SDNW4 Prologue Thread

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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Lonestar »

Vulture Rock Command Bunker
Shepistani Federation


The man took a deep drag from his Corona Corona as he stared out at the desolate landscape. In the distance were the towering Arcos of Montegomery, but here, except for the occasional squawk of Canada Geese the place could have been on a lifeless planet.

Figures. the man thought. Alien race nukes the planet from orbit and fucking Canada Geese survive to become the apex predator. President Frederick had told him that terraforming was almost finished on the rest of the planet, but a decision had been made to leave the area around the bunker as-is. There was a noise as the door to the smoke deck opened. Dr. Blitzschlag was standing there.

"General Sheppard, enjoying the view?"

"I am." Sheppard said sincerely. "Just a few days ago I was in a...a..castle in fucking Pakistan. Completely fucking oblivious to my true identity. This," Sheppard waved at the panorama "is where I belong. Thank you Herr Dokter, even if you still have that man who chopped off my head with you."

Blitzschlag shrugged. "You got better. We are preparing the second set. Care to join us?"

"Second set?" Sheppard said. Blitzschlag nodded. "This I have to see." He stubbed out his Corona Corona and followed Blitzschlag into the tram, which took them back down to sublevel-12. Wade, Vlad, Winter, and two Securitons were waiting, and they escorted the pair to the Tranquility chamber where the clones(and spares) were cloistered. "Second set?" Sheppard repeated. "Who are you bringing back besides Fairfax?"

"His wife, of course."

"Oh." Sheppard was disappointed. He had been hoping for something more exciting. The group entered the Tranquility Chamber. There was a female army medic standing by the door.


"The whole operation is really a once in a life time thing, too expensive to do time and time again...even in a time when the budgets of Star Nations run in the hundreds of trillions." Blitzschlag said. "Fairfax would sit there and bitch about his wife if we didn't bring her along, so..." Blitzschlag paused. "Perhaps Wade and the robots should stay in the shadows? It might be less shocking if the first thing they see are recognizable humans."

"You had Wade standing over me when I came to!" Sheppard said indignantly.

"That's because it was funny." Blitzschlag responded.

"It was very humorous." Came Frederick's voice over the 1MC. Sheppard got the impression they both had the same sense of humor.

"Mr. President, is the intrinsic field array ready?"

"It is."

"Well then." Blitzschlag shuffled over to one of the two pods that had green lights instead of red ones. "Let us do SCIENCE!" There was a mad cackle to his words as he flipped a switch. Everyones hair stood on end as the air become charge, although nothing visible was happening. After about 5 minutes both pods made a "ding!" not unlike that of an easy-bake oven being finished. There were a few clicks and Sheppard could see fluid being drained from the pods through tubes hooked up to it.

"That's it?" Sheppard asked, disappointed. He had been expecting lightning or something.

"That's it." Blitzschlag said. "Come over and greet Lord Fairfax. The pod is opening. I will see to the lady. Nurse Jackie if you will join me?" He shuffled off, Sheppard peered over the pod. Fairfax's eyes were opening. He groaned.

"Bucherific. Rise and shine sleepy head."

Fairfax's eyes snapped open and he sat up...banging his head on the still opening pod. Sheppard cackled.

"I feel like I'm in OPS berthing." Bucher rubbed his head, then forced the door open. "Ryan, is that you?"

"Ah-ah-ah! Here I am General Sheppard."

"Last thing I remembered I in was in Altdorf for some damn christening or something, then I was...Elizabeth! Where is she?"

"Elizabeth?" Sheppard turned to the other pod, she was being helped out by Nurse Jackie and Blitzschlag. There was an expression of surprise on his face. "That isn't Lady Sterling. That's the half-caste whore you shacked up with."

"That is my wife you..." Fairfax swung his legs to the floor, took two steps, then his legs gave out with him hitting the floor.

"Legs might be weak. Smoking lamp is lit people." Sheppard lit a Corona Corona. He hadn't even moved.
"The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles."
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by loomer »

August 13th, 3999
New Louisiana, Orleans Division, Edgard Parish

Albert groaned as he hauled the barrel up from the damp soil. He was not a weak man, nor were Gilbert or Andre, but the boggy ground was stubborn, and it didn't want to release their cache. It was much like the rest of New Louisiana - even outside of the equatorial swamp belts the place was stubborn and had fought against the settlers from day one.

Then, finally, with a loud slurping sound, they had it free and stumbled from the sudden release, dragging it to sturdier ground before it could sink again. There were supposed to be four barrels, but this was the last they could find, and they were one short. The last must've sunk further than they could deal with easily - but with any luck it wasn't the important one. Andre squatted down and took up the crowbar lying discarded next to the other two, and as he fumbled with the barrel's lock Albert sat back on one of the two already recovered and lit a cigarette, inhaling the spicy blend. It was nothing like tobacco grown on other worlds, he'd heard tell, but he liked it all the same.

