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Serukta Sehkrisaal
Posts: 99
Founded: Nov 04, 2013

Postby Serukta Sehkrisaal » Sat Mar 19, 2016 1:18 am

A Wildfire Chronicles Installment
[ Future Technology ]

"I have taught you, my dear flock, [...] how to live, and I will show you in a very short time how to die." — Sandys

File Note
Attch: 1

The document herein was recovered from a partially-corrupted datastick found amongst the wreckage of the Ambrosia Starliner, believed to have been a part of the personal effects carried on-board by the as-of-yet unidentified suicide bomber (identification documents confirmed forgeries) responsible for the atrocity. At this time, forensic data analysis has been unable to discern a name for the document besides that listed in its original file header: "inspiration"; further analysis revealed that while the document originally constituted approximately thirty (30) pages of content, all that remains free from purposeful attempts to corrupt or destroy data within the file is contained below. As of this time, this information has not been cleared for dissemination; please see attachment for further details.

Is it not that they have abandoned you? Is it not apparent that the Galaxy has turned its back upon that which so-called "civilization" believes to be its children? Is it not plain-to-see that this world - this Galaxy, this cosmos, this realm of seemingly infinite creation - is but yet a hell given form all its own? My brothers and sisters, as you make ready to do the work of the Children of Light, I ask you to look within yourselves and, with heartfelt sincerity, question: "Is life just?"

I know from where you sit that to many the answer will seem plain and true. For many of you, months have been spent huddled into cramped cargo containers fearing the next "routine search" will end with your person being flung back into the uncertainty of the depths of space, months locked in a liminal state of nigh un-personhood as one state bickers with the next over petty housing rights and the exact ratio of food-to-water that any of the "displaced" truly needs to survive. Nights-without-end you have spent awake, tormenting yourself over burdens seemingly beyond your control as the heads of one agency speaks on the Galactinet of how truly they wish to assist you, and yet you find your own barely capable of breathing as those very same bureaucrats assign you to yet another habitation block amongst the criminal detritus of the world, left to be made victims by those the state willfully ignores or even arms for the purpose of exacting their prejudice.

I know your hardships, my brothers and sisters; I know what scratches at the back of your mind and I feel the tearing of your hearts as you weep over yet another brother, sister, father, mother, lover lost amidst the red tape of a thousand different worlds, each tugging, each ripping at your very being for agendas all their own. I see them housing you as they applaud their own charity, but I also see them concentrating you out of fear of your righteous anger. I see them arming you for your defense, but I also see them setting you against your own for petty squabbles derived not from vindication or justice, but from barbarous politicking and politesse-of-the-gun. I see them feeding you, and I see them making you slaves to an unjust world that cares only for the fodder you might provide to nourish their corrupt ambition. I see them decry you as "beast" and "vermin" and "criminal," but I see nothing but their own fear, self-loathing, and the slowly dawning realization that their own self-deceit is faltering - their facade is cracked, failing, broken and collapsing around them.

So, again, I ask, "Is life just?"

You know the answer to this question; the only difference between you and the man which says, "Yes," is that you can no longer afford to hide behind the prevarication of necessity. You can no longer afford to say, "Yes," and let your friends, your family, your loved ones wither away under the gilding of a decrepit system. You - and I know this as true, my brothers and sisters - cannot afford to deceive yourselves, for death comes slow to those in the dark, lost, and seeking of a nourishment they know naught. It is a withering, painful, and wasting death, but it comes just as surely as any other; you see it around you, day-in and day-out, and know that, in time, whether by loathsome inaction or barbaric action, it will come and you, too, will face the grinding wheel of this infernal reality.

This doesn't have to be true, however, for there is a way to that nourishment you seek. Just as you know the truth of this inevitability - of this certain consumption by the ill-begotten, pestilent forces of this galaxy, of this world, we all begrudgingly seek to call "home" - I offer you a path from it, away from it, toward a brilliant and resplendent fulgor which cares for your hardship, but not your station. It is an endless radiance which embraces all who seek it, all who follow the path to it, and all who turn away from the pitch of this impure and impious corruption some dare call "creation." Yet, I know, this is not enough; this cannot be enough, for while a paradisaical realm may await, that does little to protect the young and unknowing, the old, or the feeble who are most certainly merely yet to be crushed beneath the boot of a world that seeks naught but their practicality and utility to an end.

Yet, the path to that infinite refulgence offers an avenue to end this suffering. It seeks to provide to all who seek it, to all who cry-out its name in the darkest depths of their desperation, in the abyss of their despair, wishing for an answer. In a word, that infinite unknowing absolute, that primordial spark which asks only for your love, offers you justice.

Embrace this now, and you too will be given the tools to which justice - righteous and pure - may be enacted upon all those whom have erred and made fools of themselves in the veiling of their eyes in impurity and in the clouding of their hearts with the hatred of the pious, the pure, and that-which-is-correct-in-all-things:

    Accept that it is not the state or the church or the agency which is corrupt alone, it is the fabric of creation - of reality itself - within which they all sit;

    Accept that impiety, impurity, and infernal machination against you, your own, and all whom seek to be your kin-in-reverence is naught short but a crime against the divine and the virtuous chain-of-light which sits above and casts judgment upon the broken and decrepit and false shackles of creation which need not bind you;

    Accept that life in this world - in this hell crafted from the depths of despair and envy - can never be just without justice brought to it by word, banner, and blade, and that all those whom seek to act against this - those who seek to revel in this despair - are ignorant of this truth and, despite their errs, deserve the blessing of final mercy;

    And, at last, with open arms, long-for and welcome the coming endless, absolute scintillation which will bring an end to this accursed prison which encapsulates and incarcerates your immortal purity and inviolability.
My brothers and sisters, if you need any further proof as to the justness of our cause and the truth of my words, look to the penitence cast upon the sinful and impure; look, I say, upon that which is Liu Xiu. Look upon those unrighteous which perished by fire-and-water on the corporate hell-world of Pinnacle; look to them who sit as but discarded memories in the depths of an abysmal sea who, too, refused to turn away from that very darkness and embrace the refulgence above. Yet, look mostly to those of Piraeus and of Jiwao and of all the fools which looked to their false-gods - the Phanite and the Imperial - to protect them from their just penance. They built a tower, they erected an idol to their own indecency and self-deceived degeneracy; they wished to reach for the stars, to build gilded palaces to hide their shame, to build monuments to their own vanity in hopes the shadows cast might disguise their tyrannical greed and lust for ever-more. They, too, were given one final mercy in the dawning acceptance of justice enacted upon them in the name of the Light and by the ever-laboring hands of those who knew right from wrong, just from unjust, and purity from impurity.

Yet, now, there are others who seek to roll and toil and raise to apotheosis this same degeneracy and sickening affliction. They assign you your home, your new prison-within-a-prison, and demand of you gratitude. They are the ones who press their boot upon your throat and expect the wheezing song which comes from your lips to only be praises in their name. They are the ones who stand beside you in the habitation block and act as the eyes and ears and ever-watchful parasites which work at the behest of those who expect and demand and yet play you against your own and send you naught but scraps from a table high upon a mountain. They are the refugee camp discipline overseers, the bureaucrats who piddle-away your own physical necessity for the sake of saving that overseer yet one more tax credit, the collaborator who speaks from both sides of his mouth and sings two different songs - these are all the clergy of this affliction, of this hell-world, of this impurity deified.

Even so, I offer you a solution. I offer you the path to the escape of this devilry. I offer you the knowledge - the enlightenment - which will bring your spark aflame and ignite within you purpose, impetus, and the tools that HE willfully grants unto HIS own to enact this justice - demanded and foretold. I give you the key to your own destiny, and I offer you naught but the wisdom and knowledge as to how to use it. In a word, I offer you hope. I offer you an end to this injustice, to this squalor, and to this decaying world.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, life is unjust, but that can be changed.

Attachment: Recovered Datastick Forensic Analysis
Case Number 56509-26-044A(E306b), No Action Currently Recommended
Since the original recovery of the document as-of-yet known only as "dat.file06" or "inspiration," further data analysis of the recovered datastick has yielded some greater degree of information. This has lead the investigation unit to tentatively reach several conclusions regarding both the attack on the Ambrosia Starliner and the nature of the resurgence of the organization hitherto known as "Wildfire." The investigation unit must caution, however, that such conclusions are as-of-now only tentative and subject to change as this investigation continues. In this attachment, first the investigation unit will elaborate on further information recovered from the datastick and conclusions reached by such information, and secondly conclusions which can tentatively be reached on the nature of "Wildfire."

First, forensic data analysis has uncovered a single name, currently believed to be a given name, which may in fact be the given name of the suicide bomber aboard the Ambrosia. This name is "Shu'traii." Current linguistic analysis of this name yields no positive results with any degree of certainty, though further data recovered from the datastick seems to confirm previous conclusions: namely, "Shu'traii" appears to be a displaced person (refugee) from the the northern sectors of the Gamma Quadrant, likely displaced due to ongoing conflicts in these sectors. The recovery of a partial journal (dat.file12; provenance currently unconfirmed) seems to indicate "Shu'traii" traveled from an as-of-yet unidentified system approximately twenty-eight (28) parsecs from the Sol Meridian (boundary between the Gamma and Delta Quadrants); from there, he is believed to have briefly passed through the Liu Xiu Special Economic Zone with the journal seeming to indicate he may have stayed within the Liu Xiu System for as little as eight (8) days. From there, he traveled down the Lanthine Lee (as a part of the Solarian Trade Corridor) before the journal ceases to produce information of a qualitative nature.

Based upon the information recovered, it is believed that "Shu'traii" likely passed through the Liu Xiu Special Economic Zone several weeks after the destruction of the Jiwao Skylift. It is believed sometime following this, possibly during his transit through the Lanthine Lee, that "Shu'traii" may have been radicalized. Whether this is due to some parties affiliated with the "Wildfire Season" or an instance of self-radicalization is unknown.

Secondly, while a single name has been recovered, a pseudonym or possible nom de guerre was recovered from a single document (dat.file02) that seems to contain no further information and is, remarkably, nearly entirely free from corruption. This pseudonym is simply "Firebrand." At this time, the investigation unit is unable to reach any conclusions as to the possible importance or relevance of this pseudonym, nom de guerre, or title.

Third. While there are several other dat. files located on the datastick, most are currently believed to be irrecoverable. There is one exception, however, which forensic data analysts seem to have been able to recover. This file is titled "gate" and known as "dat.file01"; the document contains what appears at first glance to be a Galactinet hyperlink: gct::g0r.akad-ra.ilu/dr4/ftvs33-a09.wild/2411-login. Further analysis uncovered what was originally believed to be an incorrectly parsed or corrupted header ("gct::" rather than "gcnt::") in actuality appears to link to a superluminal liquid-modem anisible service network; in other words: a superluminal, interstellar information network which is distinct from the Galactinet, but which seems to be constructed in such a way to be readily obscured or otherwise inaccessible to the average Galactinet user. Connecting to this network immediately lead to numerous failed connections; after approximately 200 attempts to access gct::g0r.akad-ra.ilu/dr4/ftvs33-a09.wild/2411-login, the investigation unit was able to successfully connect to the gct:: network, but was immediately redirected to a page stating, simply, "The page you are attempting to access does not exist or has been removed. Please contact Galactinet Technical Support."

"Galactinet Technical Support" linked to the domain, a legitimate technical support site meant to provide assistance to users having difficulties with Galactinet-based webpages or other technical difficulties. Contacting Galactinet Technical Support revealed that gct:: is not a Galactinet-reserved header and they have no knowledge of the aforementioned website or liquid-modem service network.

At this time, the investigation unit has been unable to access the aforementioned webpage or, in truth, any page on the gct:: mirror network. Attemps to astrolocate the liquid-modem, liquid-router, or liquid-server support systems meant to provide hosting services to this network have been mired by false positives and what can tentatively be presumed to be an advanced system designed to directly sabotage reverse astrolocation attempts.

This concludes the investigation unit's current analysis of the datastick. What follows are conclusions reached regarding the nature of the resurgence of "Wildfire."

Firstly, while the investigation unit cannot determine with absolute certainty, it is currently believed that "Shu'traii," "inspiration," and the associated information collected from the datastick indicates that there may be a tentative link between the Wildfire of the "Wildfire Season" and the new "Wildfire." That being said, given what publicly available information has been released by the Imperial Star Republic regarding their investigation, whether or not this link is direct or indirect is unknown. The investigation unit believes it is safe to assume that despite best efforts in the very least Wildfire's "message" has been passed on to a new generation or layer of "Wildfire."

Secondly, based on the usage of an interstellar information network distinct from the Galactinet, the investigation unit believes that "Wildfire" may have adopted a cell-based superstructure. If such is the case, then "Wildfire" is no longer confined to a single organizational unit or, possibly, even a single hierarchy; as such, "Wildfire" may have evolved to consist of numerous cells - possibly operating amongst displaced populations and other "disaffected persons" in statistically abnormal numbers - which may have little-if-no direct contact to one another. This seems to imply that "Wildfire" is operating solely on a "lone wolf" or "self-radicalized individual or group" system without some greater oversight; however, based upon the document "dat.file06," the investigation unit believes that while a command hierarchy may strictly be nebulous or based entirely upon personal motivation, there is likely to be one (1) or more "philosophical core cells" which are responsible for the dissemination of the "Wildfire" philosophy.

Third. Despite previous assumptions, the investigation unit is confident in stating that "Wildfire" is not simply an anti-capitalist or anti-corporatist terrorist organization, but seems to be united by a religious or spiritual philosophy which while carrying such sentiments, ultimately believes their direct targets to be merely symptoms of a "corrupt reality" that seems to exist solely to "imprison" its adherents.

Lastly, due to both the degree of complexity uncovered in the forensic data analysis of the datastick and due to the severity of the Ambrosia Starliner's destruction, the investigation unit is unanimously certain of one thing: "Wildfire" seems to be state-supported.

Written by Kyrusia.
Last edited by Serukta Sehkrisaal on Sat Mar 19, 2016 1:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
All that would be was but Endless Flame.

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The Uthani Imperium
Posts: 193
Founded: Oct 06, 2011

Postby The Uthani Imperium » Sun Apr 10, 2016 5:52 pm

Searchlight: Controlled Burn

Sahnai was, and probably always would be, boring beyond any tolerable imagination.

It had sounded exciting when they had pitched it to him of course. “Live on the frontier of Uthani space! Man the towering pillars of Uthanute’s watch! Experience luxurious beach-front living while earning gainful pay and serving the homeland!” Part adventure, part service, part vacation. It was the perfect posting for any SIGNIT officer. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to enjoy the warm sands of the beach after a long day of hard work?

Well, Halazi had soon found out that Sahnai didn’t have any beaches. What it did have was flattened limestone that petered out into lily-pad covered water that might as well have been a half dozen kilometers from the spires themselves for all the “recreational opportunity” it provided. And of course, manning a small computer tucked away into the basement of the spire with no windows, no temperature control, and no fucking coworkers wasn’t exactly the kind of adventure he had been looking for.

The most exciting thing that had happened since he began his three year rotation was a particularly messy spill last week involving a rather large shipment of Ytterbium and the ensuing spontaneous combustion. Not exactly anything to write home to the folks about, and definitely not something that he had been eager to involve himself in. He had top secret and incredibly important messages to send and decode after all; he couldn’t jeopardize his own safety no matter what the idiot Pewah running the security department thought.

That particular comment had of course landed him in his current predicament. Double shifts, twenty six hours straight with no relief for being a smartass and “Insulting a superior officer.” Halazi wasn’t even sure if the man had any real authority over him. He was Wali Hatusmi, and that blowhard Pewah was regular army at best, probably contracted security at worse. But Sahnai had a way of playing by its own rules, and had he been stupid enough to take it up with the Teputapar, he probably would have found himself chained to his desk for a week without any down time.

It was going to a long day, and an even longer night.

Sixteen hours. Sixteen hours of asinine bullshit ranging from water shipments to crop rotation mandates. Asinine bullshit, and worse still, asinine bullshit that he had to log, decode and transfer to the correct department.

Halazi was convinced now that some asshole in Uthanute had been paid to fuck him especially hard, probably at that jackass security officer’s request. He hadn’t even managed to take a smoke break, let alone his dinner break. His fingers were on the cusp of snapping off, and he was rather sure he’d have carpal tunnel by the end of this hell-shift. He hadn’t slept in over twenty four hours, and he was having a hard time even staying awake let alone being productive.

And yet by some miracle, he was managing to stay on top of the unending data stream. At this point it was basically second nature, sorting things into departments as he decoded them, and making sure whoever was on shift at said departments was fully aware of his shitty situation. It was all bullshit after all, just a stream of logistic and shipping orders that probably didn’t even need to be encoded. But of course the Uthanium did so love its fancy code words and encryption technology, and of course they’d never miss a chance to use either even if it was a simple food export manifest. A pain in the ass to be sure, but easy enough to decode.

Halazi was halfway through processing his eleventh water shipment manifest of the night when his small console suddenly went dark, the pale-green illumination quickly replaced by a black screen that not only scared the shit out of him but also infuriated him.

“Fucking fuck!” Halazi was alight with rage, his reptilian face contorted into a primal snarl as he screamed to himself. “Stupid fucking piece of shit!” He swung at the computer, his heavy fist almost knocking it off it’s brackets as he continued swearing at the machine. “Gonna take me a fucking hour to re-decode that transmission yo-”

Halazi’s rage was cut short as the terminal sparked back to life, red letters flashing across the black screen as it emitted a horrible screeching sound that reverberated around the empty room continuously, threatening to drive the young intelligence officer insane.

“Goddamn!” Halazi scrambled towards the terminal, frantically recording the red lettering as it flashed on repeat across the screen.

The sentinels are wearing black. The Master of the House is dressed in blue. The Lighthouse is glowing orange.

Flashing over and over, at least thirty times, Halazi of course recording each individual line as it occurred, waiting for some kind of change that never came.

And just as abruptly as it started, it ended. The terminal flashed again, the lettering replaced by a simple error message reading “No Connection,” and the blaring replaced by a silence that weighed heavy over the near-empty room.

Milky Way Galaxy
Gamma Quadrant, Liu Xiu
Pinnacle, Sahnai
One Hour Later

Sahnai wasn’t boring, and the way things looked now, it probably never would be again.

The Teputapar had just boarded the last shuttle, a gaggle of Uthani administrators and officers close behind him. Running up the extended ramp just in time before it slammed shut behind them.

The ship was well over capacity, designed to carry maybe a dozen personnel at a time, and yet forced to accommodate nearly thirty. It was overweight, overcrowded, and poorly suited for rapid withdraw. And as a result, it was hardly a surprise when it dropped nearly thirty feet after taking off, it’s retrograde thrusters struggling to keep it in the air even as the forces of gravity dragged it ever downward. Four meters, three meters, two meters.

At long last, after a great deal of cursing and praying, the ship leveled out a meter above sea level. It was of course, devastating the aquaculture farm it was hovering above, incinerating lily-pads and torching corn talks as the pilots fought valiantly to gain altitude. And then, by some miracle the over-encumbered ship began climbing ever so slowly, gaining inches, and then feet, and then meters at a time as it steadily rocketed upwards.

It was now rapidly leaving the three white pillars behind for what was probably the last time, fast becoming a white streak on the clear blue horizon as it plunged into the upper atmosphere and at last the cold embrace of the void. It would have been a sobering sight to any onlookers, to say the least.

But of course, of the former population of ten or so thousand, only about four dozen remained, and none of them was in a particularly sightseeing mood.

“Wipe it, wipe fucking all of it!”

Even as he took charge, screaming orders at the handful of Uthani left, Halazi couldn’t help but feel a sense of crippling defeat and terror at the situation that was unfolding.

I must be fucking cursed. He laughed darkly to himself as he reflected on the situation. Three sentences had, effectively, sentenced him to death. Three sentences that had sprung up with no warning and no regard for him or the others who were staying behind. It didn’t decode as a death sentence of course, for most of the inhabitants it was an evacuation message that would save their lives, but for those that were left behind to dispose of the evidence. It meant death and death alone.

“Once you clear a terminal, smash it, and make sure you get every scrap of paper collected into the pile!” Despite his own shortfallings, Halazi was still a man of conviction and duty. And all things considered, he was performing admirably, directing the remaining Uthani through each console and adding to the heap of scrap paper that was quickly piling up in the main-spires archive room. It’s underneath the spire meant the smoke inhalation from the fire they were about to spark off would eventually suffocate them, but at this point, that didn’t matter much.

“Nothing gets left behind! Nothing!” Halazi predicated his point by dragging a rather expensive looking desk, probably an antique of some kind and certainly nothing of strategic value, onto the pile in the middle; his hulking and scaled form straining even as he tossed it atop the stack of paper. “If it burns, we burn it!”

It was to be said of course, that those under his command were also performing admirably. There’d be several commendations after all this, posthumous commendations, but commendations all the same. They were going to be heroes, even if they didn’t fully understand the implications of their actions at the time, they were forging their own legend with each terminal they smashed and paper they shredded.

Even as panic set in and the reality of their situation became clear, they worked on. A pair were alternating between wiping computers and smashing them, while still another was attempting to pull down the flourescent lighting and heap it onto the pile in the middle. It was frantic, desperate, and in the eyes of the Uthani at least, heroic. A last act of defiance in the face of a hungry and unjust wolf that was quickly closing upon them.

Halazi paused from his work, taking a long, hard, look around the room. It never ceased to amaze him how even the most terrified of Uthani managed to look angry and ready for a fight. All six of them had their faces contorted into nasty snarls, teeth bore out to the world as if to say “Fuck you!” It was the sort of defiance that had been ingrained into them all those years ago when they were still children, the fight mentality that was instilled from youth. It inspired a sort of pride in him, and yet at the same time, filled him with immense sorrow.

"We're not getting out of this boys, and we're sure as hell not about to be paraded around like those Bavinese fucks. You know what to do." Halazi let the words hang, steadying himself even as he tried to comfort and reassure his terrified comrades. "End of the line."

Halazi reached down into robes, his clawed hand wrapping around the familiar handle of his pistol. “It’s been an honor gentlemen. Ilumar bless and protect you in the next life.”

Milky Way Galaxy
Gamma Quadrant, Liu Xiu
Pinnacle, Sahnai
Fifteen minutes later

”We’ve finished laying the charges in the secondary and tertiary spires Pewah, we’re ready.”

The words didn’t come out quite right in Uthani, a slight slurring here, a slight mispronciation there. But the effort of the young human man, maybe twenty or so with long brown hair that went just past his slender shoulders and a “Looks could kill” expression on his face, was respectable to say the least. The Uthani, his grey uniform marking him a Pewah, and his small silver name tag denoting him “Huswallah,” got the picture at least.

“Very good my son, go and join the others, I will be with you momentarily.” The grizzled Uthani gestured towards the hallway that lay in front of the pair, his long-gangly fingers extending out like grasping tendrils as he shooed the man away. “If I do not see you before the end, Ilumar protect and bless you in the next life.”

The man seemed as if he wanted to speak, but after a moment of indecisiveness, simply bowed his head, turned, and sprinted down the narrow shaft. Leaving the Uthani to stand alone in empty, poorly lit room.

Things had been going so normally just hours before. Huswallah had been halfway through his lunch, chatting it up with a particularly attractive young Uthani woman from the Uthanute proper, when his communicator had exploded in a barrage of alerts and calls to report to the security center. Twenty minutes and a frantic briefing later, half of Sahnai was scrambling to board evacuation shuttle , while the other half was frantically collecting weapons and wiping data from any terminal they could get their hands on.

Technically, Huswallah should have left with the first group of evacuees, but like the Teputapar before him he had elected to wait. Unfortunately, by the time the Teputapar himself had evacuated, Huswallah was the only remaining military personnel in the entirety of the Sahnai, discounting a portion of the localized human militia that had been slowly integrated into the station’s organic security force. And since Halazi and his team were still downstairs wiping terminals, it fell on Huswallah to defend them for as long as he could, and of course, ensure that they were all dead before the hated invader managed to breach that deep into the compound.

It was the worst possible sin an Uthani could commit, to slay his own brethren, let alone six. But Ilumar would forgive, or at least, Huswallah hoped and pleaded that he would as he dropped down to his knees in the empty room.

”Ilumar, Lord on High, give me strength to fulfill my duties and penance to redeem myself from them. Short and sweet. Huswallah had never been one for flowery words, and he didn’t particularly feel like starting down that path now.

His prayer concluded, Huswallah closed his fist, pounded his chest once, and then slowly rose to his feet. Ilumar or not, there was work to be done.

He strutted down the hallway after the young human man who had long since disappeared into the winding corridor ahead of him, his heavy chest puffed out, his face contorted in concentration and commitment, and his clawed and scaled hands balled into a pair of fists that was forcing his long talons into his palms. He was going to die, they all were, but it was better to go out on your feet fighting than cowering and whining for mercy at the feet of the hated enemy.

On he went through the narrow corridor, any kind of lighting, including emergency long since disabled. At last though, he managed to find the end, and struggled through into a wide, atrium-like room.

“Glad you could make it Pewah, we’re just about done getting things set up.” The voice came from the dark nothingness ahead of him, with only its tone and inflection identifying it as the young man who he had been conversing with earlier. “Here my lord, if you will allow me?” Huswallah felt the young man moving closer, and then a sort of rubbery object was lowered over his horned-domed, before finally the apparatus settled over his face and a bright, luminescent green filled his vision.

The intensity of the light dimmed after a moment, and before him Huswallah could make out the preparations his friend was speaking of. Half a dozen humans had managed to pile a variety of office furniture and vending machines atop one another in the middle of the room, stretching up maybe two meters and only a few feet off the roof of the room itself. The men themselves were of course piled on top of it, one of them maneuvering a rather heavy machine gun so that it angled downwards into the killzone they had assembled in front of their ramshackle barricade.

The rest, perhaps three dozen or so, all human; had positioned themselves around the room behind any cover they could find. A trio of men and women were stacked up against what had once probably been several bed frames, and still two more had moved several couches together and were leaned over them, the red lines extending out from their rifles plain as day thanks to Huswallah’s headgear.

“We’re just about ready here sir, we’ll blow the other two towers just as soon as they breach us here.” The young man spoke again, pulling Huswallah’s attention away from the defenses that lay before him.

“Very good Kikalli, you have done well.” Huswallah extended his hand out, bringing it to rest on the shoulder of the young man. “Now all that is left is to await our judgement.”

The young man, Kikalli, nodded again, his boyish face wrought with a mixture of determination and fear. “We’re with you Pewah...”

They were just outside the wall now. Huswallah had heard their shuttle craft coming, quiet, but not quiet enough. They were moving back and forth in front of them, it sounded like a whole army of them, their steel boot softly thudding on the bulkhead of the pillar just outside. This was it, this was what they had been waiting for since Hazali had decoded that fateful message. Huswallah closed his eyes, gripped his hands tight on the detonator, and slowly squeezed the trigger in.

Huswallah ran through the dark corridor, his legs searing with pain as the slug dug itself deeper and deeper into his thigh. He couldn’t see what lay before him, he was just running blindly now. He stumbled here and there, falling twice before shambling back to his feet, a long crimson stain evident on the wall which he had used to prop himself up. He couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, the long cut on his forehead was burning with such an intensity that it clouded his thought process and turned everything white with pain.

What was he doing?

They had blown the towers, just before the enemy had come through the wall, or was it just after? It didn’t matter, they had blown the other two towers, Huswallah could remember the screech of stone and steel tumbling down into the Ocean below them.

Kikalli? No, Kikalli was dead, a bit of shrapnel lodged cleanly between his bright blue eyes, and several rifle rounds stuck in his gut.

Halazi! Yes that was it , he had to kill Halazi!

The realization dawned on Huswallah mid sprint, bringing him to a tumbling stop as he careened into the corner ahead of him, crumpling onto the ground and reopening his head wound. He felt the searing bolts of pain again, rocking his very core as they shot from his head to his toes, engulfing all in a kind of white nothingness that was the climax of misery and suffering.

He was done, he was ready to quit, he was ready to go to his ancestors and begin anew.

But Halazi, Halazi had to die. Huswallah didn’t know why, but he knew that the Uthani and all with him had to die.

He tried to pull himself up off the wall again, his claws leaving deep scratches in the metal as he hoisted his torso upwards.

“Ilumar give me strength, I must see this through…”
Last edited by The Uthani Imperium on Sun Apr 10, 2016 5:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Hasmi Katti Šittar Šiun
The Kinship of the Star God
FT Advice and Assistance Thread|State of the Galaxy|Voluntary Star-State Index

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Federal Republic of Free States
Posts: 142
Founded: Sep 04, 2015

Postby Federal Republic of Free States » Mon Apr 11, 2016 1:25 am

Buying Bad



“Yes or No?”


“Alright, you know where I’ll be.”


It was cold, well it was always cold the temperature was constantly somewhere between uncomfortably cold and bone chilling freezing. This time of year, the grey clouds were almost a constant film hanging in the sky. He was thankful that the clouds held back their bounty of snow that was forecasted to fall later in the evening. Bad enough there was a chill in the air, he didn’t need the snow to be coming down while he was outside. Leaning up against the black painted van, he exhaled a thick grey smoke out into the air. The smoke was a byproduct of the hand rolled cigarette smoldering in his left hand. Being a few kilometers outside the city limits near the coast afforded him the symphony of crashing waves against the weathered rocks. It was a wonderful respite from the sometimes deafening noise that would emanate from the spatial port during peak hours of traffic, which would resonate throughout the city.

The rhythmic sound of the sea was soon interrupted by the low rumbling growl of an all to familiar vehicle. His eyes cut away from the sea, and to the frontage road that lead up to his current location. Rounding the obstructed bend in the road, he could spot the sleek four door blue sedan coming into his field of view. He took one last drag off the hand crafted cigarette and flicked it off into the dirt area. He exhaled the grey smoke and brought his hand up signaling to the car to stop at his location. The vehicle came to a silent stop a right alongside the van, and the engine cut off. Exiting the blue sedan was a small man, only standing just over five feet his sandy blonde hair frayed to the left in the wind. A smile flashed on the face of the blonde hair man as he turned to face the gentleman lying against the black van. Coming around the sedan he closed distance with the individual against the van, offering his hand outstretched to the man he broke the silence.

“Rich! So good to see you man.”

Popping himself up off the van, the man extended his hand to the blonde man, giving him a firm handshake.

“It’s good to see you too Sam. What happened to bringing a ‘non-descript car’ like I said?”

Sam’s eyes narrowed, “What’s more non-descript than the car I drive everyday?”

Rich could only chuckle and shake his head, “Yeah you got a point there I guess.” He stuck his key into the lock on the back doors of the van, hearing the lock open he swung open the double doors exposing the back of the van to Sam. Eight large black duffle bags were arranged together all side by side. Rich reached for one of them and pulled it out of the van and set it down on the ground. Unzipping the duffle bag, Rich reached in and pulled out a single cellophane wrapped brick, on the surface of the cellophane the word “Arahbaltu” was printed in red letters.

“Now this Sam, this is going to make you a very wealthy man.”

“Yeah, for one heck of a initial investment pri-.”

Rich held out his hand stopping Sam mid-word, “Now Sam we both know sometimes you have to spend money to make even more money. “

“Whatever, well what is it called?”

“It’s got a funny Xeno name, they call it ‘Nahluum’, myself I call it ‘Magic’.”

“Wait…how’d you get your hands on an exotic product? I know this is the Liu Xiu system and everything, but still, how?”

“You know me Sam, I know somebody who knows somebody. This stuff has changed hands a couple times. Rumor has it that it all started with a group of short fat frogmen further in the system.”

“Ha. Rich you always were the middleman of all middlemen. But, I didn’t expect exotics. I knew for the price, I was going to get something good. But…I didn’t think this.”

Grabbing the brick from Rich’s hand, Sam tossed it up to himself a few times feeling the weight of it. “How many bricks total?”

Rich thought for a moment, looking back into the van. “Eight bags, thirty bricks a bag, that’ll be two hundred and forty bricks all together.”

Sam let out a low whistle, “These are all pure bricks right?”

“You know it Sam, I wouldn’t waste your time with anything less. The product is one hundred percent pure.”

Handing the brick back to Rich, who placed it right back in the duffle bag, Sam maneuvered himself to the trunk of his own car. With the sly hit of a button on the handle of the trunk, it popped open. Revealing his own set of black duffle bags, but less in number only four sat side by side in the trunk space. Rich had joined Sam at the back of his car, and asked “May I?”

Sam stepped back and outstretched his hands in a gesture implying “go right ahead”. Rich reached down and unzipped one of the bags, exposing tightly packed bundles of cash. They were all in the one hundred lican notes, easy to identify as the unique color scheme blended yellow, orange and red coloring from left to right across the bills themselves. He picked up one of the bundles of notes, and thumbed through it. One hundred bills in each bundle, each bundle was worth ten thousand licans, One hell of a payday… Rich thought to himself.

“You didn’t short me right Sam? I ain’t gonna count it all out here.”

“Come on Rich, how many deals have we done together? When have I ever not came through on my part?”

Rich dropped the bundle of cash back into the duffle bag and nodded in agreement with his partner’s statement. He backed away as he watched Sam retrieve the other three bags and placed them each on the ground. Picking up two of the bags himself, Sam picked the other two up and they both made their way over to the van. Dropping his two bags, Rich climbed up into the back of the van and began unloading the other bags filled with the exotic narcotics. Each of the remaining black duffle bags landed softly on the dirt below the van. Sam had begun to bring each bag over to his blue sedan, eventually filling up his trunk. Closing the trunk with a satisfying thud, Sam was all smiles as he returned to Rich’s location at the back of the van.

Rich closed the double doors of the van and turned to face his once business partner, now close associate. He outstretched his hand out to the man, and Sam gripped it tightly. Rich put his hand on Sam’s shoulder, and Sam put his hand on Rich’s.

“I’ll see you Rich, I got some work to do.”

“I got some money to count Sam, I’ll call you when I’m done sometime next week.”


Several Weeks Later
Corner of Wellington and 5th Avenue
Freeport City, Liu Xiu Special Administrative District

The rain pattered down on the pavement in front of him, the lousy weather continued to be a nuisance out here today. But it’s been several hours of him walking up and down the block, and he had yet to make a single sale, he would not allow the rain to deter him today. All those free samples he was suggested to give out the week before had yet to bear any results, they had only hurt his bottom line. Rapping his fingers against the brick wall, he tried to appear to be just killing time waiting for the rain to dissipate before he’d leave the protection of the overhang extending from the liquor store roof. It was a few more moments before a drenched head peered around the corner at him, the water dripping off of a boney chin.


Turning to the origin point of the sound, he tried to recognize the face. In all honesty it was hard to recognize one junkie from another, but Steve tried to remember who was who.

“Aye bud. What can I do for you?”

“I’m…I’m…loookin for..some….some more of…that…what you gave me…before.”

A small smile erupted out of the corner of Steve’s mouth, “You lookin for some more magic.”

“..m…m….magic…yeah that!”

“You got what I need bud?”

The junkie fumbled inside his coat pocket and pulled out a wad of dirty crumpled bills. He jutted his hand forward and Steve reached out to snatch the licans and without looking he stuffed them into his pocket and produced a small bag of a brown powder substance and handed it over to the user. The junkie’s eyes lit up with a sharp brightness as the plastic bag fell into his hand. Turning with quickness, the user left, ducking back into the alley from which he emerged.

Looking up and down the empty rain soaked street, he took a bit of solace as the rhythmic patter of the rain on the pavement. He smiled a bit as he felt the few wadded Licans in his pocket.

“They say the first banknote is the hardest…”
Last edited by Federal Republic of Free States on Mon Apr 11, 2016 1:34 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Prima Apokronas
Political Columnist
Posts: 2
Founded: Apr 06, 2016

Postby Prima Apokronas » Tue Apr 12, 2016 4:35 am

The First Step

On this year 204 after the rise of the Tyrant, the 15th days of the Januinn month, the scientific spacecraft Grand Prototype was ready to deploy for its first mission. Its first objective was to study the planet Alpha Rigor and its system in the prospect to find valuables ressources and grounds for futur colonies. Which was not uncommon for a government founded space operation.

Yet Captain Leonnatus Arexios was not in a peaceful state of mind and was reading its mission order again and again, even if he already did it a hundred times or so, in an attempt to not look at its command board, which was fairly standard, except for one big, red, button in the right corner. This button was nearly consuming the mind of the captain. Because this button was the reason why Grand Prototype costed 1546 % more than a traditional scientific spacecraft. This button was the reason why three different satelites were fixing their cameras on the ship. Because Alpha Rigor may be but a mere telluric planet, a big rock in the middle of the void, but it is also in the next star system which would have take 750 years to reach with traditionals means. And this button was maybe the answer to this problem.

For the second, yet the most important, objective of this mission was to press this button and activate the first FTL motor of Prima Apokronas. The real mission of this spacecraft was to open the gate of the galaxy to all the Homo Sapiens Apokronensis and this burden rested on the shoulders of him : Captain Arexios. It will be either glorious...or catastrophic, no middle ground. And no matter how hard he tried to not look at The Button, as if it would make it go away, it will all start the moment the team of navigators will transmit him the trajectory they calculated.

Arexios was asking himself how this team of men and women coped with such a stressfull work. Because while he just had to enter the coordonates and press The Button, one error on their part and everything would have been done for nothing. Thinking about it again, Arexios was more than ever happy to not have been selected for this engineering school he tried when he was younger. Who know if the destiny of its world, and billions of Draïs, wouldn't have depended on its hability to do maths and not just to press a button and shout louder than the average man ? It was too frightening to only think about it so he stopped and concentrated on his job.

His train of thought was cut by a message suddenly appearing on the control board, signaling him that "everythings was ready for the "Jump". The Captain sighted and turned on his microphone. "To all the crew of the Grand Prototype, we will now leave Prima Apokronas orbit." He then opened another cannal with the Space Control Tower and notified them of his demand. They immediatly gave him the greenlight and he activated the reactors of his spacecrafts, slowly exiting the gravitational pull of the planet.

The cameras followed them as they progressively accelerated until they get closer and closer to the speed of light. Yet it took, what Arexios didn't knew was, half a galactic standard hour to get to the outreach of the system, where the conditions for the Jump were the most excellents, so said the scientists. Arexios looked at his screens, absorbing with the calm given by experience the numerous data they offered to his eyes. He then reduced the ship's speed as they approached the pre-selected point.

"It's very simple". He remembered the chief engineer's explaining. "The Engine is not only a motor. It is also a drill. Or a surfboard...anyway its hard to say when you work in five dimension. What's matter is when it is activated, the space and time in between you and the target will be deformed. You will then enter in the orbit of the target and space will return to its normal form. And so, while the cosmos return to its true form, you will be dragged by the gravity well of the object and you will "re-appear" near it. Its more complicated really, because its not a plane surface anyway and there's always other parameters, like other large enough objects near, but this is what you need to know for now."

The memories did not reassured Arexios but it was too late to turn back now. So he finally turned toward The Button, desactivated the security and talked in the microphone. "Prepare for Faster Than Light Travel." he said, making sure his voice sounded calm enough. Then, he pushed The Button and he "Jumped".

From the cameras point of view, they just vanished. One frame of the record captured what looked like pales, ghostly, unknown stars behind the spacecraft superposing themselves to the known constelations and then nothing, they were gone.

From the Capitain's point of view, a whole sun just appeared before his eyes. His computers almost crashed as for a microsecond, the ship was in two differents location but it was for a short enough time that the system didn't activated the overload counter measures. But it was not only the new, big yellow star that appeared : all the astral bodies had changed positions in the void. It took time to fully realized but a smile appeared on the Captain's face. They did it. They Jumped.

"to all the crew, prepare for the following operations. You know your jobs, men, nevermind the fact you are in all history books from now on, I want you to make this trip worth it."

He then sat back in his chair and guided the ship toward Alpha Rigor, in a strangeful bliss he had never felt before.

Numerous drones and satellites were deployed to collect informations and datas about the system. The analysis were long but this detail wasn't important : Calculs showed the Motor needed time to cooldown in between each Jump, unless you wanted it to explode. Anyway, everything was doing fine and Arexios had nothing to do except some "routines" jobs which wasn't to displease him until he recieve a communication from one of the crew member :

"Sir, It's the Science team...they found something and say you may want to come see what it is.

-Tell them I'm on my way."

Arexios was surprised. Anyone could contact him and send him informations via his terminal. If the scientifics didn't wanted to do it, then it mean that, whatever they found, they didn't wanted it to be registered by more computers than necessary. Which did make the captain wonder what was this discovery.

So he leaved his post and send a message to one of his lieutenant to keep the operation run smoothly while he was absent and then joigned the Science Team in their private part of the spacecraft. He found every last one of them, staring at a little screen, seemingly stoned by what they see. Intrigued, Arexios got closer to see too but couldn't, because the sheer mass of the scientists blocked to view. So he waited almost three seconds that someone notice him, which didn't happen, before channeling his Captain powers and shouting : "You better have make me come down here for a good reason, or I'll explain in my report to the Tyrant what you're using the money he gave you to stare at a white screen !"

Now that a signaled his presence, some peoples turned toward him, seemingly too shocked to really react otherwise. One did however managed to return to his senses and made a place for the Captain to finally see the screen. "Sir is no comet, sir." Was all the man managed to say.

And he was right. Once Arexios saw for himself, he too was too amazed to react to anything else. What they thought was a comet drifting through the void was the giant hulk of a at least one kilometer long spacecraft, one of its side showing a clean cut that almost tore down the vessel. Around it, there was nothing but silence. Since how long was it there, floating among the stars and the planets, morbid evidence of the presence that the Apokronians are not alone, as some of them suspected ? Before this cold tomb, Arexios felt...small. They were there, happy to finally be able to explore the cosmos while someone, somwhere, was powerful enough to order the creation of real titans.

And there was a third side that was able to tear through such grandiose creations.

And them, the Apokronians, entered this world beyond mesure.

All of it made the effect of a slap in the face for the Captain. What was they were thinking, going on with no precaution, like they ruled the place ? They got lucky to only stumble across a tomb...and what if it wasn't a tomb ? He shouldn't try to apply is human mentality to that thing before him. It look like a boat that was hit by some great canon, but how could he be sure that whatever build that thing had the same ideas and thought process as him ? It was too much for one man to take.

"Do not get any closer to it." He finally ordered to the team gathered around him. "as soon as the motor cooled down, we're returning to Prima Apokrona. None of it must leak and only the Tyrant will be in possession of the totality of the report. Am I clear ?"

They nodded, which was already something. Arexios then returned to his control room, and the crew member who saw him noticed how pale he was and how chocked he looked. Once he was alone, he started to repeat an old prayer that he had not said since his childhood. But it suddenly emerged from his forgotten memories and he used it as an anchor, to not loose all of is sanity. He felt like he woke up a giant, and started a chain of event that couldn't be stoped. But in the infinity of possibilities, there was only one certainty :

They where not alone.
Last edited by Prima Apokronas on Wed Apr 13, 2016 1:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Posts: 147
Founded: Oct 25, 2011

Polyandrium: The Dwelling of the Devils

Postby Azura » Wed Apr 20, 2016 7:39 pm



Zebedee Station, Arx, Calixtas System of Gamma Quadrant
The Hacienda at Lowrance Hill - 5th Aetas 002

There was a distinctive feel to the cold, hard shaft of a beam rifle that one learned to recognize over time; it had the benign sensation of innocent coolness, yet it was perhaps the most deadly anti-personnel weapon in the system. To wield a beam rifle implied that one was going after significant game, or a predator whose deceptive cunning and ruthless violence would warrant such an overpowering armament. For while the beam rifle was hardly the equal of the compression bolts in terms of size and spectacle, the lethality of a kinetic particle traveling near three times the speed of sound entering your dome was quite effective at dropping even the most hard-headed of foes. The weapon had been made illegal to own in private residences, long before the government came for the rest of the guns. To have possession of the rifle meant two things: one, a very powerful and deep-pocketed criminal had a vendetta, or a jerkwater lawman was stroking the rod in his pants by showing off the size of his cannon.

So why the fuck is a lawman pressing one to my forehead?

Slowly, Simon cracked an eye open, careful not to make too sudden a move, lest whoever was holding a gun to his forehead get 'trigger happy'. As he'd suspected, a rather youthful looking scout from the local ranger auxiliary was nervously holding the barrel of a weathered rifle between his eyes, beads of sweat slowly crowning over his brow. The Disceptor wasn't much to look at, physically; he apparently hadn't been out in the deserts of Arx long enough to get a tan, and his fleshy appearance suggested a diet of hardtack and the sorejo syrup that they pulled from the poison ties that grew around the settlement walls. His uniform was too neatly pressed to have been in Hell for more than a few weeks. Thus, as Simon's brief revue of his apparent captor concluded, he grunted his disapproval, throwing himself back against a warm, fleshy body. He looked over, chagrining at the realization—

Damn it, who the Hell...

"S-stop! In the name of the Order!" The greenhorn blurted out, the gun jiggling about as much as the naked bosom that was now balancing carefully on Simon's shoulder. "You are under a-arrest for the k-kidnap-ping of—"

"D-d-d-d-do you w-w-want t-t-to hur-hur-hurry up?" Simon mocked, suppressing a laugh.

"T-that's not f-f-funny," the young ranger snapped back, a look of flushed embarrassment spreading across his features. "Kidnap-ping is a s-serious of-offense, a-a-a-and I-I-I would be more w-w-worried if I—"

"Damn it, Glenn, shut up and leave me alone," the woman laying beside him scoffed, rolling over and sticking her head beneath the pillow. "I came here because I wanted to, not because he forced me. Now get lost!"

Simon caustically turned towards his mystery companion, shaking his head. "Who the fuck are you?"

Slowly, the woman's head rose up from underneath the pillow, partially trapped by the sheet. It slid away, revealing an unfamiliar face. "Who am I? I'm Consul Williams's daughter. Who the fuck are you?"

Before a moment had elapsed, a gruff sounding voice answered for him. "He's Charles Simon. Or perhaps Daniel Webster when he's on Caelus. And when he gets out to Liu Xiu, he's sometimes just 'a random mute tourist'."

Simon turned, now casually pushing the gun away from his forehead, looking at the doorway for the owner of the new voice. Perhaps he'd been drinking a bit too much again; he should have heard someone entering his room. "I don't know you, which means I don't want to know you. The lady here, whoever she is obviously wanted my gun, Skipper. So march your ass back outside while I pretend to give a shit about her feelings."

"Hey, screw you too!" The woman blurted out, very nearly spitting in Simon's face before rolling out of bed, dragging the sheet with her as she went. The young officer turned away from Simon's newfound nudity, but the older, obviously-more experienced officer didn't seem to mind. "Glenn, why don't you escort Ms. Williams back to her father's estate. Our friend here and I have some official business to discuss."

"B-b-but s-s-sir—"

"He's not a danger, you moron," the Disceptor said roughly. "I swear to all that is Holy, you're going to get yourself killed one day."

Simon watched as the woman he'd obviously had carnal relations with storm out of his hotel room—at least he hoped it was his hotel room—in a huff, her ivory ass obviously lacking a proper tan. Though he never missed a chance to catch a free show, there were more pressing matters to attend to; namely, the much more competent and experienced Disceptor that had made an appearance. Whereas the young gun was obviously a novice pretending to be a real ranger, this fellow here was cool, calm, composed... and quite the smartass. Living under the desert sun on Arx long enough bred that level of bravado, a machismo of sorts that defined the rangers that were quite at home in the brush. Simon had been extremely careful covering his tracks ever since the incident. Whatever this guy had on him, it must have gone down during his bender. Fucking Poinsettian Lagers...

"Here," the old man said casually, as if there were no doubt that his instructions were to be followed. "Put this on, and meet me outside when you get a moment to take care of your, eh, affairs. And don't bother going out the back; I've got a squad watching the exits. You make a run for it, and I'll have my boys put a boot up your ass. It's out way out here."

"Where I come from, it's customary to introduce yourself first." Simon said with a chuckle, sitting up on the side of the bed slowly, feeling a throbbing sensation in his head that hadn't materialized beforehand. "You've already seen me naked; I feel like we're skipping a few steps."

"Sorry, sweetheart," the Disceptor said quietly. "I prefer my men bigger than you."

As Simon pondered the implications of that little egg, the Disceptor backed out of the room as quickly as he'd appeared, leaving him to his own devices. He caught a glimpse out of the front window at the nude woman being tailed by the stuttering greenhorn down the walkway, and he shook his head, wondering what in the Hell he had gotten himself into this time. Arx was supposed to be a safe, easy and laid-back little hunk of rock in the system, free of the pesky worries that faced a young 'freelancer' like himself elsewhere. The Disceptors were good of course, but they typically went after bigger game than people like him. Sighing, he rubbed at his eyes, trying to make a mental note of his possessions, hoping beyond all hope that he hadn't left his knife in some other woman's bed. It was so uncouth to leave one's pretend weapon behind after giving someone the business...

Wait a minute, that asshole just mocked the size of my dick...

Simon looked down at his crotch, apologetically. "Well, fuck you too, pal."

The dull, muted lighting coming through his bedroom curtains had been a pittance to the angry sun up overhead. The blistering heat and bright light conspired to make stepping outside into the arid desert villa like walking into an oven. Simon silently cursed himself for having chosen such a miserable shithole to hang low in, quickly unbuttoning his overshirt as quickly as he'd buttoned it standing inside. Between the insanity of the temperature and a hangover straight from the seventh ring of Hell, he was beginning to wonder if getting beaten into unconsciousness and drug back into a holding cell would be preferred. At least then he'd be in the dank darkness of a leaky holding pen in the basement of a Disceptor outpost. They always kept them nice and air-conditioned, to preserve their records. At the same time, the Disceptors were notorious for their shit service and grungy food... It evened out.

As he slowly adjusted to the monstrous, inhuman oven that doubled for an atmosphere on this shithole of a planet, his eyes quickly found the old ranger who had bamboozled him out into the suck to begin with. He was leaned up against the corner of the walkway to the hacienda, casually talking with a pair of fellow-auxiliaries. Whatever was going down, apparently a squadron from the Order had been called in. Simon slowly, carefully approached, wanting to make sure he wasn't about to be waylaid. Though there was some confusion lauding about, he didn't think that they were there to arrest him necessarily, though he seriously doubted they would be making a social call unless they didn't suspect him of something. The Disceptors were a loose outfit in many respects, but no one could deny them their diligence. Everything was just strange, nothing made sense...

Maybe don't go on a two-day bender, and things will make sense again, asshole.

... Hey, fuck you! I'm not an asshole, I'm... fuck...

"You seem to be a bit on the slow side today," the old man called out, turning away from his associates as he approached. "Maybe next time you should avoid hitting up every bar in a fifty mile radius to drown your sorrows, Eddie."

