• The commando team was having quite a bit of trouble; being stranded in space with no one nearby to help you and almost no resources to work with didn’t help keep their spirits up. However, they had managed to piece together engines with their own power source that had a small chance of getting to Shnadi. None of them liked their chances, but they didn’t have much of a choice. At some point they had all lost track of time—had it been days, or had it been weeks, since Juxa’s betrayal? Grimly, Dociluas had put their chances of reaching the planet Shnadi at twenty percent. Once Peyb had forcefully “persuaded” Dociluas to tell the truth, the estimate went down to twelve percent.
    Overall, things were grim. However, they were making progress. At least they were moving… that is, until one of the engines exploded.
    “Well,” Dociluas said as he assessed the damage, “since we can still breathe, it wasn’t so bad. Good thing the ship was built better than the engine.”
    Ryan glared. Mark said “Dociluas, we were the ones who built that engine.”
    “Oh, sorry.”
    “Great,” Kriqua said. “We’re sitting here, stranded in space, with only emergency power that could go out any second—”
    “Wait a minute,” Mark interrupted. “It shouldn’t have lasted this long. I’m a good mechanic, but I’m not that good.”
    Kriqua’s eyes lit up. “A fluke. You accidentally made an error that helped it last longer. If we can study it to figure out what happened, we can do the same thing to make the engines work.”
    “If it’s a fluke, then how do you expect to—”
    “It’s Taquan logic,” Juyrl interrupted. “They never make any sense. Then again, when it comes to technology, they’re the true experts.”
    * * *
    Juxa cradled her device, hoping nobody would come in while she was using it. Her captors had made the mistake of leaving a panel with a loose screw. She had eventually pulled out the screw and pried the panel open just enough for her to fiddle with the wires inside. Since most of the ship’s functions were offline, she was able to pull most of the wires out without making any difference. And with them, along with some other spare parts she had pulled out of her hole in the wall, she had created a bypass to the jamming device that was installed in her prison cell. The emergency power had kept the device alive, but her own small device was wired into the ship itself. It had a simple interface—there weren’t many buttons lying around—but it was easily hidden behind the loose panel, so no one would find it.
    Since it was wired into the computer, she was able to use it to communicate with the computer. Unlike the two inexperienced Taquans she had failed to kill, along with the rest of the technologically-ignorant group on the ship, she was able to get a spark of life into the computer. It had taken hours of working—aside from the days it had taken her to build the device—but she had gotten the main power source working. She kept it mostly offline, except for one little trick…
    The main generator was fueling the emergency power, so that the ignorant team wouldn’t see anything wrong. As time went by, she had gotten the computer closer and closer to it’s regular functionality. She had gotten it to work well enough to send a distress signal to the nearest planet, which she later found out was Shnadi.
    When she had gotten the sensors working, she discovered that UNO ships were almost here, and she was bouncing messages back and forth with them, describing the situation in full. Originally, she had made up a story to tell them, but then it struck her that she could tell them the real story, and UNO’s target would be the IGM agents. Since Juxa was a double agent, they would probably try to keep her alive. If they didn’t… well, even her death would serve Taqua.
    * * *
    “Juxa,” Kriqua muttered angrily.
    “What?” Mark asked.
    “I think I’ve figured it out,” Kriqua said.
    Mark instantly knew something was wrong. “Then why are you so upset?”
    “This generator is getting a power flow from somewhere else. Which means there’s another power source on the ship—probably the main generator running.”
    “That’s good news!” Ryan exclaimed.
    “No, it isn’t,” Kriqua argued, “because we weren’t the ones to get it running. If the main generator is operating, then that means the ship’s computer is online. Yet the ship is still acting like it’s on emergency power. Someone lengthened the energy that the emergency generator could maintain to trick us, and I assume it’s Juxa.”
    “Impossible!” Ryan said. “She’s still in her prison cell!”