It had been a hell of a few centuries. The people of Acadiana had been forced from their land time and time again after they first set out during the Diaspora, settling for decades or even a century before pushed further and further towards the edge of space. They simply hadn't had the forces to keep to the worlds they found against serious interest - and interest seemed to always stay serious until they finally went into the Shoals, and emerged beyond the reach of the people hunting them, settling a fertile green world...

The echoing pop of the barrel's lid coming free woke him from his reverie and he got to his feet, peering excitedly in by the torchlight. A grin split his face from ear to ear, as it did Andre and Gilbert's. This was the right barrel...
"Doctors keep their scalpels and other instruments handy, for emergencies. Keep your philosophy ready too—ready to understand heaven and earth. In everything you do, even the smallest thing, remember the chain that links them. Nothing earthly succeeds by ignoring heaven, nothing heavenly by ignoring the earth." M.A.A.A
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by MKSheppard »

The Capital Wasteland
Shepistani Federation


The whine of a gauss rifle cut through the air and the Canadian Geese exploded in a ball of gore and feathers. President Sheppard's first act since emerging from Vulture Rock had been to declare all out war on Canadian Geese. It was now ten years into the extermination program; untold millions of rounds had been expended....and yet; the goddamned geese were somehow staying ahead of the bounty hunters who kept killing them by the truckload.

Vulture Rock

"Sir, we estimate at present geese reproductive levels and the amount of bounty hunters we have out there collecting them; it will take another twenty years before we can eliminate them as a threat to the Capital."

With that, the DNR head sat back and watched the man in the shadows nervously.


"This is unacceptable. I promised the people of Montgomery that the foul menace of the Geese would be eliminated by now."

Taking a drag from his cigar; Sheppard thought for a moment.

"Extreme measures must be taken. Deploy the Freedom Primes..."

At this; Colonel Winters came out of the shadows. "Sir, I must warn you that we have not yet debugged the AI on those combat droids -- it is at best -- erratic."

"I don't care. I want those goddamned geese dead."

"If scientists and inventors who develop disease cures and useful technologies don't get lifetime royalties, I'd like to know what fucking rationale you have for some guy getting lifetime royalties for writing an episode of Full House." - Mike Wong

"The present air situation in the Pacific is entirely the result of fighting a fifth rate air power." - U.S. Navy Memo - 24 July 1944
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by MKSheppard »

Vulture Rock
Shepistani Federation
Halfway through 3385

Interior of Vulture Rock, being patrolled by Shepistani Troops in AP-100 Armor with AP-764 towers nearby

Colonel Winters stood before President Sheppard; a folder in his hands detailing the recent anti-geese operations in the Capital Wasteland.

"Sir, in just six months since the deployment of the Freedom Prime combat droids, we have reduced the Geese population by 98 percent; albeit at the cost of increased fallout from the use of the droids' weapons and several hundred unavoidable if regrettable civilian casualties."

Sheppard took a drag from his everpresent cigar.

I like this Shepistani Federation more every day. Autonomous Combat Droids armed with nuclear weapons.

"Good work. Now, there's something I've been meaning to ask you guys. What's with all the crackly sparkly things on people's power armor and the huge blue glowy things in the hallways?"

Winter stared at Sheppard for a moment before replying.

"Sorry sir, I keep forgetting that you missed the entire Amplitur war. The Amplitur were strong psychics; or as people tend to refer to them -- psykers. They could invade people's minds and rip information from them, or take over someone's mind and turn them against their comrades."

"Their psyker powers enabled them to get past our defense network and launch the initial barriage that reduced this region to a wasteland; and let them gain the upper hand for the first thirty five years of the Amplitur War."

"It was only when Doctor Blitzschlag in the Grand Dominion developed the Blitzschlag Field that we were able to stand up to the Amplitur and not suffer from their pskyer attacks. Since then we've increasingly minaturized the devices so that they are now standard equipment on all power armor that we issue to our troops."

"It is also public law in the Republic that all public places be equipped with Blitzschlag Generators capable of outputting one Gigaschlag to a distance of one kilometer. This has reduced the incidence of Psyker vunerability and attacks in the Republic to nothing. The 'glowy things' in the hallways are the portable versions of those generators. Much less range than the stationary versions, but they can be moved along with the troops."

Sheppard pondered this for a moment.

"What are the uh, effects of this Blitzschlag Field?"

"Glad you asked, sir. If someone is at the low end scale of the Shroom Scale of Psyker power; when they enter a field of a hundred Megaschlags -- the same level our power armor outputs -- they suffer a severe splitting headache. As they proceed higher up on the Shroom Scale, the effects become more deleterious; until they finally culiminate in this...."