Simon's scowl was his ever-present neutral face, but inside his heart fluttered a bit. This asshole knew something about him, and it put him at a disadvantage. "Well, apparently this isn't a social call, after all."

"The Disceptors have better things to do then to jerk people around," the old man said forcefully, then giving a smartass nod. "If we're looking for you, it's for a purpose. And, in your case, here we are. Found you, safe and sound."

"You expected otherwise?" Simon said coldly, intentionally giving him the cold shoulder. It was the only thing that kept him cool in this maddening heat. "You know who I am, apparently. You know what I can do."

"What you do is destroy ships," the old man replied. "Just two weeks ago, you were hauling ass out of Portus Altus in a stolen cruiser, which then wound up getting caught in a mine field near Polyandrium; a curious fate for someone who cut their teeth flying vert fighters in the Sidusclasse."

Simon shrugged. "What can I say, I'm talented... Mister—"

"Just call me X, for now," the Disceptor said carefully. "I don't think we need to operate on a first-name basis just yet."

Simon cocked an eyebrow, shooting him a look. "Well, well, someone's here without authorization. I'm guessing you're here because... let's see, you fucked up something fierce, and now you need an outside contractor who you think isn't on the up-and-up to do your dirty work for you."

"What I think is that you're Edward Beecher, call sign Apollyon, disgraced and dishonorably exiled Sidusclasse pilot who decided his talents would be best served jacking ships for the Haertel Family. Quite a long way for a once-decorated pilot to fall, wouldn't you say? I don't imagine the benefits are all that great in the Autugyra these days."

Simon scoffed openly. "Quite a tale, pal. But if you had shit on me, I'd be dead or locked in a cell right now."

"That's true, indeed," X said after thinking for a moment. "All I have are baseless accusations."

"Then what the fuck do you want from me? You cost me a chance at second helpings from that bitch in there, whoever she was. And don't think that my lack of charm is indicative of my game with the fairer sex. I'm a real man's man."

"Yeah, I could tell," the Disceptor joked again. "But tell me, just between us boys, do you ever wonder if the accident missed taking off the wrong head? I mean, chicks dig scars, but I doubt they they dig scars down there, do they?"

Simon stared quizzically at the man before him, then halved the distance between them in the blink of an eye. "You think that I'm an operative with Circinus, eh? Well if that's true, then perhaps an old dusty fuck like yourself would know that it's not wise to piss off someone who has no qualms about killing a lawman, especially in a podunk shit hole like... wherever the fuck we are."

"Once again, you're absolutely right."

Simon nodded quickly then, going nose-to-nose with the Disceptor. "Then what's stopping me from killing you and your little play-toys out here, and burning this motherfucking village to the ground?"

"Well, you could do that," X said caustically. "But that wouldn't be Nyras Striga's style, now, would it?"

The words, pointed and direct, cut through any and all pretenses. Simon took a quick step back, not bothering to keep up the facade any longer. "Who the fuck are you, man? You on the inside or something?"

"We all need to make end's meet," X responded, patting his pockets as if considerable coin was resting there. "There's an understanding between my old friend, Promus Vurne and I. Haertel gets a few kickbacks to cover their losses, and they stay out of my jurisdictions. So when I saw you snooping about, I figured something was up. As it turns out, you were just laying low, trying to cover your ass. I know all about you, son; might as well just accept that you're the bottom in this little dance of ours."

Striga shook his head, sighing. "I wasn't aware the Conexi used Disceptors to off troublesome hands."

"If you were wanted dead, I wouldn't have sent the dipshit in there after you. As a matter of fact, it was a token gesture to show you my peaceful attentions, relatively speaking. I didn't count on your drunkenness clouding your judgment."

"Well, when you have to detonate a perfectly-suitable ship in a mine field to destroy evidence that would incriminate half the fucking quadrant in our little schemes, you tend to think the worst."

"Actually, your employer is quite well pleased that you're not dead yet," X jovially chided him. "Now you have a chance to get yourself killed on a suicide mission for them, so that you can repay them both the loss of their wares and their loss of investment in you."

"Damn, man," Nyras groaned openly. "And here I thought this was something fun! Something new! All you are is a glorified errand boy for your master. How does that asshole feel today, anyway? Give it to you extra hard or something?"

"You're just bitchy because you thought you'd gotten off your leash," the Disceptor answered. "Now should I have my men dispose of you in the desert now, or would you like to have a little bit of fun before you die, you scarred motherfucker?"

"Yeah, because I want to die here in this piece of shit outpost," Nyras scolded. "What do I have to do?"

X smiled, the deliciously evil smile that beckoned trouble. "The Connoisseur made good on a promise to the Promus—heh, nice word play—and delivered him the location of a certain 'Butterfly' recently. You're to go and put her down."

"Fuck you, keep dreaming," Strigas said coldly. "Kuri Tieszen don't fuck around like that. If it were that easy, any Joe Schmo would've popped one in her skull already. I might as well just let you shoot me now than die in the void."

X looked surprised. "Your reputation is one of unmatched arrogance and bravado. This surprises me..."

"Then you don't know Butterfly," Strigas said plainly. Those Daemons in Cygnus are fucking lunatics. We make it a point to steer clear of them in the field when and where we can. I don't know why Vurne is sucking off the Connoisseur, but it ain't gonna end well."

"I was supposed to inform you that Tieszen had taken up residence in a derelict of Polyandrium," X added in at the last, having well-calculated the blurb's impact. "A Daemon in the Dwelling of the Devils. Ain't that quaint?"

"You say that like it gives me extra incentive to fly off to my death," Strigas said, lacking his prior enthusiasm.

"Oh, but doesn't it, though?" The Disceptor replied. He knew he had him. Strigas sighed.

"Kuri Tieszen, in my old ship", he curtly replied. "Well, Hell. I guess I'll go pay Butterfly a visit after all."

The Right Honorable David Luis Salazar, President of Tarragonia

Capital City:Cala Seca, Distrito de AleixarDemonym:TarragonianPopulation:320 Million

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Nokonisad Aqinid
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Founded: Apr 26, 2016

Postby Nokonisad Aqinid » Tue May 03, 2016 3:06 pm



A K A L T A DS E H I R I D ,N I E R A DK E L ' Y X I R I D
Though the sun had set some hours before, the reflected light from Wayfarer still caught the spray from the surf that drummed ever-so-persistently against the cliffs, painting the droplets shimmering silver as they fell back towards the water. From nearly a thousand metres up, the tremors from the ocean could not be felt, nor did they impart ripples to the glasses of wine on the table. Short, dark hair falling feather-like across her cheek, Nierad’s chief administrator reached out to catch the stem of the glass between slender fingers. She paused with the drink halfway to her lips, instead spinning it slowly and watching as the gold liquid spun in a vortex.

“Pír.” Tone wistful, she addressed her companion softly, tilting her head as she gazed absentmindedly out at the sparkling ocean. “How many times have you ever paused and looked out this window?”

“How many times have I ascended the suspensor-shaft to your table, darling?”

At that, she laughed, low and melodically. “Captain Kunerim, you are a rogue through and through. I do not believe you’ve once looked anywhere save my face or chest while dining with me.”

Izazkad, that would be because the table prevents me from gazing anywhere else.” Kunerim raised his own glass in a sort of mocking toast, sipping the wine.

At that, the woman raised an eyebrow and tapped a finger on the red wood of the table. “You know, I designed these apartments so that each room could have a different view. Perhaps you don’t distinguish between one and another when each display shows only more stars.”

“All the lights between Kóranid and Nierad are cold. It took the grounding of my ship to find a star worth gazing long at, Lyseles.” The captain of the Akáterin smiled, raising the corners of his full lips as he caught her eyes.

”Enough with the honeyed words. I prefer honeyed kisses by a wide margin; they feel good as well as sounding good. However–“ she glared as he began to rise from his seat– “that was not an invitation. I’m not yet done with you in an official capacity, Píryal Áskoran.”

Indeed, both knew why tonight was different from the past two months, and neither wished to broach the topic. Perhaps it was regret, perhaps merely resignation to the facts of the careers they had chosen, but at that moment, the small table separating captain and administrator might just as well have been a parsec or two across. In the short time they had known each other, the two had not truly thought much about the future, and this evening brought that truth home with a resounding knell.

~ ~ ~

Elsierad. The word from which the company derived its name had twofold meanings. On the one hand, the literal interpretation was that of horizon, the meeting of sky and sea, and on the other, the word signified future, the faint scent of unknown possibilities to come. Even as Nierad’s highest authority stared out at the moonlit path to the former, the latter seemed to her to possess none of the same gleam and sparkle. The two had met largely by chance, and indeed the captain’s period of residency at Nierad was itself anomalous. Some weeks before, his Akáterin had suffered a failure of its rippledrive whilst attempting to leave Liu Xiu, and rather than risk forcing the system and losing the vessel, Captain Kunerim had guided it into orbit around Pinnacle; Nierad was being constructed at the same time, and Administrator Sulyvas could recall watching that small light circle above the rapidly-growing spires of the islands.

Had she had her way, Kunerim and she would never have met, but the bureaucracy of the company intervened. Upon hearing that a piece of corporate property as valuable as a starship had broken down in what seemed to them no better than international territory, the officials back on Kóranid demanded that the ship be docked not in orbit, but at the enclave itself. She had tried to reason with them, but no, despite the security and laws of Liu Xiu, leaving proprietary technologies floating helplessly in orbit was simply unacceptable. And so it was that within a week of the enclave’s completion, Sulyvas found herself responsible for guarding the most valuable item outside of the home systems.

Two people, far and farther from home, each with their own form of tribulation. At the time, Sulyvas was a taut wire waiting to snap; not only was she in charge of the first company facility beyond Argentil and Stríandal, she now had the Board of Directors hounding her about the care of their precious starship. Her strength had never been economics or technology– the position she now held was due to her skills with people as a diplomat. Red tape had stretched her patience to breaking, and she’d made a rare evening trip to the corporate club down at ground level.

It was there that she’d first encountered Kunerim in person. Though they’d spoken before via voice comms when he’d brought the Akáterin down, all she’d known of the man previously was the brief bio and unflattering picture from his corporate profile. That first encounter was nothing special; they each managed to get a bit drunk, but in parallel instead of together. This happened several more nights that week, and by the fourth they had bothered to speak to one another.

Sulyvas remembered being surprised by how young he actually was, since he’d looked to have a few decades on her at first. In retrospect, most everyone out as far as Nierad was under a hundred, since the older generations as a whole had no interest in leaving the confines of Argentil. Instantly, the captain had seemed more approachable, though the strength of the aqrífir they’d drunk certainly played a part. Beyond that, what was there to say? They’d bonded a bit; neither was a true corporate at heart. She was an ambassador out to see the people of the galaxy, he an explorer out to see its places. Drinks in public became drinks in private, and then the drinks ceased to matter altogether.

While she still worked at home on Kóranid, Lyseles Nérinul Sulyvas, Chief Analyst for the Liu Xiu System, had never felt she had time for romantic involvement. Once she’d arrived in her area of study as Chief Administrator, half a galaxy away, Sulyvas had never felt she had prospects for the same. There had been a few year-long flings, lost in the halcyon days of her higher education, but in all honesty she’d reserved her passions chiefly for her work. Captain Kunerim was the first man she’d looked at in a romantic light in decades, and the experience had touched her surprisingly deeply.

Rather, she finally felt as though she’d found another person whose strength of motivation matched her own. Though Píryal Áskoran’s interests and goals were strikingly different from hers, she recognised the same sort of innate, burning curiosity to go out and explore that drove many of those who had chosen to come this far out in the employ of Elsierad. As the only state-sponsored way of working outside the home systems, the company offered the best place for those with strong loyalties to the species as well as a hunger to travel and learn through experience, or so she had believed. Kunerim was different, however: he had felt ill-at-ease on Stríandal, and the restrictions on private travel outside the home systems vexed him, so he’d bitten the bullet and signed on to fly for Elsierad in spite of his dislike of the state’s rigid control over superluminal technology.

~ ~ ~

In the end, it had been the rippledrive that brought them together, and now that same rippledrive was poised to separate them once more.

Sulyvas pursed her lips, lines creasing her forehead beneath her raven curls. “We have two weeks until they get here, correct?”

”Something along those lines. That tends to be the average transit time between Kóranid and Líuzu,” Kunerim responded, using the Aláranid term for the system. “It’s gotten noticeably faster ever since we sent the first ship out here eight years ago.”

”Yet for all the improvements they’ve made to the safety and speed of our rippledrives, it still takes two months for them to clear a repair crew to come and fix your ship, Captain. The stranding of the Akáterin was unprecedented, but I can’t help but think it’s taken an eternity for the Board to act.”

”You expect them to be time-sensitive? Hah. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, darling, but our employers are rather touchy when it comes to their custody of our collective heritage– oh, sorry– valuable corporate property.”


”We’ve argued this one before, Lyseles. I know you respect what they’re doing, the desire to safeguard our autonomy and all, but honestly? If they want to give us any sort of power in the galaxy, holding us back from using our own goddamn resources isn’t going to cut it.”

”You know why Kulanár doesn’t want the public exploiting the rippledrive. It’s still too dangerous in so many ways.”

”Because the folks in Alenas care if a couple of us private individuals go off and atomise ourselves because we fucked up with a ship. This is about power, darling, pure and simple. So long as they’re the only ones who can get us outsystem, they can be as insular as they want and we can’t do a thing about it.”

”Píryal Askoran, it is the difference between standing back from the galaxy and being consumed alive by it. It’s been a hundred years, half a lifetime, since we set foot on our own homeworld. We’re a blip in the timeline, a wave in the ocean. Look out there at the sea, Pír, at the spray on the cliffs. If we go recklessly ahead, we might as well be casting ourselves to pieces on those unyielding stones.” She leaned forward, reached, took his hand. “Who are we, my captain? When you go back up, when you take the Akáterin home in two weeks, who knows how long it’ll be before I see you again? Who knows what could happen in another two months? Having a dream’s no good if you die before you can fulfil it.”

For once, Captain Kunerim didn’t respond to her, he just stared at her round, midnight-blue eyes, sunburst irises gleaming with reflected light. Her point was valid, he knew: even back on Kóranid, you could see the fragility of society. Two hundred million was still so few, so few to cling to such a history as theirs. He wanted to go out, to lose himself in the welter of names and little lights that plied the stars, but that same vast galaxy would just as soon drown Argentil and Stríandal in the torrent as it would lift it to the top of the floodwaters.

Squeezing her fingers gently between his, he could hear her soft breath, the only sound in the soft light and soft furnishings of the room. “For the love I bear you, if nothing else, I will wait. You believe in what we will be because you fear what we could be otherwise, I suppose. And would you believe it, Lyseles? This has got to be the first time in my life I don’t want to leave a planet.”

”Shhhh.” She put her other hand up, touching his lips and shaking her head. Feathers of black fell in front of one eye; she didn’t move them as she blinked across at him. “We still have two weeks, you know, before you go gallivanting off in that ship of yours. And knowing you, I get the feeling you prefer the mistress you can catch in your arms to the one you can but helm.”

He laughed at that, reaching to brush back her hair. “See, I’m not the only one who can play with words as well as hearts.” Picking up his wineglass again, he raised it to eye level and peered at her through the faceted glass. “A toast, then, to twenty days more of being bound by gravity.”

Sulyvas tilted her head and grinned at him. “Surfacebound or otherwise, I expect you to make me feel weightless. Cheers.”

The glasses clinked together, the waves beat soundless and furious on the cliffs below Nierad, and half a galaxy away, another ship rippled swiftly towards that same wine-dark sea.

~ ~ ~

In the end, it wasn’t until Sulyvas had drifted into sleep, head nestled in the crook of his elbow, that Kunerim bothered to stare out the window at the argent light of Wayfarer, now standing just above the horizon. From the window of the apartment, he couldn’t catch a glimpse of the Akáterin’s bulk, but he could picture her in his mind. He remembered bringing the ship into orbit over Pinnacle, flying solely on the power of its ion engines. Tertiary power, as it were, with the rippledrive and the gravitational oscillators both offline from the same malfunction. For all the talk the captain made over his boldness, his drive to explore without looking back, there had been a moment of genuine fear then.

The events of 17 Ákenir had seared themselves into Píryal Áskoran’s memory, less because they had threatened his life and more because that day represented the first time he began to understand why Elsierad existed. He hated the restrictions on travel, on even building a ship with interstellar capacities, and for years had campaigned quite vocally for an end to government monopoly on the rippledrive. He felt chained, kept on a leash, but rather than turn and snarl and bite at the restraints, Kunerim had bent his head and his pride, understanding the rhetoric of caution and resolving to do what he could to chase his dream until he was unfettered.

Fear was perhaps a less appropriate description of the captain’s reaction than helplessness when the ship simply stopped. He had gotten used to rippling a vessel, that strange sensation that something should be different when moving faster than light itself, but wasn’t. Indeed, it had taken him several seconds to even notice that the Akáterin hadn’t moved when he engaged the drive. Further inspection had revealed that there had been an error with the computer’s ability to simulate and project the vessel, but no more could be discerned, the system refusing to divulge further information to anyone without appropriate clearance from Kulanár’s Institute for the Development of Rippledrive Technology.

Had Nierad not been under construction at that time, Kunerim had no idea where he would have gone. For the first time in his life, he realised just how alone he– no, they were. Though to him, the prospect of surviving alone in a system where nobody spoke his native tongue was an adventure waiting to happen, he’d never truly considered how that was the case with every system outside of Argentil and Stríandal. Nowhere else in the galaxy could he encounter another of his species with any certainty, and that was what frightened him. Naturally, Kunerim’s solution would be to promote travel and trade, to get more Aláranidni out into the interstellar community and end their isolation and irrelevance for the sake of preserving their society. Of course, Kulanár desired the same thing, but claimed to be accomplishing it by cordoning themselves off from the rest of the sentient universe.

Perhaps he’d be willing to buy that if they told his crew how their own fucking ship operated. Denying the men and women willing to go out, utterly alone into the galaxy, the knowledge of how a rippledrive operated and how to service it? Though Kunerim had always thought it folly to do so, he had been lulled by the reliable track record of the device and thought little of the repercussions of the government’s policy. And then he’d had to come to terms with being the captain whose vessel wouldn’t let him pilot it. True, he was shielded from repercussions by the fact that he quite literally didn’t have clearance to know the physics behind his engine, but the same did not go for ridicule. Thankfully the jibes had subsided after the first week, blasé as the population tended to be about outsystem events, but even that rankled him.

So he guided his ship around Pinnacle, and then he guided his ship down to Pinnacle. No, it was not enough that his vessel was not safe to leave the system in, the bureaucrats were concerned that if the Akáterin was left in orbit, somebody might attempt to hijack their valuable proprietary tech. Go for it, he almost retorted. Let them take this ornery tech and tell us all how it functions, if only to end this nonsensical protectionist dithering! Who do they think I am, some boy to be sheltered and shielded? But no, in the end he’d mutely nosed his first love down to the unfinished spires of Nierad, scorching the silvery paint black and the black paint blacker. Starships were never meant to sit on the ground, he had understood as he watched the bulk of his freighter lie dormant and ungainly alongside the delicate, fractal arches of the islands. Only against the cold and unforgiving backdrop of the cosmos could such a thing be beautiful.

Lyseles, on the other hand, could not endure that startling blackness, that small sadness that came from realising you alone did not fear the solitude of pioneering. Beautifully she slept still, and as he gazed again at the gentle feathers of her hair, Píryal Áskoran thought it would be best if she never woke as he had.

R. D.A K Á T E R I N ,N I E R A DK E L ' Y X I R I D
A stiff breeze rolled off the ocean, catching the spray thrown from waves hitting the rocky cliffs along the island and casting a rainbow behind the quiescent freighter that lay on the island's lone landing strip. Conspicuously out of place amongst the delicate buildings of Nierad and the sparkling ocean a hundred metres below, the Akáterin looked like nothing more than a beached whale. At the moment, the pier was crowded with individuals poring over the surface of the starship once more, checking for anything that could hinder its ascent to orbit that evening. A handful of lifts carried additional cargo and supplies into the interior, though in truth, not much had been shifted since the vessel arrived.

Captain Kunerim’s voice floated disembodied over the strip, echoing off the buildings as he and his XO ran through a list of necessary systems checks. Though Elsierad’s freighters were designed to be capable of landing on a planetary surface, such operations were supposed to be facilitated by the ships’ gravitational oscillators, allowing them to coast down at a relatively sedate and controlled pace, and ascend accordingly. However, with the systems that controlled the Akáterin’s offline, the only method available for getting the starship up to speed utilised less conventional methods. Support staff back on Kóranid had devised a plan to use Nierad’s two shuttles to boost the much larger starship to orbit with their own oscillators, but because their computational abilities weren’t sufficient to move the entire ship, a bit more flair had to be used.

Circling the island at around two hundred metres, the MR-3 Verpílamad looked like some overburdened, bulky bird of prey. As if security hadn’t already been a taxing enough task with the Akáterin docked, the presence of several detachable plasma boosters on the strip made the patrol craft’s task even harder. Though getting to the island with anything capable of detonating the volatile pieces of equipment would be extremely difficult, not to say fairly obvious, the contingency was still one Administrator Sulyvas had felt it necessary to plan for. Naturally, despite his distaste for her idealism and methods, Kemaran had as much vested interest in getting the Akáterin back to orbit as any at Nierad. Besides, it gave him a legitimate reason to take his craft out for a whirl.

Flying the Verpílamad still offered Kemaran a bit of a rush. Perhaps it was the subtle thrum of the craft’s oscillator responding to his touch, coursing forwards even as it dampened the g-forces on him to a sustainable level. Keying the controls for the guns slung under the fuselage as he slowed to a hover, the pilot spun the menacing barrels languidly, fixing on the Akáterin for a moment before sliding past, out to the open ocean and the featureless horizon. Pieces were falling into place with the repair of the freighter, Kemaran knew, pieces hopefully that would allow their civilisation to move past the slow, indecisive motions of bureaucrats like Sulyvas and begin to make a difference in the galaxy. He squeezed the triggers, relishing the feel before a warning flickered on the display, reminding him he lacked authorisation to arm his weapons. Sighing, he allowed the railguns to slide back into the undercarriage of his craft, pushing the oscillator to begin a slow climb back to patrol altitude.

R. D.A K Á T E R I N ,N I E R A DK E L ' Y X I R I D
Needless to say, Captain Kunerim felt anything but comfortable about the Board’s prescribed methods. Throughout the day, he had supervised the preparations for ascent from within the Akáterin’s bridge, buried in the back of the ship just above the rippledrive itself, gazing with distrust at the displays that showed the plasma boosters lying dormant beside his freighter.
His earpiece buzzed, and with a click of disgust he allowed the transmission. “Yes, what do you–“

Sulyvas laughed on the other end. “You act like a father protecting his child, Pír. As much as you distrust us corporate types, we really aren’t quite as dull-witted as you make us out to be.”

In spite of his anxiety, Kunerim couldn’t help but smile a bit. “Lyseles Nérinul, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that’d class you as a ‘corporate type’.” His lanky frame sunk into his chair on the left side of the bridge, he dimmed the visual displays, then closed his eyes for a moment, savouring the brief respite. “I suppose you’ve been watching me try to direct this madness all morning?”

”Perhaps. It’s not every day one sees a starship launched from the ground, dear. For me at least it’s a bit of excitement, at least as long as you don’t blow up my island.”

”If the island goes down in flames, you have only the Board to thank for it,” he commented dryly.

The bridge comms interrupted abruptly, forcing Kunerim to rise and brighten the screens once more. “Sir, we’ve received word from the Astríken that they’ve reached the edge of Líuzu and cleared customs. We’re to launch as soon as possible to rendezvous summarily.”

Fitting that the Board’s special-task ship would be named after a hawk, always watching the rest of us from above like some sort of prey, the captain observed. Making a motion with his left hand to key a response, he acknowledged the Nierad message. “Understood. All seventeen of my crew have stowed their belongings and tools aboard; we only await the clearing of the strip and the completion of inspections on the boosters.”

The airwaves returned to silence, and Kunerim found himself alone with Sulyvas once more, if only in voice. “Well, you heard them. It would appear the schedule’s been moved up a bit and we’ll be off by mid-day at the latest. I’ll come and see you before I go, darling.”

”You had better. Do change clothes beforehand, though; I want the last impression you leave me to be better than your first one.”

”I’m nearly sober this time, and I doubt that improves my looks.”

”This is why I fear for Nierad’s safety when people I love go flying half-kilometre objects around the islands,” warned Sulyvas.

”Nonsense,” retorted Kunerim. “I’m the one who’s a danger to you and Elsierad, not my ship.”

”You can act as dangerous as you’d like, dear, but for the captain of a starship, you certainly prefer to let me helm things.”

He could hear the sly smile in her voice, and it made his heart ache already. “Lyseles, wait for me. Not just now, but for however long it takes me to get back here and whatever may happen while I am somewhere else, circling listless over some barren world.” He closed the connection before she could respond, preferring to hear it in person, then departed the bridge, dimming the lights with a flick of his wrist as he steeled himself for that last meeting.

~ ~ ~

”Shuttle Sólasad Ákenid, all systems nominal. Ready for launch.”

”Shuttle Sólasad Dénid, the better one, equally ready to kick things into gear.”

”Kunerim, R. D. Akáterin, giving the go-ahead. All crew members are in their assigned positions and wearing anti-g suits. Confirming, are the oscillators focused on the front half of the vessel to dampen impact on the cargo?”

”Confirmed,” both smaller craft responded in unison.

”Very well. Nierad, this is the Akáterin, confirming launch procedure has been completed. Engaging boosters in twelve seconds. . . eleven. . . ten. . .” As the numbers ticked down on the display, Kunerim’s throat tightened involuntarily, but not from fear over the irregular launch. How long will it be? he wondered, the thought pricking at his concentration, the instincts of his head and his heart inseparable for once in his life. Three, two, one, ignition.

The almighty roar and crushing force of the ascent pressed Kunerim into his seat, and his mind went blank as the Akáterin vibrated in spite of the stabilising oscillators, leaving a trail of fire behind it as Nierad diminished to a speck in the sea, waves lapping unabated at its rocky cliffs.
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Democratic Socialists

Postby Xiscapia » Fri May 20, 2016 3:42 pm


Special thanks to Setulan for his advice and assistance.

[ Mature ]

Kalahari Base Camp, City of Nazzid, Arel…

Welcome to another day in the White City. We’re shaping up to get a bit of a relief from the sun today as skies are projected to be overcast until midmorning. The heat isn’t dropping much though, we have readings of 29 C with a low of 25, 27% humidity and, you guessed it, a 0% chance of rain. Winds are 13 kilometers per hour from the northwest but are set to gust more than twice that by noon, so we may be seeing a dust storm later today. We’ll keep you updated on the weather, but for now, some tunes. This is Radio Nazzid, signing off.

Major Hitaro grunted and shook his head as the voice from the radio was replaced by music. “Least the cloud coverage gives that poor fucker something to comment on other than how damn hot it is,” the kitsune’s tail swished back and forth regularly, the armored limb fanning the warm air. Even one level underground in dim bunker confines the heat still seemed to find its way down, and waving his plume helped to keep it circulating past his furred muzzle where it was exposed out the top of his power armor.

“This is nothing,” his direct subordinate and executive officer First Lieutenant Kaiji just smiled. “Back on Tanto it broke 38 degrees sometimes once you factored in the humidity. This heat’s dry, you just have to keep hydrated. But back there it stuck to you, like you were all wrapped up in it, and sometimes you’d get no wind at all. Just glassy water all around.”

“Yeah, but I bet nobody was trying to kill you on Tanto.”

“Had a few hurricanes if that counts.”

Hitaro laughed. “I would kill for a hurricane here, lieutenant. It feels like it’s been years since I saw rain.”

“You have been around a while, haven’t you major? You were here before I was, I know that. How long have you been on Arel for?”

“Since I had a lower rank than you. Too long, lieutenant. Too long.”

“Major, Lieutenant?” the voice came from the other side of the door. “Come in.”

The office was cooler than the hallway outside, Hitaro couldn’t help but notice as he stepped inside. A ceiling fan rotated overhead, complemented by a desk fan that blew a few streamers in the general direction of the commanding officer of 8th Battalion. Hot even for him, I guess. Lieutenant Colonel Yazos was a berrax with scales so black and glossy that Hitaro could see a faint reflection of himself in the officer’s hairless head. Yazos kept leaning over his laptop for a moment before raising his eyes to the pair of kitsune before him. Two violet eyes flicked between them as they bowed before standing at attention.

“Sit,” he nodded to the chairs in front of his desk. Once they had Yazos got to his feet, tail sliding off his own chair as he braced his hands on the desk. “At 0500 hours this morning Nazzid Survey Command picked up an ionic disturbance in the Bumhavar Region, about 100 klicks south of Nazzid City,” a map projection on the wall highlighted the barren area that was cut through by a highway. “They strongly believe the readings came from a smuggler’s transport, and that it was making a drop to operatives of the Sons of Arel. Imperial Customs Enforcement made several sweeps of the area but haven’t been able to locate anything. I have orders from division to change that.”

His eyes met Hitaro’s. “Major, you’re to pick one of your platoons and send it into Bumhavar to locate this drop. There’s been no activity detected since the original disturbance so in all probability whatever was dropped off is still out there, and I don’t intend to allow it to fall into the hands of those murderous bastards. Once they find it if at all possible the platoon is to engage and destroy whatever elements show up to collect it. For once our troops might get the chance to hit them out in the open, and I want to take advantage of that. Any questions?”

Hitaro’s eyes were on the map. “My mechanized infantry platoons were scheduled for security patrol through Nazzid today, sir. Will that still hold true for the other two platoons under my command?”

“That’s correct, Major. I don’t believe it should take any more than one platoon to secure the objectives I’ve laid out and the others will still be needed for duty here in the city. Beyond that you can use your own discretion in mobilizing and assigning the other parts of D Company in support of operations.”

“Yes sir. Do we have a timetable?”

“ASAP, Major. Ideally, you get that platoon out there and they complete the mission and are back here before that dust storm has a chance to roll through. That will favor the enemy more than it will our forces, so that means speed and thus time is of the essence.”

“Understood, sir. D Company will get it done,” Hitaro stood and bowed, closely followed by Kaiji.

“See that it does, Major. Dismissed.”

Back out in the hallway Hitaro glanced at his second. “Thoughts?”

“Seems pretty routine to me,” the First Lieutenant shrugged. “Any of the platoons could handle it. I wouldn’t send 3rd Platoon though, Lieutenant Gaaghii and his troops have a great rapport with the locals and he usually comes back from patrol with some useful intel. Can’t be spared if we can avoid it as far as I’m concerned.”

“Agreed. So either Roberts’s or Omori’s platoon. Omori’s the more experienced one, she did good work pushing out those bandits at Lubak last month and Emperor knows she’d love to get a shot at the Sons.”

“That’s true, sir, but I would recommend Roberts’s platoon.”

“Aren’t most of them green? Roberts is, I know that, she’s only been on-planet for a couple of weeks. Hasn’t even seen combat.”

“That’s my point, sir. She and her troops could use the experience. And, well,” Kaiji glanced around the mess area as they entered it before lowering his voice, “I think we need to break that reputation that 1st Platoon has.”

Hitaro frowned at him. “What reputation, lieutenant?”

The other kitsune sighed. “Some of the troops in the company, and, well, the rest of the battalion, seem to believe that the 1st is ill-fated. There was that shipping accident when they got transferred here with the rest of the company, you remember, they lost almost all of their Maxellians. That was bad enough, but then after that deployment up to Yanisirah half the platoon came down sick with that dead-limb fever that didn’t even have a name. None of the rest of the company got it, just them. And then there was, well, you know.”

“The bombing.”

“Yeah. Gutted the 1st. Most of the survivors transferred out too, or tried to. Had to rebuild it almost from the ground up.”

“I remember,” Hitaro said, but shook his head. “It’s ridiculous, lieutenant. The accident was an accident, could have happened to any unit, and I’m pretty sure they all got sick at Yanisirah because they were all camped out at the oasis. As for the bombing, well, same as the accident. Any unit could have been at the temple when it got hit, it just happened to be them. It doesn’t mean that the 1st is cursed.”

“Believe me sir, I’m with you, but the perception is still there.”

“Soldiers are the most superstitious bunch of people I’ve ever known. Maybe even more than spacers,” Hitaro sighed. “But you are right in that Roberts does need the experience. Get Corporal McCluskey to radio her, tell her to meet me at the company CP for assignment. You can go ahead and brief 2nd and 3rd Platoon on their assignments for today, I want this to be just me and her.”

“Yes sir.”

The metal of the Maxellian was warm beneath Private First Class Nishi as she stretched out across the top of the armored vehicle. She could feel it even through the blanket she’d draped over the sand-colored hull, almost matching the heat already beating down on her bared back. Shifting her tail, she let it drape over the side of the IFV to expose more of her to the sun’s rays. With her head nestled in her folded arms she took one last look at the vehicle yard of Kalahari Base Camp before closing her eyes. Sometimes deployment to Arel wasn’t too bad, she thought.

“Well well, what do we have here?”

I knew it was too perfect. Cracking one eye open, the Xiscapian squinted at the pair of shapes that swaggered over the concrete to her. The first one, a heavily-built lupine being, was so white that she was almost painful to look at in the bright sun, offset only by a pair of scarlet eyes above a black nose to give her any other color. Her companion was a human woman with fair skin gone a light red from the same sun and short ginger-blond hair that came down to her chin. She folded her arms while the other held hers akimbo, head cocked a little and tail wagging at the sight of Nishi.

The kitsune lifted her head so she could rest her cheek on her arm and look at the other females. “What the fuck do you want, Mug?”

“I just couldn’t help but notice you baring your little ass to the whole world. Don’t pretend like that ain’t what you’re about. You’re just waiting for some guy to climb up there and fuck your foxy brains out right on top of the Maxi, aren’t cha?”

“Mmm,” the nude vixen grunted. “It’s called sunbathing. You prolly don’t know about it on account of coming from some tiny backrocket moon that your discount escan people shit all over so it barely gets any sunlight anyway. But I’ll forgive you just this once.”

“Sunbathing?” the rasthan laughed. “Wow, this dumb bitch thinks she’s getting a tan.”

The human smirked. “It’s not like you have any skin showing to tan, Nishi. Have to shave you bald for that to work.”

“And I’d still be doing a better job at it than you, Feara. You’re already about as red as Mug’s ass was from when I spanked her in the company marksmanship comp.” She had the pleasure of seeing both Mugan and Feara’s smiles drop simultaneously.

“You know, I think we’re onto something with the shaving idea,” Feara leaned against the side of the Maxellian. “I’d like to see you running around all pink and naked.”

“Bet you would.”

“Yeah, you’d really attract some attention then,” Mugan grinned. “What’da’ya say, Nishi? I bet Sergeant Toal would let me borrow her razor, and then me and Shalla could go to town.”

“Touch me and die, Mug.”

“No, but really, you know you’re not gonna tan, right? I have to believe that even you aren’t that stupid. I’m just saying it’s a retarded excuse for prancing around in the buff trying to get someone to fuck you.”

“Mug,” Nishi sighed and stretched before settling. “If I wanted to fuck someone I’d arrange a date between me, this Maxi’s gun turret and your father’s asshole. Truth is I’m just up here ‘cause it feels good. You’ve probably noticed that it gets cold at night around here so when morning comes it’s real nice to just lie down and soak up some sun before you start the day. You should try it sometime, might make you feel better about being a blood-eyed freak that’s still waiting around for that abortion her mother should have gotten.”

Mugan snorted. “Big words coming from a fucking sand-eater fox.”

That made Nishi raise her head. “What the fuck did you just call me?”

“You heard me, bitch-tits. Sand-eater.”

“Sounds like you’re looking to get that big white ass of yours beat-“

“Guys, shut the fuck up,” Feara half-turned to look along the length of the Maxellian. “There’s the LT.”

All three heads turned to follow the platoon commander as she emerged from the barracks building. The big red she-drake was fully dressed in power armor and she was walking so quickly that the kitsune Platoon Sergeant and the communications soldier with her had to hurry to keep up. Six eyes watched as the trio strode across the yard to the headquarters building. “It’s too early for morning briefing,” Mugan uttered as the better part of the platoon’s command staff disappeared inside. “Something’s up.”

“No shit,” in one motion Nishi had rolled off the IFV and landed on her feet beside it. “I’ll let Sergeant Toal know, I think she’s in the showers. You gonna tell Sergeant Daniels and the Staff Sergeant?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell them. Feara, you make sure the other squads know.”

“You got it.”

The woman jogged off and Nishi was just rolling up her blanket when there was a sharp impact on her rear. One hand flying to her stinging butt, she glared over her shoulder at Mugan, who just grinned. “Just reminding you this ain’t over, Nishi.”

“You ever wanna get humbled, you know who to talk to, Mug.”

The command post for D Company was a small office in a row of such rooms inside 8th Battalion’s headquarters. Due to it being located near the end of the hall Second Lieutenant Nikol Roberts could see it looming larger with every step closer she took, and that made her slow all the more. It allowed her second, Platoon Sergeant Yuusuke, to step up beside her. The tod gave her a look and the bigger drakon halted. For a second the two stared at each other.

“Katana said to report immediately, Lieutenant,” Yuusuke reminded her, using the Major’s call sign.

“I know. It’s just, well, I just got here, you know? I can’t be in trouble already!”

“Relax, ma’am. This isn’t XenoArmy, there are no commissars breathing down your neck. If you want my opinion, Lieutenant, you’re about to get an assignment.”

Roberts glanced up the hall. “It’s not time for briefing yet.”

“Which means it’s not going to be the same sort of assignment that the other platoons are going to be getting, ma’am,” Yuusuke looked over at the office before turning his gaze back to his superior. “Best get a move on. Ma’am.”

“Alright. Private,” she looked over her shoulder at Hasan, the man who had been following them. “Wait out here.”

“Yes ma’am.”

It seemed like there was hardly enough room for the she-drake and her second to fit in on the other side of the table with its holographic map. Major Hitaro stood on the other side, hands clasped behind him as the Lieutenant and Staff Sergeant bowed. When he returned the gesture with a twitch of his ears Roberts realized that with his sensitive hearing he’d probably heard everything she had said to Yuusuke. That just made it feel like her stomach dropped away as her eyes met the kitsune’s golden ones. It didn’t much matter that she all but loomed over him in size; as far as rank was concerned their stature might as well have been reversed.

“At ease Lieutenant. Platoon Sergeant,” he nodded to his fellow tod. “I was just briefed by Greatsword, the Lieutenant Colonel. I was asked to choose a platoon for a seek-and-secure mission, and 1st Platoon was my choice. According to Nazzid SURCOM there’s been a supply drop to the Sons in the Bumhavar Region but ICE hasn’t been able to locate it, so that task is falling to you. They have a good idea of where it probably landed,” he waved a hand over the map to highlight an area around the highway, “so once your platoon gets there you’re to search it until you find the shipment. Once it’s secured Greatsword wants you to stick around to engage and destroy whoever shows up to get it before withdrawing. Note that the mission is considered time-sensitive, Greatsword wants you out there as quickly as possible to reduce chances that your unit might get caught in a dust storm.”

Roberts was looking down at the map. The terrain in the Bumhavar Region was typical of much of Arel in being covered in dune fields, with only the Nazzid Highway cutting through it and a few rocky outcroppings scattered about to break up the seemingly endless sand. Putting her own hand to it, she zoomed out until she could see the closest mountain range and the settlements scattered across it about 20 kilometers southwest from the area. “Do we have any contact with those villages, sir? Think they might come out of there?”

“Possibly. It’s hard to say where they might come from, Lieutenant, but that would be my guess,” Hitaro nodded. “We do know the settlements on the southern side of the range are Sons-affiliated, so we’ve made a point of trying to shore up the northern ones against them, but that’s with our own supply drops, fire support, that kind of thing. There’s no Imperial presence out there. Haven’t gotten any recent intel about Sons activities in the south end either.”

She nodded. “What kind of support will my platoon have, sir?”

“2nd and 3rd platoons have their own duties on security patrol, and I’ll be sending the company sniper team with 2nd. B Company foiled that bomber attack with good tactical placement of their snipers so if the Sons try for another temple today the 2nd will stand a better chance with Yumiya and his girls watching their backs. The MGS platoon is still in the shop for repair after rolling over those IEDs so that limits what I can give you, but the medical team will be on standby here in case there’s an attack so if your unit suffers any casualties you’ll be able to call them up. You’ll be too far out for the company’s mortars to reach you, but I should be able to secure you SFMV support so you’ll be able to call in rocket artillery if you need it. And like I said, I got this straight from Greatsword so if you end up needing any additional support I should be able to make sure you get it.”

“Nice to know he’s got a stake in this,” the she-drake exhaled slowly. “Seems straightforward enough though.” She glanced at Yuusuke. “Any questions for the Major, Platoon Sergeant?”

The kitsune lifted his eyes from the map. “Sir, what’s the ROE going to be out on that highway? I don’t doubt the Sons are going to come poking around but that doesn’t mean they’ll be obvious about it.”

“Ideally you’ll be able to scan any approaching vehicles or foot mobiles from range, Sergeant. Contact with those north side villages has given us intel on Sons members and affiliates out of that area, so if your FO can get a good look at any incoming natives he should be able to use our network to make a positive I.D. of any hostile elements. If you get that, you’re clear to engage. Otherwise, ROE is as standard; interdict any persons or vehicles moving through your AO and check them. If they clear the checks they’re free to go.”

“And if the enemy decides he’s not going to show today, sir?”

“Then we’ll take that as it comes, Sergeant. If the platoon has secured the shipment and not had any contact in a reasonable timeframe I’ll take up withdrawing with Greatsword, but until then you’ll sit tight and wait,” Hitaro looked between them. “He wants to see some Sons heads roll today, and I don’t intend on disappointing him. Neither should you.”

“Understood sir,” Roberts gave a small bow. “If there’s nothing else, I’ll get 1st Platoon rolling.”

“Very good, Lieutenant. Platoon Sergeant,” he gave Yuusuke another nod. “Good hunting. Dismissed.”

In the hall Hasan formed up with them again as Roberts and Yuusuke walked back to the entrance. “That wasn’t as bad as I was expecting,” she said once they’d cleared the hall and were (hopefully) out of the Major’s earshot.

“Ambushing those insurgents is a pipe dream, ma’am,” Yuusuke shook his head.

Roberts looked sidelong at the tod. “Why do you say that?”

“As much as I’m sure Katana and Greatsword would like for the Sons to come parading down the highway so we can blow them away, I don’t see it happening. Not with 1st Platoon in their AO anyway. They’re smarter than that. Before they send in any sizable force they’ll scope the area out one way or another, and when their recon types figure out that we’re there they’ll call it off. We outmatch them, and they know it, so they’re not going to give us a straight fight.”

The she-drake frowned. “I appreciate that, Platoon Sergeant, but I have my orders. My job is to figure out a way to make it work. You’ve been here longer than I have, so you tell me: how are they going to scope out our positions?”

Yuusuke’s ears twitched and he gave his superior a look. Finally, he answered. “Well, ma’am, given the kind of terrain we’re dealing with and knowing their typical MO there’s three ways they’re liable to do it. First way would be to send a drone in to fly around and get a birds-eye view of the situation. It’s safe and effective for them, but it’s not very discrete, and if that report about the dust storm is true then they might not risk doing that since they could lose the drone to wind or sand before it even makes it into the area. If they do, though, that’s game over for us as far as ambush goes. We can take out a drone no problem but if we do that then they’ll know we’re there.”

“What about the other two ways?”

“Second way would be with a scout, probably a lone foot mobile to reduce chances of detection, who would operate around the perimeter of the area where the shipment is and keep up overwatch for any other units in the area. Given the sand dunes I’d say they’d be liable to scale one of those rock formations so they can get a clear view. They’d probably have one of those old Republica 15A rifles so they could act as a sniper if needed. In that case it would be all about seeing him before he sees us. If we can tag and bag him without giving him a chance to report back we might stand a chance. Any of your troopers speak or write Thunasp, ma’am?”

“I do,” Hasan said from behind them before ducking his head as both Yuusuke and Roberts turned to look at him. “Uh, sir, ma’am. The Imperial Army recruited me from here for that reason. Just haven’t had much of a chance to use it. It’s more of a southern thing.”

“Well good, Private. There’s your chance to send a false report to the enemy,” Yuusuke nodded to the platoon’s communications man. “Might help with the other thing they’re mostly likely to send at us, which is a route reconnaissance unit. That’s usually a scout vehicle, by which I mean it’s a sedan or maybe a swoop bike with one or two guys wearing civilian clothes whose job is just to drive through the AO and report back whether it’s clear or not. Sometimes they’ll be real tricky and put one guy on a bus going through the area but with the storm on anything like that’s liable to have been cancelled. Still, it’s a problem because all they need to do is hit a checkpoint and they’ll call it in, and then you can forget about an ambush.”

“Not unless we do it like with the overwatch scout and hit them before they know we’re there.”

“You’d have to stop the vehicle without hurting or killing anyone on board, in case we can’t get a positive I.D. on them being Sons-affiliated. And even then, in the time that would take they could still get a message off if one of them is on a phone. We could use that to send a false report from them instead, but we’d have to get our hands on it before they could use it.”

“I’ll give it some thought,” Roberts sighed. “Is that all, Platoon Sergeant?”

“That’s all, Lieutenant. Our biggest advantage is the storm, it means they won’t conduct too much recon before trying to get at the shipment since they’ll be on a timetable same as us. They don’t want to be out in that any more than we do, it gives them cover but something like that could bury their shipment and at that point that’d risk losing it. I think that’s the only reason this might work though. And even then, I don’t like it.”

Roberts squinted at her second. “You don’t like getting a shot at the enemy?”

Yuusuke sighed. “May I make a statement regarding our mission, ma’am?”

“I haven’t stopped you yet, Sergeant. Go ahead.”

“Yes ma’am. The thing is that by interdicting that supply shipment we will have done the most damage to the Sons that we realistically could have. Without whatever’s in those containers they’ll have to keep relying on whatever aging secondhand Republica kit and supplies they can scrounge up. Staying in that AO trying to locate and kill Sons won’t have much of an impact on their operations, and regardless of our advantages it still puts the troops of the 1st Platoon in what I believe is needless danger if the Sons do decide they want to try to take the shipment back or at least kill some of us in retaliation. It’s just a way for the officers to claim more damage done to the enemy so they’ll look better to their superiors.”

The drakon gave him a look. “Platoon Sergeant, you may have forgotten but I am an officer.”

He held her gaze. “Nobody’s perfect, ma’am.”

A beat passed and she had to smile. “Alright, Sergeant, now I know I’m not in XenoArmy anymore. I’d say we’re both lucky not to be there right now. But,” she gave a sigh of her own, “I take your point. That being said, as I told you, I have my orders and I intend to carry them out to the best of my ability. I don’t intend on exposing my unit to any more danger than is necessary during the course of operations. That’s all I can offer you.”

The kitsune shrugged. “I understand, ma’am. I wasn’t expecting you to go against your orders; you’ll carry them out just like I will carry out whatever orders you give me. I just wanted to make it clear that I believe that the ambush will be of negligible military value, if it happens at all. And to make you understand that out here, sometimes things don’t get played straight.”

“Thank you, Platoon Sergeant. Is that all?”

“Yes ma’am, I believe it is.”

“Good. I want you there with me when I brief the squad leaders. Once that’s done I’ll want us rolling out as quickly as possible. If what you say is true then to make this work we want to be out there before they are. Let’s make it happen!”

Arel’s sun beat down onto the soldiers of 3rd Rifle Squad where they stood by the line of Maxellian IFVs, only their heads bared outside their armor as the half-dozen enlisted waited in a loose semicircle by the carrier’s loading ramp. The same scene played out the same up and down the row for the other two rifle squads as well as the platoon’s weapons squad fourth in line just behind them. The only exception was the last vehicle in the line, which was no different from the others except in its role as the fire support carrier and the platoon staff who were grouped behind it. Heavy rifles were cradled in the arms of all the soldiers, each casually holding blocks of metal that would have been impossible for any of them to even lift without the twin benefits of their power armor and cybernetics. Surrounded and engulfed by so much machinery, the sapients looked at each other.

“So we’re finally gonna get to fuck up some sand-eaters,” Private Musashi ran a hand over his SAW. “About damn time, I say. I haven’t fired a shot in anger the whole time I’ve been here.”

“I do not think the Sergeant would want to hear you say that,” Corporal D'Voyle shifted from one foot to the other, the tall feline able to fold her arms with her light DLR slung over one shoulder. “She says we are supposed to be friendly to the Arellians.”

Musashi snorted. “That’s just fine and all, but I’m a fucking Imperial Army trooper. My whole role in combat is throwing so much lead down range that if the enemy does anything but cower on the ground like a bitch then he gets one of his limbs blown off. I exist to fuck shit up. And all I been doing is walking around the streets and playing kick-the-door with the sand-eaters. We should be out there killing scuts. Nishi, back me up.”

“Whatever gets your dick hard, Mussy.”

“Bet you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?” Mugan smirked across the semicircle at the vixen.

“I can’t even make a casual statement around you, can I Mug?”

“Somebody’s gotta keep you in check.”

“I guess by that logic you and Feara equals one of me, right?”

“We’d kick your ass in a fight,” the woman said.

“Maybe, but you two always come at me like this, like you need that support. Not that I think you need it Mug, Feara’s a fucking awful support element.”

“Fuck you Nishi.”

“Not now, try again later.”

“You know, I think the Corporal is right,” the other SAW gunner of the squad spoke up. Private Samon glanced across his five compatriots, his own tail curling. “We’re just here to back up the local police and shoot any Sons who try to get into Nazzid, but that’s still pretty important. I wasn’t around then, but from what the Platoon Sergeant has said this city was a shithole when we first got it, and now it’s pretty nice. There’s practically a Maxi on every street corner.”

“Yeah, but because the enemy’s a bunch of pussies, that just means they avoids us,” Musashi shook his head. “We haven’t been going where he is, we’ve just been sitting in this fucking city for weeks just in case he shows up, but he won’t, because we’d have enough firepower to blow his ass back to the Stone Age if he didn’t seem like he already lived there half the time. So he just squats out there and plants bombs everywhere and runs around the hills killing people and we don’t do shit. Not the Army, anyway, it’s all spec ops and shit. Which is scutty. Everybody knows spec ops is a bunch of bitches.”

“Well you’re gonna get a chance to take it to him now, ain’t you Mussy?” Mugan smiled. “You gonna notch your gun barrel?”

