Mars, the Next Front Ear.
Chapter 38: A Crystal Horse for Troy.

     “Are we definitely going through with this?” Del Touron, a cyberneticly enhanced clone and one of the minor officers of the Raiders clan asked Kazmak from the back of the room as Kazmak strutted in front of the assembled company of officers aboard his new cruiser with his chief enforcer, Killdan, standing to one side.
     “Did you get paid?” Kazmak didn’t even break his stride.
     “Yeah, I got the advance.” Del Touron replied hesitantly, not wanting to get on Kazmak’s wrong side.
     “And your troops?” Kazmak toyed with Del Touron.
     “Them too.” By now Del Touron realised she’d asked a stupid question.
     “And when we get paid to do a job…” Kazmak prompted Del Touron.
     “We do it.” Del Touron answered the question for Kazmak.
     “But it’s Earth Fed’s dirty work.” Another officer complained.
     Kazmak stopped in his tracks, turned to face his officers and placed his hand on the hips of his ex-sexbot mech legs to sternly face down any murmur of dissent in his ranks. “You heard the deal. We get Troy. You want to pass up on that?” Kazmak made it clear by the tone of his voice that only a fool would turn down the opportunity to rule over all the Overlordz clans.
     “The Gearhedz are a mech clan. They ain’t gonna be affected by this stuff.” Zak-To, a heavily armoured manbot mech officer pointed out. “And what about the mechs in the other clans there? We’re going to have one helluva fight on our hands.”
     “We’ve got remote neutralisers that’ll shut them down.” Kazmak countered Zak-To’s very genuine concern. Neutralisers were battlefield equivalents of the riot-control shutdown unit the Earth Fed troopers deployed during the Montgomery riots and orders of magnitude more powerful.
     “More Earth Fed crap.” Someone griped from back in the ranks.
     ““Come on Kazmak.” Zak-To was unconvinced. “The Gearhedz are going to be case-hardened. We are and they’ve got better kit than any of us.”
     “They work just fine.” Killdan shouted them down. “I tested them back at Hellas. I even managed to conceal one inside my frame. We’ll need volunteers for that if we’re going to deploy these neutralisers in a meaningful way.” He pointed back at Zak-To. “A chance to earn some kudos too.”
     “And what about these shields you gave us?” Raktak-Kan, another mech officer, raised his voice. “More Earth Fed junk. How do we know they even work?”
     “Yeah, yeah…. We tested them too. I have to use one for my legs.” Kazmak was getting tired of their griping. “Look, it’s all the latest Earth Fed mil-spec gear. You’ve got a choice: use them or sit it out until we switch off the neutralisers. And if you sit it out, you don’t get a place at the table when we cut the deals. Either way, we’re using those neutralisers. If we don’t, Troy will be so full of holes when the shooting’s over it would never hold an atmosphere. And in case you forgot, it isn’t us fleshies need to breathe that air. You mechs need it to dump all that heat your bodies pump out.”
     Kazmak went on to outline the story to tell their troops: Deliver the crystals as per usual, get paid and maybe spend a few days there before heading back to Hellas. Only the officers were to know their strategic plan to position troops to be in place when the Floxetrasine to took hold. After that, activate the neutralisers and secure Troy.
     “How will know when it’s released?” Jack Franche, a rangy human with a shock of orange hair that failed to hide the tattoos on his scalp, quizzed Kazmak.
     “You’ll know all right.” Kazmak laughed “The stuff smells of old socks.”
     “We don’t have noses.” Raktak-Kan pointed out the obvious.
     “You’ll just have to team up with a fleshie.” Kazmak cavilled. “We have our uses, after all.”
     “Use a buddy system the whole time.” Killdan loyally backed up Kazmak. “Every one of us mechs teams up with a fleshie. Stick together and don’t get distracted.” He let Kazmak finish the briefing.
     Kazmak addressed his officers. “Remember what happened back at Hellas? I lost my sister that night and a lot of good friends.” He stared into the stony serious eyes of his officers and held up a detector bead. “Make sure everyone has one and if they start glowing red to get back to the ship immediately. Avoid contact with anyone who’s infected. Everyone and I mean everyone will be tested upon return. God help anyone who tests positive, because we’ll have to kill them to protect the rest of us.”
     “Susie Komorra’s done a great job working them into bracelets.” Kazmak lightened the mood. “Everyone gets one and make sure you check it regularly.” He reached into a box and casually tossed samples to his officers who looked sceptically at their new-found gifts. “Now… when that gas is released and the neutralisers go live there will be survivors. Give them one chance to join us if they want to live, otherwise off them. No second chances. Round up as many techies as you can. We’re gonna need them if we’re ever going to take control of the systems at Troy. Otherwise we’re just sitting on an empty shell.”
     “Be unobtrusive and get everyone in place. Make sure they’re tooled up with as much ammo as they can carry. You’re going to need it. Give them some bullshit story about putting on a show of strength to earn respect from the spaceside clans or some crap like that. Keep ‘em on a tight leash and try not to let your troops wander off.” Kazmak strutted in front of his officers as he wrapped up the briefing. “If anyone has any trouble or anyone out there gets suspicious, get back to the ship immediately. We’ve got one shot at this and the element of surprise on our side. So far. They’ve probably heard about what we did at Hellas by now but ain’t expecting it to happen to them. It’s going to be chaos when it hits. Our advantage is that we’re organised and have a plan. They’ll be on the back foot the whole time. If things go seriously wrong get your troops back to the ship and we’ll sit things out from a safe distance. We’ve got twenty neutralisers to deploy and I expect to see at least that many mech volunteers in depot bay within the hour. Dismissed.”
     After the officers left the ready room Killdan turned to Kazmak: “The Shin-Tan and Valeris clans have the same type of ship as us and if they come after us we’re screwed. There’s no guarantee that they’ll have any of these crystals. Their crews might not be affected.”
     “We’ll see if the shields they said this ship has are any good.” Kazmak shrugged his shoulders fatalistically.
     “Helluva time to find out.” Killdan was beginning to wonder if he would get out of this caper alive.
      “We’re in too deep now, Killdan.” Kazmak confessed unhappily. “That freak really got the drop on us. Could’ve killed us all back at Fort Melchisor. It’s freaky the way she controlled that place. I don’t know what she is but whatever it is, she ain’t human. That’s for sure.”

     When they arrived at Troy, they were greeted by the sight of not only two battle cruisers similar to Kazmak’s parked up alongside it but also another sleek dark and dangerous looking ship that floated ominously over Troy. Like Metropole One, Troy was a giant wheel generating its internal gravity through rotation. Unlike Metropole One, Troy was heavily armed and armoured with railgun, laser and maser turrets at regular intervals along its dark sparsely-lit ring.
     “Things ain’t lookin’ so good, boss.” Killdan sized up the situation.
     “We deliver the crystals.” Kazmak didn’t rate their chances now that he could see what they were up against. It was one thing bragging to Psy back on Mars and taking hir money. It was quite something else to act on it. “If those crystals do what the freak claims, then we move into action, otherwise we get paid and get the hell out of dodge before anyone else gets infected.”
     “Sounds like a plan to me.” Killdan half-heartedly agreed. They had little choice but to deliver the crystals. Kazmak had been bragging to the Shin-Tan top dons about this shipment of live Psionic Crystals for over a month. If they turned around without delivering their credibility would be shot forever. “I hope we get out of this alive.”
     “We will, but there will be casualties.” Kazmak replied grimly. “Let’s keep them as low as possible. We took one helluva hit back at Hellas and we’re already low on numbers.” Kazmak turned his attention to his crew who were negotiating their berth with the docking crew at Troy. Everything seemed routine as they unloaded the container laden with living Psionic crystals. So far, so good… now to wait and see if that Earth Fed freak was up to her word. He could hear the crew’s cheers ringing round the ship from his ready room as he announced shore leave over the intercom with a stern reminder that each squad was to stick together and only allowed out in shifts so that the ship was manned and ready to go at all times.
     Tony Rainier, a burly shaven-headed Shin-Tan don with a replacement cybernetic eye, popped up on the ready room viewscreen holding up a chunk of live Psionic crystal the size of his own head. “Nice haul, Kazmak! Our buyers are very impressed. One more shipment like that and you’ll have paid off on your ship.”
