Aiden let Emkir sleep for five hours, as agreed, and then woke him.  When Emkir was ready, Aiden briefed him before setting his alarm for seven hours and racking out himself.  The Naval interrogation team sent word that they needed to back off questioning Sipos to treat him medically, and allow him some recovery time before continuing.  They expected that line of questioning to be taken off line for some time, due to having been forced to amputate the prisoner's foot.  The last was said with in a flat tone, apparently disapproving of "unprofessional methods".
An hour after Aiden woke Emkir, Ms. Vik woke Rol and Brian, and briefed them before she updated the waking cutter team and racked out herself.  Now more awake, Brian pinned Emkir, asking him pointedly to help getting to Admiral Resljeva.  Emkir complained that would leave Rol on his own managing the video assignments and checking potential hits.  But Rol annoyed Emkir by saying it was fine with him.  In the meantime, Mikah's team had checked for and cleared themselves of any symptoms of the disease.
An update came from Captain Kristianson, and told them the navy was over 95% certain the woman "Anna Zebrinkt" was suspect number two.  They determined she'd boarded the passenger liner to the Zivije System.  Mikah asked what investigations the marines had opened and was told, with 50% of the station secure, the marines had momentarily run out of resources.  They were waiting for local government resources to come on-line before freeing up personnel for other missions.  The local government was a source of good news for a change. As the marines had moved in, people had started coming back to work where they could.  But the lack of functioning computers in many cases was hampering that as police, emergency services and others reported in.  In a bid to get an early read on the crisis, IN-IT had brutally violated firewalls and ripped data from the many Podesta government networks.  That left them non-functional and a great deal of work was being done to allow them to coordinate at all.
Looking at the information they had, Mikah and her team decided to check the progress with the disease first.  The trip to the hospital went as smoothly as before, and the civilians holed up in the docking bay showed no signs of illness.  When they checked in with the doctors, who'd added to their staff size and use of facilities, they learned known exposure was growing over 20,000.  Their data pool was growing as marines allowed them to contact more of the station by securing more sections and compartments.  They also admitted grimly not having found anyone infected who'd survived more than 48 hours.  Seeing the doctors were doing all they could there, and needing to investigate further, Mikah contacted Lt. Commander Koovr, asking for contact data for the government so they could get transport within the arcology?
Using the Commander's information, Mikah was connected to a government clerk who told her they had an in-built "Kart" system.  She then gave Mikah a quick "how to" for the karts and directions to a nearby storage facility with the unlocked vehicles.  They could take any of the six-person automated transports, using the its controls to self-navigate from parking structure to parking structure.  The system let anyone to get to very reasonable walking distance from any part of the arcology for a rental fee provided the system was working.  Mikah was also given a code to use the karts free of charge for the duration of the emergency.  About then Rol contacted the hospital doctors asking some basic questions about the disease.  Not medically trained, he asked for basic data from a layman's point of view, to get his mind around the contagion and be able to help.  He then managed to show his complete ignorance when he asked if the virus could be an engineered disease?  He was told that everyone was operating on that theory as it was the was the most obvious.Another Arcology Attacked!
While the team in the hospital were considering which direction to go, everyone was interrupted by breaking news that an arcology which was part of the Havel nation had reported large numbers of infections similar to those suffered in Podesta!  Comm frequencies were immediately jammed as Mikah and Rol asked for more information.  The Podesta doctors were also asking for links to Havel doctors for data sharing as the Navy began sorting comms out.  On top of it all, Havel's people said their government was "moving to handle the situation".
Once things became more controlled on the comms, Havel governmental officials reported they'd ordered air circulation shut down until a response could be approved on the arcology of nearly 20,000 sophonts.  Mikah suggested quarantining medical specialist while working on the crisis.  Brian requested a schematic of the Havel arcology so he could make informed recommendations while he and Emkir were being directed to a Captain Taran Braud.  That Captain controlled the Station's environmental systems.  They had tried reaching the Naval Station 321's commanding Admiral, but were told he was off station.  When Brian asked Emkir to "turn on the charm", they learned Captain Braud controlled much of the supplies Brian wanted.  Once they learned that, Brian asked for a meeting with the Captain and the Lieutenant agreed to set that up, if only to get the nut jobs off his deck.