“Fuck yeah I am. Four and a slash, see if I don’t.”

“I’ll take that bet. I bet we barely even see the scuts, and even if we do, you ain’t gonna kill any of them. Maxis’ll get ‘em first.”

“Oh yeah?” Musashi looked at her. “What do you bet?”

“I dunno what I bet, but I know you got a subscription to that new NSE show. You’d never catch me paying for my porn but that’s quality stuff.”

Nishi rolled her eyes. “And you think I’m perverted.”

“So you want my account? Fine. But if I get ‘em, that’s five kills, you’re my bitch for the rest of the week. You fetch, you gimme pick out of any ration packs you get, you roll over and play dead if I tell you to.”

“You’re on. Ain’t never gonna get five kills you dumb fuck, they don’t fight like that,” Mugan laughed. “Be lucky if you get to shoot at anything out there.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll see.”

“Squad!” Staff Sergeant Uta seem to come striding out of nowhere, appearing around the bulk of their Maxellian with the team leaders in tow. “Mount up! We are Oscar Mike in two!”

Helmets closed up over heads even as the troopers hustled up the boarding ramp and into the back of the wheeled IFV. Sergeant Toal joined them midway through, climbing on behind Nishi before the other fire team clambered aboard with Sergeant Daniels at their rear. Uta was the last on behind the zillar, still standing as the ramp hydraulics whined and the hatch shut behind her so she could lean against it. Even with her helmet up they could all feel the vixen’s eyes sweeping over them as the armored vehicle rumbled and lurched forward, joining the procession of troop carriers leaving Kalahari’s protective embrace. For a minute the only sound was the shifting of gears and the crunch of tires over Nazzid’s roads.

“Most of you have never been outside Nazzid’s walls before. It’s different out there, grunts,” her visor turned slowly. “Away from the big population centers, that’s enemy territory. We’ll pass through exactly one Army checkpoint on the way there, and once we’re through the next closest Imperial unit is another hundred and thirty klicks south at Bumhavar City. The platoon will have artillery support and from I’ve been told medical evac is standing by, but for all practical intents and purposes, the 1st is on its own.

“That means anyone else you see out there is a potential hostile. You must observe everything but admire nothing. If a target is declared clear for engagement, you take it the fuck out. We do this right, and at the end of the day we get to make a bunch of marks in the enemy KIA category and none in the unit casualties category. Am I understood?”

“Yes Staff Sergeant!” the squad came back.

“Good. Now settle in, it’s about an hour to the objective so we’ve got a ride ahead of us.”

As Uta took her own advice and sat down on the bench Nishi turned her head to look down her side of the bench at Sergeant Toal. “Sarge, she said most of us haven’t been outside Nazzid. I know Mugan, Feara and Musashi haven’t, and I’m betting that Samon and D'Voyle haven’t either. That just leaves you and Sergeant Daniels. You two have?” she glanced from the Alversian NCO to the zillar.

“That’s right,” Daniels leaned in from the opposite bench, visor on Nishi. “Back when it was just us and the Staff Sergeant in the platoon. I was a Private First Class just like you Nishi, and Toal over there was our squad’s anti-armor specialist. We shared a FP up at Yanisirah during the Sons attack there. You remember that?” the reptilian being glanced at her fellow Sergeant.

“I remember the oasis. I told them not to swim in the water and especially not to drink it, but they didn’t listen,” Toal shook her head. “Then of course that means me and you and everyone else who was smart enough not to got to pull double-duty when they all came down sick. Good times.”

“So you two were around during the, uh,” Mugan hesitated. “You know.”

“The bombing,” Daniels nodded. “Yeah. Most of the platoon got shipped back one way or another after that, and pretty much everyone else left wanted to get transferred out. Too many bad vibes, you know? The Staff Sergeant and Toal were the only ones who stuck around. I wanted to leave too honestly, but they offered me Sergeant if I stayed on so I figured, what the hell, I’ve survived this long, maybe I’m just lucky,” she shrugged. “That’s my piece.”

“What about you, Sergeant?” Nishi looked back to Toal. “Why’d you stay on?”

“This is my unit,” the woman seemed to be staring back at her even through the faceless visor. “After the bombing the Staff Sergeant and I made a covenant. Unless we get explicit orders to go somewhere else, we’re not leaving our unit. No matter how many casualties we take. We lasted through all the diseases and climates and homicidal fanatics that this planet could throw at us, and we’re still here. Some bad luck isn’t going to change that.”

For a long moment there was just silence among the squad. Toal leaned back, resting against the seat with her rifle across her knees. “And I believe in what we’re doing here. That we have improved this place overall, and just as much, that the Sons need to be stopped. So there’s no place I’d rather be.”

In the last IFV in line Lieutenant Roberts was taking her own look at her command staff. Yuusuke and Hasan were sharing the space with the company medic, one Specialist Aldan, as well as the Forward Observer Sergeant Kandar. The Fire Support Observer in Staff Sergeant Onpu sat in as well; it was her Maxi that the command staff was riding in. There was no need to go over a briefing or the rules of engagement, so instead the she-drake just reached up onto one of the racks and hauled down a long box. Setting it down on one of the benches, she looked to Yuusuke.

“You asked me earlier how I planned to deal with the possibility that the enemy would send a scout car disguised as a civilian vehicle into our AO. I tried to secure some telecomm jammers for the platoon’s use but I wasn’t able to secure any on such short notice. Instead I got these,” she pulled the container open to expose the contents. The others in the IFV all leaned over to peer into the crate. After a moment Kandar looked up, the escan’s tail wagging slowly.

“Ma’am, I don’t understand. This just looks like a bunch of civvie clothes and some old Republica carbines.”

“That’s right, Sergeant,” Roberts nodded. “The enemy wants to try to false flag us, well, he’s not the only one capable of it. If we can’t get a positive I.D. on a suspected Sons vehicle we’re going to engage in a bit of roleplaying. My plan is to outfit four members of the platoon with those clothes and weapons and use the anti-gravity strip in the bottom of the container to stop any suspicious vehicles that attempt to enter our AO. Posing as bandits, they will make searches of the stopped vehicles without risking discovery of our forces. If the vehicles are clear then they and their occupants will be released, but if they are Sons then even if they do get a report out it will merely be that they have been captured by raiders, not Imperial troops.”

“Who are you going to detail for that, ma’am?” Kandar looked up at her. “It couldn’t be anyone like me or, well, like most of us in the platoon. We’d stand out here like an alumina at a Huerdaen dwarf convention.”

“I have four in mind who will blend in. Hasan, you’re one of them, since you’re from here and you’re the only one in the platoon who can speak Thunasp,” she nodded at her Communications Trooper and he nodded back. “You’ll be my main man in there, since you’ll be the one who talks to anyone we stop and, if it comes to that, the one who sends the enemy a false report. Specialist Aldan, I know it’s not really your role but I want you to join him,” she looked to the Twi’lek female. “You’re one of the only non-humans in the platoon who has a chance of not arousing suspicion, given that there are members of your species living here. Your job will just be to back up Private Hasan and look intimidating. Can you do that?”

Aldan licked her lips as her lekku twitched. “I guess so, ma’am.”

“Good. You two will be joined by Private Kobylarz from the weapons squad, and, if I can have her, Specialist Bey,” she looked to Onpu as she referred to the most junior member of the fire support team.

“Shouldn’t be a problem, ma’am,” the vixen nodded. “As long as we’re not actually in combat my unit won’t have any immediate need for her.”

“That’s settled, then. Those three will back you up, Private Hasan, and once you get a drop on any stopped vehicle with your weapons out there shouldn’t be any trouble. The platoon will be nearby to support you if you need it, but obviously we’re trying to avoid that, at least for the initial capture. Any questions?”

Yuusuke was frowning. “I’m not sure about the legality of this, ma’am.”

“You let me worry about that, Platoon Sergeant. If any shit comes down on us because of it then I’ll take full responsibility, but right now I’m more interested in trying to make it work.”

“Yes ma’am,” the kitsune shifted where he sat. “Well, ma’am, let’s assume that our pseudo-bandits do actually capture a couple of Sons scouts, but said scouts manage to report back what happened before their communications can be neutralized. At that point the Sons would likely send a force to recover their men. What then?”

“It seems to me that with a limited window in which they have to recover the shipment before the storm hits whatever force they are sending for it will be the closest one, so it will be drawn into our ambush all the more surely if it tries to recover the scouts. If anything news that bandits are in the area of the shipment and have taken some of their operators prisoner will probably spur them on to get into the AO faster if they want to make sure the shipment doesn’t fall into other hands,” Roberts smiled. “I have thought this through.”

The tod grunted. “What if they send a psion? They’re more likely to be used for combat purposes among the Sons, but they are known for using such things and psionic scouts aren’t unheard of, ma’am.”

Roberts looked at him for a moment before swallowing audibly. “I, uh, I hadn’t considered that.”

“Well there’s no way around it without a null collar, which I don’t think we have,” Yuusuke sighed as the drakon shook her head. “That being said, I believe we have a way of improving our situation if that is the case. 3rd Squad has an alumina, one Corporal D'Voyle. If she can be brought on board with the false flag operation she can scan the minds of whoever we stop so if any incriminating surface thoughts or feelings go through their heads we’ll have some warning. From what I know about aluminan psionics I don’t think she’d be able to stop any psionic transmissions from going out, but she could at least tell us if they happen so we’ll know right away if the operation has been compromised, ma’am.”

“That’s a good idea, Platoon Sergeant. We’ll do that. Anyone else have anything to add?” When no one said anything the she-drake nodded. “Very good then. We’ll be stopping a few klicks north of the immediate AO to move the rifle squads in on foot to keep our profile to a minimum in case there are scouts already there. The weapons squad will head up the road with our false flag team to set up an interdiction point. Once our forces locate the shipment we’ll move up to secure it and adjust positions accordingly.”

Corporal D'Voyle. I have orders directly from 6 herself that you’re to join 4 at the roadside position immediately, Staff Sergeant Uta wasn’t even facing the feline as she peered over a dune with her fiber-optic camera, instead gesturing to her with her tail as her thought-speech echoed exclusively through D’Voyle’s head. Come here.

Ma’am, the squad’s designated marksman stepped up beside the squad leader with the crunch of sand under her jackboots. Why am I being sent there, ma’am?

Take my rifle and give me yours, Uta hefted her F-MBR and waited as D’Voyle pulled her laser rifle from her back before dropping the heavier weapon into her arms. My squad needs a sharpshooter more than roadside needs one, and you might need a battle rifle yourself. 6 wants you to assist in road stops with your psionics.

With the comparatively massive weapon in her arms the alumina looked down at it before watching her superior sling her DLR. Do you know how to use that, Staff Sergeant?

I went through training just like you did, Corporal. Now don’t fuck up my rifle, me and that gun have been through a lot together so I don’t want to see you putting any scrapes or scratches on it. You might be just about twice my height but if you mess with my primary means of killing the enemy I will bend you over my knee and make you regret it.

Yes Staff Sergeant, I will take good care of it.

See to it. Now get to 4, the rest of the squad has its own mission.

D’Voyle jogged across the dune and down the next one in the direction of the black line that represented the highway and Uta pivoted back to check her squad and open communications with them. Move up, she walked along in the same direction before catching Musashi by the arm as he climbed the dune. Do not surmount the dune, squad, her visor reflected Musashi’s faceplate as she stared at him. That will put you up high and silhouette yourself against the sky, delineating your body to the enemy. Go around the dunes and keep low so your active camouflage can help you blend in with the sand. She let go and the tod followed her around the dune. The slack between the previous dune and the next one looked just like all the others.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight, Private Mugan’s thought-voice echoed through each of the heads of the squad as the eight of them took up a close formation in the trough. We are mechanized infantry of one of the finest military forces in the Twin Galaxies, using some of the finest armor anywhere in the Twin Galaxies, against one of the worst terrorist threats in the Twin Galaxies. We have been tasked with finding a shipment to these terrorists, probably of guns and bombs and other wonderful things, in a large expanse of desert, on a time limit before a storm hits. But instead of ripping over the dunes in our Maxis, finding this stuff fast and fucking up anybody who gets in our way, we’re walking around looking for it like a bunch of retards. Oh, and we’re minus our sharpshooter too. Is that how it is?

6 wants to maintain a stealthy approach, Mug, Daniels leaned against the dune as her fiber-optic cable checked over its top and scanned the area. Our Maxis are big and loud, kind of like you, but they also don’t have our active camo. That means if we bring them with then we’re gonna be seen. And that’s not what we want.

So we’re sneaking around the enemy now? I thought the point of being here was to fuck him up.

Indicating that the next slack was clear, Daniels dropped off the dune and started to walk around. We’re maintaining stealth because we’re trying to ambush them. 6 hasn’t made me privy to the details of that or how the road stops fit into that, because it’s not our mission. The mission of this squad is to conduct a foot mobile patrol through this part of the AO until we locate the objective. If 6 wants us to do it stealthily then that’s how we do it.

On the other side of the dune Nishi followed a few paces behind Toal, with Musashi bringing up the rear. The formation felt strange to her; normally D’Voyle would have been backing the Sergeant, but the alumina had been called away to leave the fire team with just three members. Yet of course the one constant was being able to hear Mugan even from across the dune. Looking at her 360-degree camera told her that the other fire team had just emerged from their own path around the dune, with Uta leading followed by Daniels, Mugan, Feara and Samon. For a minute she tracked the other vixen across the burning sand. Sergeant, you said that you and Sergeant Daniels had been around in the old 1st Platoon, and you told us about it, but you also said the Staff Sergeant was there too. What’s her story?

Watch those outcroppings to the west, on our ten and eleven o’clocks, Toal told her fire team. As to the Staff Sergeant, Private, I would ask her. Her life is her own business, and I probably couldn’t tell you much anyway. She was here before Daniels or I arrived. I heard a rumor once that she completed boot with a broken wrist, but all you really need to know is that she knows this place and the enemy really well and she’s probably the best NCO in the platoon. So you should count yourself lucky-

Movement! Musashi’s thought-voice cut across them. Ten o’clock, on the outcropping, about two hundred meters!

Down, Toal fell prone and the rest of the squad followed suit, brown-and-tan figures crawling through the sand of the dune as they spread out across it. Use your fiber-optics to look, don’t peek your heads up. Musashi, do you have a lock on the target?

Negative Sarge, I lost it when I dropped. I’m trying to-

Got him, the words came from Uta where she lay along the ridge of the dune, only the speck of her fiber-optic cable leaning over it to look beyond. Coordinates sent to all Wakazashi units. When she used the in-built camera to magnify she could see the figure clearly: a man in a heavy hooded traveler’s robe crouching on top of the rocky tower. There could be no mistaking the barrel of the long rifle strapped to his back or the boxy electrobinoculars that he held up to his face. As she watched he scanned slowly, visibly panning across the dunes.

Is that one of the Sons? Feara bumped Mugan with her shoulder.

Don’t jostle me like that, you’re making me lose my focus. And how the hell should I know? I can’t even see his face.

Don’t focus on the foot mobile, we only need one set of eyes on him, Uta told them. Scan the other outcroppings, the Sons usually send their scouts out alone but there might be more of them.

Outcropping at our eleven scanned, I don’t see anything. You got anything Feara?

Nothing on our twelve.

My team doesn’t have anything else to the west, Toal reported. Looks like he’s the only one. Do you have an I.D. on him, Staff Sergeant?

Negative, he’s not lowered his field glasses yet, Uta said. He’s definitely checking out our AO though. Looks like he might have a focus to our south.

Are any of the other squads up there?

None of them have moved up that far, he’s looking at something else, Uta frowned behind her helmet. Might be focused on the area around the shipment. That was when the man lowered the electrobinoculars. He was older and bearded, she saw, but his expression looked passive. Her camera zoomed and framed his face as it attempted to I.D. him.
The results flashed along the bottom of the screen: no match.

Network failed to match him with any known Sons operatives via facial recognition, Uta pulled the laser rifle closed to her chest and eased herself down the dune. Someone else put eyes on that target. I’m going to take the shot.

Mugan turned her fiber-optic on the man. I’ve got him, Staff Sergeant.

Ma’am, you don’t have a positive I.D. on him as a hostile, came Toal. ROE states that-

I know what the ROE says, Sergeant, the vixen said from the bottom of the slope as she sat up into a crouch. But that foot mobile is armed and performing what appears to be active reconnaissance in our AO and we’re expecting Sons activity, she jogged along the bottom of the dune until she came to the end, where she took a knee before falling forward and crawling with her rifle still held to her. If 6 or anyone else takes issue with my decision then I accept that, but I am not going to waste time and risk the lives of this squad’s soldiers in attempting a snatch operation so we can figure out if he’s a Son or the stupidest shepherd on the planet.

But Staff Sergeant, simply being armed isn’t grounds for engagement under the ROE. If you fire on and kill that foot mobile you might cause a civilian casualty.

Uta checked her rifle’s scope. I’m well aware of that, Sergeant Toal. But there are 8 of us in this squad and 50 in the platoon counting the vehicle crews and the fire support team, and we are almost 100 klicks inside enemy territory. We are all alone out here, doing our best with the objectives we’ve been given. My point is that the ROE isn’t a lot of help in this situation. What I know is what I see, and right now, I don’t like what I see. She edged her rifle around the slope and edged the muzzle upwards.

The man was still squatting on the ledge but he had his field glasses up again. It only took the slightest movement for her to center the crosshairs on his head: unlike with more conventional ballistic weapons, an energy weapon like the DLR didn’t need to account for things like drop and wind speed. Exhaling, she raised the rifle a few millimeters up from face to forehead. The beam was powerful enough to go right through the field glasses and kill the man, but she didn’t want to take any chances. Having nothing between the laser blast and her target’s skull was the way to do it. Toal had stopped talking too, so she knew that this was the best chance she was going to get. Engaging, she informed her squad, inhaled, and held her breath.

It only lasted a few seconds, but those beats of time were Uta’s own personal sanctuary. The entire universe condensed down to nothing but her, her rifle, and the target in front of her. Quicker than she could even think about it her own self slipped away until she was just the finger on the trigger. It was a perfect dichotomy of action: passively don’t pull, or a literally kinetic pull.
Uta pulled the trigger.

The man’s head jerked back and his electrobinoculars tumbled out of his grasp to the sand below. For an instant she caught his expression, eyes wide with brows raised, before he slumped over. He had never seen the person who had ended his life. Target eliminated, he’s down. Only then did she exhale.

Nice shot Staff Sergeant, I saw him go down too, Mugan told her.

Thank you Private. Sergeant Toal, I want you to take your fire team to that outcropping and search the body. If he was a Sons operative then he had some way of communicating with them, and we’ll need that if we want to send any false reports. Private Samon, go with Toal’s fire team. The rest of Daniels’s team and I will cover you.

Yes ma’am, Toal pushed off from the slope of the dune. Nishi, Musashi, on me. Come on Samon, she jerked her head at the tod as he scrambled down the slope. Buddy with me. You two watch each other’s backs.

Yes Sergeant.

They had barely gotten twenty meters away from the rest of the squad’s position before Samon spoke up. He was walking next to Toal, with Nishi and Musashi a few meters behind, but their conversation was between themselves. Sergeant, I don’t like what the Staff Sergeant did either. It doesn’t make sense to me. I think we could have pulled off a snatch operation.

The woman didn’t say anything for a moment. Sam, she said, then stopped. There’s nothing we can do about it. The best I can think of is that we get to the body and find out that he was one of them. That’s what I’m hoping for.

We can file a report about this if he isn’t. Or, well, even if he is. I know that made you uncomfortable, Gemma. I felt the same way. But we can make it right, or at least as right as we can.

No, Sam, she glanced back at him. I see what you’re trying to do, but no. If he was a Son then it just proves that the Staff Sergeant has good instincts and that she did the right thing under the circumstances. She doesn’t deserve to be punished for that, not for breaking the ROE for a good cause. And if it turns out that he wasn’t or we can’t tell, she paused. Nothing good would come out of it. Either she goes, and we lose the best NCO in the platoon, or she rides it out and that just guarantees division between us and her. Neither of those is good for the squad, or the platoon. And if that man was just some civilian, none of it would bring him back from the dead.

They walked further for a time without saying anything. The sky was the same pale blue overhead and the mounds of sand stretched on until the outcropping in the same way they had everywhere else, seemingly eternal. It was like nothing had changed. But when they looked up a little they could see the curled body that was the dead man on the ledge. Finally Toal spoke again.

I still believe that Staff Sergeant Uta is a good person. She’s a good soldier and a good squad leader, and I know those don’t always go together with being a good person but her first priority has always been us, the people in her unit. She didn’t take that shot because she was bloodthirsty or because she has some kind of hatred of Arellians, she took it to protect us, even knowing that it might be the wrong decision and that I might report her for it. I can’t go through with something that would hurt her and this squad and benefit no one in the end. That’s what the covenant we made was all about, keeping this unit intact, She looked at him. You have to do what you think is right, Sam. But I’ve made my own decision.

He was quiet as they approached the outcrop. Then he sighed. Well, Gemma, I’m with you.

Musashi was looking up at the stone formation. We finally find an enemy only for the Staff Sergeant to take him out silently from 200 meters away. When I went in for mechanized I thought we’d be rolling into places and lighting up scuts, not doing this recon commando type shit. I signed up for the wrong fucking thing.

Nishi stopped beside him. Aww, poor guy. Did your Army recruiter tell you that you’d get to shoot people when you signed up?

Fuck yeah he did. Now here I am, walking about in Bum-fuck-wherever Region trying to be stealthy while I look for some smuggler’s luggage. Fucking Army.

Private Nishi, Toal turned to the vixen. Get up there and carry him down to us.

You’re making me move, Sarge. I hate that, she said, but she was already slinging her rifle. A few steps forward and Nishi launched herself up with a boost from her armor’s hydraulics to jump onto the outcropping, boots crunching into the stone before she thrust her hands out to catch herself against the side. Turning slowly, she crouched down next to the corpse. You sure I can’t just push him off? Would make things easier on everyone.

I said carry him down, Private. Don’t want to damage anything he might have.

Fine, fine, Nishi scooped the body up in her arms and hopped down. She let the body fall from her arms before straightening up and pulling her rifle out again. One dead sand-eater delivered, Sergeant.

Toal was already kneeling next to the body. He’s got a 15A on him, she pulled the long Republica-era rifle off the corpse’s back. Not that it means much, seems like almost literally everyone and his mother has one on this planet. Neutralize the weapon, Private, she handed it off to Samon. Don’t want it falling into the wrong hands. As Samon started to bend the rifle’s parts out of shape and strip out its charge pack Toal turned the body over.

Damn, Musashi leaned over to look the dead man in the face. The only evidence of what had killed him was a small black hole in the middle of his forehead, little more than an exaggerated scorch mark. Staff Sergeant has some real skills. Maybe I should’ve become a sharpshooter.

As a SAW operator you’ll kill way more of the enemy than most sharpshooters will, Toal told him as she pushed her hands into the corpse’s pockets.

If I ever even get in firing range of them where I’m allowed to engage, maybe.

Charge pack, charge pack, charge pack, Toal commented on each magazine of ammo before she tossed them over to Samon. That’s enough for, what, 200 shots counting the one in the gun? Overkill for any normal person. Staff Sergeant might have had the right idea. Let’s see what else he has, she plunged her hands under the folds of his robes and pulled free a mobile phone. There was the white letters of a text message on a green background, but it wasn’t a language she could understand. Might be our smoking gun, if we knew what it said.

Have to get that to Private Hasan over at the roadside position, he’d probably know, Samon said.

Bagging that, then, she slipped it into a compartment in her armor. Just going to give him one more once-over. After a few moments of tugging she grunted. I’ve got something in his hair, like a… It came off in her hand and she lifted the object up for inspection. Hair piece? The length of twine had a few colorful beads in it. Not sure what that’s about. Maybe the Staff Sergeant will know. She stowed it and stood. Finished with that weapon, Private?

Think so, Samon said, and let the pieces fall from his arms. It wasn’t even recognizable as a rifle, little more than a pile of twisted black metal parts around a long shaft. Probably not even fit to be a walking stick now.

Good work. Let’s head back.
Last edited by Xiscapia on Fri May 20, 2016 4:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Xiscapia » Fri May 20, 2016 3:44 pm


[ Mature ]

Corporal D’Voyle swept the gaze of her fiber-optic up and down the highway as if another look might reveal more details about the road. It did not. The raised concrete was the same cracked, uneven expanse as before, fading into the distance in both directions in a haze of wavy heat. Sighing, the alumina shifted her weight where she lay at the top of the dune by the roadside with her rifle cradled in her arms. This was not the assignment she would have chosen, but it was the one that had been given her, so she was going to do it.

On the other side of the highway the platoon’s weapon squad, normally 7 but reduced to 6, was lying in wait with autocannons primed and ready to be placed on the tops of dunes and fired down onto the road. She knew that was just in case the “bandits” of the platoon ran into any trouble that they couldn’t handle by themselves, but she silently hoped that it didn’t come to that. The other three rifle squads were still out searching for the cargo shipment and the rest of the platoon including fire support and the command staff was holding back with the IFVs further north. Even if the Sons couldn’t know that they were there it still felt isolated, somehow more so than when she’d been with her own squad even with ten friendlies in her immediate area. Maybe it would be over soon.

Got movement on the road to the south, reported Staff Sergeant Schmidt, the leader of the weapons squad. Looks like a single swoop bike. Get ready, Bandit Team.

Understood, came back Specialist Bey. The greali woman and fire support specialist was like the other three “bandits” –well out of her element but doing the best she could. Will activate the grav-trap once the bike enters the kill zone and go in to take it. Corporal D’Voyle, what’s your status?

Ready, the feline reported. I will warn you of any suspicious or threatening surface thoughts.

Good. Fire team, hold until I signal. With that all there was to do was watch as the swoop bike grew larger and more detailed as it approached. Before long she could hear the whine of its engine and repulsorlifts as it zoomed along just above the road. It was weather-beaten with sandy skids and rust showing through along the forward vanes, and the long cloak that the rider wore around them didn’t look much better. A pair of goggles obscured their features even when they drew so close that D’Voyle could make out the keys in the bike’s ignition.

Grav-trap engaged. The bike began to slow, obviously puzzling the rider who clicked impotently at the handlebars. By the time it hovered to a stop she could hear him swearing in another language, but that was when Bey sent the signal. Fire team, take him.

With a yell the four “bandits” erupted out of the sand by the roadside. All wrapped up in dark robes with cloth wrapped around their heads to mask their faces and wielding carbines, they surrounded the rider in seconds. Hasan was yelling in Thunasp as Bey and Kobylarz roughly pulled the man off the bike and pushed him against the road. Package secured. Aldan put her hands on the bike and started pushing as Bey deactivated the gravity trap, letting them clear the road to hustle man and vehicle away over the dune. Don’t think he got the chance to get a report off. He’s not wearing an earpiece.

He is afraid, D’Voyle told them as she probed against the helpless human’s mind. He keeps wondering if he is going to see his family again. I think he is praying, he keeps asking the deity Capnomana for help. He is praying that you will have mercy and let him go without beating or killing him. I…I do not think he is a terrorist.

Understood, came back Bey. No I.D. match with the database. He doesn’t have any contraband on him or on his vehicle that we can find. No communications devices. Hell, he’s not even armed. So, yeah. We’ll let him go.

She could feel his apprehension mixing with growing hope before the whine of the bike met her ears and there was a flash beneath her. When she turned her fiber-optic D’Voyle could see the man riding away as fast as the vehicle’s engine would take him. She watched as it dwindled away to a speck in the distance. Am I going to have to listen to that every time? People being terrorized?

Sorry Corporal. Can’t really do the whole bandit thing without scaring people. But there shouldn’t be too many of them. Not a lot of people like to drive through the badlands between Bumhavar City and Nazzid if they can help it, or that’s what the Platoon Sergeant told me anyway.

I hope so. D’Voyle frowned as her thoughts turned inwards, keeping them off the wider network. Was scaring that man so badly worth it? What would he think if he knew that Imperial forces were behind it? Would he think it was clever, or would he just be angry at us? I just want to be able to come out of this knowing I have done some good.

She laid her head back against the dune. The length of fiber-optic cable still let her camera get a view of the road so she deemed it acceptable. The sky looked a lot lighter than she’d ever seen on Alumi. In some ways, she reflected, even during its most desperate times her homeworld had been a paradise compared to Arel. But then, at least on Arel she could eat as much food as she wanted. She supposed it balanced out.

All Wakazashis, this is 6. 1 has located the objective; coordinates are being uploaded now. All Wakazashi’s, stand by for orders. Lieutenant Roberts’s thought-voice faded from her mind and D’Voyle turned her fiber-optic on the position where the weapons team was hidden. If the roadside unit was packing up then they would probably be the first to move.

Do you think we are going to get to leave now, Staff Sergeant? she asked Schmidt over their neural link.

I’m not sure, Corporal. Now that we’ve located the shipment our mission should be over, but I know 6 wanted to see if we couldn’t pull off an ambush of the forces that come to collect it. That’s why we’re staking out this road after all. I guess we’ll see.

Almost as soon as he’d finished Roberts was on the comms again. 4, this is 6, hold position. We have yet to interdict any suspected enemy scout units so you will stay on-task until such a time as you get one or are ordered otherwise. 2 has been directed to take up position on the western side of the road in order to provide support. Maintain stance.

Understood, 6. Wilco.

Her question answered, D’Voyle settled back in to stare up at the sky. She wondered how her squad was doing; she hadn’t heard Roberts reference Wakazashi-3 on the comms at all. Is that good or bad? Her mind soon drifted back to her mother and sisters on Alumi and she had the same question. Her mother could only occasionally afford an ansible uplink when she was in the city so she didn’t get much of a chance to talk to her. Soon I will have enough leave time to go visit them myself.

The minutes crawled by. She found herself thinking about Uta. She had been young during the closing days of the last Danaversian War, or the Great Patriotic War as she’d heard the Xiscapians call it, too young to really serve though that hadn’t stopped the Aluminan Defense Force from training her anyway. But she remembered hearing about how a Xiscapian princess called Nightshade Rose had defeated the Supreme Lioness in ritual combat, making the vixen the new leader of Alumi, only for her to turn the position over to Pantheria Marshall Nigripes. It had seemed right to her, that Alumi have an Aluminan leader, but then came the news that the two were in a relationship together. That had perplexed her at the time. Xiscapians were foreigners, upstarts at best and meddling in affairs they didn’t understand at worst, or so her village elder had told her. But if that was true, then why would Nigripes want to have a relationship with one?

But now she was starting to see. Uta was one of the most capable persons in the platoon, with an orderly and steadfast attitude that she decided any alumina would be proud to have. She had never led the squad wrong and she had taken time out for each member, D’Voyle herself included. That was who she would choose to go with her anywhere, she realized, dangerous or not. Closing her eyes, she pictured the vixen’s face.

Movement. The terse word jerked D’Voyle awake. Shaking her head, she blinked rapidly as she consulted her fiber-optic camera. There was something coming from the south, much bigger than the swoop bike. She squinted as she zoomed in. The truck had a compact cab, far too small for even a kitsune to fit into, with no doors or windows. Might be our collection crew courtesy of the Sons.

Frowning, the feline reached out with her mind to the vehicle. It was as she’d suspected. There is no one inside, she told Schmidt. It is a drone truck. She couldn’t even pretend to be disappointed.

Understood. Bandit Team, stand down and allow the vehicle to pass. Do not break cover. It is an autonomous delivery vehicle. No one for us to interrogate.

The truck grumbled as it got closer, bouncing and shaking gently over the poorly-maintained highway as it came on. She could make out the sensor bulbs on the cabin beneath the small forest of antenna and receptors that stuck out the top. As it passed she turned her camera to track it and the green-white logo splashed on the side. Old Froth ‘n Slosh, it read around an alabaster bottle, The Pale Never-Stale-Ale with the froth at the bottom. Then it was gone, rumbling away as its electronic brain took it north to Nazzid City.

If we were real bandits we could have gotten drunk for days off that, Private Kobylarz commented.

We’re not, so can it, Kobylarz, Bey said.

Heh. Can it. See, it’s funny because-

Shut up, Private.

For what seemed like the hundredth time D’Voyle put her head back down on the sand. She could hear the platoon’s second rifle squad moving up the dune just southwest of her so for lack of anything else to do she turned her camera on them. The nine of them didn’t look any worse for wear beyond the sand on their boots, and as she peered down at them their boolean team leader, a female whose name she didn’t know, turned and waved. Sticking her hand up over the dune, D’Voyle waved back. That was the extent of the excitement as the squad settled onto their own patch of sand.

With the twenty of them sitting around the empty road she was just wondering if it was possible that they might create a boredom singularity when the call of movement went up again. D’Voyle’s ears perked a little as she checked her fiber-optic camera once again. It was another different one the parade of Arellian vehicles she had seen, this time a small white sedan. Before too long she could see that both of the front seats were occupied, a bearded man in the driver’s seat and a younger man with neatly-trimmed facial hair in the passenger’s. Her grip tightened on her rifle.

Steady, came Schmidt over the comms. Scan performed on the two adult males, no matches. Get ready Bandit Team. Corporal, do you have anything on them?

I am sensing some annoyance from the driver, D’Voyle frowned behind her helmet. It seems to be directed at his passenger, who feels very, um, confident. There is an undercurrent of worry between them though. They seem nervous.

Understood. Any indication of psionics?

No. If they were they might have felt me probing their thoughts, but I do not sense any guardedness or attempts to raise mental blocks.

Understood. Over to you, Bandit Team.

Copy that. Target has entered our kill zone. Engaging grav-trap…now.

The car slowed just as the bike before it had. D’Voyle saw the driver frown and the engine rev as he pressed on the gas, only for his eyes to widen. She felt as much as saw his alarm spike even as his mouth moved soundlessly, ordering something to his passenger as his eyes cut from side to side. The other man’s head was turning wildly from side to side and she saw his hand drop down to his side. The passenger is grabbing something at his waist.

Go! Go, go! Bey jumped over the dune and charged down the slope, her fellow “bandits” scrambling up behind her with their carbines up. Giving up on the car, the driver shoved the door open and climbed out, took one look at the raiders and started to sprint south. As two of them peeled off after the runner the other two made it to the passenger door just in time for the man inside to push his door open and reveal the gun sitting in his lap. The burst of fire rang out across the desert as one of the soldiers threw themselves to the side, hitting the ground prone as the other stumbled against the side of the car. The passenger turned in his seat, stepping out as he lifted his weapon, but the infantryman had turned at the same time and his cybernetics made him faster: one sweep of his arm backhanded the passenger and sent him sprawling onto the road. Then the pair were on him, the shooter’s body obscured by the struggling forms of the disguised soldiers as they restrained him.

D’Voyle glanced over to see a similar situation with the other Arellian. He had made it about ten meters before being tackled onto the concrete, the implant-assisted speed and strength of the troopers making it no contest. Both targets bagged, even over thought-speak it seemed like Bey was panting. Operation successful. Hasan, Aldan, take them over the dune. Kobylarz and I will search the vehicle.

Copy, wilco, D’Voyle could see the soldier she assumed from the bulkiness around her shoulders was Aldan frog-marching the driver across the road while the one who was presumably Hasan hauled the bleeding passenger to his feet to do the same. He had a black eye that was already starting to darken and a cut on his chin, she supposed from having his face slammed into the road. The other two converged on the car. As she watched one of them bent down to pick up the weapon that the passenger had dropped. It flashed in the sun when they turned it over in their hands, examining it.

He had a really nice gun. Hey Specialist, take a look at this.

Keep it on you while you help me check out the car, Bey was already pulling the trunk open. We’ve got weapons in here. Two 15As, couple of power packs. No other contraband in the trunk. Checking the rest of the vehicle.

On the other side of the dune Hasan and Aldan had laid their prisoners prone on the sand, their bound wrists exposed to them. The Twi’lek woman stood back with her carbine cradled while Hasan spoke to them. From what D’Voyle could hear the older man was staying quiet but the younger was sneering at Hasan. I still sense a lot of confidence in the passenger. He’s not really afraid.

I wouldn’t expect him to be, given what he just told me, Hasan came back. The soldier was standing back, eyes fixed on the young man lying on the ground before him. He says he is Wisaba ji-Maald, son of Colonel Tuma ji-Maald, the Sons of Arel commander of the Bumhavar Mountain Regiment. According to him if we release him now his father might be merciful and grant us quick deaths instead of torturing us and murdering our families. He also says that we would be fools to try to run, because there are two dozen Sons warriors headed this way behind him, and if they catch us they will drag us behind their trucks by our entrails.

Then all at once Hasan lifted his carbine and smashed its butt against the other man’s head. He was screaming in Thunasp, but his thought-speech came across in Common as the blows rained down. You psychotic motherfucker! You kill innocent people, terrorize everyone in my city and now you threaten my family?! Fucking eat shit you goat-fucking- He was cut off as Aldan pulled him off Wisaba, both of the soldiers falling into the sand as the other Arellian whimpered and did his best to curl into the fetal position. To D’Voyle he didn’t feel quite so confident anymore.

Private! Get control of yourself, when D’Voyle zoomed in she could see that Aldan was sitting on the man. I appreciate your hatred of these people but we need them alive. I’m sure if you ask nicely 6 will let you beat them later. A few beats passed. Are you good, Private?

Yes ma’am. He’s wearing an earpiece, ma’am. If you let me up I’ll get it.

Aldan stood and Hasan picked up his carbine, brushed the sand off his clothes and leaned back over to Wisaba. The terrorist cringed but all Hasan did was pluck the piece from his ear and hold it up to the sun. He would have communicated the attack already, he said, and stowed the device. Intelligence might be able to make something of it. But right now those Sons think that their commander’s kid just got captured by bandits.

You want to tell him what’s really going on now that he doesn’t have any comms? D’Voyle could hear the smile even in Aldan’s thought-voice.

My pleasure, Hasan turned back to Wisaba. He was speaking in Thunasp but again D’Voyle could hear what he was saying in thought-speak as he translated it for the benefit of the other soldiers. I am not a bandit. I am a soldier of the Xiscapian Imperial Army, 8th Battalion of the 1st Mechanized Regiment, 3rd Division. Which means that you are now in the custody of the Kitsune Empire, as a self-admitted High Value Target. That means you have intelligence value, which means that once we cart you back, you are going to be sent to the deepest, blackest pit we have so your brain can be picked over and we can learn how to kill your scumbag father and every last other traitorous coward with him. So enjoy this time, Wisaba ji-Maald, because after this you will never see daylight again.

D’Voyle could only see half of Wisaba’s face from the way it was pressed into the sand, but from the looks of it all the blood had drained out of it to leave him ashen. She didn’t even need to say what his confidence levels were. Aldan was staring at Hasan. Private, remind me not to get on your bad side.

Copy that, Specialist. Well, I think we got just about all we needed-

Private Hasan! A new voice entered the neural communications, and D’Voyle instantly recognized Mugan’s tone. The rasthan had appeared just behind 2nd Squad, one knee in the sand with Feara just behind her. Private Mugan, 3rd Squad. We need your expertise, Private. We picked up a communications device off a probable enemy scout but it’s all in sand-e- uh, your language, I mean. Can you help us out?

Copy that, Hasan nodded to Aldan and slung his carbine before jogging along the slope. When he came into view Mugan gave a low whistle.

Didn’t even recognize you, Hasan. They really got you into that roleplaying thing, huh? Like a +10 disguise kind of thing going on?

That would be for tabletop roleplay, Feara told her. This is more like LARPing. Sort of.

I don’t remember asking you if you were a fucking nerd, Shalla, but thanks for the update.

What? It’s actually really fun, you should try it some time. I’ve been thinking about trying to get something going with the squad.

Maybe if there’s booze involved. Free booze. By that point Hasan was at their position so Mugan fished into the compartment of her armor and handed the phone over to him. That’s the screen that was up when we took him, she told the man as he inspected it. What’s it say?

Whoever’s on the other end was telling him to make a status report in a quarter of an hour. That was 20 minutes ago. Let me see if they buy it, he started to tap away at the phone. I’m going to tell them that the area around the shipment is clear but I heard gunshots and I’m not sure what happened further down the road. And sent, Hasan lowered the phone.

So that means he was a Son, then?

Hasan nodded. This doesn’t say who he’s communicating with but it’s probably whoever’s in charge of the convoy that’s going to pick up the shipment. Speaking of which, the phone buzzed in his hand and he looked down again. They’re telling me to adjust my position so I can get eyes-on a group of bandits who apparently just captured the Colonel’s son. They want intel on them so they can find their position and get him back. Guess they bought it.

Better get that up to 6 then. Looks like y’all did a real good job over here.

Yup. We got what we came for. A bit more than that, really, D’Voyle could hear the smile in his voice, and as if he knew it the man looked up at her position. Corporal D’Voyle’s yours for the taking. She did a good job too.

I’ll make sure to tell our Sergeant that, Mugan said as D’Voyle gratefully stood and made her way down the slope. The lupine turned to her as she approached, visor giving her the once-over. You ready to Oscar Mike, Corporal?

Yes, I think so. Where is the rest of the squad?

Got sent up to reinforce 1 at the shipment site. Hey Private, Mugan looked to Hasan, the Maxis will probably be rolling through here to the shipment, right? If we stick around you think we could catch a ride?

Probably. It’s not like they won’t have room with 1 and 3 still out there. See if you can’t join up with 2, I’ll get Staff Sergeant Wright on your comms.

As they walked by D’Voyle took another look down at Wisaba. His face was bloody and wet with tears where he lay with his head against the dune. When he saw her looking at him he recoiled away, shifting a little on the sand as if that would help protect him from the power-armored alumina. D’Voyle turned her attention to her helmet’s forward sensors. He would get his. She was just looking forward to getting back to her old unit again.

This particular trough looked completely unremarkable. It was like all the others, a sandy valley between the two sandy mountains that were the dunes to either side, without so much as a stone or a nazzid beetle to distinguish it. But in the middle of it lay the five long, low containers, a golden tan like the ground beneath them and with only a few visible seams. Sergeant Toal gazed down at them from her position a few paces up the northern dune, watching as the troops of 1st and 3rd squads milled around them. Her sensors focused on Staff Sergeant Uta as the vixen stepped up to her.

What do you think, Staff Sergeant? she asked her superior. Weapons?

Probably. That’s what the intel says and I’m inclined to believe it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other bits of tech in there that insurgents would find useful too, sensor scramblers and jammers, scanner arrays of their own, spare parts for their vehicles, anything they can’t buy, steal or scavenge out here. The contents of one of those containers is probably worth more than what this whole platoon makes in a year, Uta shook her head. And there’s five of them just sitting out in the desert.

Toal was still looking at the long crates. If they’ve just been sitting out here the whole time then why wasn’t ICE able to find them when they did their fly-overs? They blend in with the ground so they probably wouldn’t have been able to make them out with the naked eye, but scanners should have been able to pick up on those big masses of metal.

If you turn your own sensors on you’ll see that they’re invisible on most spectra, Uta told her. Flicking through the settings of her armor’s scanners, Toal saw that she was right. Infrared thermographs showed them the same color as the ground, there was nothing incriminating on hyperspectral imaging, and even the chirp of echolocation passed right through. Putting a hand into a compartment of her armor, the woman pulled a handheld scanner free and directed the rectangular block at the containers. Even gamma radiation just passes right through, or that’s what the scanner seems to think. What the hell?

I know, Uta half-turned to look back at the shipment. I didn’t quite believe Staff Sergeant Antipova either when he told me, thought his squad’s scanners might be malfunctioning, so I tested it myself. Seems to me the only reason they’re not completely invisible is because then no one would be able to find them. Never seen anything like it, and I don’t like it. This is way beyond what some Enrustian smuggler should be able to get.

Yeah. You think it’s Exiles?

Has to be. Don’t know who else might have the motivation and the capabilities. Not unless it’s the squids fucking with us, and that doesn’t seem likely to me.

I don’t think it’s the Viprans, Toal sighed. Well, point is it’s in our hands now. Just like some of their other things, judging by the comms traffic. Sounds like the roadside thing worked.

If that HVT is who he says he is it’s worked beyond 6’s wildest dreams. Which is good, it means we get D’Voyle back.

Yeah. It’ll be good to have the full squad again. Toal had been putting her scanner away when she caught sight of the length of beads in the same compartment. Speaking of taking things from the Sons, that reminds me, she lifted the colorful line out to dangle between two fingers. I took this off that foot mobile we killed. Do you know what it is?

For a moment Uta just looked at it. Then she laughed, her mirth transmitting itself through the neural link. That, Sergeant, is a set of Webahaidaiash prayer beads. They’re distributed exclusively by Webahaidaiashi prophet-leaders to the zealous as a sign of their commitment to the will of Capnomana, which basically just means they’ve pledged their lives to following the ‘infallible decrees of the prophet.’ Very old thing, only the really hardcore radicals do it these days.

Toal looked from the beads to Uta. Okay. Why did you laugh when I showed them to you?

Well, for one that means the foot mobile I shot was almost definitely a Son. You wouldn’t catch your average Arellian wearing something like this. And second, well, the extremist types who’d have those believe that if you’re killed by someone of the female sex then your soul won’t be elevated into the afterlife. Almost makes me wish he’d caught sight of me before he died. Not that he could tell with the armor, I guess, but you get what I’m saying.

The Alversian gave her a slow nod. Is that why the platoon is mostly female, do you think? Psychological warfare?

Who knows? Uta shrugged. I do know that most of us kitsune deployed here are Vulpes Sanda because we cope with the heat the best of pretty much anyone, so it’s not too much of a leap. Might just be that someone up along the chain of command has a brain after all.

Among the containers Privates Musashi and Samon walked down the line. I wish we could crack some of these open to see what kind of weapons they’ve got, the former said as they passed one. I hope they did come from the Exiles, I heard they make copies of Setulanite weapons. Love to get my hands on a K2 .50 cal. You think they might have bought weapons from the Huerdaen?

Maybe. Doesn’t matter though, we don’t have any orders to open these, so they’ll stay shut. Be happy with your Feral SAW. Maybe if you ask nicely the Staff Sergeant will let you fire D’Voyle’s DLR.

Fuck that, Musashi shook his head. Energy weapons are gay. You shoot one and it doesn’t even feel like you’ve done shit. If I shoot a gun I want to feel it, you know? And actually be able to take people’s body parts off with it.

You’re a sick kit, you know that Musashi?

You say sick, I say effective and a terror to my enemies.

All Wakazashi units, this is Victor 1, be advised we have 5 Victors entering the AO around the objective, a thought-voice notified them even as the rumble of the incoming Maxis sounded from up the road. Clear a path.

Looks like our ass finally decided to show up, Samon said as he and Musashi stepped up the northern dune. The brown IFVs came into view a moment later, turning off the road and mounting the first dune with ease as their tires gained traction on the sand. The two kitsune watched as the leading vehicle halted at the western edge of the trough while the others took up positions on the perimeter, kicking up sand as they turned to present their hulls forward and the back ramps facing the containers and the troops. With a series of whines and thuds those same ramps hit the sand and the rest of the platoon marched out, lines of sand-colored armor joining their fellows as they reunited for the first time since setting out from Kalahari. Weapons slung, the two tods made their way down the dune.

Among all the hustle and hubbub Second Lieutenant Roberts stepped out of her Maxi to cast an eye over her troops and the shipment they’d secured. Not bad for a bunch of green grunts, she glanced at Platoon Sergeant Yuusuke. Private Hasan told me that between those men we captured getting a report off about bandits and his false reporting on the mobile phone that 3 brought back, the enemy should be rolling into here fast. I think it’s time we set ourselves up an ambush. She couldn’t keep the smile off her muzzle.

Yes ma’am, the tod nodded. From what Private Hasan got out of the prisoners we will have a convoy of six trucks headed our way. It should be relatively simple to destroy them in ambush, which will work to our advantage as it means we will shorten the duration of our mission. Once the enemy is eliminated we should be able to destroy the weapons shipment and RTB to Kalahari. We could be Oscar Mike in under an hour, depending on the timing of the enemy’s arrival.

Roberts turned herself fully to face her subordinate. It sounds like you’re really anxious to get out of Bumhavar, Platoon Sergeant, and I don’t understand it. So far we’ve had contact with the enemy twice, and each time we have defeated him utterly. So I’m not hearing the aggressiveness that I would like and expect to hear from you.

Yuusuke looked up at her, faceplate as impassive as she knew his face beneath it was. With all due respect, ma’am, you don’t know this land or the enemy as well as I do. He is not to be underestimated, especially not on his home ground. And right now we are sitting on two things he very badly wants: his weapons shipment, and the son of one of his commanding officers. If we were attempting to provoke him then that would be one thing, but we do not have the resources or the equipment to give him a sustained fight. So as far as I am concerned, ma’am, once we complete our objectives our goal should be to extract Wakazashi from this AO as quickly as possible.

The seconds ticked by as the drakon looked down at her most senior NCO. At last she nodded. I respect that, Platoon Sergeant. You do know it better than me, and that’s why you’re here. All I can say is that I don’t plan on sticking around out here any longer than I have to. I stand by what I told you earlier at Kalahari: I’m not going to expose this platoon to any more danger than it has to be. But I will complete my objectives to the best of my ability.

Yes ma’am. I am only trying to help you do those things, ma’am.

I understand, Platoon Sergeant. You have never disobeyed or really questioned my orders, and I appreciate that. All I want is for you to have a little faith in me.

He shifted where he stood, tail rising. Yes ma’am. My apologies. I don’t doubt you, ma’am, I just don’t want- he paused. I don’t want to have to rebuild this platoon again. That’s all. Ma’am.

She put a hand on his shoulder. You keep giving me good advice, Platoon Sergeant, and you won’t have to. Now help me arrange this ambush of ours, she lifted her arm to point at the dunes across the road. It seems to me that setting up in defilade along the eastern side of the road should put us in the position to maximize our firepower against the convoy. Two Maxis and the weapons team there can be balanced with the other three Maxis and their rifle squads as a blocking force…

Private Mugan let her fiber-optic camera rest against the crest of the dune as she watched the road below and the greater horizon beyond. Wavy heat came off the dunes as the wind blew sand particles off them, though in her power armor she couldn’t feel any of it. Instead most of what she felt was boredom. It had all seemed pretty exciting when the squads were running to get into position in time with the growls of the Maxis’ engines and calls for ranges to be set, only for the infantry to flop down on their bellies with their heads beneath the tops of the dunes and wait. Even the IFVs were just sitting there, tucked out of sight and idling with their commanders lounging in their gunner copulas.

I wish the Sons would hurry up and get here already so we can kill them, she rested her helmet against the side of her rifle.

Maybe they know we’re here and they’re just trying to kill us with boredom, Feara suggested.