     “You’ve got a deal.” Kazmak bragged idly as he held up his glass of whiskey to toast Tony’s offer. If things went to plan that was one promise he’d never have to keep. “We still need a refuel and our regular payment.”
     “Sure, you’ve earned it.” Tony was grudgingly genial as he signed off. “See you inside.”
     “What do you think?” Kazmak asked Killdan.
     “He knows. He looked pretty nervous to me.” Killdan replied confidently. “He can’t mention it because that would give away the fact that they have informers in our clan. So he has to pretend everything’s fine.”
     “So do we.” Kazmak added bleakly. “He’s probably set up a trap.”
     “We go in with a squad for backup. If they turn on us, I’m going to use this neutraliser.” Killdan patted his chest where it had been installed. “That ought to put the odds in our favour if we have to shoot our way out.”
     “Are you sure? I’ve got my negotiating belt.” Kazmak shrugged his shoulders and resigned himself to the inevitable. If the Shin-Tan tried to kill him, he’d make sure he took of them with him. He’d wear his explosive ‘negotiating’ belt that was keyed to his neural and cardiac activity. If either or both stopped, it would go off, killing anyone around him. He was rather proud of it. It was one of his few creations and it had served him admirably over the years. It never ceased to amaze him how people would change their tune when faced with the prospect of instant annihilation. It was a risky card to play but so far no-one had ever called his bluff. He’d seen what had happened to his troops and his sister and would rather kill himself than end up like that.
     “It would give them something to do.” Kazmak offered. “On top of that, you’ll need backup if those crystals go off when we’re on Troy. It’s going to be like Hellas all over again.”
     “Except this time we’ll probably have to kill the survivors.” Kazmak poured himself another glass of whiskey and knocked it back in one. “Let’s see what cards lady luck plays for us today.”

     Kazmak stepped out of the walkway tube onto docking bay concourse with Killdan and his squad behind him. It looked the same as last time: hard industrial decking with Mordellon clan insignia plastered all over it. The Mordellon clan controlled the docking bays. This time instead of being greeted by the usual sneering banter of a superior space-faring clan pulling rank on a lower dirtside clan, they were met by a hushed silence as all the Mordellon clan deckhands kept their distance.
     Kazmak didn’t like the look of this and decided to bluff his way out. “Hey, it’s great to be back. We have got a shipment of crystals like you’ve never seen! A mother lode of live crystals. Yes!!!” He triumphantly punched the air.
     “Uh, yeah, sure thing, Kazmak.” One of the deckhands replied cautiously. ”We heard all about it.”
     Kazmak didn’t dare ask whether the deckhand meant the crystals or what happened at Hellas. By the looks of their faces he could tell that they already knew but were too afraid to let on, so he kept up the pretence. “Drinks and virals for everyone when we get paid! It’s party time.”
     Killdan kept pace alongside Kazmak as he led the way across the docking bay towards the Shin-tan clan’s sector and spoke quietly to him. “They know, boss.”
     “Yeah.” Kazmak agreed under his breath. “Let’s get the money and get out of here before its gets weird.” He marched on, weaponising his fixed grin and breezy manner in a futile attempt to reassure the residents of Troy that everything was all right and that it was great to pay tribute to the successful space pirates of Troy. He recognised that hopeless yet defiant look of someone about to be executed in their faces. They knew. And the glowing detector bead on his armband that he saw as he waved to them told him that they were all infected and doomed to die.
     But he had to maintain the pretence so he cheerily greeted any Mordellon he recognised. It was the same again as they marched through the Outlander clan’s sector and the Camorra clan’s more urbane sector reflecting their greater wealth and status.
     The Shin-Tan’s sector felt more like an understatedly opulent high-class hotel compared to the rest of Troy with its spacious atrium decorated with trees and fountains. Here they barely even gave Kazmak and his posse more than an occasional cursory nod of recognition which suited Kazmak just fine. Once again, his detector bead revealed that all the Shin-Tan were infected. Kazmak looked around drinking up the refined luxury of his surroundings and decided that he’d make this sector his personal quarters after they took over. If it happened… he savoured the though for a moment before coming back to the more pressing reality of getting paid and getting the hell out before the shit hit the fan. The more he saw of Troy, the less he fancied his chances of surviving the chaos following a release of floxetrasine. They damn near had a fatal shootout at Hellas when he released the gas there… and everyone was one the same side there. Never mind the squabbles between the clans here at Tory. Here they were they outsiders with precious little of even a toehold. Everyone would shoot at them.
     The easy chatter amongst the platoon Killdan had mustered to accompany them had given way to a dark foreboding. They too wore armbands with detector beads and were all too aware that everyone they’d encountered so far was infected and grew uneasy as they waited by a fountain in a spacious garden atrium. They didn’t have to wait long. A minor don approached Kazmak to escort him and Killdan to meet Biskek, the Shin-Tan don.
     Ventnor-9, an armoured manbot mech in their platoon looked around as Kazmak and Killdan walked off. Out here they were sitting ducks. At regular intervals along the three overhanging balconies he could see shaven-headed Shin-Tan initiates wearing their formal high-collared cloaks gazing down silently at them. He assumed they kept their pulse rifles hidden under their cloaks and looked around at ground level to see what easy cover there might be if things got weird and advised the other squaddies to do likewise.
     Being a mech he was able to transmit his message to the other two mechs and four humans by their encrypted channel. The mechs received Ventnor’s message internally and humans got it straight into their headsets so even if the Shin-Tan were monitoring them closely they would never have overheard his warning to the other squaddies.
     “My detector bead is glowing like a hot tamale!” KevTen, another Raider mech in their squad joked over the comms. “And I’m not even a fleshie!”
     Outwardly they remained nervously silent; their backs together as they surveyed their surroundings looking for whatever cover they could scope out while the Shin-Tan initiates stared menacingly back down at them.

     Their squad had to wait outside when Kazmak and Killdan were ushered into Biskek the Executioner’s inner sanctum, a womb of plush maroon velvet, gold-and-bronze trim and soft embedded lighting. A wall of sound and body heat, music from five different streams meshing together as a wall of sound and the musk of human passion hit them as they walked in. Bodies clothed, barely covered and naked fucking, sucking, writhing sensually and brutally, draped over the furniture, lying on the floor, standing up against a wall and running around. Passion and lust let loose and gone wild. You could tell someone’s rank on whether they were fucking a sexbot, a clone or a real human: the lowest-ranked had to do with sexbots. Next up the ladder had the clones and the top ranked had the real humans for their pleasures and kinks.
     Though they were very chauvinistic with few women working their way up through the ranks. the Shin-Tan eschewed the rough quasi-militarism of the other Overlordz clans for an almost cult-like existence. A life of near-monastic severity for the initiates and increasing access to the pleasures of life as they worked their ways up the ranks and Biskek enjoyed flaunting the pleasures of his high rank at the head of the Shin-Tan clan.
     In the middle of this chaotic orgy swirling around him, Biskek the Executioner reclined on a sofa with a scantily-clad woman on each side, obvious sex-slave clones, fussing over him. One toyed with the stringy ponytail that grew down from Biskek’s mostly-bald head, the other ran her fingers in patterns massaging oil into Biskek’s muscular but age and wealth softened bare chest. Behind them stood five stony-faced goons in immaculate grey Shin-Tan suits. The coffee table in front of them was strewn with glowing Psionic Crystals taken from their latest haul.
     On one side of the coffee table Tony Rainier leaned forward to pick up a crystal while a lithe young male sex slave caressed Tony’s back with his hands and genetically-enhanced cock. He held out the crystal to greet Kazmak and Killdan but said nothing in deference to Biskek.
     Kazmak hadn’t noticed it at first, what with the muted lighting in the reception room, but when he saw it his stomach almost turned to jelly and would have lost his pace had he not his mech legs doing the walking for him. It was one of them! At the coffee table! A Gulmarian! What all those people back at Hellas turned into when the gas hit them. Except this one was alive and toying with one of the glowing crystals in its pincer-like claws, its dark shiny chitinous face illuminated by the crystal’s soft organic glow. It glanced briefly at Kazmak and Killdan with its expressionless triangular purple eyes and then turned its attention back to the crystal.
