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Chapter 01

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      Tristan received a shock and opened his eyes. He couldn't figure out where he was, or remember how he got here, where ever here was. By the time he noticed that he was floating in some sort of liquid and that his lungs were full of that same liquid the tube was drained.

      With the liquid gone he found himself on hand and knee, retching until his lungs were clear. He remained like that even once it was done, still trying to work out how he'd gotten here. He remembered being put in the tube now, a mission he'd be hired for had gone bad. The target had known he was coming.

      Someone banged on the tube and he looked up. Human he noted, not the same one who had put him in here, female.

      "Stand up fur ball," she said.

      For a moment he debated staying as he was, but he didn't have anything to gain that way, so he stood, and noticed two heavily armed guard behind her, human and males. She pressed a button he couldn't see and the tube was filled with a cloying mist. He didn't bother holding his breath, he remembered where he was now.

      He was on the Sayatoga Prison ship, inside a cryo tube. The mist was a sterilizer, standard procedure. It made him choke but he breathed in deeply. When the mist cleared She put a uniform in a drawer and slid it inside his tube.

      "Put this on." She told him.

      He looked at it, in its sterile plastic bag, and then at the fur on his arms. The living organism that had kept him in suspended animation might have been killed by the mist, but his fur was still wet. He looked at her and decided it wasn't worth asking for a dryer, they wouldn't allow a prisoner that kind of luxury. Instead he shook his fur as dry as he could.

      The sudden motion made the guards raise their weapons, but she told them to put them down. When he was as dry as he could get himself he sliced the plastic bag open with a claw and put on the purple uniform identifying him as one of the inmates. He would have to work on getting cleaned properly later.

      That done the front of the tube unsealed itself and opened. She motioned for him to step forward. The guards moved back to stay out of his reach as he exited the cryo tube. He stopped moving at the bottom of the steps leading from it. She pointed a scanner at him. It was a Tolera two hundred Tristan determined from the glimpse he got, and made a note to try and get one when he had the chance.

      "You will follow me," she ordered him, once she was satisfied with the result it gave her, "you will stay exactly five steps behind me. If you try to shorten the distance you will be shot, is that understood?"

      Tristan studied the guards, they were armed with modified Pisteron three. He doubted the modification was to make them less lethal. If they shot him, he was dead. He still considered them to be over kill. He looked back at the human female and nodded.

      She started walking. He let her take two steps to put the distance between them at five and then followed her, matching the rhythm as well as the length of her stride. The two guards stayed seven steps behind him, they were afraid of him.

      During the walk Tristan looked around, noting where everything was, terminals, com system, access panels, but he was looking for a clock. When he saw one he read the date. Someone was responsible for stealing a little over three years of his life. He would have to see to it.

      She lead him to a storage room, she had him enter, followed by the guards. Who stayed against the wall, joining the twenty other guards, all armed with Pisteton three. Tristan looked around, he counted twenty nine other inmates, twenty seven were human. The other two non humans weren't of his specie, he wasn't surprised, there were few non humans, so for two of the same specie to run into each other by accident was almost unheard of.

      The guards were afraid of everyone in this room.

      The wall on the opposite side of the entrance turned into a screen, showing a well manicured human male, Tristan remembered him as being the captain of this ship. Everyone turned to watch him

      "Today you are being given an opportunity to earn your freedom," the captain said, looking them over. "One of our prisoners has gotten loose on the ship, and has been evading my guards." A few of the inmates quietly cheered for the escapee. "You are supposedly known for being unstoppable once you are set on a task. This is why you have been chosen. Whoever brings me this man will be set free." The face of the prisoner appeared. It was all that was needed.

      Those who had cheered now looked around with worry. The captain didn't have to give his name, the goggles and shaved head were enough to identify him, even if they couldn't see the light reflected in his eyes. It was no wonder they had brought out those they considered to be the worst of the worst. Only those who were not only willing to kill, but at ease doing so would have a chance.

      "Should you think of using this as an opportunity for your own escape, know that before you were released from Cryogenics you were implanted with a kill switch. If you get within three pace of a restricted area it will emit a low level electrical pulse to warn you. If you get within a pace it will shock you hard enough to render you unconscious. Should that not work and you cross the threshold, it will explode, killing you instantly."

      Many of the inmates reacted aggressively to the information. Tristan simply filed it away and formulated plans. His father had taught him young that anger was a waste of energy.

      "You will be provided with low energy weapons to defend yourself. If you use one of them on my crew you will immediately be killed. You will also be provided with a data pad containing a map of the ship with the restricted areas indicated on it. That will be all."

      The screen became a wall again and the inmates became agitated, the humans talked among each others, ignoring the none humans. Tristan wasn't bothered by that, he had had to deal with it his entire life and had found ways to use this quasi invisibility to his advantage.

      A door on the side wall opened and the inmates were guided through it. Tristan didn't hurry, He didn't expect anyone to be interested in what he wanted so he didn't mind being last. As he reached the table with the data pads, Toleta two hundred also, he noticed there was an extra one. He didn't question it, he pocketed it also. His father has raised him never to ignore an opportunity.

      On the weapons' table all the recent ones were already gone. Tristan choose a Kytron forty, it was small, and easy to conceal. Its recharge time between shot was almost twenty seconds, but while the power was low, one properly aimed shot could prove very effective, and the power cell was almost inexhaustible. He also took an old Gunter, he doubted the weapon could even fire, but it was big and intimidating, and had lots of versatile parts.

      He drew a few strange looks from the other inmates when he exited the room with his large weapon, but ignored them. He checked the ship's map, and started walking, leaving the others to make their own plans.