Ha! Little do they know that I am a mechanized infantrywoman of the Imperial Army. I have survived Army presentations, mandatory field guides and guard duty that would kill an ordinary sapient with lack of stimulation. They can’t out-bore me.

A second ago you were bitching about how bored you are, and now you’re saying you’re immune to boredom, Nishi turned her head to look down the line of soldiers in 3rd Squad as her own fiber-optic moved in the opposite direction to compensate. Did you take too many blows to the head in whatever retarded sport you used to play, or were you just born that way?

For your information, Nishi, the sport was wrestling, and I was born perfectly healthy, unlike your runty ass.

I dunno Mug, does it still count as healthy if your birth certificate is a letter of apology from the condom factory?

Empress’s lacy lingerie, will you two just fuck already? Daniels turned her head too, looking past Mugan and Feara to Nishi. Or you three. Whatever.

What? Why am I included in that? Feara turned her head back the other way to look at her Sergeant.

Because I said you were, Private. I don’t even care if you like girls, I just want you three to shut the fuck up already.

Oh come on Sarge, it’s the military, Nishi laughed. Everyone likes girls. And guys. It’s like the most sexualized institution there is, everybody just wants to fuck something to relieve the stress. Doesn’t matter what it is.

And so it comes out. I knew you were a whore, Nishi, the smirk was almost physically present in Mugan’s voice.

I am not a whore, Mug. Whores get paid. Which reminds me, I heard an interesting theory the other day about why Arel is how it is.

Feara’s head turned again. The lack of basic infrastructure, constant warfare, low levels of technological development and weak government, among other factors?

No, it’s a lack of fucking. Have you looked at these people? There’s all kinds of religious and cultural and whatever-the-fuck proscriptions against even looking at another person the wrong way, never mind showing some skin or, Emperor forbid, getting down and dirty with it. It’s all those repressed urges, it’s not healthy. That’s why they’re killing each other all the time. We just need to fuck them into submission.

Gods, could you be more of a walking stereotype, Nishi? Mugan snorted.

So we, uh, rape them? Feara asked.

No, no, not rape, that wouldn’t help anything. More like a, have sex with them until they’re too exhausted to fight, sort of thing.

Well if you want to start hitting on sand-eaters while they shoot at us then be my guest Private, but I thought I told you to shut the fuck up, Daniels turned to look again. I’d ask Sergeant Toal to hit you if I thought it would help.

I could pin her if you want, Sarge, Mugan said.

Maybe later, Private.

The chatter subsided. Arel’s desert was unchanged. Mugan stretched her legs back down the dune and wagged her tail a little. Pretty soon, she figured, they would be done here and go back to Kalahari. A shower sounded nice, and hot food. And I’ll get to collect on that bet I made with Musashi. Yeah, she smiled at the thought. Sounds like a good late-day rest-

We’ve got movement!

The thought-call went across all the units and Mugan stiffened automatically. Getting a tighter grip on her rifle, she lifted her head and focused with her fiber-optic camera. It was barely more than a drifting patch of haze on the horizon, but it was definitely there. She swallowed as her heart began to beat faster. This is it. I’m about to see real combat.

All Wakazashi units, this is 6, hold fire until we get a positive I.D. on the convoy and it enters the kill zone. As confirmations went out from the unit leaders Mugan kept her focus on the slowly expanding dust cloud that was the approaching column of vehicles. As they got closer she could make out more details. They were pickup trucks, all traveling single-file down the road with no attempt at stealth that she could see. Some of them had people in the beds, standing with weapons resting on the roof of the cabins or sitting on the sides with guns cradled.

Hostile identities confirmed, Uta came over the comms. We have 6 Victors, say again, 6 Victors with 24 Sierras, that’s 2-4 Sierras, inbound from the south. Stay frosty and hold fire until they have entered the kill zone. The Maxis will take point, once they open up, we are weapons free. Squad, how copy?

Mugan added her voice to the chorus of affirmatives as the convoy drew ever nearer. There was no sign that any of the men knew that they were driving into a trap. She watched two in the back of the leading vehicle pass a cigarette between them, the tip glowing brightly on IR when she switched to it out of curiosity. 500 meters. 400 meters. 300 meters. The rasthan swallowed.

Kill box entered. Take them.

Her sensors showed it clearly when the Maxellians moved. Two of them surged up and over the opposite dune with twin roars, tires thudding into the sand as their gunners trained their weapons on the convoy. At almost the same time the other three pulled out onto the road, halting in a solid wall of metal across it as their own commanders fixed their machine guns on their targets. Even in the open area the noise of the guns was deafening, but Mugan managed to ignore it as she pushed over the crest of her dune and pointed her rifle down. A solid thunk and her grenade went spiraling down onto the second truck in the line and it vanished in a flash of fire and smoke.

It was over in less than thirty seconds. She saw the front of the first truck crumple and twist as if it was being crushed down by invisible hammer blows, the windows splattered with red before they shattered and an explosion sent it flipping end over end. Tracers whipped through the haze as metal tore and burned. With all the smoke, dust and fire she could barely make out anything with her sensors but that didn’t stop her from shoving another 40mm into her rifle and firing it off into the middle of the convoy. Cease fire, she heard the order from Uta moments later. Cease fire. They’re done.

It took a few moments for the dust to clear, but when it did what was left was unrecognizable. What had once been six trucks with two dozen people in them had become little more than piles of burning wreckage, blackened and holed through from the sheer volume of fire. She couldn’t even see any bodies until her sensors moved to the roadside and found a bloody chunk. It wasn’t even clear what the body part had been, just an undifferentiated mass of red gore. It was charred on the outside, she realized as she stared at it.

They’re done all right. Well-done. The thought made her giggle.

They never even had a chance, did they? Samon was still looking down his scope at the remains of the convoy. Just drove right into it.

I mean, they still collected some weapons, Nishi pulled her rifle back. Mainly 40mms. Mostly it looks like they got ammo though. .50s, 25mms, energy bolts, that kind of thing.

All Wakazashis, this is 6, Roberts’s voice came over the comms. Convoy is completely destroyed. Excellent work. Hold positions for the time being. We should be Oscar Mike soon.

Well, Uta turned back to look at her squad. There’s your first taste of combat. Have to say, I wish they were all that easy.

I got the two in the cabin in the last truck, Musashi was watching the burning trucks too. Two bursts, right across the windshield. I saw the blood splatter.

You did not, Mugan looked over at him. Quit lying.

I ain’t lyin’! I got ‘em. I’ll show you my cam feed when we get back to base. So that’s 2 outta 5.

If you say so.

Kind of felt redundant, honestly, Feara glanced at the opposite hill. I mean, we had the two 25mms trained on them, not to mention the 25mms and the 40mms on the Maxis. Was already kind of overkill for six lightly-armored trucks.

No such thing as overkill, Private, Daniels was lying with her back to the dune, rifle beside her. Just ‘dead’ and ‘not dead enough.’ They’re definitely dead enough though.

I must confess that I never even fired my weapon, D’Voyle looked to Uta. With how fast it was and all the particles and fire- she ducked her head in deference. I apologize, Staff Sergeant. I did not support the squad as I should have.

Don’t worry about it, Corporal, Uta shook her head. One of the first things they teach you is that you only pull the trigger if you have a viable target. No target, no shooting. The ability to have overkill is nice, but so is conserving ammunition. You did fine.

Thank you, Staff Sergeant.

But you wanna know what I think, now that this bitch is over? Daniels turned her head from side to side. Just mark up one more win tally for the good old K-E of X. That’s the Kitsune Empire, in case you missed it when you signed up for the Xiscapian Imperial Army. That’s who’s benefitting here. Not Alversia, or the alumina, or the zillar people, or the rasthan, or wherever the fuck you come from, Feara. We kill off a couple dozen insurgents and grab their shit, and it’s the Empire that’s better for it.

I’d say most Arellians are better off for having them dead too, really, Samon said.

Yeah, sure, whatever. But it’s not really about them, is it? I mean, it sort of is, but only ‘cause they can help benefit the Empire. At the end of the day, Xiscapians just gotta rule, am I right? Basically taking over one galaxy wasn’t enough for them, so they’re over here, fucking up everybody in the Milky Way who looks at them funny. That’s what we’re doing here. For the glory of the Empire, she waved a hand in the air.

Not all kitsune benefit from it, though, Samon said. Even ignoring Sen kitsune or Alversian kitsune or whatever, there’s still-

Didn’t say just kitsune, did I? Daniels shook her head. I said Xiscapian. That’s how they get you, ya know? When we all go home or get out of the service, we get all kinds of nice benefits because it entitles us to being able to call ourselves Xiscapian citizens. You get tax breaks, discounts, better healthcare, priority on all kinds of lists, voting rights, more job opportunities, it’s real nice. This sort of fucking people up for the Empire is in your own self-interest.

Well if you think all of that then why are you even in the Army?

I’m allowed to think whatever I damn well please. That’s part of those sweet benefits, you know, the zillar laughed. But just ‘cause I’m not blind to it doesn’t mean I disagree. I’m fine with it, otherwise I wouldn’t even be here. I like what we’ve got going on. Don’t want to fuck with what they had going on back in what used to be the Zillar Republic, that’s for sure. If the Empire wants to pay me to put the hurt on bastards like this and reward me afterwards, then that’s just fine by me.

If that’s how you want to look at it, Samon slung his SAW. Some of us think otherwise.

And you’re allowed to do that. Just keep that body count up while you do, eh?

In the back of her Maxi Second Lieutenant Roberts watched Private Hasan as he established a connection with Kalahari Base Camp. Platoon Sergeant Yuusuke was waiting by the vehicle’s ramp, rifle cradled in his arms as the kitsune watched the destroyed trucks continue to burn. It had all gone better than she could have hoped, and all she had left to do was report back and clear the site before taking her platoon back to base. Even just imagining an approving look from Major Hitaro made her smile behind her helmet. Now that she had proven herself and her unit capable more assignments would follow, and success would build on success.

Secure connection made with Kalahari, ma’am. We have Katana on the waves.

Thank you, Private. Katana, this is 6, how do you read me?

Wakazashi 6, Katana, five-by-five. Standing by for your sitrep.

Roberts hesitated. The thought-voice wasn’t Hitaro, but his subordinate, First Lieutenant Kaiji. Sir. As reported previously, the primary objective has been secured and is in the custody of Wakazashi. My unit neutralized one hostile foot mobile and captured a scout car and its two occupants, including one who identifies himself as Wisaba ji-Maald, son of Colonel Tuma ji-Maald, the Sons of Arel commander of the Bumhavar Mountain Regiment. Using intelligence gleaned from these sources and a captured communications device, Wakazashi lured in and destroyed an enemy convoy of 6 Victors and 24, 2-4, Sierras. Wakazashi is now standing by for further orders.

Understood, Wakazashi 6. It was Kaiji’s turn to hesitate. Wakazashi 6, your orders are to load the objective and the prisoners onto all Wakazashi Victors so they can RTB.

For a moment Roberts didn’t comprehend what he was saying. Sir, we’re not going to destroy the objective?

Negative, Wakazashi. Greatsword now believes that the objective may contain items that should not be destroyed, including valuable intel and WMDs. Say again, you are to load the objective and prisoners onto your Victors so they can RTB.

But, sir, with the objective loaded my troops won’t be able to mount their Victors. We’ll be stranded out here, sir.

I know, Wakazashi 6, Kaiji sighed, and at those three words Roberts felt herself go cold. The situation here has changed. The actions of Wakazashi, either in securing the objective or the prisoners, or both, has triggered a series of attacks in Nazzid. We have already experienced two bombings, one attempted and one successful, and multiple gun attacks. Greatsword is tied up in attempting to protect Nazzid and its people, but recovery of the objective and prisoners is still considered high-priority. When the Victors arrive and offload they will be dispatched to retrieve Wakazashi. Recommend you prepare defensive positions.

Roberts stared at the wall of the IFV. Sir, request permission to speak with Katana Actual.

Negative, Wakazashi 6, Kaiji hesitated again. Katana Actual is in conference with Greatsword. Believe he is attempting to negotiate support for Wakazashi on your behalf. Will keep you updated. Be advised that fire support is still tasked for Wakazashi but medevac is unavailable.

Understood. Wilco. Out. Turning, Roberts looked at Yuusuke. After a moment he turned to face her. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything, and in the end she didn’t have to.

We’re not RTB, are we, ma’am, he said. It was not a question.

Not Wakazashi. The Victors will be taking back the objective and the prisoners. She just stood there before she turned and slammed her fist against the wall of the Maxi, denting the metal in. Several seconds went by before Roberts could straighten up and inhale. Godlessness. Godlessness damn it.

We need to begin preparations, ma’am.

I know. I just, let me address the troops.

Platoon! All visors were on her where she stood on the Maxi’s ramp, it and the drakon’s natural height making her stand tall despite everything. Her soldiers looked down at her from the dunes and over from their vehicles, straightening as their C.O.’s attention fell on them. For that brief span of time she allowed herself some pleasure in her pride in them, the smallest bubble of warmth rising in her chest. Roberts harnessed it as best she could. Troopers, today we undertook our first solo mission beyond the walls of Nazzid. In the space of a few hours not only have we secured our primary objective, but we have also killed one hostile and captured two others, including what I believe to be a High-Value Target. We also successfully laid and executed an ambush that wiped out an enemy convoy. I am proud of you all, and you should be proud of yourselves. But command is not done with us yet.

She didn’t let herself pause. I have just received orders to transport back our primary objective and our prisoners. This means that we will be required to defend ourselves here on foot until our Maxis return for us. She could tell just by how the soldiers shifted and tilted their helmets that they weren’t taking it well, but no one said anything. From what I have been told the rest of the battalion in Nazzid has been engaged by the enemy among the population there, likely as a result of this platoon’s successes. Yes, that does mean that we won’t be able to rely on their support. However, the drakon looked around at each squad, that also means that we have managed to piss off the enemy in this region so much that he is now opening a wide-scale engagement against Imperial forces. We have had an outsized effect on him and he is lashing out because of it, and with such broad anger, he will make mistakes. We can exploit those mistakes. So as we prepare defensive positions, keep that in mind, and above all, stay frosty. Now get moving, troopers. All our lives depend on what happens in these next few hours.

She turned away to find Private Hasan waiting just behind her. Ma’am, Katana on the waves for you again.

Roberts patched in. Katana, this is Wakazashi 6, reporting.

Wakazashi 6, Katana, it was Kaiji’s voice again. Wakazashi 6, Katana Actual has secured permission from Greatsword for you to retain your attached FSV as long as you can still transport the full objective and prisoners in the remaining Victors. Fire support remains tasked on you.

Understood, Katana. My regards to Katana Actual. Out. Finding Specialist Aldan, Roberts pointed to her. Specialist, get me Platoon Sergeant Coalst. The Twi’lek gave her a quick bow before jogging off, only for her to be replaced by Platoon Sergeant Yuusuke.

Ma’am, 3 is requesting permission to have her unit and all other available units proceed to the site of the destroyed convoy. She believes that the chassis and scrap metal there may be useful in constructing a defensive position.

That’s a good idea. Inform the Staff Sergeant that all squads will assist her in inspecting the site for useful materials. See to it, Platoon Sergeant, Roberts nodded to him and he bowed back and was gone. In the next moment he was replaced by Platoon Sergeant Coalst, the senior NCO of the platoon’s IFVs, with a group of other soldiers behind him who Roberts recognized as the other three vehicle commanders. The Karaigan bowed before looking up at his superior with his carbine slung, waiting expectantly.

Platoon Sergeant. Tell me about our situation with regards to the vehicles and mounting up the shipment and prisoners.

Ma’am, technically I shouldn’t be able to transport all five containers with anything less than five Maxellians. They’re extremely dense and heavy and by my estimates just one will take up all of the cabin space length and width-wise. However, for you to keep the FSV I can overload one of my Maxis beyond what it’s supposed to be able to carry, it will reduce performance in terms of acceleration and speed but it should still operate within acceptable limits. Thank the gods for Setulanite engineering, it’s almost as good as Karaigan. There’s one issue though.

He glanced back at his assembled vehicle commanders before continuing. The prisoners. I don’t like putting any of them in the same cabin as a container full of weapons, but it’s not something I can control. What I can control is not putting the two of them in the same vehicle so there’s no chance they’ll be able to work together to get at any of those weapons. So they’ll be in separate vehicles. They’ll each need a guard, which would be each vehicle commander, but all of my vehicle commanders have expressed a desire to remain here and help the platoon. They’re of the mind that our drivers can handle getting back to Nazzid safely, and they’ll do more good out here than sitting in their turrets with nothing to shoot at.

Roberts looked at the vehicle commanders, an Archian woman and two vixens. Two vehicle commanders will have to go with the Maxis, and two can remain behind. I’ll let you make the decision as to who stays and who goes, Platoon Sergeant. You know your commanders better than I do.

Ma’am, Coalst nodded to her and turned back to the trio. Sergeant Mikiko, Sergeant Brown, offload supplies from your Victors and get ready to dig in with the platoon. Sergeant Norie, you’ll be with me.

Sir, Norie stepped forward. With how this trooper sees it, sir, only one of the prisoners is considered an HVT. The other is just a driver, if he were in the Imperial Army he would be the lowest enlisted rank, and probably not of any intelligence value. If he could be eliminated then we could overload two Maxis and have another one free to take part in the platoon’s defense. That seems to be the most effective solution to this trooper, sir.

Coalst regarded the vixen for several seconds before glancing over at his superior. Your call, ma’am.

It gave Roberts pause. The armor and firepower of a second Maxellian couldn’t be taken for granted, it could mean the difference between lives saved and lives lost –or the fight she was sure was coming won or lost. But the she-drake shook her head. Negative. I have my orders to send back both prisoners, Sergeant. I will not violate them for the convenience of my unit.

Ma’am, under Imperial law the driver is an unlawful combatant and is not protected by statutes regarding-

I said no and I mean no, Sergeant! Roberts stepped forward, looming over the smaller sapient. I will not execute prisoners, I am not- she caught herself. That is not how I operate. Period. You will follow my orders and those of your Platoon Sergeant, am I well understood, Sergeant?

Norie stiffened. Ma’am, yes ma’am.

Good, Roberts exhaled. Proceed as directed. That’s all, Platoon Sergeant.

Yes ma’am. The Maxis should be Oscar Mike in five. Travel time between here and Nazzid and back is supposed to be over two hours but I’ll do my best to shorten that up.

I appreciate it, Staff Sergeant, she nodded to him as he bowed and strode away with Norie in tow. Roberts watched the vixen’s back for several seconds before she realized that Platoon Sergeant Yuusuke was standing by the Maxellian. Hoping her armor concealed how she jerked in surprise, she turned to him. I’m not sure how much of that you caught, Platoon Sergeant. But I won’t broker any disagreement on it.

I respect your conviction, ma’am, was all he said. Ma’am, from what the troopers are seeing at the convoy site most of it is salvageable for use in making firing positions. I also sent two troopers from 2 north up the road to secure the Arellian sedan we captured, we can use it as part of the firing positions and Sergeant Kandar informed me that if he empties its gas tank and uses the bottles that the vehicle crews were keeping on the Maxis he can make at least 50 petrol bombs. However, we still have yet to choose a defensive position. Are we going to make our stand here, ma’am?

Roberts consulted her HUD map of the area. It was identical to the map that Major Hitaro had showed her at Kalahari, the single highway cutting through a sea of sandy dunes. There was nothing else but the distant mountain range and the rocky outcroppings. What about the outcroppings in the west, around where 3 engaged that scout? Setting up there would let us elevate our sharpshooters and weapons teams if we can put them on top of the outcroppings.

May not be a good idea, ma’am. From what I’ve seen of the outcroppings they might be decent cover in a firefight but one solid explosive hit would bring one down.

She gazed at her map. Really? Do we have any explosives, Platoon Sergeant?

We do, ma’am. Why?

If we set up a controlled demolition and bring down one of the outcroppings we can use the smaller boulders along with the convoy scrap to help set up our defensive position. Lining two dune crests and the perimeter of the slacks with large rocks and metal pieces will give us all-around defense and allow the platoon to occupy two elevated positions with a protected valley between them. It’ll be a lot of work, but if the Sons are going to come down from the mountains like I think they will we’ll need every advantage we can get. You agree? Good. Let’s get moving, Platoon Sergeant. I’m not going to let those bastards grind me down.
Xis quote of the week: Altaria Almighty: how are you not just a race of sexual predators? Like who needs power armour and gauss rifles when you have leather and whips. –Karaig
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Postby Xiscapia » Fri May 20, 2016 3:46 pm


[ Mature ]

It was as if the planet itself knew what was coming, Nishi thought as she squinted down the scope of her rifle. The sky had taken on a reddish tint as the sun sank through the sky, casting long, dark shadows through the scarlet light on the sands. There was no doubt as to why: the horizon had vanished behind a mass of roiling brown occasionally lit from within by jagged fingers of white lightning, as if the oncoming storm concealed some skeletal desert god within its depths. It would have been beautiful to watch if she didn’t know that soon she was going to be fighting in the middle of it. The arm of the soldier next to her bumped the vixen and she glanced over.

Pretty metal, right? Mugan’s tail wagged.

Make a great album cover, she nodded. All that sand is gonna be a bitch to get out of my armor compartments though.

That’s what you’re worried about? Sand in your armor? What about all the insurgents coming to kill us?

No point in worrying about it. If I die then I guess I die. If I live, though, I’m gonna have sand in my fucking armor. And it’ll be their fault. Assholes.

You never cease to amaze me, Nishi, Mugan shook her head. I’d say our chances of living are pretty good though. We made a pretty decent defensive position given what we had to work with.

Nishi allowed herself the luxury of examining the same through her cameras. The platoon was spread out across two dunes, with each crest lined with boulders and stone piles of various sizes, occasionally broken by the tilted husk of one of the convoy trucks or a stack of scrap metal. It was the same down each side where the improvised defenses met at the slack on either side, with the white sedan tipped onto its side forming the center of the western one. Just below the top of the southern-facing hill the platoon’s single Maxellian sat with its engine off, 25mm cannon already rotated to point out when the time came for it to move up. Spare boxes of ammunition, grenades, the petrol bombs that Kandar had made and medical supplies sat in the center of it all, though no one was with them at the moment.

Most of the platoon was up against the southern barricade since it was the highest point under their control that was closest to the enemy. Aside from the Maxellian both of the 25mm cannons of the weapons squad were set up behind the tilted beds of the burned-out trucks with their long barrels poking through the holes that had been ripped through the metal to crate firing ports. Two of the rifle squads, including Nishi’s 3rd and the 1st, were hunkered down behind their makeshift cover, with the two fire teams of 2nd squad positioned on the eastern and western sides respectively and the two vehicle commanders Brown and Mikiko acting as sentries on the northern rear to warn of flanking attacks. In spite of it all when the platoon was dismounted and together it was obvious just how few of them there were. Nishi had counted: including the fire support team and the vehicle commanders, they had 44 soldiers to hold the pair of dunes.

I hope so, she said finally, and turned back to eyeing the approaching storm. Staff Sergeant says that they’ll hit us when the storm does, try to use it as cover for their attack.

Smart. That’s what I’d do.

Yeah, because your defining attribute is ‘smart’, isn’t it Mug?

Hey, if I said I’d do it and it’s smart then that means- she broke off and nudged Nishi again. Look right, down the line. Sergeant Kandar and Staff Sergeant Onpu look like they’re talking.

Nishi focused on her cameras that were pointing right. It did look that way, the escan Forward Observer of the platoon kneeling by where the vixen Fire Support Observer was crouching behind a boulder, both of their fiber-optics extended around the side. Looks like we’re about to see a bunch of shit get blown up. Nishi switched her focus back to the front even as Onpu got up and, moving low, ducked into the back of the Maxellian. Watch the front of the storm.

When the rockets came in they seemed weirdly soundless at first. Dozens of yellow-white streaks of light blazed out of the sky and impacted just ahead of the dust storm, throwing up their own enormous clouds of sand and dust to obscure the storm itself. She could actually see the explosions rising up out of the top of the maelstrom where the missiles landed inside, as if the artillery had been called in to destroy the dust storm itself. It was only then that the sound reached her, the rumble rolling across the dunes as the ground trembled and the scrap metal creaked and the thunder tore the sky. Nishi focused her fiber-optics but she couldn’t make anything out except dust and lightning.

Think that got any of them? Mugan asked.

If there were any there then I don’t think they survived the experience, Nishi told her as she consulted her sensors for the distance. That was about 2 klicks out, right on the cusp of danger close for rocket artillery. Anything that gets between us and that point is going to be something we have to kill ourselves, unless we get real desperate.

If they manage to get too close then they’re gonna be the ones that get desperate. Right Feara?

I’ve got your back, Mug, the woman told her.

Hey, I think I see something, the thought-voice came from further up the line as Samon focused his fiber-optic camera. Looks like there’s some trucks keeping pace with the storm front. They keep poking out and dipping back in. I count 5, no, 6 Sierra Victors, about 1,800 meters out. They’re coming fast.

Hold fire, Uta was kneeling with her rifle poking between a pair of boulders. 6 has not given the order to engage.

But Staff Sergeant, they just entered effective range.

And we’re facing a force of unknown size with a limited supply of ammunition, Private. We wait until they’re closer, and we make every shot count.

Yes ma’am.

Even as the others spoke Nishi could see the vehicles too. The trucks would accelerate out of the dust cloud, edging one way or the other as they cleared dune crests or drove through slacks before falling back behind the shroud. Some of them had blaster turrets set up in the back with a couple of crew but most seemed to be packed with men with bandannas and headscarves wrapped around their heads and clutching rifles. Say what you want about the Sons, she said as she watched one of the trucks bounce over a dune, but attacking a fortified position out of open-backed trucks in the middle of a dust storm? They’ve got guts.

Yeah. Guts that we’re gonna litter these dunes with.

Never change, Mug.

All Wakazashis, this is 6, Roberts’s thought-voice came over their links. The enemy is approaching the 1 klick mark. On my command you will be weapons free, fire at will. Hold. Hold…

Nishi swallowed and tightened her grip on her rifle as she looked down the scope. One truck had pulled ahead of the dust storm, the gunner on the back turning his turret as he sought targets, and the vixen fixed her sights on him. 1.5. 1.4. Her Feral tracked the man smoothly as the truck came on. She wondered if he could see her. 1.3. 1.2. Her heart was pounding again as she laid her finger on the trigger. 1.1. Less than fifty meters.
They entered range.

Now, weapons free, fire at will!

The entire line opened up all at once, but apart from the thundering of the cannons and guns around her Nishi only knew what was at the end of her own scope. She pulled the trigger and just watched as the burst went low to tear through the truck’s armored viewport and blew open the chest of the passenger to splatter the cabin with gore. She was never sure if it was that, another shot hitting or something else but the truck swerved sharply, tires kicking up sand as it drifted sideways down the dune before tilting and finally flipping through the air to smash upside down into the dust. Pulling back, she saw other trucks stopping in their tracks as they were riddled with bullets or already sitting as little more than burning wreckage on the dunes. At the crest of one a pickup had stopped, cabin crushed inwards from the force of the Maxellian’s cannon, and even as the men in back jumped off the 25mm tore into them, making fighters vanish in bursts of red mist as it raked across them.

Scout bike, two o’clock, 600 meters, D’Voyle called. Engaging. As the alumina lined up her shot Nishi caught sight of the target she was talking about. The driver was leaning low over his vehicle as he skimmed the very front of the storm, barely keeping ahead of the dust cloud while his passenger behind him pointed field glasses at the platoon’s position. They made it to the twelve o’clock before the spotter slumped and toppled off the back of the bike, body rolling behind a dune before the bike juked hard and vanished into the storm.

Switch to thermals, Uta called, and Nishi did so with a thought. The world changed to contrasting blues, yellows and reds, the storm fading from view and the landscape opening up before her in cool azure only for it to be populated with dozens of yellow and red objects. Apart from the already-burning vehicles and bodies on the ground there were masses of trucks with more men coming over the dunes. The vixen gulped as her scanners automatically tagged the incoming hostiles. Beside her Mugan had stopped firing to stare.

Gods, there’s hundreds of them!

Stay frosty, Mug, Nishi fired off another burst at a closing truck and had the satisfaction of watching as yellow-red bits of the front went spiraling off from her fire, making it turn hard. After a few meters it stopped sharply, the momentum making the men in the bed sway and stumble, and she adjusted her range. Mug, truck with 8 Sierras, five hundred meters, twelve o’clock! Tracers spat out from Mugan’s rifle as she engaged and Nishi joined her, fire peppering the side of the truck and sending more chunks flying from both it and the men as they leaped over, some of them dead before they hit the ground. The side door opened and she fired through the cabin to watch in satisfaction as the dismembered body of the passenger dropped out coated in red.

Think about four of them managed to get down behind the dune, they’re using the truck as cover, Mugan reported.

Don’t worry about them now, we’ve got another truck at eleven o’clock.

With his SAW stabilized on a piece of scrap metal Samon swept his fire along another truck as it barreled directly at the line. Men collapsed or crumpled off the back of the truck before it turned to face him head-on, only for Toal to let off a burst of her own from beside him. The vehicle visibly trembled before slamming into the slope of a dune, its back end rearing up before a flash of fire engulfed it as the gas tank ignited. Insurgents made bright red on thermal vision jumped off and sprinted away or dropped to the ground, red streaking around them as screaming men writhed and burned. A few shots later and they were silenced, but more trucks had moved up a hundred meters.

The cannons on the Maxi and with the weapons team kept firing but for every truck they destroyed two more seemed to take its place. Sergeant, they’re coming faster than we can kill them, he told Toal as he surveyed the battlefield. It was already littered with burning metal and broken bodies, but the enemy was only a few hundred meters away and they were finally starting to return fire accurately. He had to duck down and let his fiber-optic camera do the looking for him as blaster bolts whipped over his cover. What do we do?

We just have to keep at it, Toal swapped out her magazine without taking her eyes off the dunes, uncaring for the bolts that flew by her shoulders. And hope they run out of bodies before we run out of bullets.

Yeah, he braced his machine gun again. Gemma, if we don’t make it out of this I just want you to know-

I know, Sam, now if you want to write me a love song then do it with your SAW!

He had to smile. Yes ma’am!

On her belly beside one of the scrapped trucks D’Voyle ran her sights across the dunes. The Sons were close enough that they had started hunkering down behind their own dunes to exchange fire with the platoon, yellow figures popping up to fire red bolts before ducking back down again. One smacked into the sand right in front of her, turning the patch scarlet as it instantly fused into glass, but she didn’t so much as twitch as she found the shooter. He was using a burning truck as cover, shooting through the flames so they kept him off her thermals. She centered her reticle on the position where the shots were coming from, waited until another flew over her head, and pulled the trigger.

She never saw the insurgent fall, but the fire stopped so she swung along the same dune in search of more targets. Before she could set her sights on another man she felt Uta’s voice enter her head. Corporal, we have what look to be an AT team at two o’clock, two hundred meters. I’ve already ordered Musashi to lay down suppressive on it, so between his bursts you need to engage and destroy those foot mobile. I do not want us to lose our only Maxi.

Yes ma’am, she followed the directions to find sand being glassed and promptly kicked up and shattered by Musashi’s energy-sheathed rounds along the dune. It seemed that there were more insurgents behind it since as the stream of bullets riddled from left to right a pair of gunmen popped up with rifles raised at the other end. Before she could even point her DLR at them the tod’s fire cut back over and one man’s leg vanished in an explosion of gore to send him tumbling down the slope while the other took a shot directly to the chest and fell back in a spray of red. Doing her best to ignore him crowing about how he’d already killed double the number of men he’d needed, she focused as one head lifted above the dune. A reflexive shot flew by it and it vanished; she’d missed by inches.

The alumina was too disciplined to swear, but she got her next shot a couple of seconds later as another men laid his rifle against the crest and sent a burst at her. Unflinching at the inaccurate fire, she locked her sights on his head, pulled the trigger, and had the satisfaction of watching him jerk and fall prone against the slope. Was not the anti-tank threat though, she frowned behind her helmet. The riflemen are just distractions. The team must have moved.

She cast out with her psionics. The initial feeling was almost overwhelming, a nauseating miasma of fear, anger, pain, and death flooding her mind, but she forced her way past all of the raging emotions and feelings to the people behind them. Surface thoughts and images flashed through her mind, of charred bodies, women’s faces and scenes of paradise, until she found the flitting notion of a burning Maxellian. Honing in on that, she scanned with her rifle and zeroed in on the source even as the man edged out from the far side of a dune with a rocket launcher on his shoulder. Inhaling, she lashed out with her telekinesis and just barely caught sight of the weapon’s barrel being forced down to point at the ground and the briefest feeling of surprise before the insurgent and the better part of the dune vanished in a flash of fire.

Got him- before she could even complete the thought searing pain stabbed through her from head to core. Jerking, D’Voyle’s hands dropped to grip hard into the sand as her tail lashed and her entire body writhed, kicking up sand as she fought to keep herself from screaming. It twisted like a knife in her belly and then she did cry out, the agonized noise ripping its way out of her vox as her brain and belly were linked by a trail of fire. Her back arched and her eyes squeezed shut as the other presence forced its way into her mind, ripping away her defenses like only so many child’s blocks. She knew it intimately in seconds, more intimately than she had ever wanted to, and as she clenched her jaw and ground her teeth to keep from screaming the feline knew only knew one singular, overriding thing:
It hated her, and it wanted her to suffer before she died.

This is not even a thousandth of the torment that you will feel when Capnomana swallows your heart, the voice came inside her head, not from her squad or any other Xiscapian. Yet I offer your pain to Him as my blood offering all the same. Capnomana! Hear your servant! Capomana! Feast upon the suffering of your foes! Capnomana! Destroy this heathen outsider, and make me an instrument of your justice by your will!

D’Voyle couldn’t have responded even if she’d wanted to. The other presence was too great, filling her mind with its awful voice and sending another seizing shudder through her to make her twist on the sand. She was only distantly aware of the shape of another soldier above her, hands turning her over to let her face the browned-out sky as a visor stared down at her. Then it retracted and folded back as they put a hand to their forehead, palm shielding Uta’s blazing orange eyes from the sand as she leaned in close to the sharpshooter. Past the chanting of the other, the howl of the storm and the roar of weapons fire she could just barely hear the vixen.

“D’Voyle! What is your status? Tell me what is happening!”

“I-I,” she stuttered, head turning against the sand as she forced the words out. “Psion. Enemy. Inside me-“ D’Voyle groaned and closed her eyes again as the fire burned through her chest, arms and legs stiff. It was that or curl up in the fetal position. “Please, Uta, please help me. Please. Cannot get out. Cannot feel link. Hurts.”

“Enisha,” the kitsune took her helmeted head in both hands, uncaring for the sand that beat against her fur. “You are going to be okay. Listen to me! You are going to be okay,” D’Voyle nodded groggily. “But I need you to tell me where the scut is. If you can’t give me that information then we can’t take him out. Where is he?”

“I,” D’Voyle swallowed hard and shut her eyes again. She knew the man screaming for apocalypse inside of her head, she could feel all of his hot, cruel rage where it stabbed into her very essence from across the field. Hands were pulling her up and she opened her eyes to scan the field again, blinking rapidly to get rid of the tears as she tried to pinpoint the Son. “T-there. Behind dune. O-one o’clock, 200.” She collapsed, and even as Uta pulled her back the shards of burning loathing pressed in from all over.

“Hold on, Enisha,” Uta kept low beside the incapacitated sharpshooter as her fiber-optic camera scanned the small dune that the alumina had pointed out. All Imperial soldiers had implants to null psionic influence, D’Voyle included, but Uta knew that since hers had been switched off for her to use her psionics it had to mean that the enemy psychic was keeping her from turning it back on again. Every so often a head or two would poke over or around the dune before receding back almost as quickly, but there was no fire coming from the point. He’s just sitting back there and raping her psionically, he doesn’t even need to show himself. Forcing herself to stay calm, the vixen stared at the dune.

Her first thoughts were of explosives. A rocket artillery strike at such close range would be suicidal and with a steep incline at 200 meters arcing a grenade against the wind… That might just work. With her strength well outsized for her body by cybernetics and multiplied further by her power armor it wasn’t impossible. Difficult and, she realized as she examined the area, she’d have to stand up exposed to fire to get the range she wanted, but outside of jumping out of the platoon’s prepared position and trying to get close to the psion she could see no other way. A glance at the writhing, moaning alumina convinced her.

Squad, she unhooked a fragmentation grenade from her belt and sat up into a kneeling position behind her cover. I need suppressive fire on the following points, Uta highlighted them on the HUD even as she set the little bomb’s timer. Affirmatives followed. She could tell they were curious, apprehensive, afraid for her even, but there was no time to explain. On my mark. Her own heart was pounding and her tail swished over the sand. Now! Suppressive fire!

Samon and Musashi’s SAWs opened up along with shorter bursts of fire from the rest of the squad and Uta got to her feet. Frag out! Winding her arm back, she tilted her visor up at the roiling brown and chucked the grenade as hard as she could. Before she could tell how it landed something slammed into her right shoulder and she spun once before hitting the ground hard. The worst pain she’d ever felt shot through her arm, only for it to go numb seconds later as her implants released painkillers and she blinked the tears from her eyes. She was lying on her back but when she went to sit up her right arm refused to move from where it was sprawled on the sand, only her left responding as she pushed herself up and turned to look at the charred spot on the shoulder of her armor. Figuring that her arm still being attached was a good sign, she saw D’Voyle sit up and turn to her, rifle in hand.

Uta! You are hurt. I will call a medic.

I’m still alive so it’s not so bad, she looked at her sharpshooter. How are you feeling, Enisha?

Better, she could almost see the alumina squirm. Thank you, but what did you do? Ma’am?

I sent that psion a gift from the Emperor.

D’Voyle nodded. Thank you, ma’am, but you did not need to do that, not at the cost of being wounded. I would rather be incapacitated than have you be incapacitated.

This? Uta glanced at her useless arm. This is nothing. Right Specialist? she asked as Aldan came running over to kneel beside her. Besides, the squad needs its sharpshooter. And I wasn’t going to let that scut fuck with you like that, not on my watch. Now get back up there, you’re going to have to kill twice as many of them to make up for it.

Yes ma’am! Scrambling up, D’Voyle hoisted her rifle and took a few steps before slowing. You will be alright, Uta?

Don’t worry about me, worry about keeping the enemy back, Uta shifted where she sat as Aldan scanned her shoulders. But yes, Enisha, I’ll be fine. Now, Corporal, get back up there. The alumina ran off and Uta watched her go. After a moment she turned to the Twi’lek medic.

Can we make this quick? I have terrorists to murder.

You have a dislocated shoulder, Staff Sergeant, but it should be relatively simple to fix. I just need to perform a reduction and make sure there’s no fractures. Your implants should take care of the rest. Now hold still.

A three-shot burst that glassed sand and sent grains flying convinced the exposed head to withdraw even as rifles popped up around the space to blind-fire over the dune. And stay down, Daniels grunted, ignoring the blaster bolts that streaked over her own head. The zillar pulled back behind her rocky cover to check herself: only one magazine left. Damn. Private Feara, her sensors found the woman kneeling between her and Mugan. I’ve nearly exhausted my ammo reserves and if the rest of the fire team has been shooting as much as I have then so have they. Run down to the dump and bring back as many magazines as you can carry.

Yes ma’am, the human pushed off from her boulder and jogged down the slope. Daniels watched her for a moment on her cameras before turning her attention back to the line. They were holding the Sons off and with heavy casualties to the insurgents judging by how many corpses were sprawled across the dunes, but the sandstorm hadn’t let up and the front line had been weakened: more Sons hitting the flanks of the platoon’s position had forced Roberts to peel 1st Squad away to reinforce the eastern flank while one of the 25mm cannons had also been moved back to the western flank to chew into the trucks that were trying to drop infantry into the next slack over. Sooner or later they were going to attack the rear as well, and the platoon would have to spread thin to counter pressure from all sides. The saving grace was that the sandstorm seemed to be interfering with the Sons’ accuracy more than it was that of the Imperials, and they had all the ammunition they could want.

Feara confirmed it. The woman knelt down in the sand with an entire box of fresh magazines, on top of a box of grenades, on top of a box of petrol bombs. I have more in my armor compartments, ma’am, she told the zillar sergeant as she put her load down. Already distributed most of it to the rest of the squad. Hope this is enough, ma’am.

Outstanding, Private. Fucking outstanding, Daniels leaned around her rock, leveled her gun at one of the men who had propped his own rifle up on the dune, and was rewarded for her trigger squeeze by the sight of his head vanishing in a cloud of red. As long as these bastards have bodies for us we should have bullets and bombs for them. Yet even as she said it she could hear the fire intensifying from the other side, the signature shriek of the rifles coming fast as the bolts glassed the front of the dune. What the hell is going on out there? She poked her fiber-optic camera around.

Hostile armor! 500 meters, twelve o’clock! She saw it at the same time as the call went out. The TX-130 had just hovered to a stop atop a dune, the hovertank’s “pinchers” pointing directly at the platoon’s position as it oriented its pair of main guns. Daniels felt as much as heard the Maxellian’s engine rev before it backed down the slope in a burst of sand, just avoiding the twin blasts that flew over it and slammed into a distant slope. Cheers went up from the insurgents and she could see them jumping over the crests of dunes and running forward as the rapid-fire blaster cannon atop the tank opened up and sprayed the front line with fire.

Where did they get a tank?! Feara couldn’t even seem to bear to stick her fiber-optic out.

Scavenged Republica stuff, like everything else. Son of a bitch, she forced herself to duck back out and find a target. Even when she raised her rifle and gunned down a charging man to make him roll down the dune she tried not to think about how there was nothing between her and the tank’s awesome firepower. Private! she pulled back in to see Feara still crouched behind cover. You need to keep up your fire or we are going to be overrun! Kill some sand-eaters! Taking her by the arm, she pulled the human up. Pick a target and destroy him!

She let off a burst and Daniels did too, lancing her controlled fire into the Sons as they scrambled down the slope. The trough between dunes was starting to fill up with corpses so she yanked a grenade off her belt, primed it and tossed it down. Frag out, get down, she said, taking her own advice and dropping down. With a bellow the tank fired again and the entire dune shuddered as its bolts impacted. We need AT up here! Daniels called, only to stop as she saw Musashi at the top of the dune.

His SAW was slung across his back in favor of the missile launcher in his arms, but he didn’t so much as kneel down. The tod stood unmoving at the top of the slope as the rest of the squad hunkered down all around him, not even seeming to notice the bolts flying through the air past his exposed body or smacking into cover. That’s awesome, she heard his thought-voice say, broadcast across the comms and yet more to himself than anyone else. Another shrieking blast and a boulder on top of the line burst into red-hot fragments that showered the troopers. Musashi didn’t even flinch.

Musashi! Get the fuck down, you crazy motherfucker! Daniels would have dragged him down herself if she hadn’t thought she’d get shot in the process.

No, no, almost got it. She could just hear the whine of the launcher acquiring its target past the chaos of battle. Yes, yes, go! With a sharp hiss the missile burst from its tube and shot up into the air, vanishing into the sandstorm even as Musashi finally dropped; at first Daniels thought he’d been hit, but he was only adjusting to get a better view from cover with his fiber-optic camera. When she looked the TX-130 was moving, the commander shifting to one side as he sensed the danger, but it was already too late. The missile streaked down from the sky almost too quickly for her to see and impacted right on top of the tank, making it vanish in a fireball that sent debris out in every direction before the burning wreckage began to slide haplessly down the slope to the thought-voice cheers of the Imperial troops.

Fuck yeah! That was so fucking cool! Musashi turned his head from side to side, as if anyone had missed the display.

Private, it was Uta’s thought-voice over the comms, if you ever do something that fucking stupid again I will break off your tail and shove it down your throat. You just got extremely lucky.

That being said, good job, Daniels put in.

Yes, good job. You’ll probably get some kind of award, assuming we make it out of this.

Armor left! Armor le- the new call that went up was cut off almost as quickly as it came. Daniels looked to her sensors in time to see the new threat as it stomped up to the western flank, already less than a hundred meters from the line and closing fast. Unlike the TX-130 the AT-PT was sand-colored but it was close enough for her to see all the details clearly on the squat 4-meter tall walker. Its forward cannons were aimed low at the combined fire team and cannon team, but it was the vehicle’s underslung launcher that spat out grenades among them. She could only watch as nine of her friends and comrades twisted and dropped or were flung away by the force of the blasts. An armored segment of one of the soldiers hit the ground and she realized with a sick lurch that it was someone’s tail.

The walker’s head was lifting even as it plodded forward, sights set on the rest of the platoon inside the perimeter. Daniels didn’t think, she just acted. Lurching forward, she raised her rifle, slotted a grenade in and fired. The thump of the weapon firing was drowned out by the explosion of the grenade’s impact on the front of the AT-PT, making it stagger and its fire go wide as the operator struggled to compensate for the attack before it took another step forward and the head swung around. It looked directly at her.

This is it. This is how I die. Daniels had seen more war on more worlds than she cared to remember, but she had never thought it would come quite so finally as the anti-personnel cannon that was locked onto her. She stared at the weapon, but all she could see was Zuraki’s smiling face. He would get an Imperial officer showing up at their home on Inritus, regretting to inform him of her death in combat. They would say that she had died a hero, but ultimately it was only a number, insignificant compared to the vastness of the Empire. It made her want to laugh and cry at the same time, but in face of the cannon, Daniels smiled.

When the stuttering burst came she flinched, but as the walker’s blaster cannon disappeared in a burst of shrapnel and fire stitched its way down the housing she realized that the Maxellian behind her was firing. It was the most beautiful sound she’d ever heard. Even as she watched the 25mm cannon found the AT-PT’s right leg joint and that exploded apart as well, sending the entire thing crashing onto its side on the dune. Then yellow shapes started to appear from behind it and her smile dropped as she realized that there was a flood of infantry behind it.
Raising her rifle, Daniels began firing again.

Sand-eaters in the wire! Sand-eaters in the wire!

Wakazashi, secure that position! Uta called over the comms and Nishi scrambled down the slope, leaving the front to the Maxellian and the other cannon team as Sons rushed the western gap. A shot rang out from just behind her to hit one of the men in the chest as he came on and the next thing the vixen knew she was lying on her back and staring up into the haze. This seemed like the sort of thing she might see if she were dying, and as she lay there she realized that she was afraid to find out if she was or not. Taking a breath, she checked her medical cybernetics but even when they reported nothing wrong she ran her hands over her body anyway just to make sure. Satisfied, she went to stand when her vision was eclipsed from above.

The man stared at her for a second, head wrapped in cloth and even his eyes obscured by a pair of sunglasses, and she stared back. She had never been so close to the enemy before. Then he dropped on top of her and only her own reflexes saved her as she caught the wrist holding the knife he had plunged to her chest. Nishi pushed but it inched down all the same, the quivering point bowing hungrily to her breast. Fuck, he’s augmented!

She was growling at him when his head burst apart and blood splattered her visor before the knife clattered onto her chest and his weight dropped on top of her. Starting, Nishi wiped the blood away before shoving the Son’s decapitated corpse off of her only to see Mugan standing over her, rifle at the ready. You’re welcome, she told her, and grabbed the vixen’s hand to yank her to her feet. She’d only just stood up when the rasthan was torn away, collapsing onto the ground with a smoking hole in her back. Just beyond her another man swung his blaster around.

Nishi locked her on barrel on his and squeezed the trigger, once, twice, three times. The snarl on her face felt right as her rounds blasted holes through him from pelvis to neck, blood steaming from the insurgent even as he crumpled back onto the sand. Past him the rest of the squad was up among the wounded, firing down past the downed walker, and even as she watched she realized that Roberts herself and two others were running to them with their own weapons out. Normally she would have stared, but Nishi only gave them a second’s consideration before turning back and dropping to her knees. Mugan was stirring feebly, and her tail wagged a little as Nishi turned her over. Medic!

Guess you were right, Nishi, the lupine’s head lolled. Touch you and die, right?

No, Mug, no, she cradled her friend’s head. C’mon, don’t talk like that. All you did was get shot in the back. That’s not gonna stop you, right?

I dunno, Nishi. I feel pretty bad.

Yeah, well, I’m just gonna say you’re too dumb to even know what you’re feeling right, alright? she could feel the tears stinging at the corners of her eyes. You’re gonna be fine, alright? You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay!

I think I can see the light. It’s getting brighter. It…I think it actually is getting brighter. And I hear…

Shut up, Mug, okay? You are not dying on me!

No, really, Mugan’s hand pushed her chin up. Look. And listen. It is getting brighter, and I think I hear something.

Nishi looked up. She could see blue sky, appearing more and more as the sand drifted away on the wind. The haze was lifting all around, letting her see the horizon again, and with it she could hear a high, steady thrum. When the first Seraph gunship bolted overhead she thought it was a mirage, but as she blinked the tears from her eyes her scanners identified the second one as friendly as it flew overhead, raining shells and rockets down in shrieking fury. Another, lower noise mixed with chatter and booms drew her gaze and she looked over in time to catch the long gun barrel of the first Maxellian as it drove up onto the dune, parked itself on the summit and fired with a roar.

Sinking back, Nishi looked back down at Mugan. She had no idea what to say, so she just reached down with one hand and laced her fingers through hers. The lupine squeezed her hand, and she squeezed back. When the rest of the squad gathered around she hardly even noticed.
The battle was won.

Kalahari Base Camp, 3 Days Later…

Night had fallen over Kalahari Base Camp and the greater city of Nazzid. The stars shone brightly in the clear sky over the bustle of both as a cool breeze washed over and caressed Roberts’s scales. The Second Lieutenant sat next to a Maxellian, cold beer in one clawed hand as she stared across the yard. Her counterpart didn’t say anything, only nursing his own drink slowly before finally setting it down. For a time the only noise apart from distant engines and voices was the hum of Nazzid’s famous beetles.

“So,” Major Hitaro glanced over at his subordinate. “Are you finally ready for your debriefing?”

“I already got what you sent me,” Roberts did her best to stare ahead, but she was so acutely aware of the kitsune’s eyes on her that she finally had to look over at him. “It was all there.”

“Yes, but I know you didn’t read it. You didn’t leave that hospital for roughly 48 hours, and after that you were dead to the universe when you finally crashed.”

“You or the LC could have woken me.”

“He wanted to give you time, and I supported that,” Hitaro sighed. “The truth is that you did an amazing job. Better than we could have expected, honestly.”

“19 casualties. 17 wounded, 2 dead.” She stared at him. “Including Staff Sergeant Antipov, who burned to death from a petrol bomb after having his leg blown off, and Corporal Gorsceu, whose death I don’t even want to talk about. Not to mention Staff Sergeant Schmidt or Corporal Tallac, who had to have limbs amputated, or the two troopers who are still in comas. That was the worst part about being in that hospital. I was walking around among my platoon, completely unhurt, and I couldn’t even tell them what they’d been wounded and died for.”