     Killdan could not only see that the Shin-Tan goons only carried pistols but could also, unlike Kazmak, see the infra-red targeting lasers leading back to automated laser rifles embedded in the reception room walls that tracked them across the room. That was totally like that Shin-Tan. Implied menace was always their style.
Biskek lifted one of his arms off his concubines to give Kazmak a somewhat bored imperial wave. “Excellent work!” He did his best to sound authoritative in spite of a deep wheeze in his voice. “Our buyers are very impressed with your latest haul.”
     The Gulmarian turned to face Kazmak and help up a crystal in its pincer claws. “Yes-s-s-s. Excellent crystals-s-s-s-s.” It hissed in its breathy voice.
     “Hey, that’s great! Kazmak sweated with panic and faked cheer. If his lower intestines and bowels hadn’t been replaced with a cybernetic waste processing unit, he would have just crapped himself. Instead he kept going and clasped his hands together. “So, uh, we’ll get paid and be on our way.”
     “What’s the hurry?” Biskek was in a generous mood and spun a psionic crystal around in the palm of his open hand. “Bring in another shipment of these babies and you’ll have paid off your bond on that shiny new ship of yours. Loosen up, bro. It’s party time!”
     “Yeah, sure.” Kazmak just about managed a nervous smile as he glanced over at Killdan for support. “I still need to pay my crew and refuel.”
     “Tony will sort you out on that.” Biskek grandly assured Kazmak. “Quit worrying.”
     The heavy with incense and musk of human passion masked the unmistakable smell of the Floxetrasine and Kazmak didn’t notice it at first as it wafted into Biskek’s orgy rooms. The Psionic crystal had activated itself as soon as the Gulmarian picked it up and opened up a micro gateway to Ghrawkli’s distant laboratory letting its lethal gas flood through. The first Kazmak knew of it was when the Gulmarian leapt up twitching and screeching “Betrayal!” as light blue froth seeped out of its spiracles. It collapsed to the floor dead, its eyes clouded over as everyone looked on agog. Biskek and his lieutenants spun into action, weapons drawn, looking for the source of the attack until the gas found them with its lethal consequences leaving them as dying Gulmarian corpses twitching their last spasms on the floor.
     Killdan altered the troops waiting outside that the game was now on before the Shin-Tan had time to activate their defensive EM dampening fields. He activated the neutralisers they’d smuggled aboard Troy. Things had moved so fast the he hadn’t had time to deploy his and it went off from where it was hidden inside his frame. He sagged and leaned on Kazmak for support as his shield struggled to protect him from the neutraliser’s continuous assault of EMP pulses. That stopped all the mechs in their vicinity.
     Kazmak set Killdan right on his feet and looked around. It had only taken seconds and the reception rooms had gone from a roaring sex party in full swing into a carnage of dead Gulmarians and neutralised mechs that had fallen in their tracks. The alien bodies were littered on the floor, draped over furnishings and beds. One had even fallen into a pool with its death-rattle blue froth staining the water around its floating corpse.
     Over on a wide settee next to the two dead Gulmarians that used to be Biskek and one of his concubines, a slender woman with long blond hair and slightly Asiatic features wearing a sheer golden harem suit sat perched on the edge, frozen in a moment of escape. She wasn’t dead. Kazmak could see her eyes darting around the room so he strode over and poked her on the right shoulder. “So how come you aren’t dead like the others? He demanded gruffly.
     The concubine looked up slowly. “Because I’m a Bio?” It was clear she wasn’t sure either.
     Kazmak knew that Bio was short for Biomechanical; a human brain in a biosynthetic body. Usually the preserve of the wealthy and their cult followers looking for yet another way to cheat death. Maybe her synthetic body had protected her brain from the alien biota. “So what are you doing here? I thought your kind were all pure futurists.”
     The concubine snorted derisively and shrugged her shoulders. “Our local Foundation, or what we thought was our Foundation, was compromised. Or maybe it was just a front. I never had time to find out. Turned out they were supplying sex slaves to brothels. I signed up for exoplanetary development and ended up here instead.”
     Kazmak whistled. “That’s one hella expensive way to make hookers. Sexbots are cheaper and do what they’re told.”
     The concubine batted her eyelashes. “They mould our bodies to suit their kinks. Would you like to see?” She offered suggestively.
     Killdan barged in. “Sorry to interrupt the romance, Boss. I got reports in from the other teams; a few survivors and limited resistance.”
     Kazmak stepped away so the concubine couldn’t grab his gun and turned to face Killdan. “Some good news at last. Looks like that damn alien bitch was on the level about her crystals. Any of them coming over to our side?”
     Killdan shook his head. “Not many.”
     “Damn, this is getting messy.” Kazmak cussed. “You think they’d take the easy option. But no! All the more for us then.” Much as he loathed the spaceside clans’ contempt for his Raiders, he’d assumed that the survivors would swear allegiance to the one remaining Overlordz clan. At least he’d have fewer soldiers tied up watching over their prisoners this way. Things were moving fast leaving him no time to worry about what might have been. They had more pressing matters to deal with. “We’ve got to secure the control centre and lock out the Shin-Tan and Valeris ships before they can take action.” He looked around for the concubine but she was gone, nowhere to be seen. Damn! A sudden boom and shake of Troy’s hull made him realise he had more important matters on hand. “All gunners and tech crew report to the control centre immediately.” He barked into his headset as he and Killdan ran out into the central piazza of the Shin-Tan sector. “Continue the sweep as per plan.”
     He then contacted the skeleton crew in his ship. ”Pull your fingers out and shoot those bastards!” He shouted on an open channel so that everyone on his ship would hear him.
     “It’s pointless, boss.” Nadia Tremontaine, the duty officer replied. “They’ve got the same shields we have. They’re not even bothering to fire on us any longer and concentrating their fire on Troy.”
     “What about that alien ship?” Kazmak wanted to know what was going on outside of Troy.
     “Dead in the water, boss. They’re not shooting or moving.” Nadia sounded perplexed by the Gulmarian ship’s lack of action.
     “Maybe the crystals released that gas on their ship.” Kazmak surmised. “That’s one less shooter to worry about. Position yourself between those ships and Troy.”
     “There’s two of them and one of us. We can’t be in two places at once.” Nadia stated the obvious.
     “Well, distract them. Ram the bastards if you have to. We’re taking a hammering down here.” Kazmak hoped it wouldn’t come to that. He liked his new ship and the possibilities it brought him and his clan. But Troy was a prize beyond his wildest dreams and he wasn’t going to let it slip away even if it meant losing his ship.
     “We’re on it, boss.” The grim certitude in Nadia’s voice told Kazmak that she knew what she had to do.
     “Broadside them.” Kazmak suggested gleefully. “We can rebuild the nose from parts we strip from their ships afterwards.”
     “If we live through this.” Nadia laughed a grim death-row laugh.
     “Sure you will.” Kazmak was on a roll. He had a plan and it was mad enough to work. “Get everyone onto the bridge and evacuate the rest of the ship. That should give you one hella crumple zone. I’ll see you when you get back. Drinks are on me!”
     “I’ll hold you to that. We’ll all hold you to that. Won’t we?” There was a gap as Nadia took off her headset and held it up so that it could pick up the sound of the entire crew cheering.
     That was loud! Kazmak pulled back his earpiece, twisted a finger in his ear and shook his head. “OK, you got me there. Drinks are on the house. Now get on with it. I’ve got to get the defences here online.”
     Thanks to his mech legs, Kazmak was able to keep up effortlessly with Killdan as they tore along out of the Shin-Tan sector down the main concourse through sector after sector running towards the control centre. Everywhere they went was littered with dead Gulmarian corpses twisted in death and still wearing the torn remains of the clothes worn by their unwitting human hosts, fallen mechs put out of action by the neutraliser pulses and even a few cyberneticly enhanced humans.
     When they arrived, a tech crew was waiting for them. Most of the gunnery consoles were manned with new arrivals turning up by the minute. Troy was being rocked by the bombardment from the Shin-Tan and Valeris ships but the consoles were dead, targeting offline and the gunners unable to a thing. “Dammit” Kazmak slammed his fist on a console in impotent rage. “Rip these consoles open and get them running on manual.” He barked at the engineers not caring if they could or if it would even work. He had to be seen to be in control.