    “You forget that she’s a Taquan. Maybe the jamming device in the cell malfunctioned when the ship’s computer died.”
    “Well then let’s just break the computer in her head,” Peyb said, already walking.
    “No,” Kriqua said. “Wait.” She closed her eyes and concentrated. She reached the ship’s computer mind with her own. The life behind it amazed her. The computer had been recovering for days, and they hadn’t known!
    She knew the computer better than anyone else—she had, of course, been a part of it—so she was easily able to find which functions were online. And the one that caused the sinking feeling she felt was the communications system. She learned that even now, there was a message being received. “…almost there. Estimated time of arrival is fifteen minutes. Stay where you are and I will rescue you.”
    “Understood, Grand Admiral.”
    The voice being sent was Juxa’s. She obviously wouldn’t be talking to an IGM operative—it was an UNO grand admiral she was talking to.
    She brought herself back into awareness of her surroundings, away from the computer. “We have fifteen minutes before UNO is on this ship. No one try to do anything to Juxa! Just wait so we can ambush them.”
    “UNO?” Peyb echoed. “How can that be?”
    Mark spoke next. “We should all be hiding in different places. Eventually they’ll figure out we’re hiding. And as soon as one of us is seen, we all need to come out. If you’re seen, attack. Otherwise, wait until you hear the sounds of battle. Juyrl, help me protect Thyu.”
    “Robots aren’t dumb,” Ryan added. “Well, maybe they are, but they know how to find people that are hiding. Hide well. Don’t try to peek out of your hiding spot; then they’ll be sure to see you. Hold your breath when they get close. No more needs to be said: disperse! Split up! Hide!”
    * * *
    Inen had many enemies. Her main enemy was UNO. That was why she was with the IGM. But she also had personal enemies. Dociluas had exposed her. Peyb had turned his back on her. Juyrl had rejected her harshly in a talk and wounded her in a fight. She knew the priority right now was UNO, but she was not against the idea of using her enemies to eliminate her other enemies.
    Since Juyrl would be in the medical room with Mark and Thyu, she decided to go after Peyb. Dociluas would be easy to deal with at any time. Peyb went to the docking hatchway and pried a panel off the wall, then crammed himself inside the hole and pulled it back shut.
    She went around a corner and did the same thing. But she didn’t stay there. She moved around wires and switches, following her powerful nose, moving toward where Peyb was. It was painful, and far from easy, but it eventually started to work. She looked down at Peyb. Peyb didn’t even seem to realize she was there! Things were going perfectly.
    * * *
    Peyb wasn’t so easily trapped. Even an Earthling would’ve heard the noise Inen made trying to get to him. But one of the tricks he had learned on Ryeao was to let the opponent think that they had the victory. He had a plan…
    * * *
    Dociluas hid inside one of the engines. There was no chance in them being turned back on, and even if they were, he would have time to get out before they finished warming up. The robots wouldn’t be likely to search there, either.
    * * *
    Ryan wasn’t exactly hiding. He was in the prison cell near Juxa’s. He locked the door and knelt in a dark corner. He had his hurriedly-repaired chain gun in front of him, where someone entering wouldn’t be able to see it. Ryan had picked the perfect place. It was the cell right in front of the door. Juxa’s was further to the right. The robots would see him before they saw Juxa, and of course, their orders would be to rescue the prisoner. That would give him a perfect opportunity.
    * * *
    Kriqua was hiding underneath the computer’s control interface in the cockpit. This served two purposes—one, of course, being the main objective of hiding and ambushing them. The second purpose was that she could try to get the computer to respond to her.
    She used a combination of signals from her brain and tweaking of the wires to nudge the computer in the direction she wanted it. It was challenging, but Kriqua was a master.