“Major,” the she-drake cut him off. “We were left out there. Alone. For two hours, under constant heavy attack. So the LC could get a feather in his cap for taking in some guns and a couple of prisoners. Assets that my platoon recovered. Is that what I was supposed to tell them? They bled and died so their battalion C.O. could look good?”

He looked at her. “Are you finished?”

“Do you have something to say that isn’t bullshit?”

“If you had looked at the debriefing I sent, you would know that what happened out there had a broader impact, beyond just the 1st Platoon or any body count,” Hitaro shifted in his seat. “Between the attacks here, what your platoon did by the highway and the aftermath so far, the better part of the Bumhavar Mountain Regiment has been completely wiped out. By the end of today we estimated over 1,000 casualties and they are only going to continue weakening as we exploit intelligence based off captured communications and prisoners. Colonel Tuma ji-Maald has gone to ground but the Ascians are on his trail, and I doubt he’ll be getting any help from the rest of the Sons. Because he broke a cardinal rule of their style of fighting: he let himself be drawn out into a pitched battle.”

The tod took a drink. “By taking his shipment and capturing his own son you literally pissed him off beyond reason. He threw everything he had at you. We’re not sure whether he thought you still had those assets or whether he just wanted to grind you into the sand, but he let his anger get the better of him, and he’s paying for it. So what does that mean? Well, with a bit more work and the capture or death of the Colonel, we can make sure the Bumhavar Mountain Regiment ceases to exist, and then the Empire can move into that same mountain range and bring the people there the same thing its brought the people here,” he waved a hand around at Nazzid. “Security. Prosperity. Peace. I think that’s worth it, and you can ask your troopers whether or not they agree.”

He was quiet for a moment, letting it sink it. “Beyond that, the shipment itself is important. No, there weren’t any WMDs in it, but there was enough weapons and technology to make the Bumhavar Mountain Regiment a very nasty force if they’d been able to get their hands on it. It was gear from the Setulanite Exiles, and with concrete proof of that link I can guarantee you that the Empire is going to show even greater interest in securing Arel. Who knows, we might even be able to get some Church members to help us now that the Exile link is known. So that will help our broader cause here.

“The last thing you should know is that the containers themselves are actually very valuable. They’re made of a material that no one’s ever seen before, and it seems like they’ve somehow been infused with psionic essence. We don’t know how any of it works, but they’ve already been shipped off to labs for study, and because of that you and the 1st might just have saved countless more lives,” he leaned in. “If the Exiles use this stuff on any kind of scale and we can figure out how to detect it, that’s a big hole poked in their stealth capabilities, and you know as well as I do that’s how they did so much of their damage. If what we discover stops even one terrorist attack, don’t you think your wounded and your dead would be proud to know that their sacrifice meant something?”

“Well, I-“

“Ah,” Hitaro held a hand up. “Rhetorical question, for the moment. Think about it, and let me finish,” he exhaled. “You know it was never part of the plan for us to leave the 1st out in the desert like that. I personally didn’t want the LC to prioritize getting the shipment and prisoners back like he did, I wanted you to hold out with your full force until we could muster enough of our own to relieve you and take the assets back, but he didn’t want to risk losing them. He was convinced that if we left it all out there then you would all die and we’d lose the shipment and the prisoners too. This way, at least, if the 1st was destroyed, it would have been for something. It would have made a difference. The amazing part is that your unit made a difference and, as a whole, it survived. Because of your leadership.”

Roberts looked across the courtyard again. She lifted her beer and nursed it, draining the entire bottle in a few gulps before dropping it onto the sand. Leaning back made her chair creak as she laid her arms on the rests. Beyond the compound walls Nazzid bustled and hummed along. It was as if the attacks had never happened. Finally she shook her head and muttered something.

Hitaro’s ears perked. “What was that?”

“I said, ‘fucking Xiscapians.’ Well, fucking kitsune, I guess. Fucking Xiscapian kitsune,” Roberts shook her head again. “Yuusuke tried to tell me the same thing, I think. I wouldn’t hear it. Got him to take care of the healthy part of the 1st while I was in the hospital, as much to get him away from me as anything. I just, I was torn up, and I was mad. I’m pretty sure I would have punched you or Yazos in the face if I saw you. I couldn’t think, not after seeing my soldiers like that. Not when I felt like I’d failed them. Like I was just another pawn of some commissar type. I’m sorry,” she sighed. “I just assumed the worst.”

“I don’t blame you,” he rested a hand on her shoulder. “It looked bad, from what I saw, and losing soldiers is never easy, not even for the best and clearest of causes. But you and your soldiers did do well out there, and it was worth it. That’s what I believe. It’s what I have to believe,” Hitaro glanced up at the stars. “Lucky for me, there’s plenty of evidence to back up that belief. But my concern,” he looked to her, “is whether you believe it. You don’t have to, and it won’t always be worth believing. But in this case, I think it’s reasonable.”

She nodded. “I’ll have to ask the troops, I guess. They’ll have their own opinions. But I have a feeling I know what the answer is going to be,” she had to smile as she reached back to grab another beer.

Hitaro let his hand slip away and gave her a small smile. That same hand wrapped around his bottle, and he lifted it to her. “Cheers to that.”

Roberts let her bottle clink against his. “Cheers to that.”
Xis quote of the week: Altaria Almighty: how are you not just a race of sexual predators? Like who needs power armour and gauss rifles when you have leather and whips. –Karaig
The Kitsune Empire of Xiscapia's FT Factbook (V2.5)
R.I.P. Shal - 1/17/10

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Postmaster of the Fleet
Posts: 21528
Founded: Sep 01, 2012
Democratic Socialists

Postby Senkaku » Mon Jun 06, 2016 9:28 pm

Black Sails

It was, save for the screaming and the flames and the falling ash, a beautiful day. The sea breeze kept the temperature quite perfect for a relaxing day on the beach, wafting the smoke away and breaking up pockets of gas so that those who were exposed could stagger into the surf, blood running from the eyes and noses and ears and pink foam forming at their mouths. The waves were quite ideal for surfing, coming in even, predictable sets with a good size range for different skill levels and nice curls that tossed launches and small craft as they broke. Some of the people were even dressed to enjoy the day- there were a few paddling out on surfboards, trying to fight off clumps of swimmers and avoid being run over by the panicked launches and hovers that were zipping back and forth between the larger craft waiting offshore and the sands of the Plage Opale. One of the bigger ships, some sort of freighter, was drifting towards shore, burning from stem to stern where a missile had released a hail of fire-gel bomblets onto it. A few of the ships were trying (and failing) to provide anti-air cover, which mainly consisted of their crews firing with small arms at drones, well beyond their maximum ranges.

The speed of the rebel advance over the last few days had been quite shocking, to be certain. The Three Passes had been expected to stop them in their tracks, controlled avalanches, artillery, and air and orbital support all wreaking havoc on their mobs of poorly-equipped infantry. The fall of the Passes had been alarming in the extreme, and the military had been surprised by their acquisition and deployment of high-altitude missiles, presumably from the supply depots they had captured along their path. Two government bombardment cruisers had made for a lovely nighttime fireworks display over the entire region, and the sky had been occasionally pocked with thin lines of smoke where flyers had come down.

Lots of people had gotten frightened and left, after that, but officials urged the public to remain calm. Defenses on the plains would be more than sufficient to deal with the rebel forces, and even if their ponderous masses of foot soldiers weren't encircled and wiped out by vastly superior mobile units, armor, and artillery, the Qianzhong Forts and the Aelian Wall could withstand assault by a hundred million men for a hundred million years. The city and the ships and shuttles and flyers leaving it were invulnerable to rebel missiles, protected by an impenetrable screen of lasers and shields and missile defense systems, and the rebellion had no ability to block the seaward approaches to Pretiosa.

Or so they all said.

Hyperiad Park
Plage Opale

Adrian winced as the cool seawater touched the cut on his arm, splashing out into the water. His ears were ringing from the deafening blasts of exploding missiles and shells, which sent up pillars and sand and spray all along the Plage Opale, and as the water got waist-deep he blinked in horror at the sight in front of him. A man, clutching a neck wound, was leaking a plume of red into the water around him, twitching and jerking as if he had been plugged into an electric socket. He turned around, staring with wild eyes and foam-encrusted lips at Adrian.
He must've walked through a pocket of gas...
The man let go of his grip on the hole in his neck, and Adrian gave a muffled scream of horror as blood sprayed out, hot crimson liquid lashing his face like rain. He dove under to try and get it off, and kept wading out, shivering as he felt the strange sensation of ash particles alighting on his hair and damp skin.

In between shell impacts, as he stumbled out further from the beach into the warm, shallow water, he noticed that the screaming seemed to be getting louder, as did the machine-gun fire. Chest-deep in water, he turned around again as a wave lifted him up off the sea floor, and spat out saltwater as it passed by and opened up a vista of the entire vast stretch of sand.
Oh my God.

Men in helmets and uniforms were coming onto the beach, and Adrian didn't need to see the red armbands to know who they were. Even more frantic, now, he began paddling, shouting at passing boats- or he thought he was. It wasn't as if he could hear himself over the collective shrieking of a burning city.
One skimmer nearby was having engine trouble, it seemed. Adrian could see the skipper cursing and banging on the sleek craft's single jet as it floated aimlessly across the waves. He started swimming towards it- any ride was better than trying to swim out to the ships sitting offshore.

There was a flicker of movement, and Adrian was submerged by the shockwave as the skimmer vanished in a blizzard of fire and shrapnel. He came up a moment later, screaming and gasping for air as blood ran down from his left ear. His right ear was filled with nothing but buzzing, and the next wave that came filled his mouth with salt and washed him back towards the beach, where bayonets were rising and falling like violin bows to the steady chitter-chatter of machine guns and a chorus of screams.
A corpse drifted by, an enormously fat man in flowing, brightly-colored silk who was leaking blood from bullet holes in his stomach. Adrian shuddered and paddled over to him, trying to prop himself up on this morbid improvised flotation device.

The fat man's eyes were staring up, and Adrian felt tears welling up as he stared at the man. Why is this happening to me? The pain in his left ear was still excruciating, and he gave a strangled sob as he looked back towards the beach.
A man in a red armband locked eyes with him and raised his pistol. Adrian gasped as bullets began whizzing past, and let go of the fat man, kicking beneath the surface. He was a decent swimmer, but made awkward by the pain in his ear, which only got worse as he dove, and by the cut on his arm. It took enormous effort to stay underwater for very long, and he came up heaving for air.
Something slammed into his head, and for a moment the world went black and quiet.

Chang determinedly pressed the throttle down, trying to pick up speed, but every wave that hit them sloshed water into the battered launch and slowed them down. The skipper stood up to try and look over the next wave, to avoid the boats zipping around near them- and Ella screamed as his head suddenly erupted in a red cloud. He staggered, let go of the tiller, and collapsed into the bottom of the boat.
Lise swore and lunged for the tiller as it lazily swung away, driving the boat parallel to the waves. If they capsized now, they would all drown or be shot in the water like starving nutria.

The boat suddenly thudded, spinning its bow back towards the wave. Ella screamed again, and her grandmother slapped her. "Stop screaming and help him!"
They both leaned over the side.

Things were coming back, if slowly.
Adrian saw them as if he were looking down a very long tunnel, with red filling half his vision as blood ran from the fresh gash on his forehead into his left eye.
"Grab my..."
"Grab my hand!"
The old woman's voice seemed to cut through the fog of pain and fear, and Adrian flailed vaguely, trying to lift his hands to the two people leaning over the edge of the boat. As he did so, he lost the propulsion they had been providing him, and felt himself begin to sink. Blackness was creeping in on the edge of his vision like clouds of ink or impossibly dark blood, swirling in the water.
God please I don't want to die.

Lise, breathing hard, had just grabbed the tiller and was turning the launch back into the waves when she turned and noticed her sister and grandmother.
"What are you doing?!", she screamed- but it was too late to stop them, in any case. They both heaved, and over the side came a young man, soaking wet, his head covered in blood leaking from his ear and a bad cut on his forehead.

The skiff surged down the back of the next wave, the engine finally coming up to full thrust, and Lise shuddered and sank back onto the little ledge she was sitting on. The tiller remained grasped tightly by a white-knuckled fist, though- there could be no slip-ups now.

The tiny skiff slowly picked up speed as it bounced out to sea, crashing through the waves past desperate hordes in a rain of warm ash.
Last edited by Senkaku on Mon Jun 06, 2016 9:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
haters will see you growing on a finite planet and say you can't grow infinitely

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The Vahkiran
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Founded: May 23, 2012
Father Knows Best State

Postby The Vahkiran » Fri Jun 10, 2016 9:03 am

To Drop A Bomb

Gamma Quadrant; Alakhiran’Dal Home System; Kuul’Rul Capital World

The vast expanse of dust covered sheet metal slums was the only beauty Kuul’Rul allowed for, a barren desert world forged into an industrial monster, consuming the planet's resources to fuel the species expansion. Thick smog-like plumes burst forth from the giant factories and refineries that littered the slums, breaking the sea of brown and grey like monolithic pillars reaching for the stained sky, even during the day the gigantic floating cities known as TYRANT stations could be seen in orbit slowly circling like vultures.

In the capital mega-city of Kal'Ruul'Tek the mammoth Colony ships that had brought the Vahkiran species lay dormant, glorified housing districts surrounded by the sea of multi-story slum buildings that remained unbroken as far as the eye could see, their superstructures having been adapted and combined, creating the grand Palace.
It’s owner, the self-proclaimed one true Khreel Kijaa’Rul Fthast resided within the cavernous sprawling expanses of it’s insides, metallic and cold adorned with banners depicting long lost meanings and symbols that were only known as Royal.

The throne room was a hub of activity, the Bridge of one of the now grounded capital ships acting as a staging point of Kijaa’s domain. A steel-forged, cloth draped throne replaced the commanders chair, the back reaching up in spiked tendrils to form the shape of the Vahkiran crown, in which Kijaa himself sat, slouched and his clawed chitinous fingers drumming rhythmically against the metallic surface.
Systems whirred and holo-displays projected a dull blue light, individuals of various ranking hurrying about to each display, conversing amongst themselves. Kijaa arose from his throne and with the clack of his clawed feet against the metallic steps of the commanders podium, made his way towards a group wearing the insignia of Kleekh’Kaal military officers.

The group fell silent as their Khreel approached, fists slamming to the left sides of their chests and two fingers pressing to their chitin-covered foreheads in a salute.

“Have you found it, do we know where it will establish?” Kijaa asked, a low droning clicking resounding, followed by the clicking and chattering of those around him.

“The Library will enter outside of our domain, roughly nineteen sectors from the estimated arrival point.” One of the higher ranking officers, a Komnidant-Standing -Major in most traditional armies- spoke, motioning a hand towards the display to his left, which showed the sectors and a green blip with four more purple ones flashing.

“When it establishes, send the First Fall. I do not want my brothers gaining the Library, this is our legacy and it will be mine.” Kijaa droned low, eyeing the group present with his four almond shaped, black eyes and moved to seat himself back on his throne as they saluted, the Komnidant-Standing intoning orders to his lessers, who moved to make his will true.

Kijaa was troubled by the news, the trajectory of the Library had changed and now it meant both his brothers, false-claimants to the throne would also seek to capture what was rightfully his by blood. His thoughts were interrupted by the feel of claws across his chitin, moving along his chest to his shoulders and upon inspection, he found his mate flanking his throne.

“My love, come, rest your weary mind with me and let your people see to your will.” She spoke, a Vahkiran woman of beauty to her race, smooth chitin unmarred by a hard life and glinting black eyes set apart by a curved head-ridge that reached the back of her neck. Kijaa simply rolled his shoulders and clacked twice, chittering to her as he stood.

“My Sethra, when the Library is ours and my brothers lay dead, these will be your people, our people and you will be my Quezteel. Remember this.” He retorted and with a low droning clicking from his mate, left the hubbub of the central chamber, flanked uniform by the ten Royal Guard who had been stationed around the throne.

Gamma Quadrant; Sulthus System; Melitariade Territory Warzone

Central Plaza Complex, unknown city.

Karmun-Komnidant Vaaki’Nol Jijeer had been stationed on the war torn planet of Melit for months, months that felt like years to the veteran. Day in and day out, the scream of plasmoid rounds being traded was the only symphony anyone slept to, with the occasional screeching missile and explosion as it hit it’s mark.

Lately however the fighting had grown considerably more aggressive, with new intel emerging of a world-class bomb; a pre-Fall tech that could obliterate the planet they stood on when armed. If Melit was to be destroyed, it would not be a huge loss to the Vahkiran themselves, after-all the planet itself was simply an occupied world from a less advanced species they had discovered a year prior, but owning said bomb was the aim.

The Plaza Complex was an octagonal open area surrounded by built up office buildings and high-value residency, now hole strewn masses of rubble and twisted metal reaching high up into the sky. One of these buildings had been designated as Vaaki’s HQ and forward operating base, encroaching on the Yikla-insurgent owned parts of the city.
A high density area with lots of high-rises and structurally sound complexes, perfect positions for the Vahkiran themselves to enforce and engage from, this troubled the Karmun-Komnidant as he knew full well the doctrine the enemy would be using. He was at a disadvantage.

“Komnidant our men have breached the inner defences, but are under heavy fire and requesting additional support.” A Vahkiran soldier bearing the mark of a Ksvaiar-Standing informed as he entered the main operating room. Vaaki glanced up from the monitor he was inspecting and looked the soldier up and down, his red-paint marked armour scuffed and scorched from the plasmoid rounds both sides utilized.
“We will reinforce when building A-2 has been neutralized, until then they are on their ow-” he cut off as the blaring screech of an orbital missile caused everyone to look out of the window, seeing the vapor trail and the blazing bright blue from impact with one of the larger high-rises, sending a shockwave throughout the city, debris falling in great swathes and several detonations following the initial explosion as caches inside the devastated structure were exposed.

“This is Karmun-Komnidant Jijeer, all forces, N-9 through to N-19 reinforce block A-2, engage at will.” he declared, arms folding as he watched the dust hang in the air from the now stunted structure in the distance, his helmet optic zooming in and giving his HUD a better view of the situation, he could see the bright blue shots being traded from building to building, the screaming fizzle of rounds being exchanged and the occasional pop of an explosion being set off, sending rubble flying.

With the fight now looking a lot less daunting, Vaaki shifted his attention once more back to the terminal, checking over the incoming data and squad positioning, if all went to plan they would have that world-class bomb by the end of the week.


Ringing and the gentle thud, thud, THUD accompanied blurry vision, bright blue and quick flashes of orange erupted just out of sight and the feel of glass and metal and debris peppering metal plating seemed to be numbed by the assault of sounds.

“This is Karmun-[STATIC] Jijeer, all forces, N-9 [STATIC] to N-19 [STATIC] block A-2, engage [STATIC].”

A hand being placed on a shoulder, shoved hard into something harder, dragged across rubble strewn metal, the blur turned black for a moment, or maybe it was longer, only to be replaced with a deep brown that swirled and shifted, the dull thud once again rattling against metal.

“Orbital [STATIC] sector A-3, I repeat [STATIC]”

Saasere slowly came to, eyes fixing in on one of his squadmates who was trying to rouse his consciousness by slapping his helmet, taking a deep breath, he shook his head and fingers scrambled for his pulser rifle first, priorities. The bright blue sparks he’d seen were plasmoid rounds, screeching and fizzling through the air, hundreds of them being traded from left to right. He hunkered down behind a pile of fallen debris and turned, only to see the one who’d helped him take two rounds to the chest, his personal shield flaring and the blackened, popping blue scorch marks sizzling against his armour as he dropped dead, still writhing his last death throes.


Shit, the radio. Reaching behind him, he pulled the bulky radio equipment from it’s mount on his back and checked it over, black scorch marks and a few dents littering it’s casing through which he could see wiring and internal components. The fizzling scream of a few more rounds splashing against his cover had him discarding the now burnt out set. The sound of static and spluttering chitters continuing regardless.

To his right his squad were hunkered down, the steady thwum of the heavy pulser being discharged vibrating the air around him. His eyes drifted back to the corpse of his fallen squadmate. What was his name again?

No time for that, they were pinned and he could distinctly remember something bad happening before he blacked out. Mounting the pulser rifle against the edge of the metal debris, Saasere took aim and let loose several pulses of plasmoid. The scene ahead was a mess, his squad appeared to be hunkered down in the remains of a building and right across the street were the yellow painted armours of the Yikla Loyalists, debris littered the street and several massive chunks of concrete and twisted metal had all but crushed some of the surrounding buildings.

Up high was the remnants of building A-2, a massive skyscraper that had been a strategic asset to the enemy, now decapitated in half by an orbit to ground missile, even now as he looked up, Saasere could see three more of the screaming, bright blue streaks erupt from the dust and smoke filled sky and moments later the jarring vibration as they leveled entire blocks. That was when he realised something.

“Everyone down! Everyone down! Danger close!” He clacked in distress, several seconds too late as he already felt the first orbital MAG round smash into a street a few blocks away, the shockwave shattering the foundations of even the most resilient structures and a huge black and firey debris filled cloud erupted towards the sky. Saasere lay prone, hands over his head and hoped, oh how he hoped.

The air hummed with static and heated air, dust rushed down the roads and the sound of explosion after explosion filled his helmet as the orbital artillery turned the surrounding area into a no man’s land, one of them could not have been more than 40 meters away by the sound of it, the ringing in his ears back with a vigor. He counted six and that was when someone dragged him up, grasping his rifle from the ground and starting into a sprint down the road. Reflex as he followed his squad leader.

The cacophony of gunfire had only been silenced for mere seconds by the artillery and even now he could hear more falling. Above, the clouds were burst like bubbles landward as the bright searing blue missiles rained and MAG rounds splashed down close enough to make him lose his footing and even feel shrapnel glance his armour, the personal shield beeping in his ears with a higher intensity.

Saasere picked his pace up and ducked down behind a squadmate, who had his hardlight wrist shield projected forth, deflecting a majority of the harmful debris and even saw a plasmoid round splash against the yellow energy shield. The squad moved in unison, bounding sprints across the open road, trading shots with no apparent time to aim and before he knew it Saasere was face to face with a yellow clad hostile.

The loud, distressed chittering and clacking that was the Vahkiran language sounded out all around him and was only partially silenced when he raised his pulser and put four rounds into the chest of a Yikla Loyalist. The sound of his rank being called distracted him from realising the sheer devastation that he stood in.

“Ksvaiar, the radio is shot?” His Ksvaimident asked, though a rather futile question as he already knew the answer. “A-2 is our objective, we move fast and shields forward.” He ordered, before motioning twice for everyone to get a move on and move they did, the four hardlight shields up front with their sub-pulsers and the rest of the squad fanned out in a semicircle with the medics at the rear.

Saasere kept his pulser raised at eye height as they moved through tattered buildings, squeezing off shots of sparking bright blue and weaving between cover as they moved towards the base of the destroyed A-2 building.

It was likely an impressive sight before war ruined it, likely some sort of office structure in the heart of the city, now half it’s height and smouldering, pock marked with artillery shells and even as he glanced up, he could see more being peppered into the southern side. The base of the tower was just as much of a mess, a mix of metal and glass covered the ground and the remnants of a defensive position completely crushed beneath the colossal chunks that had fallen after the impact were still evident.

Saasere half crouched behind the twisted metal hull of a grav-tank and looked down the line, he could see others of his faction; the red painted Kijaa Loyalists moving in from the rubbled structures surrounding the tower and that gave him some respite. At least he wouldn’t be the only one getting shot at.

To his east he could hear the chuttering of a dropship flying low through the streets, too low and as he glanced across, he saw it spewing smoke from one of it’s engines, careening towards the end of the street in an emergency landing. Much to his surprise it’s inhabitants had decided to bail-out, two by two dropping from the fast moving, steadily degrading ship, smaller frames of the Gata’ja mercenaries enhanced by exosuits and their built in thrusters slowing their descent as they impacted the ground, moving into cover. The rippling explosion as the dropship collided with a structure ringing forth.

The sound signalled the start of a gruelling fight as Vahkiran and Gata’jan squads moved in across the road, surrounding and moving to secure the superstructure and for a moment Saasere just watched, his fingers flexing around the grip of his pulser. He’d got this far, maybe, just maybe, he’d get home to see his children.

-Lord Koljusticar/Karmun Komnidant (Commander/General)/Talzimar Komnidant(Admiral)
-Koljusticar Komnidant Rising/II (Lt Colonel)
-Komnidant Standing/I (Major) (Com-nee-dant)
-Ksvaimident (Captain)
-Ksvaimident Standing/I (Lieutenant) (Sv-eye-me-dent)
-Ksvaiar Standing (Second Lieutenant)
-Ksvaiar (Private) (Sv-eye-air)
Last edited by The Vahkiran on Fri Jun 10, 2016 9:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Federal Republic of Free States
Posts: 142
Founded: Sep 04, 2015

Postby Federal Republic of Free States » Thu Jun 16, 2016 1:40 am

We Just Wanted A Drink

Republican Colonial System: Citic
Planet Citic [II]
Berj City, Tanaden County


The window to the apartment was open, letting in the small breeze that flew off the small salt-water sea to the east and entered the opening to cool the third story dwelling. However, that window also worked in reverse, a shocking scream pierced the surrounding air of the entire complex, originating from the third story window. Those walking about on the grounds of the complex stopped in their tracks as the calm serine morning was cracked by the sudden shriek. Yet, as no additional high-pitched sounds emanated, those outside slowly returned to their movements without much additional thought to what they had just heard.

Yet, inside the apartment panic was just beginning to set in. The screech which filled the apartment just as it filled the surrounding area outside, send Paul running to the point of origin. Turning the corner into the hallway leading from the living room to the two bedrooms he could spy his wife standing frozen in front of his son’s open bedroom door. Closing the distance he made his way to his wife’s side, looking into the small room he could plainly see it did not have his teenage son inside. Only one question could come out of his mouth,

“Where is he!?”

His wife turned from the open door to look Paul in his eyes, tears already streaming down her face,

“I told him not to go!”

The anger slowly built up inside Paul, his son had directly disobeyed him. He knew exactly where his son has disappeared too. The bubbling anger was quick to strike, and in a flash his fist had impacted the wall with a sickening thud that caused his wife to jump.

“Damn it! Why would he want to go!”


As he walked down the street, his eyes were glued to his personal phone; the messages were coming in rapidly enough that he had turned the phone on its silent setting. With each new message, his fingers with lightening efficiency typed up a reply. The Yabber app was efficient at allowing a large group of people over a great distance to find like-minded peoples and collaborate on ideas and news. And Vald was completely enthralled by the virtual world he found on Yabber. For the past several weeks his days and nights were almost completely consumed with a few online groups that shared views, on what was currently befalling his home world. Vald would be the first to admit that his views on the world that he had formed over his adolescent years significantly clashed with those he found at home. So much so in fact that he had grown quite distant with his parents, finding their comments on the surging refugee population to be disgusting. Therefore he withdrew deeper and deeper into the world within his phone, finding it more accepting of his ideas.

Vald looked up from his phone every few moments to ensure he wouldn’t run into someone else on the street, or into a light pole or some other object. But his eyes always returned back down to the screen, currently he was engaged in a conversation with Amber, a young woman from his school. She was a year older than Vald was, being a junior while he was still a sophomore. While not traveling in the same social circles at Ponderosa High School, they did find common ground online through Yabber. Both had found the other to show surprising compassion to the new incoming refugee populations being settled on Citic. Which was a refreshing change of perspective from the majority of almost hostile views that they were flooded with daily wherever they turned to look.

So far it had been a very unpopular move by the Republic to funnel the incoming refugees to Citic, and those on Citic made their viewpoints well known in social circles. The retorts from those who looked upon the refugee with compassion were usually muffled in public, but online they could begin to sprout naturally without being stifled by the rowdy antagonists. Vald had slowly learned to keep his views to himself at school or in public, what first started as ridicule and name-calling, quickly turned into Vald outrunning would be attackers in the school’s hallways.

But here, deep into his phone on friendly Yabber threads, he could express himself without fear of reprisal. It was a glorious feeling, one that causes an almost semi-permanent smile to plaster his face whenever he was engrossed into his phone. Flipping back to his messages, he saw a new awaiting message from Amber, hit eyes lit up with excitement as he read the message and typed a reply.


@ambr20: You’re coming right?

@v2332d: Of course! I’m already walking.

@ambr20: Nice! I’ll see you in the parking lot!


Cutting away from the private conversation he opened back up the main feed of Yabber. As the hour of the meet-up drew nearer, the ¥abtags associated with the march began to flood his main screen. He was surprised some of the major news networks that were tagged, had actually re-¥abbed the posts! Maybe in someway if the news networks began to more positively report on the refugee influx, Vald hoped that public opinion on Citic would begin to sway more in their favor. But those were high hopes, and Vald would be the first to admit that. Yet, the re-¥abbed posts filled his head with a positive feeling.


@CRNews @SandyNews Today 1pm we march for equality! We deserve water as much as you! We just want equality! ¥WaterIsLife

@SandyNews @FugeeForum @y2332d Don’t forget the meet up spot! We hope to see many of you ready to march! ¥LifeIsARight

@CRNews @SandyNews @FugeeForum No longer will we be ignored! Citic will hear us! ¥WeMarchForLife



The sun had begun to settle at the apex of its daily arc across the blue sky, its heat starting to focus its intensity down onto the surface. It hung nicely with a few thin white clouds, which were migrating westward towards the Jutland Sea being pushed silently by the upper atmospheric breeze. However for those down on the surface in the center of the largest city on the planet’s surface, the wind was nowhere to be found with its cooling abilities. Yet multitudes of individuals began to gather in one of the local supermarket’s parking lot, already as they gathered the heat could be visually seen beginning to radiate up off of the pavement in fluttering waves. Yet, despite the forecasted heat of the day quite a group of people were converging on the parking lot. Easily numbering in the hundreds, they had filled the parking lot to capacity. The people themselves were a hodge-podge snapshot of the population of Berj City. Various shades of white, brown and even black skinned people milled about, readying their signs and talking amongst themselves.

The route of the march had already been decided, leaving the supermarket parking lot, up through the main boulevard all the way up to city hall, which sat in the center of downtown. The individuals who had organized the march had informed the Berj City council and secured permission to do so. As a security measure the Berj City Sheriffs Department would line the march route, to hopefully keep the peace between the marchers and the counter-protestors which would eventually show. Although it was only just past noon, the heat of the day had already arrived, the surface temperature had just passed eighty-five when the whistle sounded. The ringing of the whistle hung in the air, as the mass of people begun to make their way out of the parking lot and onto the boulevard. The march had begun.

They had come from all over the city, and the surrounding area to participate in this march. The daily heat would not deter the determined marchers from their route. As they continued down the main boulevard it would take its effect, however. Sweat began to bead down the marcher’s foreheads, it began to soak shirts, to drop and sizzle on the asphalt of the road. As the temperature slowly crept just north of ninety, the marchers continued on. The heat would not win the day.

The normal traffic of Berj City had been re-routed to accompany the route, the day prior several public service announcements had been released by the city government to inform the public of the closure of the section of the roadway for the march. However at several intersections along the route, sheriff deputies still had to turn away vehicles. Sometimes the deputies were treated with an unrespectable gesture from the motorists, as they egressed away from the intersection. Up and down the route the pockets of sheriff deputies stood, stone faced to the marching group that passed them as they continued on closer to city hall.

The rhythmic chanting of “We Want Water!” reverberated off of the glass of the high-rise buildings, which lined the street the group of protesters were marching down. Their rhythmic steps thudded against the sizzling pavement, while their sweat began to pour down their clothing. It was a laborious endeavor to continue on in this march towards their target of city hall. Yet, they were determined, they were motivated, they would not be deterred. For the deputies stationed at the intersections of the route, it was hard to tell when the “water” ended and when the new round of “we” began, but the force behind the words being shouted was all the same. Forceful, and angry.


They continued on despite the heat bearing down from the high noon sun, as well as the heat rising up from the black asphalt. Their determination was absolute however as the entire assembled group continued towards their target. Some of the high-rise office windows had begun to prop themselves open, curious workers wondering what all the commotion was about. A few within the mass of humanity marching noticed the peering heads popping out of the windows and tried to encourage their participation.

“Join your fellow man! An injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us!”

“Let your voice be heard! Join us!”

As Vald looked up to the offices above him, he could see some windows close and obvious sign that those in that particular area were not even remotely interested in the struggle occurring right below them on the streets of Berj City. It disheartened Vald a bit to know a good portion of people didn’t care, but then he brought his gaze back down, and that feeling slightly melted away when his eyes found Amber just a few meters away from him. Almost a head taller than he was, her brown skin beaded with sweat, he could see her pearly white teeth as her mouth opened up for each yell of “We…want…water!”

The section of the march Vald and Amber were in slowly passed the intersection of Imperial boulevard and Kirth avenue, as they passed Vald narrowed his eyes at the stationary deputies as he spied them sipping refreshing water from plastic bottles. Amber and Vald as well as a few others in their section were young, and spry. They could withstand the heat as they marched, while it may be uncomfortable or even reaching the level of intolerable, it was survivable for the young ones. However, it was a different story for the poor old soul a few meters behind Vald and Amber.

His spirit was strong, but his body had begun to fail him. It was no fault of his own, just the passage of time ravaging his body. Since the group had started the march the old timer had steadily began degrading with every step he took. His yell of “We…want…water”, had slowly became nothing more that a whisper as the heat of the day took its toll on the old man. By the time the old man’s group had reached the corner of Imperial and Kirth, his stride had shortened to a shuffle, his body had begun to sway awkwardly. He began to list heavily to his right side, and right before toppling over two younger men rushed to his side to catch him.

The two younger men could tell by his taught skin, his dried lips, and the thousand-yard stare coming from his eyes that he needed immediate relief from the heat. Looking around as they both held the man they spied the two deputies holding their position at the intersection. Bringing the old man with them, they carried him over to the blocking position.

“Hey…can we get some water for the old man?”

Turning in unison, both deputies did a one-eighty degree turn to face away from Kirth Avenue and towards the progressing march down Imperial. Dark sunglasses blocked their eyes, and they expressed stone cold faces to accompany their shaded eyes. Both deputies did not attempt to move forward from their current position, and that prodded one of youngsters to repeat the question.

“HEY! Y’all got some water for the old timer?!”

One of the deputies snorted his reply, and began to take a pull from his own bottle of water. While the other deputy gave a dismissing wave of his hand to the three men to keep it moving along the march route. This act did not sit well with the two younger men, who gently laid the old man on the asphalt and took a few more steps to the barricade position. One of the deputies held out his hand, and addressed the two younger marchers.

“You two stop right there. Not another step forward, please.”

“But we just want some water for the old man, I can see the cooler right there at your feet!”

One of the deputies stepped in front of the cooler to block its view to the two young men. Seeing this occur, one of the boys stepped forward again,

“Come on man. He just needs a drink!”—“Yeah! Just one bottle!”

Some of the other marchers had begun to peel off the main march effort, and begun to fall in behind the two young boys. A few of them began to shade the old man from the sun, as the young kids tried once again to plead to the deputies for assistance.

“Just some water man, that’s all we’re asking for.”

The front most deputy’s face contorted into a snare of sorts, “You all have seconds to continue on with your march, before we have a problem here.”

“A problem? The fucking problem is y’all hoggin all the damn water! Let the old man have a drink!”

A resounding cascade of “yeah!” erupted from the small crowd who had rallied around the young boys. Both deputies began to shift their weight, the looming crowd who had begun to focus their attention on the deputies, made them uneasy. Being vastly out numbed, one of the deputies tried to disperse the crowd verbally with a vague threat.

“CONTINUE ON WITH YOUR MARCH! OR FACE ARREST!”, yelled out one of the deputies his face becoming red from the force of his speech.

The two young men looked at one another, and knowing the situation was dire for the old man, his very life was in peril from the ravaging heat beating down on his frail body. Both young men decided to continue to advance towards the deputies with the intent to open that cooler which was holding the precious chilled water. Those who had began to gather behind the young boys moved forward with them as well. If two young men could show the bravery needed to confront authority figures, those who were older could as well. As they closed the remaining distance between themselves, the sheriff deputies’ anxiety steadily rose with every step

Vald had turned around at the sound of commotion to his rear, he could see the younger men confront the sheriff deputies, he could spy and older gentleman lying on the pavement, being covered up from the hot sun by other marchers. He had stopped his movement, engrossed by what was unfolding in front of him. As the crowd began to converge on the two deputy’s position, he could see one of their eyes twitch, and a quick movement from left arm of the front most sheriff deputy. As Vald watched, time seemed to slow; the movements of the deputy took way too long and seemed over exaggerated to Vald. An oddly calm silence began to fill the immediate area; Vald could only hear his own heartbeat. The reverberating chant, which had been echoing throughout the march, had quickly faded away, to complete silence as Vald slowly moseyed over towards the back of the small protesting group.


The sound of a single gunshot erupted out of nowhere, and shattered the serene silence that Vald was experiencing. The thundering retort from the shot caused Vald and several others in the crowd to jump. A cloud of red splattered up into the air in small droplets and settled on the clothes of several individuals surrounding the two deputies. The chanting had completely stopped with the sickening thud of a body hitting the pavement, ending any desire for those nearby to continue their verbal retorts. For a brief moment multiple pairs of stunned eyes stared at the single bloody body lying on the hot asphalt of the boulevard, hot blood beginning to pool from the center chest wound. Those sets of eyes slowly tracked up to the stunned deputy, his service pistol barrel still releasing a rising wisp of smoke, which began to fade away above the deputy.

Vald was stunned, his eyes wide with disbelief at the tragic event he just witnessed, the hair on his arms stood at full length. The “thump-thump” of his heartbeat steadily quickened its pounding intensity as his breathing shortened to almost hyperventilation. After a few of these thumping heartbeats pounding in his ear canal, a vicious primal piercing shriek soon filled the air. Turning to face the origin point of the scream, Vald saw Amber. Her face distorted in anguish, her eyes wild with fear, mouth still agape from her distended scream.

Vald could not see, but the group surrounding the two deputies had shaken off their frozen stunned stature, and they had replaced it with outright anger. The sight of one of their own with a bloody gunshot wound drove them all over the edge. In mere moments they shook off any inhibitions and began closing the remaining distance between themselves and the sheriff deputies. As he stared at Amber, he saw her crouch down in an attempt to duck, and that’s when he heard it. Another thundering retort from a pistol, and another, and one more in quick sick succession. Spinning around, Vald saw a few more protestors hit the asphalt, blood beginning to spill out from underneath. He could spy one of the deputy’s grab for his radio and briefly speak into it, before the mob of people slammed into him tearing him to the ground. Turning another one hundred and eighty degrees, he saw what was once and organized march, quickly dissolve into people running in all directions, complete chaos had enveloped the marchers once the gunfire occurred.

Hearing more gunfire erupt from one of the other blocking positions, spurred Vald to join those running, and he took off. Passing by another fresh corpse, the sight of the bloody body caused a reaction to occur deep within Vald’s stomach. Emptying his stomach on the hot boulevard, he dared not stop moving. Turning his head to the side, he kept his stride as best he could as he vomited. He tried to dodge other individuals on the frenzied streets, making his way off the main street and onto one of the many side streets that jutted off Imperial. Turning another corner, he stopped and leaned up against the side of a large building.

Goddamnit….shit…fuck…what the fuck happened?! In the small moment of reflection, Vald once again felt that bubbling feeling once again in his abdomen. He threw up again; this time thankfully it was just mainly bile splashing against the concrete at his feet. These round of heaves coming from his stomach were brought on by exhaustion from his sprint through the chaotic street, rather than the grisly scene he witnessed where he first threw up at on Imperial Boulevard. Wiping his mouth clean, he finally looked down at his shirt since the whole episode began. His stomach turned again at the sight of fresh red blood splotched against his white T-shirt. A quick pat down of his body revealed he was whole; the blood on his shirt was not his. He could only guess whose blood it was. He leaned his head back against the brick of the building and let out a stressed induced sigh as the sound of multiple sirens began to fill the air, random bursts of gunfire coming from various spots on Imperial started to twist together with the sound of sirens in a sick symphony.

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Postmaster of the Fleet
Posts: 21528
Founded: Sep 01, 2012
Democratic Socialists

Postby Senkaku » Mon Jul 11, 2016 8:46 pm

Lord of Mice

Adrian, feeling sticky and unclean from the sweat and polluted air clinging to his skin, peeled off his tights and threw his tank across the room. Last client of the night, done, he thought to himself as he heard the creaking of the stairs grow slowly fainter. He stepped into his tiny bathroom and turned the rusted handle of the shower, shivering as the cold water hit him.

After a few minutes, he got out and glanced at his phone. Fuck. Looks like this will be another night of no sleep. At least I got plenty of clients. He started putting on some more practical clothes.

For an instant, Adrian looked around the room, and felt like he was drowning.
Then he pushed the feeling down, as if he were pushing someone's face into the water. It struggled for a moment, and then faded.

He picked up his water bottle and the little plastic bowl he always used, plunked his phone in his pocket, and opened the flimsy plastic door from his one-room apartment into the equally stifling hallway. Today, unpleasantly, a warm morning breeze was blowing through the hole at the end of the hallway, where he had been told a shell (a dud) had once smashed clean through the building.
He started hurrying down the stairs, then realized his last client was just ahead of him. As he walked past, the man looked up in slight surprise at him. Adrian patted him on the back and smiled. "Have a nice morning, sweetheart," he said. And thanks for leaving a decent tip.

After several minutes of descending the rickety stairs, he finally arrived on the building's ground level. Outside, the sky was barely beginning to lighten, and Seokgrad's brilliant lights reflected off the huge thunderheads and billowing towers of clouds that loomed over the city. Streetlamps glowed their usual peculiar shade of orange, casting the streets in odd shadows, and vehicles of all types blurred by on the streets as pedestrians hustled to wherever they were going.

Adrian sat down near one a corner, where plenty of pedestrians were crossing both streets. Of course they were- this was the Navona Roundabout. Save for Adrian's battered and dingy building, all the other towers that lined its perimeter had stores crammed into every inch of their ground floors, and hundreds of hovers and skimmers and scooters and automobiles whirled around the great fountain in the middle at all hours, day or night. Poor the people who passed through it might be, but in such a bright public place they could at least fantasize about what it would be like to be able to illuminate themselves like the celebrities and stars who appeared non-stop on video screens. Surrounded by neon, they could ignore the looming edifices of the Northern Quarter behind Adrian's building, where piles of rubble mixed with warrens of alleyways and huge tenements and vertical slums.
Adrian waved his bowl at some passers by, and one or two generous souls or intoxicated idiots (it hardly mattered) tossed him some plastic tokens. He spat a few curses at a few who passed him by, and one threw a five-credit token to him to get him to shut up.

Adrian's phone started ringing, a miserable, weak little wail that was scarcely audible over the storm of noise and sensory input that was Navona Roundabout.

He pulled it out as it continued to bleep unhappily, ignoring the odd looks from passers-by. Why does a beggar have a good phone?, they'd doubtless be asking themselves. Some, the most observant and the least reputable-looking, veered away from him, walking faster or accelerating their scooters. He shook his bowl at a few other pedestrians, plastic credit tokens rattling sadly against the cracked plastic, peeling and rotting in the brutal heat and humidity after years of unintended use by countless owners. One of them tossed him a few credits- more than most ever did, to be sure. He found himself sweating as he raised his phone to his ear, for even now, in the early hours of the morning, Seokgrad was blazingly hot and so humid it seemed like the city was trying to strangle its inhabitants. The pollution and haze seemed to stick to everything like syrup, dripping from thin air.
"Adrian. I have three jobs for you today."
"Yessir, what can I do for you?"
"First, I need you to deliver a package for me to a certain person and bring me the payment. I'll someone drop it off- I assume you're in your usual area?"
"I'm right outside my building, at the moment," he responded, looking up at the battered edifice's looming poured-concrete walls.
"Alright. You'll need to take the metro to a high-rise in the city center- I'll give you an address and access codes and whatnot with the package. I'll collect last night's money too. Then I need you to replace some cameras we have and go through surveillance footage from the old ones. I'll give you the locations and everything once you bring me the payment for the package. Then I'm sending you to the old offshore district. We have some people who have unfortunately been very delinquent in paying their debts, and it's reached a point where it is no longer forgivable. You'll lead a few big guys and kill the owners of the factory, take their cash and whatever, and then burn the factory. Address and faces-"
"-will come when I give you the old cameras and brief you on the footage," Adrian interrupted in a bored tone. "When will you be getting here?"
"Eventually." Lei hung up.

Adrian shook his bowl at another group of pedestrians.

The hover that Lei had given him to get to the brick factory was less than ideal. Even after three years of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, after travelling across the galaxy, Adrian had never learned how to drive a hover without an automatic altimeter. After nearly smashing into a streetlamp, he'd let Nik, one of the bruisers Lei had sent along, take over. After that they zipped along quite smoothly, weaving through the Northern District's labyrinthine streets until they got to the old Coastal Boulevard and then shooting straight up along it.
Just on my way to work.

The smoke of the brick factories was visible from miles away as they approached, a blackish stain on the horizon over the sea. As they drew nearer to the old offshore district, Adrian made a face as he saw the algae blooms staining the surface of the sea an ugly green. The scent wasn't charming either- industrial fumes and smoke and soot from the factories, human waste from the sewer lines that poured out here, biological rot from the algae and all the fish and animals it had killed off, all mingling together to create a truly malodorous brew. Adrian put his filter mask on as the hover zipped along the canals, finally coming to a stop when it reached the site Lei had told them to go to.
Just on my way to work.

Nik gently eased them onto land, and they set down in a cloud of dust. Adrian stepped out and looked around, squinting as the dust and pollution in the air stang his eyes. The brick factory was huge, inky smoke belching from its smokestacks, and row after enormous row of bricks filling a vast storage yard that seemed to just stretch on indefinitely to the next factory. Hover-forklifts could be seen slowly meandering through the stacks, carrying enormous pallets of bricks, and workers with wheelbarrows inched like ants beneath them.
Adrian looked down at his feet, where the hover had blasted away some of the dust that sat everywhere, and realized the island he was standing on- or at least this part of it- was made of brick too. It's like an industrialist built a Von Neumann machine in the ocean. Even beyond this factory, he could see other smokestacks, spewing ash and soot and steam into the grayish sky. Seokgrad was always growing, always rebuilding old areas, and to fuel her expansion and eternal rejuvenation, she required vast quantities of steel, brick, and concrete.

Adrian started walking towards the nearest entrance to the factory. Nik and Chao followed him, carrying steel pipes. Adrian himself had a pistol tucked into the waistband of his pants. The few workers who saw them quickly found urgent reasons to go elsewhere.
The factory door, unsurprisingly, was locked, but it was, like the door to his apartment, quite flimsy. Chao kicked it and smashed at it with his pipe, and it shortly gave way.
Everyone has to eat somehow.

The three of them stepped into the vast interior of the brick factory. Most of its skylights were broken out, and Adrian could tell some of the huge pieces of machinery that occupied the factory floor were shut off. The ones that were operating, however, were loud enough to almost make his ears ring.
Suspended in the roof girders, hanging like a bird's nest (of which there appeared to be plenty), was what appeared to be an office space, built out of repurposed shipping containers and pallets. There was a single metal staircase leading up to the office, and through the window that looked out onto the factory floor Adrian noticed the lights were off. Please don't let them have been warned. Please don't let Lei get angry, Adrian suddenly thought, anxiety squeezing his windpipe.
He led Nik and Chao up the staircase, and tried the handle on the door to the office- also locked. Chao and Nik both kicked it at once, and sent the entire door flying several feet to land with a clang against a desk.

Some idiot suddenly sprang up, and Adrian pulled out his gun and fired. The man staggered and went out the window in an explosion of glass, droplets of blood glistening in the dim light like rubies. Someone else, closer to them, stood up, and Nik smashed them across the face with his pipe. Adrian couldn't help but wince at the crunching noise that it made, and the person crumpled to the floor. Chao, meanwhile, had managed to find the light switch.
Nik boomed over the moans of the woman lying on the floor, bleeding. "Everyone stand up and don't fucking move or speak unless we say so!"
Adrian strolled over to the broken window and peered down at the factory floor below. The man he'd shot lay in the middle of a spreading red circle, motionless.

Three more people stood up, all of them quivering with fear. Adrian walked back to where he'd been standing and stood over the woman Nik had hit, and looked down at her. Nik's blow had smashed her cheekbone and jaw into a disturbing shape, and blood was leaking from her eye socket, mouth, and nose. What a fucking mess. Adrian shot her in the head, twitching a little when some of her blood spattered him. He could hear the people behind him flinch, and turned around.
"One of you three, open your safe."
One of the two men standing tried to stammer out some defiance. "Y-yo-you ca-can't do t-thi-"
Adrian's bullet caught him squarely in his center of mass, knocking him backwards over his desk and silencing him.
"One of you two, open your safe. I'm quite capable of cracking it on my own, I'd just rather not waste the time when one of you shits can do it for me," he snarled. Nik and Chao looked at him, seeming confused. Bloody idiots. Chao opened his mouth to say something to him, but Adrian raised his eyebrows meaningfully.

It took Chao a moment, but the message finally got across, and he smiled and nodded. Meanwhile, the woman had gone into the corner, opening a door in the wall, and was tapping away at a keypad lock. Adrian walked up to the man, who was still standing. "Keep anything else important around here?"
"No," the poor fellow squeaked. "We put everything in the safe. I swear, we can give you-" Adrian punched him in the nose.
"Shut up, I'm not interested." He walked over behind the woman as the safe popped open. "Keep any valuables in your desk or anything? Any loose floorboards we should know about?"
"N-no," she said, avoiding his gaze. Liar.
"You're lying," he said, and kicked her in the side. "Was I close, with loose floorboards?"
She didn't answer. Nik smirked and walked over. "Maybe she'll talk if I have a go at her, yeah?"
Adrian made a disgusted face, but then shrugged. You're not here to make these people's lives better. "You want me to turn you over to Nik? He'll fuck anything that moves and he has a new knife that he likes very much indeed." He hauled her to her feet and slapped her. "You stupid bitch. Tell me where whatever you have is, if you'd rather not be sliced up like a fucking sushi roll."
She gasped for breath, trying to pull away from him. "Under the main hydraulic press! There's a loose cinderblock! We have some cash! Some valuables!"
"Great." He let her collapse back to the floor and turned back to the man. "So you lied to me."

Another gunshot rang out.

