Divided Sixth Circuit Panel Discovers Constitutional Right

Meet The Freak 6

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The stew Valentine had provided was hearty fare, prepared with some of the stock carried in our remaining pack, and bottled water fetched from below. She'd even worked out sleeping arrangements, despite us being down one tent and one bedroll.
The sky was clear enough, so hoping it wouldn't rain, she'd reworked the tent and groundsheet into a makeshift bedroll. Both it and her own bedroll had been set up near the door, clear of the golf-ball-sized gravel that covered most of the roof. Not that the concrete was going to be much more comfortable, but after ten or so hours at a forced march, I was tired enough that it wasn't likely to matter.
And there was the sky. A sheet of stars unmolested by artificial light, and so bright that it seemed unreal. I'd lived in big cities all my life, where the best I might see would be only the very brightest stars, Orion's belt perhaps, and the inner planets.
But as I sat there and ate my stew, it felt as if the whole galaxy was laid out, right before my eyes. In fact, I finally understood why it was called 'The Milky Way'. Without all the lights of a city to drown it out, a thick arc of white could be seen, like drops of milk against the black sky. Perhaps it wasn't the galaxy I knew, but it was a galaxy, seen not through a massive telescope perched atop a mountain and carefully shielded from the lights of civilization, but with the naked eye.
"Such childlike wonder," Valentine remarked, and meeting her gaze, I found she was smiling, "And here I thought I had a brute for a travelling companion."
I gave her a wry smile, "Sometimes it does feel like I'm a skinny little nerd trapped in a giant's body."
She set her bowl aside, "What did you do before all this? You say you know how to fight, have you played bodyguard before, or is your family from the landed nobility?"
"Neither, learning how to fight was just one of many nerdy hobbies," I admitted, "No, I guess the closest analogue would be a scribe? The tech my job relied on is probably a couple thousand years off for Pelignos, maybe five hundred for Parabuteo."
Valentine smirked, "I cannot help but laugh at the image of those huge hands clutching a tiny quill. I would have thought that one your size would have played to those strengths, indulging in martial, rather than scholarly pursuits."
I shook my head, "In a modern military my size would probably be more a liability than an asset. Those pistols you have, for example, imagine a weapon like them, but with a dozen times the power. Then imagine they never fail to work, can fire ten times a second, and are accurate out to half a mile. And that's just what the average man might carry, our equivalent to siege weapons have ranges measured in miles and throw explosive shells that have enough force to level small buildings. My strength wouldn't do a whole lot for me, and I'm a damn big target."
Valentine's expression grew a great deal more serious, "With such weapons, war among your people must be particularly terrible."
I let out a long breath, "Yeah, yeah it is. But on the whole, I'd say it's better. It's better now than it was fifty years ago, and fifty years ago it was better than it was a century ago," I was silent for a long moment, pondering, "Makes me wonder about Simon. He probably has a pretty good idea of just how much life sucked for most of history, and I bet he can justify anything to himself if it's in the name of bringing some twenty-first-century civilization to Pelignos."
"And building a harem of sorceresses and noblewomen, that's just a bonus?" Valentine asked, a sour expression on her face.
"Prick probably thinks he deserves it," I shrugged, "A reward for good behaviour."
I was roused, brought to a drowsy half-wakefulness by a soft chiming sound, and was ready to roll over and go back to sleep when I felt a small hand on my shoulder, shaking me awake.
I yawned and sat up, the cool night air chilly against my bare skin. Valentine had elected to sleep in her jumpsuit, but my clothes had still been all run through with dirt and grit from my encounter with the landslide, so they'd been washed and hung to dry while we slept.
Valentine's gaze lingered on my chest as she quieted the enchanted chime and secreted it away in one of her pockets. But her gaze wasn't desirous or hungry. Instead, it was jealous, resentful even, though in the dim light of the magical torch turned low, I doubted she realized I could make out her expression.
She turned her back and busied herself with packing up camp while I dressed. There were a few patches of damp at the cuffs, but that would dry in time, and it was a hell of a lot better than spending another whole day in dirty, itchy clothes.
"Alright," I said once I was done, "I'm decent."
Valentine twisted the head of the torch, and the brightness increased.
"Almost done here," she said, "Have we any other business here, or shall we be off?"
"There's a safe downstairs that I'd like to take a look at before we go," I recalled.
"Very well, you investigate, I'll be down in a moment," she promised.
I picked up my backpack full of granola bars and other sundries, slung the poleaxe, now with a braided strap fashioned from the remains of the tattered case it had come in. I ducked inside, yawning as I descended the stairs, and brought my torch alive. The sudden brightness made me squint and turned the light down to a level that was comfortable before investigating the safe.
It looked very much like an oversized and overbuilt locker, painted beige and done in quarter inch steel instead of sheet metal. The lock wasn't the stereotypical dial, but an electronic number pad. I knew I could crack a combination lock, but it would take a while, and I didn't know if it was worth the delay. An electronic lock was a different story however, especially since I didn't know how many digits were required. It might be trivial, or it could be practically impossible, particularly if there was a limit to how many times a wrong entry could be made.
First step of cracking uncrackable passwords, look for the sticky note.
There was nothing stuck to or on top of the safe, so I checked the desk with the ancient computer. But there was nothing stuck to the monitor, under the keyboard, or in any of the drawers.
Returning to the keypad itself, I noticed that five of the digits were noticeably more worn than the others.
Assuming no duplicates, I think that's five to the power five possible combinations? So... five, twenty-five, a hundred and twenty-five, six hundred and something... So about three thousand or so possibilities.
Still far too many for me to try in any reasonable amount of time. I could probably do it in a couple of days, but it probably wasn't worth the trouble, for all I knew the coins would contain so little mana that it would be a waste of time.
Something to ask Valentine once she gets down I suppose.
I gave the lock a jiggle, and found that after cracking the paint that it could slide a few inches to each side.
Hmm, that was curious, like it had been stuck on by magnets. I just couldn't get enough leverage on the smooth metal to pull it off.
I recalled a metal ruler I'd noticed while rummaging about the desk, and slipped it in between the lock and the door of the safe.
I heard the stairs creak slightly as Valentine descended them, and had just popped the lock off the door when she joined me.
"Any luck?" she asked.
There was a hole in the door about an inch across, and a wire ran through from the back of the lock. I didn't have a whole lot of slack, but I got a clear look at the back of the lock, and the nine-volt battery that powered it.
"I think I can get this thing open, have you got a knife?"
"Have I got a knife," she repeated in a mocking tone.
I pried the battery out, "Fine," I laughed, "Can I borrow one of your knives, pretty please."
"Only because you asked so nicely," she insisted, pressing the hilt into my open hand.
I cut the wires as close to the lock as I could, and with the battery still in hand, stripped a bit of plastic from the end of each wire. I was careful not to let the wires slip back inside, and twisted one around the larger of the battery's terminals. With that done, I touched the remaining wire to the other terminal, and was rewarded with a chunk as the solenoid retracted, unlocking the safe.
"I am," I informed her, "A genius."
"What treasures have you discovered for us today, oh wise one," she said in a wry monotone.
"Let's see," I mused, checking each of the shelves in turn, "Some useless documents, a little handgun, a pair of magazines for it, and I don't know, a couple grand?"
I picked up the pistol, a slim and compact Saturday night special. It wasn't a bad looking gun, with a heavily blued finish and dark wood grips, but my fingers wouldn't fit the trigger guard. I pulled back the slide halfway and found the chamber loaded, though the safety was on.
"You want it?" I offered, "It's not much good to me."
"It appears rather feeble," she observed, though she accepted it all the same.
"Compared to those wheel locks you've got, yeah, probably, but you get more than two shots," I checked one of the magazines before handing both of those over, "Six actually. It won't take down a horse, but a man would find it a little startling."
She took the magazines, and I spent a couple of minutes, making sure she understood how it worked before returning to the remaining contents of the safe.
I pulled out a wad of cash with one hand, and a fistful of rolled coin with the other. I'd reasoned that if a box of old tools held enough mana to buy a really lovely poleaxe, then it was fair to assume that the coins, in a much more convenient package to carry, would be of at least some use. Though I doubted the same could be said for the linen bills.
"Is there much mana in either of these?"
"Those coins, absolutely," Valentine nodded, "It varies depending on the metal, but mana of any type is valuable, if not to us, than to trade with someone else. I don't know what sort of mana those papers would have though, and I'm not certain that they'd contain much mana in any case."
I furrowed my brows, looked down at the bills clutched in one hand, frowned, and then looked back up at her. I found her grimacing, her gaze on the floor.
"Oh," I said flatly, realizing for the first time that I'd never actually seen her use her own magic.
"Yeah," she sighed.
"So, how much of it was bullshit?" I asked simply.
"I know about magic," she promised, her gaze still on the floor, "I can even do magic, but beyond metals and gemstones, I'm not familiar with where the various mana types can be found."
I let the bills flutter to the floor, and stuffed the rolled coin into a pocket, "I feel like that's kinda important when it comes to doing magic."
"Magic-users are a jealous sort," she said with a stiff shrug, "Beyond metals and gemstones, they do not share such details with others. Not even among each other most of the time. Learning how to use magic is easy, at least if you have the discipline. It's the understanding of mana itself that keeps magic out of reach of most people."
"Valentine," I began gently, "I'm not going to hurt you."
Her gaze snapped up to meet mine, and I took a step back, hands spread.
"It's okay," I promised.
She swallowed and relaxed the white-knuckled grip she'd been keeping on the little pistol, though I could still smell a sweet perfume scent hanging in the air.
"It's okay," I repeated, "You said you could smell when someone was angry, right? Do I smell angry now? Did I smell angry before you started trying to dose me?"
She let out a breath, and some of the stiffness came out of her shoulders, "I'm sorry," she said in a small voice.
"I just need to know two things," I promised, "And then we can keep going. First, can you, for real, do magic? Second, can you teach what you do know?"
"Yes, and yes," she insisted, "Give me some of those coins, and I'll prove it."
I handed her one of the rolls, quarters I think, and she unwrapped the end and took out three of the coins. After a moment, two of the coins crumbled into nothingness, and she was left with the remaining coin as it danced through her fingers.
"Steel, iron really, as that's what steel is largely made of, contains Metal mana, Movement mana, and Protect mana. I used Metal mana from one coin and Movement from another to move the remaining one telekinetically."
"That's good enough for me," I assured her, "I'll pack up the rest of this, and we can be on our way."
She still seemed unconvinced, waiting awkwardly while I looted the safe, but at the very least she'd put away the pistol.
Kneeling down to get the last of the rolls at the bottom of the safe, I glanced over at her. She still seemed a little bit like a frightened doe, ready to bolt at the slightest indication of danger.
"Come on," I prodded, "Say something insulting, that always seems to make you feel better."
She gave a little start, and then a hand came up to hide her guilty smile.
"Come on, let's hear it," I teased.
She shook her head, her hand still over her mouth, and her cheeks turned a darker shade of purple.
"You've clearly come up with something, why don't you just-"
"You are so easy to please," she said in a strangled laugh, "It's not surprising that Temerity was able to get you into bed."
I chuckled and zipped up my backpack.
"I want to learn magic," I told her, standing, "I don't care what or how much. Anything is a start."
The little bell over the door rang once more, perhaps for the last time, as the tide would soon come to sweep clean the landscape, and we stepped outside.
And we both froze.
Hoofbeats, and a hell of a lot of them, could be heard pounding down the road.
"Kill the light," I hissed.
The light was out almost before I finished speaking, and I felt her grab my arm.
With just the starlight to guide me, I could just barely see, the world reduced to splotches of dark grey in minutely different shades, but it was enough. I got the two of us behind the gas station and onto the downslope of a nearby drainage ditch. With just the tops of our heads sticking up above the rise, we watched as fourteen horses came thundering around the large hedge to stop in front of the gas station. Only seven of the horses bore riders, and each carried a much larger and brighter version of the torches Valentine had brought along. One a surprisingly young male fey, one a mature looking elf woman, and five elf men. The fey was dressed in well-appointed riding clothes and bore no weapon, while the elves were armed and armoured.
Not true knights, like I'd seen fighting with Temerity, these elves looked more like scouts. Cuirassiers, perhaps, as their armour was limited to a helmet and breastplate each. The woman had a brace of pistols strapped to her breastplate, and all had a spear strapped to the saddle and a sword at their hip.
In the still night air, they were close enough that I could make out the woman's words as she ordered two of the elves into the gas station. Looking for us, evidently. Two more did a circuit of the building, though we were far enough back not to be seen.
The two who'd gone inside reported our absence, and re-mounted their horses before the whole lot went speeding off once again.
"The hell?" I asked once they were far enough that I dared to speak.
Valentine slammed her fist into the ground, "I hate this. I hate all of this. This is such utter bullshit. I hate that I'm tiny and weak. I hate that I need an amulet that cost a small fortune to be able to do what anyone else can do. I hate that I need to flee in the night like a thief, and I hate that I can't just do as I please without some gods damned servant thinking he can bring me to heel."
"Is that who that was?" I asked as I squinted after the lights speeding off into the distance.
"Seems he rounded up some sellswords and decided to come after me," she seethed, "probably looking to curry favour with one of the other houses. I don't know how he convinced them he could afford their services though."
"They've got to be tired by now," I guessed.
"Wallace, I'm not exactly concerned for their comfort."
"Not what I mean," I said gently, "Just think, for them to catch up to us when they did, they must not have stopped to rest. They would have had to make up all the time it would have taken for the kid to realize you were gone, plus the time it took to round up and convince the mercs. Not to mention all the time lost as they followed our tracks through the forest. They've got to be tired."
"Plus the time to get the horses down the ramp," Valentine added, still seething with anger, though now with a note of control, "There's special carriages, it takes ages. And they would have had to find another way round the cliff that collapsed on us. All the same, I don't fancy the odds."
Thinking back on that, I couldn't help but clench my teeth. At the time I'd been worried about the stupid pack I'd lost, but in hindsight, the worst of it was the clarity it gave to our path. Sure they would have had to find a way around, but seeing that, there would have been no doubt we'd gone that way. In truth, the asphalt road had probably saved our bacon. With pine needles leaving tracks like snow and the landslide acting as a clear marker, the hard tarmac finally cast some doubt on where we'd been and how long ago.
"We may yet be able to evade them," I pointed out, "We left late, which ordinarily would be a bit of a pain, but in this case, it's an advantage. I bet the kid's assuming you left as soon as the sun was up, so they still think we're a couple hours ahead of them. How much longer till we hit the halfway point anyways, an hour or two right? Whatever the kid promised, I can't imagine those mercs are keen to risk getting swept up by the tide. We play keep away for long enough, and they'll head back."
"For us, an hour or so, but longer for them. They're riding light and have spare horses," she explained, "Maybe twelve hours."
"Decision time then," I said grimly.
"We either keep going and try to slip past them, or head back and try to get to the first rest stop on the way to Caniforma."
Valentine was quiet for a moment, except maybe for the sound of her teeth grinding together.
"We press on," Valentine said finally, her mind made up, "Returning to one of the cities is a last resort. There's no guarantee we won't happen across another lickspittle, gagging for whatever rewards some patriarch might heap upon them. Twelve hours, then I'm free."
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[First Contact: Volume 1 - WarpStar] Chapter 30