     Kazmak paced the floor impatiently cursing and fuming at his impotence to do anything to defend Troy. The gunners sat silent, too scared to say anything lest Kazmak unleash his temper on them while the engineers mumbled and grumbled amongst themselves while they went from console to console ripping them open in a futile attempt to hotwire Troy’s defences.
     He had already shouted at everyone at least once as well as kicking a few of the engineers as they cowered under the consoles. An augmented Raider officer, TekTom Abaya, accompanied by three foot-soldiers with their weapons aimed at a bedraggled and badly beaten captive who limped uneasily in spite of the officers’ pistol being pressed up against his head.
     “This punk claims he knows the access codes.” TekTom pushed his stumbling captive towards one of the consoles that hadn’t yet been opened up.
     One of the captive’s legs was clearly broken. “OK, but then I get my legs fixed in the medbay. That was the deal. The pain’s killing me.” He pleaded his desperate deal and grunted through clenched teeth. He pulled himself up to the console and within seconds the gunnery stations had come to life with their holographic displays blinking into life around the gunners as they spun into action. He was just turning around to say “It’s all yours.” But he never finished the sentence.
     Kazmak shot him in the head spraying blood and fried brains around the control centre as the lifeless body fell to the floor. “Clean that mess up.” Kazmak coldly ordered TekTom’s soldiers. “Right, I want the Valeris and Shin-Tan ships blown out of space. Now get to it!” He stomped out of the control centre in a foul mood not the least bit helped by his mech legs which rebelliously put a sexily hip-rolling gait to his walk every time he got stressed out. They did things like that to remind him who was boss. He hated it but there was nothing he could do. His legs, Charlene, had been grafted onto his mangled torso after his flier had crashed when they were taking mercenary work for City One during the Anti-Corporate uprisings. There was no time to grow new legs and lower torso in a vat and spare mech parts were hard to come by at the time. It was only later that he discovered that Charlene had plans of her own after she had taken Kazmak hostage by flooding his body with synthetic hormones and killer nanites.
     Kazmak made his way out of the control centre leaning on the wall as Troy rocked under the bombardment. So much for his legs’ internal gyros. At least Troy’s hull was holding up. They still had to secure Troy and figure out what to do with all the mechs when they switched off the neutralisers. At least the news coming back from his squads was good. They’d already secured half of Troy in two major sections and were working their way around to join up. The Gearhedz were putting up the most resistance but had retreated to their sector resulting in a stalemate standoff on both sides of their sector. At least they were contained. He could deal with them later after they mopped up the rest of Troy. Much as he wanted to get down to some shooting action against the Gearhedz, he knew his place was in the command centre huffing and puffing while he co-ordinated his clans’ takeover of Troy.
     “We’ve got incoming, boss!” A techie called over from one of the consoles they hadn’t yet dismantled.
     “Is it Earth Fed?” Kazmak knew the Earth Fed didn’t officially have any ships in the Trojans but that wasn’t to say they might not have a few ships in the Jovian system.
     “I don’t think so, Boss.” The techie replied. “It’s too small and moving way too fast. If it was a fighter, we’d be able to see its support ship. Earth Fed fighters barely have the range to make it between the moons. More likely a privateer. Whoever it is they’re on a one-way trip until they refuel here.”
     “If we sell them any.” Kazmak gloated over this small victory in the days’ battle. He, Kazmak, and his clan were now the owners of Troy and best-positioned to be the leaders of the Overlordz in the coming power vacuum. He’d known power as the leader of the Raiders, but what beckoned was beyond his wildest dreams. He’d learned enough controlling the factions in his own clan and playing them off against each other to know that it would be more of the same, just with higher stakes and more determined opponents.
     “Flag it up on the holo display.” No sooner than Kazmak ordered the techie to do so, a flashing red dot appeared on the 3D holographic display on the command deck in the control centre. They could also watch their ship in real time dodging around the crippled alien ship as Nadia and her crew played a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the Valeris and Shin-Tan ships while blasting any other ship harboured around Troy that so much as dared to move or shoot at them.
     Kazmak stepped down, reached through the holographic display of the nearest gunner and span him around until the approaching red dot was in the middle of his field of view. “Fire a few warning shots and put a bead on them to let them know we’ve got their number. If they shoot back, space the fuckers.”
     The gunner fired off a salvo wide of the incoming vessel. To his surprise it winked out of existence. “I think I got it, boss.”
     The techie deflated the gunner’s exuberance. “It’s in the central hub docking bay.”
     “Crap!” Kazmak was just starting to bark out the order through his headset for any troops near an access shaft to make their way to the docking bay to neutralise the intruder when Psy popped up on a viewscreen.
     “Your welcoming committee is bit jumpy, sweetie.” Psy pouted sultrily. “Permission to come aboard, mon Capitan?”
     Tension seethed sourly out of Kazmak as the order died in his throat. “What the fuck are you doing here?” He barked angrily.
     “I thought I’d look in to see how you were getting on.” Psy commented airily.
     “Yeah, well, we’re a bit busy right now.” Kazmak growled as he glanced over at the holographic display to see how Nadia and her crew were getting on. They were getting nowhere fast.
     “And by the look of things…” Psy disappeared from the screen, materialised next to Kazmak, dusted down hir glowing blue Psionic crystal and slipped it into hir pocket. “…I’ve come just in time.”
     Kazmak was livid. Not only did this freak bitch have the drop on him but insisted on showing it off in front of his own people. He turned to face Psy. “Will you just fuck off out of here? We’ve got things under control.”
     Psy wasn’t intimidated by Kazmak’s bluster and gently laid a finger on Kazmak’s nose. “You’ve done ever so well, sweetie. The cavalry will be along in a few minutes to tie up the loose ends for you.” By the time Psy finished you could have heard a pin drop in the control centre. Everyone except the gunners, who were too busy to notice, had dropped what they were doing to watch the spectacle of their clan boss, Kazmak, being humiliated by some corporate bitch who had materialised out of nowhere,
     “We’ve got incoming, boss. It’s big.” One of the techies called out from the viewscreen he was monitoring.
     “Pah!” Kazmak snorted. “Earth Fed finally sent the Trumpton out here? We can take them on!”
     “No way, boss. That old slug is still in the inner system.” The techie replied. “This thing’s way much bigger.”
     Psy smirked as Kazmak gave the order: “Put it on the screen.” A blinking red spot immediately appeared on the holographic display with a dotted line showing the arc of its course in 3D. “The screen…” Kazmak emphasised tetchily. The main viewscreen, which had been following their own ship in its hide-and-seek game around the stricken Gulmarian ship swung around dizzyingly to a patch of space that looked very empty except for a small region where the distant stars were blocked out. “Do I have to tell you your job, you fucking idiot?” Kazmak shouted angrily at the technician who was operating the viewscreen. “Zoom in on that bastard. Let’s see what we’ve got here.”
     The dark patch on the screen grew rapidly until it almost filled the screen, taking shape as a vast organic-looking ship, over a kilometer in length, with pods and modules sprouting out of it along its vast hull. As they watched it grow on the viewscreen, they could start to make out running lights and light shining out of what might be windows.
     Off to one side Psy cleared hir throat with a soft cough. “The cavalry has arrived.”
     Kazmak roughly grabbed Psy by one arm and pointed at the viewscreen. “Who are they?”
     Psy slowly peeled Kazmak’s fingers back one by one and coolly pushed his hand away. “My people. We are Nglubi. You work for us now.”
     “Like fuck we do.” Kazmak blustered.
     Psy deflated a bit with a weary ‘here we go again’ expression. “We need to talk. Do you have an office here?”
     Kazmak looked around. There was indeed an officer’s room adjoining the command centre and he stomped off in its direction with Psy following close behind as Kazmak’s crew looked on in disbelief. Kazmak slammed the door after Psy stepped inside. “What the fuck do you want?”
     Psy looked around and held out an open hand towards a chair. “Sit.” Shi commanded.
     “Fuck you.” Kazmak snapped back and stayed resolutely on his feet.
     Psy folded hir arms under hir breasts and pushed them out for effect. “Not like that you can’t.” Shi sneered cruelly as shi pointed at Kazmak’s mech legs and crotch. “Remember our deal? Play ball and you’ll be able to fuck me for real all you want.” Psy teased Kazmak with a sultry glance. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? All that pent-up libido.”