"You threw me for a minute when you said you could crack their safe," Nik said, laughing as they watched smoke start to creep from between loose roof tiles. "That was a good one."
"Mmm," Adrian said, ignoring him and climbing into the hover. "Are you getting in or not?"
Nik finished buttoning up his pants before hopping in. Chao climbed in a moment later. "Man, she was-"
"You can reminisce about the poor bitch you raped while I got the money later, please," Adrian sighed. "I'd rather not hear exactly how you fucked this one and cut her up afterwards."
"You're no fun, you faggot," Nik joked. "You would've liked her, she wasn't much of a screamer."
"Drive, please," Adrian said, shaking his head as if that would somehow keep the thoughts from circling inside of it.
Don't blame yourself. You have to eat somehow. She should've paid her fucking debts.

"Good work. There was one other thing," Lei said, blowing streams of smoke out through his nostrils as he took Adrian's gun and slipped it into his waistband.
"Can I have my money first?", Adrian said, raising an eyebrow.
Lei slapped him lightly. "Don't talk back to me, unless you want me to hit you harder."
"What do you want, Lei?", Adrian sighed, looking at the pavement.
"You've done good work for me, today and before. You're a promising employee," Lei said grudgingly, giving him an annoyed look. "The boss likes to meet promising employees, and I decided to put in a good word for you."
Adrian looked up at him, confused. Why in God's name would you ever do anything that helpful for me? "When am I seeing him?"
"A little bloody gratitude wouldn't hurt you now and then, you know," Lei grumbled.
"Thank you," Adrian replied, managing to keep most of the bite out of his tone. "When are you taking me to see him?"
"In a little less than an hour. I'll give you your money afterwards. Go change."
"I thought you said he wanted to meet me because I'm a promising employee."
"Yeah, he does. Perhaps he'll be interested by you, but I doubt it- not as interested in boys, our Lord of Mice. I, on the other hand, quite enjoy you, and a proper thank-you for getting you a chance to see him seems like the least you could do for me."

Adrian could feel the exact moment that Lei's hover passed into the climate-control field. Instantly, Seokgrad's boiling heat and suffocating humidity vanished, and when he inhaled he could almost taste how much cleaner the air was. The gates of the compound sealed behind them, and Adrian stared at the lush, elegant gardens all around. For a moment they brought back memories of Pretiosa, forming a lump in the back of his throat, but he tore his gaze away from the army of flowers outside and looked up the long, tree-lined drive to the house ahead. Even from here he could tell it was a gaudy, tasteless, overwrought monstrosity. The gilding that coated every available decorative carving and statue glittered in the evening sunlight, and Adrian could see the sheen of the white jade blocks he'd been told about. A white jade facade... now that's really flaunting it. Nouveau riche.
The hover rattled as it turned suddenly onto a side road that had been almost hidden by trees and shorter banana plants. "Can't very well take this kind of car right up in front," Lei chuckled, gesturing at his hover's beaten-up, old interior.
They wove and wound for a little ways, finally arriving at a garage that appeared to be entirely constructed from blocks of marble. Well, if you hadn't guessed, he's not old money, Adrian thought to himself as they drove past several rows of expensive sports hovers and automobiles.

Lei pulled up near a doorway, and the two of them hopped out. Immediately, the doors opened, and a woman in a shapeless gray suit stepped out, holding a data slate.
"We've been expecting you. This is the guest?", she asked, nodding at Adrian and looking at Lei.
"Very well. Follow me." She briskly began walking, and Adrian and Lei began following her through a series of winding, mazelike hallways. Every inch of the Lord of Mice's house seemed to be geared to shock visitors with almost aggressive opulence, dripping from every corner. Everything had to be encrusted with gemstones or gilded or made of ridiculously expensive woods and stones and shells. I'm sure Lei finds it all quite impressive. Adrian, for his part, was only reminded of the homes of merchants back in Pretiosa. No taste, no class, just putting it all out there. As if this is what really dazzles people who mean anything.
Finally, they reached a huge set of double doors, with bronze panels sculpted into fanciful scenes, which appeared to draw from fairytales, fantasy novels, and brothels, as best Adrian could tell. There was also, for some reason, on a green jade stand, a sculpture of a bird, which after a moment Adrian realized must have been cut from a single enormous diamond. Fucking ridiculous.

The double doors opened, and he stepped outside onto a patio with a colonnade, looking out over a huge pond full of blooming water lilies and full of brilliantly colored fish.
Lei stepped past him while Adrian stared at the water for an instant, the past paralyzing him. A peacock wailed mournfully somewhere in the distance, out in the gardens, and Lei suddenly turned around.
"Adrian," he hissed, beckoning. The woman in the gray suit continued to click-clack click-clack further away from them, and Adrian shook his head and followed.

Some ways down the patio, a grotesquely fat man floated in a hoverchair. It had clearly been custom-built to accommodate his truly extraordinary girth, with a repulsor pod that looked more like it belonged on a small hovercar than a chair and large maneuvering jets as well. The man who sat on it was partially reclined, heaps of blubber resting in his lap, and dressed in loose black cotton, almost like a hospital shift or medical scrubs.
The chair turned as the three of them approached, and a moonlike face peered down at Adrian.
"Sir, your visitors," the woman said demurely.
"Very well, Ling, you're dismissed." She bowed and hurried off.
"So, Lei, this is the Pretiosan you told me about?", the Lord of Mice rasped.
"Yes, sir."
The maneuvering thrusters on the hoverchair hummed, and it drew closer to Adrian. "So, boy. I hear you're quite talented. A good spy, a good killer, and a good thief. Everything I could hope for in one of my employees," he observed with a wheezing chuckle. "You're from Pretiosa, hmm? An ancient and glorious city. I had the pleasure of going there once. How did you come so far?"
"I left during the Red Turban Rebellion, and after a few stops I ended up in Seokgrad."
"Huh. You don't like talking about it much, then. Understandable," the Lord of Mice grunted. "You have any family, then?"
"Not that I know of," Adrian said, in a voice barely above a whisper. Please don't make me talk any more about this.

The restaurant, once so elegant, had turned into a picture straight from the innermost circles of hell. The missile had only struck the street outside, but there was fire everywhere where debris had fallen, smoke pouring from the doors to the kitchen and flames licking at the bar. Adrian gasped, staring at the sight of his own blood, leaking from the gash on his arm. What did that? How did- a groan from the floor beside him, near the overturned table, tore his thoughts to shreds like fog on a windy day.
"Oh my God, Madeline." His older sister lay prone, her lower body disappearing underneath the table. Adrian felt a sharp pain in his foot, and realized one of his shoes had been blown off by the shockwave- he'd just rammed his foot into a piece of glass.
"Madeline, Madeline-" he tried crawling closer to her, looking around frantically for his parents, for a servant. Her ivory dress had been stained brilliant crimson, torn around the stomach, and blood speckled her lips and cheeks.
"Adrian? Is that... you?" She squinted, tears running down her face, her voice pained and weak and quiet with the flames roaring in the background.
"Yes, it's me, it's fine, I'll just-" he tried to pick up a napkin, hands shaking, tried to put it on her to stop the bleeding-

The Lord of Mice stared at his pained expression for a moment, then grunted. "Uh." One of the thrusters hummed, automatically trimming the chair as it wobbled slightly from the Lord of Mice's slight stirrings. "Lei, leave."
Lei bowed. "Sir." He turned and began walking out, giving Adrian a slightly suspicious look. The Lord of Mice stared at him as he left.

Once Lei had clicked far enough down the patio, the Lord of Mice looked back at Adrian. "You know why I had him leave?"
Adrian shook his head.
"Oh, I've been told you're intelligent. Guess."
"You want to tell me something that has to do with him?"
"No, though that would be logical as well. Well, actually, I suppose I do, but only to preface something else. Surely over six months you've noticed Lei can be... jealous? Envious? Possessive?"
"I suppose, sir," Adrian said carefully.
"We all have faults. Lei has plenty of others, but he serves me well by producing competent employees for me from the North District. And I heard from his supervisor he's perhaps grown a bit, ah, possessive of you yourself, hmm?"
Adrian opened his mouth, then paused, considering his words. "I suppose... I was somewhat surprised he was good enough to mention me to you, sir."
"Lei may produce good employees for me, but every time one of them surpasses him, he gets jealous. And he's already apparently more... possessive... of you than he is with most of the people who've passed through his division, so I'd rather avoid any awkwardness."
"Of course, sir."
"I suppose you're hoping I'll get to the point, eh?", the Lord of Mice said, breaking into a wheezy chuckle as a smile split his enormous face. "Very well. I think you deserve a promotion. Working with Lei as your supervisor while he pimps you out on the side is hardly a suitable assignment for an employee who has proven in the span of six months to be as effective as you have, having reviewed your performance. I'll send someone to bring your things to a better apartment, make sure Lei is clear on the fact that I am promoting you, all that. And I have a job for you, in two days' time."
"You're too generous, sir," Adrian said, feeling numb as a splinter of hope was suddenly lodged in his brain.
"Mmm. You're an aristocrat, yes? Born an aristocrat, always an aristocrat. It's in your bones." He sounded almost bitter, and Adrian restrained himself from glancing at the gaudy opulence that still surrounded them here. "There is to be a gala, at the Museum of Art, in two days. There's an older woman who will attend, who's been a personal frustration for me for... quite a while." The Lord of Mice paused, memories clearly swirling through his skull, and then swam back to reality. I'm not the only one who does that, Adrian realized.
"In any case," the man on the hoverchair rasped. "I want her dead, and you are a perfect person to infiltrate this gala. You know how to behave, how to act, how to pass, and you'll be able to get in. This is the perfect opportunity, since she will be nearly unguarded." Adrian could see the Lord of Mice was relishing the prospect of the death of whoever this vexing woman was. "Anyways, we will discuss it further at a later time. You are dismissed. Ling will show you to your hover."
"My hover, sir?"
"Comes with your new apartment."

It was strange, the return to luxury and comfort. Adrian's new building had a climate control system for everything around it and inside it, working, quiet electric elevators that zipped up and down between floors with perfect predictability and even speeds. Stepping into the apartment, though, was an entirely different experience.
There was a time you would've thought this was a fucking tenement slum. Now, compared to his old apartment, with its one dingy room and tiny afterthought of a bathroom, this was a palace the size of any in Pretiosa. There was a living room, a small dining area, a kitchen, a bedroom and closet, a large bathroom, and even a porch overlooking the city with a small hot tub or pool of some sort.

Adrian went in and lay on the bed. It's so soft. When was the last time I ever lay on a bed this soft?

Perhaps best not to think about that.
The last time he had lain on such a soft bed would have been Pretiosa, the morning before everything had come crashing down.
Best not to think of that. Have something to eat, and go to sleep.

He didn't entirely notice he was crying as he headed to the refrigerator to see what there was to eat.
Last edited by Senkaku on Wed Aug 10, 2016 12:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.
haters will see you growing on a finite planet and say you can't grow infinitely

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Postmaster of the Fleet
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Founded: Sep 01, 2012
Democratic Socialists

Postby Senkaku » Mon Jul 25, 2016 10:07 pm

Flight of the Crane

The shriek of the jumpjet's engines was unearthly, huge clouds of dust flying up into the open cabin as it set down with a bone-rattling roar and sharp jolt. Adrian squinted, thankful for the new filter mask he had on, as sand particles whizzed through the cabin. I can't imagine why it costs more to buy a jumpjet with fucking doors. But the sand was a minor offense, compared to the other indignities he'd suffered during this trip- having his lungs pumped with fluorocarbon in preparation for a hard burn had brought back memories he thought had long been suppressed, and their re-entry upon arrival had been jarring thanks to the ship's old heat shield. Then they'd had to rattle along in a skimmer older than he was to the airport- and now, the shittiest flyer he'd ever had the misfortune to ride in.

As the jet's engines began to quiet down, he could hear the wind whistling. The dust was already clearing, and stepping out of the jet made Adrian flinch from the temperature change. Its climate control field was low quality, but stepping into the bitter cold was still a shock. Now Adrian had to squint against the icy wind and the brilliant light, as the glare of two weak and distant suns shimmered off the white sand. This doesn't even seem real.

And in the distance, the ship-breaking yards of Sorhae. Adrian's sudden shiver was not just from cold- the huge rusted giants in the distance brought back memories as vividly as the fluorocarbon had.
His bruisers hopped out of the jet behind him, hefting heavy assault guns and plasma needle rifles. The nearest shipwreck was perhaps a kilometer away, and Adrian could see the skimmer and hovers sitting outside it. There were even figures moving around near them, though it was hard to make out against the blinding sand.

Anatole Jiang smiled, shrugging his parka a little tighter around himself, and shook the woman's hand. "A pleasure to meet you, madame. Please convey my thanks to the Lord of Mice for agreeing to this meeting."
"Of course. You wish to conclude an arrangement to buy missiles, yes? Forty-five Taihani SK-12A surface-to-orbit anti-ship missiles?"
"Correct. My fellow Red Turbans require improved munitions to strike back at the Golden League's ships if we are to have any hope at holding Pretiosa for much longer. You have generously offered to supply a somewhat older model at a far reduced price, for which I must once again thank you."
"Of course. We do business with anyone who can be a good partner. I believe the terms are that you will supply fifty percent of your payment now, in cash. Could you please transfer it?"
"Of course." Anatole snapped his fingers, and several men in red armbands came forward carrying a trio of huge trunks, which they set down with heavy thunks. "Two hundred and fifty-two million, four hundred thousand credits. Feel free to count or check the quality of the notes."
A man came over and whispered something in the woman's ear. She suddenly turned away from Anatole, looking to her right where a distant dust plume had appeared on the plain.

This sand is the same color as her dress was. My, this trip has really turned into a journey down memory lane. The little particles of salt and microscopic shells crunched underfoot as he walked across the plains, feeling the cold wind sting his face with flying grains. Adrian could see his sister again, almost, as she had been before the moment of the explosion. And the Lord of Mice means to sell those murdering dog-fuckers more missiles. I suppose I should be thankful to him for bringing me Jiang.

Four years since you left. It's been more than four years since you left Pretiosa. This has been too long in coming.

Vengeance had hardly been the only thing on Adrian's mind since the last day of his childhood. Survival had usually been a higher priority, or whatever meaningless humiliation or debasement he would have to next perform to ensure he would be able to eat. But in those nights where he'd grabbed a few hours' sleep or restless tossing, his mind circled back every now and then.
That man in there, more than anyone, took it from you. Took everything. The commander of the 3rd Volunteers' Rocket Artillery, Anatole Jiang, now a brigadier general and recipient of the Order of the Red Banner- awarded for his heroic actions in wiping out the class enemy at the Siege of Pretiosa. The man who personally oversaw the missile strikes.

And now my boss, the man who raised me back out from nothingness, is selling him and all his filthy peasant friends more of them. Well, won't he be surprised.

It hadn't been easy, tricking the Lord of Mice, when Adrian had found out that there was a deal with the Red Turbans on Sorhae. Sniffing out what the deal was- that had been easy, but deceiving the man who ran the most prolific network of informers on this side of the galaxy as to his whereabouts for four days, that had been difficult. But not impossible.

Adrian took a deep breath, feeling triumph swelling up in his chest as he raised his gun and began firing. All around him, people began shooting, tracer rounds zipping through the frigid air. At last. It felt almost like flying, as he watched the people around the skimmers scream and vanish in puffs of red vapor and orange flame.

The first explosion threw Anatole flat on his back, knocking the wind out of him. He could see a fiery orange plume rising from the skimmer that the Lord of Mice's representative had come in, and suddenly there was rapid gunfire. Anatole scrambled to his feet, shouting for his guards, but suddenly there was a second explosion- one of the hovers his party had ridden out to the site in. He stumbled and fell, watching in horror as people went down all around him from bullets or plasma needles. There was a third blast- something exploding above them, against the side of the ship they were meeting under. Anatole got up and started running towards the surviving hovers, and suddenly there was an orange flash in front of him, a huge force struck him across the face, and he knew no more.

"Wake up!"
Anatole jerked awake to the sudden, overwhelming noise of trashy electronic music, blindingly bright light being shone in his eyes, and cold water suddenly soaking his body. As he gasped for breath and shivered, his body swiftly took in the situation. He was naked, strapped down on a table, even his head restrained so he could only look up and slightly to each side. His head hurt, and he could feel what felt like crusted blood on his upper lip. How did I- he began to remember what had happened.
"Where am I? Who are you, and what do you want?"
Whoever had spoken to him snorted, and he heard the whistling noise of some sort of long, thin instrument slicing through the air. An instant later there was a crack, and Anatole yowled as some sort of narrow rod was slammed down along his leg and stomach.
"Settle down, Brigadier. You are, clearly, no longer at the shipbreaking yards." Anatole could hear water dripping, but he couldn't tell if it was just coming off of him or from somewhere else in the building as well. "As for who I am? Just another class enemy, really. One who you came very close to killing. I wonder, if you'd gotten me too, if your peasant friends would have given you another medal. Would I have pushed you over some magic number? Such a shame. You did kill the rest of my family, though. Perhaps later I'll tell you about my sister bleeding to death in my arms."
Anatole began to feel ill. "Why did you bring me here?"
Adrian hefted the bamboo cane and brought it down with all his might against the general's cheek. The man screeched with pain, spitting out blood, and Adrian smiled as a trickle of it ran down from a cut above his eye.
"Because I wanted to speak to you more privately."
"Why not just kill me?", Anatole whispered, a sense of dread settling in.
"Because I have a question. Did you receive information on the whereabouts of Marcus Valerii and his family, the day Pretiosa fell? Was there an artillery spotter or informant?"
I am probably going to die, Anatole realized. Perhaps if I cooperate with him he'll let me live, at least. "Yes. A call from his deputy chief steward, a sympathizer of ours, telling us what restaurant he was going to."
"Excellent." Adrian picked up a can sitting on the ground and began to pour the contents over Anatole's left leg. His filter mask protected him, but the brigadier coughed and yelled in protest. "What are you doing?"

I suppose kerosene fumes would be rather overwhelming in such close quarters.
Adrian pulled out a lighter. An instant later, there was a sharp whuff, and Anatole began screaming like nothing human. Adrian smiled as he thrashed in his restraints, the screams bouncing off the walls as he arched his back, and sat down in the little folding chair he'd brought in. The flames twisted like dancers, sending flesh-scented smoke up to leak out of the little concrete cell and into the rest of the abandoned warehouse. Whoever said revenge is best served cold must not have done that much avenging.
It barely took two minutes for the kerosene to die down, leaving Anatole semi-conscious and keening like some brutalized animal. His leg was horribly seared, the flesh blackened and blistered and peeling away from the bone- but he would survive it, at least for the time being.

Adrian looked into the rest of his bag. Let's see, what else can I do now that the kerosene's done?

Ling hurried after the Lord of Mice's hoverchair. "We've still had no contact from Madame de Livega since she went to the shipbreaking yards to finalize the deal, sir," she said, looking down at her data slate, "nor any word from the Red Turbans."
"How long has it been now, close to seventy-two hours, yes? I can understand some delays, but this is worrisome. Send someone to investigate."
"Anyone in particular, sir, or just any team?"
"Hmm. Send Adrian, with a couple of bruisers."
"Sir, he's on vacation on Lifen-di still."
"So call him back! I pay both of you, don't I?"
Ling's tablet beeped. "It looks as if there's been a delivery for you, sir. An express delivery from Sorhae. Just arrived."
The Lord of Mice stopped his hoverchair and looked at her, frowning. "How odd. I'd expect Livega to message us, not send a package."
"The inspection team said it checked out as safe for any explosives, but it's labelled only for you to open."
"Huh. Bring it here, then." Ling tapped a few buttons, and they both waited for a moment as birds chirped in the gardens on long emerald crystals carved like bamboo.
One of the household courier drones, a simple quadcopter with opal-studded struts, suddenly dropped out of the air, rotors buzzing, carrying a plastic box in its claws. It beeped and spoke in a monotone voice.
"Package confirmed as safe."
Ling took the box from the drone and set it down, popping the lid off, and suddenly gasped as the machine began to move away.

One of Anatole Jiang's lifeless eyes stared back at her. The other eye socket looked to have been carved or stabbed out, his lips cut off, his nose partially severed, his ears laying beside his decapitated head. Most grotesquely, his severed penis had been stuffed into his mouth- and it looked to have been badly burned by something.
"My God," Ling whispered. There was a clean piece of white digisilk folded next to the Red Turban general's ears, and Ling unfolded it to read the note.

I quit.


There was suddenly a buzzing noise, and the drone came swooping back down, charging at the Lord of Mice like an enraged aluminum bird. He gave a shout, and Ling lunged at it, but before she could do anything the drone had plowed into his enormous belly, rotors spraying gore everywhere. The Lord of Mice roared with pain, swatting at the drone and crushing half of it with one meaty fist, but it sliced deeply into his arm too before pulling up and away, and his hoverchair spun out of control at the sudden impact. It smashed into the ground, spilling its gigantic passenger.

Ling heard screams from elsewhere on the estate, small explosions, the pop of small arms. The Lord of Mice was flailing on the ground, blood pouring out of his shredded abdomen, and the drone, sparking and smoking but with two rotors still operating, began its approach for a final pass as he lay on his back.
Ling threw herself over her boss and screamed as she felt the rotors begin to cut into her.
haters will see you growing on a finite planet and say you can't grow infinitely

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The Solar Cooperative Union
Posts: 348
Founded: Jul 24, 2015

Postby The Solar Cooperative Union » Sat Jul 30, 2016 10:43 pm





Jackson stuffed the last of his textbooks into the brown backpack and slung one of the straps over his left shoulder, the weight of the books and steel revolver in the bag immediately pressed his spine down. The weight of his bag immediately blended with the prospects of the day and soured his mood. The arguments between his parents had long ago turned into background noise, each of them repeating the same jabs and insults that they always used. Wordlessly he popped a caffeine pill into his mouth and trudged out the door into the drab hallway beyond.

Acidically bright lights buzzed in the hallway, their buzzing drowned out the muffled shouts of his parents. Further down the passageway another door swung open and the form of Jacksons best friend emerged. Jalari was about as tall as Jackson, both were roughly average, granted the caramel skin of Strindans and the buzzed black hair. Jalari cracked a sly smile as he spotted Jackson and waved him over. Jalari met Jacksons stride and they both carried on to the sliding front doors of their apartment building, it was raining outside as always.

As the pair emerged into the dirty grey rain of early morning Carca Ward, traffic was already built up, and the sound of idling engines and creaking pipes combined into a cacophony of urban decay.

"Todays tha' day Jack, Tim says the docks are all quiet now since tha' war n' shit, and that they got a whole crate full'a Lexmada bran' shit sittin out there."

"So we're gonna just steal a crate from the docks? Bullshit J', no fuckin' way the three of us can haul of that much without gettin' caught."

Jalari let out an indignant snort while digging through the pockets of his sweatshirt, he pulled out a tightly rolled blunt and lit it, took a drag and handed it to Jackson.

"Listen Jack, Tim got us in with some real shit, says they got'a sky-car with a crane or some shit, they're strapped as hell also."

Jackson made a face of skepticism then hit the blunt and handed it back to Jalari, who took a final drag and snubbed it on the wall besides him before sliding it back into his pocket. Tim was waiting for them under the awning of the highschool, students and faculty bustled around him as the school day began. On spotting his two friends he walked to meet them, he stood out with his tall build and red hair.

"Sup' boys? You ready for this tonight?"

Both of them replied "Hell yeah" in unison.

"Nice, alright, don't come too fucked up thought, cause we gonna be rollin deep as hell."

Jackson nodded.

"Right, right, I'll see you guys lata'."

Jackson began to pull away into the crowd of students moving into the school, as he did Jalari let a wide smile cross his face.

"Hey Jack, you and Gabbi fuck yet?!"

Tim let out a shocked laugh and slapped Jalari on the back as Jackson advanced without responding.

Jackson smiled for the first time since waking up as he met eyes with his girlfriend Gabbi, she smiled back and they met each other at the edge of the hallway. He wrapped his arms around her waist and looked down at her face, she looked back at him and he couldn't help but pull her in closer. The hoodie in his size that she was wearing reminded him of good times, and the genuine affection in her face was all he needed in the moment.

"Hey, babe, my Mom's visiting my uncle tonight, you should come over."

Jackson threw his head back, genuinely upset that he couldn't accept the invitation. He pursed his lips and looked Gabbi in her green eyes.

"J's already got me in on some bullshit tonight babe, sorry."

"Just cancel Jack, come on."

Jackson shook his head.

"Nah Gabs, he'd kick my ass."

She pushed away wordlessly and met his eyes with hers, affection changed to worry.

"Jack you told me you guys were done with doing sketchy shit, J's stupid as hell Jack! Don't get mixed up with him and Tim again!"

"Gab, just one last thing and I can get you and me tickets off-world! Fuck this place babe, you don't deserve to end up wasting away here!"

Gabbi shook her head and walked away, and the happiness she had brought slipped away with her. Jackson kicked the wall and slunk away to brood about his terrible day.

"No mom I'm not gonna be home for dinner... Okay love you to"

Jackson flipped his omni-tab shut and pushed it into his pocket, which was starting to become thoroughly soaked in the unrelenting rain. The evening was already dark this deep into the city, a criss-cross of towering buildings and roadways, tram-tracks and advertisements completely obscured the sky and the soft light of the sun was replaced with the sharp shadows and dull buzz of neon billboards and street-lights.

"Alright, we're good, parents are out of my hair, lets meet this guys."

Jalari and Tim nodded, and Tim led the way into a smoke stained bar, exposed piping and cables partly obscured the dull lights of the bar and cast a surreal web of shadows over the room. In the booth nearest the door a long bearded Strindan looked up at the arriving trio and gestured with his head to sit down. A second and third man emerged from the neighboring booth and all of them took a seat.

"Sup Mike"

Tims voice was tinged with an obvious desire to come off as more of an adult then he was.

"These the guys Tim?'

"Yea man, they're good for it"

The bearded man looked over Jalari and Jackson the nodded.

"You guys got ya' own heat?"

Both of them nodded, Jackson imagining the kick of his fathers service pistol and the sound it made.

"Alright, you guys just do what we say, alright?"


The magnetic harness slid around the faded white shipping container with a satisfying noise. Jackson couldn't help but smile as the sky-car began to climb away with the loot, if he got even a decent cut he could start somewhere that didn't feel like he was suffocating in despair all the time. The rain had now grown to a downpour and now the glittering monoliths of the city core stood out abruptly against the dark night. Each tower strained out above the human hive beneath it and cast bright auras of pink and blue light into the rainy sky, Jackson couldn't help but appreciate the beauty. His contemplation was erased in a burst of excitement a few yards away.




Jackson heard the thump of his friends body against the steel dock, followed quickly by a second shot. He stumbled backwards, the world turned upside down in mere moments, his heart pulsed and he fumbled with the pistol in his hands. Jalari rounded the corner with wild, wide eyes and a steaming pistol in his grip.

"J what the fuck did you do?!"

Jalari let his mouth fall open and croaked out a reply.

"I'm fuckin' done for bro"

Jackson couldn't tell if either of them were crying in the pouring rain, but he had never Jalari look so firmly broken.

"J we gotta fuckin' go!"

Jalari wordlessly slipped back around the corner out of sight, and Jackson didn't follow him. Instead he took off in a dead sprint towards the busy street that hugged the dock. As he reached the sidewalk and slipped to a halt he heard a distant barrage of gunfire and the busy sidewalk reeled at the noise.


He whipped his head around to the noise to see a Strinda Port Authority officer standing farther down the sidewalk, a rifle pointed right at Jackson. It was then Jackson realized he was still holding his fathers pistol, instinct took over and he wrenched his hand forward and squeezed the trigger, the weapon slammed backwards. A spray of brain matter and blood erupted from the officers bald head and he sprawled backwards onto the pavement. A second officer emerged from the fleeing crowd and rushed to cradle the bald man. Jackson felt hot tears running down his face and couldn't will his eyes away from his doing. The second officer was desperately shaking his lifeless partner. Without thinking, as if it were a reflex, Jackson strode up to the hysterical officer and effortlessly shot the distressed man in his head. A second spattering of brain matter and blood hit the side walk and Jackson wretched before stumbling away.

Maybe this would turn out alright, no one had really seen his face right? The streets were unusually empty after all, seemed everyone was home for the night. Jackson let a relieved smile stretch across his face, his eyes wide like Jalari before him. He didn't let that smile fade even as a Dropship centered him in its glaringly bright spotlight. Jackson threw himself through the front window of the nearest shop and immediately bolted for the roof, his elation interrupted as a team of PCHR troopers let a wall of led fly at him. Jackson shot open the stairway door and stumbled out onto the roof, collected rain was whipped into torrents as the VTOL craft above him began to take position. Ignoring the four spotlights trained on him and the screams ordering him to comply, he stepped to the edge of the roof.


A sound like squished ground beef rung in his ears as he twirled backwards. He knew what had happened, a savage hole dug in his chest sent blood pooling and mixing with the puddled water around him, crimson spirals forming in the greasy pools that reflected the light of the city. His chest stopped heaving, his lungs failing in their own efforts to survive. Boots stomped around him and his vision blurred, he looked through the legs of his killers, past the low roofs of the industrial district. The towering and glittering buildings of Strinda broadcast luminous remembrance to all who had died beneath them, he took in the surreal glow one last time, Neon Tombstones stretching into a dark sky.
Don't look at this

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Postmaster of the Fleet
Posts: 21528
Founded: Sep 01, 2012
Democratic Socialists

Postby Senkaku » Tue Aug 09, 2016 6:01 pm

Class Enemy

Part One
A Strange Request

Seokgrad, Taihan-di

"Thank you, again, for coming to meet with me," the creature in the tank said through its synthesizer, wriggling its tentacles aimlessly and flopping down on a chunk of coral.
"It was an honor to be invited, Viceroy," Adrian replied, shifting in his seat. They aren't as strange-looking as all that. More or less the same as a squid, or a cuttlefish. But their eyes are different.
"I asked you to come here because of your homeland," the uulchi said bluntly. "The re-pacification of Pretiosa has, unfortunately, been too long a lesser priority for much of the Golden League, but the Council of Notables has finally come around to see the importance of the matter, as has the World School."
"But both, I'm sure, remain entirely uninterested in the plight of Pretiosans themselves."
The uulchi was quiet for a moment, regarding him strangely. "I suppose that is fair. But you are not wrong, concern for the issues of refugees remains a lower priority than the immediate military issue of retaking the city from rebellious elements."
"Forgive me, but I'm quite confused as to why the uulchi Viceroy to Taihan-di has asked me, a young man of low prominence and lower repute, whose only distinguishing features are his purple blood, his sordid past and current dealings and history, and his relatively modest wealth, to speak to me about a military issue."
"You were, less than a year ago, one of the most trusted lieutenants of the Lord of Mice, who by proxy had several seats on the Council of Notables. You have ruthlessly and effectively prosecuted a conflict against your rivals and taken control of your former employer's networks, at least in part. This gives you control, directly or indirectly, of a large number of ships, perhaps not all of which you are aware of, and an even larger number of informers and employees."
Adrian stared in astonishment, then started to laugh. "Are you asking me for levies?"
The Viceroy flashed aquamarine, perhaps in embarrassment, and waved his tentacles in an agitated manner. Adrian slapped his thigh, laughing. "You're so desperate to scrounge up troops that you're asking me to lend you gangsters, to retake Pretiosa? That inspires such great confidence in me in the ultimate success of the mission."
The Viceroy released a few bubbles, aquamarine patterns dancing on his skin. "We have already assembled six tümens of ships- three from Tian, two from Hanjin, one from Carcosa. My people have also contributed a few vessels. You have at least a tümen of ships at your disposal. And you have the Oryol."
"The Oryol hasn't moved in sixty years and the areas that aren't submerged are just another apartment slum. I lived in that ship, when I first came here, right after I arrived. And I don't have anywhere near 500 ships at my disposal, and none of the ones I do have are warships by any stretch of the word. This can't be the real reason you asked me here."
There was silence. It has a name, doesn't it? They have the numbers, this was sixty-something... 64 Soph-jun, that's right.
"Do you honestly expect you'll be able to retake Pretiosa, by scrounging up a few dozen old freighters crewed by gangsters and a rust bucket that hasn't done anything in the last six decades except serve as a crack den?"
"This isn't about your force, to tell the truth. It's about securing the forces from Hanjin. They wanted an eight-tümen force, to ensure that our force was large enough that victory would be assured- their chief delegate to the Council is something of a worrier."
"So you need two tümens, in truth."
"Yes." The Viceroy's synthesizer managed to carry a defeated tone. "Look, I understand this would be a great personal expense to you, and it seems like folly. But if your homeland and its scattered people mean something to you, I implore you to work with me. The Security Directorate will be able to persuade Matsushita Heavy Industries to help you refit the Oryol, and if you like you can contribute a few ships as well. Oryol is our main priority, and if you won't give it to me I may end up having to try and take it from you. But agents of the World School are presently scouring the entire League to scrounge ships up here and there, to keep Hanjin's contribution intact. I know that Pretiosa has been neglected, I know you yourself have suffered as many others who had to flee have suffered. But, late as it is, the day has arrived where you have a chance to strike back."

Part Two

Chongnam, Taihan-di

It felt strange, walking through the corridors he'd gotten used to before he'd met Lei and actually having proper, standardized lighting instead of dingy, multicolored neon. The floors were clean, instead of stained with God only knew what sort of filth and littered with trash. Best of all, the areas that had once been flooded or else damp and miserable had been entirely cleaned and sealed up. The Oryol actually floated, now, displacing a mind-boggling amount of water, rather than resting on the shallow sandy bottom among the islands of Seokgrad's North District. Adrian could still hear the sounds of the refit, hundreds of Matsushita workers and construction robots toiling day and night to install laser mounts, restore the main computer that had once been an impromptu underground sort of black-market stock exchange, repair the twin fusion reactors, and a thousand other tasks.
Walking through the Oryol was hardly the strangest part of the experience of the last few weeks, however. Business as usual had ground to a halt, essentially- but, with the police firmly on his side thanks to the intervention of the Security Directorate, it wasn't as if any rivals could do much either, for the time being. The Viceroy had been as good as his word, providing the resources of the Matsushita Corporation and the Security Directorate to help Adrian undertake perhaps the most peculiar mobilization in the League's- or indeed, the Galaxy's- history. He'd paid off dozens of ship captains to loan him their vessels, not for the usual smuggling runs- where the idea was to run away from military ships- but to load them up with missiles and prepare them for battle. It didn't take much incentive to get those at the lowest rung of society to sign up for this bizarre militia, either- a stipend of two hundred credits a month, and suddenly gangbangers, prostitutes, drug addicts, and beggars were clamoring to be handed assault rifles and crammed onto transports.
The Viceroy's exosuit made a strange clicking as its legs struck the floor beside him.
"I have just received word that you will not need to buy out those iron ore freighters after all. My Carcosian counterpart has secured half a dozen actual warships from some Carcosian purple who has Pretiosan descent."
"You know, you never explained why the World School has suddenly taken such a great interest in this."
"It's not my place to do so. Nor is it yours to ask. Tian will be providing an overall commander for the expedition, an experienced woman from their foreign legion. The schedule remains on course for launch by tomorrow afternoon, local time, so if your inspection is complete I might suggest you go and grab some rest."
"Travel plans still the same?"
"Yes. The fleet will rendezvous over Hanjin and then move into the Abbas System."

Part Three
Percentage Game

Abbas System

"Her Excellency the Ispahsalar!"
Sajida Delacroix suppressed a sigh as the few officers still standing around immediately spun towards her and saluted. She gave a cursory salute back, her back aching. The Dahlia was still accelerating gradually, but already there was at least two gravities, pressing down on them. After several days of feeling light as a feather, except for occasional centrifugal gravity, it was certainly unpleasant. Stop wasting my time saluting so we can all get in our pods.
"At ease," she called out. The men and women in the hallway immediately returned to their task- namely, climbing into their acceleration pods in preparation for battle. As Ispahsalar of the expedition, Sajida's own pod had gotten some special touches- gold scrollwork, not unlike the ridiculous embroidery on her own overwrought uniform, and some armor and extra systems in case it was, somehow, thrown clear of the Dahlia in the event of an explosion or hull breach.
A voice spoke in her earpiece- her chief information officer, Commander Ishimura, who was already ensconced in his own pod, absorbing rapid-fire briefings and sensor data from computer systems and junior sensors officers.
"Madam, we have around forty-five seconds until Engineering starts our combat burn."
"Thank you, Ishimura." She glanced over at her guest, who was climbing into his own rather unique acceleration pod. The Irkhaean viceroy's exosuit, an elaborate seraphite and platinum affair, had hooked up to his pod, and she saw the viceroy himself wriggle through the aqueous airlock device into the shelter. His synthesized voice reached her earpiece a moment later.
"My battle commander, 91 Im-gyej, reports that his combat drones are roughly twenty seconds from the main enemy formation, Ispahsalar."
Sajida slid out the mobile part of her pod and opened it, wrinkling her nose at the sight of pink fluorocarbon fluid before climbing in.
"Thank you, Viceroy. He may engage at will, as per our discussion," she responded, and then dove into the fluorocarbon. The worst part, as usual, was inhaling- it made her choke and sputter and cough like mad for a moment, but then her body realized she could still breath. The liquid was laden with oxygen, after all, and as it filled her lungs she felt the stimulant cocktail it also contained start pumping through her veins. The pod automatically sealed behind her, and she waved a hand to order the restraints to fasten. Screens immediately lit up, displaying data in front of her, and Ishimura's voice came again in her ear, though she knew it was now just a series of electric impulses sent directly to her auditory nerves.
"The uulchi drones are about to engage and pass through the enemy line. And.... there they go. The enemy was barely able to respond. Two drones damaged, one drone destroyed, the rest re-vectoring or decelerating for a second pass. One enemy tender looks to have several hull breaches, and seventy-eight... no, seventy-nine ships destroyed, three more damaged."
"How long till we're in range?"
A different voice suddenly spoke in her ear, a generic, computerized female voice. "Combat burn beginning in three, two-" Sajida felt new chemicals start pumping into her bloodstream from the fluid around her- "one, mark."
A huge force started pushing down on her, like an elephant standing on her chest and head. Were it not for the fluorocarbon around her and the special chemicals, she would've lost consciousness and had her chest cavity and air spaces in her body crushed. As it was, she mouthed curses for a moment, feeling the acceleration drugs kicking in fully.
A new screen popped up- a tactical holo. Ishimura grunted something unintelligible- his drugs were probably taking a moment to kick in. I suppose a lifetime of combat burns is hard on the body. Sajida stared at the tactical holo, blinking to manipulate it- her hands were as useless as two lead blocks under the weight of dozens of gravities.
The female computerized voice came back- an aeai briefer, since Ishimura seemed to be having trouble with the acceleration, based on the biometrics that also suddenly popped up.
"Ten seconds until the fleet arrives in weapon range. Oryol and the fifth and sixth tümens will cross four seconds later. She and her tümens accelerated late and remain in an incomplete formation."
Damnit, Sajida thought to herself, fucking auxiliaries. Oryol is too old to be in a spearhead.
"Initial missile and countermeasure launches beginning." She stared intently at the mass of enemy ships ahead of them, with red and yellow tags among the blue ones where the uulchi attack drones had taken their toll. Her own ships were marked in green- and, indeed, Oryol, an ancient Taihani tender, and her ships were lagging behind, their formation ragged and left open, full of gaps. A hasty levy of old ships and unskilled spacers. The sweepings of the streets, really.
Her pod suddenly trembled, and Sajida closed her eyes.
"Engaging with laser fire." The shuddering continued- presumably as Dahlia's ablative armor was struck by high-energy beams and her maneuvering systems corrected, but several sudden jolts made Sajida fear that they'd been seriously hit.
"Entering short-range missile engagement zone. Main KKV batteries, firing. Point defense is active." She opened her eyes.
Damnit. The Dahlia had been holed twice along her minor axis, compromising three compartments, reducing heat-sink capacity by 9%, and putting one of her main laser mounts and a mass driver out of action. The ship shook more violently, now, and Sajida quickly said a prayer. This was the most dangerous part of any engagement- the knife fight, as the two fleets mingled together. There was a sudden jerk, and diagrams of the ship started flashing red.
"KKV impact on the minor axis, estimated yield twenty kilotons. Laser mount No. 7 is offline, 7% heat sink loss, 11% point-defense efficacy reduction, one additional compartment compromised, one previously compromised compartment suffering additional damage." The briefing aeai paused. "Dahlia has passed through the enemy formation." It paused again, for several seconds. "Oryol and her elements have passed through the enemy formation."
"Report on state of enemy forces."
"Estimate 89% kill rate of enemy craft. All tenders except two destroyed, remaining two are seriously damaged. Surviving enemy ships are re-vectoring or decelerating to try and get out of weapons range. Anastasia Station's weapon mounts have all been neutralized, as have most of the station's sensors, and based on observation her heat sinks appear to be at least at 50% capacity."
Sajida grinned despite herself, but then squashed her feelings. 11% of the enemy force is still out there, and if you only have a tenth of the fleet left that won't do you much good in a siege. "Damage report."
"Dahlia has three compromised compartment from two laser strike holes and a KKV impact with a twenty kiloton yield, all on the minor axis, and remains off course by a quarter of a degree below the plane of the ecliptic from that impact. Three compartments are compromised, and the KKV was stopped by an armored bulkhead and caused catastrophic damage to one compartment. 91% of the first tümen has survived, along with 95% of the second tümen, 84% of the third tümen, and 87% of the fourth tümen." There was another pause. "Combat burn ending... mark." The elephant's foot suddenly lifted off of her. "Fifth tümen has a 52% survival rate, sixth tümen has a 46% survival rate. Seventh and eight tümens both have an 83% survival rate. Germanicus and Namurr escaped without damage, but Oryol suffered a KKV impact along her major axis of about five hundred kilotons. It appears the weapon did not suffer major fragmentation or spreading but passed clean through the entire length of the ship. All compartments are compromised and one of her main reactors is offline. 25% of her thruster systems are offline. Second KKV impact of about twenty kilotons on her minor axis was stopped by a bulkhead and saw major spreading, leading to catastrophic damage in three compartments, as fragments penetrated her major axial bulkheads. Laser strikes created an additional four hull breaches and long-range sensors were taken out by a nearby H-missile burst."
Fucking Christ. I told them not to send that damn ship.
"Enemy ships appear to be maneuvering to regroup around Anastasia Station. Additional craft are being deployed from previously undetected hangar locations."
"Engage Anastasia Station with KKVs and H-tipped penetrators." Sajida had lost her patience- she would help pay to replace the old battlestation, but high command's ridiculous request to try and leave it as intact as possible was going to get people killed and impede her conduct of the siege.

Part Four
Long Approach to South Bridge

Abbas System

Adrian wiggled his fingers, blinking away stars as the crushing weight of the combat burn suddenly was taken off. The Oryol had shaken with such force that even with his restraints he'd been thrown around in his acceleration pod, bashing his head against the side. He waved a hand to call up the tactical holo and winced as he looked at all the flashing red. That looks bad. A floating advisory popped up next to it: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR ACCELERATION POD. The holo showed the disposition of the two fleets- Oryol's icon glowed an unhappy yellow, indicating damage, and he saw swarms of red tags where the enemy formation was slowly falling behind them, most of its ships destroyed. A number of red tags were drifting along with them, especially around Oryol- the ships in its division had been in poor order going into the battle, and half weren't real warships in any case.
Ahead of them, on the holo, in high orbit, he could see the great sphere that was Anastasia Station, now standing almost alone. More ships were launching from it, but they were turning red as Adrian watched, presumably since they were now well within laser range.

And suddenly, the tiny orb of Anastasia Station turned from yellow to red, and then dissolved. Adrian stared in confusion as pixelated debris appeared in its place. Did they just kill the station? He blinked to call up one of Oryol's surviving external cameras.

Sure enough, a blindingly bright light was shining where the station should be, pieces of debris slowly moving away, clouds of plasma obscuring the curve of Pallasia's horizon. He could see gas trails left by H-missiles, all pointing towards it, and there were streaks of light as mass drivers fired continually from other ships in the fleet and even from Oryol's surviving systems.
God fucking damn. They must've overloaded point defenses and just fucking smashed the shit out of it.

I suppose that means the landings will start sooner rather than later.
Sure enough, he felt gravity return as Oryol burned hard to park in orbit and begin the siege of Pallasia.

Pretiosa had been enjoying a quiet, mild morning, the predawn sun delicately brushing the eastern horizon over the mountains with pink and gold. The city was not what it once was, but as the birds chirped quietly in the early morning darkness, and if you were outside of the hardest-hit quarters, one could be forgiven for almost failing to remember that this city had been savagely overrun by peasant rebels from the countryside and had been living under their occupation since.
When the flashes in the sky began, however, you could not forget that those same rebels were now facing their reckoning. They had fought for some time, with great ferocity, against the half-hearted efforts of disinterested powers- but now that proper interest had been taken, there was nothing that could save them. Ships flashed brightly against the washed-out stars as they were vaporized or crippled or their reactors broken open, and then there was darkness once again.
The tiny moon that was Pretiosa's main defensive satellite, Anastasia Station, suddenly flashed brightly. Then it seemed to catch like a match, coming under sustained bombardment, H-bombs and mass driver projectiles turning it into a tiny sun.

After a moment, the blaze of light faded, though it had caught the attention of the citizenry. Everyone knew what came next. If you wished to fool yourself for a few seconds longer, it was at first possible to pretend that the streaks of light appearing in the sky were ordinary meteors. Streaks of light began lancing up from around the countryside, meeting some of them in midair- missiles, railguns, lasers, all trying to bring down the kinetic bombs that were now being released in their thousands on the hapless planet below.

Some did, but most did not. One of the meteors suddenly swelled into an enormous fireball as it descended, streaks of light zipping past it as it roared down towards Aybak Island, across the sound from the main portion of the city. The radar facility on Aybak was clearly diverting point defense around the entire city to try and kill whatever had been dropped, but practically before anyone could react the fireball had swollen from a pinpoint in the sky and then slammed into the island with a blinding flash. The shockwave reached Pretiosa within seconds, blowing out windows and knocking people walking on the street flat on their asses. The very earth trembled with the force of the impact, and within seconds there was another enormous flash, this time from the north. Then there began to be more distant flashes, as bombs rained down on Red Turban positions in the mountains to the east and west, and further beyond.
One of the fireballs suddenly flared up, moments from crashing down into the sound on top of a collection of warships and freighters bobbing at anchor. Pieces of it went flying from whatever explosion had destroyed it, sending flaming chunks of debris arching skyward or at odd angles to slam into the ships below and the buildings of the waterfront. Gold Plum Tower, the proud skyscraper that had been strafed when the city was stormed, suddenly bent in half as a tiny star, trailing smoke, plunged through it in a plume of orange flame. A huge cloud of dust rose up as the top half of the vast edifice crumpled onto one of its smaller neighbors, and smaller pieces of debris that had been hurled clear from the interception or from the tower's collapse began falling back to the city in a rain of fire. They were accompanied by smaller bombs, setting a thousand fires in the already-battered city and hurling huge clouds of smoke and dust into the air.

Smaller-moving stars started descending now, turning into tiny moons as they approached- the landing craft, the first wave of the reconquerors of the proud city of Pretiosa.

Part Five
A Walk in Gomorrah

Pretiosa, Pallasia

His own memory of the city was filled with fire and blood, but Adrian could scarcely comprehend the scale of the devastation as the flyer descended through the ugly black smoke clouds that mingled with the marine layer over Pretiosa. Skyscrapers he remembered had been snapped off halfway up their height or simply vanished from the skyline into piles of blazing rubble. The city's streets, usually bewildering at ground level and difficult to decipher from the air thanks to the density of the buildings that cast them into valleys of shadow, were laid naked by the bombardment. Though many of those who had for so long imprisoned them from sunlight and prying eyes had fallen, they remained in darkness and obscurity- smoke from the burning city was, along with some help from the city's inevitable autumn clouds, entirely blotting out the sun. It was as dark as night under the cloud layer, but Pretiosa illuminated itself now not with neon, but with an inferno that stretched as far as the eye could see. Tracer fire and laser beams occasionally flickered up from the bombarded city, and here and there missiles or artillery strikes would send plumes of blue and orange flame rising to lick at the low, sullen, smoke-corrupted clouds.

He looked away from the hellish scene outside, back to the civilized, comfortable interior of the flyer. He was alone, utterly alone, in the vehicle. The passenger cabin contained himself alone, while the cockpit went one fewer, seeing as it consisted of a computer and sensor module housing some flight aeais near the very nose of the craft. A second flyer, with some Carcosian marines inside to ensure he didn't get killed, was flying beside his own craft.
The flyer shook suddenly, spilling Adrian's glass of water, and he nervously looked out the window. They had stopped briefly in midair, jets reversing- and a pair of fresh contrails lay directly in front of them. He turned his head, catching a quick glimpse of nacreous material and white flame shooting from engines. An uulchi fighter. It vanished swiftly into the darkness, but as his own flyer began moving forward again he saw blue plasma missiles split off from where the fighter had gone, descending into the city and creating a raging cyan holocaust among the ruins of what had once been the Taeju Stadium.

A few moments later, Adrian's flyer touched down with the delicate grace of a dragonfly, and he reached down to fit his filter mask to his face. Don't want to be breathing in this fuckery.
The door swung open for him, and he blinked at the sudden force of the hot wind that hit him. The Carcosian flyer touched down an instant later, jets roaring, and the marines silently disembarked, spreading out. As he stepped down onto the ground, he stared out at the view before him. This is Pharos Hill...
With a shock, Adrian realized that directly across the street from him was his old house. Its windows were smashed, old scorch marks still on the walls, and he realized there were bodies near the gates and flames issuing from a hole in the roof. Why are there bodies? He started walking towards it, then broke into a jog.
A woman was laying sprawled, facedown, blood pooling around her abdomen and trailing behind her where she had staggered out into the street. It was impossible to discern her hair color in the bizarre light of the burning city and the starkly-reflecting clouds, but Adrian drew to a halt. Madeline?
He blinked, and realized the woman was far darker-skinned than Madeline, too tall. One of the gates was missing, the other had been smashed down by the shockwave of the bomb that appeared to have landed a little ways down the block. Adrian stepped over the body and through the gates, heading down the drive past other corpses. All the bodies were shabbily dressed, with shrapnel wounds or serious burns. Squatters who got caught out by the bombardment? His Carcosian marines fanned out behind him as he walked under the arms of the ancient sycamores that lined the drive. Several had been smashed to flinders by shrapnel, and two, closest to the house on either side, had gone up like enormous torches, burning leaves fluttering skyward like lamps on the June 6th Festival in his childhood.
Movement flashed near the house, and there was a sudden bark as a marine fired his assault rifle. A pair of people who had burst out of an open side door crumpled immediately, their chest cavities reduced to pulp. One appeared to be on fire as they both toppled onto the lawn.

