Candiru, though suffering slightly from wing pain, had declared that he was ready to return to work. Evidently, something was keeping him alive, much to the distaste of the inhabitant of The Sapiens.
Spencer was used to sleek starships. Having to enter the Hydra through an elevator airlock in low-earth orbit started to crush those illusions. The Leviathan finally demolished that dream. The main problem with space travel was getting off the ground and getting back again. Ideally intact. Dr Cook, inventor of the Hyperdrive, had famously mentioned that this was like driving though narrow streets in an armed jet fighter. Essentially, the basic skeleton is given to each commander, who will then customise it beyond recognition and normal atmospheric limits before painting it bright silver for visibility. This was the case here, where an obviously space-bound cube appeared to have been merged with another obviously space-bound sphere.
"Do you like it?"
"Yes, it is awful. How are you going with the vac-armor?"
"Walking, breathing and aiming."
"Could be difficult. Still, you are awake. There must be thousands of humans in stasis who would do anything for their last real hours."
"You haven't helped."
"Thirty minutes to The Sapiens."
The Commodore was glad of a rest. Of the Great Wall, three galaxies were still in rebellion. They would be dealt with very slowly. Humans, unbeknownst to the general population, had survived in the next Great Wall thanks to some forgotten colonisation efforts and President Crook's genetic lifepod.
"Firing main graser in three."
If you have seen one, then you have seen them all.
"Yes, that was a big one. OK Spencer, exit through the airlock into the Shieldship lander."
"Nothing could have survived that."
"Nothing on Earth." chuckled the Cockatrice.
It was deceptively spacious. Spencer never thought that his knees could hurt that much. The mission commander (unofficially, but he was a Gorgon and thus always right) announced that the graser blast had knocked out the gravity, computer systems and air. None of this affected the Aldebaranian. The Cockatrice was coping very well, coiling his prehensile tail around the trigger.
"Furthermore, I feel that I should explain the protocol to any of our new members. Never leave an identity chip behind."
Religion was no longer a force, supposedly, but people always had traditions. You never left a chip behind, because it could be thousands of years before that world was visited again. Out there, in the lonely dark on mining worlds at the ends of the Wall, those who had never seen a sunrise in service of CODEX mining started to see patterns in the sky...
The airlock released, and the Blue and Grey divisions swarmed out.
"Aldebaranians are a kind of shapeshifting plasma. Be prepared."
Charges were deployed against several of the electrolocked doors, revealing rooms of DNA samples, cloning equipment and "raw material". It would all be destroyed when the station plunged into the gas giant.
The comms officer detected a higher heat signal in the still-sealed fusion generator complex, leading the group over to it along the handrails. There, near the central control rod, stood "D". Spencer's grip on the blaster loosened.
"As perfect as I thought, Spencer. The one true species."
Calmly, he send two rounds reeling into the Flame Trooper. The Cockatrice leapt at the being's hand as it fell, using its bayonet to reclaim the chip before the late flamer was consumed in a brief flash.
"I made you as a galactic ruler, and now you let them push you across the Wall. Pathetic."
The blaster dropped.
"Stars Blake, look at his armband! Kill it!"
Blake re-entered reality and swung the Flame rifle in slow motion towards his former employer, who caught it but momentarily let the illusion slip. Blake desperately grabbed the blaster, flicked safety off and emptied the round as the tube of liquid fire came down, nearly crushing his helmet. And yet, he lived. The Gorgon examined the remains and pronounced: "Brilliant shot. You severed his connector leads along the left side. Pass the spare helmet."
He never found out anything else about the dead Flamer.
The Cockatrice threaded the chip onto one of the strings of the same above the control panel. After a quiet prayer, he decided to break the silence.
"Well, you lived. Shall we celebrate with some ice?"
It was fortunate that they had returned at that time, for otherwise they would have missed the rebirth of a new and terrible form of life.