell what they were looking for. "Seems
we have to wait till the creator of this mess comes
awhile." Doc grimaced. "The dish here's still warm
door to the first room slammed open. The sound of someone
struggling helplessly accompanied the two heavy steps with which
Goose entered the room. "Pretty big roof rabbits around
here, Captain," he grinned. "Someone lose a pussycat?"
He held his catch at the neck and shook him not too gently.
"Dropped right before my feet into the
Enterprises'," Doc groaned. "We should have
your business here?" Zach asked coldly.
nothing, Sir. Nothing. Really– I assure–"
intensified his shaking. "Reconsider that!"
let him down." Zachary ordered. "He can't answer while
you're squeezing his throat."
He dropped the Darghun.
staggered backwards only to find his way blocked by Doc and Niko.
He raised his hands. "But, dear Galaxy Rangers," he
explained hastily. "I'm only a businessman. A honest
businessman. I made some investments on Earth to get a market for
computer- and droidchips I trade with. I have some very expensive
hobbies to be financed."
took a step closer and growled. Zach held him back, shaking his
"I buy chips cheaply
and sell them less cheap. That's legal. There's nothing illegal
in my business!"
the two dozen League wanted posters with your face on them."
Doc threw in.
Crown one for your head in particular." Goose grinned
with flashing teeth.
chips of yours caused deaths on Earth, Nimrod." Niko
snapped. "Where are they from?"
a mediator. I can't compromise my clients!"
enough!" Zachary sighed. "I need a coffee. Doc, Niko.
Aren't there still those reports from last month?" He turned
already for the door.
straightened. "So you believe me and I can
care of him."
still have a rendezvous with his whiskers left from his deadly
games." He made a gesture of plucking out a hair and
clarified his statement. "With every single one of
Nimrod howled out.
"Gods, you can't do–" He hastened after Zach as
the ST reached for him. "Pleeeeaaase!"
turned back to him. "Where do you get these chips
Chips. It's a small but very respectable comp–"
Zach interrupted him briskly.
his collar, tore him almost off the ground. "You sold
Tortunan chips on Earth?!" He tossed the Darghun
over to Goose. "Arrest that! Before I forget myself!"
[–:– LST] Ranger-1
shall we do when we reach Tortuna, mon capitaine?" Doc
turned in front of his console to look at Fox. "If this
'Chipolyta' is as well marked as the employment agency was we'll
search till eternity is over. And Sorry End is not a place I like
to spend that much time in."
can't scan the area from orbit." Goose pointed out. "The
Crowns may be a frustrated, underpaid pack of idiots, but that's
something even they'll notice."
sighed. "All true. We need more information. Maybe a
Niko looked aghast. "With Nimrod?"
he didn't commit a crime in this." Zach gnawed at the words.
"He sold chips. But he hasn't the technology to test them,
or the skills to notice that they're fake ones. And investments
on Earth aren't illegal." He snorted. "As long as we
don't find an irregularity in his finances there are only the old
warrants for kidnaping." He snorted, frustrated, and
shrugged. "So Walsh's carte blanche for this job would cover
"The moment you
offer it you'll get a bunch of demands and no useful info at
all." Doc made a face at the idea. "You know the crook
problem, folks." He leaned back in his seat. "Any
behind Niko's seat, began to grin. "We can put Pussycat to
flew around to look warily at the ST. "I hope that wasn't a
suggestion to torture, Gooseman."
Gooseman grinned, "not that way."
do you mean then?" Fox asked with narrowed
quite qualify as a hero, does he? It's still more than four hours
till Tortuna. After that time he'll be grateful to help
"I won't touch
him. I promise." The ST held both hands up in plain sight.
"You can control me with GV and the boardcam if you
"What do you
have in mind?"
give the hunter an impression of being hunted."
[–:– LST] Ranger-1
came back with a paper mug of coffee and again took a seat on the
chair he'd pulled in front of the arrest cell onboard, stretched
his legs comfortably out, took a deep sip of coffee, leaned back
and looked with a relaxed but slightly predatory smile out of
half-closed eyes at the prisoner. Pussycat grows nervous even
faster than I thought.