Adrian began climbing the steps to the main doors. The doorway itself was unblocked- the huge gilded bronze doors had probably been ripped off and sold years ago- and he could see firelight dancing on the walls. One of his marines, the commander, suddenly shouted from behind him.
"Sir, I don't think it's safe to go in there."
He turned around. "You have fire suppression systems with you, no? Make use of them."
"Sir, there was a napalm strike on this building," the man said. "That's a fire we're not equipped to extinguish burning there. And we're concerned there may still be hostiles ins-"

Adrian sat up, ears ringing, and looked around. He'd been thrown at least fifty feet- down the stairs, and partway down the drive. His marines were scattered- some of them laying unnaturally still, others hurriedly regaining their feet. Someone grabbed him and lifted him up, and he shook his head to try and clear his thoughts, take in the situation.
A brilliant cyan mushroom cloud was rising from the house, blue tendrils reaching out of the windows, and there was a splash-hiss and sudden screaming as a glob of plasma rained down and landed on one of the marines. The man started whirling, cyan flames slowly turning green and then orange as they devoured his flesh, melted his clothes and armor to his skin. He tried to drop down and roll, but all that accomplished was to ignite the bricks of the driveway. Adrian turned around and ran unsteadily away as more plasma globs spattered down, sending pillars of blue flame rising all over the property. Oh my God oh my God oh my God-
For a moment, he was fifteen again, alone, running through the streets, bleeding and sobbing as fireballs bloomed around him, and then he stumbled over the corpse of one of the squatters. He slowed down, flailing, and managed to regain his balance and some of his composure.
Was that an uulchi missile? Could the Viceroy be trying to bump me off in the chaos? He sat down next to the corpse of some poor unlucky boy, staring at the raging inferno of his family home. But the uulchi never just use one bomb, and they wouldn't miss. Probably just a loose missile getting thrown around.
He looked away from the house- it wasn't going to be saved, but it had been a ruin even before the plasma strike- and at the face of the dead boy next to him.
Less lucky than you. Go back to the flyer, you're not a soldier. This may not be here when you get back, but nothing was here when you got here in any case.
Last edited by Senkaku on Tue Aug 09, 2016 6:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Democratic Socialists

Postby Senkaku » Wed Aug 10, 2016 10:32 pm

Doctor Strangemoon

Operation 644 Historical Analysis

The following document is an analysis of the historical Operation 644, undertaken 788 Irkhaean standard years ago during the first interregnum of the Fifth Coalition, against the Free City of Chaida (falling within the time period of the Uulchi-League Wars) in what is now the Dido Nebula, and the aftereffects of this operation, as well as an analysis of its modern viability.

In short, this report concludes that while Operation 644 had enormous shock value and was extremely effective in completely obliterating nearly all sedentary planetary settlements and industry of the target, it was inefficient, fabulously expensive to the point of extravagance, technically difficult, and its undertaking required such force superiority that it would have been simpler to simply use forces that were diverted to escort the Main Asset to directly wipe out the enemy. Additionally, such an undertaking would, given the current state of galactic astropolitics, likely cause a minor diplomatic backlash. However, it would be extremely gratifying due to the sheer shock value and the spectacular scale of the devastation caused, and the symbolism of physically destroying a star system.

Operational Summary

Operation 644's target was the entirety of the Chullha System and the surrounding areas of interstellar space, with provisions made for significant collateral damage in the form of debris and stellar wind fluctuations made for systems and outlying areas further beyond the immediate target envelope (which was about two light-years across). It was postulated by an unknown source within the Military Research Office, possibly initially as a joke, but when it became clear that despite military inferiority Chaida had no intention of ceasing to be problematic, it was decided an example should be made of the city and its surrounding Electorate. However, elements within the MRO pointed out that Chaida had been undeterred by the example made of Archu thirty-six years prior in the War of the Sulyyad Succession, when the entire planet of Archu was reduced to rubble by orbital bombardment using kinetic, nuclear, and antimatter warheads by the Blue faction in the war. Thus, the suggestion was made that a large quantity of antimatter be introduced to the Chullha System and that the entire star system be induced to, essentially, explode. For reasons which are no longer known and can only be speculated about, due to degradation and loss of some relevant MRO files, this proposal was taken seriously and implemented.

The first stage of the operation consisted of seizing the nearby Wulok System, which lay about 1.5 light-years away from the Chullha System and was thus ideal for the manufacturing and staging element of the operation. The system was sparsely populated with few targets of military value, but upon its conquest, antimatter production and refining equipment was immediately constructed there to begin production. All or nearly all antimatter production within the rest of the World School and its allied city-states at the time was also diverted towards the project at this time. Some antimatter was accelerated as a thin plasma to near-lightspeed towards the Chullha System immediately after production began, the idea being to clear out interstellar material ahead of the departure of the Main Asset, which was then under construction. The Main Asset would consist of 8.5x10 to the 22nd kilograms of antimatter. Enormous magnets were also constructed to accelerate the Main Asset without touching it, and to generate powerful magnetic fields to minimize its exposure to solar wind. Local military units also provided point-defense for the Main Asset against macro-sized debris.
Separately, sufficient energy to accelerate the Main Asset to a significant fraction of the speed of light also had to be generated, as it would be too large and unsuited for gimelspace transit and could not be equipped with a gimelspace drive. This took the form of constructing as many large fusion reactors as possible within the Wulok System, as well as enormous solar arrays. Large capacitor arrays also had to be constructed to store as much of the generated power as possible, and eventually capacitors essentially began to be shipped en masse into the system.

Assembly of the Main Asset took about two years, during which time a colossal amount of power had been generated and stored in battery and capacitor arrays around the system. During this time, a significant fraction of the World School's military assets were devoted to the Wulok System and the construction efforts there, as were the forces of many of her human allies, rather than to directly attacking Chaida.

Following construction, additional super-magnet arrays were constructed, with the purpose of accelerating the Main Asset out of the Wulok System. The completion of these arrays took an additional six months, and the Main Asset was then accelerated to near-lightspeed. It was escorted by a massive military force and some of its magnet arrays were also brought along (though most of these assemblies were accelerated with gimelspace assistance before transitioning back to real space). Chaidan forces made four attempts to send fleets to destroy the Main Asset, all of which failed. It took just over a year and a half to cross the gap between systems, and accompanied by its escort fleet, approached from above the plane of the ecliptic and was directed into the Chullha System's star, Chel-9. The fleet made gimelspace jumps out of the immediate danger area. The impact of the Main Asset annihilated nearly its entire mass and flung some smaller antimatter debris chunks free, and caused Chel-9 to violently destabilize and explode (the only known case in galactic history of a stellar body experiencing artificially induced "rapid unplanned disassembly" by the introduction of a near-c mass of antimatter to its surface). The resulting explosion delivered extremely intense radiation to the entire system and accelerated most of the mass of Chel-9 to near-lightspeed in all directions outwards. The blast proceeded to completely destroy all objects in the Chullha System that were unable to accelerate quickly enough out of the system ahead of the explosion, and destroyed all planetary bodies except the system's only gas giant, which lost its gaseous outer layers, saw its metallic hydrogen layer boil away, and was reduced to a small rocky core.

Problems with the Operation

Operation 644 cost an extravagant amount of money, causing significant financial issues for the interregnum regime and creating a fiscal crisis that led to the swift restoration of the Fifth Coalition. It was extremely difficult logistically and damaged the antimatter production and capacitor and battery industries, which were essentially commandeered by the military during this time. Additionally, with the forces deployed to the Wulok System to defend and subsequently escort the Main Asset, all modern historians and analysts agree that the World School could have simply overrun the Chullha System (as proven by these forces' repeated defeats of major Chaidan forces en route to the system). It has also been noted that many Chaidans were able to escape prior to the Main Asset's arrival, and while a significant percentage of the city's Electorate perished in the explosion (which proceeded to create the Dido Nebula), its kill percentage in terms of acting as an agent of genocide pales in comparison to some of the more mundane campaigns prosecuted by the World School during the Uulchi-League Wars by means of conventional orbital bombardment or planetary occupation and systematized massacres. Operation 644 did have significant astropolitical ramifications in encouraging several League cities to transfer their allegiance and initiate political changes that would help bring about the end of war between the League and the World School, but given strikingly similar reactions to the Bombardment of Archu and other major strikes throughout this period, it seems unlikely that the particular method of Operation 644 was decisive in this matter. Finally, even at the time the act drew minor galactic attention as a somewhat excessive reaction (and also become something of a "meme" as a particularly silly military strategy) to Chaidan provocations. For these reasons, given a more stable galactic climate and no clear gains displayed by Operation 644 when compared to more conventional methods of genocide and settlement destruction, nor any provocation significant enough or specific enough to consider such a mobilization, the authors of this analysis recommend, like many others before, that such an operation not be considered successful and not be repeated or emulated by Supreme Command.
Last edited by Senkaku on Fri Apr 21, 2017 9:25 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Democratic Socialists

Postby Senkaku » Wed Aug 31, 2016 11:23 pm


Hanjin, Taozixing
Workers' Front Party Headquarters, 112 Zhuangzi Avenue

"Well, it was so nice to see you!" Marius smiled, teeth glittering in the lantern light, and set his latest glass of champagne down to balance on the railing. Madame Qiang bobbed her head in acknowledgement, the peacock feathers in her cap bobbing and waving at him like iridescent cornstalks blowing in the wind, and turned, descending the staircase towards her limo. Marius picked up his champagne, the smile vanishing from his face, and knocked the entire flute back before heading inside and placing the empty glass on a passing servant's tray. Still feels good to be the one doing that instead of the other way around. People were standing around chattering, and he felt a few glances fired his direction. Those in his path quietly detected his approach and moved out of the way- it didn't pay to get in the way of the Begum Siyala's hatchet man when he wasn't smiling, even if he wasn't strictly here in an official capacity. The leader of the opposition let her aides wield some of her considerable power, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time could lead to bad things.
As it was, he was only heading to the antechamber near the coatroom.
"Anyone else leaving?", he asked the servant waiting inside.
"No, sir," the woman replied. "I'll send someone to get you if anyone else does."
"Very good." He stepped out into the enormous ballroom, speckled with tables here and there, filled with hundreds of Hanjin's most distinguished people, and pulled out his phone to see if his boss had sent him anything.
·Mme. Siyala·

Has Nian shown her face yet?

Arriving soon, he texted back.
Make sure to watch who she talks to very carefully.
He put his phone back in his pocket, and it promptly buzzed with another alert. He smirked, then fired off another message to the Begum. Speak of the devil. Just got the alert that her motorcade has arrived. He snatched another flute of champagne as he headed towards the door again, ignoring the familiar voice in the back of his head. You're going to get drunk at this pace, you should stop, it said quietly.
He stepped out onto the porch, just as the President stepped out of her hover. As usual, the same guilty flutter took his heart and stomach for a moment, but a sip of champagne and a vague notion of duty and loyalty soon quashed it. He stepped forward, smiling, and bowed.
"Madam President, welcome to Workers' Front headquarters," he said, teeth flashing like a shark's, white as porcelain. Nian looked up at him and smirked slightly, extending a hand for him to kiss, which he did.
"A pleasure to be here, Mister Chalar," she replied in her birdlike, singsong voice. "It's so important people on both sides of the aisle step forwards for causes like this, don't you think?", she said as she began heading up the stairs. He followed, nodding, trying to pay attention to what she was saying. I remember that red cheongsam. Is she wearing pheromone perfume? That must be it...
"Quality medical care for disadvantaged children is something all parties can agree on, it seems," he replied blandly, snagging another glass of champagne as they stepped inside. She shrugged her coat off, a servant whisking it away.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Her Excellency, the President of the Free City of Hanjin!", a servant boomed out as she came into the ballroom. People put down their drinks and turned to stare as this diminutive woman strolled in confidently, and conversations paused, stirring on to new topics.
"Can I bring you any refreshments, Madam President?", Marius inquired.
"That will be fine, Mister Chalar," she replied curtly, wiping her smirk away. Marius bowed slightly and headed off into the crowd, sitting down at a table in the corner and watching the bright red cheongsam weave its way through this sea of the rich and powerful.

I saw her talking with Director Chen and General al-Hatlani. Those were the ones I was concerned about (especially Chen, obviously), the rest were small fish. A lot from the agriculture ministry, but I think that's just because they have a lot of fairly junior staffers who ended up coming for some reason.
What is it, ma'am?
I asked Chen if he saw her talking to anyone. He said no one in particular. He can't've been stupid enough to think I'd miss him talking to her, though.
Should I see if Vice-Director Kyrill can do us a favor? Keep tabs on Chen?
Yes. I'll see if I can sniff anything else out through other channels as well. Good night.
Marius put his phone down, staring blankly out the window. It was raining outside again- not unusual- and the city lights were distorted, almost warbling like the voices of singers in older Old Terran recordings, if such a thing were possible for lights to do.
His phone buzzed again.
·Nian Daiichi·

How was your night?

What on Earth?
Why are you texting me?
It's been a while. I think I was childish when we last spoke. Politics shouldn't get in the way of life so much.
That's the nature of politics. Don't text me again. I thought I blocked you?
I'm the President. The Viceroy listens to me, which means I more or less have the Security Directorate at my beck and call.
Well, please leave me alone. It's been long enough we both need to move on.
Last edited by Senkaku on Sat Sep 03, 2016 10:36 pm, edited 3 times in total.
haters will see you growing on a finite planet and say you can't grow infinitely

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Democratic Socialists

Postby Senkaku » Sat Sep 03, 2016 10:05 pm

Butterfly Dream

"Don't you ever dream of being up there someday?", Nian shouted in his ear over the all-encompassing roar as President al-Farouk drew another surge of cheers.
Marius laughed as Nian looked back up at the stage, pumping a fist to wave the sign she was carrying. "God, no, I'd hate every minute of it. Being up in front of people like that? Even running for a tribune seat would scare me."
She turned towards him, shaking her head. "I'd love it. Looking at everyone, creating this energy..."
"I'm shier than you are," he said with a shrug.
"You're just afraid someone will notice your country accent," she teased.
"Well, maybe someday that'll be you," he responded with a smile, nodding towards the President as people began to sit back down.
She nodded, a distant glint in her eyes. "Maybe so."

Marius rolled over and felt blindly for his phone, swiping and holding it up to his ear.
"Annette, why are you calling me at two thirty in the morning on a Sunday?", he croaked, head pounding. Can't I just for once get a real day off?
The Begum Siyala's chief steward's voice was rushed. "Marius, listen. A courier drone just arrived carrying a message here, from Vice-Director Kyrill. The 31st Guards Mechanized Infantry, the 7th Special Landing Infantry, the 28th Airborne, and the 12th Guards Armored have all been ordered to mobilize and the President is about to order martial law, with the enforced of the State Political Office. The Environment Minister was just arrested as well."
Marius sat up in bed, turning on the lamp on his nightstand. "What? Why would she do that? What are you saying? What is going on?"
"It looks like another coup is happening. The President is moving to consolidate over us. Huihong has it on good authority that there are SPO people coming for you specifically. If you can, destroy your computer and stuff."
"Huihong is there? You're at the residence, right?"
"No, I'm at party HQ. There were SPO people near the residence, so everyone there piled into a hover and left through the back garage. Huihong called me because he had to climb out his bedroom window and jump out into a pond and then run through his garden to escape, and he's here now too."
Marius got up, hurrying over to his desk and turning on his computer. Pingping is being blocked, Yabber is being blocked... fuck. "Is he calling people?"
"He just called Masr Broadcasting, now he's calling Yinti, to get as many volunteers out into the streets as possible. Some are already congregating here, everyone in HQ is making calls right now. Get here as quickly as possible and watch out for the SPO and the army."
"What about the Begum? Is Carcosa still safe, or do we have her on a ship?"
"She's on her yacht, but it's been denied clearance to leave the cosmodrome. We don't know why. Please hurry here, Marius." Annette hung up.
Destroy my computer. How do I go about that? He went into the kitchen and rummaged around in a drawer. A meat tenderizer. I don't know why I have this, but it'll do the trick.

The taxi let him out as soon as the poor driver saw the first convoy of SPO and army armored vehicles- Marius couldn't blame him. He was wearing a green shirt, after all, even if he'd zipped his gray vest over it most of the way. The old man gave him a frightened look as they saw the tanks zip by, and insisted that his shift was over and Marius had to get out.
So he walked, down the quiet streets of downtown Hanjin at night. It was raining- as usual- and the clouds- as usual- had been given a surreal, apocalyptic orange glow by the city lights below them. Here and there, there were ragged holes in the overcast skies, and they opened up towards a featureless, dead sky, washed out by light pollution.
More tanks rumbled past him, heading in the same direction, and Marius began to hear gunfire ring out from all points of the compass- distant at first, but intensifying, and with deeper thumps and shouts adding in.

His phone buzzed- Annette again.
"Where are you?"
"A few blocks away, still. Taxi got spooked and let me out when he saw tanks, probably went home to his kids."
"Go back to your apartment if you can. There are tanks outside and one just fired a live shell at the building." He could hear gunfire and yells and small explosions in the background.
"As I was leaving, there were unmarked black hovers pulling up to my building and disgorging soldiers and SPO officers."
"Well, we have a lot of volunteers and demonstrators, they're throwing rocks and molotovs and trying to swarm the tanks." A particularly long burst of machine-gun fire from Annette's end made them both fall silent.
"And it sounds like that's going smoothly."
"Yes," she said caustically. "Tanks generally fare so poorly against hand-thrown rocks and bottles. I'm trying to organize people to get out through the subway."
Marius came to a halt as he rounded the next corner, looking to his left towards the Shigaata station, and his heart sank. "Shigaata Station is surrounded. Surrender, if possible. Or get on the subway and surrender to these ones."
"And what? We'll be left to rot in work camps for the next decade?"
"Better to rot for a decade and return for revenge than to die tonight," he said as one of the black unmarked hovers began heading down the street towards him. He turned around, walking quickly. "It's hardly unheard of. The Begum has come back against worse in her time. I have to go."
"Citizen! Stop and place your hands above your head!", came the inevitable call.

"To the voters of the 3rd District," Marius said, raising a champagne glass and smiling. Nian laughed, her cheeks still carrying a faint flush of triumph.
"To the voters of the 3rd," she agreed, and they clinked glasses and drank. "And to you. I couldn't have done it without your help."
"I just persuaded the President to help you," he said with a shrug. "She did all the heavy lifting."
"We're an odd couple, aren't we?", she said with a smile. "The communist aide to President Siyala and the libertarian tribune."
"Politics don't have to get in the way of love," he replied, leaning over to give her a kiss. Nian seemed to glow in the restaurant's low light, and she tilted her head slightly, as if weighing his statement.
"Why did you help elect me, though? I've been so wrapped up in the campaign, and you've been supporting me, but I never really thought to ask... well, why?"
Marius shrugged. "I don't believe in your policies, but I believe in you. Whether or not I'm able to make a good cadre out of you one day, I'll still believe in you," he said. She leaned over and kissed him this time.
"That may be the sweetest thing I've ever heard a communist say," she teased. "Here comes our food. What did you get with your steak, again?"
"Fried potatoes." The waiter set their plates down, whipping off two silver domes, and headed off. "You got fried plantains?" He wrinkled his nose.
"What's wrong with fried plantains?"
wrong with them. I just ate them every day for eighteen years. It gets a little old after a while, believe me. That's another bonus of being somewhere civilized- the food here is astronomically better than it is back home."
"Did you book the tickets for New Years', by the way? I know you hate it there, but your grandmother does seem to desperately want to see you."
"She wants to meet you, not see me," he said, frowning. "Can we not talk about my home? Otherwise before you know it I'll be eating raw bananas and talking with that
charmin' Senryoku drawl," he said, over-emphasizing the country accent. She laughed, taking a bite of plantain.

"State your name for the record."
"Marius Chalar."
"You have been charged with conspiracy against the state, slander, reactionary hooliganism, picking fights and causing trouble, insulting the President, corruption, membership in a banned organization, and treason. You are a known associate of a number of other traitors and criminals."
"I would like to see a lawyer and inquire when insulting the President became a crime, and what banned organization I am a part of, and what traitors and criminals I am known to be associated with."
The SPO officer serenely ignored him. "Under ordinary circumstances this would amount to a long sentence in a reform through labor institution, or possibly even death. However, in light of a disturbed political scene and recent disruptions to the peace that make such measures impractical to enforce en masse, you have been granted special clemency by Her Excellency. You will be permitted to be placed under indefinite house arrest, with your family on Senryoku-3."
Please, no, no, not that...
He could've cried, as the SPO woman stood and headed out the door. He was still cuffed into the chair- rather pointless, since he could hear the door automatically lock behind her, and it was made of an opaque pane of nanodiamond that was probably at least a foot thick. The lights were shining uncomfortably in his eyes, so he closed them and leaned back as best he could.

The door clunked open again, and Marius groaned and opened his eyes. Are they coming to have some fun with me or something?
A bright red cheongsam was floating in the door, and Marius squinted against the lights.
"Hello, Marius." The door clunked shut, and Nian flicked out the bright lamps, leaving only the overhead LED panels on. Marius blinked away spots. I can't believe she would do this.
"Your Excellency," he said with venomous sweetness. "So kind of you to visit someone charged with insulting you. Such courage that must require."
"Stop it." She walked to the other side of the room. "I just came here to tell you something, in case you had any silly notions starting to form in your head."
"I've only had a few silly notions in my life. You have too, apparently. Why did you text me the other night? Drinking alone in the Presidential Palace or something?"
She turned to face him, her face etched out of ice. "The Begum Siyala's yacht was blown up on its launch pad. I watched it explode and I watched a Security Directorate team in Carcosa double-tap every corpse they found just to be sure. This is not one of Hanjin's transitory coups, there's not going to be a resurgence and then demonstrations in the streets in a few years and the opposition takes back power."

Did I love you, or was that a dream? How could I have ever loved the person who's standing here?

"You really are a heartless whore," Marius commented calmly, clenching his fists. I wish she were dead or I were dead, it doesn't matter which. She said nothing, walking to the door. "You may be an icy, manipulative bitch, but you're no Siyala," he sneered after her. "I hope you enjoy absolute power while it lasts, because for you it's gonna be a fucking one-way trip, sweetheart."
Nian left without a word. Is the man who loved the other her dreaming this?

The banana fields of Senryoku-3 seemed to stretch forever, fronds waving placidly in the warm breeze. Marius felt numb as the shuttle rocketed over fields and fish ponds, past tiny towns and dirt roads, the same emptiness he'd felt since leaving Hanjin. They were on their final approach to the airstrip, and Marius realized he was breathing quickly, almost hyperventilating, as if he were trying to suck in as much fresh, purified air as possible.
The shuttle bumped and bounced a little as it touched down, the endless banana fronds vanishing in a blur and replaced by old, faded-looking tarmac and the bright red dirt. As they taxied towards the terminal, Marius could almost feel the exact moment the shuttle depressurized, the air of his homeworld, laced with dirt and accents and bad memories seeping into his pores. At least be thankful that you didn't send word ahead.
He picked up his bag and shuffled off the little craft with the rest of the passengers. The locals on the flight all continued to give him strange glances- his Hanjin silk suit rather stood out against their work clothes. Even the few salarymen on the flight, presumably from Yamagata, the town they had landed in (which was the largest for miles) had looked at him askance. They were well-off compared to the rest of the farming folk here, working in Yamagata's fledgling office blocks, but none of them could ever hope to afford real quality. I expect of everyone on this damn shuttle, I may be the only one who's ever been beyond cislunar space. The stairs that led down to the tarmac were rickety and rusted, creaking under the feet of the passengers, and Marius, cringing inside at the feeling of Senryoku-3's sweaty, humid breezes, followed the line dutifully towards Yamagata's sad, lonely terminal. He had no baggage, at least, though Yamagata's idea of a baggage claim were just auto-carts that wheeled the luggage directly into the terminal and left it on the floor. From there, they just walked through the seemingly permanently-derelict secondary security checkpoint and out onto the curb. None of the airline or spaceline booths were open, and there were a few battered hovers and cars waiting for some of the passengers at the curb.
Marius bought himself a packet of cigarettes from the dirty vending machine next to the exit and turned one on, feeling cannabis and nicotine rush into his veins as the first rideshares and taxis started showing up. The first three were claimed by people at the other end of the one-way loop that traffic had to follow, but one driver spotted his suit and made a beeline for him.
"Where are ya goin' today, sa?"
"Ha Trang," he said, the words feeling clumsy in his mouth.
"Ha Trang, that is one long drive, sa. Two hunnet-twenty taels seem fayah?"
It was an absurd overcharge, but Marius wasn't in the mood to bicker with a taxi driver. "Fine." He dug the notes out of his wallet and handed them to the man, then climbed into the back of the dirt-stained taxi. Probably two weeks of wages right there for a laborer. "You mind if I smoke?"
"All the same to mah humble self, sa," the man said, winking, likely thinking he'd been quite clever in conning some Hanjin bigshot. Marius rolled down the window as the sedan screeched away from the curb and began rattling down the road into Yamagata. The streets were paved, for the first twenty minutes or so, but once they got out of Yamagata, the road turned to red dirt and gravel, and the buildings more or less vanished, and the banana fields started. Marius found himself remembering trivial information about the plants he had hoped his brain had pitched as useless long ago- which species was which, what kind of banana they produced, irrigation techniques. Hanjin seems like another dream. Hanjin and Nian, two dreams. Or maybe Senryoku was the dream, and I am dreaming again.
They crossed rickety bridges over rivers and canals, barreled down the main drags of miniscule hamlets, and spattered children riding bikes with the ubiquitous red mud and dirt. An hour and a half into the drive, they ran into a thunderstorm, and though the windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the downpour, his driver maintained speed, bouncing and shaking at around a hundred kilometers an hour over the gravel. There's one thing you can say for the damn roads here, Marius thought after a particularly nasty bump, at least they're fucking straight.
After nearly two and a half hours and a dozen cigarettes, the battered sign came into view.


Ahead there was a row of beat-up houses along the street, a few slightly taller buildings sticking up above them, looking equally ancient and rickety.
"Here is fine. Let me out." A few people were walking around, some children playing football in the street, and they stopped and stared as the battered Yamagata taxi came to a screeching halt.

Marius stepped out, blowing a stream of smoke into the early evening air, and handed the driver an extra ten through the window before turning back and beginning to walk up Main Street. I dreamed I was a Hanjinite, and then I woke up in this shitsack.
The children who had been playing football continued to stare at this strange man, in a Hanjin suit the likes of which they'd probably only seen online, crunched down the street. So did the few adults who had been walking around- but a few others, who he couldn't quite get a glimpse of, soon zipped off, presumably to spread the word. He saw several people look out at him through windows.

He walked up to the twelfth house on the right, as the road began to slope up a gentle hill, ascended its porch, and rapped sharply on the door. There was some talking between low voices he could not make out, and then a loud, scratchy female voice called, "Be right there!"
Marius clasped his cigarette between two fingers, letting his briefcase hang in front of his legs.
A wrinkled, graying, diminutive old woman opened the flimsy white wooden door, wearing an apron and a plaid bandanna, and stared at him in shock.
"Hello, Grandmother."
Last edited by Senkaku on Sat Sep 03, 2016 10:16 pm, edited 3 times in total.
haters will see you growing on a finite planet and say you can't grow infinitely

User avatar
Serukta Sehkrisaal
Posts: 99
Founded: Nov 04, 2013

Postby Serukta Sehkrisaal » Tue Sep 06, 2016 5:39 pm

That We Weave
Entombed, a web of guilt entrapped.
[ Future Technology ]

"When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion." — Voltaire, Letter to Mme. D'Épinal Ferney

Brisk, clean air - gently moving, almost imperceptibly - and a fragrance not dissimilar from myrrh; he allowed the sights and scents of the room to wash against him, over him, as if it were the most casual of things. To a degree, he knew, it most certainly was. In the nature of his life, quiet meetings in places of considerable luxury and weight were, in fact, a casual occurrence - yet another happenstance. It was the nature of the meeting, however, that made the experience new - exhilarating, even. It was rare he felt that way; rare that he felt as if something had been uncovered, a page in the novel of his life flipped to reveal some eclectic or otherwise occult bit of verbiage that would come to set his pulse racing and his eyes aflame. It had, truly, been too long since he found a new lust in which to bide his time.

Adrian stepped inside, allowing the young woman - at least, he presumed woman, as their features were striking, but hermaphroditic in tell - to quietly pull the door shut behind him. He noticed, stepping into the jungle of strangely, otherworldly Baroque furnishings that the nigh-imperceptible movement of the room's atmosphere remained. Some draft, perhaps, had the design of the room been different; no, the coolness of the air betrayed its conditioning. What he wondered, however, was its origin. The room itself - its walls and alcoves, convex and caving - were seemingly bare and ivory. As he walked, admiring the seeming blankness of the room, he heard the quiet clicking of his shoes fall silent against some rug; it was his eyes - cold and chilled in tone and reflection - that were at work. As he began to more sincerely inhale his surroundings, senses increasingly noting detail after detail, he noted the room was, in fact, far from bare.

What his mind perceived as blank sterility, Adrian slowly composed into design. White, true, though not alone in hue. Inset, engraved into the walls, Arabqesue designs and geometric patterns danced across nearly every surface, each filled with a nearly golden opalescence that seemed to shimmer in a glare of unknown origin. He watched, stepping closer to one such pattern, as the features took-on the colors of his double-breasted, bespoke jacket, tainting a shade of Tyrian all-too-familiar. For a moment, as the reflection of himself took more concrete form, Adrian adjusted the small, golden rose pinned to peaked lapel. When the walls began to shimmer with a golden ochre, a blond like his own crown, he turned away, a faint uneasiness rising in the pit of his stomach. The designs gave his mind an almost fogged fuzziness; no pain, no real distress, but it was a trick he had never seen.

'Intriguing, indeed.'

The actual furniture of the room was elegant, if mildly ostentatious for his sensibilities. While Adrian couldn't help but indulge in a degree of the more strictly Valinor tropes of his wellspring, an uneniable impression of post-modernity tainted his preferences. The odd combination of viridian leather, gold, and wood - marred by some alien Baroque style that set his mind wandering - with an almost institutional - until closer inspection - abode made for a milieu that betrayed little of his host. The fact they had reached out to him - to the Leviny Ring - was not, in and of itself, of interest; it was not uncommon for international clients to seek some manner of service. Valinor finance was, after all, a staple - particular, too, the cloud of ever-pervasive, obfuscating privacy that ensured the more concerned clientele found comfort in doing business with those of the League. No, it was something altogether different that agitated his near-avaricious lust for something new - something to set his teeth on edge.

It had, of all things, been what some would call a "letter." Unlike so many others, where interests or requests or demands were given over the vague anonymity of the GalactiNet, Adrian's host had chosen a different tradition altogether. His secretary had been uncertain of its origin or how it had arrived, and long before he ever opened the small, bronzed cylinder, he had sent away for it to be scanned and inspected and analyzed for any nefarious inclusion. That alone drove his interest to a feverish level. When, after all due diligence had been followed, Adrian at last pulled apart the metal scroll of an envelope, the letter's author left him puzzled. Of course he - and the whole of his founding - were not unfamiliar with the institution, though the machinery of its inner workings remained a mystery. It was the question of "why" that left him puzzled. Why, out of all the prospects and all the incompatibilities that conservative and decidedly abolitionist sensibilities ensured? It left him wondering if—

"Se'rha," a voice announced from the entryway to the quandary of a room.

The vaguely feminine individual had returned. She carried with her a small, golden platter and walked - following her closing of the room once again - with a degree of modest deliberateness. Although her inhuman features left him questioning of her kind - vaguely Reseda and spring dancing with brightly rust-toned striations across her flesh - he felt questioning would be uncouth and, further, despite the air of attraction that lingered around her as she stepped, her gait carrying her to the center of two, low-set, semi-circular myrtle and gold sofas, the small braids of her hair betrayed her font. It never paid to seek lechery with the help so soon in a partnership.

"Se'rha," the young woman spoke again, setting down a gold-platinum platter on the small table in the center of the room. "Aulho?" she questioned, motioning her fingers to an assortment of small, flesh-toned rolls at the center of the platter. A smokable, of some sort - narcotic, nonetheless.

Adrian motioned with his hand dismissively. Almost immediately the young servant brought forth the item to him, bowing her head, he noted, to avert his own gaze, as she extended the once-again mobile platter. Without much of a word, he took one of the small rolls and brought it to his lips, instinctively seeking for a light of some sort, only to have the servant expose a circular ring before him. With a noted degree of hesitance, she extended her arm, placing the ring around the end of the apparent cigarette, before flicking her thumb; immediately a flame sparked and he inhaled, filling his lungs with a heady aroma and a distilled faintness new and unknowable.

Feeling the haughty breadth of the drug - "aulho," he rather dimly surmised - he stood, sliding a hand into the pocket of his suit jacket, tilting his head aloft and allowing tendrils of smoke - deep violet, carnelian, with stilling swirls of obsidian - to reach from his nostrils upward. Watching, he noted with a rising sense of wonder as the lazy plume seemed to vanish into the nothingness of the air, rather than linger like a smog of indulgence. With each inhalation, a slowly building sense of heat that, Adrian realized, had settled at the base of his spine rose in intensity; it sent tendrils - warm, like a lover's arms - across his back and up against his shoulders, tugging at sensibility and focus. It was an itch that had been scratched, relief a wash of thrill, tugging, almost gingerly, ever-increasingly toward the bottom of his eyes. He found his legs briefly wanting and, without realization, reclined himself upon one of the sofas, losing focus without intent and allowing the vaguely ominous room to consume him.

"Se'rha," the young woman had announced, Adrian suddenly realized, for the third time. She stood before him, her hands extended, filled with a small glass so clear it seemed to question non-existence, and filled with a liquid so dim it seemed ink. "Lusabrha," she intoned, pressing the glass forward.

He found his hands on the glass with little question, realizing his cigarette had been removed - either by his own, unfocused movements or by the servant - and placed in a small, hovering bauble - an ashtray, for all its elegance - that silently rotated beside the rest of his arm. Even as he felt the fading initiation of the aulho passing from his mind, the frost of the glass tickled his senses. With little hesitation - or questioning as to the nature or provenance of the inky-black liquid - he titled the mixture back. Immediately his tongue was ablaze with a bitter salinity that bit back and made his teeth and gums itch - itch as if pepper had been rubbed between each pearly cap. Yet, as soon as it came, it crested into an abnormal sweetness that drove away the strange mouth-feel and, instead, brought an unnatural smooth wash of chilled, vaguely alcoholic saccharine bliss. Adrian's mind reached for words, only to feel himself settling on a cold mixture of perfectly caramelized cherries, though he knew the similarity was only a vague semblance brought by a lack of prior experience with the tincture.

The young woman - the gift-bringer - had departed by the time Adrian brought himself back into focus. The cigarette had been allowed to expire, the glass half-full on the hovering bauble, having since extended a limb for exactly such a purpose. As he sat, he wondered. The room, the servant, the gifts and their baubles - certainly, he knew, they were some manner of bribery, some slight to his sensibilities. They had betrayed wealth and luxury, but had they? Had they instead betrayed only the simulacrum of such - a charade. He felt one was true, then another, then both in their own way; he troubled himself with the dissonance of the thoughts. Was this some manner of trap? Some long-ago orchestrated scheme to bring him and his machinations to light? 'Certainly not,' he told himself, but the itch behind his eyes remained; a part of him dismissed it as the influence of the aulho, but it remained regardless of his mental assertions.

How long had he waited, as a thought, fell into his mind. With but a thought, the n-plant he maintained ever-so meticulously came to life; within his field of vision, it displayed the time. 'Ten minutes,' he thought-saw; it had felt far longer. Regardless, he himself had been early, so he did not immediately press upon his host a judgment. Rather, he drew upon his n-plant further, seeking to alight his sphere with news and headlines and all manner of information - financial and otherwise. He knew, three days hence, catastrophe had struck Port Expedition. Tabloid journalists had been ascribing it to yet another instance of terrorism. With a thought, he sent forth a call for his ticker of choice, expecting his vision to be filled with the latest readings from GalactiNet News in a myriad of personally-catered entoptics. Instead, it was filled with only a series of inter-locking, rotating rings of red - in the center, a ticker read simply, "No Available Connection - No Feed Known - Please Try Again Later."

'The walls,' Adrian questioned. It was something in the walls - or the building itself? A few thoughts later and he was searching for any open port, any screamer of a network. He knew, with absolute certainty, his stellar yacht was not a few miles toward the presumed horizon. There was no reason, spare deliberate blocking, for his lack of connectivity. Yet, even so, as he searched, he found no port, no screamers, and an absolute desert of networks, nil and zilch. It was as if the very world - digital, pervasive, a regime of information and data screaming all around him like fireflies in the night - had been wrought to dust, razed, and left forgotten. For a reason he could not seem to coherently pin, he suddenly felt naked and unarmed - somehow defenseless as he lacked the direct feed of real-time information, of a nigh-innumerable army of data spiders, each crawling and sniffing and trawling for his own designs. It was all gone - evaporated like so much morning dew.

Standing, he dismissed what tiny moments of use his n-plant brought him and retrieved the dataslate from his inner jacket pocket. He knew it was simply a security measure, but he had to be certain. The empty void of the dataslate's connectivity dialogue confirmed as much. He was alone, disconnected, due to some purposefully designed mechanism of security assurance inlaid into the very foundations of the room. He knew as much, though it did little to assuage his concern, though it did drive the thrill of his interest to a sublimely painful crescendo.

In an attempt to draw his mind and mend his focus, Adrian began stepping around the room. For a moment he questioned returning to the cigarette or the liquor, but dismissed the thought. With a more astute dawning, he felt distinctly out of his element. He wondered if this is how all persons felt in relation to them. He had heard rumor of their otherworldliness, of their unique propensity to set off-guard those whom felt themselves confident and stoic. Having previously dismissed such notions as the ramblings of Solarian xenophobes, Adrian found himself clawing at the idea with a greater degree of certainty than he had initially grafted. 'They're simply not human,' he told himself absently, his attention once again drawn to the walls, 'Non-humans, not gods. This is not some witchery; it is technology. Why am I so unsettled? Get a hold of yourself. This is nothing you haven't seen before. Fancy baubles and pageantry - nothing more.'

Looking forward with eyes seeing, at last, he noticed the reflection bore on the wall had materialized more distinctly. He noticed seams in his suit, a stray strand of his golden-blond hair, and a faint wrinkling of his brow in evident consternation. The wall, seemingly opaque, reflected his person back to him in a quality almost perfectly mirrored - almost. Tilting his head slightly, Adrian watched; certainly, his reflection mimicked his movements. With pause, he tilted his head back; again the reflection mimicked him, but... There was a hesitation; it was narrowly present and easily overlooked, but with his focus honed it was... 'No,' he spoke inwardly; it was not a hesitance, but a shimmer, a ripple in a solid wall - like water on glass. Reaching forward, Adrian watched as his own mirrored fingers approached him; in the final moments - trepidatious as they were - he paused, then touched.

Immediately, the wall rippled as if liquid. His reflection became an absurd mockery of his person, shifting and weaving in a dozen different directions, yet stationary. He felt a twitch form in his eye and a dull ache at the base of his skull. Even so, he continued, enthralled in the rapture he betook. Eyes wafting, grazing, searching across the peculiar wall, his once-correct, reflected fingers didn't move - at least, those that had touched the wall themselves remained stationary and frozen. The movement and distinct stillness gave his eyes to water, even as his reflected digits disintegrated and light began to bake his facade. Stretching outward, the light grew, evaporating first the indistinct, rippled reflection of himself, then spreading. The wave of revelation moved like water and fire and shifting earth, cascading upward, down, and in a radial stretch about him, coming to first consume the wall, then the full totality of each fixed structure of the room around him.

Adrian found himself standing atop nothing, his eyes wide and caught in the glare of a city far below, the dim glow of a setting star a flicker on the horizon. Instinctively his eyes were drawn down; there was no building below him, no stairs or supports, only open air staring down to earth. About him, yet beneath his plane, a city sat alight and colored distinctly mauve in twilight, though colorful all the same - a bloated fruit far too-ripened to be left on the vine. The throbbing of his heart was his beacon; to it, Adrian devoted his attention. After several moments - and an askew glance to realize that, like himself, the furniture remained, suspended in apparent open air - he noted, much like the simple patterned white before, the visual of the city, its ever-present desert, and salt flats beyond kept a distinct shimmer. It was a projection or, more correctly, a display. It was not, in fact, open air or glass, he knew - if by the blessing of physical laws alone. No, it was merely a projection, likely from some source on the walls beyond, displaying a default visual. It was a window for a room without windows, he suddenly realized. 'Just an image, nothing more - only—'

"The Aysaja'ad, the White Bank, is pleased you have made yourself comfortable, Se'rha Adrian Rhett," a distinctly feminine, almost haughty voice suddenly shattered the stillness of Rhett's dwindling astonishment.

With a stir, Adrian turned his crown to the woman. He fought to quell his startle, but the visual of a creature before him did little to assist. Though the voice was undeniably feminine, the being that stood before him was encapsulated in a white gown of impeccable tailor, its hems and borders decorated in scrawl of flax-of-gold - its metalicity evident. Even so, the gown hugged, if modestly, a frame that not but the female form - regardless of species - could maintain. She was tall, elegant, and stood with a degree of confidence that ushered a stirring of envy in the pit of Rhett's own mind. Yet, her apparent modesty extended even to her own form, as gloves of equal craftsmanship hid the flesh of her hands and arms, her legs deigned in fabric-beneath-gown of similar artistry. It was her face - or the simulacrum of such - that kept his eye, however: a mask of pristine white, no visible mouth and only the vague shape of humanoid features - like a sculptor's first pass, covered her, leaving naught but her eyes - sclera as black as night and irises that glinted of golden fire - to view.

"Please," the figure spoke, her arm listlessly motioning toward the center of the room and the sofas present there, "have a seat, se'rha. We have much to discuss."

Adrian kept his eyes to the woman for a moment, before doing as suggested, taking his previous seat. With some noted relief, at some point the hovering ashtray and his drink had been sequestered, no longer present. He found himself wondering where - and how - it had gone just as readily as he noticed the woman had entered the room without a sound - a shade in white.

"I am to presume you received the designed correspondence in good order, Se'rha Rhett," the woman stated, almost flatly, as she took a seat opposite him. She crossed her legs, gingerly flattening her gown with an air Rhett knew immediately to denote nobility.

"I'm afraid we have not formally been introduced, madame...?" he stated, allowing the inflection of his inquiry to rest in the dim tension that hung between them.

"Saar'nahaasiin," the woman responded simply, "Maljha Saar'nahaasiin, Rhi'ad Hasnahkah of the White Bank. ...Pardon: Keyholder, first-among-equals, appointed by the Kasa'adii of Qa'salnaar to act in her stead. I believe a term you will be more familiar with is 'Chancellor of the Exchequer,' though the role and subsequent duties are not perfectly analogous. I trust an understanding is made, yes?"

"Quite," Adrian issued with a degree of deliberate curtness. Once more, he felt himself falling back into his element, the distinct notice this was likely to be a simple event of requesting a loan or some other manner of meager assistance reigning back his intrigue by leaps and bounds.

"I am more than certain you are curious as to why you have been summoned—"

"My services are to be requested," Adrian interjected, cutting the woman - Maljha - off mid-sentence, "Of that much I am certain."

Without a word, the walls of the room suddenly flashed back to their original ivory, causing Rhett's attention to flutter. He noticed the shift was instantaneous rather than a sublime rippling; it was as if some switch, somewhere, had been flipped. Even so, he took note, the shimmer seemed to be of a deeper tone - there were evident red striations in the geometric, alien artistry that stood engraved all around him.

"Let us not make this an impolite exchange, Rhett," Maljha issued with an unplaced bite, dropping all manner of apparent honorifics as if to condescend. While Rhett was familiar with such tactics, it was the slight itch at the base of his skull - the rising of the hairs on his neck and arms - that gave him pause. The familiar tell of a headache hit his temple dimly, as if he'd been spinning. "Regardless," she issued again, albeit with a return of her, evidently, more joyous tone, "you are correct in your assertions that your services are to be requested."

"What services, precisely?" he questioned, crossing his own legs, only to follow with a similar straightening of his dress slacks.

"Many," Maljha said with an edge, "to be precise."

"Then I will be efficaciously blunt," Adrian began, "Your state is not one to which the United Star Empire would seek entreaty. There are powers, conservative and staunch, which would no doubt be more than willing to see me thrown to the dogs for simply meeting with you. Abolitionism is a staunch policy, one I happen to support; you, as you are no doubt well aware, represent a slaver state." He took note as he spoke: the woman did not seem touched by his words, even despite her mask, she radiated a nonplussed effervescence that seemed a step beyond aloof - a step directly toward an overt Machiavellian aura. Even so, he continued: "This is a non-negotiable policy, as I am sure you are aware. Certainly, the laws of the Valinor and the League allow for a great degree of financial and economic freedom, coupled with a galaxy-renowned commitment to confidentiality, but that is not enough to disguise an overt relationship with a party which readily indulges in flagrant chattel slavery - much less such endorsed by religious zeal."

"Retainer," Maljha suddenly issued after seemingly allowing his monologue to hang, limp and disconnected, in the air, "That is the first of the services we will be receiving from you: your permanent retention."

Adrian suddenly felt an unabiding chuckle rising in his throat. He couldn't help it: he let his laughter show, dismissive and condescending as it was. After a moment, he spoke: "Frau, I represent a large—"

"Saar," Maljha suddenly interjected, returning the favor he had granted her.

"Apologies," Rhett gave, leaning forward, at last facing the woman directly, "but this all said and done, it's just not possible. I represent Rhett Financial, as you are aware. We have interests interstellar and galactic. As you are, also, no doubt aware, Rhett Financial is headquartered in the Leviny Ring, a part of the Associated Crown Territory of Unicae and subject to the laws thereof. While some fine-tuned finagling could likely be accomplished, an overt business arrangement between Rhett Financial and all you represent is simply not a possibility."

"You keep saying 'overt' as if you already know what you will be providing," Maljha issued, once more her air of confidence pushing against Adrian's own, "This is not what we will receive. We will receive your permanent retention and a matter of services you provide. It is that simple."

"Frankly, Saar Nahaasiin," he issued, "I do not wish to risk even a more covert partnership with this institution, and I do not believe you - either personally or the White Bank - could provide a sum capable of covering the risk associated with such. For all the tricks and trinkets you have no doubt specifically designed to impress, they are simply that: tricks and trinkets."

"I believe this will be more than adequate."

Maljha gestured toward the table that sat between them. Adrian suddenly realized there was a small, bronze cylinder sitting atop it. How long had it been there? Had it been present when he arrived? Regardless, he found himself reaching for it. Like the one that had arrived at the Ring, it was sealed; deftly, he broke it, unfurling a rather diminutive piece of synthetic parchment contained by such. Momentarily, his gaze crossed the air to Maljha's own; he felt, in that moment, even without the benefit of the actual sight of her features, that she held a witching smile, though he could not place why. With a glance downward, he was awarded a reason - it made his heart stop.

"This— This can't be correct," Adrian openly stammered. Once again, he felt a wave of unsettling dizziness wash over him. He recalled the walls dissolving even as he felt his mind begin to drain from every pore in his body. "This," he stammered again, glancing at the number, trying to make since of it, trying to discern where the error had been made, seemingly reverting back to his days at Seisinger, "This... This is an absurd number. Surely - surely - you can't be serious...? How can you even maintain this level of liquidity? Where am I sitting - and, importantly, what am I sitting on?"

"A Ha'ash-manufactured, leather sofa," Maljha said, almost dismissively, "but more appropriately, Se'rha Rhett: we have been playing this game a very long time. I'm sure you've heard enough of it through the channels of gossip along the Lanthe. Due to that, I will spare you the details, spare to say your services are required and we are willing to pay for such."

"Frankly," Rhett kept staring at the number, his pause drawing on far longer than he intended, "I will be fairly modest, Saar Nahaasiin: this... this number is enough to purchase, wholesale, Rhett Financial three-times over."

"As I said: permanent retention."

The realization slowly crept up his spine just as the warmth of the aulho had tempted him so soundly. With such an amount - even a fraction of it, a sixth of it - he could do wonders. Investments, futures, more greenmailing than he could, if but momentarily, comprehend. Rhett Financial could truly act with impression; what he knew, what he made, he could make better - he could grow to fruition his every ambition. Every want, every desire. Adrian felt his heart still in his chest, but his blood boiled in a lupine lust for whatever the veiled creature before him had to offer.

"What is it you seek, Saar Nahaasiin?" Adrian pushed.

"You," Maljha stated, "You, Rhett Financial, your contacts in the Combine, your familial relationships, your partnerships. We want you and all that comes associated. You see, we want you for what you can provide us. You can maneuver - you can disguise yourself - in circles that which we cannot. You can make movements toward interests, quietly and covertly, which we desire that, otherwise, we could not do most efficiently. You are a means to an end; this should come as no surprise to you. Do you accept? Shall this agreement be struck, or shall we be forced to seek entreat elsewhere, Se'rha Rhett?"

Rhett stared at the paper. He found he could not divert his eyes from it. He found, no matter how much he fought, he, equally, could no longer look the woman in the eye. Even in memory, he found the golden-fire of them unsettling - even disturbing - an abnormality that should not exist. Whether they were augmentation or some natural consequence of evolution, he was not certain, but his gut told them they were wrong. The hair on his arms stood on end, screaming that every moment of the exchange was wrong. His instinct as a Valinor told him, in no uncertain terms, to leave, to get-up and depart before whatever Faustian bargain that the witch of a woman sought to strike could be made true. Yet, as he stared at the number, his mind told him something entirely different.

"I accept."

"Good," Maljha said, suddenly rising, the room's walls once again dissolving - though now into a tapestry of desert night, "Then it is an agreement - an accord, as they say. I'm sure you understand that the pauper's offer provided to you here will come with whatever bonuses we feel adequate for your services. The Sacral Empire takes care of its assets. As well, Herr Rhett, do understand: that is what you are, an asset. Nothing more."

Adrian watched, his eyes transfixed on the movements of the woman as she stepped toward the rapidly dissipating door. Within a matter of moments, she had departed. Yet, one thing suddenly found itself wiggling deep into the gelatinous meat that held his mind, clawing, scratching, and burning like an insect...

'"Pauper's offer"?'