     “Screw you.” Kazmak snarled impotently.
     “I can’t wait.” Psy ran the tip of hir tongue tauntingly along hir lips, sat in the chair shi had previously offered to Kazmak, put hir booted feet up on the desk, made a steeple with hir hands and stared coldly at him. “There’s a war going on, Kazmak. The front line has come to your solar system thanks to some unwise decisions made by some of your Overlordz associates and you’re about to become collateral damage if you’re not careful.”
     “We can look after ourselves.” Kazmak bluffed bravely.
     Psy stared up silently at Kazmak and gently cleared hir throat again for dramatic effect. “Really? You’ve seen what you’re up against. How long do you think it will be before the rest of your clan and the people on Mars are infected and turn into Gulmarians? How long before it gets to Earth? Once it gets there, they will be unstoppable.”
     Kazmak stood his ground and glared at Psy murderously. “Why should I give a shit about anyone on Earth? All they want to do is to put us behind bars.”
     “Being in prison would be the least of your worries.” Psy explained patiently. “At least you’d be alive. Normally, we incinerate systems where the Gulmarians get a foothold as a prophylactic measure. Call it mercy killing, if you will. And that would include you and your loyal tribe of ruffians, just to be on the safe side. But in this case, we’ve managed to contain and push back their intrusion. Give yourself a pat on the back, big boy.” Psy waxed generously. “You’ve earned your part of the bargain. We’re just here to tidy up a few loose ends.”
     Kazmak was floored by Psy coolly addressing him as if shi were a headmaster talking down to a first-year student and relished the thought of fucking that weird-ass Earth Fed bitch who was staring back at him.
     Psy spread hir feet apart on the desk leaned back in hir chair just enough to give Kazmak a tantalizing upskirt view along hir legs.
     “What do you want?” Kazmak growled sullenly realizing that Psy held all the cards.
     Pay looked casually at her well-manicured fingernails and then up at Kazmak. “We’ll remove all the Gulmarian bodies and those ships. Can’t leave Gulmarian technology around, It’s too dangerous. What do you want to do with all the mechs and that mech clan?”
     “Hey, wait a minute, freako. One of those ships out there is ours.” Kazmak wasn’t going to let some Earth Fed agent take over. That was a step too far for him.
     “Sorry, sweetums.” Psy patronizingly attempted to sweeten the harsh news. “Non-negotiable terms. We will, however, spare your crew. We’ll arrange for a replacement ship that uses safer technology.”
     “What, some old Earth Fed rust bucket?” It was Kazmak’s turn to sneer and he laid it on righteously.
     “I was thinking a Rtuntli gunship or two.” Psy offered vaguely.
     “Who…?” But Kazmak interrupted by an urgent banging on the door. “What is it?” Kazmak called out impatiently.
     Killdan stepped in. “You should see what’s been happening out here, Boss. There’s some wall of energy sweeping Troy and those alien bodies are just vanishing. Oh yeah, Nadia and the rest of the crew just turned up on one of the concourses.”
     Psy clasped hir hands together and turned to face Kazmak. “Well, that’s phase one. So what do you want to do with the mechs? Present company excluded, of course.”
     Kazmak glanced over to Killdan.
     “We can’t keep using those neutralizers forever, Boss.” Killdan sounded slightly glitchy. It was obvious that he was trying to hide how badly it was affecting his movement from Kazmak. “They’re starting to affect us too. I don’t think those shields you got us are all they’re cracked up to be. Some of us are experiencing serious runtime glitching.”
     “Okay, okay!” Kazmak threw his hands up. He had to make a decision. “Let’s wake up a batch and see what happens. If they give us any trouble, frag ‘em.” He stomped out of the office with Killdan and Psy in tow, gathered up a squad of Raiders and set off for the concourse where a pile of disabled Overlordz mechs had been stacked up. Even in this quiescent state the Overlordz mechs looked menacing and malevolent. Kazmak ordered his foot soldiers to form a circle around the pile, guns drawn ready to shoot, and gave Killdan the order to switch off the neutralizer standing next to them.
     The faint clicks and whirrs of their systems coming online were accompanied by flashes of light flickering through the now-twitching pile as they booted up. Somewhere at the bottom of the pile one of the mechs began to stand up and started shooting through his still-booting comrades. Kazmak and his troops returned fire. When it was over there were no survivors. This scene pretty much played out the same way at every pile of Overlordz mechs all the way around the main concourse of Troy. Out of the hundreds of mechs they woke up, less than ten had come over to their side. It was a slaughter.
     “I’m sorry about that.” Kazmak offered Killdan what he thought might pass for a rare moment of compassion as they looked over the last of the smoldering mech carcasses. “I had no idea it would turn out this way.”
     Killdan shook his head. “There was no way they were going to join us. You saw that much for yourself. If we’d have cut them loose, they would have mot likely joined up with the Gearhedz to take over Troy. No, it was messy but it had to be done. The last thing we want is a battle on our hands with a bunch of hopped up mechs running around looking for a shooting match.”
     “It might be quicker to jettison the Gearhedz’ sector and blast it to dust.” Kazmak toyed with the idea aloud to sound out Killdan’s reaction.
     “We’ll have to if we can’t cut a deal with them.” Killdan spelled out the brutal truth. “We’re the only ones standing right now and it would be a fight for control of Troy. They wouldn’t give up and neither would we. It would be a fight to the death and Troy would be a wreck afterwards. No use to anyone.”
     “So how come you never signed up to the Gearhedz?” Kazmak curiously quizzed Killdan. “Being a mech and all that.”
     Killdan made a raspy electronic grunt of a sound and kicked one of the dead mechs at his feet. “They screwed me over when I was a dumb numbnut straight out of the factory just after the SCRA came into force. It was all ‘have a great life, get a job, see you at the club’ when we got dumped in the ghetto. It was tough times just to get enough money top up my power cell and a few hours of VR. The local Gearhedz seemed to have it all. I wanted to be like them back then so I’d hang out with them.”
     “One day their brothel got busted for running unregistered sexbots. Totally illegal especially after the SCRA. Not the sexbot bit, that was no big deal. It was the registration part what with us mechs supposed to have full civil rights and all that.” Killdan continued. “Never mind that all mechs have to register their identity on a central database like the one at Satori. They were facing prison time. They talked me into taking the rap with the deal that I’d get a cut of the business when I came out.”
     “Like an idiot I took them up on it. Three years later, I come out and the bastards jolted me so hard it almost fried my core. When I came to, they’d dumped me in an alleyway and had even taken my legs. So, yeah, I can relate to what happened to you even if you are a fleshie. It took me hours to drag myself to the nearest parts shop using my arms. Mick Terempiosa, who died in the gas incident back on Mars loaned me the money to get some legs. The Raiders have been good to me. This is where I belong, Kazmak.” Killdan was emphatic. “Not with those golems.”
     “But can’t they track you through that database?” The thought of registering on a database was anathema to Kazmak’s sense of being a freebooting space pirate.
     “It doesn’t work that way.” Killdan failed to explain. “And if I ever do have to connect to it, I use a string of untraceable randomized proxies. Everyone and their Roomba uses proxies. Oh, I forgot… you’re a fleshie.”
     “So long as the Space Force don’t show up here using all you mechs as a beacon.” Kazmak remained unconvinced.
     “Moot point, Kazmak. They already know it’s here. They’ve got really sharp intel.” Killdan gave Kazmak cold after-the-fact comfort. “That alien worldship has been keeping them busy. Once they’re bored with that, they’ll be out here looking for us.”
     “Well be ready for them.” Kazmak blustered defiantly. “Especially if we have those gunships that freak bitch promised us.”
     Psy, who had been standing unobtrusively to one side coughed politely. “That freak bitch is right here.” Shi reminded them coolly and slipped an arm under Kazmak’s. “You’ll get your gunship but you won’t need it. We need to talk. I think Killdan’s got everything under control.”
     Killdan could see there was something going on between Kazmak and Psy although he wasn’t sure quite what. “Hey, take a break, Boss. I’ve got it.”
     “If I’m not back in an hour come for me with a posse.” Kazmak instructed Killdan as he let Psy lead him off the concourse and its pile of dead mechs. “We’ll be in her ship.”