As the Knight and Admiral left, the lieutenant wondered how they didn't know that Admirals were most busy in a crisis, and had no time for inventor's pet projects!  Once Brian and Emkir reached Captain Braud's office, the captain agreed to meet with them.  But he said he had seen the requests Brian made, and that no approval had been given by the Admiral.  So the Captain would only wait for authorization of Brian's project.  He did promise to talk to the Admiral on his return, as the Admiral was aboard the squadron flagship for a meeting.  After failing to get the parts, Brian returned to his design work and Emkir to help Rol.Zimzod and Zach Give A Little To Get A Lot
As Brian and Emkir had worked on the station's officers, Naval Intelligence comm'd Ms. Vik and Dame Mikah to contact Zach and Sir Zimzod.  When Mikah asked what it was about, she was told Naval Intel planned to formally take the prisoner Sipos into custody and "re-interview" the prisoner.  They also wanted to take statements from those who had custody of, and handled the prisoner before they took control.  Zach tried, in a panic, to protest that Zimzod had the prisoner in custody.  The caller said Zach was present during all actions taken and would need to be interviewed.  The caller brooked no argument, so Zimzod and a very unhappy Zach headed to the location given to report their statements.
Both Zimzod and Zach gave unaltered statements about what happened at the rental block.  While Zach showed a lot of regret for the events, Zimzod described his process matter of factly as 'that which had to be done'.  Eventually, the two were excused and headed to their kart, to return to meet Mikah.  But as they were leaving, they overheard a conversation about the suspect, Anna Zebrinkt, and her apparent involvement with a black market figure on station!  Knowing the team hadn't been told this, Zach excused himself and pushed his way into the conversation before a very annoyed Zimzod could stop him.  Zach's interruption ended the conversation, as the two talking officers regarded the intruder.
Leaning forward in a menacing manner, one of the Navy officers demanded who Zach was and what his business in the office was?  Zach, completely clueless to his situation, pushed back saying he was with "Sir" Zimzod.  He was about to say they'd just given statements about the suspect they took into custody when the officer interrupted him again.  Having noticed Zimzod's battledress had no unit markings or normal badges, both officers had bells and warnings going off in their heads.  Despite trying to disassociate himself from Zach, Zimzod's odd appearance had him caught in the events Zach created.  At the same time, Zach was angry the officers had taken his interruption as a violation.  This was despite the fact they were not given any knowledge of 'who he was or what he was doing' was explanation enough.
Zimzod had to deal with Zach's protests too, as the officers began verbally pushing the two with challenges.  Finally, Zimzod saw there'd be nothing else for it as attempts to cooperate failed, and began pushing back.  He identified himself as Sir Zimzod Egosion, serving personally at the pleasure of Duke Norris of Regina, and presently engaged in the investigation of bio-weapons attacks in-system!  Noting this won him the initiative, Zimzod demanded to know what sounded like recently developed and critical information?  When the officers paused, he pushed harder, guessing it either came from records searches on the recently verified second conspirator or, less likely, from the prisoner interrogation.  His significant knowledge of the investigation cracked their reserve.
One of the officers said investigations of computer record showed the suspect, Zebrinkt, was involved with a known black market figure on-station named 'Willie Chappel'.  It also revealed that Chappel had a lease for a shipping cargo bay, using a number of dummy corporations and anonymous accounts.  When asked what the Navy had planned to do, the officers said an operation to check the bay was on hold until enough marines could be freed to do the job.  Zimzod demanded the location of the bay and finished by asking if this was common knowledge?  When one of the officers responded, "Well, no...", Zimzod cut him off demanding why they were discussing secure information in the wide open?  He also asked how their commander would feel on hearing of their lack of security?  The further Zimzod pushed, the whiter the officers got until they excused themselves.
As soon as they were alone, Zimzod spent a few words quieting Zach, saying it was often better to "listen first" than "barge in" and lose out.  Then he sparked the group comms to share what they'd learned.  Mikah said she'd pick them up in a kart and they would check out the bay.  Listening in, Rol said he'd work on the navy's logs, to see if he could find what ships may have docked near there?  And while they traveled, Rol made many notes to research.  As Zach suggested they call any station authorities to handle the investigation, everyone else ignored him.  Soon, the three got to the inner cargo ring leading around the angle of the arcology's outer levels.  They saw a set of secure doors there which led into the bay.  Three were small personnel doors and one was a large cargo transit door.  All were closed and the red readouts on their lockpads indicated they were secured.Checking The Cargo Bay
Zach again made the suggestion they try to call some port official to unlock the doors and Mikah shot him a dismissive look before turning to Zimzod.  Feeling supreme in her fellow Knight's lockpick skills, she said, "Hey Zimzod, can we get into this door?" in an amused voice.  But an hour attempting to pick the lock didn't open the doors.  When Zimzod backed off and reconsidered before attacking the lock again, Zach sighed and called the marines.  The marines, in turn, connected Zach to what little of the local government had returned to work.  They patched Zach up with a port engineer.  After ten to twenty minutes watching Zimzod fail, all the lockpads went green as the engineer's voice came over the comms, "That should do it".