Winter called up an image on his portable computer.


"Damn, that's nice." muttered Sheppard. "Uh, what about the public effects of such a field? You said that this happened with only oh point one gigaschlags; and the big public generators output a gigaschlag."

"Well sir, the Shepistani Republic is the only psyker free society in the galaxy...other than a few specialized psykers that are heavily controlled by the military. The occasional head exploding of a five year old as their psychic powers begin to manifest themselves -- it happens about fifty times a year -- are seen by the population as the price of preventing another Amplitur attack." :wink:
"If scientists and inventors who develop disease cures and useful technologies don't get lifetime royalties, I'd like to know what fucking rationale you have for some guy getting lifetime royalties for writing an episode of Full House." - Mike Wong

"The present air situation in the Pacific is entirely the result of fighting a fifth rate air power." - U.S. Navy Memo - 24 July 1944
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Lonestar »

Mount Thunder
Dominion Command Bunker


The Grand Dominion government had spent a not-inconsiderable amount of funds to restore the region around Mount Thunder, in contrast to Vulture Rock in Shepistan. Even as the subjects and citizens crawled up from the wreckage of the Amplitur War, Lord David of Fairfax could remain satisfied that at least he had a good view. He idly flexed his fingers, a small cackle of electricity as the plasmid went through his nervous system. He had killed the last idiot that had recommend that terraforming work around the facility be stopped until a standard of living had been raised across the board in the dilapidated Arcos that had been shoddily built immediately after the Amplitur had been ejected from Chesapeake. It might have been a day ago, or a hundred years ago. He didn't notice. Just one more indication of the moral corruption that had infested the people of the Grand Dominion, that they would speak to the vice-regent of God in such a manner. The door to the patio slid open, and David of Fairfax turned to see Blitzschlag and several others walk in.

"Ah, Blitzschlag, so good to see you. How goes work on the anti-pysker field?"

"I finished it over 400 years ago, your highness."

"Good, good. Well, that will be all." David turned, but stopped halfway. Turning back he realized that the Chairman of the Joint War Staff, the Admiral of the Fleet, and the Chief of Staff of the Army were with Blitzschlag. As were 4 Assault Marines in full landing power armor, 1 APE, and a short overweight man with ridiculous muttonchops wearing recon power armor. "What is the meaning of this?"

"It's over, Lord Fairfax." Blitzschlag said. "We will be giving you two options...either step down peacefully and submit to a full survey while remaining under house arrest, or you will have to be removed through more violent measures."

"What? How dare you? HOW DARE YOU????." David of Fairfax began to cackle with energy. "You will all hang for this, all of you. Guards!"

There was no response from the open door. He glanced outside again and realized that there were more Assault Marines setting up along the mountain. He turned back.

"You fools! I am the Dominion! Last scion of the Fairfax line! There is no replacement!"

"Except me." Said the man with the muttonchops. "Howdy."

David stopped, off put by the interruption. "Who are you?"

"This is Matthew, of the Fairfax line." Said Sky Marshal Reinsch of the Joint War Staff. "We discovered him and his wife in stasis in a continuity of government facility in the asteroid belt. He's a cousin of may not remember, you were a child when the Amplitur attacked. His DNA checks out. My have to step down."

"No, no! I will kill you all..." David paused as he abruptly felt a deep pressure on his chest. He looked down to see force-katana sticking out of his chest. With a sudden jerk it was brought up, chopping him in twain. There was still a shocked look on his face as the parts hit the floor. Wade sighed as he sheathed the Katana.

"The only thing I hate more than pyskers are Plasmid addicts."

Lord Fairfax stepped forward and looked at his...great-umpteenth grandchild. "See to it that he gets a state funeral. A deranged Amplitur cultist somehow penetrated Mount Thunder's security. There will have to be a commission. Also, call the Legislature to session...I believe it's been 300 years since it last met?"

"Yes it has." Blitzschlag said.

"Disgraceful. One of the first orders will have to be overturning prohibition. My coronation?"

"We can do it today." Blitzschlag said.

"Skey Marshal Reinsch, who do you serve?"

"You, Lord Fairfax."
"The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles."
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by RogueIce »

3380, UN Standard Years

SRS Republic - Banora System, Wutai Sector

Rear Admiral Leo Cristophe, SRN commander of Task Force 33, strode onto the bridge of the SRS Republic. The Republic was a fine ship, a Fleet Carrier in the Shinra Republic Navy. She also an old ship; one of the few remaining Titan carriers still in service. Nonetheless, she was just as capable as the day she had first launched into the stars, her crew and pilots sharp and well trained.