     “Will do.” Killdan called back as the access doors closed behind Kazmak and Psy. No sooner than the doors had closed, Psy got out hir blue Psionic crystal and transported them instantaneously to hir ship.
     Kazmak looked around and instantly recognized its milky opalescent interior surface. “Hey it’s just like your place on Mars.”
     Psy stepped back and clasped hir hands together proudly. “It is, isn’t it?” And as shi spoke those words the biostone floor extruded up to Kazmak’s shoulders in a flash to hold him captive.
     “Wha……” Kazmak attempted to shout but it only ended in a heavily-drugged gurgle. When Kazmak’s head fell to one side from loss of muscle control, it looked as if he had lost all his anger.
     Psy ordered the Omphalatta to extrude a headrest for Kazmak and gently lifted his head into place. “Sorry about the inconvenience, love. But it’s the only way.” Psy kissed Kazmak on his forehead and waited for Killdan’s inevitable visit. Psy watched with a fascinated curiosity as the biostone slowly disconnected the mech legs and hips from Kazmak’s body and transported them away until they stood next to hir.
     “So when are we going to Satori?” A tinny feminine Southern drawl crackled out of a small broken speaker in Charlene’s crotch.
     “In a hurry now, are we?” Psy tried to shut Charlene down as shi watched a flesh-coloured cloud begin forming below Kazmak’s torso.
     “Hey, I don’t want to hang around here.” Charlene wasn’t for giving up after all she’d been through. “I bring Kazmak in, I get the upgrade. That was the deal.”
     “If anything, Kazmak brought you in.” Psy wearily made it clear shi wasn’t going to be ordered around by a pair of mech legs that just about scraped through the Turing test. “That’s between you and the SSS.”
     “Well, I’m tired of being that asshole’s legs.” Charlene griped. “You have no idea what a dick he is. And he doesn’t even have one.”
     “He will soon enough.” Psy idly adjusted the controls on a biostone console to give Kazmak a thick ten-inch cock. Big, but just that bit small enough so that he’d always know his place.
     “He was impotent, you know.” Charlene shot that tidbit of information out like a bullet to deflate Psy’s plans.
     “They have drugs for that.” Psy shrugged hir shoulders.
     “Not him.” Charlene smugly triumphalised over Kazmak’s weakness. “He’s got a heart condition. The clinical aphrodisiacs he would need combined with the meds he takes would kill him.”
     “No wonder he’s such a miserable bastard.” Psy mused as shi brought up a screen to correct the faulty genes in Kazmak’s DNA that caused his heart condition as well as repairing the existing condition. “There, that’s fixed. Can’t have him dying on me.”
     “Why do you even care about that jerk?” Charlene couldn’t understand why this weird Earth Fed agent was interested in Kazmak. As far as she was concerned Kazmak was just a scumbag thug with a huge chip on his shoulder because of his impotence.
     “I’m going to make an honest businessman of him.” Psy couched hir plans for Kazmak in bland vague terms.
     “Good luck with that.” Charlene snorted derisively.
     “He will…” Psy smiled menacingly at Charlene’s open waist. The stump of her mechanoid frame stood out alongside severed looms of cabling and sealed coolant and hydraulic fluid plumbing. In between her processors and pumps shi could see a few lights winking. “...Or else he and everyone else in this tin can can join the rest of the dead rubble out here in the Trojans.”
     “That’s fighting talk. But I saw what you did at Fort Melchisor, so I wouldn’t put it past you. What are you anyway? Are you some Earth Fed black-op bioengineered super soldier or something?” Charlene quizzed Psy.
     “Let’s just leave it as ‘other’, shall we?” Psy coyly shut down Charlene’s questioning. The hours’ passing was marked by the sound of Killdan banging loudly on the Omphalatta’s door. A transparent circular floor-to-ceiling wall of biostone snapped into place to seal off the entrance. Psy ordered the Omphalatta to open its door.
     Killdan, followed by a rough looking mob of Raiders, barged their way in brandishing their guns and ready for action. He saw Kazmak motionless in a column of biostone with his legs and Psy standing to one side. By now the flesh-toned cloud was beginning to solidify and you could see bones starting to grow.
     Killdan strode forward and hit the wall with a resounding clunk. “What have you done to Kazmak?” He bellowed as he smashed his fist on the biostone wall. It wasn’t even so much as scratched.
     “Separated him from his legs.” Psy pointed towards Charlene. “And growing him a new pair in both senses of the word.”
     “Is he alive?” Killdan demanded. The biostone wall dimpled back towards the interior wall allowing Killdan access. Kazmak looked as unresponsive as a dead man. Sensing a trap, he stood his ground.
     “Well, go on. Don’t just stand there like a dummy.” Psy motioned impatiently towards Kazmak.
     Killdan cautiously stepped up to Kazmak. Sure enough, he was breathing. Slowly. “Hey Boss. I’m here with the backup. You want us to blow this freak?” Killdan nodded towards Psy. Behind him his troops had their laser pulse and projectile guns aimed at Psy. Not that it would have made any difference. Hir Omphalatta was hooked into the Nglubi battleship’s defensive shields and would be able to dissipate a maser canon at point-blank range.
     A small trickle of drool dribbled from the corner of Kazmak’s mouth. Killdan waved a hand in front of his eyes. “Hey, Boss, you there?” Kazmak stared blankly ahead. After what felt like an eon, he blinked slowly. Killdan tried again to make sure it was an actual response and not a random action. This time Kazmak’s reaction was a bit faster. And a third time. Killdan turned to face Psy; “How long is he going to be out like this?”
     Psy shrugged hir shoulders. “I don’t know. A day. Maybe two. However long it takes to grow a pair of legs.”
     “You got a thing for Kazmak?” Killdan asked Psy casually.
     “What?” Psy acted all innocent.
     “You’ve given him a bigger dick than what he had before he lost his legs.” Killdan said it just loud enough so that his troops could hear and they responded with catcalls, wolf-whistles, cheers and raucous guffaws.
     Psy blushed but kept up the pretence. “Oh really? I had no idea.”
     “Look, I don’t care what you two got going.” Killdan leaned over towards Psy. “But we need Kazmak back ASAP.”
     “At least we can agree on something.” Psy stepped through the biostone wall, ran hir fingers through Kazmak’s hair and glanced down at the ribbons of raw musculature, flesh and bones that were coalescing in the biostone. “He’s not ready yet. I’ll let you know when he’s back on his feet. Oh, you might want to bring him some trousers and boots. I’m not sure he’d want to go out swinging his dick around.”
     “Heh, he’d probably want to show it off.” Killdan could easily imagine Kazmak strutting around naked just so everyone could see his new and improved cock. “I can’t hang around; we’re a bit busy right now.” Killdan beckoned three low-ranking soldiers, two humans and a mech, to stand guard over Kazmak as his legs grew back into existence and was about to stomp off with the rest of his squad when Psy interrupted him.
     “How are you getting on with the Gearhedz?” Psy asked in a tone of voice that made it perfectly clear that shi knew full well that things weren’t going quite to plan.
     Killdan stopped in his tracks and looked Psy straight in the face. “Huh?” Then it dawned on him that Psy was the architect of their takeover of Troy. “We’ve got them pinned down on both sides of their sector but they’re not talking.”
     “And their gunnery stations?” Psy quizzed Killdan.
     “Locked on ours but not shooting.” Killdan brought Psy up to speed.
     “Hmm… at least they’re not suicidal.” Psy thought out aloud. “They know they’re outgunned and are in no hurry to die. They can’t take control of Troy from the Raiders. And the Raiders can’t displace them. Any backup they have on the inner planets would take months to get here. That’s it!” Psy clicked hir fingers. “They plan on holding out until reinforcements arrive.”
     “We could detach their sector and blast it once it’s drifted far enough away.” Killdan suggested. He’d already considered the idea and it was one of their fallback options.
     “It would destabilize Troy.” Psy pointed out. “On top of that they’d start shooting right away. Troy would be a wreck. We need it intact.”
     “Who’s ‘we’?” Killdan asked gruffly.