Before the three could make any further decisions or act on the doors, a report came from the navy lab studying the INS Aku Iikhi.  The details researchers had uncovered said the dispenser must have activated.  The organic acid dispensed when it first started pumping ate through the plastic.  Being an organic acid, it both ate away at the shell sprayed on by the Alliance and at the nozzle and dispenser exterior.  Once a hole had been eaten to the reservoir, the freed acid became a vapor and was carried throughout the ship by its air circulation system.  Inhaling the acid killed the crew while preventing them crying out as they were stricken.  This explained the quick and silent death of the crew.  The researchers guessed enough acid was circulated in under ten minutes to kill all aboard, none of whom were in vacc suits.
They checked the chemical composition of the acid used, and all the component chemicals were common throughout the system except one.  But that was produced locally, but only by the SuSAG Corp!  Mikah crowed as this was announced, because she had a more than budding certainty the MegaCorporation was involved in the attack.  Once this data was out, Mikah drove at the navy officers, asking what actions they planned against the SuSAG facilities in-system?  The Navy said the evidence was hardly enough to accuse, much less convict, the corporation of complicity.  Indeed, it was pointed out that in-system SuSAG organizations seemed, from the shoot down of the civilian vessel, to be panicking just like the rest of the system.  Mikah would hear none of it, and the Navy offered to help by sending her team members on station 371 to the SuSAG stations near the gas giant.  That would be a nine-hour trip on a small fast destroyer escort.
Rol and Emkir volunteered for the trip, but the navy was very wary of accusing SuSAG without real evidence to go on.  An Admiral on the comms channel reminded all involved that The Imperial Family held a 2 1/2% ownership in SuSAG.  When that was challenged, The Admiral admitted this hadn't stopped vastly spread divisions from breaking laws in the past.  Mikah was certain in her belief, but agreed to check SuSAG locations on the arcology for evidence of vaccines, a cure or pre-knowledge of the coming plague.  The navy wanted that, or any other possible evidence before sending Rol and Emkir.  Of course, that would wait until they checked the cargo bay.  So Emkir began digging into the computer data to look for SuSAG records as Mikah, with an unseen wicked grin behind the faceplate of her combat armor, awarded Zach the 'honor' of taking point moving into the bay.  As he had gotten the doors open.
Zach stepped in, following Mikah's orders, to see a dimly lit, forty-foot wide and tall corridor that could only be described as a cargo hauling corridor.  It was barely lit as any vehicles and robots moving through the space had their own sensors.  Long use had even worn tread ruts into the deck steel, almost giving the place an enclosed back dirt road feel.  Directly across from the entrance was another door with an entry code pad next to it.  But the light on this pad was green, showing it had also been unlocked by the port engineer.  Once he said there was no danger, Mikah and Zimzod followed Zach into the passage and looked around before the trio crossed to the other door.  They followed the same steps through that door, as Zach stepped into the dark and onto a carpeted floor space.
With some emergency and exit lights barely glowing, Zach could see he was in some type of assembly area across from which was another wall.  To his right a wall ran across the space running the room's length in that direction.  To the left, the room extended almost into shadow.  What little light glowed showed that the room turned into an L-shape to Zach's left, disappearing to whatever room was hidden from him.  Again, giving the clear sign, Zach advanced to a door across from him as the others entered and looked around.  Zimzod already had the holographic display from his suit's sensors but got little more than the others.  Once they'd taken in the assembly area, they crossed to the door in the far wall and looked inside.
Within Zach's next door appeared a community of office cubes standing dormant and apparently empty.  Not having followed Zach in, Mikah looked along the expanse of wall to their left measuring how close the turn around the bend was.  But it was too far to see, and nothing could be heard.  So they quietly made their way into the office of cubes.  The two then joined Zach as they came to the first cubicles, exploring to find the furniture dust covered and no desk equipped with any equipment, communications devices or even dumb terminals.  Zach tested the dust and found it fairly think, and they all realized that whatever the black marketer had leased this bay out for, it had nothing to do with office work.  Backing out of that room, they took the one remaining road not yet explored and moved up to the corner of the bend in the L-shaped outer room.
