One moment, Robert Colclough is aboard a shuttle that’s plummeting toward the uncaring sands of Demaria. The next, he’s light years away, emerging from a swirling blue portal onto the deckplates of a Consortium Intelligence outpost hidden among the wrecked hulls of the Line of Pain.
He links his HUD to the local computer system and data archives to confirm the location, then mumbles to himself: “Well, at least it’s not Nalhom.”
Whiptail stumbles through the portal, a bit confused. “Where in tarnation are we now?”
The Cliffwalker rises from the deck where he landed, one paw going to a queasy stomach. He looks around at the walls, and any screens thereupon. “A Consortium station,” he says, shaking his head to get his bearings.
“Listening post, to be precise,” Colclough replies with a tight smile as he looks around their arrival chamber – a rather cramped place, dimly lit, with no windows in the bulkheads and just one hatch leading deeper into the station.
A disembodied voice speaks via intercom: “Um, welcome aboard?”
Colclough offers a feeble wave at the ceiling. “Hi.”
“Heard you might be coming,” the voice says wearily.
“Sorry, unannounced and all.”
“Yes,” the voice agrees. “Visit won’t be long, I’m afraid.”
“Oh?” He looks toward Razorback and Whiptail. Sheepish smile. Then back at the ceiling: “Not even time to hit the head? Long trip, after all.”
“Won’t need to worry about your bladder in the vacuum of space,” the voice replies.
“Ah,” Colclough says.
“Let me get this straight in muh head here… so we done survived bumbler herdin’ and assassins, managed to escape a buncha zombified folks, and now we’re gonna get spaced?” Whiptails says, looking over to Razorback. “I shoulda charged muh standard rate.” he says, a bit of a toothy grin. “Well, I’ll say one thang, if this is the end of the road, I cain’t say it was borin’.”
Razorback watches the exchange between Colclough and the disembodied voice with a growing lack of patience. “We shall see,” the Cliffwalker says Whiptail with a growl, storming towards the hatch.
The hatch remains shut – and the bulkheads pull apart and upward around the chamber, exposing the trio inside to the vacuum of space…
…and into a tractor beam that hauls them aboard a waiting Nall warship, just before it opens fire on the listening post, destroying the base.
Colclough, Whiptail, and Razorback soon find themselves gasping for air and shivering to regain heat as they spill onto the damp deckplates of a misty chamber illuminated by green plasma lanterns.
Whiptail finds himself blown into space, his face thrown into a rictus of surprise, with just enough consciousness in those valuable seconds before suffocation to notice the tractor beam. Once they are deposited into the Nall ship, he collapses to the floor, gasping heavily for breath, his ears throbbing from the attempt of the pressure inside trying to blow out his ear drums. As soon as he is able he struggles to one arm, and looks about the room. He takes a deep sniff of the air, and frowns with a low growl. “It’s been a spell, but I know the smell of Nall.”
The Cliffwalker seems even more frustrated when he feels the deckplates beneath him, more so when his lungs first new breath of air is filled with the scent of Nall. He is too busy trying to oxygenate his bloodstream to say much, but a certain level of impotent rage seems building behind his eyes.
“That’s…lucky,” are the first words Colclough manages to rasp out as he finds his breath again, rolling onto his back on the deck and staring up at the ceiling.
Whiptail collapses to the floor again, painfully rolling onto his back. “I dunno what book yer readin’, but gettin’ captured by those scaley sonuvabitches ain’t what I’d call lucky.”
“Luckier than dying in space,” Razorback growls, struggling to rise to his footpaws. His ears are laid flat, his tail brushed out to twice its normal width. He takes measure of their surroundings, knowing that there are enemies aplenty nearby.
A hatch opens. Into the chamber steps a reptiloid warrior in black metal armor, cradling a plasma rifle. She’s accompanied by four more warriors, similarly armed.
“We did not expect you quite sssso sssssoon,” the lead warrior says as she glowers down at Colclough. “If we had arrived ssssecondssss later, you would be dead.”
He pulls himself slowly to his feet, brushing droplets of water from his pant leg. He glances toward Razorback and says, “Perhaps I *did* know where that portal would lead.” A thin smile, then he returns his attention to the Nall. He bows his head in deference. “Ur’Huluth Iktha of Hatch Kavir, allow me to introduce my companions: Whiptail and Razorback.”
Whiptail narrows his eyes a bit. “Just what in tarnation is goin’ on here?” he says, quite confused.
The Cliffwalker does his best to keep his claws sheathed for now, and his paws decidedly away from the short swords at his waist. He glances over at Whiptail, his ears flicking back and forth a bit. “I am certain that all will be revealed in due course,” he says, straightening up. He doesn’t intend to tower over their new “hosts”, but …
“We are even now, you and I,” Ikthakavir replies to Colclough, before shifting her gaze between the two Demarians. “The debt issss paid once I have delivered you to…where, exactly?”
The human answers: “Odari, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. I have resources there that could provide further assistance.”
“Odari,” the Nall repeats. “Very well. Go no further than thisss chamber. Thessse guardsss will open fire if provoked.”
With that, she turns to depart the chamber through the waiting hatchway. Her contingent of warriors remains with Colclough and friends.
Whiptail looks even more bewildered. “Ok.. so.. we ain’t dyin’. Yet..” he says, glancing to Razorback. “But this ain’t no wranglin’ mission now, so what’s the story here, Colclough?”
Razorback nods to Whiptail. Satisfied that he does not need to enter combat just this second, he moves to the wall opposite the guards and slides down into a seated position. He keeps a wary ear on the Nall as he looks expectantly at Colcough. “Indeed, he growls, “I am most interested to hear just what debt a Nall Captain incurred with you. And why someone on a Consortium installation would eject you into space.”
Colclough leans against a bulkhead before regarding his companions and offering a reply. “Ikthakavir was implicated in the defection of a Nall physicist who worked in the Clawed Fist Fleet weapons division. I helped extricate her from that particularly dangerous situation.” A brief silence, then: “As for your other question, I truly hope to gain some clarity after we arrive on Odari. But if what I suspect is true, something has gone horribly wrong in my agency.”
Whiptail nods slowly. “I kin see how that thar would get ya on her good side.” he says, finding a bulkhead of his own to settle down against. “If this here adventure we’ve bin sucked inta is any sign, this problem yer talkin’ ’bout is gonna put the hurt on the whole dang Consortium.”
The Cliffwalker opens his mouth to ask more, then glances over at the guards and thinks better of it. “For now,” he says, “It would seem that there is no need to further belabor the point of how we still live, nor discuss in too much detail our plans for the future. I’m sure that when we reach our destination, all will become more clear.”