     “Your people and me...” Psy replied calmly. “..Plus the many others who will be coming here in years to come. Oh, never mind.” Psy whipped hir blue crystal out of hir jacket pocket, commanded hir Omphalatta to create a biostone bubble around hirself and Killdan to transport them onto the concourse in the middle of the Gearhedz sector where they were met by and unending volley of pulsed lasers, bullets and mini railgun slugs. Psy tapped hir toe and calmly inspected hir manicured nails as the volley continued its murderous intensity.
     “How long is this shield of yours going to hold up?” Killdan pressed his hand up against the biostone bubble as bullets and slugs thudded into it and clattered in a growing pile on the floor, their kinetic energy having been absorbed and dissipated by the Nglubi battleship’s defensive shields.
     “Long after they’ve run out of ammo.” Psy sounded as if shi had all the time in the world and waved to the Gearhedz who were shooting at them. “Hello? Had enough fun yet?”
     There was a slight dip in the onslaught as one mech shouted: ”Screw you, fleshie.” And then it continued at full force. Five minutes later the assault died down and one of the Gearhedz shouted at them: “Fuck off. We’re not dealing with you.”
     “Have it your way then.” Psy sighed wearily as shi reached for hir blue Psionic crystal and transported them into a featureless chamber whose inner surface radiated a deep blue glow aboard the Nglubi battleship. Veins pulsing with glowing liquid were faintly visible in the walls. Every single one of the Gearhedz who had been shooting at Psy and Killdan was imprisoned in biostone polyps extruded up from the floor which curved up in the distance to become the ceiling.
     Killdan pinged the walls to work out the size of the chamber but didn’t get an echo. The walls just drank up every frequency he broadcast on. So instead he guesstimated it by comparing it to the size of their group and worked out that the chamber was roughly 30 metres across and 20 metres high. The more he thought about it, the more the chamber resembled a bubble.
     “I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that there’s been a change of management on Troy.” Psy addressed hir captives as shi walked amongst them.
     “Screw you.” One of the Gearhedz cursed back at Psy.
     “Wrong answer.” Psy clicked hir fingers and the biostone polyp crushed the offending Gearhedz mech to a clump of scrap metal and swallowed it up into the chamber’s floor until there was no sign that it had ever existed.
     “There’s been a change of management.” Psy’s tone hardened. “Troy belongs to The Raiders now. You will answer to me and Kazmak from now on.”
     “That half-caste coward?” A Gearhedz mech sneered contemptuously. “I’ve never known a fight he didn’t run away from.”
     “Who are you, fleshie?” Another Gearhedz mech shouted out from within its biostone polyp. “We don’t take orders from fleshies.” Psy clicked hir fingers and that mech was crushed to nothingness.
     Psy strutted to the other Gearhedz mech and put hir face up against the biostone polyp imprisoning it. “Yes, that half-caste coward…” Shi repeated icily. “…or you can join your friend over there.” At which point Psy turned around to face where the other mech had been and switched to a mock-jovial faux-confidante tone of voice. “Oh, but he isn’t here any longer, or the other one. Deary me, what a shame. Wouldn’t want to join them now, would you?”
     The Gearhedz mech said nothing so Psy went on around hir captives taunting and testing them until there were eleven left. Killdan was impressed at how coolly Psy had dispatched those Gearhedz with an almost inhuman indifference to life. He didn’t dare move against Psy in case he was next. This wasn’t the time or the place. But he’d sure as hell take out that freak if he ever got the chance.
     Psy placed hir hands squarely on hir hips and addressed hir captives: “Go back to your boss and tell him my conditions: Surrender or join your friends. In case you’re wondering where you are, take a look in the viewscreen when you get back. It’s that big black ship next to Troy. And don’t even think about shooting, you’d be obliterated. Now begone! You have twenty four hours.” Psy waved hir hand over hir blue Psionic crystal and the remaining Gearhedz were instantly transported back to their sector in Troy before turning hir attention to Killdan. “Let’s take a look and see how Kazmak’s getting on.”

     Norfalth settled into his chair and looked around his office. The riots were behind them and, to his surprise, a large civilian contingent had elected to stay on Mars rather than taking their chances on Vermthellyn or settling on Cervetica. It was times like this when his mind wandered back to Tez'Halyn and how much he missed him as he stared at the photo panel propped up on his desk that displayed a slideshow of Tez'Halyn in happier times. If only that silly young buck hadn’t pulled his gun. And then he’d fall into a pit of guilt like he was right now. Only this time he got a reprieve in the form of his intercom buzzer jolting him back to reality. Norfalth reached out to press its button with all the grim determination of a drowning man clawing at a piece of driftwood. The duty Guard at the reception, an elderly male avian whose colourful emerald-and-turquoise plumage was going dull with age, popped up on the screen: “There’s an Earth Fed officer here who wants to see you.”
     “Send him in.” Norfalth composed himself and was glad for any distraction from his personal hell. Moments later a Guard opened the door to let the Human in.
     Captain Bernard Gironde from the Space Force Intelligence Service introduced himself with a firm, bright-eyed handshake. Norfalth was still getting used to this human form of greeting but got up from behind his desk, accepted the Captain’s hand and offered him a seat. “What can I do for you, Captain?”
     Bernard wasted no time. He opened his briefcase, took out a small holographic projector, set it on Norfalth’s desk and activated it. It showed part of the ring of a space station with various ships docked and in orbit around it dwarfed by a huge black spaceship floating nearby. “Do you recognize any of these ships?”
     Norfalth immediately recognized the Nglubi battleship but wasn’t sure about the other ones. He looked at Bernard cautiously and pointed towards the holographic image: “What are they doing here?”
     “Who?” Bernard looked closely ay the ominous dark shape Norfalth was pointing at.
     “The Nglubi.” Norfalth saw that Bernard had no idea who the Nglubi were. “That’s an Nglubi battleship. But they normally don’t bother with minor border incidents. In spite of how momentous things have been for your people, on our side it barely even made the news. They wouldn’t even concern themselves with the loss of our Ark or the incidents here after our arrival. And even if they did, they’d organize a fleet from neighboring star systems.”
     “So you’re saying it’s something major?” Bernard anxiously pressed Norfalth. “Are they aggressive? Who are they? Should we take defensive measures?”
     Norfalth looked wearily at the Human officer sat opposite him. He seemed a decent sort. When they first arrived, the Humans were cautious and perfunctory. Ever since the riots, the Humans were going out of their way to reassure the Shallens that they were welcome on Mars. If only it hadn’t taken the riots to open them up. “Yes, no, they run the gateways and you could but I doubt it would do you much good. They are millions of years ahead of you technologically and could take out your entire space fleet in a day.”
     Bernard sat dumbly taking in what Norfalth had just said.
     “If it’s any consolation, I doubt it’s anything to do with your people.” Norfalth tried to reassure Bernard. “They barely even know you exist.” Norfalth knew that Psi, the local Nglubi field agent, was little more than the equivalent of a low-ranking wilderness ranger in their society with little to no influence. “You should contact your regional Nglubi field agent before you do anything rash.”
     “Where can I find him?” Bernard asked urgently.
     “Hir, the Nglubi are hermaphroditic.” Norfalth realized from Bernard’s mistake that he didn’t know about Psy but felt that he had a right to know. “Talk to Captain Armando Petrucci at SCS Command in Coriolis.”
     “Oh, of course.” Bernard bluffed. He’d never heard of SCS Command or a Captain Armando Petrucci before.

     Psy was bored. Bored of waiting for Kazmak’s reconstruction to complete and bored with Charlene’s endless griping about Kazmak. The soldiers Killdan had left to watch over Kazmak, realising that there wasn’t much for them to do, had started a game of cards to pass the time. Psy consulted the console next to the biostone polyp holding Kazmak captive. The reconstruction was completed and it was toning up his muscles so that he could support his own weight. Killdan strode in and his soldiers abandoned their game of cards and jumped up to attention.
     “You’re just in time.” Psy greeted Killdan as shi tapped the console to release Kazmak. The biostone polyp melted back into the floor leaving Kazmak barely able to stand up as he staggered forward to keep his balance. The floor felt cool against his feet. He looked down at them barely even believing that it had actually happened. Gone were the hormone-induced breasts that Charlene had inflicted on him. No longer would he have to listen to the ‘nice rack’ sniggers behind his back. Even better, that freak had made good on her word! He saw his cock, grabbed it with one hand and it went rock hard. That felt so good! He grunted as he fought off the drugs that had sedated him, grabbed Psy, lifted hir up onto the console, pushed hir skirt up, rammed his cock through hir tights and deep inside hir and fucked hir hard and fast, his balls slapping furiously on the console panel, until he came in a gush of spunk that oozed out of Psy and onto the console and kept going. Again and again and again. He was a veritable fucking machine come to life.