Looking around, they found the corridor continued further back to a blank wall end.  There was one door twenty feet before the end, exiting to the left.  Moving up, they opened the door, which had only an unsecured manual latch lock.  Opening the door as they stood to either side, the view that greeted them was an expanse of cargo bay floor littered with crates and cargo-cases.  Hundreds of meters long and almost half as wide, the darkened and silent bay was filled with literally hundreds of scattered encased items be they a single load or stored lots.  At first, it took the breath away to consider how much of this stuff might be "of any value" and theirs for the taking, so long as no one interfered.  But then the mission came back as no one was leaving unless the mystery of the contagion was solved before they all died.Attacker In The Shadows!
Moving in, Zimzod made best use of his suit's utilities to get some measure of the scope of the bay and its contents.  The only "small oddity" in what his sensors could see, as they mapped the space, was a lone "very small box" or crate.  It sat, isolated, among the other random cargo, which was all much larger.  And, as it was a very noticeable needle in a haystack of monstrous logs, the team decided to start there and see what they found.  Being a tiny box among giant crates, they thought, might be a sign of significance.  To reach it, they had to move towards the outer hull until reaching the other edge of the crate cloud and then cut to their left along the edge of the constellation of items.  As they walked, they neither spoke nor took any action to willingly make sound as the spirit of the bay's darkness sunk in.  They just quickly moved along the first leg of their path.
They were well more than halfway to their turn point when Zimzod noticed an alert go red on his HUD from the corner of his left eye!  Zach saw something in the dark at the same time, but just as a shadow in shadows as it seemed to magically rise.  Mikah didn't notice it any more than she noticed the sudden changes in posture of her team mates.  Suddenly the dark was cut by a coherent beam of white-yellow light!  The light beam missed Mikah high, though it was clearly directed towards her more than the two others.  It could have still struck Zach, not behind a pod, had he been targeted.  Zimzod's hand automatically went for the .45, which his suit had deployed in response to the flexing of his wrist.  as he did, the three dove for cover behind a large crate.
Even as they moved, and his hand closed on the grip of his weapon, Zimzod called out to the team's open circuit, "Shots Fired!"  Listening in as he always did, Aiden heard the cry and instantly opened a channel on the Imperial Marine frequency singing out the repeated call, "Shots Fired!"  This was instantly challenged by a number of marine replies.  "Who Are you?", "What's your position?", "Which Unit?"  The demands tumbled out in the brief second of pause before Aiden answered, "Knights, Sir Zimzod and Dame Mikah as well as Zachariah Wood.  In cargo bay Echo Eight, on twenty two, Blue sector!  Shots fired and they need backup!"
Recognizing the method as military, even if they had no clue about the names and the identity of the speaker, there was an immediate and professional response.  The marines announced they were on their way.  Almost without pause Lt. Commander Koovr was on the line adding whip voiced commands to the well-coordinated response.  He let every trooper know the people in harm's way were important, well known to the Corps and to be backed up "Now".  So with the cavalry on its way, while they sat like bait behind cover, it was now a game of "maneuver and strike", "hide and seek" or "who made the last mistake".  Not knowing their foe except that the bad guys had mistakenly shown their hand before being able to deliver a fatal blow, it was now a kill or be killed game of "getting to shoot you".  Zimzod examined the IR data on his HUD as his suit's battle computer showed its estimate of the force detected as:
Infantry Trooper, Laser Armed, GravBelt equipped
Considering his options, and the terrain, Zimzod knew he had to get closer as he checked the estimated location of the gunman.  Thanks to his IR sensors, he saw the heated path of air led almost directly ahead of him and slightly to the left.  Zimzod decided he could advance while using a pair of crates for cover.  Making the sprint, Zimzod reached the crates and dove behind the two plus foot high box.  Wondering if he could make an improvised shield, Zimzod punched into the crate, shattering a plank or two of the crate's surface to find the inside container was metal and barely dented!  At the same time, Zach wondered if they could find anything of use in the crates around them?
Having reached at first for the dagger that was his only weapon, he was at least that much better off than Mikah, who'd only brought her medical kit.  Looking around, Zach's search for markings was mostly defeated by the gloom.  The crate they were up against was made of wood, which was highly unusual despite the number of such crates in this bay.  It was marked in non-Imperial and even non-Galanglic markings!  Shattering a plank with the hilt of his dagger, Zach found he could make little headway as the wood covered metal within.  Looking at the forms of crates in the shadow opposite the direction of the attack, he had enough sense to know he'd have to cross that space to the crates with nothing to cover his back.  After that, Zach waited for Zimzod to issue an order for either help or flight.
