"So..." Cass winced as she shifted her weight in discomfort on the operating table "Who or what is the Hive?"
The alien in the theatre with her gave her an unreadable sideways glance with two of its three eyes "Our problem" it said grimly and turned away to lope around to the other side of the bed, its three legs giving it an unfamiliar gait.
"Are they insects?" Cass tried again "Hard skin? Very dangerous?"
Ignoring her, the creature pulled a large machine of arcane and uncertain function over towards the bedside and began tapping away at the controls studding its surface, the alien's long, thin fingers making careful adjustments to the devices instrumentation.
Cass shook her head; this was getting her nowhere, and besides which, Brittany had previously told her that she had eliminated every last remnant of the Hymenoptera ‘civilisation’, so it was unlikely to be them.
“Why don’t you release me?” she asked, hopefully wriggling her hands in their restraints “Let me go. There’s no need for this. We can work together”
“Soon” the aliens scratchy voice sounded distracted as it flicked a series of switches and narrowed its eyes, squinting at something Cass couldn’t see “Need...” it stopped and raised the weird computer-device it held in one of its hands to tap away at it for a few seconds “Information. Spirit information”
“Well, I’d be h-Hnnk” Cass convulsed in a violent spasm of pain as the creature activated the machine. She would have screamed as well, but her jaw was locked in a rictus of agony, so instead, her breath hissed out from between her clenched teeth in spittle flecked torment.
A low thrumming noise filled the room as more of the machines system came online and, if anything, the pain increased even further while the alien made languid adjustments to the device, seemingly oblivious to Cassandra’s animal noises of pain and misery.
Several further calibrations saw Cass go limp on the table; control of her body no longer her own yet her eyes were alive with torment.
It was like being awake during surgery where the anaesthetist had fucked up.
Fully conscious yet unable to move a muscle, Cass screamed and screamed inside her skull while the alien meticulously conducted its experiments; only pausing every now and then to take notes with its handheld computer and make further adjustments to the machine, before continuing its merciless excavation of her mind.
How long this process continued, Cass couldn’t say, but it abruptly ceased when another of the aliens hurried into the room, flanked by a couple of the human-like cyborgs the creatures had created.
Words were exchanged – a series of rapid clicks and whistles – and the experiment was reluctantly terminated, bringing Cassandra’s torment to a sudden end as the alien deactivated the machine and returned her control of her body.
"You fucking animal!" she screamed, only distantly aware that her nose was bleeding as she struggled violently against her bonds.
“A sign from God, we have!” the alien enthused, it’s three arms moving in complicated unison “Plik-isss-kin not Ancient. Other. Maybe”
It took Cass a moment to register what had just been said through the residual fug of pain clouding her conscious.
“Plisken?” her lips bubbled around the word and she craned her neck to wipe the blood from her mouth on her upper arm; regretting, not for the first time, her decision to implant that neural interface all those years ago - it seemed to have caused some sort of weakness or susceptibility to nosebleeds when the STCP burned it out. Perhaps she should have a word with Jade about it.
"Plik-isss-kin" the alien repeated, enunciating each syllable with reverential care.
The other alien said something in their own tongue and cocked its head, regarding the one that had spoken to her with acute intensity.
Emitting a low click of what Cass took to be irritation, her erstwhile tormentor shook its head "Leave must I" it said "Speak to this Plik-iss-ken. Experiment!"
It turned to leave and strode across the operating theatre to join its compatriot, which in turn manoeuvred around to follow it out of the door, pausing only to say something to one of the cyborgs who remained behind as the rest of the group filed out.
Left alone with the metal and flesh monstrosity, Cass regarded it warily.
Humanoid. Male - The twisted mockery of humanity gave her the creeps; its primitive-looking implants making even the ridiculously old fashioned tin arm of Plisken's look advanced.
“Hi” she croaked, but the thing gave no indication it had heard her, merely standing, hulking and immobile, near to the door.
With her head throbbing painfully, Cass tried her best to twist her hands out of their restraints once again, but to no avail; she was tightly bound and secured and succeeded only in rubbing her wrists raw on the manacles.
“Could you help me?” she asked, but the cyborg continued to ignore her “Please” Cass paused to lick her cracked and dry lips “It doesn’t have to be like this. Just help me. Please”
Barely visible above the mass of breathing and feeding tubes crowding the creatures face, the cyborgs one good eye flicked towards her for the briefest of instants and then away.
"Please" Cass repeated, a note of desperation edging into her voice "I know you can understand me. Just help me - I can stop all this. I can help you!"
This last bit was in all likelihood a lie; she didn't know if there was anything she could do to help the cyborgs, but if it meant saving her own hide, there was almost nothing Cass wouldn't stoop to saying or doing to aid her cause.
"We have a ship" she persisted "A big one; we can take you with us - all of you if needs be. Just help me. Please"
The cyborg glanced back at her only to look away again in a moment of apparent indecision before it lurched into motion; its heavy feet thudding across the floor as it trudged over towards her bedside.
Up close, the construct was even more intimidating and in spite of her burgeoning hope, Cass shied away from it as it raised a crude hand of metal and flesh and smeared its fingertips through the blood on her lips from her nose.
Its touch was surprisingly gentle.
"I can help you" Cass whispered, her eyes searching his "Please help me"
Raising its hand, the cyborg examined its bloodied fingertips in motionless silence for a moment before apparently coming to a decision and reaching his hand out again, he used his machine augmented strength to tear the manacles restraining her away from the bed.
"You'll help us all?" the brute rumbled "Friends and..." he paused uncomfortably "lovers?"