[Chapter 29] [Index] [Chapter 31
Chapter 30
"There is no possession more valuable than a good and faithful friend."
~ Socrates
Nervous. Fear. Emotions that ran wild through Charlene as she stood in front of the mirror in the head, waiting for zero six hundred shipboard time. The young Commander has never commanded such a large group and with such a group that has never served with her, who has zero confidence in her. Those issues seem trivial compared to the immediate future. War, the ship was deployed for battle to face an enemy no one has experience or knowledge of. Without any sort of intelligence gathered beyond what small amount of sensor data that was taken, the First Fleet was facing impossible odds. Naval strategists have repeatedly said, entering this battle with absolutely zero intelligence on the enemy is suicide. But the people of the Federation needs revenge, justice, for the countless deaths of trillions. The Admiralty needed to respond, and when the Carl Sagan was lost, they had the perfect opportunity to strike.
‘Suck it up, buttercup,’ Charlene told herself as she took a deep breath, exhaled and left the head, chest up gleaming with confidence despite her inner self crying for dear mercy, clawing at her to give up and run. The fear was eating away her insides, showing her memories of her childhood with her family. Her family. That is when her inner confidence took over, washing away the fake cover with the strong, capable version of herself. Her family is all that she has left, even if she does not come back, she has to do everything in her power to save them. If these aliens are not stopped, they will force hell on Earth the way they had done to Orion.
“Commander on Deck!” a watchman shouted out to the group of fifty officers in the briefing room as Charlene entered the room. Every single officer complied and gave the new C.A.G a salute, honor, and protocol running in their veins.
“At ease” Char said to the room, instructing the officers to have a seat. “I know most of you do not know me, only my legend. And I do know ‘Legendary’ status means nothing to the elite of the elite, as I expect nothing less.” Char had no idea why she needed to explain herself; something inside her drove the words unable to stop the inevitable train-wreck. “I have a lot to prove to you, and you all have a lot to prove to me. But that is not why we are here.” Her brain found an avenue to escape the carnage just at the right time. “We are entering a battle in less than twenty minutes. This will be a fight none of you is trained for. Not a single person in this room, or any member of your squads has experience in what’s to come.”
“You do `mam,” an officer shouted out from an unknown part of the vast room, interrupting Charlene.
“You’re right” She looked at no one in particular, scanning the room attempting to shoot down this attempt at mockery before it begins. “I am the only human to have fought these aliens and survived. That gives me a unique insight into the fact that these fuckers do not play around. They do not have tactics that you can even imagine. They have technology far beyond anything we have.” She paused, letting that sink in for a moment. “This is not a game. I barely survived. Two hundred men and women, our brothers and sisters in arms, sacrificed their lives to ensure I made it back here to warn Earth. Do not sit here and think this will be a cakewalk simply because I ‘know how they fight.’ Now, We have no real plan of action, no intelligence on the battlefield. Our orders are to provide support for the Capital ships.”
“It sounds like we are jumping into a shit show `mam,” Another outburst from another officer.
“We are. But what else can we do? We have an opportunity to respond to the lives who were lost to these fuckers. We may be fighting a losing battle, but damnit, we will give them hell before we fall!”
“Ohrah!!” the room shouted in unison, accepting the speech from their untested Commander.
“All ships, All departments, prepare for jump procedures” chimed in on the 1M.C.
“This is it, boys and girls. Get to your squads, get them ready. Let’s kill these alien fuckers. I want fifteen skulls of these cock suckers for every one of our own lost in Orion!”
“All stations reported in and ready sir,” a Comms officer aboard the F.W.S Independence conveyed to the command staff.
“Very well, Ensign,” replied Admiral Briggs. He was looking over to his Executive officer, waiting for a reason not to give the order, which will likely kill a lot of men and women. The Capitan just stared at him and gave a slight ‘nod’ “Very well, Capitan,” he said as he grabbed a mic from his command station while pressing a few buttons to open a channel to the fleet.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Fleet, You know your orders. Today we take the first steps to fight back and get justice. We do this for the trillions of men, women, and children who just wanted to live their lives. We do this for Orion! All ships begin Hyperspace Countdown.”
With that command, a giant clock above the main viewport in front of the bridge began counting down. 30 seconds. With that order, Comms chimed in all over the bridge.
25 Seconds: “F.W.S. Enterprise Reporting in. Ready for Jump”
23 Seconds: “F.W.S. Liberty Reporting in. Ready for Jump”
20 Seconds “F.W.S. Constitution Reporting in. Ready for Jump”
15 Seconds: “Flight Group Red Reporting in. Ready for Jump”
12 Seconds: “Flight Group Blue Reporting in. Ready for Jump”
9 Seconds: “Flight Group Green Reporting in. Ready for Jump”
2 Seconds: “Flight Group Yellow Reporting in. Ready for Jump”
0 Seconds: “All Ships engage mission. JUMP. JUMP. JUMP!” Admiral Brigs gave the order.
There was a beautiful view of Saturn just in front of the Independence, but with the final order to jump, Saturn meshed away, and a yellow and red planet emerged from the center of the Sol systems` second-largest gas giant, eventually taking over and replacing the Greek God.
“Sir, We have contacts! All bearings all headings, we jumped in the middle of them, distance from twenty-five hundred meters to seventy-five kilometers!!!!” Sensor technician reported the painful news.
“Sir! We lost the Liberty!!!! She came out of Hyperspace inside several hostile ships!”
The Liberty was one of three Juggernauts that entered the fight. Along with the Constitution and the Independence, the three ships were the powerhouses and biggest hitters of the fleet. This was a significant blow right off the bat for any engagement. However, the Liberty had taken fifty-seven enemy ships with her, an outcome some would paint as a heroic afterthought to the behemoth’s loss.
“All ship, formation Alpha, STARBURST! All flight commanders assign targets and fire at will!” Briggs barked orders through the mic “Ops, monitor status on the Liberty, let me know the moment the cores goes critical.”
📷📷The Liberty may have been lost, but she wasn’t entirely destroyed. The ships many fusion reactors were still intact and could possibly explode, which would cause massive damage to all the vessels surrounding her. Admiral Briggs had enacted a Starburst order, which is simply any ship nearby should open the gap with any other friendly ship in any possible direction. Spreading the fleet out in random directions.
“Alright, boys get to your fighters!” yelled Commander Carr to her Squadron on board the Enterprise with alarms and shouting all around them. Flight Deck 15 was abnormally chaotic; training can only get you so far, experience is what really shines on a battlefield. The Enterprise is one of the top carriers from over a hundred years of engagements with the Republic. Every pilot onboard the carrier has had combat experience, making them some of the best fighter pilots in the fleet. With all the combined experience of each of the five hundred pilots, not a single one of them has the expertise required for this battle. No battle has ever been fought with a non-human entity before; no one could even begin to guess at the tactics, strategies, and weaponry of the enemy fleet. Every single pilot is just as good as a new recruit, fresh off the farm.
“Good Morning Lieutenant,” Betsy had chimed in as Charlene climbed into the cockpit and powered the fighter on “How was your day?”
“It was great, Betsy. Thank you,” she replied while getting the systems ready for takeoff.
“Dock Control this is foxtrot one three two, requesting permission for departure
“Foxtrot one thirty-two, designated Alpha One, F.W.S. Enterprise dock control, permission for departure granted. Fly safe out there!” a flight operator chimed in over the comms as Charlene throttled up the engines and began her flight out of the carrier.
Leaving one of the federations most prized military assets was a view as stunningly beautiful as it was horrifying. To see hundreds, if not thousands of spaceships all in orbit of the same celestial body. The awe of alien engineering and structural design next to the beauty of multispectral light of the pulse and beam particle weapons being exchanged from the alien and Federation ships.
The awe and beauty of the battle died quickly when a stray bolt of plasma struck and destroyed a fighter in front of Charlene as she exited the hanger.
“Alpha nine down!” was yelled over the comms
“Alright, boys don’t let that get you; you all have your objectives. form up on me!”
Her squad obeyed every order flawlessly despite their new and untested Commander. Charlene may have legendary status throughout the fleet as the best pilot the Navy has to offer, but among the pilots onboard the Enterprise, and Alpha squad, in particular, she has a lot to prove. She has only served with a small handful of the pilots stationed onboard the carrier before, none of which are assigned to the infamous Alpha squad. Every member of the flight group looks at her with caution, and she has yet to earn their trust. Never flying with someone who was assigned as your Commander can leave some pilots with a bad taste, a distrustful one. But everyone knew their duties, trust issues or not, she was their commanding officer, and they are there to do their duties.
“Is this accurate `mam?” Alpha three asked over the squad comm circuit.
“I’m reading it too; It’s accurate. They do not seem to be deploying any anti-fighter craft. Let’s take this as a win and escort the bombers!” Charlene confirmed all the sensor data the flight group was receiving and relayed the new orders to the entire division.
The pilots are used to fighting a human enemy, one that uses familiar and similar tactics. One that uses and deploys one or two-person fighters to aid in battle. The alien force is also used to fighting a specific type of enemy, one that does not use small craft for offense or defense tactics. Charlene was trying to figure out a way to use this to her advantage, and the bombers would have a clear direction into the larger, less maneuverable capital ships. It would be an easy mission, with no real resistance to fight against, but an important one as the bombers could turn the tide of battle.
“Alpha One, this is Delta One, we are on approach to zero three five.”
“Acknowledged Delta One, we have your six!” Charlene returned the comm request to the bomber squad that was making it’s way to their target.
The Federation’s most advanced bomber, the B-979 developed by Boeing Aerospace, is unmatched to any Russian counterpart. Proven in battle, the small ships have a nearly unbeatable record, scoring a 98 percent kill rating on engagements. Carrying an impressive yield of plasma lance torpedoes, and particle beams that are usually mounted on destroyers, the five-person craft is a deadly force for a ship its size.
The bomber squad was assigned to what appeared to be a dreadnaught, its large size and weaponry comparable to the Federation’s equivalent even if the official designations were different. A tremendous flurry of laser and particle blasts started to rain down towards the two groups of small ships, unable to sufficiently target the tiny craft as they come barrelling towards the ugly monster of a capital ship.
“Delta one, confirmed firing solution, I have target lock,” one of the Delta bomber pilots reported over the comm network.
“Lock confirmed, relaying solution to the squad. Weapons free, fire at will!” With the command from the Delta team leader all ten of the bombers launched their plasma torpedos at the unsuspecting dreadnaught. Giant bolts of superheated energy reigned down on the Alliance ship as the bombers dump insane amounts of energy into the thruster systems, rapidly changing the direction of the small ships. Three bolts of yellow, orange balls of plasma struck the hull, melting away several layers of hull and damaging systems in its path. Before the other plasma bolts were able to strike the hull, the dreadnaught raised a deflection layer shielding the ship from any harm from the rest of the weaponry.
“Three direct hits” static interrupted the report from one of the bombers.
“Look, alive boys, the whale, is not dead yet. Alpha squad, lets lay cover fire to burn a hole for the lance’s”
“Lieutenant Carr,” Betsy interrupted as Charlene maneuvered her fighter to make a move on the shields. “I am picking up a swarm of small objects emerging on our location, and I am unable to process identification of the objects.”
“Delta group, Alpha group we may have incoming…” Charlene never had a chance to finish her warning, as thousands of blue bolts of energy came raining down on the group striking and destroying two bombers suddenly, ripping through the shields with ease.
The drones were not much of a threat to Alpha squad, with just adjusting the direction the ship's point, allowing full weapon systems to target and destroy the drones as they continued to travel in their previous direction. It didn’t take long for the drones to be obliterated under the might of the legendary fighter squad. The bombers took a few more runs on the monstrosity of a ship, but the shielding deflected everything the ships threw at them.
“We just lost the Cuba,” an officer onboard the bridge of the Independence reported the loss of another ship. Twelve ships total, four destroyers, two battleships, and six frigates have been lost. In contrast, the Navy has yet to destroy a single Alliance ship, beyond the fifty-seven initial ships vaporized from the hyperspace insertion of the Liberty. The fleet tactical display in front of the Admiral was not painting him a picture anyone wanted to see. The Alliance ships seem to have a strong defense field that is dissipating the energy weapons reasonably quickly, while their energy discharges are overheating shield relays and punching right through Federation shields. To top of the good news in front of Briggs, a swarm of nearly unlimited drones have entered the battlefield, making short work of the small fighters and bombers deployed.
“Capitan, what do you make of that?” Briggs eyed a capital ship, seemingly off in the middle of nowhere. Outside of any weapon range of the closest starship, loitering around not actively participating in the engagement in any form.
“I’m not sure, sir. She’s not emitting any signal, so I doubt that’s the ship jamming the field, my best guess is she’s a command carrier. I’m willing to bet a few drinks that ship houses their officers.” Capitan Justin Standish replied, giving his honest guess on the mystery ship.
“My thoughts exactly. I never thought I would ever give this order, but we need to cut off the head of the snake.”
“Couldn’t agree more, sir.” The intelligence fleet Capitan agreed with the Admirals assessment; despite the cost, they might have to pay to achieve the goal.
“Send word to the Enterprise. They have the closest fighter and bomber group, engage and eliminate at all costs.” Briggs gave the order, one that he had feared would kill every one of the men and women he just ordered to engage. An order that had very little chance at success, but at this point in the battle, something had to be done. The Federation was losing ships at an alarming rate, while still unable to inflict more damage than what the Liberty has caused.
“Aye, sir!” Charlene responded to the order over the flight network, ignoring the fear eating away at her, her duty and honor had finally taken over. “Alpha, Delta, Foxtrot and Hotel groups form up on me. We have a new target.”
The large bombers of Delta and Foxtrot merged formations to form one unit, patching the squad’s losses and creating a strong fighting force again. Alpha and Hotel groups did the same but formed a protective barrier on the bombers, knowing that may be their last shot in defeating these aliens without losing any more lives.
“We have incoming!” Alpha three said over the shared comms, with slight panic in the young man’s voice.
“Hotel group, flip and watch our six; Alpha group, fire at will, clear a path!” Charlene ordered the Hotel fighters to orient their ships facing to the rear of the formation, while the rest of the ships-maintained speed not to break formation. Group Hotel’s job was to eliminate any threat approaching from the rear while Alpha group eliminated any threat directly ahead of them.
A swarm of drones flooded the space between the flock of bombers and fighters and the elusive capital ship, flooding the area not only with bright blue plasma bolts, but E.M. radiation as well, jamming the targeting data of the fighters. The remaining X-401 fighters of alpha squad unleashed a fiery hell of red and orange bolts of energy in both the superheated plasma weaponry and the new anti-positron particle weapons that only Betsy had the capabilities to yield. There was still a 75 percent charge in the Antimatter particle weapon systems that Charlene took full advantage of.
“Alpha One, Delta One. We cannot get a positive firing solution; there are still too many of them. We are within firing range, but we will lose the window real soon without a brake burn.” The bomber leader gave some bad news to Char; as they closed the distance to the ship, the drones were making it nearly impossible to get a positive lock on the capital ship preventing the bombers from releasing their payload.
“Alpha Group, concentrate fire on the following bearing!” Charlene had an idea, dump massive amounts of fire directly in front of the bombers, enough to clear a hole for them to fire. It was not enough; the swarm had a near-infinite amount of drones that replaced themselves after each loss. Char cursed herself under her breath as she saw the capital ship, wiz, by her without the bombers releasing their ordinance. “Damnit! Alright, guys, let's get some distance and line up for another run!”
“Woah!” a young woman over the shared comm channel startled Charlene with a high-pitched yelp. “Hot damn that was a Hell!! of a shot Delta and Foxtrot group! Good shooting!!”
“Hotel group, say again,” Charlene needed confirmation of what was said, as it made no sense, but before anyone could answer, Betsy interrupted.
“I recommend full emergency burn on all ships. Massive energy build-up detected, the large capital ship on our six is about to go critical.”
“What? How?”
“Charlene, Burn!. Now!!!” Betsy shouted, which startled Char as an A.I showing any form of emotion was impossible. Charlene’s hesitation was noted, as Betsy did not wait for her pilot to process what the A.I had said and overrode her controls, dumping massive amounts of power in the inertia stabilizers and thruster systems, pushing 20g’s to clear the area as quickly as possible.
“All flight groups, Emergency burn clear the area now! Now! Now!!” Charlene shouted as much as she could under 5g’s of strain, ordering the rest of the fighters to follow her lead.
The ship exploded, sending a massive energy wave that either disabled or destroyed all small ships within a short distance from the ship. No Federation ship was within range, but it took out nearly all the drones initially protecting it.
“`Mam, we didn’t hit it.” Delta one said over the comm channel.
“Negative on ordinance release here as well” Replied Foxtrot one.
“If no one fired a shot, what blew that thing?” Char asked but did not push the transmit button, not wanting to show confusion to her squads.
“Charlene, look at the sensor data.” Betsy finally chimed in, disabling her broadcast as well. “I am reading something emerging from the wreckage, and it is broadcasting a Federation F.o.F.”
“No,” Char gasped. “It can't be!”
“F.o.F. Confirmed, Ship identifies as F.W.S. WarpStar S.D.D.E-01” Charlene could detect a slight bit of excitement in Betsy’s voice as she reported who the ship was, but ignored it as her own shock and surprise was flooding her.
“Federation fleet, this is WarpStar actual. Reporting kill on command carrier.” A familiar voice was heard over the fleet channel.
Briggs replied on the open comms while Charlene still couldn’t muster the energy or the will to respond. Staring in disbelief, questioning everything she has seen since her narrow escape. Unable to believe reality as it is shown before her eyes.
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Hard Choices

