Today's Reading

Potential Target Leader said something that our FacilitySystem translated through our feed as, "I showed you I'm serious. We'll take what we want, then leave you in peace. Tell the others to come out."

"We'll give you supplies, but not people," Thiago said.

"If you have nice supplies, I'll leave the people."

"You didn't have to shoot anyone." Heat crept into Thiago's voice. "If you needed supplies, we would have given them to you."

Don't worry, the "anyone" who got shot was me.

(Thiago, while violating the security protocol everyone agreed to IN ADVANCE, had walked out to the observation deck to greet the strangers on their stupid boat. I followed and pulled him back from the edge, and so Potential Target Leader shot me instead of him. Got me right in the shoulder. I managed to fall off the observation deck and miss the water intake. Yes, I was pissed off.

"SecUnit, SecUnit, are you there—" Overse, in the facility's command center, had shouted at me over the comm interface.

Yes, I'm fine,' I'd sent her over the feed. It's a good thing I don't bleed like a human because hostile marine fauna was about all this situation needed. 'I've got everything under fucking control, okay.

"No, it says it's fine," I heard her relaying to the others on our comm. "Well, yes, it's furious.")

I swung over the railing and dropped to the deck. I'd tuned my pain sensors down but I could feel the projectile wedged in next to my support framework and it was annoying. Staying low, I crawled down the steps into the first cabin structure. The human inside was monitoring a primitive scanner system. (I'd jammed it even before I got shot, feeding it artistic static and random reports of anomalous energy signatures to keep it busy.) I choked her until she was unconscious and then broke her arm to give her something else to worry about if she revived too soon. I didn't take her projectile weapon but I did pause to break a couple of its key components.

The room was stuffed with bags and containers and other human crap. There were neat storage racks but everything was jumbled on the deck. We had seen eleven groups of strange humans in water boats from a distance, and had been contacted by two of them. Both had been what Thiago called "unusually divergent" and some of the others had called deeply weird. Both groups had taken the same elaborate precautions to show they were approaching in a non-hostile manner and had not displayed any weapons. Both groups had wanted to trade supplies with us. (Arada and the others had wanted to just give them what they needed, but Thiago had asked them to trade their stories of why they were here on this planet.)

So okay, maybe Thiago had reason to suppose this group would also be non-hostile. But the earlier groups had given me a chance to develop a profile of local non-hostile approaches/interactions and this group hadn't fit.

Nobody fucking listens to me.

Potential Target Leader and their friends aboard Stupid Boat were also dressed better than the other humans we'd encountered, in clothing that looked newer if not cleaner. There was no planetary feed (stupid planet) but Stupid Boat had its own rudimentary feed that was heavy with games and pornography but light on anything that might be helpful for a security assessment, like who these people were and what they wanted. Even the individual humans' feed signatures only contained info about sexual availability and gender presentation, which I didn't give a damn about.

I slipped through into a grimy metal corridor, then a human stepped out of the next doorway. I disarmed them and slammed their head into the floor.

The door to the next compartment was closed, but one of my drones had landed on the roof earlier, flattened itself to a window, and got me some good scan and vid intel. That was kind of important, because this was the compartment with the control station for the large boat-busting projectile weapon that was currently pointed at our facility.

According to the drone's video, one small human sat in the weapon station, their attention on a primitive camera-based targeting screen. Three large humans, all armed, sat around casually on battered station chairs, though the other stations had missing or badly jury-rigged or outdated equipment. They were chatting, watching Thiago and Potential Target Leader on the screen, la la la, just another day at work.

The compartment was a bulbous structure set to the right of the bow, and reinforced with metal to protect and support the large weapon. The six hostiles near the bow casually pointing projectile weapons at the facility's observation deck were too far away to hear as long as I didn't overdo it. So I snapped the lock and didn't slam the door as I went through.

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