The sound of the tapping foot was sharp and metallic against the dying murmur of the dispersing crowd, an unpleasant reminder of unpleasant business being done to an unpleasant person.

“[This is stupid, you’re stupid, I hate you.]”

Hrrs-tssk’ sighed as he finished patting down one of the atmo engineers, his partner finishing up the searching of the Karnakian’s bags. The stop and frisk policy was a new addition to the usual patrol routes; but the fact that back to back shift patrol routes were now a thing was also a new addition. It was one worrying development on top of another, and the escalation was one of those open-secret conversations that are passed around bottom-rung coworkers like wildfire.

“<Sir, I know, but orders are orders.>” Hrrs-tssk’ responded for the hundredth time this shift, and for the hundredth time this shift the person he was talking to ignored the fact that he wasn’t even a team lead and began to blame him personally for the inconvenience. Hrrs-tssk’ let his mind wander as his intellect, and then his parentage were called once more into question, sharing a dead-tired look with his teammate as the Dorarizin buckled and returned the civilian’s bags. After a few more choice words the windbag left, and the two security guards were able to relax.

“[Rip off my tits and blow me out an airlock.]” The Dorarizin said, unceremoniously squatting – then sitting – on the machined corridor floor. “[If I wanted to be a beat cop I wouldn’t have signed up to beat cops.]”

Hrrs-tssk’ let out an affirming grunt, hissing sharply as he pressed his chest against the wall, pressing hard to pop his back. “<Uuuuugh… What do you think happened?>”

The guard flexed her hands in her best ‘no clue’ expression, going physically slack against the ground. “[My guess? Someone’s trying to steal something rare and small. Back telling us that we’ll know it when we see it didn’t help a damn bit, the packless, crazy bitch. I bet the TLs know, but aren’t telling us anything.]”

“<I mean->” Hrrs-tssk’ rolled his shoulder, the deep pop when his muscles released audible from yards away. “<-Stealing shares, fine. Stupid. What if it’s dangerous though? Like exotic matter or that 5th dimensional stuff->”

“[5D string doesn’t exist and you know it.]” His partner rumbled, rolling onto her back. “[But two double shifts back to back does scream ‘scared’ to me.]”

Hrrs-tssk’ nodded and let his mind wander in the few stolen moments, idly switching between warm thoughts of his friends and partners, and then trying to figure out who would be stupid enough to grit the eye of the king. Eventually, he remembered his family, and frowned.

“<Hey, I’m going to go check on my Brother.>”

The floor let out a hearty laugh. “[And what should I say to TL? That my partner decided to tour dens? You know both Back and Bones are monitoring our chatter-]”

“<No one’s patrolled the outer cluster in a few days. It’s a dead end filled with shut-ins and makes no sense for multiple people to search – you can hold the line here by yourself. Besides, it’s the middle of shift, so you should be OK without me for a bit.>”

Hrrs-tssk’ received a non-committal wordless bark in reply, and took it as all the approval he needed to check in on his kin.

The door slid open on borrowed hydraulics, and the bright hallway light very quickly gave way to dimmer and dimmer sight. His Brother decided to take up habitation in one of the older parts of the base cluster – partially because of his condition and desire to be left alone, and partly because agreeing to move to the older, less comfortable parts of the station meant you could usually have as much personal space as the walls would allow.

Hrrs-tssk’ wrinkled his nose, rolling the air over the back of his throat on reflex. It smelled and tasted acrid, like burnt plastic and a sharp metal twinge that he couldn’t place – Hrrs-tssk’ frowned as he continued forward down the dimly lit corridor. It was a matter of energy conservation to reduce the lighting out in the “outer cluster”, the group of staging asteroids that eventually were mostly-abandoned for the main cluster, but it was a matter of survival if the air circulation stopped working. As Hrrs-tssk’ continued down, he realized the air was still mostly fresh – it’s just that something had burned. Out here, in the low priority part of the station, that was nothing new or novel.

Hrrs-tssk’ didn’t even feel the twine wire that he snapped with his lower torso, so protected he was with uniform and armor. However, he did feel the sudden blossoming of warm wetness that covered his entire body, the remainder of whatever silently broke above him hitting the floor with a wet and gooey smack. He screwed his eyes shut and held his breath, waiting for the burn to begin.