Captain Takktun Kantari slid the bubble helmet over his head and locked it into place with a reassuring click before triple checking the joint-seals on each of his suit’s four legs and three arms. Several seconds later, when the pressure indicator on his HUD had turned green, he pushed off the wall and floated slowly through the inner airlock door, which closed behind him.
“I’m ready Raki, please open the outer door” he said over comms, the calm of his voice belying the trepidation he felt. It wasn’t every day you found an alien ghost ship floating derelict on the outskirts of the system.
“Sure thing, Captain” replied Raki, his second in command. “Be careful, Takk” she added.
“Affirmative” was his only response.
Hidden pumps quickly removed the airlock’s atmosphere, replicating the vacuum on the other side of the outer door, but there was still the faintest of popping sounds as it opened. Takk couldn’t help but flinch slightly. He hoped that Raki hadn’t noticed it on the cams.
Another push from his hind legs propelled him on a stately glide out of the airlock and away from the ship. At his bidding short bursts of gas fired from the suit’s manoeuvring jets, turning him so that he could inspect his ship as he drew further away from it. It looked like a collection of rectangular modules secured together by scaffolding. The ship’s silhouette was a far cry from the sleek lines and smooth curves found in the ships of more advanced races.
It’s not much by Federation standards, he thought to himself, but it’s ours.
The vessel he was floating away from represented the pinnacle of Dramari engineering. It was their first FTL-capable ship, built based on technology bartered from the Federation soon after first contact. Its name was 01-001. Model 1, Vessel 1. Soon 01-001 and others like it would carry his people among the stars, but first it needed a battery of test flights.
This was only 01-001’s second mission, a short in-system hop to visit the Mother’s Light, a comet which had famously burned across the night sky of their homeworld, Dramaria, nearly three hundred years ago. Brighter than any before it, the comet had been taken as a divine sign, prompting several warring empires to declare peace, later unifying into the planet’s first world government. This was the catalyst for a renaissance that had advanced Dramari science and technology in leaps and bounds until finally, twenty years ago, they had launched their first chemical rocket into orbit and found the Federation waiting for them with open arms.
Telescopic observations prior to first contact had confirmed that the Mother’s Light had not been an ice-laden comet at all, but rather a massive rocky asteroid that had passed close enough to graze the atmosphere of Dramaria, causing the light show that had lit the fire of their modern civilisation. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the 01-001 had reached the Mother’s Light only to find an abandoned alien ship attached to its side.
As captain, Takk had pulled rank in order to be the first to investigate the derelict. His decision had been driven as much by a desire to keep the rest of his crew out of danger as it had been by his intense curiosity.
Another command to the manoeuvring jets rotated Takk to face back towards his target. He regarded the abandoned ship carefully as he approached. It more closely resembled the somewhat primitive designs of his own people than the advanced ones of the older species. Perhaps something in between? It’s lack of sophistication indicated that whichever species had built it, this ship was old. It might even pre-date the asteroid’s flyby.
However, the thing that stood out most was the damage the mystery ship had incurred. A large section of hull amidships had been torn open, seemingly by an explosion from within, judging by the way hull plates had been bent outwards. This had left a gaping wound in the ship’s side, which he chose as his entry point, thinking it likely to be easier than gaining access via a hatch or airlock.
Raki’s voice came over the comm.
“Captain, judging by the orientation of what we think are thruster nacelles, and the scans we’re getting of the interior, it seems most likely that the bridge is in the forward section, furthest away from you”.
Takk’s eyes locked on the section in question and he saw a large window port.
“Affirmative. I think I see a forward viewing window, which could indicate a bridge. My plan is to enter via the damaged section and make my way forward.”
“Roger, standing by.”
Takk reduced his momentum as he approached, puffs of gas slowing him to a sedate drift. As he crossed the threshold into the interior and entered the shadows beyond, three beams of light shot out of torches secured to each arm. He pointed the centre torch at a bare patch of decking before he touched down on it, the magnets in his suit’s feet preventing him from bouncing off. He played the other two lights back and forth over the ship’s interior, seeking clues to what had happened. Twisted metal and smashed electrical components could be seen everywhere, except for an internal doorway leading forward, where it looked as if the intruding obstructions had been cut away to regain access to whatever lay beyond.
“I’m in. It’s a real mess in here. Proceeding towards the bridge.”
“Roger. We’re watching the feed from your helmet cam” answered Raki.
The doorway was wide enough for him to pass through easily. Whichever species had built this ship seemed to be comparable in size to the Dramari. A short passageway lay beyond, lined with unknown compartments and hatches, all closed and secured. They were labelled in a script he didn’t recognise. At the end of the passageway was another doorway, left open. Takk shone his lights through as he approached. Several rows of screens reflected the torch beams back at him. Two oddly shaped objects, that he assumed where command chairs installed on gimbals, faced the screens and the window beyond. The strange design of the chairs, suited to bipeds rather than quadrupeds like Takk, reinforced the otherworldly origins of the vessel.
He drifted to a console, identifying what he thought looked like a data port. From a pocket on his suit he withdrew a small device with careful reverence. It was an omni-connect, a Federation-made gadget that could interface with any known data technology produced by any known species. Powered by nanotech that his people could not yet hope to understand, it was fantastically expensive. So much so that the Dramari government had only been able to afford two of them to date. The location of the other omni-connect was classified well above his security clearance. This one had been temporarily assigned to him due to the elevated probability that he may encounter alien technologies while in command of the 01-001. Losing or damaging it would spell an instant end to his military career at best, imprisonment for treason at worst.
The tip of the omni-connect melted as he placed it gently against the data port, becoming a viscous silver fluid that flowed into it, establishing connections with the components inside. The omni-connect somehow provided enough power to bring the vessel’s long dead control system partially to life. Takk examined the rest of the bridge for a few minutes while he waited for Raki to update him on the result, careful to avoid disturbing anything.
“Sir, data is coming through now. The code is archaic, but it seems to be Terran. It’s hundreds of years old at least. I’ve found a bunch of unsent video messages sitting in the comms system buffer. Some of them are corrupted, but there are a few that look intact. They might give us a clue about what happened here, but they’ll need to be converted to a supported format and translated into Dramari. It’ll take some time to do them all, but the first one is ready now. Sending it to your HUD.”
“Terran? Are you sure? I wonder how they got this far out of their own neighbourhood.”
“One hundred percent sure, Sir. I’m in the ship’s registry files now. It was built in the Luna shipyards over three hundred years ago. Registered name ‘Starchild’. No idea how it ended up here.”
An icon appeared on his HUD indicating that he had received a video file from the 01-001. He selected it and began playback.
A human female sat in a command chair facing the camera, the ship’s bridge in the background. Her hair was pulled back from her forehead, secured with a clasp, and she wore grey overalls adorned with patches depicting Earth and its moon, Luna. Takk recognised both celestial bodies from the xeno-society lessons that he’d received at the Academy. The lines in the skin around the female’s eyes and mouth indicated that she was a breeding-age adult, well out of adolescence. Hovering behind her shoulder was a similarly aged human male, substantially larger, also wearing grey overalls. That they were in zero-g was obvious from the way the shaggy hair on his face drifted lazily in the currents of air issuing from ventilation ducts overhead.
“Hello, my little star child, it’s your Mum and Dad here” said the smiling woman. “How have you been? Keeping your room clean like you promised, I hope.”
Her smile faltered and disappeared.
“Sweetie, I’ve got some bad news. I know we promised that we’d be home in time for your birthday, but something’s come up. We got offered another contract hauling medical supplies out to Sirius B and it pays too well to pass up. You know how things are tight right now? Well, after this job we won’t have to worry about money for a while. We might even have enough to take you to that theme park planet you’ve been begging to go to. What’s its name? Dis-World? Distopia? Oh, I don’t remember, but you know the one. You’d like that wouldn’t you?”
The man leaned over and shoved a small box in front of the camera. It was wrapped in a porous looking sheet material, Takk could see where the edges of the sheet were folded and secured to the sides. A flat ribbon of a different glossier material was also wrapped around it and tied with a bow on top.
“And we got you an extra special present!” said the male, grinning teeth visible through the waving fronds of his moustache.
“Mark!” scolded the woman. “That was meant to be a surprise!”
“What??? I didn’t tell her what it is. Act surprised when you get it, Emma” said the man, winking at the camera.
The woman sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Anyway, we’re very sorry sweetie. You know we both want to be there with you, but sometimes being an adult means doing things you don’t want to do. We’ll make it up to you when we get back, I promise. Behave well for your Grandma, you know she’ll tell me if she catches you sneaking cookies from the kitchen. We’re in hyperspace right now, so you won’t get this message until we pop out at Sirius B. We love you. Byeee.”
The image was replaced with text in Takk’s HUD.
That doesn’t really explain much, thought Takk. Hopefully the other messages would provide further illumination.
Leaving the omni-connect in place to maintain Raki’s link to the ship’s operating system, Takk made his way back into the damaged mid-section.
Whatever had happened here had to have come close to destroying the ship outright. The damage to it was near catastrophic, the kind of thing that gave spacers nightmares.
His HUD pinged, indicating the arrival of the second converted video file. He grabbed on to a metal strut to arrest his motion and played it.
The woman was wearing a space suit with the name ‘Linda’ stencilled on to it, helmet on and fully sealed. The bridge behind her was now in a state of pandemonium, bathed in the red flashing lights of emergency alarms. Unsecured objects careened around, bumping into the walls and each other. Through the helmet’s visor her face appeared tired and dirty, smeared by dirt or soot.
“Mayday! Mayday! This is TRMV Starchild requesting emergency assistance from any Federation ships nearby. Our warp core became unstable and exploded while in hyperspace transit. We’ve been dumped out into an unknown system. The explosion has destroyed the core completely and caused severe damage to our FTL and radio comms hardware. There’s also been major damage to our life support system, as well as significant loss of atmosphere. We’re breached pretty bad. My husband Mark is working to repair internal hatches damaged by the explosion so we can restore atmosphere to the rear half of the ship, but there’s no way for us to patch the hull and re-pressurise the bridge.
“We’re restricted to sub-light fusion engines only. There seems to be a planet nearby that sensors indicate might be habitable. We might have a shot at reaching it before our life support gives out but it will be months until we can get there. I’m hoping this message will go out as soon as we can get the comms back online. Please send help! Quickly!”
It dawned on Takk. This human, Linda, was talking about Dramaria. It was the only remotely habitable planet in the system, so they must had been heading there. Obviously they had never made it.
He looked around at the destruction with fresh eyes. That was the remains of a flux condenser coil, and there he could see the shattered disk of a tachyon lens. He crouched over the remains of a data rack and could see the haphazard repairs that had been attempted to the comms system, components bridged with soldered wires and cables to try and bypass the damage. But it had all been futile, the circuit boards were nothing but scrap. That was why the messages in the comms buffer were left unsent.
The other side of the damaged room showed further signs of repair. The hatch leading to the rear of the ship had been buckled by the explosion and a patchwork of metal plates had been welded on to seal the gaps, leaving the hatch assumedly airtight but inoperable. Takk would have to go back outside and find an alternative entry into the rear of the ship.
When he emerged back into open space Takk paid more attention to the attachment of the ship to the asteroid. From what he could tell, the ship had originally been fitted with landing struts installed at the base, near the thruster nacelles. This would have allowed the Starchild to land vertically on a planetary surface, lowering itself down under the power of its fusion engines. These landing struts had been cut away, as evidenced by the tell-tale marks of a plasma cutter on the metal stumps that remained. The struts had then been shifted to the nose of the craft and affixed to load points on its chassis, with the feet of the struts pressing against the asteroid. Additional beams and thinner metal sections had been welded on to reinforce the structure, but almost all were bent or twisted in some way, and the whole structure looked like it had been compressed from its original form. The rock around the landing feet on the asteroid was also covered with a web of cracks, suggesting that it had also been subject to extreme forces.
Another ping from his HUD told Takk that the third video was ready. He saw an airlock at the rear of the ship and floated over to it, snagging a set of ladder rungs welded to the hull next to it. When he was secured by a couple of his magnetised feet and two of his hands, he initiated playback.
Linda was back in her overalls, no longer wearing the space suit. She still looked tired and hadn’t completely wiped the soot off her face. It had worked its way into the wrinkles of her skin, leaving black lines on her forehead and at the corners of her eyes. Instead of the bridge she was sitting in a room with walls covered in Terran vegetation, each vertical garden lit by strip lights, only half of which seemed to be working.
“We’ve managed to seal the back half of the ship and restore pressure. Luckily the hydroponics unit was never exposed to vacuum, so the plants are still alive… for now, at least. Life support is still a problem though. The system isn’t compensating properly for the damage. Carbon monoxide is rising slowly, and the scrubbers aren’t coping. We’re ok for now but it’s doubtful that the system will be able to support us for the months it will take us to get to the planet. Two people is too much for it to handle in its current state. Mark is running the numbers and seeing if he can come up with a solution, but in the meantime we’re sleeping with the plants. I don’t know whether it’s all in my head, but the air in here feels fresher.
“Our problems don’t stop there though. This region of space seems to have a higher than average density of micrometeoroids. It’s not bad enough to cause any immediate alarm, but with the state of the hull and our dodgy life support being what it is, its worrying. We can’t afford to take a hit, there’s no redundancy left. Luckily we found some shelter from a large asteroid that we’re hiding behind. It looks like it’s come from out-system, probably from the Oort cloud surrounding this star, and it’s heading inwards on a trajectory that will take it close our destination. It should shield the ship from anything in front of us as long as we stay close.”
There was a moment of silence as Linda pondered what to say next.
“We tried to fix the comms system but it’s trashed, so these messages won’t be broadcast unless we get some help. But at least they’ll be a record of what happened to us if help never comes.”
She smiled weakly.
“Who knows, if this planet turns out to be habitable and we’re the first to discover it, then maybe these messages will be part of a museum tour once it’s colonised. We’ll be famous. Anyway, that’s all for now. Whoever’s watching this, tell Emma we love her. Bye.”
That explains how they met up with the asteroid, thought Takk. A creeping sense of dread was stirring in the back of his mind. The asteroid had made it to the vicinity of Damaria, but it seemed Linda and Mark hadn’t. He feared what grisly scene he might find deeper within the ship.
He turned his attention back to the airlock and examined it carefully. Standard practice amongst Federation members was to have a manual override outside of any airlock. This allowed re-entry in instances where a ship had lost power and an EVA was required to make repairs. Takk quickly found the override lever and pushed. It was stiff, the result of centuries of disuse. He adjusted his position, bracing two of his feet against the ladder rungs, and used his entire body to apply as much force as possible. The lever flexed alarmingly, and he thought the brittle metal was about to snap, when suddenly it turned, and the airlock door sprang open. Only the magnets attached to Takk’s feet stopped him being thrown into space as the door swung outwards.
“Careful there, Captain” said Raki in his ear, as she watched his struggles through the scopes. “Wouldn’t want you spinning off into oblivion and leaving me in charge.”
Takk just replied with a grunt. Some commanders might find Raki’s teasing mildly offensive, but he’d served with her long enough that their mutual respect washed away any hint of insubordination.
He clambered inside the airlock and pulled the door closed behind him. Another lever, this one thankfully easier to move, opened the inner door and gave him access inside the ship. There was no atmosphere left, just as he’d suspected. It would have slowly leaked away over many years, no matter how well the hull was sealed. After what had happened to this particular ship, ‘well sealed’ was not a description that could ever be applied to it again.
On the other side of the airlock was a small staging room, a space for crew to put on or remove their suits and collect equipment and cargo for transfer outside. There were two lockers on the wall. The first was labelled with the word he now recognised as ‘Linda’. He opened it and found the space suit he had seen her wearing in the videos, as well as some handheld tools and EVA safety tethers. Everything looked very well worn. The second locker bore different Terran script, which he assumed to be ‘Mark’. This locker contained tools and safety tethers, but no space suit. Takk pondered on what that meant.
The fourth message landed in his HUD inbox and he initiated playback.
This time it was Mark instead of Linda. He was in his space suit, only his head and shoulders visible to the camera. His bushy beard had been tamed by several elastic bands, so that it wouldn’t float around inside his helmet and obscure his vision. Behind him a starfield rotated slowly. There was no sign of the ship.
“Hello star child. It’s Daddy here. I hope you enjoyed your birthday. I bet Grandma baked you a big cake.”
He didn’t speak for several moments. Liquid started seeping from the corner of his eyes.
“I’m sorry again, sweetie. Damn, I never wanted to make such a habit of saying that to you. Daddy has to go away and, as much as it pains me to say it, I’m not coming back. Mummy and Daddy have a problem… well, we have lots of problems, but this one is the most important. Our ship can’t keep both of us safe. The life support system isn’t strong enough. I’ve tried everything I can think of and I can’t find any way around it. Except for one. I want you to know that you and your mum are the most important things in the universe to me, and I’m so glad you’re safe, but now I need to make sure that Mummy is safe too. She’s sleeping right now, and she doesn’t know I’m going away yet, but when you see her next time she’s going to be very sad. So I need you to be extra strong for her and give her a big hug from me. Ok? Now let me sing happy birthday to my baby girl one last time. I’m sorry you’ll have to grow up without me.”
Takk had never heard Terran singing before. The volume of Mark’s voice increased, and the words became more drawn out and melodic.
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Emma. Happy birthday to you. Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray!”
A final silence.
“I love you star child. Goodbye.”
Takk stared at the empty locker. There was no suit because Mark had spaced himself, making the ultimate sacrifice so that his wife could live. Takk marvelled at the depth and power of human love.
“Raki, there’s a body drifting out there somewhere. Calculate a probability cone starting where the asteroid would have been approximately three hundred years ago and designate it as a priority search zone. It will be a huge area so we may have to call in some Federation assistance.”
“Understood, informing Central Command now” said Raki, her voice sombre.
Shutting the locker and leaving the staging room behind, Takk moved into the next section, only to be taken aback by what he saw. A jumbled mass of storage crates was piled against the rearward wall. They all bore the spiral helix insignia symbolising medicine within the Federation. It looked as if they had been floating loose while the ship had undergone acceleration, instead of being stowed in secure storage racks. Inspecting the deck with his lights, Takk could see the bolt holes where such racks would have been installed. Suddenly he connected the dots. The additional reinforcement of the structure on the craft’s nose must be disassembled storage racking. He also noticed that all non-critical support beams of the ship superstructure in this section had been cut out, assumedly also to reinforce the structure.
An icon representing message number five appeared in his HUD. He watched it.
Linda was in the hydroponics lab. The membranes around her eyes were red and puffy.
“Life support has stabilised under the reduced load.”
Her chest convulsed and she took a sharp breath. She took a moment to calm herself and continued speaking.
“I’ve got good news, better news and bad news. Well… new bad news. The good news is that the planet is inhabited. On the scopes I can see clear signs of a pre-industrial civilisation. Agricultural fields, some large-scale structures, even looks like there’s at least one significant conflict going on based on some of the burn-off that I’m seeing.
“The better news is that the planet is being observed by a Federation pre-contact probe in a high orbit. My radio is shot so I can’t signal it, and it’s unlikely to see me since it’s focused on the planet, but if I can rendezvous with it then I can hardwire in and get out a call for help.
“Now the bad news. I’ve been refining the trajectory of this asteroid I’ve hitched a ride with. It definitely came from out-system, but here’s the kicker, it’s going to collide with the planet. I’m talking a dead on, bye-bye-dinosaur, type of collision that will wipe out all life down there, including that new bunch of aliens who are about to have a really bad year.
“So, this leaves me with two choices really. Option number one: I pop out from behind this asteroid, burn like hell, and try to rendezvous with the probe before the asteroid hits. There should be enough time for a ship to come rescue me if they don’t dilly-dally, but the planet would be toast. Then there’s option number two. The asteroid and I are still a long way away from the planet. All it would take is a little nudge to push it off-course slightly, causing it to miss the planet. Unfortunately, because of how damn big this thing is, that ‘little nudge’ would take literally all the fuel I have left, leaving nothing for me to decelerate and rendezvous with the probe. Even then, I’m not completely sure it will work. Option two also has the itty-bitty drawback of condemning me to a slow cold death in space. That’s if I can even find a way to push the asteroid with the Starchild without the ship breaking apart under the stress. The longer it takes me find a solution to that, the less likely the burn is to be successful. There’s just so many variables, I would be cutting it really close.
“What do I do? Do I try to get home to see my daughter again, condemning millions of innocent sapients, not to mention all the other lifeforms on that planet, to a fiery death, and then live with that weight every day for the rest of my life? Or do I try to save them with a longshot that a) might not work, and b) will definitely kill me, leaving my own daughter an orphan? Talk about hard choices. I wish Mark was here. He always had a way of putting things in perspective. Guess I’ve got some thinking to do.”
Now Takk understood. Linda had made the harder choice. The asteroid had never hit Dramaria, so she must have diverted it, her long shot successful. She had sacrificed her own life and a chance at seeing her daughter grow up. All for an alien people that she’d never met, in fact never even seen. They owed her everything.
Takk felt a new sense of duty come to rest upon his shoulders. He passed through the hollowed-out cargo section and into the hydroponics unit. The plants were long dead. Their brittle leaves fragmented into clouds of dust as he brushed past them to reach the far end of the room.
Then he saw her.
Her lower body was in a sleeping bag, strapped to the wall as spacers often did when in zero-g. Time and vacuum had mummified her, leaving the skin pulled tight over her skull as the tissues underneath had dried and shrunk. Her brown hair was unrestrained. It extended out from her head like a halo, completely still due to the lack of air flow.
To her breast she clutched a box, held fast over centuries by stick-like arms that crossed over her chest. Takk recognised it from the first video. Emma’s gift.
Takk was broken out of his reverie by a ping. The final message arriving from the 01-001. He played it.
This time Linda was back in her space suit, the helmet beside her on the floor. She was sitting in the hydroponics unit, artificial gravity keeping her in place. This meant that the ship was under thrust, a guess confirmed by the noise of the engines that could be heard in the background. She must have started the burn, the Starchild slowly pushing the asteroid slowly away from the Dramari people and into their history books.
“It’s working” said Linda, a sad smile on her face. “The fusion engines are running. They won’t stop until they run out of fuel or there’s a malfunction. Either way, I won’t be around to see it. I’ve decided to pilfer some parts from the life support system to build a cooler for the fuel injection assembly. That should keep the engines going a little bit longer. Disabling life support doesn’t really matter anymore, I’m dead anyway. I’d rather have a quick death than a slow one. The sad thing is I’ll never know if any of this worked, but I needed to maximise the chances. I need to make sure this wasn’t all for nothing.”
She paused, then wiped her face and tried to tidy her hair.
“This next part is for Emma. Honey, I’m sorry that I’m not coming home to you. You’re not going to understand this until you’re older, but sometimes in life you have to make tough choices. Too often doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. I know you’ll be mad at your dad and I for the choices we made, mad at us for leaving you. I hope that one day, after you’ve grown up and had a life of your own, that you’ll understand the reasons for my choice, and that you’ll be brave enough to make your own hard choices when you have to. I also hope you’ll never need to. Please don’t hate me. You’ll always be my daughter. And I’ll always be your mother. I love you.
Takk’s shuttle landed softly on the pad. As the shuttle’s turbines spun down, their whining gradually abating, he picked up the satchel containing his belongings and clambered out. He was met by a strange sight. Emerald green grass, strangely different yet similar to the purple analogue found on Dramaria, covered low rolling hills stretching into the distance.
The noise caught Takk by surprise. He turned to see a human wearing a diplomatic uniform standing beside the now powered down shuttle.
“Greetings Captain Kantari. I am John Karlsson, Senior Xeno-Attaché for the Terran Republic. Welcome to Earth.”
Takk approached and extended a hand in greeting, as he’d been taught by his own diplomacy training. John shook it firmly but gently. The human’s skin was warm and dry, much to Takk’s surprise.
“Thank you for accommodating our request so quickly” said Takk, the translator around his neck emitting the equivalent phrase in Terran.
“No, thank you” replied John. “We owe you a great debt for discovering the fate of our missing citizens, no matter how much time has passed. Apologies for the inconvenience, I know Earth’s gravity is hard on your people, but she is too frail to make the trip into orbit. She is over three hundred years old after all. Shall I show you to her?”
“Yes, please” said Takk.
John conducted him towards an official looking building standing a short distance away from the landing pad. Once inside he was led to a meeting room. It was ornate and luxurious, primarily used for important official state business. The doors opened and Takk saw her for the first time.
She was ancient, pushing the limits of what human life extension technology was capable of. Her wizened form sat in a hoverchair, a more advanced successor to the wheelchairs of old, and was half buried in blankets. But her eyes were still bright. They met his as he stepped into the room.
“Hello Captain” she said, her voice coarse with age. “I’m told that you have a message for me. I must say, I am honoured to receive such an esteemed visitor, although I have no idea what this is all about.”
Takk walked slowly into the room, intimidated by the living piece of history in front of him. This woman had been alive since before unification. He sat down in the chair opposite her.
“I have several messages for you, in fact, Ms Emma.”
He placed a data chip on the table between them. Senior Attaché Karlsson stepped forward with a datapad and placed the chip into a slot on its side, then placed it on the table before Emma.
Watching Emma’s face as she listened to the final words of her parents, Takk was struck by the emotion he saw there. Too often the facial expressions of other species were incomprehensible to him, but in Emma’s he saw a lifetime of sadness and pain, tempered by an obvious love for the parents that she had not seen since she was a little girl, and had never forgotten.
When Emma had finished, she dried her eyes with a handkerchief offered to her by John.
“Thank you for bringing this to me. There is no way I can repay you for the closure this gives me.”
Takk quickly left his chair and knelt on the floor, bowing his head in deference.
“It is we who cannot repay you, Ms Emma. Your mother saved our world. Everything we are now, everything we will become, is because of her. All the good we do from here, we do in her name. We are preparing your mother’s body for transport back to Earth, as well as all the belongings we’ve been able to collect from the Starchild. If you wish we can return the ship itself back to you as well, but that will take some time. We are also searching for your father’s body, and the Terran government has offered to assist.”
“Thank you” said Emma. She shook her head. “I don’t want the Starchild back. Please leave it where it is.”
A glimpse of his satchel from the corner of his eye reminded Takk of his other delivery. He extracted the box inside, with more care than he had ever shown the omni-connect, and offered it to Emma.
“The original packaging crumbled as soon as it was disturbed, but the contents were unharmed by the passing of time” he said softly.
Emma opened the lid of the box and lifted out the object inside. It was a star, made of an exceedingly beautiful, highly translucent, crystal that slowly boiled with a thousand colours. They ran and flowed around each other, never mixing. The star became energised by the light falling upon it and the colours quickened. At its centre was the form of a baby, curled into the foetal position.
Emma smiled. In her face Takk could see the similarities. The infant in the star had been modelled on her, custom made by order of her parents on some far-off exotic world. She was their real Starchild.
There was something that Takk felt he needed to say.
“I am sorry for the invasion of privacy, but I have watched her final message many times. I hope that you do not hate her for the choice she made.”
Emma looked up at him.
“I don’t hate her. I could never hate her, I loved her. She was my mother” replied Emma.
Relief washed over him.
“She saved my people. Without her we would not exist. Now she is our mother too.”
submitted by bott99 to HFY [link] [comments]