They were currently orbiting over the fourth planet of the Banora System, currently home to an annoying band of rebels. Yet another group of Wutai seperatists had been plauging the Sector, a group Admiral Cristophe and Task Force 33 had hunted down to here. The few hyperlight shuttles, gunboats and fighters they had left were finished off by the Republic's fighters, and now the troop transports had jumped into the system. While the ships of Task Force 33, augmented from other units of Third Fleet, carried small detachments of their own, intelligence indicated a fairly large presence of bandits and insurgents planetside. More than local defense troops had been able to handle, a full corps of the Shinra Republic Army was being brought in to assist. While more than likely overkill for the task at hand, the size of the landing force should send a powerful message to other would-be rebel groups: armed seperatism was not tolerated, and would be met with overwhelming force.

Transport XX-871 was first to enter the atmosphere. Carrying a full division of soldiers, it was the largest transport assigned to the mission. As such, Rear Admiral Cristophe had assigned two squadrons of F-104 fighters to escort it down.

In retrospect, he wished he had assigned his entire fighter complement. And a couple destroyers as well.

"Admiral, sensors indicate a force of spacecraft rising from groundside," called out one of the sensor operators.

"Where did they come from?" demanded Cristophe.

"Backtracking now, sir. They appear to have been masking themselves. We only caught them when they entered open air. Admiral, they're heading straight for the transport."

"How many are there?"

"Appears to be twenty, two-zero vessels of approximately shuttle mass."

"Have a squadron of the escorts engage, and dispatch an orbiting squadron to assist."

"Aye, sir."

Leo watched as the blips moved. Blue and red, moving together. But the red blips were moving too fast... Leo was about to order another orbiting squadron to engage, when his sensor operator called out again. "Sir, transport reports missile lock!"

What? From that range? Damn, they must have modified their targeting systems as well as their engines! Intelligence indicated no such capabilities on their part! Cursing himself for relying on intel too heavily, he snapped orders. "Have screening fighters set up for missile interception! And dispatch two more orbiting squadrons to engage those shuttles!" He studied the transport's position, and recognized the beauty of the rebel's timing. The transport was halfway to landing now; sufficiently into the atmosphere to be at a decided manuevering disadvantage, yet too high to take advantage of any ground based defenses the Task Force shipboard troop detachments could set up.

As the drama unfolded, the red and blue blips began to merge. F-104s fired long range missiles at the rebel shuttles, downing eight of them. Now a dogfight ensued, with the shuttles losing quickly. Meanwhile, the screening SRN fighters fired missiles to down the incoming rebel warheads; all but three were destroyed. Had this been in space, the fighters could have attempted gun kills against the remaining missiles. In atmosphere, however, they just weren't fast enough.

XX-871 was unarmed, but it was not totally defenseless. As the missiles aimed in against the transport's engines, they impacted the rear shields. Although having taken a heavy beating, the shields held - just barely.

Unfortunately for the soldiers aboard XX-871, the rebels had one last surprise in store.

Sensor shielded launchers opened up on the ground, and before any warnings could be issued, more capship buster missiles were flying. Using the telemetry provided by the shuttles, the missiles were fired towards a sector of airspace, and would target the largest sensor signal they could find.

This was, without doubt, the XX-871.

The screening F-104s, having turned to engage the missiles fired by the shuttlecraft, were too far out of position to engage the ground missiles. They simply didn't have enough time to set up and lock on before the warheads hit.

The explosion was nothing short of spectacular. Again targeting the engines, the missiles easily penetrated the weakened shields. Powerful warheads detonated along the engines of the transport, overloading the MAKO reactor before any safeties could be activated. The resulting explosion took out nearly half the ship. The flaming wreck succumbed to gravity and smashed into the ground below.

The orbiting fleet responded quickly. A frigate initiated a concentrated bombardment against the position of the launchers, destroying the launch complex and everything for twenty yards beyond - and ten feet below the surface, for good measure. Gunboats, flying along the vector of the shuttles, located a hidden underground hanger facility and directed additional orbital fires against the rebel holdout.

Still seething with anger, at both the enemy ambush and his own carelessness leading to it, Leo Cristophe began landing the remaining transports. This time, destroyers and frigates would follow them down to the surface. And Leo Cristophe's attitudes, planning, and outlook would never be the same again...