Darghun lost his nerves: "Why do you sit there and stare at
me all the time?!" he scowled.
waiting." Goose said in a soft voice and took another sip of
captain to take a nap. And then..." his eyes wandered
suggestively across Nimrod's body and the predatory smile
deepened showing the tips of his fangs.
laughed out. "You're trying to bluff me! Forget it! You guys
have a name to defend. Your captain will never allow–"
simply smiled and sipped at his coffee. "I've got time."
[–:– LST] Ranger-1
ever thought that Goose can have such patience?" Doc sighed
and knocked a fast rhythm with his fingers on the console next to
seems to work, Doc. Nimrod has grown more and more restless
during the last hours." Niko looked at the screen across his
shoulder and shuddered slightly. "It's
indeed," Zachary agreed, "I just hope it leads to
something. We're reaching Tortuna in less than an hour. If he's
not finished by– There's the sign!" Gooseman on the
screen lay his head back against his folded hands. "Showtime!"
yawned while he entered the rear bay with the arrest cell.
"Gooseman. Are you still alert?"
ST gathered himself up quickly. "Sure, Captain. This isn't
exhausting in any way."
I'm going to take a nap while Doc scans Tortuna for this
Please! This– this monster is going to kill me if you
sleep–" Nimrod screamed inside the
grumbled impatiently. "He's a good officer." He patted
Goose on the shoulder and turned back for the door.
can show you where the factory is!"
captain stopped and turned slowly back to Nimrod. "And why
shall I trust you?" he asked in a slightly amused
"I'd do anything not
to be left alone with–"
Gooseman growled with flashing fangs at the Darghun who jumped
away from the forcefield.
Goose," Zach intervened. "So where is it, Nimrod? And
no games this time. I warn you." He looked from Nimrod to
the ST and back. "I really warn you."
real horror show," Doc said as Goose came back into the
Niko suppressed a
shudder. "Where did you learn this?" she
'Information procurement' was one of the courses." A cynical
half-grin flashed across his face and was gone when he looked at
her. After a moment he added in a harsh voice: "I hated
tried to ease the sudden tension. "To sit opposite people
till they lose their nerves?"
ST ground his teeth at that. "We also learned the
joined them in the cockpit. "It's an address on the main
street. Maybe fake. I can't remember anything around there where
chips could be produced."
should take Pussycat with us," the ST suggested and added
grinning: "For further reference."
you keep him under control out there?" Zach
Goose narrowed his eyes
at that, then nodded hesitantly. "Yes, I can."
[16:02 LST] Sorry End
right over there." Nimrod pointed at a nearly wrecked wooden
house that's appearance distinguished in nothing from that of the
ones around it. "I pick up the crates two times a
money handled?" Fox asked, muffled by his
it in the mailbox."
honest business it seems." Doc commented.
house is too small for the chips to be produced there."
Zachary frowned. "When's your next delivery day?"
really can't give that information aw–" The Darghun
began and finished hastily, "Tomorrow," as Gooseman
behind him growled deeply. "The crates always lay on the
sidewalk in front of the house."
crates there, now." Niko scanned the street quickly. "They
haven't been delivered yet."
it's likely that the delivery will be in the next hours,"
the captain concluded, "Okay, we'll wait and follow
"Hey, can I
leave now?" Nimrod spluttered. "I told you everything I
know. It's not wise to be seen with you guys – or Zanquils
– in this town."
snorted. "Forget it, Nimrod. We have no proof for your story
yet, and there are still the warrants for
Zach still hadn't got his calmness back, "watch him. If he
causes any trouble, I'm blind and deaf for ten
The ST grinned provocatively at the Darghun. "Come on. Make
at night is definitely not worth sightseeing." Niko muttered
and slung her arms in the thick Zanquil costume closer around
herself. "It stinks and it's cold."
do you tell?" Doc asked, shivering. "Holy Byte, they
have a dome up there and don't even try to heat it!"
up!" Gooseman at the corner snapped. "They're
"What do you
see?" Zachary asked, relying more on the ST's night vision
than on his night goggles.
troopers. Five. Second rate from how they move."
people. Let's get warm with some movements. Follow them."
