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The Green Slime

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Sharra largely looked alright after the battle with the Orks, other than the fact that there were only a few small patches of fur remaining to cover spots of her form and that metal had flowed to seal over the smoking remnants of one eye. The heavy and graceless way she moved gave a lie to it, though, and she made no complaint at accepting a little help getting back to the ship.

Nanites were dead, dying, and damaged, and that damage translated itself as a throbbing counterpoint of pain to her, the same system which allowed her to feel other sensations little differently than she had before the conversion. It was the one drawback and danger to the morphic process, and it had been known to drive the victim to insanity on rare occasions. She was, thankfully, well-practiced at managing it.

It would be a few days at least to let her body repair itself, and would require providing some heavy materials for the nanites to work with, but overall she was in a lot better shape than a biological form would be and far more spry and lively than the charred and broken corpse of the creature she'd left behind. She got settled in to rest and start diagnostics, deliberately focusing on vocoder repairs first.

"I'll be alright," she said again, the repairs taking care of the nasty scratching and wavering tone even if it wasn't quite back to her normal mellow modulation, and she switched the focus from the vocoder to the damaged eye. There were only a few non-morphic implants she possessed, but they were important ones. "Any recent reports on the invaders?" she asked to switch the topic away from her injuries.

The recognition that there were a lot of dead innocents added a spike of a different sort of pain. She couldn't understand why this had happened. It had seemed like these Orks were doing it for nothing more than enjoyment. Madness...

"I think we've pretty much cleaned up most of them," Jenna reported. "The other Death Dancers are sweeping over the system thoroughly to make sure we didn't miss any. They should be able to take care of it."

"What about the natives?" Sharra asked. "Things didn't looks too good down here, and I'm not sure I want to think about how many were on that station."

Not to mention the cruiser and the many fighters, both Imperial and local that had been destroyed... she really hated this sort of thing, especially bitter as it came on the heels of having stopped another outbreak so damned recently.

"More dead than wounded," Jenna said. "We don't have precise counts on the number of casualties yet... early estimates put it around eight thousand."

Eight thousand... and that would go up when they started sifting through and finding the broken and shattered women and infants, the old and infirm, who were ground under the invaders' tanks.

"Damn," Sharra muttered, "At least the threat looks to be gone now and they can start rebuilding."

Jenna lowered her voice and said darkly, "The modified designs of some of the Orks match up with some Cybion experiments that broke lose from planet Athens several months ago."

"Maybe it's time someone took a closer look at them," Sharra replied. "Yet one more thing they have to answer for now."

There were times when the motivations and actions of sentient beings were enough to rethink her general belief in good, but focusing on it at least helped to dim the echoes still resounding through her and distract from the realities of the damage done to this system and its people.

"Well... all of the Cybions responsible for that particular lapse in judgment were killed by their own experiments," Jenna said. "But it seems to be a common thread among that group, doesn't it."

"Yeah, it does," Sharra agreed wearily, "Even after that there was Klaus tinkering with the same genetic material out on Bristol without a care for what could have come out of it."

Grakalath at least appeared to have been a far more stable creation, but would he have ended up any better than the creatures they'd killed if he and his clones had been turned over to the forces Nihilian had worked with? She doubted it.

"The Cybions take their experiments to the fringe worlds since there aren't as many laws governing genetic experimentation and safety protocols out there..."

Sharra's expression remained blank, more important repairs being attended to than simple appearances, but cold amusement leaks through as she replied, "There's not a lot of places they can hide from the Empress' Own, though. They and the Urians seem to be the biggest problems, and have been from what I've researched. The Euphorians are too busy slaking their own lusts to cause nearly as much trouble."

Jenna nodded in agreement. "Perhaps it's time someone put their foot down and did something about it."

"After all this," Sharra replied grimly, waving a hand in an absent indication of the current situation. "I think I'm more than willing to lend my foot to that purpose. Someone has to do something about it, so we don't see this or something worse again."

"They left Epsilon for not wanting to face Imperial laws that would restrict what they could get away with and put some regulations on their behavior and safety procedures." Jenna snorted. "Who knows how many are out there on some remote world, engineering the next scourge that will devastate the galaxy?"