Not worried about Zach's antics, Mikah concentrated on watching the coming battle in case Zimzod got flanked by additional soldiers, to which she and Zach might have to react.  Zimzod gave up his quest for a punch shield when he saw the sensor warning again, and raised his weapon to bear.  As blinking lights from some sort of attacker-worn panel rose, he fired and was fired on with only his battledress saving him.  A beam of coherent light cut a corner of his cover to strike him dead in the gut!  Once more his .45 did no good at all as the gunman dropped again and his battle computer assessed the new data.  As Zimzod considered his options against an opponent who had definitely advanced on their position, the read-out gave him the bad news...
Combat Robot, Grav-Equipped, Laser Rifle Equipped: Estimate: Armored WarBot
This was not just bad news, it was REALLY bad news!!!  His .45 and Zach's dagger were not gonna do anything but decorate their three corpses and Zimzod knew this for the fact it was.  Re-gearing, Zimzod ordered the others to run for the door as he provided cover fire.  Mikah ran while Zach chose to wait until after the bot fired.  The warbot rose, taking a shot at Mikah and hit the floor just before her feet.  Zimzod, who was retreating himself, fired two rounds at the bot at enough range he had no hope of hitting.  This drew the bot's focus again as it was dropping after its last shots.  Zach saw the bot drop and charged for the door Mikah had just passed through.  He managed to make the gauntlet as the resurgent bot rose and fired again.  Again, Zimzod did his best to keep the bot's attention by firing, but did nothing more than making noise and wasting ammo.
Finally, Zimzod made his own run for the door and reached the others in the L-shaped corridor of the entry office.  Mikah and Zach were all for completing the retreat out of the docking bay proper and locking the bulkhead doors behind them.  But Zimzod wanted to hold up at the crotch of the L.  There, he wanted to observe the door to the bay in the event the bot advanced through.  At short range, he could try the stopping power of his pistol before a further retreat and report on the advance to the marines when they arrived.  As seconds ticked into minutes, the only thing that they heard was their own breath recovering from ragged to rested as the door remained closed.  Finally, the first marine team arrived, assuming a security position where the three had holed up.
Almost instantly one of the marines reported, "Team One, in position".  Over the comms, the three heard as two other teams reported, "team two, in position" and "team three, in position".  Tense moments passed until two other teams moved into the office area and made obvious preparations for an assault.  Armed with gauss rifles and what appeared to be barrel mounted rocket launchers, the battledressed troopers prepared and moved in a well-rehearsed pattern.  After one more check of all the teams internal and external, it was go time.  The last two teams to arrive suddenly rocketed forward at a speed only possible thanks to their enhanced exoskeleton and suit servomotors.
The teams were through the door almost before it could be realized, and just as soon the silence was blasted away amidst sounds of weapons fire and explosions!  Punctuating this were the security team whose heavy weapons men stood by, with one firing a rocket through the open door.  Knowing the laser armed warbot was deadly silent, the team members knew every blast was either from the troopers or some new menace they'd not seen.  After a world ending fifteen minutes of explosions that actually lasted fifteen seconds or less, the explosions ended and the all clear came.  That was followed by casualty reports, as the three from the cutter volunteered their medical training.
Asked back into the bay to assist the wounded, they returned to a scene they had never been in.  The near end of the entire bay was full of blasted and burning ruin and debris.  Scattered around were the wounded and dead, under the watchful cover of their still standing comrades and the rent and blasted parts of the warbot.  The place looked as if fire bombs had scarred a space stacked with petro-fuel soaked crates.  Many containers were blown up while hazy smoke filled the air, giving life to the spinning red and yellow warning lights of the bay's alarm systems.  Knowing this would be messy, the marine command staff had the bay's water and gas fire suppression systems turned off.  Two troopers were dead outright, and the three medics knelt to assist as they could while other marine and medical support arrived.
Ultimately, the bot had gone into a "watch" state when the three adventurers left the bay.  When the fire teams entered the bay, it again loosed its initial rounds as its tactics program assessed this as "the assault after the scouts withdrew."  As this was a full battle, it kicked in its battery buffers, allowing it to overcharge its laser rifle and then counter attacked the larger enemy force.  Its two first victims had led the charge, based on the understanding the bot was popping up using a "Move and Fire" strategy.  They were caught in a charge for ground as the bot closed its range firing more rapidly and accurately than any living being could.  With them down and dead, the trooper's team members closed in pumping fire as one sergeant called for support.  Through the door came the fired rocket, to join other rockets as a trooper painted the bot with a targeting laser in the confusion.  The last explosions and blasts were the result of "adrenaline fire" as troopers consciously willed fingers off triggers while the wreckage of the bot crashed to the deck and moved no more.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: Meanwhile, Elsewhere....