[20:31 LST] Tortuna City – outside the tall dome –
near the landing platforms
look large enough to produce anything." Niko frowned behind
her night goggles, looking down onto the small building at the
socket of the landing platform above the abyss in which the five
crown troopers had vanished.
don't know how deep the facility reaches into the rock."
Zachary scanned the surroundings of the building. "There are
several huge ventilation installments. We have to go inside to be
believe that's a good idea..." Doc muttered.
ignored him. "Suggestions?"
are skylight towers on the first level roof." Goose studied
the building with narrowed eyes. "Low enough. I should be
able to hold Niko up so that she can get a look in there without
Zach didn't sound happy about the idea but agreed to its logic.
Neither he nor Doc were that likely to manage it unnoticed: Doc
wasn't athletic enough, and regarding himself, his bionics were –
unfortunately – a weight to be considered when planning to
move soundless on a roof. "Niko, can you get a reading
She shook her head.
"Not yet. But some of the Crown's forcefields are scattering
psionic signals slightly as you know. Maybe if I'm
"You go with
Goose. Just a short glance. Not more."
completely crazy. There's no way I'll participate in your suicide
attempts. I'm a hunter not a–" Nimrod
"Shut up, Pussycat.
Or I'll throw you through a window to see what's inside!"
the ST hissed. "Captain?"
like a standard crown facility," Niko whispered, "lots
of troopers, few workers, one or two slaverlords, a huge main
computer..." She stared concentrated through the
smoke-streaked skylight. "Nothing unus– Wait!
Gooseman grabbed her around the waist, pulled her off the
skylight tower and pressed her down onto the roof behind
hand covered her mouth, then she heard it, too: the roaring of
badly tuned glider engines quickly coming closer. She gave Goose
a sign with her eyes indicating that she understood and pressed
herself deeper into the shadows.
nodded. "What did you see?" She felt his breath at her
ear as he whispered.
She breathed back. "Feeling nervous. Expectant."
ST narrowed his eyes, looking down onto the on-coming glider.
"Because of their guests?"
The reason is close in time."
both watched the glider coming to a screeching halt in front of
the door below them. The doors swung open and a couple of
slaverlords floated out, escorting a way too familiar
"Now that's a
reason for Lazzie to be nervous." Goose grinned almost
thought that's a dog in ancient movies."
Lassie." He winked. "But it fits, too." She saw
his fangs flashing in the darkness. "Look, he's wagging
at his mummy." Niko suppressed a giggle. The Queen rushed
inside, ignoring Slade's explanations. The ST concentrated on his
eyesight and hearing. "The way back is free. Go. Tell 'em
what's going on."
are you going to do?"
the fly. – Lazzie always talks too much. Maybe we'll get
first hand information about what they plan for the future before
Doc's programs cause a little trouble at that mainframe in
She disappeared into the darkness.
Slade, what do you have to show Us, that you deemed impossible to
tell one of Our slaverlords?"
most gracious Highness–"
Slade! Or you'll be shorter in body height
I managed to increase the efficiency of Your chip production
facility by a hundred-forty-eight percent by using the
construction plans Your agents captured during the—"
said short! Not long and boring."
using the new plasma manufacturing line we will be able to build
more chips in less time."
to copy precisely the league safety signatures implanted in the
chip hulls. We will no longer need a back door to bring our chips
onto the Terrestrian market."
mean My chips." The Queen looked icily down from her
pedestal onto him. "And We are pleased that We are now able
to eliminate more of Earth's nasty personnel by hitting their
infrastructure from the inside. And We are grateful. You may
explain your improvements..." She made a generous hand
"As Your Highness
may see – the plasma is heated outside the building in the
huge tank and then lead to the assembly line by the covered pipes
You may see over there where they cross the walls and enter the
hall to be led..."
Zach nodded. "Sure. This case is surely his sort of
currently there. Goose is listening. He suggests using Doc's
programs because of the facility's extended computer
"Makes sense. A direct attack under these circumstances
would be suicide. Doc?"
a moment, I sent Lifeline to spy on the comps..."
never send me to nice places, Docco!= The pale-green sparkle
appeared out of the darkness. =Always these ugly fourth-choice
the comp scheme."