This startled Cass as she slipped from the bed and wound the bloodied sheet around her naked form
"Lovers?" she repeated
The cybernetic monster looked curiously bashful for a moment "It is forbidden" he said in a low voice
At once touched and astonished that these creatures were almost as human as she was, Cass slowly shook her head in wonder "Of course I'll help"
This time she meant it
An alarm blared; its sudden wailing howl, echoing madly throughout the corridors of the base, startling Cass but making the cyborg stiffen and turn to glance warily back at the door out of the room.
"They’ll be here soon" he growled “We need to leave”
Nodding mutely, Cass made a grab for her terminal, laid amidst the other items on top of the battered old trolley nearest the bed. The display shimmered to life at her touch "I don’t know if..." she petered out, her eyes scanning the myriad schematics crowding the screen.
“Are you ready?” the cyborg asked
It was probably the adrenaline crash after what she had just been subjected to, but in spite of the oven-like heat in the base, Cass shivered.
It couldn't be that easy, could it?
“I don't think we need to" she said "I think can do this from here”
“You... 'think'!?”
“It’s simple” Cass resized the holographic display to accommodate more data, which she mentally correlated on the fly, her fingers dancing across the surface of the screen "These idiots don't even know what they're messing with"
"We don’t have much time. What are you planning?"
"Use the psychic grid to kill our torturers"
"How long will it take?"
"No time at all" Cass murmured, her voice lost amid the clamour of the alarm as she established and reinforced an interface to feed one of her battery of AI spikes into the command strata.
“Is it quick?” the cyborg repeated, an edge of concerned agitation in his voice
“Yes. Yes, it will be. I just need a few minutes; can you hold them off that long?”
It was almost as if the base wanted to let her in
"It'll mean all our deaths if this doesn't work" the monster grunted as it turned to face the door, his battered and scarred hands curling into fists "This had better be worth it"
"What's your name?" Cass asked, suddenly aware that she had no idea who her benefactor was. Her fingers continued moving, disengaging one safety override after another.
"Resource two-nineteen. Friends call me Joshua"
"Thank you for helping me Joshua. I'm Cass"
"Cass" the monster repeated, savouring the unfamiliar word. He nodded, no doubt copying the alien’s mannerisms, and turned back towards the door which suddenly blew inwards in a concussive blast that heralded the arrival of one of the aliens’ suppression squads.
“Whoa shit!” Cass screeched, instinctively flinching and scrambling around the other side of the bed "Shit. Shit! Give me a few minutes. Hold them off!"
A gas canister arced into the room to ricochet off the back wall, hissing violently as it emitted clouds of noxious white gas that stung their eyes. Hurrying as much as she was able, Cass established a throughput conduit and retracted the spike to let the base slide into her mind, a shuddering gasp of pleasure involuntarily escaping her lips as it did so.
For an inescapable moment, she lost herself in the experience of feeling like a God.
She could sense everything - The base, the pyramid and the dozens of other similar structures across the planet; the aliens and their cyborgs in this and all the other research centres. She could sense the Dwarfers, the planet, everything.
Jay was nearby, angry and alone, struggling hard against his bonds in a lab not far from her.
Eve and Jade were close by as well, hurrying along together down a darkened corridor, trying to escape the pursuers’ fast closing in behind them.
Plisken had been forced down onto his ancient, protesting knees to await the arrival of the chief scientist; the one who had just been experimenting on her.
Their emotions were raw, palpable things that she could very nearly taste; and it would have been so easy to reach into their minds and soothe away their fears while she pillaged their innermost secrets.
For a moment she was tempted.
What was Plisken's real story?
What was the dark secret that Jade had thus far left unsaid?
How did Jay really feel about her?
She was sorely tempted; but the knowledge that Brittany would have had no qualms in stooping to that sort of behaviour gave her pause and time to recollect how awful she had felt when Boyd had torn the secret horrors of her father’s abuse from her mind; so instead she withdrew, just as a heavily armed and armoured squad of camouflage shielded aliens burst into the room with their weapons blazing.
Joshua died before Cass could even react; his convulsing body erupting in a welter of blood and cooling fluids to fall lifeless and ruined to the floor.
Aghast at her shocking negligence, she killed the entire cadre in retribution.
It was such a simple thing just to reach into their weird minds and utterly destroy them.
Others died in quick succession; those hunting Jade and Eve; the chief scientist and its immediate lackeys; and then all the rest in the base as she realised with a horrified start that a small team of the creatures had just finished dissecting Phi's lifeless corpse, leaving her organs in jars and her blood soused across the floor around the operating table on which her grisly remains lay.
Numb with shock, Cass stumbled forward over the bodies and out of the room, coughing and choking in the clouds of gas, her eyes streaming with tears.
Phi was dead!
Why her!? First Kat and now Phi; these were people Cass liked, damn it!
Why not one of those other useless wastes of space that she was forced to associate with!?
And Joshua! – He’d been willing to help and had paid for her hubris with his life; cut down by the same vile fucking animals that had killed Phi and tormented him and his kind their entire lives.
Her mouth curled into a snarl.
Fuck them!
Mustering the full force of the ancient remnants of the planets psychic defence grid, Cass killed the rest of the aliens on the world with but a thought. Another mental command summoned one of the last few Starbugs from the Dwarf and yet another destabilised auto-repair systems of each of the bases’ around the world; the result of which would see them being consumed from within by their own nanotech in a few short hours, making the facilities less than useless to the aliens.
Cutting the psychic link, Cass trudged down the now silent corridors in search of her comrades.
She baldy needed a hug although she doubted very much she’d get one.

Phi is dead
There’s a Starbug on its way, but does anything else happen while we’re here?
If not, get us back to the Dwarf and let’s have some descriptions from you of what your characters do when they get back.


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