USA’s Multi-Prong End-Game approach with its CIA biovirus COVID19 to STOP China

Now that Pompeo and the rest of the Trump admin / US government have officially pushed the narrative that the COVID-19 is not only the Wuhan China virus but also that they say it was a deliberately man-made Chinese virus that either escaped from China’s Wuhan labs and/or was covertly used by the CCP as a bioweapon, I think it is only fair to review with similar standards to that regard in terms of the real truth about COVID-19 and which nation stands the most to gain… and I will propose my belief that there exists enough coincidences in timing and other circumstantial evidence for a reasonable mind to permissibly infer that COVID was in fact a CIA biovirus perpetrated by the US government with the following multi-prong motives:
1) Use the economic devastation that COVID has enacted upon the world to convince the entire globe to turn away from China, to isolate China and to cripple China economically and diplomatically. This is the great decoupling. COVID-19 was the artificial “circuit breaker” and “reset” event that US needed to get its vassals back on board, America felt it was losing its economic grip and the best solution wasn’t to start a direct war with China but to release the CIA biovirus, let it play out, and then pin it on China, and use that false flag event to sway the rest of the world to turn away from China and turn back in towards the Western/US lead systems. Without this artificial “stop” in the system it would have been nearly impossible for America to pull this off, rerouting a flowing river is much more difficult than it is to wait until the flow slows to a trickle and then carving a new path for the water; likewise COVID19 causing the economic shutdown of the world was the perfectly planned and pre-staged event in order so that as the countries of the world start their economies back up they will be much more inclined to rebuild towards the West and to turn against China than had the COVID event never occurred. Indeed, this COVID event already achieved the US desired goal of forcing UK to reconsider its Huawei 5G stance, and Boris Johnson personally getting the virus only seeks and serves to play into US hands and American interests… Now we are seeing the Germans are following suite and have joined the US lead all out war against China, and if the rest of the EU follows as well then America would have succeeded in using biowarfare to isolate China on the worldstage and also to restore its petrodollar hegemony. COVID gives America the chance to usher in a new global calculus in the world and also affords the US the opening to give its allies, vassals and enemies alike the ultimate ultimatum: the opportunity to choose sides as it prepares a full Cold War 2.0 against China!

2) The high-level notion of who stands to lose the most in terms of raw total nominal losses… Just like Microsoft implementing ad blockers in its browsers by default also hurts it Bing ad revenues, the fact that Google has 90% of the ad marketshare means that while Microsoft is also hurting itself by blocking ads it is hurting Google even more since Google has more total dollars that it stands to lose out on. Likewise, as China has surpassed USA as the world’s global trading partner and this trending was accelerating, it become clear to the US elite that they would rather deploy COVID to torpedo the entire world economy just to freeze the current status quo in place and prevent China’s continued rise rather than let the status quo play out in which it was projected that America will be overtaken by China within a decade or two. This CIA biovirus serves to act as a mega-catalyst and impetus in painting a very broad categorical brush stroke, a US devilishly engineered “microbe” to broadly at the highest of levels restructure and reshape and reset/restart the new world order to America’s sole unilateral benefit. This is what is also called the Scorched Earth policy, in that if the USA cannot remain #1, it would rather burn the entire world down and drag everyone else down with them than to allow a Great Power Competitor (“Central Threat of Our Times”) that wasn’t Caucasian/White to overtake them. It is much easier to destroy than it is to build, easier to burn than it is to create. While China excels at “builder” civilization and benefits from a growing world economy and increasing trade (including the One Belt Road and other projects) America on the other hand has taken a policy of “scorched earth”, that if they cannot be number one then no one else shall be either, and that if the US is going down, then the US will take the whole world down with it, so to speak. You can build a great sand castle on the beach as fast as you want, but all it takes is an obnoxious school yard bully to come along and kick it a few hard times and all your hours of hard work comes crashing down. So instead of Win-Win (with America managing its own decline over time) it has become lose-lose with America suffering its own blowback just to make sure China doesn’t get its victory either. Another element in this is that of the great leveling of the playing field and using COVID as a great equalizer in the sense that it asymmetrically targets China structurally long term and serves as erasure of China’s comparative advantages in relative terms. This sort of “race to the bottom” strategy is one in which US feels like it has the better odds of winning, instead of competing with China to see who can advance further, it believes in actively sabotaging China, even if it hurts itself in the process, as this gives it the maximum chance to yield the greatest comparative results since it would allow the US to close the relative gap.

3) In the off-chance that America isn’t able to ride the momentum of its COVID covert biowarfare global social re-engineering false-flag operation to ultimate Mission Accomplished success status etc then it will also leverage COVID for other contingency plans and to hedge its bets with a fall back position of last resort. If China manages to still come out ahead of the US long term despite the COVID event, the US elites will need a backup plan and already come to a realization that if they ultimately cannot stop China from rising to the top then they need to still make sure they still retain a parallel full industrial base independent of China as a strategic fallback position and defensive posture. Hypothetically under this scenario, once China is at the top, the US would still command enough foreign assets/cronies that consist of a full-spectrum industrial base. The US has to make sure that the US, and the West, is not left a big hole in it own global order of supply chain and industrial bases. Let’s say the petrodollar hegemony falls and the US no longer enjoys having the global reserve currency status and all the perks that comes with it, – then not only will America lose the geopolitical advantage and leverage of being no longer able to unilaterally abuse the US dollar global reserve currency status and financially weaponize it to coercively sanction other nations that do not kowtow to it, and not only will the US no longer be able to “harvest” China and make China pay for America’s own growing militarization expenditures and overseas adventures aimed against China, but indeed it will no longer be able to financially and economically colonize the entire world nor will it be able to continue to usurp/extract/harvest the wealth of the world by taxing a percentage and taking a cut out from every transaction that takes place on this globe –, and then it will no longer be able to continue to get free things from the world while printing fake money in return (Infinite Quantitative Easings), and if that eventuality will come to pass one day in the future, be it two, five, ten or even twenty years from now, America will need to have its own industrial base back since by then its free ride and gravy train will essentially be over and once the music stops it won’t be able to count on its vassals to pay the rent so it has to go back to making its own stuff by itself, hence the need to retain and restore its own domestic industrial base fully independent of China … and COVID is the perfect false-flag event to give it a push in the butt and force the American people to get adjusted to the hard times ahead when they can no longer count on getting free sh-t from China or from the rest of the world.
It is also a way for the US elite to consolidate power and restructure the future of America in which the so-called Nonnegotiable American Way of Life (high living standards propped up by the rest of the world via Petrodollar hegemony) will have to be re-negotiated one way or another and this event serves as merely one way to subconsciously desensitize the American people to a “new normal”, one in which America and Americans will have to share the ever shrinking pie with the rest of the multilateral world order and in which the US government will have to manage its own decline whilst also managing – the ever lowering/lowered – expectations of its own people back in the homeland.
When the US government starts treating its own people like the way it treats the populations of its vassals, puppet regimes, occupied territories and other colonies etc then that is when you know the cannibalization has already started and the decline has entered its final stages. When the going was good they threw some bones to the middle class, but now that America is in full decline it cannot even afford to treat its own people right and have to start cannibalizing and consolidating from within just to survive.
submitted by AscendChina to CPUSA [link] [comments]

How to avoid blowing an account

The market has been moving with extreme volatility in recent weeks, and this has offered traders many opportunities to prosper and profit, but volatility is a double-edged sword. It can be your best friend one day and your worst enemy the next. Many traders love volatility when the trade is going in their favour, but struggle to deal with the downside and crumble when the pressure is on.
A trader’s first job is to survive, and I've seen many people blow up because they were had unrealistic expectations or were just impatient.