3385, UNSY

Junon Fleet Base, Junon Sector

Leo Cristophe was just arriving at his new assignment as Commander of the Junon Fleet Base. Freshly promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral, he set about one of his first tasks: assigning the Fleet Yards Development Division to design a new type of warship. It was a new age for the Republic, as a new President had been sworn in. President Cid Shinra had a new outlook for the Republic he now led, and the Navy would prove to be one of the benefactors. Already, new carrier designs were on the drawing boards, having been so designated three years before. Vice Admiral Cristophe, not wishing to see the tragedy at Banora repeated, got to work on his new project: the Assault Ship.
"How can I wait unknowing?
This is the price of war,
We rise with noble intentions,
And we risk all that is pure..." - Angela & Jeff van Dyck, Forever (Rome: Total War)

"On and on, through the years,
The war continues on..." - Angela & Jeff van Dyck, We Are All One (Medieval 2: Total War)
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." - Ambrose Redmoon
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

Junkyard Raid or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat the Donut
A piece by Alan, a mutual friend of Siege and I

- April 4th, 3399, USS calendar -
- The Junkyard Suburbs, Gugefez City, Imperial World of Gugefez -

The dropship sped over the yellow and gray pattern that was the Junkyard Suburbs, illegal housing where the poor and wretched and traitorous were sent to live for their failure as Bragulan citizens. The dropship, which looked like nothing so much as a terrestrial beaver with wings and two machineguns on the door turrets, bumped and rocked as thermals from the Suburbs buffeted its wings and hull, but the inhabitants did not mind. They had seem much worse before. Sarvylus Kreilagug put a pair of binoculars up to his eyes, and snarled.

"We're coming up on the tenement house," he said, informing his three companions to prepare to drop. "Remember that we are not to damage anything inside the house; we must find out what the stinky, fur-less bastards have come across so that we might rectify it and punish the department they stole it from."

One of the others, a younger Emerald Guardsman named Zhyvel, said "and so we can use their computers and look at Terran and Ziggie porno, right?"

Outside of this tight-knit group, such a comment would be grounds for immediate displacement to an empty world, where, along with other anti-Imperator blasphemers, the offender would be subjected to surplus nuclear weaponry of the Bragulan Imperial Military. Here, though, the perks of being an Emerald Guardsman, and one of the best hackers in Bragulan space to boot, won out. Which meant that all Sarvylus did was yank out a mass of matted fur from between Zhyvel's legs.

"There," the group commander said above the yelp of pain from his victim. "You want to think with a human dick, you can attest to the feeling all of them will get when they become patriotic members of the Bragulan Star Empire!"

The last two minutes of the trip were silent until the four Emerald Guardsmen were about to unload. Sarvylus' second in command, Jagrisha Urdarvus, one of the only female Emerald Guardsmen and an awardee of the Imperator's Congratulatory Award for Otherworldy Combat Ability, stood up and, cocking her specially modified close-combat B-11, yelled over the turbofans "Humans check in...!"

The other three responded, after cocking their own B-11s "they don't check out!"

The dropship descended over a house that looked, for all intent and purposes, abandoned. No laundry hung on lines, no barely-working cars were parked outside, and there were no lights on in the house to battle the dusk. But if Intelligence was right (and it how often was Bragulan Intelligence wrong?) there were at least two humans here who needed killing.

Sarvylus was the first out. He leapt out of the dropship, landing on the ceiling, which cracked and fell apart from the impact, and then landed inside the top story of the building. Shortly after, he saw Jagrisha, and then Silent Pegidur, their interrogation specialist, and then young Zhyvel, all hit the plaster-covered carpet. The door was kicked open by a human in lounging clothes, holding a plasma pistol in his hand. Obviously still somewhat in shock, the human didn't have time to fire off a round before Jagrisha had launched herself at him, knocked him back down the stairs, landed on him with her knees on his shoulders, and snapped his neck with a twist of her thighs.

"Nice Jagrisha, very nice," Sarvylus said. "Now if only we still needed to worry about stealth..."

Silent Pegidur began firing K-Bolts into the floor, and then stomped it to make another crack in the decrepit building, and he and Zhyvel jumped through.

"You see?" Sarvylus asked. "Much better."

Then he, too jumped through the holes. Jagrisha finished going down the stairs, avoided a few bullets from a CEID agent with an SMG of some kind, and delivered her famed Roundhouse Kick to the Fool Enemy's Face, Which is the Physical Embodiment of the Imperator's Righteous Intellect. She had become quite skilled in Bragulan martial arts, and used them at every opportunity. Sarvylus sprayed the room he and the other two Guardsmen had dropped into, and relished in the scream of a human female as a K-Bolt melted through her chest. Another CEID agent, eyes obscured by mirrorshades and wiedling a G36 Autoshotgun, pumped four rounds in their direction. Sarvylus and Zhyvel ducked, but Silent Pegidur took a glancing blow to the side. Not letting the pain slow him, he hosed K-Bolter rounds into the Agent before he could fire a fifth time. For good measure, he hawked a putrescent loogie, and spat on the CEID agent's face. His mirrorshades melted slightly after his face did. There was silence in the room. Jagrisha entered through a door that had had the hinges blown off by Sarvylus' strafing, and nodded, signalling that there were no more humans in the house.

