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72850...

Spencer Blake woke up at the sound. His last memory had been darkness, but now light had appeared. Also, someone had let a few stun rounds slip through the net... Obviously, the door attachments would be the weakest point of the structure and the special-issue drill bit would make short work of the lock-

"Hello, Spencer."

Ah, the looming nightmares flooded back. In truth, they had never left.

Atlantic Tower...

Candiru removed his sunglasses. Blake's initial thought was: Can these things age? Previously,the Vampire seemed tragically young but now he appeared dangerously frail.

"This is quite an unusual occurence. Oh, and stop removing those blanks as the stun shots only work on those with a pulse."

Oddly helpful.

"It seems that part of you stayed in my mind after you were bitten. Given that you survived, it probably remained there. Now, do you know what Aldebaran is?"

"A star, I think."

"This may come as a shock to you, but a radical group from there had you cloned to serve as human overlord of the universe. We don't want that, do we?"

"No."

"Under a technicality, belonging to the species Homo sapiens is illegal. However, you will not be terminated(Abolished 2850.) or even put in stasis. You see, so much DNA is shared between species that the only ethical action is to send you to work on the Hydras."

"Which are?"

"Hunter-killer-bomber-destroyer starcruisers. Here is your key."

Blake was handed a piece of plastic which bore no resemblence to a key.

"H-853 departs shortly."

"Wait, is this the future?"

"To you, yes."

"Did we contact the Martians?"

"Sorry?"

"Inhabitants of Mars?"

"There was a cactus near the Magfusion works on my last visit but it was from Terra."

That, it seemed, was that.

H-853...

Spencer Blake performed a classic double-take from the days of silent films when he saw the other inhabitant.

"Hello, my name's-Are you one of those Cockatrice things?"

"No. I am the only Cockatrice thing. Re-cloned 34 times for CODEX, adult and chick."

"I used to fight CODEX."

"Co-Operative Democratic EXpansion? You deserve all you get."

"No, no. I recall being bitten by one of the vampire counts, then I woke up in a cell and was told that my genes are illegal."

"All you hacking scammers say something like that. No, I know your expletive sort."

"Sorry?"

"My translator does not handle expletives or, as I found out, my acidic venom."

Spencer threw his hat on the small bunk and sat in the command chair. A second later, there was a cockatrice at his ear.

"Can I help you?"

"It's fine, I have a key."

"To your overhead locker. Well, my overhead locker but you can have it."

"Can I just unblack the windows?"

"Not until we leave."

"So, what shall I do?"

The Cockatrice continued in the monotone of one who had seen it all before: "The new and inexperienced members of the fleet shall first perform menial tasks for superior officers with Web and Slate rests built in. Should there be no tasks to perform, carry out routine manitenance or read a magazine. You have bought one, I presume?"

"How much time have I got?"

"Sorry, windows are unblacked and we are on our way!"

Exiting The Solar System...

Blake edged round the table to open the overhead locker.

"This is another bunk!"

"Hydras are built for five sentients, one of whom must always be awake. There are two more opposite that one. The galley, stocked with enough pre-prepared meals to make you vomit, is at the back of the ship near the decontaminent facilities and the reactor core. Their design, not mine. Inside you will find a Slate for news, sport and all that alongside your DIY surgery kit."

Spencer stared in horror at the scalpel.

"Pick up your jaw from its resting place on the ground and start stitching the Web access fibres in. That, or we could laser-etch."

"Lasers sound interesting."

"You are stupid enough to make that ludicrous story of yours sound plausible."

The Cockatrice threw a switch, burning the pattern into Blake's hand.

Proxima Centauri...

"This is the point where our warping becomes prohibited. Hyperdrives are to be deployed."

"The Solar System. I have seen it from among the stars."

"Yes, it is terrible. How is your hand?"

Suprised at this caring twist, he replied: "Fine, thankyou."

"I suppose they told you about the Past?"

"They did."

They lapsed once again into silence.

"Our mission will consist of two stages. One: train you to do my menial tasks. Two: Make sure that the Aldebaranian rebels are destroyed. After this, you get one month on a ocean world. Inside. Drilling surveilance holes."

"Sounds boring."

"Try it on every ocean world in this arm."

"Faster-than-light works, I'm told."

"Don't touch a thing! First officer you may be by default but I have no insurance if anything fails. Jumping in three, two, one-go."

"Are there any others on this mission?"

"H-840 through 60. No chances."

The warning light of UNEXPECTED DELAY flashed.

"Ah."

"Yes."

"Terra, we happen to have hit something."

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