  1. Survive first
Reminiscences of a Stock Operator should be read and re-read by any aspiring trader in my opinion. It’s an entertaining book, and not too dissimilar from the market today. Whilst the players may change, the game often remains the same. Bucket shop tricks remain ongoing such as forward selling placing stock or going short on a company and then offering the same company cash to close the position, market abuse continues to go unpunished, and traders still lose their cool and blow their accounts.
One quote that stuck with me from this is Jesse’s remark “And when you know what not to do in order not to lose money, you begin to learn what to do in order to win.”
Some mistakes I’ve made in my trading career:

Naturally, there are many more. And no doubt you will have made some of these or others. My point is that, once you know not to do these things any more, you begin to stop.
Trading is a process of tilting the odds in our favour as much as possible, and by removing errors we are able to tilt the odds just that little bit extra.
Next time you see professional tennis on the TV (probably not this year as they're all cancelled), look at how many times the other play defeats an opponent for the point. Many times, the player will win the point due to an error by his or her opponent. Compared to amateur tennis, points are won by besting the other player all the time.
If you want to step up your trading, then find your errors and come up with a tangible strategy. I removed boredom trading simply by asking myself "Is this a boredom trade?" every time I went to put on a trade.

  1. Make small mistakes
New traders will often be tempted to think of the upside. I know they will, because I've done the same thing and got the medicine that burned. As the late Kenny Rogers said, ‘there’ll be time enough for counting… when the dealin’s done’.
Making small mistakes is the key to survival.
I hate demo accounts, and actively discourage using them for anything other than learning the buttons on the platform (there is literally zero point in wasting hundreds of pounds trying to learn how the buttons work).
But demo accounts encourage bad habits, and bad habits build bad traders. It's the same as online small stakes poker where everybody goes all in. When it’s not real or serious money, nobody is emotionally invested in the outcome. And if you’re not emotionally invested in the outcome, it’s difficult to take the task at hand seriously.

  1. Manage psychological capital first
You can be the best trader in the world but if you don’t pull the trigger you won’t make any money. Hesitancy can be good, because it stops one piling in to a stock 200% only for the market makers to do a disappearing act with the bid and you’re left holding the baby, but hesitancy when you know you’re putting on a good risk/reward trade is costing you in terms of opportunity cost.
If you know the trade is good, as in 1) it meets your criteria for entry, 2) you are employing sensible position sizing, and 3) you know your downside and R, then to not take the trade is a mistake in itself.
Big losses can cause a trader to doubt themselves. Lack of faith in a system can cause a trader to doubt themselves. Overexposure to a certain stock can cause a trader to doubt themselves.
Three losing trades in a row does not a bad system make. If losing five times in a row causes you to feel uneasy, then you’re risking too much per trade. Trading is being in it to win for the long game.
It’s easy to get caught up in the next 10 trades. But you should be thinking about the next 100.

  1. Circuit-breakers
Everyone should have a get-out failsafe in their trading system. Why? Because a lot more damage can be done to a trading account in times of heightened emotion. This is called ‘tilting’ in poker, where the player makes emotional bets rather than rational bets.
Losses are painful, and especially big ones. Taking small losses should be easy and painless, because they’re a natural cost of the business, but big losses hurt.
Having a daily, weekly, or even monthly circuit-breaker means we step away from the market and take a break to refocus and regain our composure. So far, I’ve yet to hit my circuit-breaker since I lost a large amount of money in 2017 but the dangers in trading are real and there on a daily basis.
There are very few professions where the risk of ruin is on the line day in, day out, and so having a circuit-breaker will give you the opportunity to take a time-out and cool down.
If you’re an intraday trader, then the heightened pressure only increases the potential for situations to go south. Proprietary traders have their risk limits tightened and tightened, as the best way to keep money in a fund sticky is to not lose – but sadly you and I sat at home don’t have strict and set limits unless we set them ourselves.
It's worth noting that these are employed not only by hedge funds but by various exchanges in an attempt to quell volatility in the market. If they’re good enough for the regulated exchanges, I’d suggest they are good enough for us too.

Key takeaways

submitted by shiftingshares to UKInvesting [link] [comments]

