Viral tanks. Rippers. A whole celestial sea of Shuvvers and Ring Cutters. At least two-dozen Scurge Bringers, each outfitted with twenty-two battle mechs and a handful of hunter-destroyers, piloted by the Irken Elite. The donut-shaped Cavity Drills, giant space drills meant to disrupt planetary stability by boring precise holes into a planet's core, were settling into their networked atmospheric orbits, ready to puncture Meekrob's fragile crust and spew its lava life-juices across its surface. At the center of all this war-mongering hung the aptly-named Massive, its Irken military logo laughing in the face of its hapless, helpless victims.

This was not an invasionary force. This was an extinction.

From her spot between the heavily-armored Special Ops soldiers, her hands cuffed in heavy magnetic bracelets, her neck fitted with an exploding collar, and the weight of her failure like a stone to match her death-jewelry, Tenn could barely watch as the drills began to glow that luminous, beautiful blue, a halo of death.

Somewhere far below, her SIR lay in ruins, along with her lab.

Don't worry, you won't be lonely long, Fifi; I'll be joining you shortly.


Larb let his balled fists come together on one another, his knuckles making an ugly crunch as his teeth ground furiously. Beside him, the Falanian, Shkreegut, finally ceased his staccato shrieks, falling to the floor unconscious from his exertion. At the controls, Skoodge sat motionless as beside him Tak nearly snapped a huge chunk of her station in half, leaving a brutal crack in its supersteel housing.

The forward monitor had given up its view of the stars beyond in exchange for a satellite image of the stellar activity surrounding Meekrob, where the Irken Invasionary Force had begun its set up for the big sweep. What had assembled looked more like what their name implied: An armada, a massive battalion of destroyers and military cruisers, ready to pounce on some unseen but equally terrifying force.

Except there was no other army. There was only Tenn.

"What are we going to do?" Nen asked as he stepped into the room, over Shkreegut's body, and stopped between Skoodge's and Tak's chairs, one hand resting on either seat-back. For such a little Irken, in that moment, he seemed to embody the very essence of authority. "We can't leave her there. Not with them."

A veteran of the planet Mitnal, Nen had spent his time suffering through the most disgusting and demeaning of tortures, so unspeakable he'd never reflected on them since his arrival aboard the ring cutter. The Apuk, the indigenous people, were boney-skeleton monsters with owl heads and lolling eyes that had watched him day and night, but were convinced for some reason that he was their savior. Conquest had been swift, but at the cost of his lower half; most of him from the waist down was either re-grown in the Mender or mechanized. Even the PAK rip couldn't compare to some of the things he'd seen and done.

Now, standing shoulder-to antenna with Tak, she narrowed her eyes and nodded resolutely, as across from her Skoodge did the same. As she turned back to the viewscreen, she commanded the image to reduce and move aside, bringing their current location in deep space to the forefront, and readying them for deceleration.

"Better buckle up back there, kiddies," Skoodge said into a PA monitor that floated down to him by unspoken command, "We're coming in hot...and the company's expecting us."

Larb and Krodor, newly escaped from the sick bay, shoved the Falanian aside as extra-cushy seats materialized through holes in the floor, and a special egg-shaped bowl extended from the rear of the bridge to accommodate Hannity, one of the four resident Encephalons, who plucked his brain from its suspension above its robot body and placed the organ in the neuron solution in the bowl for safety's sake.

Below, the Smooshball court emptied as Stink locked down the last of the revitalization pods and committed the genetic replicator to its next eight hours in a temporary vacuum generated beneath the sickbay floor, a deliciously overstuffed couch with excessive four-point restraints sliding over the hole into which the medical equipment had just sunk. He jumped effortlessly onto the high cushion, noticing half-heartedly that Spleen had to struggle and clamor up on his belly; he'd have to check the cerebral adapters again, make sure the spider-legs were all operational, maybe even run a gamut test, but for the moment, he merely reached over and grabbed his fellow ex-patriot's arm, hauling him the rest of the way up as the ship shuddered threateningly.

"Skutch, what in the name of Tallest Spork are you doing down there?" Skoodge shouted into the PA screen as it brought up an internal feed from the engineering room. "I thought you were supposed to have fixed those displacement stabilizers yesterday!"

"Yeah, and your cold robotic mother helped me do it," Skutch growled, throwing a magna-gauge-wrench at the monitor that flew over to hover just behind his shoulder. "I told you I needed a new hydraulic splint, but did you guys wanna stop at Mechna 2? Nooooo, not you guys, you'd rather the ship smeared a trail of dookie all around the Narnar-"

"SHUT UP AND FIX IT!" Tak screamed, grabbing one of the Vortian twins who'd come up from the Smooshball court from behind her chair and hurling her at the PA, both the monitor and the alien striking the wall with a tiny squeak. "Unless you would like to suffer a fate more terrible than serving an eternal sentence on Devastis as the official target drone, I suggest you find a way to get us to Meekrob on time, you lowly waste of smeet-material!"

The ship lurched hard to port, Hannity's metal body shifting slightly despite his gravity locks, as everything else aboard not tacked down or outfitted with a gyroscope smashed into walls and shattered on floors, turning the war-room into a more lethal Smooshball court than the floor just beneath dedicated specifically to that use, as mercury- and water-laden planetoid bombs fell from their polarized shelves and bounced aimlessly without an electromagnetic generator to hold them. The subsequent cacophonous noise was so overpowering that no one but Skutch, only half a dozen yards from the explosion, heard the reactor core spring its first full-fledged leak.

All over the rest of the ship, however, they felt something go terribly wrong.


In the deepest confines of the Massive, forgotten by all but the few Elite who patrolled and administered to the few residents of these bowels, a sunken eye twitched in its socket. The green-brown skin on what could have been its face crackled as the creature tried to move, but the restraints around its wrist-things chafed the fragile skin, sending flakes and chunks of it fluttering to the floor like the thinnest petals of the alriah blossom.

Its lips twitched, cracked, and released miniscule trails of green blood across pocked skin. The voice that trickled from between those lips was weak and scarred as the rest of him, but the clarity and intention were still there:

"M...Ah...I'm s-still...here. I'm still...here..."