    What made it difficult, though, was that Juxa was using the computer at the same time, and she wanted secrecy to remain her advantage. So instead of conflicting Juxa’s commands, she focused on gaining access to the security cameras. In a few minutes, it worked. She saw the visual data flooding into her mind. She saw Mark, Juyrl, and Thyu in the medical bay. Thyu was handling the situation as best he could—he was lying on one of the beds as bait as Mark and Juyrl stood in different corners of the room, near the door. Mark and Juyrl, she knew, would protect Thyu with their lives.
    She also saw Ryan, and instantly realized his plan. As much as she admired his plan, she couldn’t help feeling that it was about revenge. Sure, Juxa deserved it… but could they really afford that distraction? They needed to have their minds set on victory, not on such dark thoughts as vengeance. Staying focused is what had kept Mark’s group alive through countless missions. Perhaps Ryan’s group had never learned that lesson.
    * * *
    The president will be pleased, she thought to herself. Grand Admiral Melanie Moreno had happened to be getting ready for departure from Shnadi when she’d received the distress signal. But it was what she found when she opened further communications that fascinated her. First, she had learned that there was a group of rebel agents helpless in space. Capturing them—or killing them, if necessary—would greatly please the President.
    The second thing she had learned was that Taqua had openly moved against the rebels. If she could affirm this, then Nithril would have a lot of explaining to do for recent actions in the Taqua sector. The president would be significantly less pleased about this… but he may need someone to take Nithril’s place.
    The pistol that Melanie had in her hand was no ordinary pistol—it had sniper accuracy, and it had sights that wouldn’t permit her to miss. The sights were just slightly off to throw others off, but the error was intentional, and she knew how to compensate for it. The bullets were small, partly to leave room for extra ammunition, and partly so that she could just as easily injure as kill.
    Her deadly accuracy with the pistol was the reason she had gained the President’s respect—but not his trust. If she could find a way to gain his trust, she was certain that she could easily replace Nithril. Perhaps she was about to find a way.
    She saw the ship, the Silent Thunder, ahead of her, and in just minutes, she would be pouncing on her prey.
    * * *
    As the robots on the other side forced the powerless door open, Peyb was focusing more of his attention on Inen behind him. She was waiting. He would wait as long as he could, but he wasn’t sure how patient Inen would be. He wished he could look behind him and see how clear Inen’s path to him was, but if he looked back—if he even twitched his head—Inen would know that she had been figured out.
    He heard the robots marching by, and finally passing him. He still waited. They stopped when they had filled the room. Then he heard different footsteps—boots. It was an organic life form. He could tell that the boots were small, and that the wearer of the boots was lightweight—probably about 135 pounds, and about six feet tall. The smell told him it was a female Earthling. The smell also allowed him to identify the makeup she wore—it was a type that Ryeaoan women used a lot, because it looked frightening. So she came for intimidation. The makeup was probably black and red, and it was almost certain to have cracked patterns on her cheeks and around her eyes. Briefly, he wondered what color hair she had. That was one of the few things he wasn’t able to identify without seeing her.
    Inen charged. Peyb focused on the sound of the air rushing toward him to identify how quickly she was moving, then jumped upward, grabbing onto wires and pipes to pull himself onward. Inen slammed into the panel where Peyb had been a second ago, and it flew open. There was a gunshot before the panel even hit the robots in front of it. That was the only gunshot there was. Then there was the clanging of the panel damaging two or three of the robots, and the thud of Inen’s body hitting the floor.
    How? Peyb thought frantically. That sounded like a pistol—it couldn’t have been anything else! There’s no pistol powerful enough to kill a Ryeaoan! For the first time in many, many years, he was afraid.
    * * *
    Nothing took Melanie by surprise. The Ryeaoan lady had come out of the wall with eyes wide open. They made huge targets. She simply shot one of her eyes. But why were they so wide open? Ryeaoans didn’t just accidentally blow their cover. They would never survive their planet if they did. Someone else messed up her plans. She could hope it was Juxa, but she doubted it. There was someone else here.