A few moments passed, and Hrrs-tssk’ realized that whatever was covering him wasn’t caustic – at least, not caustic enough to cause him any real harm. With the first most terrifying hurdle crossed, he slowly reached up to wipe his eyes clear – he would have to risk one of them, and he most likely would not like what he saw when he did.

Summoning all of his bravery he risked his left eye, cracking it open slowly to look around him.

‘<Oh thank Nidhogg, it wasn’t the sewage main.>’ Hrrs-tssk’ thought, opening his second eye when his first failed to burn. Whatever covered him looked industrial, that’s for sure – it was a grey-brown petroleum product, some lubricant or something. Hrrs-tssk’ went to flick the goop from his hand and realized that only half of it flew off; whatever was on him was sticky.

“<Great.>” Hrrs-tssk’ sighed, tapping his wrist to open comms as he looked up, shielding his eyes from falling debris. “<This is Black 4. Something just broke above me – send maintenance when they have an open ticket. Looks like a tank seal ruptured. No injuries, but I need new kit.>”

“<Understood.>” His implant barked, and went silent once more. Hrrs-tssk’ spent a few moments wiping as much of the gunk from his body as he could, eventually realizing that the easiest way forward would be to shed his outer layer of armor. Bundling it up under his arm – and with his rig now on full display he continued forward, murmuring in that “this day is bullshit” kind of way that we all get from time to time.

If only he wasn’t so distracted, he would have felt the second bit of wire snap as well.

There was a loud click, and Hrrs-tssk’s vision snapped up to identify the source head-on. There was about a half a second realization to his brain that the click wasn’t a weapon and was, instead, a bank of high-power hard-vacuum personal signal lights drawing power from the main. The other half a second was, unfortunately, staring at that bank wide-eyed.

There was a FLASH and then a scream as Hrrs-tssk’ saw every single lumen a Jornissian eye could possibly see, all at once, from about 5 feet away from the source. The goo that was on his face and head ended up flash-frying slightly, turning a tantalizing caramel color and demonstrating the wonder of the Maillard reaction. Hrrs-tssk’ dropped his armor and gripped his eyes, howling in pain as he stumbled forward – and down – into the corridor. Whatever fell on him next he didn’t care; he curled up and let it happen, snarling ferally at the last attack.

Moments passed, and turned to minutes. Hrrs-tssk’ realized that he wasn’t being attacked anymore, and took the time to breathe deeply and think while his eyes recovered. He was going down the corridor to his brother’s room, which itself laid at a dead end down and to the left of where he rested right now. This means that his brother probably put these traps up, and the only reason why his brother would put these traps up is if he was doing something he really shouldn’t be doing.

Hrrs-tssk’ blinked, his vision seeping back in from the omnipresent darkness he had experienced, starting in black and hot and eventually gaining color and bleed. His eyes adjusted, vision still blurry he stood back up – the small glass beads rolling along his body, sliding into crevices, filling up divots, popping into slots and pouring into pouches. He rolled his shoulders, and became immediately uncomfortable.

 “<Are you kidding me?!>” Hrrs-tssk’ asked the empty hallway, as he stripped down further, shaking out as many glass beads as he could from his clothing. At this point he was down to his skivvies, and was more disappointed with his brother than anything else. “<Mom said I needed to look out for you, but this is just damn goofy.>”

In a bit of frustration he tossed his soaked, fried and glass bauble-laden jacket down the hallway, half expecting something to happen. When it landed on the ground with a wet crumpling thwuf Hrrs-tssk’ sighed, slowly striding over to pick his clothing off of the dirty floor. As he reached his jacket he noticed something incredibly fascinating about this part of the hallway, namely (1) The metal plates he was standing on were connected by wires to something and (2) those exact metal plates somewhat depressed once he reached his jacket.

Hrrs-tssk’ flailed and screamed once more as electricity and heat coursed through his body – jacket and kit long forgotten he dove down the corridor off of the plates, his tailtip spasming against the ground as nerve signals continued to misfire. He rolled up into a defensive posture, his body twitching and shaking with errant tremors.