      That one of them watched him more intently didn't escape him.

      The layout of the ship was fairly standard, corridors, intersections, rooms and lifts, arranged in what could feel at random. Tristan walked, rarely lifting his eyes off the map. The crew gave him a wide berth when they saw him coming. They had been warned that inmates would be walking among them, but with his brown fur, muzzle and ears they couldn't even make believe he was one of them. Most of them probably had never seen someone like him.

      He let the stares, comments and curses wash over him. He was looking for a medical room. The first two he had found were within restricted zones, probably because they contained material which could be used to for wide spread damage. He didn't need anything that fancy.

      He stood in front of a non-descript door, in a deserted coridor, the pad identified it as medical storage O-six. The door was locked, but that didn't stop Tristan for long, all the locks on the ship seemed to be the same, Emerik model, second generation, they were good, and would stop anyone but the most determined of thief, or someone like him, who had dismantled many of them to find out how they worked.

      He kept his ears open for any unexpected sounds as he pried the lock cover open with a claw and then opened the handle of the Gunther. From there he pulled the two contact bar that incased the power cell. He cleaned the corrosion off three specific area on one edge of the first bar and completely on the opposing edge. He carefully inserted it at the back of the lock, making sure it made contact with in the appropriate places. The second bar he quickly cleaned to remove as much of the corrosion as he could and lodged it tightly under the contacts leading to the display.

      When he closed the cover the two bars made contact, there was a puff of smoke as the short circuit fused the contact point. With the cover back in place there was no way to tell anything had been done, it even still said it was locked.

      Tristan pressed the open button, and the door opened.

      He made sure the door was closed behind him and then rummaged through what was stored. He was looking for a specific device, but still took out parts out in case he had to make an alternative. In the end he did find what he wanted, but in the reject bin, which meant he would have to repair it.

      He was almost done with the repairs when the person he'd been hearing lurking outside the door finally entered. Tristan wasn't worried, if it had been anyone other than a convict it would have been a squad by the door, not one person.

      "You're Tristan, right?" He asked in a timid voice.

      Tristan didn't bother acknowledging him, content that he closed the door. Instead he finished the repairs. Anyone who looked at it would know it was repaired, but he hadn't been trying to make it pretty. All he cared about was that when he turned it on, the small scanner came to life.

      He turned and looked at the human, who backed up against the door, looking afraid. Tristan could tell it was an act, he didn't smell afraid. He didn't try to guess his age, by the proportion of his body he could tell he was full grown, other than that it didn't matter to him. Aesthetically the male looked pleasing enough, but that told more about Tristan, who found most human males aesthetically pleasing, than the human.

      "I'm, I'm Jack." The human said to break the long silence.

      Tristan didn't acknowledge him, instead checking that the scanner was set properly. There was only two places on his body where something could be implanted, without needing more than a small incision, that could kill him with even a small explosion. He ran the scanner over the lower right part of his chest, scanning around his heart. The scanner remained silent. He wasn't surprised, the risk of killing him even with a small electrical charge was too high to risk it, but his father had raised him to be thorough.

      He ran the scanner on the right side of his neck and it reacted. He felt with a finger and found the scar, right behind the bone that protected the artery feeding his brain; probably in the area where the bone was thinner. He was impressed with their knowledge of his specie. The bone was practically unbreakable, but the small explosive could shatter the thin part, sending sharp shrapnel to shred the artery. He would barely fell a sting and within minutes he'd be dead.

      He took the scalpel and cut the scar opened, then he used the small forceps to dig in until he found it and pulled it out. It would have been faster and less painful to let someone else do it, but he didn't trust him. He put the implant in the table and sealed the cut. Once the blood was mostly cleaned out of his fur he turned to the human, who had watched him through all of it.

      "Come here." He told him. He voice was raw from the sterilizing mist and lack of use. The human shook his head. "I said, Come Here!" Tristan ordered him, and the human's mask slipped for a fraction of a second. If Tristan hadn't been looking for it he would have missed the anger in the human's eyes at being ordered about, but then he was meek again and came as ordered.

      He ran the scanner behind the human's neck. He didn't bother with the artery, humans main weak point was their spinal column. He found the implant where the column met with the skull. There the explosion would break the nerves and the body would simply fall to the ground. He put the scanner down deliberately within sight the human and picked up the scalpel. "Don't move." The human tensed as the scalpel got close to his neck.

      Tristan waited a moment to see if he would drop his act in his distrust, when he didn't move Tristan started looking for the scar. Because of the lack of fur on humans they had been much more careful not to leave any marks. He cut the skin in the approximate area the scanner told him and opened the incision to look. He put the scalpel down and took his implant at the same time as the forceps.

      The implant went between the fingers keeping the incision open while he dug in it, careful not to cause too much pain to the human. "Hold out your hand." He told the human. He took his implant with the forceps and dropped it in his hand. "That's yours, don't move yet." He used the sealer to close the incision, being careful not to leave any marks on the pristine skin.

      With that done he took the Gunther in his clean hand and headed for the door.

      "What am I suppose to do with this?" The human asked him.

      Tristan turned, holding his thumb and forefinger together, as if he was holding his implant, knowing the blood on them would hide the fact he wasn't. "I'm going to drop mine in someone else's pocket, what you do with yours is up to you."

      He pressed an ear against the door, listening for movement on the other side, and surreptitiously watching the human as he pocketed the scanner, scalpel and forceps. Tristan suppressed a smile and opened the door, ready to move on to the second part of his plan.

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