    According to the report Juxa had given, there were two more Ryeaoans—and they were males, therefore stronger. There was probably another Ryeaoan here. But she knew the trick of letting your opponent believe they had gotten away with a trick—the Ryeaoans may think themselves clever, but everyone knew that trick.
    Melanie forced herself not to look at the gap in the wall. “Take her into my ship and bind her in case she’s still alive,” she ordered two of her robots. “And remember: she’s a Ryeaoan. Make her restraints ten times stronger than you think you have to.” She finished by muttering under her breath, “I hate Ryeaoans.”
    He took the bait. A ceiling panel was thrown directly at her. What her enemy didn’t anticipate was her bodyguard robots. One of them shot two connected missiles. One of them flew toward the ceiling panel, and the other toward the wall. The both dug into their targets, and the cord contracted, flinging the ceiling panel away from Melanie. But she could see that the split second distraction had allowed the Ryeaoan to see what had happened to his companion. His eyes were closed tight.
    Her second bodyguard leapt into the air to meet the Ryeaoan, but it was slapped aside easily. The third one was already behind him, but he simply kicked back and knocked it out of the way. Her fourth bodyguard grabbed Melanie and darted to the side. She didn’t bother to shoot—she’d just be wasting her tiny ammo on his thick skin.
    * * *
    I can’t open my eyes, Peyb thought. It looks like that was Inen’s mistake. That was simple enough, but something else bothered him. When he hit the two robots, the crunch he had been expecting didn’t happen. They were just tossed to the side.
    These robots are tough, he thought, but only four of them are moving at that speed. The rest are sluggish. These four are superior. They’re the ones I have to worry about.
    “Stand aside and let my bodyguards deal with this one,” he heard the grand admiral commanding her army. As he landed, he rushed toward her.
    One of the bodyguards rushed behind him—it was faster than him! He leapt and spun around in the air, kicking with both feet as the robot rushed toward him. To his astonishment, the robot purposely slammed into his kick and reached out to grab his knees. Firing a jet, the robot quickly slammed into the ground, and spikes grew from its feet to dig in. All of Peyb’s momentum stopped, and he reached behind him to catch himself. Pushing with his left hand, he spun around to tear his legs from the robot’s grip, but the robot held on. From the noise, he figured out that the robot had leapt in a cartwheel to keep its arms from crossing.
    He knew another robot was right above him, and he pushed up off the ground as hard as he could. He felt the spikes on a robot’s foot pinch the skin on his back, but the only damage it did was tear his uniform. His upward momentum threw the robot into the air, but then it fired a jet to knock itself back down to the ground. It slammed into Peyb and threw him to the floor, but then he reached up and grabbed the robot’s leg and squeezed with all his might. He felt the ankle crunch, but not enough to hinder the robot’s movement.
    Still holding onto the robot’s leg, he swung to his left, and he heard the robot in his hands bat away another one. Then he swung to his right, and the same thing happened. Then he swung backwards, and it hammered into the robot that had been holding onto his knees. The speed and force of it caused it to let go of his legs. The four robots dashed away from him.
    He quickly rose to his feet, and assessed that they had made a box formation—one in each corner, only two feet away from him. And they were waiting to see what he would do.
    He would surprise them.
    He kicked up a floor panel that had been knocked loose by the struggle as he leapt into the air. The robots leapt with him, easily assessing that he was only moving vertically. Then he kicked the floor panel. It flew straight into one robot and knocked it out of the air, and Peyb’s momentum sent him into another robot, which he jumped off of to reach the hole in the ceiling he had made earlier. He pulled wires, causing showers of electricity to form, which he knew would confuse the robots. Then he dashed away, finally able to open his eyes as he maneuvered around pipes and wires. He heard a robot taking pursuit—it was a little delayed, and it was slowed down by the pipes and wires it broke through. It would be a workout, but he could keep his distance from it.
    The problem, he realized, was that there was another robot tracking his progress from below. He realized that because it was shooting an assault rifle through the ceiling panels at him.