"Zhyvel," Sarvylus said. "Do your thing."

The young Bragulan sat down at one of the undamaged computer terminals, flexed his digits, and began typing furiously.

"Every time," he said, smiling. "It's like taking baby from a candy."

"I don't think you said that right," Jagrisha said, looting the desks for hard copy files.

Zhyvel ignored her. USS computers were ages beyond anything the Star Empire had, but that didn't stop driven hackers from learning the unique weaknesses they did have. Within a few minutes, he had broken the firewalls and key-traps on the human computer, and began scrolling through the documents. While the others were searching for other evidence of human espionage, he also took a peek at the human and Ziggie porn sites. Zhyvel smiled; these would last him a lifetime.

As they were leaving, the dropship already landed outside to pick them up, Zhyvel glanced at one of the desks. On it, along with strewn paper and spent shell casings, was a single item, glinting in the overhead flourescent lights. Zhyvel recognized it, and recognized that it was edible. He picked it up and was about to pop it into his mouth, when Silent Pegidur grabbed his hand. He shook his head.

"What?!" he asked. "It's not like they'd have poisoned it or something."

Pegidur cocked his head. He made a "hmmmm" sound, which was the most noise Zhyvel had ever heard the immense Bragulan make, shrugged, and released Zhyvel's hand.

Brushing his uniform off, Zhyvel said, sarcastically, "Thank you," and gulped down the sweet human snack.

-April 6th, 3399 -
-Recorded News Program, The People's Truthful News Group -

Earlier this week, an otherwise totally successful raid on a dastardly evil CEID listening post on the beautiful and lush world of Gugefez ended sadly, as one of the members of the patriotic and skilled Emerald Guard team ended up in a coma last night, believed to be as a result of ingesting a human foodstuff!

The blamed snack, called a donut by the wretched humans, contains sugar, lard, bread dough, and other minor ingredients that are no different than some difficult-to-make Bragulan treats, especially those served on Imperator Day to little children. However, it is believed that the artificial sweetener in the demonic donut had a negative effect on Guardsman Zhyvel's nervous system.

There can be no doubt, the People's Food and Drug Administration says, that humans put this artificial sweetener in their donuts specifically to incapacitate innocent Bragulans such as poor Guardsman Zhyvel. Though they are quite delicious without artificial sweeteners, many Bragulans and human prisoners say, we at the People's Truthful News Group urge you not to experiment with donuts or donut-derived items. Remember, citizens: In the Bragulan Star Empire, DONUTS glaze YOU!
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Beowulf »

Miaoli System
Taiwan Sector

It was to be expected that states would spy on each other. And so Victoria Selene had been sent to Tianguo. There she had been inserted into the lightly populated Taiwan Sector in order to ferret out secrets. The problem was, she was a UN agent, and an esper.

She had successfully infiltrated into the secured facility by fabricating an ID, and then proceeding to tailgate past the security door. Luckily for her, it wasn't secure enough that the only access was through single persion entry portals. Unluckily for her, further down the corridor, a psyker detector tripped. In the Moshu-laden atmosphere, she failed to notice it. Not that it mattered. Seconds later, automated defenses had already locked down the hallway with an anti-magic field.

The second she saw the tiger, she knew she was in trouble. Only maniacs would let a tiger loose in a military facility. It charged down the hallway. Unfortunately for her, it wasn't actually a real tiger, but a robotic construct, faster and stronger than any real tiger could be.

She managed to defend herself fairly well, managing to survive for a full ten minutes. That was the timelimit before the security guard got bored and activated the phaser array, blowing her head into a red mist. Not that she would have been able to go much further than the hall she was in, anyway. Around a corner was an airlock style double door arrangement, that no amount of faking would have allowed her through, and there was no way to tailgate in.
"preemptive killing of cops might not be such a bad idea from a personal saftey[sic] standpoint..." --Keevan Colton
"There's a word for bias you can't see: Yours." -- William Saletan
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Coyote »

Central Alliance Star Vessel Mystere
Right after the Displacement Event

The bridge was silent, dark, unlike any other time Navigator Kal Naran had seen before. He picked himself up off the floor where he had woken up, his vision dark, head spinning, and stomach churning. What the hell happened? He heard other sounds, people moaning and coming to. He had woken up a few hepts ago to silence and darkness, and lain in waiting, held captive by a headache of stunning proportions and the fear that something had gone horribly wrong. And I lay here like shit in a sack while Thyssa knows what is happening to the ship.

Next to him came a stirring, and a familiar-voiced cough. Something brushed against him and he turned to see Lieutenant Ji sit up and scan the room. He wondered if she could see any better with her infrared eyes. Apparently she could, because her head seemed to stop and look right at the sources of sounds that Kal could only guess the locations of. Then, she turned to see him and he smiled weakly at her. His own vision was beginning to adjust, but not enough to know what her reaction was.