The image popped up.
engines are directly controlled by the comps, Zach. No human
monitoring device." The hacker began to grin, "I can
mess up the whole system, with a little luck even cause physical
damage with the malfunctions in the machines themselves before
they get to know about it. Shall I?"
but allow Goose to leave before the whole house blows
"Okay, I'll send
Pathfinder over to him."
Mr. Muscle comes soon!" Doc muttered, double-checking his
readings on the holographic display above his CDU. "Lifeline,
Tripwire, and Pathfinder are almost finished and at the first
button press after that all hell will break loose down
ahead and warm up the engines for an emergency start. We'll
surely have to get out of here fast. And don't forget to prepare
the arrest cell. We still have a guest," he added with a
look at Nimrod squatting next to them. "Doc, are you sure
that they won't be able to produce any more of these chips when
your programs are finished?"
sure as I remember my lessons in politeness at–" Three
program sparkles appeared out of the dark and buzzed into the
holographic display. "Pathfinder. Did you inform
=Yes. As you
rolled his eyes. At Zach's questioning look: "Never again a
Di-D movie festival!"
Captain." Nimrod tried it again. "You sure see that I
kept my word and now that your beastmaster–"
silent." Fox snapped and continued in a voice as threatening
as he could manage. "And in case you didn't notice: I am
Ranger Gooseman's commanding officer! Maybe you should try to
imagine how I do that!" The Darghun jerked back at
that. Zachary sighed and shook his head. "He really gets on
my nerves." He looked at his chrono. "Where's
here, Captain." He shrugged. "Sorry I'm late. Short
that." Zach ordered sharply. "Back to the ship. And
look after Puss– –ahem –
With a broad grin:
The ST stopped dead as they reached the open, blast-glassed
ground between the actual foot of the rocks and the next ragged
wall of the glassed impact crater where they'd hid the
of the galaxy!" Doc whispered regarding the company of crown
soldiers between them and Ranger-1.
Niko get through?" Zach asked, scanning the rocks near the
crater through his binoculars with narrowed eyes.
narrowed his eyes, watching their opponents. "The troopers
are too calm for them to have a captive or a casualty among
"Yes, but was
she able to reach the ship?"
she's invisible and can fly–" Doc muttered
Goose growled, concentrating even more.
imposs– MRRMPF" The ST pressed his gloved hand across
his mouth, nearly strangling him.
He released Doc from his grip, who coughed and panted, as he
finally could fill his lungs with air again. "Ranger-1's
there." Zach concluded. "Good. Once we left the rocks
she can cover us with the onboard weapons." He looked ahead,
checked his weaponry briefly, and took a deep breath. "Your
preferred method, Goose. The crown troopers hear the engines,
Doc stuttered, hands defiantly raised. "Don't
no way but ahead!" The ST grinned.
not that stupid!!" Nimrod hastened back, jumped to the side
and ducked between the rocks.
turned for the Darghun, but Zach held him back. "Leave him.
The crown troopers hear the engines, too. We can't waste time to
bastard knows that." the ST ground his teeth.
know the crook. He's like a bad penny: he'll turn up again,"
Doc mentioned, "and it spares us the paper
Rangers. "Zach threw a final glance at the crown soldiers
and released the safety switch of his blasters before he barked
the last word into his wrist com. "Go!" The engines of
Ranger-1 roared up. Niko lifted the vessel in record time, howled
it at eye's height across the valley ground, whirling up huge
clouds of glass dust that covered their way better than most of
the weapons fire could have done. They almost had to fight only
if one of the crown soldiers accidentally ran into them while
they followed mostly the sound of the familiar
came to a staggering halt as a crown trooper four heads larger
than he was appeared less than two steps in front of him. "Where
did they find this one?"
matter." Goose growled beside the hacker, "He's..."
he kicked the trooper in the groin and knocked him over with his
elbow crashing against the chest armor while he was already
running on, "...in the way."
excuse him." Doc made a huge step across the fallen trooper.
"He didn't have enough sleep today..." He followed
"Gods, where's Tom
Selleck when he's needed?"
him," Goose growled. "We need a Magnum."
out!" The ST grabbed Doc's collar and pulled him back before
he could slam into Ranger-1's lower hull. "The boarding
platform is more left."
leaped on board, just behind them, slammed his hand on the lock
and barked over board com. "All in! Lift off."