    These robots have better programming, stronger weapons, and more durable armor than my usual enemies. I have to be careful.
    Never losing momentum, he leapt, broke off a pipe, twisted around, and threw it, all in one movement. While he was twisting around, he saw that it was the robot with the crunched leg. An idea formed in his mind—the robot was programmed to know its original body, and that tiny dent could throw off its movements. He saw that in the way it limped as it came toward him. It was a tiny limp, and most people wouldn’t have noticed it. But he was a Ryeaoan. He could use anything to his advantage. As he ran, he broke off another pipe. He threw it behind him with perfect accuracy. The robot didn’t bother to dodge it, because it calculated that the pipe would pass centimeters from it.
    But it didn’t include its own damage in its calculations.
    The pipe hit the metal of the robot’s ankle, causing it to stumble ever so slightly. It was a tiny victory for Peyb, but it allowed him to gain distance. And if necessary, he could do the same thing again and again. These robots didn’t learn.
    * * *
    Dociluas heard the sounds of battle getting closer. At first he had despaired that the sounds of battle had come too soon, but still he waited. Based on the gunfire, he guessed that they were chasing someone. But it sounded like they were shooting at the ceiling!
    The sounds came closer. Dociluas corrected himself—there was one shooting at the ceiling, and one was above the ceiling. And the one they were chasing was also in the ceiling.
    He could tell that these weren’t the ordinary UNO robots—they were faster at the very least. They had to have been chasing one of the Ryeaoans, or they wouldn’t have to go that fast.
    Dociluas prepared to jump out of his hiding place. And as the sounds came closer and closer, he waited… then he leapt out, firing both pistols madly. He strafed for a second until he jumped behind another engine. Then he made sense of what he saw.
    The bullets had bounced harmlessly off of the robot, even though he had shot it in normally critical places. But now the robot had stopped shooting at the ceiling and was shooting at him instead. It was a heavy assault rifle attached to the robot’s arm. The engine couldn’t handle it. It would soon explode. But he couldn’t get away from it, because the robot would shoot him.
    Then he saw Peyb break through the ceiling directly above him. Before he could dive out of the way, Peyb grabbed him and dashed away, holding Dociluas in front of himself so that he would take the bullets on his back. Dociluas heard the engine breaking down, and it exploded. He felt the heat as Peyb continued to run, and even saw some of the flames. Suddenly Peyb dropped Dociluas and turned around.
    Blood, Dociluas thought. Those are bullet holes. Small, but still… he injured himself to save me.
    Dociluas saw Peyb leap and punch one of the robots, causing it to fly backward. Then he grabbed the second one and threw it after the first one. Then Dociluas realized what he was doing. The explosion of the engine had torn a huge hole in the back of the ship, and the robots were pulled into the vacuum. So were Peyb and Dociluas. Hurling his fist, Peyb punched a hole in the ground to hold onto it. He grabbed Dociluas’s leg as he was flying past, and they both clung to the ground desperately. Rockets extended from the robots’ arms and legs, and they began to make progress toward the two commandos.
    As Dociluas reached down to grab his pistols from their holsters, he assessed what he could do to help. It was simple. Firing one pistol at each robot, he aimed for their rockets. When he shot them, the robots flying went out of control, and they were shot out of the ship into space. Then a door closed a few feet away from Peyb and Dociluas, saving them from the cold of space.
    “Why didn’t that close earlier?” Peyb asked.
    “My guess is that Kriqua’s at work on the computer,” Dociluas responded.
    * * *
    Melanie walked through the halls, escorted by the two bodyguards that had stayed behind, along with an army of ordinary robots. Every time there was a fork in the road, she commanded them to split up and search everywhere. She herself knew where she was going.