[Tales From the Terran Republic] The Fall of the White Star Part Five

Told you it wouldn't be long!
The rest of the series can be found here
“Logan, what the fuck?” Sheila asked in confusion as she looked at the AK leveled at her.
“Yourre worth a lot of money girrrlll,” Delores giggled as she pointed her submachine gun at Sheila’s head.
“Drop the weapons!” Greg yelled as he started to raise his AK.
“Everybody calm down,” Sheila said quietly. “They got the drop on us.” She turned to Logan, “Look, sweetie, I don’t know what is going through your head right now but we don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, we do,” Logan replied, “As Delores said, you are worth a lot of credits, enough to take you out.”
“Do you honestly think you can do that?” Sheila asked. “Look around. Do you think you can get out of this room alive.”
“If we start shooting, maybe not,” Logan replied. “But we aren’t going to start shooting are we?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Sheila replied.
“You are worth a lot but here’s the thing. The Federation wants you alive. Oh, they will happily take you dead but the bonus for bringing you in breathing is more than what your entire team is worth dead. What’s in your head is priceless. What you know, who you know, where you get your nukes… The Federation wants all of that and they are willing to pay.” Logan paused for a moment and smiled. “If we start shooting, especially with what we have loaded in these babies, we might lose but win or lose a lot of your people will die and I know you won’t let that happen, especially over one of your mistakes.”
“My mistake?”
“Yeah,” Logan laughed, “You trusted me. Are you really going to let your people die because of an error in your judgment, especially when you have been warned about me? I know Greg over there hates my guts and hasn’t trusted me from the start.”
Sheila just stood there shaking with anger and pain.
“Goddammit, Logan. You’re a Terran. You are one of us!”
“I’m not one of nobody. All that Terra and Republic bullshit I was spouting was just that, bullshit. I just said what I needed to so I could get into your pants and into your jobs. Right now, the Federation is paying a lot more than the Republic ever did.”
“Do you honestly think they will honor a deal with a Terran?” Greg said as he pointed his rifle at Logan. “Ask Cyrus Red about deals with Fed Intel.”
“I’m not an idiot like Red. They have a long history of dealing in good faith when it comes to bounties like Little Miss Sheila. I’ve worked with them off and on for years. This is just another business transaction for them, nothing more.”
“Logan, fuck...” Sheila stammered “Why?”
“The money, baby-girl,” Logan chuckled, “Credits, credits, credits… Look, here’s the deal. You come along quietly and nobody else on your crew dies.”
Sheila just stood there seeming completely lost.
“… Ok. Deal. You get me and everybody else walks.”
Her crew shouted in outrage.
“You can’t possibly expect us to just stand here and let-” Greg started to shout.
“It’s an order, Greg. My last one,” Sheila said calmly. “There is no need for anyone else to die today and he is right. This is my mistake, my fuck up. Usually when a commanding officer screws up this badly their people pay the price but I have the chance to avoid that and I’m taking it. You will all lower your weapons and as long as they don’t make any moves you will let them walk.”
That’s an order!” Sheila snapped. “Please, just lower your weapons. It’s over,” she said in a gentler tone. “Look, we all knew that the party would end one day. For me, that’s today. As Logan said, there is no need for anyone else to pay for my mistake.”
“One more thing,” Logan said with a sneer, “We are taking the numbered bank accounts. How, exactly, do we extract them from the banking computers?”
“Oh they are just data drives. You can just yank them out like any other brick,” Jessie said without her usual cheerful tone.
“Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?” Logan snarled. “The contract on Sheila just says alive. It doesn’t say in what condition or how many parts are still attached. If we lose those accounts she will lose pieces.”
“Ok,” Jessie said quietly, “We aren’t completely sure. We know that there are some safeguards against that sort of thing. Because there are so many credits they don’t want a counterfeiting issue, somebody copying an account and then still having it showing as an asset for example. If it’s done wrong the whole thing goes away. We were planning on just shutting down the entire computer and relocating it to our ship where I could take my time.”
“Ok. That’s what we are going to do,” Logan said as he walked over and pointed his gun at Sheila’s head. “You go with a couple of my men and shut down the computer properly. We will then move the whole thing to our ship.”
“There is no way in hell that I will help you-” Jessie stopped short as Logan pulled out a knife and pressed it against Sheila’s cheek drawing blood. “Fine! Fine! Why the fuck do you want that shit anyway? There is no way you can crack it.” she snarled.
“I don’t have to crack it, darling,” Logan chuckled. “Salvage fee. Twenty percent, taken from a pirated ship marooned in deep space. I’ll get twenty percent of the value of the accounts minus the generous share given to the good councilor here for facilitating the whole transaction. I capture a dangerous threat to the Federation, save a councilor’s life, and salvage billions of credits all in one day’s work. I’m not only set for life it’s all one hundred percent legal. The few gray areas in this whole affair will go away with a little help from Fed Intel and more importantly a certain now very safe and soon to be very rich councilor who won’t get his billions unless the salvage is considered legit.” He turned to Sheila. “Like I said, I’ve been thinking about my future.” He then turned to his crew. “Toby, Sue, go with Jessie here and keep an eye on her.” With that Toby, Sue, and Jessie all left the room.
“The rest of us are going to my ship,” Logan said. “Don’t get in our way and there will be no problems.”
“Radio the teams and have them move away from the cargo hold and into the promenade,” Shelia said in a subdued voice. “Let’s try to keep some order.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Greg said quietly as he lowered his weapon and raised his communicator.
They managed to keep all of the squads out of the way and out of the loop as Logan and Sheila made their way to the docking bay, Councilor Morgan in tow. As the door to Logan’s ship opened he turned to the councilor.
“Councilor...” He stood aside with a little bow gestured towards the open hatch.
“One moment,” the councilor said and he turned to Sheila. “Oh you are going to pay. I will see to it. You are going to fucking pay. Oh, and one more thing...” He balled up his fist and punched Sheila in the face. Sheila staggered back but didn’t otherwise respond. She just spit the blood from her split lip onto the deck.
“Nice punch, councilor, but let’s not push things,” Logan said as he nervously looked at Sheila’s enraged crew. “Just… Just get into the ship, now.”
“Last chance, Logan,” Sheila said quietly to him. “Last chance.”
“For what?” Logan sneered as he shoved her into his ship.
“Ok,” Logan said as he walked into his cargo hold. “You sit right here,” he said to Sheila as he pushed her onto a bench running alongside the hold and then he handcuffed each arm and leg to chains running through the bench framework.
“Sure you don’t want me up front where you can keep an eye on me, personally?” Sheila said with a sweet innocent smile.
“Yeah, you’d like that wouldn’t you? No, I think I would prefer a nice thick bulkhead between you and anything remotely vital. You stay back here.”
“Oh you’re no fun at all.”
Out in the docking bay Helena just looked at Sheila’s crew completely dumbfounded.
“And you are all just going to let them take her?” Helena asked, almost outraged.
“She is our commanding officer and she gave us an order,” Roberts replied. “Sometimes you get orders you don’t agree with, orders you absolutely hate, but you follow them.”
“I don’t understand. She is one of your crew!”
“We decided from the start that we would keep a military structure and this is part of that. If you start second guessing and only following the orders you like then everything falls to hell.”
“Look, it might be hard to understand but you have to trust the system, and trust her. This was her call. We have to accept it.
The doors opened and Jessie entered followed by two of Logan’s crew, Toby and Sue, who were pushing hovercarts loaded with computer equipment. Once inside the bay Jessie flipped them off and rejoined her crew.
“They were watching me too close,” Jessie said. “I couldn’t do shit. They got everything.”
“It’s ok, Jessie,” Greg said patting her shoulder, “We’ve lost a lot more than a few credits today.”
“It’s not that, Greg,” Jessie wailed, “They caught me when I tried to slip a beacon in one of the drive bays. I thought...”
“It’s ok, Jessie. It’s ok.”
Jessie burst into tears, falling to her knees and sobbing loudly as the cargo hatch to Logan’s ship closed, his engines flared to life, and his ship lifted off and sped from the White Star.
As the ship streaked off into the endless night Jessie stopped crying.
“The tears were a nice touch,” Greg said with a chuckle.
“Thanks,” Jessie chirped. “I learned to cry on command back in my juvie days!”
Helena looked confused.
Roberts patted Helena on the shoulder and said with a cold smile, “Remember when I said that Gloria was nothing compared to Sheila...”
“Woo! I can’t believe that worked!” Clara, Logan’s second in command exclaimed as they fled the White Star.
“I told you it would,” Logan laughed, “Everyone is so scared of Sheila but she is human just like anyone else. Find the right button, push it, and they crumple. There was no way she was going to let her people die over what she thought was her fuck up if she could help it… Hmm…” Logan said as he wiggled his flight controls.
“What?” Clara asked.
“Oh, the ship is acting a little funny… a little sluggish… We aren’t getting much more than two and a half gees worth of acceleration. Weird.”
“Let me check,” Clara said as she pulled up some displays. “Well everything looks ok but the power output of the reactor is a little low. It says everything’s ok, though.”
“Meh, we will check it out after we jump,” Logan said and then laughed. “Fuck it. We will just buy a new ship!”
His crew laughed along with him. Logan swiveled in his chair and turned to Councilor Morgan. “How are you holding up, big guy?”
“I was captured, beaten, nearly killed, and am now sitting in piss-soaked pants… I feel fucking great!” He laughed. “Christ, what a fucking day! Oh tell me, what is Fed Intel going to do to that bitch.”
“They won’t just break her, they will turn her. They will systematically drug and torture her until her will completely breaks and then they will rebuild her psyche bit by bit turning her into a humble and loyal pet after which she will happily betray everything and everyone she holds dear.”
“Splendid! I think I just may have to get access to the footage. Perhaps I will pay her a visit after she breaks… I could use a new bedside pet.”
“That’s the spirit!” Logan laughed. “I knew I would like you!”
“Now, Logan was it?” the councilor said in a happy friendly tone. “Let’s talk about those billions of credits you mentioned...”
Sheila lounged in the cargo bay trying to get as comfortable as she could. She looked at the guy they had back there with her.
“Hey, kid,” Sheila said to him.
“So what’s your name? Haven’t seen you on Logan’s crew before.”
“Toby,” He said stiffly as he clutched his rifle.
“Relax, Toby, I don’t bite.”
“They warned me about you. Don’t try nothing.”
“Oh they did? What did they say?”
“They said that you would behave yourself until we lifted off and then all bets were off and that you were fucking dangerous.”
“Good call. They are absolutely correct but as you can see,” Sheila said as she wiggled her arms, “I’m quite securely… secure. Can you at least reengage your safety? You are making me really nervous. We are going to be spending a few hours together so at least try to relax.”
“A few hours?”
“However long this trip will take I mean. A few hours is a figure of speech.”
“Oh, ok.”
“So, how long have you worked for Logan?”
“A few months.”
“So not long then. I guess that’s why he left you back here with me. You’re the disposable one!”
“I am not!”
“Sure you are! You’re the ‘canary’.”
“Back in ancient times when people mined deep in the earth they would bring along a little bird, a canary. If the air started to go bad the bird would die and that would be an alarm for the miners, the actual valuable people, so they could take appropriate action. Tell me,” Shelia said with a smile, “Are you wearing a vitals monitoring device?”
Toby shifted uncomfortably. As a matter of fact he was.
“See! You’re totally a canary! When I kill you, sorry… If I were to kill you which I am totally not going to do, they get an alarm. Don’t feel bad. The new guy is always the canary on Logan’s crew. That’s why they are always hiring.”
“Fine, don’t believe me,” Sheila said as she watched him grip his AK and back away from her.
“Yeah, something is definitely wrong with the thrusters,” Logan said as he shrugged.
“I’ve run diagnostics twice and everything checks out though,” Clara replied. “Hey, Delores,” she asked, “How much longer before you are ready?”
“Not long,” She said, “This first jump is just to get away so it doesn’t have to be that precise.”
“Yeah,” Logan said, “I’ll feel a lot better after we put some distance between us and Sheila’s crew. We can take our time after that.”
“Why do you guys sound so scared of Sheila and her crew?” the councilor asked.
“Because they are pure evil!” Bill, one of Logan’s gun hands laughed, “They are about the meanest, nastiest, slipperiest, of all the crews out there. Seriously. They are bad news.”
“And we have their queen tied up in the back,” Logan laughed. “Right now they are trying to figure out how to get us, make no mistake. We got the drop on them and I knew right where to push but I think all of us will breathe a lot easier once we have a light year or two between us and the White Star.”
“Hey, what’s up with the shield?” Clara muttered as she started flipping through some screens. “Weird.”
“What’s up?” Logan asked with a smile.
“Nothing… Something… I don’t know. Our shields are registering some weird shit. Maybe some ions but I’m not seeing anything.”
“Well the old girl is a bit worn,” Logan replied wiping some sweat from his forehead.
“Yeah, might be something in space around here,” Clara said shifting uncomfortably. “Hurry up with that jump, Delores.”
“Hey, canary,” Sheila said with a smile.
“Quit fucking calling me that!”
“Ok, red shirt,” Sheila chuckled. “I got a question for you.”
“When you and all of the rest of your guys were out there looting did you hear any screams or cries for help coming from a locked shop?”
“Yeah, some porkies pissed you guys off, right?”
“You could say that. They were using Terran children as sex slaves. We considered that annoying.”
“Damn. So that’s why.”
“Yeah. Do you know what we did to them?”
“One of my crew, a lovely woman named Gloria, the pretty blonde with the scary eyes, you might have seen her around?”
Toby flinched. He saw her and she was fucking terrifying.
“Yeah, her. When someone annoys us we give them to her and this time she crucified them. Sometimes she skins them alive, or burns them, or… damn the stories I could tell… I’m getting off track here. She is our torturer. She’s really good at it. Those kid-touchers? It’s going to take them days to die.” Sheila paused and looked Toby in the eyes. “Those were people who just annoyed us a little. What we did to them was more based on principle than anything else. When someone actually pisses us off… hoo boy! Shit gets ugly.”
“Yeah, so?” Toby said shifting uncomfortably edging further away from Sheila. Sheila, with a little difficulty, oriented her head, body, and arm so she could read her watch.
“Yeah, it will be pretty soon.”
“What will be?”
“In just a little while Logan is going to be very upset and he will tell you to kill me.”
“Yeah, he is going to want you to kill me, who is worth God knows how much to him alive. Now when that happens you need to ask yourself a question. It’s an important one. The question is what move will be in your best interest.”
“Now if for some reason this ship were to encounter oh I don’t know… some sort of problem… then it could be within the bounds of possibility that my ship could catch up with you and my crew could… oh I don’t know… force their way in through that airlock behind you. I mean it is remotely possible right?”
“Now if that were to happen and I were alive and well then it is quite possible that you could walk away completely free and unharmed by them, maybe even with a few credits in your pocket. On the other hand… If they were to walk in here and I happened to be dead by your hand… well…” Sheila paused and smiled a smile of pure evil. “Then what happened to you wouldn’t be a matter of principle. It would be personal and they would be very very… very angry. I wonder what they would do to you. What do you think they would do to you… canary?”
“Shit,” Toby said as he rushed to the intercom and pressed the button. Nothing happened. Sheila just sat there and smiled.
“Yeah, that’s not going to work,” she said pleasantly.
Toby grabbed his communicator.
“Logan! This is Toby! We have a problem! Logan!”
There was no response. Sheila just laughed pleasantly.
“Too bad they can’t hear you peeping, canary. Peep all you want but nobody will hear you.”
Toby looked around in desperation. He ran over and grabbed a large turnbuckle wrench and ran towards the bulkhead.
“Look. Just stop,” Sheila said with a malevolent grin. “If you start beating on the wall they might hear and they might activate the intercom. If they do someone who looks and sounds exactly like you will tell them that you aren’t the one beating on the wall and you are hearing the weird noise too. The only thing that you will achieve is that you will give me a headache and because of that I will have my men chop off your arms when they get here.
Toby just stopped and let the wrench fall to the deck.
“Smart move, canary. Now behave yourself and I give you my personal guarantee than nobody on my crew will harm you. Heck. I’ll even give you fifty thousand credits, why not?”