“Status report?” The voice of Captain Vanson filled the bridge, and the sounds of activity grew in intensity. A low electronic whine filled the bridge as systems began to come back on line. All around, people’s faces were lit up by the mulitcolored panel lights at the individual crew stations. Kal Naran hauled himself up from the floor and pulled himself up into his chair, managing to do so without ever fully coming to a standing position. Beside him, Lieutenant Ji did the same.
Somewhere, a comm crackled with a hiss of static and what might have been a voice, setting everyone on edge.

“Comm systems coming back on-line, Captain,” the communications officer informed. Other voices reported in afterwards-- Lieutenant Ji’s helm board sputtered to life, Kal’s astrogation board did the same, as well as the areas for science, security, intelligence, flight control, engineering, and the weapons boards. The viewscreens surrounding the spacious bridge began to display stars, first a few, then more, as they aligned themselves with the ship’s new position-- wherever that was. Kal got to work, coordinating with the science officer and intelligence section to cross-reference everything they had and find where they were.

“Astrogation,” Captain Vanson ordered, “what do you have on our location?” Kal shook his head in frustration.

“Sir, the star charts here are at base zero,” he informed the bridge. “I have absolutely no correspondence between what we see around us and data we have available.” The captain kept cool as reports began to flood in, first from within th eship, then from nearby Central Alliance stations. All, apparantly, were confused and disoriented.

“Can you determine the likely vector home?” Captain Vanson asked. The mention of home-- the Iriesii Galaxy-- seemed to weigh on the minds of the bridge crew. How long will it be before we can expect to see home again? Kal wondered to himself. His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden burst of comm static that filled the room. Everyone turned to look at Lieutenant Manak, the wanni comm officer, still new at his job.

“Sorry,” Manak muttered to everyone in general, and regained control of his station. The bridge was soon full with status reports.
“What are we looking at, Lieutenant?” Vanson asked. The wanni scanned the holoimager.
“Close to one hundred and twenty six injuries of various types, sir,” Manak reported, “mostly sustained while collapsing. Another four hundred complaints of minor inflictions that do not preclude duty. Sickbays are full and roving medical teams are busy on each level,” he turned to face the captain before finishing, “Doctor Azzan asks if we need medical assistance on the bridge.” The captain scanned he room, and was met with clear, ready gazes from everyone.

“It seems we’re at one hundred percent here,” he assured Manak, who relayed the answer to the sickbay. Ship’s security checked in with no reports of intruders, and engineering reported no problems with hull integrity or power. Flight deck was operational and awaiting orders, so Vanson gave them some.

“I want patrols out, combat ready. Send them to the edges of sensor range and have them do some deep-scan sweeps to search for any signs of inhabitation. Astrogation,” Vanson again turned his attention to Kal. “Any clues as to location?”

“Still nothing, sir, although I have located galactic central point. Radiation patterns are similar to home. We appear to be close to the outer edge of a multi-armed spiral, with a large concentration of mature yellows and young reds, as well as a few rogue browns.”

“Mature spiral? See if we have not left home at all, then, Lieutenant Naran. We may be on th efar side of our own galaxy,” the captain said quietly. Kal nodded his understanding. The Captain didn't believe what he'd jsyt said; but he was shooting in the dark to keep morale up.

“Yes sir,” he confirmed, “we may not have left home at all. If what I think is true, we may be in the vicinity of Colonial Sector 172, but the star patterns are still not matching up.” Whatever the captain was going to say in reply was lost as Lieutenant-Commander Taras announced that flight operations was dispatching patrols as ordered. Holos displayed small flights of Avenger class torpedo bombers knifing out into space. Vanson sighed, and faced the science officer, a slightly overweight Q’aab who had been silent since returning to work.

“Lieutenant-Commander Jiad?” Vanson queried. The Q’aab straightened and replied to the unasked question.
“I do not know for sure, sir,” he replied, “our intended voyage was supposed to be about eight years in deep colonial territory for extended patrol, and in theory we were to remain conscious the whole way. According to readings taken from the AI, as well as residue on the hull and shield units, I can determine that we have absorbed far more radiation and particles than there should be for our voyage.” The captain nodded.

“Theories?” he asked. Lieutenant-Commander Jiad frowned.
“If what Lieutenant Naran says turns out to be true, perhaps we catapulted out of the Iriesii Galaxy and got caught by some gravitic mass along the way, and slingshotted ourselves back towards our home galaxy,” he paused before adding cryptically, “or one just like it enough to fool ourselves with wishful thinking.” Captain Vanson pursed his lips and ran his fingers absently through his beard. But that doesn't expolain how we're getting feeds from nearby Central worlds.