    She walked into the group of prison cells, and saw a figure in the shadows of a corner ahead of her. Strange, she thought. That’s not the cell Juxa told me she was in. Others might not even think about it, but it aroused her suspicions. She was prepared as she stepped into the cell toward the figure in the shadows. She held her pistol in front of her.
    * * *
    Ryan heard the footsteps behind him, and was temporarily alarmed. The closest pair of footsteps were human, not robot. He had been relying on robot stupidity more than anything—but a human! He decided he couldn’t wait for her to see who he was. He whirled around, chain gun spinning and ready to fire. What kept him from firing, though, was the pistol pointed at him.
    The woman in front of him had cracked black and red makeup on in swirled patterns. She looked like she was dressed up for Halloween. Her blonde hair was tied back into a pony tail, and she wore thick boots. She was about six feet tall with an athletic look. A grand admiral—she displayed her rank proudly on her uniform.
    “Don’t try shooting,” he warned her. “My gun is ready to fire at a split second’s notice.”
    She smiled, seeming not to understand the seriousness of the situation. “And my gun is always ready to fire at a split second’s notice.”
    “Then perhaps we both die.”
    “I don’t think it’s quite so simple.” She twitched her hand and shot, aiming for his hand. He managed to fire two bullets before her bullet hit his hand, but it did no good. The bodyguard robots to either side of her aimed with impossible speed and accuracy, and they each shot one of the bullets out of the air with their rifles.
    As he dropped his gun, it was more shock than pain that made him gasp. The UNO grand admiral was standing completely unharmed in front of him. She took a pair of handcuffs from her belt and handed them to a robot. “I’m sure you see now that you can’t harm me, but I’m going to have you wear these cuffs just in case you’re one of the stupid ones that tries anyway.”
    * * *
    As the first robot stepped through the door, Mark and Juyrl both swung their fists at its head. It was completely smashed between their fists, and Juyrl leapt to meet the ones behind it, tearing them to shreds. Mark stood behind him, firing away at whatever Juyrl missed. When they had driven the robots back a bit, Juyrl ducked, and Mark began firing at everything in front of him. The robots fell easily.
    Soon, there were no more robots to shoot at. “That was easy,” Juyrl said, sounding disappointed.
    * * *
    Kriqua had watched everything, but now she could do more. She had the weapon systems operating now. She took control of all the guns on the ship, inside and outside. The outside guns made scrap metal of the robots that Peyb and Dociluas had thwarted, and the guns inside made scrap of hundreds more. The ones she focused on the most were the ones in the prison cells.
    The UNO grand admiral had sent one of her bodyguards back to take Ryan to her ship, leaving her with only one as she went to Juxa’s cell. Her bodyguard robot forced the door open, allowing Juxa to step out. But then the guns started blazing. Juxa and the UNO grand admiral both stepped into the prison cell for cover, with the bodyguard following. Then she gave a remote command to close the cell door and to electrically charge it. The robot tried to force it open again, but now the doors were magnetically sealed. The robots outside of the cell were quickly turned into scrap metal.
    The intercoms blared with Kriqua’s voice; “Get to the other ship. We’re going to overtake it. Quickly, I’m activating a self-destruct sequence.” With the cameras, she saw Juxa grab her device and start frantically pressing the few buttons there were, trying to either open the door or shut down the self-destruct cycle. Then Kriqua gave an overload code—all interfaces on the ship would destroy themselves. Obviously, the next thing Kriqua did was disconnect herself from the computer, and she crawled out of her hiding space. She dashed to the other side of the room, and when she turned around, she only had to wait a second before she saw sparks exploding over the computer.
    * * *
    Melanie was furious. But she had a backup plan. She turned to her bodyguard robot. “Have your counterparts that chased after the Ryeaoan break pursuit and come here.”
    “They are currently unavailable,” the metallic voice responded.
    “They are unresponsive. It appears they have taken massive damage from this ship’s cannons.”
    Cannons? They were outside?”
    “Get the other one here then! Have him hide Ryan somewhere and come here as quickly as possible.”