‘<Pressure plates. Were they all pressure plates?> Hrrs-tssk’ thought, reaching out to the wall to steady himself. His hand sunk in about a half an inch, and Hrrs-tssk’ whined as he heard the gurgle and rush of fluid through pipes. He heard that, but he felt the spray of liquid nitrogen hit his side, and with wild abandon he flung himself down the hallway towards his Brother.

“Bang! Boom! Ptchooo~!”

“[No New-Hope, they fight evil, not each other.]” Bleppy said, tilting his head and reaching down to his lap.

“Heck you I won’t do what you tell me!” Nate said, meaning exactly none of those words as the Jornissian’s hands picked up the carved figurines that had “died” in the epic battle that Nate was playing on Bleppy’s tail. The two of them had finished putting together some of the preliminary traps – Nate was hoping that Bleppy would finally discern his intentions, but the lad had continued to talk about nesting behavior, hanging shiny trinkets around to mark territory, and muttering something about “human-proofing the area”.

Such a feat had escaped OSHA for the past few hundred years, and would continue to do so until the end of time.

“[Now they’re friends because they all have to live together on the same shelf, so let’s not cause any bad memories, alright?]” Bleppy explained, putting the figurines back in their approved shrine positions. “[I don-]”

A small bell rang. It was tinny, it chimed, and it was about 500 years past it’s prime, but it was something that let you know someone was outside and would very much like to come in now thank you. Normally this was fine, but when you were playing host to an endangered species that you kind-of kidnapped, it was a terrifying sound. Bleppy froze for a moment, but Nate dove for the sand-bed, burrowing underneath the used grit as he clutched a rope tightly in his hands. Bleppy stood there for a moment before snapping out of his stupor, sliding over and laying on top of his friend. The suited-up Human disappeared under the sand, and Bleppy sat up, wiping the crumbs from his very used shirt.

“[Come in!]”

Bleppy’s door slid open to show an absolutely and utterly exhausted Hrrs-tssk’, who was tanned, caramelized, bleeding, sticky, covered in grit, glitter, mica dust and fire.

“[AAAAAAAAH.]” Hrrs-tssk’ yelled in both rage and confusion, staring daggers into his brother.

There was a twice-muffled “Andthencomesthegiantfist- before the rope under Bleppy was pulled, hard. The two Jornissians looked at the rope, followed it to the first pulley on the wall, and then to the second pulley that attached to a net, filled with metal lumps, scrap, twisted and pointy bits of plastic and a few used napkins. With the pull, the tied knot that held all that detritus together was loosed, and Bleppy’s brother was buried under a veritable mountain of crap.  

“[O-OH! [Hrrs-tssk’!]]” Bleppy cried, starting to dart forward before recoiling back. The pile shifted, and Bleppy grew concerned.

With another, noticeably weaker animalistic yell Hrrs-tssk’ crawled his way out of the mound of sharp and uncomfortable bits, the raw machined filings and castaways grinding into his bare, raw skin. Parts of him were on fire, parts of him were probably broken, parts of him were probably dead, but he didn’t care. He had to know, he had to know why, and he needed to hear it from his Brother’s own mouth.

“[WHY?!]” Hrrs-tssk’ roared, crawling along the ground with gritted teeth. “[YOU STUPID, BRAIN-DE-]”

Hrrs-tssk’s tirade died in his throat as his brother started to squirm uncomfortably, his sand bed seeming to come alive underneath him. Hrrs-tssk’ watched Stk’shzsk fight with something, before that something broke free, piercing the center of Stk’shzsk’s coils and crawling atop the defeated Jornissian. Hrrs-tssk’ stared at the beast, and he knew.

He knew it when he saw it.

“[Is… is that a human?]”

“[OhgeezeIcanexplain-]” babbled Bleppy/Stk’shzsk’, his anxiety spiking through the roof as his human companion began to fidget atop his head. “[-Youhavetokeepitasecretplease-]”

The human, helmet glowing red, lifted a triumphant arm.

“[Is that a THERMAL DETONATOR?!]” Hrrs-tssk’ yelled, pointing at the humans’ clenched fist.


“-CASTLE LAW-” Nate screamed, and then there was a BANG.