"Since we're back on standard operational status," Sharra said, "I think we just might have a good enough reason after this to go out and take a look around, see what they're doing on those fringe worlds, and apply that foot where appropriate. Sound reasonable to you?"

"Indeed," Jenna agreed. "They can't be allowed to just do whatever they damned well please without any regard to safety... nor trying to claim ownership of their own sentient creations..."

"I think the Empress has probably gotten more than she'd want to in regards to reports on this mess," Sharra remarked quietly. "And there's not a lot that we can do that isn't already being done for the people out there... so. Time to take a look through the cybernet for any hints, as well as plot a general tour through the fringe worlds to see for ourselves what might be hidden."

"Do you need anything?" Jenna asked, glancing her over critically.

"A few days for repairs and I'll be good as new," Sharra replied. "I'll need to acquire a couple kilograms of raw materials for my systems to work with, the higher refined and dense the better, but other than that..." She shrugged awkwardly. "I've dealt with heavy damage before, it's not pleasant, but I'll survive."

"I'm sure that can be managed." She glanced through the doorway with a bit of a smirk. Zillah was eating another pizza.

Sharra's eye tracked in that direction, then turns expressionlessly back to Jenna. "She can't go out there," she said quietly. "So far she's seen more than she should have, but no little girl should see close up what's left after a major battle like this."

The broken and bleeding wreckage of the survivors, the blank pain of those mourning their loss... all that and more she remembered too vividly from times past. She'd shield Zillah from the worst of it for a while longer, if she could.

Jenna nodded grimly. "Always so eager to be involved." She sighed softly. "Damned Cybions. They would have done the same to me given the chance."

"After seeing their handiwork, and encountering some of their thinking firsthand, I don't doubt it a bit," Sharra agreed. "But there's at least one of their 'experiments' I can do something to help and protect, and I think maybe going to see what the Cybions are up to in general may give her something else to think about too."

It was a complex problem, but one she was more than willing to work at from different angles.

"Let's get out of here as soon as we're ready," Sharra went on, pushing herself back to her feet with an effort that brought a strange hum to the air. "Better to deflect any good-intentioned chances."

Jenna nodded, heading for the cockpit. A report had come in from the Death Dancers indicating that they were 99% certain that the system was clear now, and that the Imperials were heading back to Primus. A squad of Death Dancers would remain on patrol in the system just in case, and humanitarian assistance should arrive from Primus shortly to help the wounded.

Sharra was glad to hear each of those bits of news, though she suspected that any of the foul Orks who survived wouldn't do so for too long... the Predators here had lost homes and family. They'd take great joy in hunting down any stragglers, she was sure. She did stop by her locker to dig into the reserves hidden within, dragging out a small box that contained a few dozen glass cylinders.

They contained various heavy elements and she injected the thick liquid directly to let it start reinforcing the nanites' work. Have to see if this couldn't be replicated here, she mused to herself, then returned everything to its place and heads back for the cockpit. Just to ease her companions, she set a priority on cosmetic repairs. The appearance of wellbeing would return within a short period at least.

"Let's be off, Zillah. There's nothing more we can do here," Jenna said. "They've got the situation well in hand."

Zillah licked some tomato sauce off a finger and took the pilot's seat and said, "Where we heading?"

Sharra shook her head briefly as the metal flowed back from the once-ruined eye-socket, her visual range returning to normal suddenly, and she replied absently, "Hmm, Epsilon station seems like a good launching point. It's far enough out near the border that I'd be surprised if there aren't still contacts with the Cybions there for supplies and other services."

Zillah gave a nod, and took off from the planet, heading toward the jump gate to take them to the Epsilon system. They passed a medical ship painted white with a red plus sign heading toward the third planet. Just in time, Sharra remarked in silence to herself, the hospital ship definitely something she didn't want to arouse Zillah's curiosity over. That could wait a few years yet.

"Hmm, let's see what the cybernet has to say about our dear friends," she murmured, relaxing and letting the repairs proceed at a steady pace, her mind turning with deliberate intensity to the search.

Zillah brought them through the jump gate network as she looked. There was quite a lot of information on the cybernet about the Cybions, which was unsurprising since they created the thing, after all. Many of them cheerfully posted reports about the progress of their various experiments and findings.

