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H-853...

Klystrom, sipping the synth blood, was regarded by the Cockatrice with something beyond hatred.

"I can stay. I have the official chips, I have a pilot's slate-"

"For one-being vehicles."

"I have, as you can see, got my own spacesuit."

Spencer sat on the bunk, out of the way. The first question she was asked was: "Are you one of those grey-eyed owl-lovers?"

Spencer's reply had been: "He means elves. It's like a compliment."

"And where do you think we are going to get the extra equipment from?"

"Teleported from stores. I have nowhere else to go and I won't use any of your oxygen."

"Spencer, do we say yes?"

"Erm, OK."

It transpired that when the Belial Fang was destroyed, the water from the coolant systems froze her and stopped the trackers from locating the small amount of heat given off.

"Right, you can go on Flame. Our last flamer died in the Battle of 18237479+ back in 45329. Stay away from the ultraviolet shower because it gives people sunburn. Worse for you, I expect."

"For some reason I fail to combust."

"Fill out your forms. Leave nickname to me. After all, I call him 'Spencer' when he is probably just a shapeshifting video pirate from Triangulum."

"No, he is a human. The smell matches."

"Really? Leave uniform void. You can have Spencer's spare clothes(Cuba 1955 tourist. One Hawaiian shirt, those stupid shorts and sandals which were too big for him.) and my jacket and cap."

"I agree."

Spencer was worried. The Cockatrice had pronounced the brackets.

Holiday World Bali Hai'i, CODEX Islands...

As the Hydra came down towards the specially designed islands, shields were the only thing stopping the ship from overheating. It levitated slightly above the ground, leaving enough room for the Cockatrice to insert a small tripod.

"Down steadily. Lower, lower, NOW!"

Spencer hauled the equipment out of the airlock.

"Which hotel?"

"A discounted Planck-Time one. Have fun cleaning the instrument panels!"

Klystrom lazily turned on the voice-stream. It was the Magfusion anthem again. They probably owned the planet. It faded out to the announcer.

"Now a word from our eternally-generous sponsors. If you want to join their ideal grid, answer this question over the two-way link to win a one-month holiday(With valet service for starships!). On which operatic score is the anthem based?

a)-"

"Also Sprach Zarathrustra."

Central Management Office...

"Right Spencer, this is the last one."

"I thought that we would do them in more than one room."

"The rest were counter-surveilance beams."

Spencer quietly drilled the hole, trying not to alert the Gnome meeting beneath.

"Number 300."

Spencer plugged it in, and the ceiling finally gave way. The startled Gnomes stared for a while.

"CODEX Troopers! Why do you not salute!"

H-853...

Klystrom folded the Flame-armour and counted to three before unbolting the door.

"Back on time."

The Cockatrice decided to impart some wisdom: "The Attack Swimmers are the only vicious animals on the planet. Did you know that the engine of a cheap, tinny escape boat makes them ultra-aggressive?"

"No."

The Psuedo-Dragon resumed his place at the command chair and Spencer bent down to look at the Flame-armour.

"Please rise, for the Commodore!"

Spencer again rose unbidden into the metal.

"Your mission is to rescue a settlement from a world orbiting a red supergiant. Soon, it will collapse to a pulsar and annihilate every organism in the system. We need those sentients!"

The Commodore faded out again.

"Still the same one, I see."

"Have you got a suntan? You fail to look pale."

"No. I, er, fixed the shower."

"Good, you have learned to do my jobs. Spencer still struggles with the door."

Spencer did not hear because of the ringing in his ears.

"On tonight's menu, we have powdered imitation chicken egg and one of those buttercream things they churn out. You know, when they made too many and they just sold old stock from the warehouse."

Klystrom shuddered, and was thankful for human-synth.

"So, we should get our real mission soon."

"Real? Surely this one was real?"

"Spencer, how stupid are you? Magfusion don't care about the sentients at all. They can find their own way offworld. No, some sort of ancient xenotech that we have to recover before they ignite the sun to remove the other evidence."

This rather muted the conversation. Klystrom concentrated on finding the straw for the synth machine, which fitted tightly over her left fang.

"Hyperjumping."

"So, what's hyperspace like?"

"Well, I doubt that the Cockatrice told you this but someone has to observe you perpetually. You are fine with him, after all he has a transparent eyelid, but if I were observing and blinked..."

"What would happen?"

"It's like decades. Time runs differently. This year I'm physically 897."

The tickertape ran out of the machine, and a robotic arm handed it to the Cockatrice.

"Ah."

"Yes?" chorused the other crew members.

"Still human stuff I see."

Hive Block X...

Indeed, there was a time when Candiru had been the last Vampire. It was for three minutes in 2280, after an "unfortunate" fire. Now, with Resurrection electrolyser machines and vampire remains common, the Great Wall superstructure had thriving populations in most of its million galaxies. Still, when Candiru nearly faked his own death it gave some comfort to both the vampires that were out there and their potential prey. This did not help the vampire Khazak in the nearest system to the Devilworld, as he was going to be killed in the next few minutes. He walked carefully along the edges of vision and still failed to notice the man in the long, black coat and hat. The Van Helsing of the dark side.

"Khazak?"

"Yes."

"Apologise for your species."

As Khazak tried to fathom this, the man shot twice into his leg.

"Good solid silver."

"What do you want?"

"Repent."

"Are you human?"

The "human" thrust his right hand forward. The metal fingers merged to form a single, sharp point.

"I stopped being that long ago. Protector-1. Cyborg Vampire Slayer."

The blackness descended quickly but he gave Khazak time to feel fear. After all, they both fed on fear.

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