    “Orders relayed.”
    “It looks like you’re having a bit of trouble, Grand Admiral,” Juxa said.
    “Your part in this isn’t going much better!”
    “Relax, I can—”
    Just then, sparks exploded from her device. Juxa squealed in surprise and dropped it. “It’s ok, I can fix it. Don’t worry.”
    “No you won’t. My robot will get here first.”
    In a short moment, the robot did arrive. Melanie wasted no time in giving orders. “Use that interface there to open the door.”
    “The interface is inoperable right now.”
    “What?” Melanie exclaimed. “How?”
    Juxa answered the question. “That slimy traitor, Kriqua, sabotaged the ship. She isn’t fit to call herself a Taquan—she serves only the IGM. She has no pride for her planet!”
    “Can you fix it?”
    “Yes, but I don’t know how much time is set on the self-destruct sequence.”
    “Then hurry.”
    “Then shut up!”
    “You can’t—”
    “Listen, Grand Admiral, your life is in my hands right now.”
    “My robots will tear through the door!” As they tried, though, they were electrocuted.
    “Give up. This is my task.”
    The arguing didn’t cease, though, as the time dragged on.
    * * *
    It had been an easy task for the group to take control of the UNO ship. Mark, Juyrl, Thyu, Kriqua, Dociluas, and Peyb were all in the cockpit together. Kriqua explained as much as she knew. “I know Inen is on this ship somewhere as a prisoner, but I’m not sure whether or not she’s alive.”
    “If you aren’t sure about a Ryeaoan,” Peyb said, “always assume they’re alive. Especially when you wish otherwise.”
    “Anyway, Ryan should also be on the ship. The last I saw on the cameras, a robot was taking Ryan here.”
    “How long do you think it’ll take for Juxa to break free?”
    “It’ll take a while. I played more than just one trick on her.”
    “Why did you leave them alive?” Juyrl asked. “It would’ve been better to kill them.”
    “If this war was about thinning numbers, we would have no hope. What we want is to break the empire, and to do that, we have to do more than just kill. We have to humiliate them, and I made sure that they’ll be humiliated here.”
    “Enough of this talk,” Thyu said. He was still in pain, but he could walk and talk like nothing was wrong. If it came to fighting, though, he would have trouble. “Let’s just go.”
    Mark nodded. “Taquans, I’ll leave the piloting to you. Everyone else, stay here. Since we don’t know how many robots are on the ship, we need to stay in the cockpit where we can defend Kriqua and Dociluas.”
    Dociluas winked at Kriqua. They both knew that Mark only used the word “defend” so that he wasn’t insulting the others by saying they couldn’t go alone.
    * * *
    It had been a while since the other ship took off. Juxa had fixed her little device, but she had spent even longer searching for the self destruct program so she could shut it down. After several minutes of that, Melanie couldn’t stand it anymore.
    “You idiot, she tricked us!”
    “Obviously. We’re both locked up, and stranded in space on a ship that’s about to explode.”
    “Use your head! And not the mechanical part for a change!”
    Juxa looked at Melanie with a mixture of anger and curiosity. “What are you talking about?”
    “There is no self-destruct sequence! Kriqua duped us so that you’d be too distracted with that to open the door!”
    At first Juxa rejected the idea, but then she realized she had been thinking like a computer. She had been given a problem, and had been searching for a solution. She didn’t once consider that the problem didn’t exist. She had been thinking more like a machine than like a human—not even questioning what she was told.
    Juxa’s face darkened. “The next time I see Kriqua, she will not live. Even if I have to go down with her.”
    Melanie almost told Juxa to stop being so dumb, but she closed her mouth before any words could come out. I’ve gained a weapon, she realized. Juxa will do anything I say if the end result is to kill Kriqua. She listened, forming plans, rejecting some ideas, accepting others, and scheming as Juxa rambled on about how much she hated Kriqua.