Sharra started compiling a list of potential Cybions of interest, cross-referencing their names to the reports they made. Some were undoubtedly relatively harmless, and those she put on a list of ones to simply monitor a bit. It was others that she'd probably take a look at, wince, and place on a short list to find and deal with.

Of particular interest so far as the safety and wellbeing of the galaxy were one who was working on viruses, ostensibly with the claim of working on cures for diseases, the group trying to create the "perfect being", ie physically and mentally "perfect" which meant it listened to them too, a group creating clones just to force them to work in poor conditions with no pay...

Sharra sighed inwardly, examining the list with dismay. How could these people have been left to these projects for so long without some kind of intervention? She corrected that thought sternly, noting that the former Empire hadn't seemed to be too interested in anything but the whims of its emperor and hell with the general good, that change alone made this whole thing worthwhile.

She chewed on the possibilities thoughtfully and shunted some of the information over to Jenna with a query as to her thoughts on it. Personally, it was the last two that she found the most repugnant, but it was the first that had the real and very present danger to cause hell with the general population... whether through an accident or selling some new wonder-virus to the wrong maniac.

Jenna agreed with that assessment, making a bit of a face at the clone-slavery issue. Zillah brought the ship down through the jump gates past Primus and on to Secundus.

Sharra nodded once. "That's a clear enough target to start with, now to dig and see what sort of information can be found as to where they're running their experiments."

She tried not to think of the horrors that the other two groups would be subjecting living, thinking beings to in the meantime, the simple mathematics of necessity were a hard and uncomfortable master.

The notes on the matter were quite thorough, and it was quite clear that they weren't simply working on ways to cure disease either. It went a bit beyond pure negligence in this matter.

Sharra blanched inwardly at the detail involved in the reports. There looked to be enough there to send a fleet to scour a planet down to bedrock and salt the earth back in the three galaxies. This wasn't just negligent, it was insane... She sifted through the data with increasing dismay and disgust, grimly taking any clues for locations that they'd need to investigate along the way or avenues to check into.

These particular experiments appeared to be mainly taking place in the Nuremberg system, on the planet and a couple bases in orbit and on the planet's moon. The most grievous violations of sanity appeared to be the ones taking place on the base located on a moon in orbit of the sixth planet.

"Change in plans, little one," Sharra said absently, the form of address slipping for the first time since Zillah had undergone her trial back in the Three Galaxies. "Set a course for the Nuremberg system, it's time to remind a few people that the hand of reason isn't always constrained by a stated boundary."

The sixth planet's moon would be first, but the others would bear looking into and a clear reminder as well.

Zillah said, "Okay." Once past Imperial space, she opened up a wormhole to the Nuremberg system and flew the ship into it. "What's happening there?"

"Some researchers seem intent on digging into things that most sane governments ban and bury at least as soon as they make it to the stars," Sharra replied quietly. "The possibility of a plague virus that travels from planet to ship to planet, and so on, is the stuff of nightmares, and all it takes is one accident or, more often, one unscrupulous or desperate nation to open the gates of hell."

"We've got an ETA of four hours," Zillah said once they're underway. She returned to finishing her pizza.

That would at least allow full cosmetic and some deeper repairs to complete themselves, Sharra mused, glancing at the back of one hand where the syntheskin was reforming slowly and gaining the first textures of returning fur.

"Plenty of time for a meal and a nap if you need one," Sharra looked over at her. "Probably going to be busy again for a while."

Zillah finished up her food and went to take a short nap along the way. Jenna leaned back and looked over the data readouts, cybernet posts, and such.

Sharra smiled inwardly, pushing recent memory away with the thought of things that still made this whole crazy thing worthwhile. Zillah was a good pup, a reference that she'd made pains to keep to herself since the rite but one that stayed with her nonetheless, and she'd seen and met others along the way that soothed the anger and frustration with the people who seemed intent on the insanity of destruction.

Abram, Emily, Talia, Linda, Katrina... a litany of names that proved there was still some reason left. She let the train of thought soothe her frazzled nerves and take the edge from the slowly receding pain for a while, then returned to her research of the Cybions and their works as a name or two pressed uncomfortably close to deeper examination.