Written by Kyrusia.
Last edited by Serukta Sehkrisaal on Tue Sep 06, 2016 6:29 pm, edited 3 times in total.
All that would be was but Endless Flame.

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Left-wing Utopia

Postby Spindle » Mon Sep 12, 2016 10:28 am

The Rules

The first memory I have, well, the first memory I have which is more than just a mess of half-recollections and fleeting images, is of what I later discovered was someone breaking The Rules. I didn't know that at the time, of course. All I knew, all my world consisted of, was just heat and light and this terrible, invisible force which tossed me out of the room like so much detritus in an Umbaran storm. That was the day everyone died - not that I knew it at the time, of course. I was barely seven then, a precocious little girl who was following Mother and Father to their state meetings. Such was the life of a Duchess-to-be: everything was grooming for the day when I would take my place as another cog in the endless machine which is the bureaucracy of the Star Kingdom.

It was odd after that, of course. An entire House wiped out in the blink of an eye. There had been an assassination contract posted on them, of course, but it had been with Cearys, not Bearic. In the end that didn't matter, dead is dead after all, but it had thrown the security checks. Cearys was a sniper, she had never received a permit to use explosives and it turned out eventually that Aerian had given a private contract to Bearic to kill our House. The rationale was apparently that he hoped to intimidate the other Houses into joining his New Men. Unsurprisingly, the New Men didn't survive the month, one way or another. Within six hours of the event, Aerian himself had almost fifty separate contracts on his head, with mutuality clauses in there. It wasn't pretty. I still watch the footage before bed.

I've heard some of those amateur Political Theorists claiming that the New Men weren't responsible for their own destruction, that they'd simply amassed too much power and were being brought down, as any radical group with any significant traction must be, or so they claim. It was, according to these esteemed theorists, simply an exercise in political pruning done by Her Majesty to cut down on any major dissenters. These people miss the important facts that, firstly, Her majesty had nowhere near the power to order entire Houses around and, secondly, that the Rules are the Rules for a reason. Politics is a game of life-and-death, so it makes sense that the politicians are aware of that, but once you start throwing assassins at people under the table, you're a serious problem. Because the thing that those esteemed theorists fail to take into account is that the assassins exist to keep a check on any individual's power. That's why you can take out a contract against Her Majesty, should you so desire, but you need to do it openly. Otherwise everyone would slaughter everyone else. So if you start breaking the are going to die

That was Eilrad's mistake, if I'm honest, but we'll get to that part when we get there.

But I digress. Me and Eris survived: we'd thrown a small temper tantrum and had refused to come in with the rest of our entourage and Mother had more important things to do than deal with us. The sad truth of growing up Royal: you're an asset as much as an object of affection. That's why we get the best education: because we're going to need it and they think it makes up for a family atmosphere like a War Council. Have you ever read about the governments we had before the Monarchy was instated? We tried running everything from the bottom-up. It worked just fine until They came along and almost nuked us back into the Stone Age.

Oh, they meant well, but we can't risk anything like that happening again. That's why we have to study Human history: it's basically an exercise in the strengths and weaknesses of every government type known to man. And they had some weird ones, believe me. Almost ended up nuking each other over what way of running a nation was better - not even kidding you. Look it up: they called it the 'Cold War', or some such. It's the single dumbest thing I can imagine, and I've seen my sister trying to speak with people from the military.

But I'm wandering again, aren't I. The psych people keep telling me its a defence mechanism, that I'm trying to forget the last part of the story before I go onto the next one. They're all idiots, in my opinion. I know it by heart, I had it all figured out before the Girians told us. Yeah, they took us under their wing and looked after us, mainly because it improved their image and gave them some major influence with the people - and the Queen. And, if I become madly optimistic, I suppose there might be a little altruism in there somewhere. They weren't bad people, please understand, but they were still politicians, through-and-through, and the altruism needed a little backup.

And that was how me and Eris grew up - outsiders in a house of politicians. We gave them good PR and they fed us, clothed us and taught us, but we were never their children and we knew it. We didn't follow them around on their state meetings and we didn't get the inside view of the politics going on. I suppose we should be grateful, in a way: none of the Girians except Eilrad ever had any political talent to speak of. Too much spoonfeeding, if I'm entirely honest, but they're sufficiently competent that they can see which way the wind's blowing and I became quite close to a number of them. Even Eilrad, surprisingly. Especially Eilrad, I suppose: we were in a relationship for a few months before we fell apart and went our own ways.

Oddly, the Girians never swore us out of House Iatican and into House Girian, which created the weirdest legal limbo since Countess Idiao married herself to her menagerie. Me and Eris were technically Queen's Scribes, so we were required to show up to every meeting she attended and write down everything which was said. And that wasn't the minutes: it was everything. Every tic and each piece of emphasis was expected to be recorded and analysed for Her Majesty's viewing, so that she could fill in the bits she had missed. We were meant to be doing this from the ages of seven and nine and, obviously, we weren't up to the task. But the problem was that Her Majesty couldn't just dismiss House Iacton from position. The New Men were radicals, and idiots, but they were simply articulating widely-held beliefs. The fact that they didn't get the support they thought they could was simply a matter of the Queen being too strong at the time. Dismissing House Iatican from its position would have given her enemies an opening to exploit and she'd have lost her power base.

So what did she do? She joined House Iatican and did it herself. It's legal, technically: Her Majesty is supposed to leave all of that behind, but given the state of Iatican and the fact that she was from Orios originally, it worked. Sort of. As soon as Her Majesty joined Iatican, she became kin, so Eris became Princess Royale instead of Rosealine, who had been named as the Heir-In-Waiting. Oh yes, it's confusing at this point, isn't it? We're House Iaticans, yet we're somehow Heirs before we reach double-digits and we're living with the Girians. Absolute mess all around, especially with the New Men torn apart, and we didn't even realise it at this point. Too busy wondering where everyone we'd ever known had gone.

Her Majesty never dealt with us, of course. She couldn't: favouritism wasn't something she could afford to indulge in at that point so we grew up knowing that we were destined for politics with no-one we could rely on. It makes for good students, let me tell you, especially given the kind of politics the Star Kingdom engages in. And I don't just mean internally either: Eris spent a stint working in the Embassy we keep with the Doom Legions and almost offended one of them. Lord alone knows what could have happened then if things had gone South.

And so we learned from observations and from theory and we eventually reached sixteen and entered our respective arenas. I chose the military and went into the Navy, Fourth Fleet, and Eris went into the Diplomatic Corps. And, you've guessed it, Eilrad Girian went straight into the dirty side of politics, working as an apprentice with the Night's Blades. Me and him were still on fairly good terms, actually, although we were less than a decade away from...I'll get to that. You already know what it was anyway, so I don't know why you want to know. We all went through our introductory courses and went into our organisations from the bottom. It takes two years to train you for the Navy and three years for someone who is Royal to go from a Lieutenant to a Captain, at which point you can switch from the Navy into the Bureaucracy and get into politics properly. There are plenty who go it the honourable way and work themselves up to the rank of Admiral before they switch over.

That was never an option for me and Eris, and I imagine Eilrad shuddered at the thought. We had to rebuild an entire House on our own and Eilrad...he was a firebrand revolutionary. Right from the start, when we'd first gone into our Services, he'd been talking about destroying The Institution. Yeah, capital I. One of those, not that it's surprising now, is it? But he wasn't an anarchist - he was never an anarchist. The news platforms all made him out to be one, but that was never his intentions. He wanted to tear it down so he could put something else in its place - whatever that thing was, he never told me. I'm not sure if his public statements on the subject can be trusted: he was as much of a politician as anyone else in his family. So I guess I'll never know.

Anyway, whatever our reasons were, we all found our ways into the Bureaucracy. It's not surprising that we did well: we were all as educated as they came, talented in the way which only came around a couple of times in a generation and we were all driven. You'd be surprised how far that can get you when it come to politics: I've seen the most incompetent fools make it to Baron because you can't keep them down. They know nothing of politics, yet they force themselves to learn and it pays off because they have no care for the rules. Not the Rules, but the smaller rules which tie down those of us who see it from the perspective of a politician.

And so we ascended and Eilrad began to slowly, quietly, assemble a group he called the New Men. Eris confronted him over the name once: I did it so many more times that he probably had a pre-written response. That didn't kill our friendship, but it strained it a little. Especially with their goals. Me and Eris were still young and bright-eyed: we'd have died for Her Majesty if she'd so much as mentioned it in passing. We're a little more jaded nowadays, of course, but that's just the way it is. Doubtlessly, we'd have developed some form of cynicism had Eilrad amounted to nothing. As it it really surprising?

So we continued to work our way upwards and where Eris and I integrated into preexisting parties - Queen's Own and Centrists respectively - Eilrad simply formalised his New Men and continued to expand it. And, while that was worrying to many people, there weren't enough people who recognised it as an actual threat. Not yet. That was one of the things Eilrad did best: no-one really knew who was in the New Men. Oh, you had the Party Members who espoused the official party line, but they were never it. It took me a while to figure it out - Eris was there before me, of course, but I figured it out eventually and tried to start figuring out who was who.

I think it was Idiao, actually, who put all of the pieces together first. God, she was a mad bitch but she was sharp. And she was common-born too: she was just incredible. Oh, she was batshit crazy, but that's to be expected: she had to get all of the Services to work together. Even with Queen's Command, that's a frustrating proposition and Idiao had done it for so long that her particular brand of insanity was just taken as a part of the package which was necessary for everything to run smoothly in the government. Yes, she figured out what Eilrad was up to and she didn't say a word about it. I honestly admire her for that. If she'd said the right thing to the wrong person, she'd have been targetted for assassination and if she'd lacked the evidence to go public. So she drew up plans of her own and prepared for the storm she knew was coming in utmost silence, doing everything she could to disadvantage Eilrad before his plans were even set into motion.

And the best part? No-one noticed a thing for sixteen months. She fought an entire war with someone who didn't even notice it, and she almost won it before Eilrad figured out what was going on. That was when he went into the open and started ripping us apart from the inside. Centrists, Queen's Own, Conservatives, People's Liberators, Worker's: it didn't matter which party you were in, you were in the crosshairs. That was when our friendship died, finally. I was one of the first fifteen to be targeted by an unlicensed assassin, along with Eris, Idiao and Her Majesty. Nine of the assassinations went flawlessly, including Her Majesty's: one almost worked. Eris still
can't survive without being hooked up to a hunter-killer drip: that's how deeply the nanites are embedded into her system. I was just lucky that I still had a military-grade defence suite, if I'm honest.

The New Men went undercover, of course. That was one of their mistakes: we hadn't taken any of the assassins alive: we didn't know who had hired them. But someone chickened and dropped off of the RADAR and Eilrad realised that the entire party had a target on its back now. In four hours, two hundred Nobles disappeared and in six, fourteen hundred assassination contracts had been placed, all with mutuality clauses. Within a week, there were over one hundred confirmed fatalities on the side of the New Men: forty-seven on our side. Impressive, considering that they were using unlicensed, and therefore inexperienced, assassins.

And then they outdid themselves over the course of four, horrific days.

The first bomb went off in the Beariac Plazza: four hundred died before the hunter-killers managed to contain the nanite expansion. The second bomb killed another three hundred: the third killed more than nine hundred. None of these attacks were even aimed at any of the Nobles. The only fatalities for us were those of us who were off-schedule, who they wouldn't have known were going to be there. They were targeting the people over this. That was their last mistake: throughout their campaign they'd broken every Rule they needed to. This was just the first Rule, the most important Rule, the Rule which no-one ever teaches you when you go into politics but which you just know, deep down inside you.

You have the right to attack those who are in power. You do not have the right to attack the people, who are not.

We had DNA samples of every single New Man. Our response to the attacks was simple: we developed a targeted nanophage and released it into the atmosphere. We live in entirely self-contained environments, remember. They could, in theory, leave the domes but what would they do then? We monitor all entrances and exits and you can't cut your way in discreetly. So they died, one by one, or else turned themselves in for infusions of hunter-killer nanites once their own supplies ran out. We never found Eilrad's body, so we assumed he'd left the domes and died out in the wastes.

And everything went back to normal. Eris became Queen and she did her best to keep everything running over smoothly. I had a brief stint with the Diplomatic Corps before re-joining the Navy and making it to Vice Admiral before returning back to politics. The dead were mourned, the security around weaponised nanites was tightened and everyone got around to picking up the pieces and starting again. It was surprisingly easy to just pick ourselves up and move on and so...well, we did. And we did our best to put Eilrad and his New Men out of our minds.

It was another thirteen years before he appeared again. He'd spent that time recovering from the nanophage, his defence suite having kept him alive through it. And so he limps in during one of the State Sessions and claimed that the nanophage was legitimate grounds for him to declare a grievance against Eris and challenged her to a duel. I would point out that Eris' bones were still too fragile to bear her own weight at this I did the only thing I could and took her place, given that she was an invalid. We fought and I killed him..

Bastard. He broke all of the Rules, but then in the end he decided to try and manipulate them to get his last little victory over The Institution.

And yes, I've heard the rumours. That there was a bullet hole in the arena wall and that there was a bullet hole in Eilrad's corpse. That's bullshit - there wasn't enough corpse left for a bullet hole to show. And yes, the referee died - malfunction in the life support, from what I've heard. It was a one-in-a-million, yeah, but I'd much rather he had a nerve gas sprayed in his face than have that happen in one of the residential blocks. The needs of the many, after all.

And besides, even if there was an assassin there...the bastard broke enough Rules himself. If he was on the other end of the stick in the end...well, the irony still makes me smile sometimes.

Because if you break the Rules, you threaten everything we've built up. And at that point, you are going to die - no amount of money or power will stop that. The Rules are the only thing which stop politics from being hobbled by itself or a tyranny. If you break them, even just by accident, we can't afford to let you to live.
Disclaimer: Nothing said here is the product of a rational mind.
So...apparently I'm a decent writer. Um...wait, what?
Relativity, nukes in space, nukes in atmosphere, LASERs, MASERs, kinetic weapons, missile and kinetic CIWS, impactors and centripital force.

And, of course, for anything at all, you can always go here.

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Postmaster of the Fleet
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Democratic Socialists

Postby Senkaku » Sun Sep 18, 2016 9:12 pm


Sasheer pressed her lips together behind the biofilter mask as the SPO officer waved his arms and papers like some puffed-up cane toad, but she could tell his heart wasn't in it. The scent of smoke, even inside the gymnasium, came through the mask's filter. "This is an order directly from Hanjin! I need this patient to be transferred immediately, Doctor Parikh!"
"Sir, with all due respect, I am in charge of this field hospital, and Monsieur Chalar is in no state to be moved. I have already given him a private room at the SPO's request and let you interfere enough in how this hospital is run. Even if he could be moved, moving a patient out of a quarantine zone is highly illegal, and you would have to receive clearance from Colonel Nantakarn to even have the Environment Ministry consider such a request."
The poor fellow finally seemed to deflate, his gut flab spilling out just ever so slightly in that menacing black uniform. He doesn't seem like SPO material. Probably a desk worker who got sent out here by someone who didn't like him. "I will speak to the Colonel about this further. In the meantime, we may have updates regarding how to treat Chalar."
"Fine. If you'll excuse me." She walked past him, out of the cramped little office where the school's gym teacher had once worked, and ran straight into Qingzhao, the de facto leader of the nurses. The other woman looked exhausted and frightened, and held up an empty blister pack to Sasheer.
"Quarantine control has held up the oxy resupply. We have nothing but fentanyl for painkillers."
"I'll call Nantakarn as soon as I can. For now see what you can do to dilute it into saline bags, maybe? Doctor Muro will know the dosage equivalencies, I think he worked in an anesthesia ward for a little in Carcosa. Who's watching the special patient?"
"Alani, I just had to help her clean up some blood from him, actually." Qingzhao gestured to her scrubs, which were spattered in dark brown. "Need to go change. His lungs are still melting, no real change there."

The noises from the rest of the school building all blurred together with his heartbeat as Marius heaved in another breath, then gave a shuddering exhale that spotted his blanket with blood. Outside his window, the fields of Yamagata waved a thousand ruby fans at him, plumes of smoke rising up as the tiny white specks of Environment Ministry troops crawled through the soba-rusted fields. Occasionally the black specks of aircraft would slowly bank across the piercingly blue sky, raining napalm down on the blood-stained banana trees, but even if he had been fully in possession of his faculties, it would have been difficult to notice any changes.
Someone out in the hall was crying- one of the children of the family he'd seen brought in some vague amount of time ago. Marius no longer had a clear concept of time, waking at random moments and drawing agonizing, bloody breaths as the soba rust gleefully marauded through his lungs and bowels.

Ten days previously, he had been living through another interminably normal day in Ha Trang.

"Why do I smell smoke?", his mother asked as his grandmother walked in, carrying a bag of fried plantains from the restaurant. "And where is Liu?"
"Apparently Kit and Anne are burning some stands, don't know why. Blight or something, I expect. That girl of theirs offered Liu ten taels to go help them burn."
Marius frowned at the mention of his little brother. "How much are they burning?"
His grandmother shrugged again. "Dunno. We can ask Liu about it when he gets home, I expect they'll be done by evening."
They shared the plantains, and then Marius went out to trade with his father driving the sprayer hover, ignoring his grandmother's occasional stinging remarks about Hanjin.

But Liu didn't come home.

A bright white skimmer, with the Environment Ministry's brilliant green logo embossed on its side, had appeared in the skies, setting down at the other end of the little town, near Anne and Kit Yuan's fields. His mother had called them several times to no avail, but her fifth attempt, she was answered by an Environment Ministry officer who said and revealed nothing but took a great number of words to do so. Marius and his father had gone to walk over, but a pair of whiteshirts had stopped them and ordered them back inside.

The next morning, when Marius awoke, the stench of smoke was in the air. Huge columns were rising from fields towards the other end of town, from all around the surrounding area, and Grandmother was complaining of a headache. His father muttered about her downing too much vodka the night before and stomped off, dragging Marius with him to help him start the sprayer.

Then Grandmother came to the back porch, and a man in a Ministry white shirt followed her and told them that they were to remain in the house.

On the third morning, Marius awoke to a splitting headache and a sea of reddish-brown banana fronds outside his window, and by noon was laying in the back of a truck, clunking down the road to the field hospital that had been set up in Yamagata. There was a little window near where he had been unceremoniously dumped, and outside it he could see red brushstrokes of death on almost every leaf as they rattled along. Occasionally unmarked hovers passed them going the other way, and the fires were everywhere now.
He saw a naked body laying by the side of the road, skin blackened and purpled as if it had been beaten with steel poles, and a tremble of fear shivered through his body.

Soba rust was a singularly excruciating way to die.

His heart monitor started beeping, and the nurse in the corner stood, walking over, clearly on edge. Above her filter mask, her light eyes betrayed exhaustion. The typical extent of a Yamagata nurse's duties were narcanning heroin overdoses and putting meth-heads back together again after they smashed themselves to bit doing stupid things while high, or occasionally dealing with childbirths and other routine procedures. Seeing as Liu and Grandmother are probably dead, I wonder who this woman has lost? Grandmother had been vomiting blood on the way to Yamagata, and they'd taken her away as soon as the trucks had arrived. Marius had been shoved by some men in black uniforms into his own room, but his parents had been coughing, so he doubted they were doing much better than him.
The nurse was saying something, but he couldn't tell what. She wasn't looking at him, anyways, was looking out the door, her face twisting into a rictus of alarm.

When two more people in scrubs hurried in and crowded around him, it occurred to Marius there might be a problem.
If I'm dying, let's just get it over with, part of his brain muttered, spots floating in his vision as the doctors pressed and did whatever they were doing. He could tell he was coughing, but it all seemed so far away.


The Senryoku-3 Emergency Quarantine Zone is, on the advice of the Hanjin Council of Ministers and Environment Ministry experts, to be immediately liquidated and sterilized to prevent further spread of soba rust (Morispora fulgurus). The Environment Ministry's Rapid Response Units, the State Political Office, the Hanjin Self-Defense Force, and elements of the League Supreme Executive will cooperate to immediately remove the threat of all carriers of the disease from the area and to sterilize infected planting areas and items.

The sound of gunfire made Sasheer look up as she continued chest compressions on Chalar. He spat up a little blood every time she pushed, probably pieces of his partially-liquefied lungs, and his vacant eyes wandered aimlessly, not seeming to comprehend what was happening to him.
"Alani, take over for me, I'm going to go find out what that is." The young woman, who had just finished administering epinephrine, looked hopelessly at the heart monitor, and Sasheer and Qingzhao both nodded encouragingly at her. Sasheer hurried out into the hallway, stepping over people laying on the floor and between cots as she headed for the school gym. The steady pop-pop-pop was now being accompanied by confused, distant, angry shouting and screaming, and suddenly people began spilling out of the gym doors into the hallway ahead of her. Panicked nurses and doctors joined limping, wild-eyed patients in a jumble of humanity, and Sasheer gasped as she watched one of their heads whip around in a spray of blood.
What's happening? Oh my God what's happening?

She pushed through the panicked mob into the gym, and saw white shirts slowly walking down each row of cots, little flashes emanating from the end of the long black things they cradled in their arms. More followed with pistols, firing at those who were too weak to leave the cots.
"What are you doing?", she screamed at one of the whiteshirts as he shot the limping woman next to her in the back. His eyes were expressionless above his filtration mask, and the muzzle flashed again and Sasheer's world vanished in a storm of light and noise.

The world had turned gray and very quiet, except for occasional sharp pops that Marius thought could be his heartbeat, eking out a few last firings as his body shut down. There was vague movement in the hallways, gray shapes blurring together and falling over, and the nurses bent above him suddenly moved away, letting blinding light shine down onto his eyes.
The light dimmed swiftly, though, and then almost completely went out as another shape entered his vision. In a final moment of clarity, Marius saw what it was holding up- a pistol.
There was a tremendous flash and a clap like thunder. And so I die, another sadsack nobody, in a bed on a forgotten planet. Then there was nothing at all.
haters will see you growing on a finite planet and say you can't grow infinitely

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The Fedral Union
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Founded: Antiquity

Postby The Fedral Union » Mon Sep 19, 2016 2:10 pm

Chronicle of a Republic

After quite a bit of fanfare the motorcade of ground cars pulled up toward the roundabout of the capitol building, President Elect Shore stepped out from the vehicle his cheeks dimpling as a wide smile came across it. He still retained most of his boyish good looks, but the lines of his face were more gracefully aged. In his mind he never pictured being here on this day glancing across the masses of people making his way up the force steps of the capitol, to be sworn in as the chief executive of the Terran Alliance.

How things had changed, his whole outlook on politics had shifted. Public service was his calling, and no amount of running seemed to rid him of that role, whether preordained by the universe or not. He was once a fiery young man with all the traits that came with being so, serving under two of the greatest Presidents of the Terran Alliance. Now, now it was his turn experience had tempered him in ways he had never expected.

He came to a stop within the circumference of a star shaped pavilion, the pavilion was not just an aesthetic statement, it was a monument of the nation. The very spot where the first colony deorbited on Terra Nova . Indeed the entire capital district retained many of the older buildings within the confines of that first colony, it had always remained devoid of such massive mega structures and skyscrapers even as Union city grew around it.

Shore turned to face a Savvaran who was dressed rightfully in pod markings and sea based jewelry and emblems. That rubbery skin of the Savvaran did not display any gender but one could tell he was a male by the slightly more muscular structure of his frame. His name was Chief magistrate Neeuyim Seeolin. Shore and him exchanged a nod and a few quiet words, then as with tradition the chief magistrate took one step back, acoustic enhancement went live almost as if it was triggered that that movement. Seolin held up a plain tablet, which contained the entirety of the Terran constitution.

Seeolin then began his voice filled with a confident tone, hoping to emphasize that Shore take the same tone in response.

“Malcolm Allen Shore, you have been called to this most hallowed of spots by the people of many worlds, you have answered that call. Please place two of your digits on this pad.”

Shore did so fluidly and without hesitation his gaze meeting the Savvarans eyes.

“Do you Malcolm Allen Shore pledge before the eyes of the galaxy and your fellow people to execute the authority of this office as laid out by law?”

Shore replied, matching the magistrates voice, his voice echoed across the crowds, across vast distances of space to other worlds, to any ship planet or station tuning in.

“I Malcolm Allen Shore, pledge myself to the service of the people of the Terran Alliance, to uphold, protect, and execute the constitution of the United Terran Alliance to the best of my ability and with all the moral fortitude I can muster.”

Seeolin smiled and closed the oath by simply saying.

“Congratulations Mr. President .”

Crowds erupted in fanfare as the executive march sounded out from a live band just to one side of the pavilion. After a few moments with the crowds dying down he took center stage as it were stepping to the southern spoke of the pavilion there were no signs of any enhancement devices yet his voice rang loud and clear.

“My fellow citizens; I am honored and proud that you have called upon me to serve as your president. And it was indeed you, the people who chose to call upon me; through a hard fought election where all involved partook in this most auspicious aspect of what our republic stands for.

But I’m not here to gloat nor to congratulate myself or supporters, I am here to point out what I -indeed, all of us- can accomplish in the coming years. Unlike many of the imperial powers that are strewn across the galaxy, the power of this government lay with you instead of a single individual, a single elite. There are no nobles, no kings, no emperors. There are just citizens within our vast federation.

Here once again, the transition of power that for generations before has taken place is once again instilled to the galaxy at large. Proof that a democratic style of government is not preordained to fail, or implode. For hundreds of years and many national crisis we have continued our tradition in which power and decisions are ultimately in the hands of the people. For that, we should be proud. But our accomplishments don’t end there.

The Terran Alliance, with this uncommon system, who in the eyes of some of the galaxy should have collapsed many times in the past, is now one of the most powerful civilizations in the galaxy. Against unfathomable odds, isolation, terrible conflicts, and tragedy, we through determination, through sweat, and toil continued to believe in our own validity and greatness, a belief repaid in accomplishments. The spirit that we could achieve anything still resonates strongly through the Alliance.

Through our efforts, the GESO was formed, and through our efforts and the efforts of our allies the tribulations of the Great Displacement are slowly being mitigated. Through our efforts GESO has remained together, and now has come into its own as the largest Alliance of nations in the Galaxy practicing on the international level the tenets of democracy and law, all of which we hold dear.

Some remember a time when the UTA was a minor backwater mocked by many other powers. That time is long passed, and will never return. I came to the state department thirty years ago before the inception of the GESO, before the crisis of confidence in the galaxy and right after the denunciation of internationalism as a way of dealing with crises and events that affect not just our people but many other peoples as well. Back then my job was just as a lowly undersecretary, I was given the task to open dialogue and relations with minor officials from other star systems.

I then was proud to serve my country as I am now proud to serve my country; but I was just one of many people working to turn our image in the galaxy to turn our state into a beacon and an example. I worked amongst the rest of you, without the Terran people and our drive we would have never achieved what we did. Yet we cannot simply dwell on the achievements of the past as remarkable as they may be. You and I both know that the future awaits us with even more remarkable achievements, not just for the people of the Terran Alliance, but for the masses of the galaxy.

We stand at one precipice in a long climb toward another, militarily there is no other power with the will to challenge us and our allies, economically we are perhaps the most affluent power in the galaxy our currency accepted throughout the GESO throughout many other places, basic necessities for our people are never more than a push of a button away.

Luxury items stock every home, communal building, ship and pantry. We produce more than many other powers combined not through the use of back breaking labour, but through the use of innovative machines. These machines were themselves, the invention and vision of the engineers and scientists that even now make up a large part of our work force.

I am confident and I am determined for that trend to continue, yet I as I’m sure many of you believe that even with all this wealth, material and knowledge there are many more dimensions to existence.

There are many in the galaxy that do not share in this wealth, this abundance, many have lost hope or become wandering and impoverished peoples, the Terran Alliance has the economic might, and the moral might to make sure we can help make the galaxy a better place. To give to those that don’t have what we do, to assist them, what do we get out of it some may ask?

I say, consider this. One day you may be in a shuttle pod and have a working fabricator, you come upon another shuttle that’s been badly damaged, its passengers stranded running out of food and other necessities.

you decide to stop and offer your services for no charge at all, they thank you and they’re picked up by a ship from their species days later due to the gear you gave them.

Now some time later, you’re in the same situation, and it so happens those same people in a new ship are passing by, they see you and they remember you.. They offer their assistance. They save your life and the lives of your friends or family.

consider the opposite, not helping or seeking an opportunistic gain by extortion. It may very well end up killing you.

I think you can see where the moral of that story lies. I believe we as a people need to do as much as we can to assist displaced peoples because one day, they may be key friends. Some within our own nation remember when we had nothing, we were ravaged, no one came to help us.

It would be wrong and reprehensible for us not to set an example and to tell the galaxy despite all those empires have done to us, all the galaxy threw at us we maintained our unshakable pillars of what we think and know is right, where other powers have become hostile and imperialistic, and even xenocidal. We as a people chose another path, and we continue this path under my administration we will make concerted efforts to accelerate resettlement of refugees, within our vast tapestry of species or without should they chose the path of self determination.

Yet we have much to do, allies who are in need, and as always some powers that must be deterred. To those powers and semi aligned blocs that exist outside of the GESO and the UTA, the international efforts and diplomatic maneuvers being pushed forth have not gone unnoticed. The subtle military buildups , the new treaties and pacts; between both newer powers and older powers some , who might have with hostile intention to our republic and its allies. This is of concern to us , and it should be of concern to the people of our Alliance and to our allies, but I pledge to you, as your elected chief executive that should ill will from any power or any party be brought to bear upon us we will not hesitate to respond, weather it is through political pressure, or military force. We never intend to start a conflict with any power but we will intend to finish one.

On the subject of foreign relations, I and this government will pledge to continue extending inroads of peace, proposing items of international cooperation. Even as I speak to you now my fellow citizens; The Strategic Arms Security Treaty is being discussed by multiple parties as a bilateral agreement to secure the strategic stockpiles of all involved, so that there will never be a tragedy involving the destruction of an entire star system by disruption weapon or the death of a world by the likes of plague or nanopaste, at the hands of one or a few deranged individuals.

Agreements like this, is what makes the galaxy safer, it is not just a matter of military readiness or posturing but it is a matter that includes both diplomatic,economic aspects that must be addressed. If we as a nation continue with responsible courses of actions such as this, we will be far more secure than if we merely poured all of our effort into military might alone.


So much awaits the Terran Alliance and her allies, but so much needs to be done as well. Therefore as I said we still have that hill to climb, and we will do so. Those who think life is cheap, those who think the galaxy was better off without any cooperation and thus have stuck to their ways… Now suffer for their errors. We will endeavor not too, as your president I will have to make decisions that might not be popular not every course of action I will have to take will be ideal but I will strive to make the best decisions on behalf of all of you as I execute your will and the will of the senate.

We still have unprecedented heights, and challenges to rise to, and we will do so united and stronger than ever; never losing our motivation that from the inception of this country has guided us steady and true.

Thank you, and may the universe bless us all.”

After the speech, there was a resounding round of applause, it was deafening as crowds cheered people hollered and jubilation spread. Once again the Executive march was played amongst all of this. President Shore smiled, waved and then turned facing the VIP’s sitting behind him in order to greet them.

The first delegate to be greeted - Honorary Consul Stroyash Serat-ari of the Abraski dipped her head in greeting and respect, her jeweled hand outstretched.

“President Shore, on behalf of Grand-Admiral Rhist Dan-yer and the Abraskian people, I would like to congratulate you on your new position. Grand-Seeress Nemetu believes the future holds great things for you, perhaps even for our peoples.”

President Shore gave a respectful bow and shook the other’s hand, moving on to the next delegate, that smile of his ever present on his face glowing with enthusiasm.

“Secretary-General! I don’t believe I’ve ever had the pleasure, Madame Silver sent her compliments.”

His partner smiled, golden eyes sparkling in the sun.

“It’s my deepest wish they were well-earned. I expect I’ll hear great things of you.”

-the feed cut back to the GESO news feed.-

There you have it, the new president of the Terran Alliance, what this means for the GESO and the galaxy is perhaps hope. But only time will tell. The GESO still has much work ahead, and many have confidence in the new Terran President, who’s had a hand in GESO affairs since its inception under President Sagen.

Special thanks to Rawhein and Abraski.
Last edited by The Fedral Union on Mon Sep 19, 2016 3:30 pm, edited 7 times in total.
[09:07.53] <Estainia> ... Nuclear handgrenades have one end result. Everybody dies. For the M.F Republic, I guess
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Postby Senkaku » Tue Sep 20, 2016 9:12 pm

Good Soldiers

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.

SEPOC Foreign Bureau Project ULTRAMARINE Briefing
Operation 1710 Briefing Minutes

[SPEAKER ONE · NAME REDACTED, SECURITY LEVEL 8]: You are here today to be briefed on an operation currently being implemented by the SEPOC Foreign Bureau in conjunction with the Security Directorate, under the auspices of Project ULTRAMARINE, designated 1710. The operation is going forward in the Citic System of the Free State Republic, following the recent Tourelle Incident in Sorhae.

[SPEAKER TWO · NAME REDACTED, SECURITY LEVEL 8]: I was under the impression that there wasn't going to be an extensive response to that at a League level. Shouldn't this be delegated to the Sorhae Electorate? Pakchul can handle it as they see fit.

[SPEAKER THREE · NAME REDACTED, SECURITY LEVEL 8]: Normally we would handle such a thing, [NAME REDACTED]. However, because the collection agents sent to Tourelle were not from Pakchul, but rather Supreme Executive employees, it became a matter for the SEPOC rather than our Special Investigative Units to look into. So we have been entirely shut out of the investigation, [unintelligible].

[SPEAKER ONE]: [sharp exhale] SEPOC investigation concluded that there was some possibility of the involvement of state actors in the Tourelle Incident. We will be of course sharing our findings with the SIU- I apologize to my colleague for the lack of proper sharing that has occurred. But because of the potential involvement of foreign state actors, we concluded a central response was appropriate.

[SPEAKER FOUR · NAME REDACTED, SECURITY LEVEL 8]: Very well, but why is this response being executed under Project ULTRAMARINE? What relation does it have to biological weapons?

[SPEAKER ONE]: If you allow me to continue, I will explain.


Now, Operation 1710 will focus on the Citic System of the Free State Republic, a very populous system currently plagued by shortages and civil unrest. Neither the League nor the World School have ever maintained official diplomatic contact with them, though that may be subject to change at some point in the future. As such, neither SEPOC nor the Security Directorate have any networks or infrastructure in the country. The operation will infiltrate a small cell of illegals, posing as research biologists studying desert microorganisms on the planet Citic, which is quite arid. This is where Project ULTRAMARINE comes into play. SEPOC has been instructed to respond to the Tourelle Incident with active measures, and as such we have elected to introduce a recently-developed strain of soba rust, originating from the plague currently hitting Senryoku.

[SPEAKER FOUR]: So in response to the Tourelle Incident, we're covertly employing high-level biological weapons against a civilian population? That seems somewhat disproportionate. They landed on an empty world and there's only, as you said, a dubious connection to state actors. And in response we unleash a new soba rust variant in a major population center?

[SPEAKER ONE]: I'm not seeing the issue. There will be perfect deniability, it's doubtful anyone will even suspect an operation was run intentionally, given that the Gyahou Conglomerate exports a large quantity of bananas and other produce there anyways. Hell, it's possible that there may be an outbreak on accident before our assets are in place, if an infected banana slipped through ag inspection or got out before the outbreak was detected.

[SPEAKER FOUR]: I just meant why exactly are we doing this? What exactly is the point? Didn't our collection agents quite thoroughly liquidate their settlement in Tourelle?

[SPEAKER ONE]: Well... I guess it's just the sort of thing that, generally, governments do. Don't ask me, I wasn't in charge of planning. Apparently the Security Directorate and the Council of Viceroys thought additional reprimands were required, and I think most of SEPOC is in agreement. Merely liquidating the settlement doesn't send a message.

[SPEAKER FOUR]: So we're trying to send a message, but also maintaining perfect deniability? This all seems very poorly thought out. Almost as if it were just an excuse for Project ULTRAMARINE to test some of their new toys.

[SPEAKER TWO]: Well, even if it is perhaps a bit excessive, it couldn't hurt for ULTRAMARINE to have the opportunity to make some operational observations of their newest soba rust variant. If we can establish some infrastructure there, Citic might actually wind up being a good testbed for other new varieties they want to put into testing.

[SPEAKER ONE]: [long sigh] Thank you. Yes. Part of this operation will also involve, hopefully, setting up some infrastructure in Citic so we can begin to build a HUMINT network in the Free State Republic. In any case, a team of illegals will be infiltrated posing as research biologists. They'll set up a base of operations, in an office that the Gyahou Conglomerate is going to be renting indefinitely at our request in Berj City, the largest city on the planet. From there they'll go about building networks and aiding the spread of soba rust. The approach to introducing the disease will be two-pronged. Firstly, we'll take pains to hide infected produce in shipments to Citic. Secondly, our operatives will go about introducing samples to the population and the planet's agricultural centers, and speeding its spread by engaging in acts like the sabotage of sanitary infrastructure or transmitting it into water supplies or drug user populations, things like that.

Citic, Citic System
Berj City
Gyahou Conglomerate Secondary Distribution Office (Foreign Bureau/Security Directorate Rezidentura)

The rezidentura consisted of a grand total of four small, cramped little rooms, wedged among the other offices of the huge high-rise it was perched in. Only the conference room had windows- the main office, the rezident's personal office (which was really more of a cell, based on its size), and the reception room were all dim and dingy, their cheap wallpaper and carpeting looking all the worse for wear in the unpleasant lighting of the dirty LED panels on the ceiling. There was also one tiny bathroom, with a sink and special water-saving toilet that was prone to clogging.

Fortunately, Reed reflected, there weren't many of them to fill the space. The rezident was sitting in front of his computer, scrolling idly through freighter, train, and truck manifests that he'd already read a dozen times. The only real duty that the six officers crammed into this little office really had was to check daily reports of incoming ships from certain shipping companies, to see when carrier loads would be imported, and to check what stores they were being distributed to and who and what they would come into contact with on their way to the mouths of the consumers of Berj City. The most exciting thing they'd gotten to do was head out to the desert a few days previously, to pretend to be biologists, while actually sneaking through farmers' fields and contaminating a few plants here or there with soba rust samples.

Through his window into the main office area, he saw Jeanne, their Project ULTRAMARINE specialist, get up and head to the restroom. Hailin was manning the reception desk in the unlikely event someone came in looking for the dentist's office down the hall, and the others were all at their terminals.

Reed was a loyal SEPOC officer, a good soldier, as his handler in HQ had once called him, but even he had a few misgivings about the mission they were on. He understood the security of the League was paramount, and that their biological warfare teams also had to have testbeds, but even so, it would be coming at a horrific price.
Thank God for those vaccinations they gave us, he thought, recalling the nanodiamond vials they'd carried the samples into the fields with. Baseline soba rust is scary enough.

Two days ago, Alec had stopped by the mini-mart at the bottom of his building to grab a banana and some chocolate milk after coming back from the gym. It was his usual snack, and he'd eaten quickly in the elevator before showering and zipping out to work.

The next morning, he'd woken up with a blinding headache- understandable. After all, it was a Saturday morning, and he and his girlfriend had gone out drinking with friends the night before. The hangover seemed unshakable, though, and by that evening he was convinced that getting run down had given him a cold, since he was coughing. Elisa had teased him about it, but she'd also stayed with him to binge-watch their favorite shows and keep a steady stream of hot tea coming his way.

But then he'd woken up in the middle of the night, nauseous, a fever burning hot within him. He had been coughing so hard it was hard to sleep, and Elisa had gone out to the couch to escape the noise, but the nausea was a new twist. He made it into the bathroom before a harder coughing fit seized him, his muscles spasming so hard that his nausea suddenly boiled over and he found himself emptying his stomach into the toilet.

The water in the bowl turned brilliant red.

Elisa put a hand to her face in concern as she watched a pair of nurses lead Alec back into the emergency room. He was walking, at least- after he'd stopped vomiting she'd driven him directly to the hospital, and he'd managed to walk in under his own power. The doctors had immediately taken him back, away from the various people waiting to be treated- mostly mothers with children who had broken arms, or other minor, routine, non-urgent cases.

Another nurse came over to her, smiling kindly. "We'll make sure he's taken care of, ma'am," he said with a nod. "Since you aren't married I can't let you go back with him, but I can show you to a waiting room if you like while we take a look at him."
"That would be lovely," she said, exhaling and realizing she'd been holding her breath for quite some time. As she followed the man, she noticed she had a bit of a headache.
Last edited by Senkaku on Tue Sep 20, 2016 9:34 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Postby Federal Republic of Free States » Thu Sep 22, 2016 10:24 pm

Good Soldiers, Bad Inspectors

Axul System, Planet Anull
Federal Senate Building
Senate Committee Hearing

The gavel banged with several sharp cracks that echoed though the air of the forum, causing the random murmuring of the attending crowd to simmer and eventually silence. The individual banging the gavel sat at the center of a raised platform flanked by four individuals on each side of her. Her steely blue eyes centered on the older gentleman sitting alone at a small table in front of the raised platform, in fact the entire room including the audience which was a mix of ordinary citizens, and media representatives was focused on the individual sitting at the table.

“This investigative meeting of the Federal Senate is now in session. Please state your name and title for the record.”

“My name is Ryan Heller, and I was the former chief inspector of agricultural imports for the colony of Citic.”

“And Mr. Heller, do you know why we have requested your involvement in this investigative meeting?”

“I imagine so---.”

“Mr. Heller, please be more specific with your answers.”

[Audible Sigh] “Yes, I have been requested to attend this meeting given my previous employment and the current disaster to befall the Citic colonial system.”

[Ruffling of papers] “Now, would you please to the best of your knowledge explain to the Committee what has transpired in the Citic system over the past few weeks?”

[Clearing of the throat] “The Citic colonial system has suffered a major public health emergency as well as a tragic agricultural disaster of serious proportion. Combined with the ongoing civil un---“

[A single bang of the gavel could be heard] “Mr. Heller, the subject of this hearing is not about the civil unrest befalling the system. We are here to strictly hear about the aforementioned public health emergency as well as the agricultural disaster and your involvement with these occurrences.”

“…well…I’d like it to be on the record that the civil unrest that has been effecting the Citic colonial system has made any effort to inspect planetside crops as well as incoming agricultural shipments difficult if not outright impossible in some locations on the planet.”

“The record will reflect your wishes, now, please continue.”

“We had received the memo from the Gayhou Conglomerate indicating their concern of a fungal outbreak affecting their crop of bananas coming from the planet Senryoku-3, and given the seriousness of the memo as well as the fact that the Gayhou Conglomerate was a huge supplier of musa fruit to the Citic system lead us to begin our initial probe into the shipments we had already received. “

“Was your probe limited to a specific section of shipments in anyway?”

“Well we were following the guidelines within the memo of all shipments that were sent within the past forty-two days from Senryoko-3. Frankly, it was a monumental task to undertake as the number of shipments lay in the high hundreds and were scattered all over the planet. But any shipment that came before that was not within the scope of our probe, and we did not engage ourselves in tacking down those shipments.”

“Well then since your scope was within the parameters that the memo stated , I hope you can explain to us why so many of the infected produce still slipped through your ‘probe’ and into the marketplace for consumption on Citic. Can you?”

[Silence for a few moments, the clicking of several cameras could be heard as pictures were taken] “Well…I’d have to say it was a combination of factors that lead to this failure to stop all infected produce from reaching the citizenry. The first being conflicting shipping dates on the manifests used by the Gayhou Conglomerate and our own, they differ by several days. It is a possibility that because our dating arrangements are different that we may have missed shipments entirely. Another factor could easily be attributed to the fact that not all shipments of produce into the region were done by commercial or official vessels. It is quite possible that private individuals had brought produce into the region on their own vessels, which are not subject to our probe.”

”Mr. Heller, I’d like for us to talk a moment about the resources and assets that were available for you to use.

“Miss would you mean Pre or Post unrest?”

[Shuffling of papers could be heard] How about both Mr. Heller.

Citic Colonial System
Tandem County, Berj City
Mt. Eden Hospital
Three Weeks Prior to the Hearing

Jasmine took a seat in the break room, the first time she’s been off her feet in seven straight hours. Ever since she got the call to show up this morning on her day off, it has been nothing but a nonstop show of horror. The emergency room has been flooded with patients to the point where they were no longer servicing people in individual rooms; people were strewn about in the hallways on gurneys or on blankets piled on the floor. The entire staff of the emergency room was darting from patient to patient trying to administer aid as best as they could.

I don’t know how much longer we can keep this pace up… Jasmine thought to herself as she poured herself a hot cup of tea, she was the only one in the break room currently as they had all agreed to take ten minute breaks one by one. Kicking her feet up on the table, she held her hot cup of tea letting it warm her hands. Letting her eyes look up towards the doorway she spied a wheeled container being pushed by two gentlemen go passed the doorway. Multiple appendages could be seen poking out of the black tarp; Jasmine quickly averted her eyes as the container continued passed the break room. She knew where that container was going; it was common knowledge to the staff where the deceased would end up. Burnt to a crisp, with any trace of the plague hopefully gone with them.

Leaning back in the chair, she closed her eyes and forced herself to think nice thoughts. Anything to erase the image of bodies burning in the incinerator, bunnies, puppies, her husband, and even her sweet young daughter began to flood her mind. Sending a weak smile to form from her mouth, she unclipped her mask allowing her to finally take a sip from her cup of tea. The warm liquid helped to relax her body and her mind, the first time today a moment of happiness came over her.

Suddenly a manly figure popped his head in the doorway, “Jasmine! Why is your mask off! You know the quarantine protocols!”

Startled Jasmine replied, “I’m sorry Heath…I was just a bit thirsty…” Putting her cup down she re-hooked her mask and stood up from the table. She straightened up her scrub and made her way out of the break room, almost immediately upon leaving the room however…a sharp pain began to radiate from the front of her head. As she walked back to the patients she rubbed her temples to try and alleviate the growing pain.

Citic Colonial System
Tamden County, Outskirts
Target Area
Two Weeks Prior to the Hearing

The matte black Dropship dipped down closer to the sandy ground, the sun above it was quickly heading to the horizon. The sky was an explosion of beautiful and brilliant red and orange hues as the twilight hours began. As the aircraft banked to the right, those who were in the back of the Dropship braced themselves for the turn. As the vessel straightened out over the intercom a message was relayed to the eight men in the troop bay. “Thirty seconds to target area.” The red light illuminating the bay area changed from red to yellow, indicating that their drop point was nearing, fast. Their target tonight was a small squat building out in the fringe of the county several independent reports had linked this structure to the insurgency, and given its proximity to several farms some analysts had floated the idea that it had something to do with the outbreak of the deadly plague on the planet.

Regardless of the reason for the building reaching the top of the target list, it was about to receive a rude visit from a Marine Force Recon team. The intercom came alive again with the voice of the pilot.

“Ten seconds to the landing zone, the hatch is opening.”

The rear hatch began to crack open as the light in the troop bay once again changed colors this time going from yellow to green. As the green light washed over the eight men in the rear of the aircraft, all eight of them stood up in unison and began checking one another’s TOC suits for any last moment problems that could compromise the armored suits effectiveness. As the aircraft flared at the end of its final descent towards the sandy ground, two thick ropes detached from the overhang at the back of the craft. Settling down on the sand below the Dropship, the Force Recon team quickly slid down the ropes it only took a few moments for the eight men to reach the surface. With the last marine hitting the deck, the two ropes were detached from the aircraft, and it began to lift up into the sky again. It would begin a circular holding pattern around the target area, awaiting any transmission from the Force Recon Strike Marines.

The eight marines quickly made their way up the dirty road to the entrance of the building, forming up on either side of the doorway one of the marines affixed a frame charge to the entryway. The team pulled back a little bit away from the door, as the detonator was pressed a tremendous explosion imploded the doorway sending fragments of the wood inside the building. While the smoke still swirled about the two closest marines to the doorway tossed in their flash bang grenades. A few heartbeats ticked by and the muffled ‘thump’ along with the instant bright flash occurred inside the building. The team of marines filed into the room in a rehearsed ballet of movement, their weapons at the ready their eyes scanning for targets. Fanning out into the room each marine scanned their sector for any hostile intent, instead they found something much much different.

Strewn about the room were several bodies, all of them crumpled in odd positions some on the floor, a few others in chairs. They were lifeless, the skin beyond pale with puddles of a mixture of vomit, blood and feces massed on the floor and on the furniture. The marines entered the building expecting to be in a firefight, but instead they had entered a morgue.

“Not what we thought huh LT?”

“…Not at all…Marines! New mission is now in effect, information gathering. Find anything and everything you can and get it ready for evac.”

“Semper Gumby, you got it LT.”

The marine lieutenant made his way to the table in the middle of the room, he pushed the limp stiffening body that was propped up partially on the table, off onto the floor below. His eyes gravitated to a medium sized book on the table, its blood red coloring catching his eye. On the front cover in elegant cursive was one word ‘Inspiration”. Opening the book itself he flipped through the pages even just a cursory look at the written material one could tell that this was a manifesto of sorts. As the lieutenants eyes focused on some of the sentences a more dangerous realization formed in his mind.

Is it not that they have abandoned you? Is it not apparent that the Galaxy has turned its back upon that which so-called "civilization" believes to be its children? Is it not plain-to-see that this world - this Galaxy, this cosmos, this realm of seemingly infinite creation - is but yet a hell given form all its own?

I know your hardships, my brothers and sisters; I know what scratches at the back of your mind and I feel the tearing of your hearts as you weep over yet another brother, sister, father, mother, lover lost amidst the red tape of a thousand different worlds, each tugging, each ripping at your very being for agendas all their own. I see them housing you as they applaud their own charity, but I also see them concentrating you out of fear of your righteous anger.

Yet, the path to that infinite refulgence offers an avenue to end this suffering. It seeks to provide to all who seek it, to all who cry-out its name in the darkest depths of their desperation, in the abyss of their despair, wishing for an answer. In a word, that infinite unknowing absolute, that primordial spark which asks only for your love, offers you justice.

Even so, I offer you a solution. I offer you the path to the escape of this devilry. I offer you the knowledge - the enlightenment - which will bring your spark aflame and ignite within you purpose, impetus, and the tools that HE willfully grants unto HIS own to enact this justice - demanded and foretold. I give you the key to your own destiny, and I offer you naught but the wisdom and knowledge as to how to use it. In a word, I offer you hope. I offer you an end to this injustice, to this squalor, and to this decaying world.

Closing the book, he placed it within one of the bags they were currently filling with assorted papers, files, and discs. Everything was deemed important at this moment; the marines would let the analysts decide what wasn’t. Spinning around he eyed the dead bodies within the room, Too bad y’all can’t speak…



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