Zachary. Already done," came Niko's reply.
[22:13 LST] Ranger-1
the last time, my Goose man, I did not cry 'mommy' when
the three troopers trapped me against that rock!"
yes, you did. You were pale as a ghost, Doc!"
was the dust sticking in my face!"
to it by your cold sweat!"
you two please stop that?" Zachary intervened. "Don't
you dare to tell me that either of you could understand anything
outside in that noise!"
least they won't produce any working chips in that factory from
now on." Doc pulled the Zanquil-disguise off and smoothed
his uniform shirt. At Zach's questioning look: "My tweakers
restructured their mainframe a little."
don't think they'll produce anything in that factory from now
on." Goose next to them said dryly and pointed through the
lock's window at Tortuna City, becoming smaller and smaller while
Ranger-1 rushed away from Tortuna's gravitation well to enter
hyperspace soon. The big flower of a powerful explosion bloomed
next to the landing platforms. Smaller light domes appeared one
after another in what seemed to be a row of tunnel entrances into
Zachary saw it, too.
"What did you do?!"
that plasma line Lazzie was so proud of." He grinned. "He
told me about it while he bragged to Queenie about his advanced
systems. Not good to bore me."
shook his head.
think the Queen or Slade were still at the facility when it
exploded?" Niko's voice came via board com.
Goose leaned back and reloaded his weapons before holstering them
again. "That would have been thirty minutes."
Niko asked back at that.
nobody can stand Lazzie talking for half an hour without
being bored to death."
[22:26 LST] unnamed one-person-spaceship racing out of Tortunan
my dearest Queen..." the man in the narrow cockpit sighed
and continued his self-conversation. "What nasty advisers
you have, accusing me, your greatest fan, of treason and
sabotage..." he shook his head. "I will continue in my
adoration. And I will regain your gratitude..." He threw a
look at the rearview display. "As long as you don't catch me
until you've had time to calm down, and I, to regain your
gratitude by proving that I'm the greatest scientist throughout
this galaxy. – Newton," he addressed the onboard AI,
"set course for Mesa."
you wish, my lord and master.=
Cmdr. Walsh's Office
work, Captain Fox." Walsh put the first report down and
looked at the four S5's standing in line in front of his desk.
"The production facility at Tortuna is destroyed, the plans
of the Queen are known and the targeted businesses warned in case
some of the chips escaped the destruction. Well done." His
glance stopped at Fox. "I give you permission to inform your
contacts at PPD about the results, Captain. Do it as soon as
arranged to meet with Lieutenant Clint, our contact from PPD,
this afternoon, Sir."
commented that with a raised brow but didn't say anything about
it. Zach's team wasn't that graceful after they left the office.
"So you gonna have a date, chief?" Doc asked, grinning.
"I'm shocked, Sir." He put a hand in theatrical gesture
over his heart. "You know this woman for less than a month
and you already–"
Zachary clenched his bionic hand and released it slowly to
tighten his patience. "I'm meeting Lieutenant Clint for
coffee to tell her the result of our investigations.
you tell that to Lt. Clint already? In your shoes I
wouldn't be so sure about her motives..."
I smell a new aftershave, Zach?" Niko asked with an innocent
smile. "Or is it just the fresh cleaned uniform?"
aftershave," Goose at her side confirmed. "I know the
difference to detergent."
grunted and increased his speed muttering something about
'unbearably nosy special forces personnel' and vanished around
the next corner.
worry, folks," Doc rubbed his hands grinning in eager
expectation, "I'll convince GV to tell us when he comes home
Niko grinned. "Everything past 18:00 is
he's alone. His kids are on a class trip, remember?"
you think you're going too far with violating
you want to tell me you don't want to know?"
Coogan's Cafe – Downtown Phoenix
scanned the cafe for the second time when a slender woman in red
raised her hand in greeting. "Over here, Captain
Clint. I didn't recognize you for a moment wearing a dress."