     Psy felt as if hir legs were going to fall off as shi was overwhelmed by wave after orgasmic wave that cushioned hir from Kazmak’s violent and brutal fucking. It was more rape than passion. Psy grimly hung on and shi let Kazmak have his way as shi realised that it was the perfect way to make Kazmak appear as if he was the Boss again in the eyes of his clan after shi had so visibly undermined his authority. What better way than to be seen raping the alien bitch who’d literally had him on a leash the before?
     Kazmak barely even noticed Psy’s flabby sissycock pressing up against him as he fucked hir senseless. Nor did he notice his soldiers cheering him on as they watched their boss man violently fuck the stuffings out of some weird Earth Fed bitch. Psy dug hir fingernails into Kazmak’s back as he grunted and snorted like a demented beast determined to fuck Psy to death.
     It was a wild ride! Psy had hoped to get it off with Kazmak in a more intimate setting. Shi’d even planned it all out; the seduction, the reveal, the wild passion. So much for hir fantasy, the reality was brutish and painful. This was the beast shi had to tame, and tame it shi would or else write off hir entire experiment with Troy.
     After what felt like an age Psy, could feel Kazmak’s cock softening as his pace slowed down. One last almighty eruption later and he was spent. They were both bathed in sweat and gasping for breath.
     Kazmak pulled out and staggered back to a round of raucous whoops and cheers from his soldiers leaving Psy in a pool of hot, sticky spunk on the console. “Oh yeah, I needed that.” He grunted between breaths.
     Psy slipped off the console, pulled hir skirt back down and ran hir fingers through hir hair. Shi felt as if hir wobbly legs were five feet apart. “You could have waited.”
     Kazmak wasn’t even listening. He swung his cock around and triumphantly punched the air. “I’m back, baby!” And then promptly passed out collapsing in a heap at Psy’s feet.
     Killdan stepped forward as the three soldiers rushed over to Kazmak. “Is he all right?”
     “He’ll be fine.” Psy indifferently hoisted up what was left of hir tights. “Silly boy should have waited a day or two. He wasn’t ready for so much exertion so soon after reconstruction.”

     The next day Kazmak, Killdan and Psy accepted the Gearhedz surrender in Biskek’s opulent quarters in what had been the Shin-Tan sector. Psy kept Kazmak and arm’s length. Shi’d made it clear that he had to learn some bedside manners and that shi wouldn’t tolerate a repeat of the previous days’ shenanigans. Five Gearhedz mechs who looked as if their bodies were made out of random pieces of military-grade hardware shuffled in under heavy guard from a dangerous-looking contingent of Raiders and stood aimlessly in front of our trio.
     “Okay, you win.” Tetrazine Toby addressed Kazmak. “What’s the deal?”
     “You the boss man?” Kazmak gruffly addressed Tetrazine.
     “We’re all the boss man.” Tetrazine growled sullenly. “You talk to me, you talk to all of us. When I talk, we all speak through me.”
     “Ah, a hive mind!” Psy hadn’t expected anything so sophisticated amongst a group of thugs, even if they were mechs who always maintained radio contact amongst themselves.
     “No.” Tetrazine snorted contemptuously. “We’re all individuals. But this is different. We all want to know the deal and to have a say in it.”
     Psy stood up. “As you can see, there’s been a change of management here at Troy. You may have noticed a temporary uptick in the alien presence here…”
     Tetrazine interrupted Psy. “Hold it right there. You’re Earth Fed, aren’t you?”
     “No.” Psy replied emphatically.
     “Then explain this.” Tetrazine held out one of his hands and activated a holographic projector on its back to show a stream of photos and video clips of Psy at SCS Command in Coriolis, on a mop-up operation cleaning up a nest of Gulmarians on Mars, hir Earth Fed ID card, in meetings with various Earth Fed military and civilian officials and organizing the resettlement of the Shallen refugees as well as pictures of the carnage at the Raiders settlement in Hellas an Mars when Kazmak released the floxetrasine there to reveal the Gulmarians infected in their own people. Kazmak was genuinely surprised at the sight of Psy’s ID card and gave hir a suspicious look and then scowled at the Gearhedz as he realized that they had a spy within the Raiders. At least it wasn’t Killdan; he featured in the video clip alongside Kazmak.
     “I work with them from time to time.” Psy was prepared to admit that much. “But I’m not one of them.”
     “You have something to do with this?” Tetrazine’s holographic projector showed more images and video clips of dead Gulmarians both at Hellas and Troy.
     Psy drew hirself up as tall as she could and folded hir arms under hir breasts. “Yes. Regrettable, but it had to be done. You Overlordz think you’re so clever but the Gulmarians were using your people to turn Humans into Gulmarian drones. If they had succeeded, you’d all be dead and this entire solar system would have been stripped clean. And that goes for you mechs too. You’re just raw materials to them. They were never interested in any of you. They don’t care about their drones either. They get rendered to amino acid sludge when it’s all done.”
     Psy turned to Kazmak. “Outside view on the screen, please.” Kazmak grudgingly obliged and the video wall on one side of the reception room which had been showing a random selection of breathtaking views on Earth, Luna and Mars interspersed with clips from Biskek’s porn collection switched to show an external view from Troy with the vast Nglubi battleship filling most of the screen. Psy turned back to face Tetrazine and pointed at the screen. “I’m with them. And we deal with your people through Earth Fed because they represent the vast bulk of your people. Sorry to deflate your egos, but you’re just an internal matter as far as we’re concerned.”
     “So instead of the Gulmarians using us, you’re using us.” Kazmak piped in grumpily.
     Psy had anticipated this much. Shi knew they were a rough bunch but not totally dumb. They were predatory survivors, after all. “True.” Shi admitted candidly. “But this way you get to live and I’ll make honest businessmen out of you…”
     Psy never got to finish what shi was saying as they all burst out laughing. Every single one of the Overlordz in the reception room, Raider and Gearhedz alike, laughed incredulously at Psy’s suggestion. Shi waited patiently until they finished and continued. “…play along and I’ll get your criminal records wiped. Yes, I can do that.”
     That got their attention and the room fell silent except for the sound of a small water fountain in a corner of the room. Eventually Tetrazine broke the silence. “What do you want?”
     “You’re going to be hoteliers for now.” Psy laid out hir plan. “First contact has officially happened and there’s going to be all sorts of us ‘aliens’ coming to visit: Tourism and business. There are vast natural resources to be tapped out here on the outer planets: moons full of water or hydrocarbons, planets that rain diamonds and plenty more. Company reps and prospectors will be interested and will need somewhere to stay. This is that place. Some of them will be rough customers and I’m sure you know how to deal with things like that. We will place a remote gateway here on Troy as well as a portal just off Troy for small ships which will go live once you’ve cleaned this place up. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to take care of the reinforcements you Gearhedz had called up to ride to your rescue,”
     “You gonna frag them?” Tetrazine asked Psy bluntly.
     “Maybe.” Psy answered ambivalently. “It depends on whether they see sense or not.” And with that Psy disappeared to hir Omphalon and hitched a ride with the Nglubi battleship as it jumped to the inner system to intercept the rag-tag flotilla of Overlordz ships racing towards Troy.

     Kazmak stood up and addressed his troops and the Gearhedz. “You heard her, let’s get this place cleaned up and operational.”
     “I never took you for such a pushover, Kazmak.” Tetrazine took a snarky dig at Kazmak. “That bitch has got you on a tight leash.”
     Kazmak shrugged his shoulders. “She was right about those Gulmarians, they were bad news. It didn’t affect you Gearhedz but the rest of us took one helluva hit. We need time to regroup and get organized again. I have no intention of being the freak’s bitch for the rest of my life. For the time being we play ball. When the time’s right, we’ll strike and get that bitch off our back.”
     “The sooner, the better. We’re not going to wait forever.” Tetrazine grumbled as he and the other Gearhedz made their way out.

Scribbles & Scraps
Chapter 37
Chapter 39