Logan shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He was decidedly not feeling well. Clara, looking quite pale, jumped out of her chair and ran to the bathroom.
“How much longer?” Logan demanded as he turned to Delores.
“Goddammit, quit distracting me!” Delores said irritably, “You keep on pestering me and I can’t think straight! Oh shit.” Delores jumped away from her desk and ran over to the bathroom pounding on the door. “Clara! Hurry up! I gotta go!”
“Just a fucking minute! Jesus!” Clara yelled through the door. Delores made a sprint towards the crew quarters, the location of the closest other bathroom.
“I’m not feeling all that well either,” Councilor Morgan said as he clutched at his stomach. “I guess all the stress of the day is catching up with me.”
“Yeah, we just need to jump and everything will be fine,” Logan said looking a little flushed. “Goddammit Delores! Pinch it off! We need to get out of here!”
A few minutes later Delores shakily entered the bridge. “Sorry about that. Maybe that last batch of snowshadow was off or something.”
“Whatever,” Logan said his voice full of irritation. “Just get back to it and hurry up. As soon as we get the fuck out of here we can relax.”
Clara staggered out of the bathroom looking quite flushed. “Christ, what did I eat?” she muttered as she returned to her chair. “Delores, how long before we can get the fuck-”
“Jesus, Delores, chill,” Logan said as he got up and headed towards the bathroom.
“YOU WANT TO JUMP? FINE! WE CAN FUCKING JUMP!” Delores yelled at the top of her voice as she started punching numbers into the hyperdrive controls.
“Delores! Relax! Just take a breath and… oh god...” Clara said as she rubbed the side of her head. “It’s fine. Just-”
“N-now wait a moment… Delores isn’t it,” the councilor said wiping cold clammy sweat from his brow, “You mustn’t rush.”
“HURRY UP DON’T HURRY UP FUCK! MAKE UP YOUR FUCKING MINDS!” Delores yelled her face turning red. “You know what? You want to jump? We’re fucking jumping!” She started hammering keys at her control station. Clara tried to leap out of her seat to stop her but stumbled and fell.
“HERE WE GO!” Delores shrieked as she started the jump sequence.
Starting jump sequence, the ship computer’s voice announced. Charging capacitors.
A loud explosion was heard and felt through the entire ship and all the lights and panels went dead. The entire ship was in darkness for a second before systems reset and the emergency battery backup was engaged.
“What the fuck was that?!?” Logan yelled as he staggered out of the toilet vomit speckling his shirt.
“Fucking Delores tried to jump that’s what!” Clara yelled.
“Yeah, but that shouldn’t have caused… whatever happened. What happened?” Logan shouted as he stumbled towards his chair.
“What’s going on?” Councilor Morgan yelled.
“Everybody chill!” Clara shouted and then started going through diagnostics. “Oh God,” she gasped.
“What?” Logan asked frantically.
“The fusion reactor blew.”
“Well, restart it.”
“No, Logan. It didn’t go out. It blew,” Clara said with fear in her voice. “It’s... destroyed. The failsafes didn’t engage. It looks like it completely overloaded and burned out its core. It will take some time to figure out exactly what happened and I hope that I’m wrong but Logan… I think it’s gone.”
“… Sheila...” Logan hissed. Everyone on the bridge looked at him with realization and fear in their eyes, everyone but Councilor Morgan.
“What do you mean, Sheila?” he asked.
Ignoring him Logan activated the cargo bay cameras and intercom.
“Sheila!” he yelled over the mic.
“Problem?” Shelia replied smiling pleasantly at the camera.
“What did you do?”
“What do you mean?” Sheila asked innocently. “I’ve been right here, where you chained me up with this lovely young man standing over me with a gun in his hands. I couldn’t have done anything.”
“Cut the shit!”
“Well, lover,” Sheila said with an evil smile, “It’s simple physics.”
“There are rules by which this universe operates, immutable laws. For example, quantum information is never destroyed, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and my personal favorite, in this universe I don’t get fucked. I do the fucking.” Sheila looked up at the camera and smiled. “And you, my sweetheart, are fucked.”
“You have ten seconds to start talking or Toby there puts a bullet in your brain.”
“Ok,” Sheila said as she lounged in her chains, “There are a few key differences between your ship and mine and they are important, very important. First, my ship has a Helium-3, a pure Helium-3 reactor. Yours doesn’t. Your ship, like almost every civilian ship, uses a deuterium plant. The reactors are cheaper to build, easier and cheaper to maintain, and most importantly deuterium is dirt cheap as opposed to Helium-3. I have always complained about having to purchase Helium-3 but after today I will never bitch again.”
“What are you getting at?” Logan said angrily.
“Well, when pure Helium-3 fuses the products are plain old Helium-4 and protons plus some delicious energy. When deuterium fuses it makes a shitload of neutrons and I mean a lot of them. This normally isn’t a big deal. What we Terrans did was surround the good old cheap deuterium reactors with a force field, much like the ones protecting starships. When the fast zippy neutrons hit it, they lose energy and the field gains energy just like when a starship gets hit with a blaster. This is actually a good thing since in a reactor the overloaded force field is just bled off and the energy is added to the reactor output. It’s actually where the majority of the power comes from. Works great! They have a fantastic power output, burn cheap fuel, and are very safe. Now, if something were to happen to that force field...” Sheila paused and grinned at the camera.
“Oh shit!” Clara said as she started typing furiously on her keyboard.
“Oh, I don’t know… something like it’s shape changing for example… maybe changing from a nice neat tidy sphere to a rough parabola...” Sheila chuckled, “Well then the neutrons would just hit it once, give up just some of their energy, and then go zipping off… in one general direction...” Sheila smiled a pleasant evil smile. “Care to guess which direction that was? How are you guys feeling by the way? A little queasy?… A little pukey?… A little squirty?”
Oh God...” Councilor Morgan gasped.
“Anyhow this theoretical compromised reactor would be generating a fraction of its normal power and be squirting neutrons left and fucking right...” Sheila laughed, “And if, again hypothetically, if the reactor’s load limiting circuits were disabled and other systems compromised it would continue to deliver power even if the remaining components were being pushed to the melting point. That poor reactor would be at it’s very limits and the second someone tried to charge their jump capacitors the poor little thing would try to deliver the power but would in less than a second finally overheat, start to melt, and blow apart.” Sheila grinned.
“You… BITCH!!!” Logan screamed and then doubled over and threw up again. “T-toby…” he gasped. “Shoot her. Fucking shoot her!”
Toby just stood there looking at the deck.
“Toby!” Logan yelled.
“Ol’ Toby and I have come to an understanding. Since we were both on the right side of that parabola we have a lot in common don’t we Tob?”
“Sorry, Logan… sorry...” Toby said as he looked away.
“Oh it hurts when you get betrayed by someone you trusted.” Sheila chuckled. “Stings doesn’t it?”
“I’ll kill you!” Logan yelled as he staggered to his feet and stumbled to the doorway leading from the bridge.
It was locked.
“That won’t work. Your whole ship is locked down,” Sheila said with a pleasant smile. “In fact, ever since you guys left Bunny has been running the whole show, even throttling back your thrusters so you didn’t blow your reactor early. I wanted to be sure you got your recommend daily allowance of neutrons today.”
Logan screamed and pounded on the door.
“H-how?” Clara asked quietly as she drew her sidearm. “Tell me. How did you do it?”
“A magician never reveals their tricks,” Sheila laughed. “Ok, I guess it doesn’t really matter in your case does it? You guys fucked up from the get go. You knew. You fucking knew that we had complete control of the White Star. Every door, every turret… every sensor. Do you know how many microphones there are on that ship? Thousands and thousands of them. What wasn’t covered with a mic was covered by a camera and we have an AI that for some as yet unknowable reason was given the ability to read lips. I love Jessie. I really do love that wierdo. If that wasn’t enough didn’t you think it was a little odd that you guys got your own special tablet even though you weren’t involved in the operation, a tablet with a very good microphone? You morons even discussed your plans in front of a tablet that I gave you. How fucking stupid can you possibly be?” Sheila smiled wolfishly as horrified realization started to appear on Clara’s face as she picked up the tablet that was right next to her.
“I’m going to miss that tablet,” Sheila said wistfully. “It’s a doppleganger. Those are so very expensive and more importantly so very very hard to replace. Every time one of you touched it we got your fingerprints and DNA. Every time you looked at it we got your retinal patterns. Your ship has very good locks and a wonderful security system, one of the best biometrically based setups money can buy. I told him, you know,” Sheila said with a smile. “I told Logan repeatedly that I never, ever, ever have my ship abandoned during an op. There is always someone, a real live person, not a security system, not automatic turrets, not even Bunny… a real person on my ship, always always always. If you guys had just done that we couldn’t have pulled this off but no. As soon as I said you guys could go looting all of you just went scampering off, all of you. When have I ever let people not directly involved in the op go looting first? That’s your problem, Clara. You guys don’t think. I suddenly shift the plan, my plan, push back executing Morgan and then let looting take place before all ‘business’ is done? When have I ever done that, Clara?”
Clara just sat there shaking her head. It all made perfect sense in retrospect. They were lured away from the ship and they fell for it.
“Anyway, once you were away from the ship my chief, Jessie, and a very gifted z’uush made their way onto your vessel and went to work. It took them hours but they modified the reactor, hacked your computers, and installed transmitters and receivers so that we could control what we needed to when we needed to. That’s why I let you guys keep on looting and playing even across the looting shifts, again something that I never do. Christ, Clara. I knew Logan was an idiot but you? I’m actually a little disappointed.”
“Oh God oh God!” Councilor Morgan moaned as he threw up.
“Yeah, councilor, sorry about all this,” Sheila said with a smile. “I was just going to shoot you in the head, nice and tidy. I really didn’t want to do you in by radiation poisoning. That’s a bit fucked up, sorry.”
“Oh where was I?” Sheila said as she continued, “Logan was right. I didn’t want there to be a shoot out on the ship. Too big of a chance of my guys getting killed when all I had to do was get you all in one spot, away from everyone, and blast you with neutrons. I also didn’t want you to get the merc teams involved. The last thing I wanted was a huge mutiny and shootout. Just like Logan knows me I know Logan. My weakness is my team. His weakness is greed. As long as you guys thought you had the upper hand he wouldn’t want to cut in anyone else so letting you think you won was tactically the best move. One downside of my plan is that even on the right side of the shield I have probably soaked up a rem, maybe two, but for a spacer that’s nothing, unlike you guys. Fuck. We don’t even know how much you guys have taken but from the looks of things you got enough.”
Logan laughed.
“Ok, baby-girl, you got me, fair and square. Maybe we can work something out? I got a lot of credits stashed back, lots of them. I’ll hand over the councilor and the bank computer.”
Clara just looked at him like he was an idiot.
“You don’t get it you moron!” the councilor shouted at him.
“Yeah, Logan, you don’t,” Sheila said shaking her head sadly. “You are already done. You could be lying on a hospital bed on Terra and it wouldn’t matter at this point. The only thing they would give you is stuff that Delores already has on her I bet. You’re already dead, lover. Every single cell in your body is going to slowly start to die and rupture.”
“What?” Logan asked in horror.
There was a metalic clang on the side of the ship.
“Oh, looks like my ride’s here,” Sheila said with a smile. The side airlock to the cargo bay started to cycle.
“Clara! Stop them!” Logan yelled.
“Idiot, they own us,” Clara said as all the screens went blank and then were replaced by a stylized picture of a rabbit. She then shrugged, put the barrel of her sidearm into her mouth, and pulled the trigger blowing her brains across the bridge.
“Clara! No!” Logan cried as he stumbled over to her body.
The airlock fully opened and Sheila’s crew, fully armed, walked in. Toby let them take his weapon. Jessie ambled over to Sheila and looked at her restraints.
“Pssh… Andersons...” She pulled out a small electronic device and pressed the only button on the front. Seconds later all of the cuffs unlocked and fell off.
“Thanks, Jessie,” Sheila said as she stood up and stretched. “Oh, my arms are stiff.”
Jessie then walked over to the computer, and started yanking out the drives.
“Wait!” Toby exclaimed. “Doesn’t that...”
“What?” Jessie asked with a grin. “I told you all you had to do was yank them out.”
“The best lie is the truth told in a way that it won’t be believed,” Jessie chirped. “Didn’t want you assholes putting these up front.” She started tossing the drives into a shoulder bag.
“Ok, looks like we are done here,” Sheila said and they all started to depart. Toby started to follow.
“Wait, canary,” Sheila said, “Where do you think you are going?”
“But you said...”
“I said that you would walk free and my guys wouldn’t hurt you. I didn’t say shit about letting you on my ship. You really have to improve your negotiating skills, dude.”
Two huge drax walked through the airlock.
“Fortunately for you I do always keep my promises though,” Sheila grinned. “Toby, meet Kash. He has his heart set on getting a human skull.”
“You promised!” Toby cried.
“I promised you that you would walk free and my guys wouldn’t touch you. I also promised Kash here that if something came up and there was a chance at him getting a human skull I would get him involved. Something came up and you, my little canary, have a skull. Lucky for you in order for your skull to have any worth it has to be a real fight so...”
Roberts walked up with a long chef’s knife from one of the kitchens and placed it down on the deck.
“Now I completely don’t have to do this but if you defeat Kash, who is going to be attacking you completely unarmed from the looks of things… well as unarmed as a drax can be anyhow… I promise I will let you on my ship, treat any injuries, and give you that fifty thousand I mentioned,” Sheila paused at the airlock. “I will leave you two kids to get acquainted.”
With that she waved and walked onto her ship.
Kash was lying on the deck of the Paper Tiger’s cargo bay while Eno was squatting over him with a sensor and a med-kit.
“Damn, Kash,” Eno said as he pulled out a suturing kit, “You let him cut you up pretty good there!”
“Be sure to make it so they scar up nicely!” Volshugna said proudly. “My cub’s first kill! And it was a human! Not only a human but a Terran!”
“Yeah, Kash,” Eno said as he started stitching up Kash’s wounds, “That skull and this footage are going to make you quite popular with the ladies.”
“Yes, cub! You will be swimming in pussy! You will be rolling in it! Fuck, cub, you will be running from pussy! So much pussy!” Volshugna threw back his head and yelled. “Raaaahhh! Pussy!”
“Father please!”
“Yes! Don’t be afraid to call for help!” Volshugna howled with laughter, “Father please! Help me with all this pussy! Just think of it cub! Going from being a virgin to being buried in big shaggy nasty stinky drax pussy! You will never have to touch yourself again!”
“On second thought, Mr. Eno,” Kash said still clutching Toby’s severed head, “Just let me bleed to death.”
“I have seen drax die in many different fashions,” Sheila laughed as she leaned against the wall of the cargo bay sipping coffee, “This may be the first time I see one actually die from embarrassment.”
“Yeah, this is pretty brutal,” Greg laughed. “Oh, I checked the feed from Logan’s ship and at their current rate of speed we should be able to get good footage for the next couple of days if we use the White Star’s receivers, more than long enough for everyone on the bridge to die including the councilor even if they don’t kill themselves.”
“Good,” Sheila said as she took another sip. “So we will get footage of the councilor’s death after all.”
“Yep,” Greg replied, “Gonna be a grim editing job but we can still salvage it. I was going to ask Helena to do the editing since she is a pro but I think this one is now a job for Jessie and Bunny.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Sheila said with a nod. “Oh, I have to say it. You were right.”
“About Logan I mean.”
“Yeah. I wasn’t going to say it but… yeah.”
“Greg, if you ever catch me thinking with my snatch again you have my permission to haul off and kick me right in the pussy as hard as you can. Just punt me across the fucking room.”
“Noted, ma’am. Not a problem,” Greg chuckled.
“Come on, cub!” Volshugna shouted excitedly, “Show me that skull again! Look at that beauty! That’s going to look nice on your belt!”
“On my belt? Are you crazy father?” Kash yelled. “I don’t want it broken! This is going in a trophy case!”
“You don’t have a trophy case!”
“Well I fucking need one now don’t I?”
Volshugna paused a moment and then danced a happy dance.
“You’re right! You do! We will get one made for you when we get back! And smart move cub!” Volshugna yelled with pride. “That way you can say, ‘Oh this scar? I just got it when I was fighting a blade wielding Terran warrior using only my teeth and claws, no big deal. Hey, want to see his skull? I have it in the trophy case that I keep IN MY BEDCHAMBER!!! Now you are thinking cub! Raaaggh!”
Sheila snorted and shook her head. “Parents...”
The rest of the series can be found here
submitted by slightlyassholic to HFY [link] [comments]