He took a seat on the second chair.
seldom get to wear it in my job. Usually, I wear it to knock
Martyn off balance." She grinned. "He tends to forget
that his partner is a woman."
to believe." He raised the hand to signal the
"Not for Martyn."
She shook her head. "I almost believed you wouldn't come at
pretty difficult to come at all. – A coffee, black,"
he told the waiter and asked Lt. Clint what she wanted to
The waiter noted
their orders and left. "My team had one of its weirder days
She raised a
the moment they believe us to have a date."
is that so impossible?" she asked in a soft voice.
pulled his gloves off and laid them aside to make place for the
tablet that was just brought, revealing in passing the gold ring
on his right hand. "Yes, I'm afraid it is."
meant more their weird abilities than their weird ideas,
Captain," she said after an odd moment as she took her
cappuccino over to her.
her an amused smile. "Well, that's no problem. I'm part
She made a face. "Is there anything more to step in that
slipped my attention so far?"
laughed faintly. "You haven't accused me of being Wheiner's
election manager. So it can't be that bad. Aside from that... No,
you couldn't arrest any of the responsible villains?" Nanata
sighed and stirred her cooled down cappuccino.
shrugged. "We destroyed the production facility and a great
part of their storage. Their import line is closed, their dealer
on the run. In our job it's considered a success,
She corrected with a smile.
Nanata. Our operation eliminated the threat for the moment and
gave BETA and the BWL the time to set up prevention measurements
in case something similar is tried again."
to be a pretty frustrating job. I've at least got the pleasure of
seeing my crooks thrown into the slammer for a couple of years
from time to time..."
of our customers are there as well." Zachary said dryly.
"But just not all."
do you tell that? But especially in this case I'd like to see the
crook put into an iceblock!" she snorted. "We ended up
with 2963 deaths and more than 4000 people wounded in and around
Phoenix. The knowledge that those villains can't go on is great,
is important." She slammed her hand next to her cup onto the
table. "But it's damned unsatisfactory!"
herself. "Please excuse my temper in this case. I tend to
take it too personally because my daughter got scratched when the
first droids went mad."
daughter. She lives with her father." She swallowed the rest
of her cappuccino and put the cup down.
divorced," she explained roughly. "He was... too
home-bound, too... inflexible in his daily schedule, you know all
this 'my home is my castle' thing... to be able to cope with my
job. It worked while I was a detective, but with the higher rank
there was more work, changing shifts and more night
trouble brought home with you in the evening."
He could cope with it and even support me a while, but in the end
his exact daily schedule won." She shrugged in fatalism.
"Angela's like him. She's happy there with him and his
for you. How old is she?"
sighed. "She's twelve. I get to see her every second
fourteen, and Jessie, my daughter, is eleven." He showed her
the tiny holos.
She smiled at
the pictures. "Nice. – I wish I could show you a
picture of her, but it's in my other wallet..."
Zach knocked with his lightpen on his datapad, working on the
in-depth report. "Do you remember how many droids we
destroyed in that house at Jefferson
you sure? I thought there were seven."
ST leaned back in his seat. "I needed eight shots. Eight
shots. Eight droids."
shook his head. "Why did I ask?"
Niko entered the room, a package under her arm. She tossed it
over to him.
He looked up. "For
she smiled. "I won't give someone else's present to
He tore open the
bright colored paper and exposed an alarm clock with a funny
shaped box beneath it. He turned it around. "I already got a
new clock, Niko."
not like this one," she said earnestly. "Activate the
alarm and put it on your desk." He did it. "Shoot
it, Shane. Believe me, it's okay to do it."
shrugged and obeyed. A blue sparkling field appeared around the
clock when the blaster bolt hit its target. The alarm level
increased considerably when the weapon energy was absorbed. "Hey.
Great!" He laughed out and fired again. The bell reached an
almost painful noise level. "No more reprimands for killed
clocks in the future!"
it off!" She shouted across the noise. When he did it, a
tiny LED-panel extended above the clock. A =10.0= blinked with
bright red numbers. "Your score for accuracy."
collapsed into his chair, uncontrollably laughing.
techs at SHoD's
– formerly Dormin's – labs had a lot of fun
constructing it," she explained, grinning, at her Captain's
to S. 'Trivia' Blank for her help with English.