When The Gods Come to Visit - Chapter 19


Walking in step along the winding and twisting path to Ploria, Captain Kal’Eva and her troops were escorting the Lokran prisoners. It was slow going, the Lokrans had their wrists and ankles tied with rope and were under constant guard by the troops, who often had to take shifts at night to make sure none had wriggled free. The interrupted sleep, along with some snide remarks from the Lokrans, did little to boost their morale. Some of the soldiers wanted to kill them and be done with it. Kal’Eva did what she could to lift their spirits, but it wasn’t long before she found herself echoing the grumblings of her soldiers.
This particular day was gray and overcast with a steady breeze blowing through the plains and the jungle to the south. The tall trees bent and swayed as the sounds of wind passing through various different leaves filled the air, along with the occasional sounds of meli birds singing. Halfway through the day’s journey, Kal’Eva issued the order to stop, rest, and eat. The Plorians situated themselves around the Lokrans, surrounding them so they didn’t have a chance to escape or do something dastardly.
Kal’Eva was digging into her hardened bread, breaking off pieces and eating it in chunks. She swigged some water from her waterskin and let the bread soak in her mouth to soften it up before eating it. It wasn’t tasty, but it traveled well. She also had some salted and dried igrah strips, but she was saving those for later.
“You should feed the Lokrans too, you know.” Glenn’s voice crackled in her ear.
Kal’Eva groaned loudly, her mouth half full of soggy bread. Leave it to Glenn to continue listening in despite telling her that he would stop, or at least tone it down. She swallowed heavily and answered him. “That is a very poor jest, Glenn. You simply cannot expect me to give them food.”
“You really do not understand this whole prisoner thing do you? It is only right to give them some food.”
“What is right hardly matters when dealing with them.” Kal’Eva retorted. “I cannot take food away from my women and give it to those...barbarians.”
“If you were the first to give them food, I bet the rest of your soldiers would follow your example. But, alright, let me appeal to your sense of practicality. Hungry prisoners tend to be defiant and bothersome. If they are fed, they will be more compliant and docile. It will be a far easier journey.”
“They...would certainly not do the same for us.” Kal’Eva muttered, staring down at the Lokran prisoners.
“This is not about what they would do for you. This is about what you will do for them. This is a chance for you to show them that you can give your enemy food. That you are strong enough to see them as more than just an enemy, but as a fellow ovathi who has needs as well. This is your chance to show them that you can rise above them, and be better than them.”
Kal’Eva looked at the prisoners, who all seemed to be looking at her as if she was crazy. Some of the closest ones were attempting to scoot away from her, lest the madness infect them. The Plorians knew she was talking to Glenn, but the Lokrans did not.
“Just give it a try.”
Kal’Eva sighed heavily and stood up, walking over to Okria who was sitting on the ground. Okria spat on the ground as she approached. Kal’Eva ignored the slight and instead held out a chunk of hard bread to her. Okria squinted at the bread, then up at Kal’Eva with a dubious look on her face.
“Take it.” Kal’Eva insisted.
“What? So you can have me poisoned? I think not.” Okria said, turning up her nose at the bread. “I would rather die by the sword than in such a dishonorable way.”
“Are you daft? You just saw me eating some of it!” Kal’Eva said exasperatedly.
“And that was before you started talking to the air! Who knows what you have done to the bread since then.”
“What are you doing, Captain?” Guard Li’lav asked as she looked up from her own food.
Kal’Eva grimaced slightly, she had thought this would be going a lot smoother. Then again, she couldn’t blame the Lokran for being skeptical. Instead, she broke off a small piece of bread and popped it in her mouth, taking a small swig from her waterskin to soften it. She offered the piece of bread again to Okria.
“Are you seriously giving your rations to them?!” Li’lav asked again as she got up and moved closer to Kal’Eva.
Okria’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, but cautiously, she reached out and took the hunk of bread. She copied Kal’Eva, breaking off a small piece and putting it into her mouth. When Kal’Eva offered her waterskin, Okria reluctantly took that as well, taking a small sip. When she started to chew, she almost coughed it all up in apparent surprise.
“Why waste your food like this?” Li’lav wondered aloud. “It would be much better if you had just kept-”
“Hush, Li’lav.” Kal’Eva hissed as she knelt down to get to eye level with Okria. “I am humoring Glenn.”
“Ah, of course, Glenn.” Li’lav said, shrugging as she sat down and resumed eating her own rations.
“You Plorians do not know how lucky you have it,” Okria grumbled after she had swallowed the chunk of bread.
“What do you mean?” Kal’Eva asked as she looked at Okria break off another piece of bread.
“Do you know the food which grows in Lokra?” Okria inquired as she repositioned the way she was sitting to get more comfortable.
“I am afraid I do not. I have never been to your lands.” Kal’Eva answered.
“We grow a few plants, but the most common ones are ralsh and kot.” Okria explained. “Ralsh’s leaves are poisonous, but the roots grow thick and are fine for eating. Kot is a squat small leafy plant with small roots. The leaves are what we eat. Both are bitter, very bitter. Often we mix them in a large pot with water and make a stew, adding in whatever else is available.”
“What do we c-” Li’lav tried to interrupt but Kal’Eva held out her hand to let her finish talking.
“Sometimes if we are lucky, a hunter brings back a kill. That makes a nice, hearty stew. But in all that we eat, there is nothing that compares to this.” Okria said as she held up the bread. “I had thought you Plorians were soft and this bread proves it. If there were things this delicious in Lokra, I would be soft too.”
Kal’Eva was slightly surprised. She had never known anything but the food of her homeland; the hivistae grain and the various fruits in the fields and in the jungles to the south. She supposed that if all she had to eat was bitter things, she too would become bitter. Li’lav had a different opinion.
“You think this is delicious?” Li’lav scoffed as she held up her own hunk of hard bread. “This is merely rations. Now if you took some soft bread and drizzled a little zilori syrup on top...now that would be…”
Okria gave her fellow Lokrans an incredulous look as she motioned towards Li’lav with her hand, as if she were the perfect example of Plorian softness. They all started to laugh and point towards Li’lav, who quickly grew angry. She reached over for her spear.
“I will show you the softness of the tip of my spear!” She growled as she pointed it at the Lokrans.
“Guard Li’lav, hold your anger!” Kal’Eva ordered as she got to her feet, gripping the haft of Li’lav’s spear with her good arm. Even as Li’lav tried to wring it free, Kal’Eva’s grip wouldn’t budge.
Okria didn’t flinch at the act. Instead, she looked amused as she held out the bread to the Lokran next to her. The soldier took it and ate a piece, much the same as Okria did earlier. The soldier did nod her head in agreement with Okria, that it was quite delicious for what was supposed to be rations.
“Look at them Li’lav.” Kal’Eva commanded, still gripping the spear. “They are defeated. All they have left is their words. Do not let words cause you to lose your discipline.”
Li’lav looked at the Lokrans and then back at Kal’Eva. She scowled and let go of her spear, returning to her eating spot. After a moment, Kal’Eva handed back her spear, which she took and laid it down beside her.
“So I am curious, Kal’Eva, why did you give me this food, as meager as it is?” Okria asked after the spectacle was done. “What do you have to gain from that?”
“Why does there have to be any reason? I saw that you were hungry and gave you some food.” Kal’Eva explained.
“No, you Plorians may be a dishonorable lot, but you always claim to have a reason for what you do. Tell me.”
Kal’Eva scratched her ear lightly. “How about you tell me? We are sworn enemies. I gave you food. What does that tell you?”
“That you are feeding us to keep us alive to kill us later.” Okria scoffed as her head tentacles started to slither and spread out in annoyance.
“If that were true, why feed you? If we are to kill you later, that food would be considered wasted.” Kal’Eva knelt back down on the ground to look straight at Okria. “We know how long an ovathi can go without food and still live. Our journey will not last that long. So if not that, what else?”
Okria glared at Kal’Eva, but remained silent.
“Strip away our past, our histories and what is left?” Kal’Eva continued, still lightly scratching her ear. “We are but two ovathi. Is it not normal to want to aid a fellow ovathi when they are hungry? That simple truth gets skewed when you add in other words, such as ‘enemy’ or ‘Plorian’ or even ‘Lokran’. So I am showing you that I can see you as more than just an enemy of mine. I can see you as a fellow ovathi, and offer you a shred of decency.”
Okria still looked skeptical, as did many of her soldiers. A few of the Plorians had stopped their chatter with each other to stop and listen to Kal’Eva.
“If I were captured by Lokrans, the very first thing I would expect would be death. I am sure that is what you were expecting when we captured you. The very last thing I would expect is compassion. Some of us would think that foolish.” Kal’Eva put heavy emphasis on the word ‘some’. “But the act of giving food, even to our enemies, shows that we are strong enough to rise above our squabbles and treat even our enemies as fellow ovathi.”
“That was fairly well said.” Glenn whispered into her ear. “Even if you are not used to such ways of thinking.”
There was a moment of silence before Ist’il stood up and held out her hunk of bread and waterskin to the nearest Lokran. Others soon followed suit. It appeared as prideful and barbaric as the Lokrans were, even they could not ignore the pangs of hunger which afflicted all ovathi. They ate the rations without complaint.
Okria spat on the ground and shook her head. “I do not think it is foolish. I know it is.” But even as headstrong as she was, Kal’Eva was amused to see that she did not refuse more food when it was offered to her.
“When the siege is finally over, I’ll be eating much more of their bread and fruits.” Okria muttered in Lokran to her fellow soldiers. “Everything grows so well down here, and is so tasty. No wonder the Plorians are willing to fight so fiercely to defend it.”
Some of her fellow Lokrans muttered their agreement. A perplexed look came across Kal’Eva’s face as she heard Okria’s words. Just how long was this group out here? They did seem to be rather in the dark about what happened during the siege.
“Do you think we have enough to last us on our journey back to Ploria?” Ist’il asked.
“Definitely. Ploria should not be much further.” Kal’Eva answered.
“Back to Ploria?” Okria asked before switching to Lokran. “They’re taking us back to Ploria. We’ll be free soon enough.” But as soon as the words left her mouth, something felt wrong about them.
“But why would they go back?” A Lokran soldier asked. “At this time the siege should be over, or very close to it. Going back would mean certain death for them!”
“Did something happen to our forces? How could they have defeated us? We already routed their army!”
“And took their food in the fields. They shouldn’t have any food at all.”
Okria listened to her soldiers chatting before speaking up again, this time in Plorish. “Kal’Eva, why do you return to Ploria? What happened during the siege?”
“You do not know?” Kal’Eva asked, a look of surprise on her face as she stood up. “Well, I suppose you will soon find out.”
Miller stood up and stretched out her back. She then wiped her brow with her forearm, wiping away the sweat in the midday sun. Rithia was such a warm planet. She put her hands on her hips and took a step back to admire her work. The roof was done, as well as the walls and doors and windows she had done. It looked like a serviceable mudbrick house. Of course she had Schmidt’s help, but if she were being honest, she did most of the work. Schmidt finished one of the walls by the time Miller was close to finishing her second one. Regardless, Miller felt quite good about how the house turned out.
When Glenn demonstrated concrete to the Plorians, Miller offered Jit’Rej the choice to make his home out of the stuff. But the ovathi was adamant that they were already doing far more than was necessary and that mudbrick would do well. It suited Miller just fine, she was going to get dirty anyways, but it was a dirty that she could feel good about when all is said and done. She wasn’t so sure that Schmidt felt the same way.
Schmidt stumbled close to Miller. His hands were on his knees, bracing himself as he was out of breath. Sweat dripping down his reddened face. “Is...is that it? Are we done? Oh please tell me we are finally finished.” he gasped out.
“Yep, we should be finished. That wasn’t so difficult, was it Schmidt?” Miller asked as she lightly patted Schmidt’s back.
“Speak...for yourself.” Schmidt groaned as he tried to stand upright. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you should’ve been part of the construction crew instead of sensors.”
Miller shrugged. “Just didn’t work out that way I guess.”
“Missed opportunity then.” Schmidt responded. “I’m just glad that we got to use some hound-2s to clear out the debris. This would’ve been a lot tougher without them.”
“And yet, you still managed to work up a sweat while inside one of them.” Miller teased as she started to gather some various tools they had used.
“I can’t help it! I’m a sweaty guy. Even if it wasn’t so warm all the time.” Schmidt groaned as he grabbed a nearby waterskin and tried to drink from it, only to find it was empty. “Well, I’m just glad to be finished with this so I can go back to researching and learning more about the planet.”
“Yeah, come, we should tell them we’re finished. They might like how we made it a tad bigger than before.” Miller said as she started walking along the path to the main road of Ploria. Schmidt was quick to follow behind her.
“I can’t wait to set up some of my equipment. It’ll be nice to fall back into some semblance of normalcy.” Schmidt commented as they walked together on the dirt path. “Observing, testing, writing down results. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. Not this...construction work.”
“Ah it wasn’t that bad Schmidt.” Miller replied, giving her friend a consoling glance. “But I understand wanting to get back to what you’re good at.”
“Yeah… too bad there isn’t much sensor work to be done planetside.” Schmidt commented idly. “Other than setting up communications and perhaps the weather radar. But there’s not much communication that needs to be done with a ship that no longer exists. Well maybe if another ship came into the system we could help them pinpoint our location…”
Miller let Schmidt talk for a bit without really focusing on what he was saying. Truth be told, she was perfectly fine with not doing sensor work again. She was honestly looking forward to working and building more structures with concrete. She’d have to talk with the makers of it, whoever they were. She’d love to lend them a hand.
“Miller, hey Miller!” Schmidt waved his hand in front of Miller’s face as she blinked rapidly, coming out of her thoughts.
“Hmm? What? What is it?”
“Heat getting to you too? We should get some water.” Schmidt said as he shrugged again. “I asked if you remembered what kind of star Rithia orbits?”
“Hmm? Star? Um…” Miller had to think a bit back to the ship. Back to much more unpleasant memories. “Erm...the upper end of ‘k’ I believe.”
“Really? Interesting…” Schmidt lightly scratched at his chin as he too started to get caught up in his thoughts.
Miller was slightly saddened by the silence. She often liked Schmidt’s prattling. She had listened to it for so long that it was now a comforting sound to her. But more than that, it helped distract him from other, more uncomfortable topics. As they reached the main path that headed to Ploria, Miller recognized Alvarez walking towards them, alongside an ovathi male, Jit’Tra if she wasn’t mistaken. Oh that was fortunate, could kill two birds with one stone. As they walked closer, Miller elbowed Schmidt.
“Hey, Lieutenant’s coming. Look sharp.” Miller whispered. Schmidt stood upright and looked around before spotting Alvarez heading towards them. Both of them saluted as she approached.
“At ease. How goes the construction?” She asked them crisply. Jit’Tra noticeably stood a few feet behind her, merely observing them speak in their language with his hands behind his back.
“I am happy to report that it is now finished.” Miller answered. “It should even be a little bigger than it was before, giving them more living space.”
“Ah, well I’m sure he’ll like to hear that.” Alvarez said, pointing her thumb over her shoulder at Jit’Tra.
“Oh, allow me. I think I’m quite good at it now.” Schmidt declared as he waved at Jit’Tra, motioning him to come join the discussion. “Hello again, Jit’Tra. Been having fun with our lieutenant? Have you been keeping Alvarez busy?”
Alvarez raised an eyebrow at the mention of her rank and name. Jit’Tra however appeared to be immune to the attempt at teasing. “Yes, we have been fairly busy today. Not that any of it is any business of yours.”
Schmidt looked quite taken aback at the curt response. Miller giggled as she elbowed Schmidt’s ribs. He immediately tried correcting himself. “I am sorry, I did not mean it that way.”
“I accept your apologies, Schmidt.” Jit’Tra said, giving a small, graceful bow to him. “Was there something else you wished to tell me?”
“Yes, there was. The construction of your house has been completed.”
“It has? Truly?” Jit’Tra asked, a smile on his lips as his head tentacles started to change to a light green color. He looked towards Alvarez, then back towards Schmidt and Miller.
“Yep, job’s done.” Miller said with a nod. “Work is finished.”
“Oh wonderful! My father will be so pleased to hear it!” Jit’Tra clapped his hands together. “I should go tell him immediately!” Jit’Tra immediately gave each of them a brief bow before turning to leave.
“What about...” Miller started to comment but Jit’Tra was already well on his way. “Well, there he goes…”
“Ah, that’s just like him. Once he has an idea in his head he just won’t let it go.” Alvarez said with a shrug. “Anyways, Schmidt. I have a favor to ask of you.”
“A...a favor?” Schmidt asked skeptically.
“Yes. Would you please accompany me to meet with Jit’Tra and his father?” Alvarez asked, a quite serious look on her face. “Jit’Tra had mentioned earlier something about work and the harvest but I didn’t quite understand. I was hoping you could help me.”
“Is...that an order?”
Schmidt’s and Miller’s eyes widened slightly in surprise at her answer. Schmidt blinked heavily and looked towards Miller as if to ask her if she heard the same thing that he did. He then stammered out. “Uh...sure. I’ll come.”
“I’ll come too.” Miller stated but Alvarez held up her hand and shook her head.
“No, at least not yet. Glenn was looking for you. He’s back at the ship and wanted your help.” Alvarez said while motioning towards the ship with her eyes.
“He was? What about?” Miller questioned as she looked towards the ship which she had spent so many days in.
“Dunno, should go ask him. He did say it was somewhat important, though.” Alvarez said with a shrug as she started walking down the path to follow Jit’Tra.
“We’ll catch up later.” Schmidt said with a nod as he soon followed after Alvarez.
Well, this was quite unexpected. Miller had little interaction with Glenn other than their Plorish language classes. He sometimes asked them for advice on what to show next, but admittedly, that was more his department. So what was it exactly that Glenn needed from her? Miller started entertaining ideas. Ideas that slowly became more and more worrisome the more she thought about it. When she finally arrived at the ship, she was full of dread.
“Erm, Glenn? I was told you wanted to see me?” Miller called out towards the open door of their lifeship. She assumed he was inside already.
“Well that was quick.” Glenn muttered from somewhere deep inside the ship. “Yeah! Miller, come on in. Watch your step. I’ve kind of made a mess in here.”
Miller swallowed audibly as she cautiously walked inside the ship. Indeed, she did have to watch her step as there was quite a mess in there. Panels were taken off the walls, exposing the wiring beneath, various tools were strewn about on the floor. She soon saw a small rectangular looking computer part of some kind on a table.
“Ah, glad you could come so quickly,” Glenn said as he appeared out from a room.
“It was no trouble.” Miller answered, looking around at the mess he had made. “I...hope you didn’t call me here to clean this up?”
“Huh? Oh!” Glenn laughed. “No no, I’ll do that. I made it after all. I wanted to ask for your help.”
“My help?”
“Yep! I figured you were just the woman for the job since you worked with sensors and stuff.” Glenn said as he disappeared back into the room he came from, only to reappear with a container full of different electronics. “Well I admit, it was more of a hope that you can help me. ‘Cuz I know the computers on the lifeships were second rate to the already second rate computers of the Charlemagne.”
“Erm...what...exactly were you wanting my help with?” Miller asked as she looked over the various computer parts with trepidation.
“Oh right! Ha, I forgot to tell you.” Glenn said as he set the container down on a table. “You see that server blade there?”
When he pointed to the computer part that Miller had spotted earlier, she nodded.
“Well, right now it’s broken. But I think whatever information is still on it is still fine. I just can’t get to it. It must have broke when I crashed the lifeship. So I was wondering if you could look it over and tell me what you think is broken with it?”
As Miller walked over to the server blade, her stomach sank. She never knew exactly what information was duplicated on the lifeships. Could be anything from operating procedures to system data. She knew that the important information was transferred first, but once all the critical info was done, whatever else got transferred appeared to be at the whim of the ship’s A.I. She picked it up and did her best to look it over.
“Ah, careful with it.” Glenn warned as Miller quickly, but gently, put it back down. She bent down and peered closely at it. To Miller, it seemed perfectly fine.
“Erm...do you have a...multimeter?” Miller asked, trying to stall for time.
“Uh, I don’t know. Should be one around here right?” Glenn asked rhetorically as he started looking around. Miller also looked around as well before Glenn left to a different room, leaving her alone with the server blade.
Miller stared down at the device. She knew she was safe for now, no one even suspected her of anything. Whatever information had survived, it seemed all of it was either crucial information or inane. However, all that could change if the information on this device was not to her liking. Even something small such as schedule data for that day would be disastrous to her.
“You know, I already looked over the servers you got on this ship,” Glenn called out from the other room. “I was originally hoping to find one that your computers weren’t using and take it apart for spare parts, but that went out the window when I found out that the servers here are completely different from the ones on mine. Why not, right? Far be it from me to ask for consistency in the Navy.”
The sweat on Miller’s forehead had nothing to do with the heat as she stared at the piece of tech. She could break it, right now, or spill water on it. But that would only raise suspicion. She quietly lamented the fact that she didn’t know enough about electronics to just say it was unfixable.
Glenn soon returned with the multimeter, holding it out for Miller. “Here you go, you thinking it’s a short of some kind? I was looking for big damage from the big crash.”
“Yeah well sometimes big crashes can cause little damage. And vice versa.” Miller responded as she turned on the multimeter and started to test out different circuits on the server blade. She at least knew how to do that much, or at least how to look like she did.
“I was looking for cracks in the board, or missing capacitors or chips.” Glenn continued. “A simple short didn’t really occur to me.”
“Well that’s just like you Glenn. Always thinking big picture.” Miller said as the multimeter beeped lightly at different circuits she tried.
“Then I thought that if I could remove the memory and hook it up to a different server I’d be golden. But nope, these specific ones are all-in-one type devices. Doesn’t seem to work piecemeal. Which makes me less hopeful. Because even if we do find out what’s wrong, there’s a good chance we can’t fix it anyways.”
“Yeah, I was about to say don’t get your hopes up, but I suppose you’re already at that stage.” Miller commented as she kept trying different circuits. She then looked up at the container of spare parts that Glenn had gathered. “Are...all those just things that were lying around?”
“Yes and no. I made sure they weren’t in use before I took them apart.” Glenn responded as he looked at the container. “Rest assured that if I could consolidate data, I did so before taking them. Nothing has been lost.”
“Well that’s good.” Miller said as she continued fiddling around.
The two chatted idly for a few minutes. Miller desperately hoping that she was saying just the right amount of things to avoid Glenn getting suspicious about her distinct lack of knowledge. But perhaps she could merely explain it away?
“You know, Glenn, I think these systems are a bit too old for my expertise.” Miller lied, as she had the server flipped upside down. “I’m used to the more modern versions. Like the sensors, much more streamlined and simplistic.”
“Oh? Hmm.” Glenn crossed his arms as he looked at the troublesome server. “Damn. I was hoping you could help. Do you know if you could tell me if what I got here is a good starting point to look for spare parts if I think I need them?”
“Oh it definitely looks like a good start,” Miller nodded. “My word of advice to you is to try matching numbers to numbers. Even if they are on completely different boards, if the number on the chip is the same, it’s probably the same chip.”
“Yeah, good point.” Glenn said as he scratched his chin lightly.
“I’d also take a closer look at the connections when you have this blade set up. Maybe it’s something as simple as that?”
“Nah, I already tried switching places with a working one. I’m fairly certain it’s the server itself that is broken.”
“Alright then,” Miller said as she dusted her hands and straightened back up. “Well you’ve been watching me use this thing for awhile so I think you know what to look for. As far as I can tell, among the big chips there was no shorts. But there might be a small coil or something that is loose or got jostled. Might have to go over it really closely. But yeah I’m afraid that’s about as much help I can be.”
“Hmm, thank you Miller. I appreciate it.” Glenn said with a nod as he looked over at his container of various computer parts. “Looks like I’ll have to work on it some more.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry that I wasn’t of much help.” Miller said sincerely.
“Oh no, you’ve been plenty helpful. Given me lots to think about.” Glenn said with a nod. “You uh, got somewhere to be?”
“Yep! We finished the house and I wanted to see Jit’Tra’s and Jit’Rej’s reaction to their home.” Miller said with a smile.
“Oh got it done already? That was fairly quick. Huh, well, good job! Go on then!” Glenn said as he waved her off while looking at the server. “Don’t want to miss that.”
“Nope! See you later, Glenn,” Miller said as she quietly and quickly exited the ship and moved outside. She breathed a huge sigh of relief as she did so. That was excruciating, she felt as if she was living on the razor’s edge, where one false statement or move would’ve spelled certain doom for her.
She shook her head and started to head down the path. At least for now she was safe. And who knows? Maybe the information on the server wouldn’t be bad at all. It could be fairly innocuous. Yeah, that’s probably it. She should have nothing to worry about. She was still probably home free.
But as she continued travelling down the path, her mind always wandered back to that server. Always a constant, pressing issue in the back of her mind. It was going to dominate her thoughts wasn’t it? Shit.
In Glenn’s yard, seated on the blue grass, Issa’Vala was happily chiseling away at rock bowl she was making. It had to be a certain size for Glenn, as he said it was very important for the creation of steel. Or at least a way to more likely obtain steel. Whatever it was, Issa’Vala was all too happy to help out.
“Working hard, ‘Vala?” Issa’Kala asked as she walked into the yard.
Issa’Vala looked up and nodded. “Yes! I am working on a very important object for Glenn’s next demonstration.”
“A...rock bowl?” Issa’Kala asked as she looked at the bowl in question skeptically.
“Yep! He says it will be called a ‘kroocibal’ and that steel can be made inside of it.” Issa’Vala stated as she continued chiseling away at the edges.
“I...see.” Issa’Kala said as she walked closer, merely observing her sister chisel away at the bowl. “I uh...I did not see you at training today.”
“Hmm? Training? I do not have time for training anymore. I am Glenn’s oracle after all!” Issa’Vala said quite happily. “And I am all too thankful to him for his trust.”
“I...I would have hoped that you would continue your training alongside your duties to Glenn. It is only right for a future heir to the throne to be battle ready.” Issa’Kala said as she straightened herself up. She always felt a little odd when addressing her younger sister.
“Oh no, I need to devote a lot of time to the work he does.” Issa’Vala explained as she looked up at her sister. “Have you not noticed that when he talks of his inventions, he uses a lot of words that we do not understand? Or explains them in such a way that confuses us?”
“I admit that I have noticed that.”
“Well, my job is to help interpret what he says to make it understandable to the rest of us. Glenn said it is a rather important job.” Issa’Vala said determinedly. “He also said that there was another human who was supposed to do that duty, someone called ‘Lookas’ I think. Glenn’s duty was merely knowing how to create the new devices. It was Lookas’ duty to teach it to us in a way we can understand. But since he perished, that duty now falls to me.”
“I…” Issa’Kala was at a loss. She hadn’t expected her frivolous sister to take this duty so seriously. This was still Issa’Vala, right? The sister who could never spend more than a month on a single thing before losing interest?
“It is a little lucky, do you not think so? First I was Guardian of the Guardian Star, and now I am the oracle of the god who came from that star!” Issa’Vala puffed out her chest a little bit, before laughing and going back to her chiseling.
“Erm…’Vala...you know that you are the next in line for the throne, yes?”
“Of course I know that.” Issa’Vala said without looking up from her bowl.
“So...you know that the heir has certain duties? Such as training with your women, being taught tactics and how to fight and lead?” Issa’Kala asked as she tried to stand up straighter. “The heir goes to battle with the queen. If the queen dies, it falls to the heir to lead the armies to victory.”
Issa’Vala set down the bowl and her chisel, a chill running down her spine. “Yes, I am fully aware that the heir is supposed to march to battle. But I do not want to do that.”
“This is not about what you want! This is about duty, and your duty to Ploria and to your women!” Issa’Kala blurted out. “Why do you not want to train? Why do you wish to discard tradition?”
“That is not it,” Issa’Vala said as she got up to her feet.
“Then what is it? Tell me ‘Vala, please! Help me understand.”
“You know very well! Every day that I train, that I use the sword or spar with others, I am reminded of that blade that pierced me. Every day, it’s at the forefront of my mind. Do you not realize how terrifying that is?”
“‘Vala, of course I know getting wounded is frightening…” Issa’Kala said soothingly.
“No, not this wound. This was a mortal wound. I survived a mortal wound. A wound whose by its very name means death. Do you not realize how mad that is? And yet here I am.”
“Because Glenn saved you.”
“Because he saved me.” Issa’Vala repeated, nodding her head. “And yet when he saved me, he also opened my mind. There will be an end to this war, one way or another. And when that time comes, what are we to do with all our training and tactics? They would become useless.”
“But they are not useless now. We need them to survive!”
“So you say. But how many lives have we lost because of our war? And of those lives, how many of them would have gone to create new things, or write new stories, or sing new songs? How much have we lost and will continue to lose as we wage this war? There has not been a single serious attempt at peace with the Lokrans-”
At the talk of peace, Issa’Kala gasped loudly and recoiled. “Peace?! With those barbarians?! You dare talk of peace when they killed our mother and Issa’Yai?”
“And how many mothers and daughters have we killed in return?”
“I...I cannot believe I am hearing such talk from my sister of all people!” Issa’Kala exclaimed as she rubbed her temples with her head tentacles. “Issa’Vala, you are no longer third in line. You cannot afford these flights of fancy. You have a responsibility to Ploria now! Do you not understand that?!”
“I do know I have a responsibility to Ploria. And if something should happen to you, goddesses forbid, I am willing and ready to lead, in my own way.” Issa’Vala raised one hand and clenched her fist determinedly in front of Issa’Kala. “And if I lead, I will throw my full support behind Glenn. There is no future to be had by constant fighting. In Glenn and the humans, that is where I see our future.”
“They show you a few trinkets and magic and that makes you willing to forsake tradition?”
“Glenn told me that the humans have already gone through what we are going through right now. In their long, storied past, they were much like us. Only they did not learn. The fighting and killing continued, over thousands of years. Glenn says we have a real chance to change. A chance to prosper in peace!”
Issa’Kala couldn’t take anymore of this traitorous talk from her sister. She drew back her fist and struck Issa’Vala viciously across her jaw. The blow was so strong that Issa’Vala wobbled and collapsed to the ground, grabbing her jaw in one hand and staring daggers at her sister.
“You are lucky that you are my sister. If you were anyone else I would have you executed for treasonous thoughts.” Issa’Kala stated as she straightened her tunic. “I will not tolerate any more of this nonsense in the future. Think long and hard if this is a path you wish to continue on.”
With that, Issa’Kala took her leave. It was obvious to her that her sister might have been granted too much freedom in her youth. Even a severe wound at the hand of the Lokrans wasn’t enough to truly change her sister. Issa’Kala would have to show her the cruel reality of the world herself. She would shatter any notions Issa’Vala had of peace and replace them with visions of total victory instead. That was the only true path to peace Ploria had.
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Honda Indy Toronto Odds and Betting Picks

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