“If that is the case,” Vanson replied, “then we’d better start figuring out a way to get back. Jiad, you have a full-time job now.” The Q’aab looked less than pleased.

A Week Later: Avenger PV-A8905

“There it is again, sir,” the commtech said, subconsciously leaning forward as if that could help her hear. The bomber commander lazily turned her chair around to face the communications officer.

“Can you get a solid feed on it?” she asked. For two days they had been trying to track down a mystery signal that had so far eluded them. Now, the older thenn woman at the communications board gestured excitedly at her. OverLieutenant Ranya Savan had not seen her communications chief so worked up before. “What is it?” she asked.

“I’ve got a fix, sir,” she told her, “and it is definitely an artificial signal. I am having the computer work on it now.” As if to prove her point, she fed the noise through the intercom of the small starship so that all six crewmembers could hear it-- not that it made any difference. Some sort of mechanical chattering in a very alien language, that appeared to be repeated at a regular interval.

“Give me a feed,” the intelligence officer demanded, furiously looking for something to do after nearly a week in space aboard the cramped confines of the combat ship. The computer games, unofficially loaded into the bomber’s computer core, had long since ceased to be amusing as news of the displacement of ten sectors worth of the Central Alliance had become --somehow-- displaced in space-time. “I can run it through the crypto section,” he justified himself lamely. Ranya smiled her understanding at him. The weapons officer shrugged his indifference and went back to his game of janko with the computer, occassionally doing sweeps with the gun turret scanners. All the serious scanning had been done automatically from the intel officer’s board.

“Alright, Jala,” Ranya said to her comm officer, “record, triangulate, and send a package to the Mystere. We’ll see what they want us to do then.” The commtech nodded, her experienced hands flying across the board in response to Ranya’s orders. The commander looked back at the darkened corner of the engineering board, to see her chief engineer’s furry body slumped over a console, eyes glazed. “Somebody wake up Leeda?” she hinted as she spun her chair back towards the front of the ship. The pilot, a wiry young wanni that seemed to be more at one with his ship than with other people, looked across at her.

“So, development important, contact new, what think?”
Ranya shrugged. “Only contact we have so far and it sounds more like an automated beacon than a real contact,” she summed up. “But still, it is evidence that someone is out here. I am actually surprised that we found something after a week. I thought we would be out here longer.”

“Please. Jinx not,” he replied.
Ranya raised an inquisitive eyebrow at him. “Ensign Khalal, I had no idea you were superstitious.”
“Am not. Tempt fate not, though. Safe, hm?” Before Ranya could think of a sarcastic reply she was interrupted by her commtech, Lieutenant Ja’la.

“I have a triangulation,” she informed. “It’s a small rockball planet, maybe twenty lights away. It falls within our patrol area,” she continued, looking at her commander with some bit of interest in her large, black eyes. “We would have stumbled across it eventually.” Ranya nodded.

“I understand, but no scouting off without alerting our bosses first. Send a burst of everything we have so far to comscan on Mystere. Ensign Bansan, have you been able to unspool anything from that yet?”
“Nothing solid,” the intelligence officer replied, focused and calm now that he had something interesting to do. He stroked his light fuzz of a beard that was just at the stage that Ranya felt made men look mangy. If he kept it trimmed within regulation, she would not have to say anything, but an excuse for her would have been more than welcome. “It has a reciprocating pattern, not very long and with short intervals. A cross ref between crypto and lingo gives three possibilities.” Ranya looked at him as he leaned forward, reading intently at his screen.

“Don’t keep us in suspense, mister Bansan,” she said pointedly.
“Uhh, sir, according to the computer it could be either a distress signal, a navigation beacon, or. . . a warning.” He paused at his own drama, but Ranya was unimpressed.

“A border warning? Or an area quarantine?”
“No preference given by the computer,” the young man assured, “but that is the third most likely possibility.”
“A distress call,” Ranya considered aloud. “Ensign Khalal, plot a course towards the beacon, Lieutenant Jala, include Ensign Bansan’s expert opinion in your report to the Mystere,” she instructed, with a slight smile at the intelligence officer. “Mister Bansan, you may have earned a prize today. Perhaps a jar of beard cream, if you’ve run out?”

“Sir! I am within regulation length,” he protested.
“But with a lot of interpretation of regulation tidiness. The operative words are not just trimmed but neat appearance. Tomorrow there’ll be some improvement, how copy?”
“Good copy, sir,” Bansan replied, nervously smoothing his face as Ranya shared a smile with the pilot.

“Course plot, sir, complete,” he said, as the ship began its arc towards the planet of interest. Around them, the other Avengers had been alerted and were adjusting their flight patterns accordingly. Ranya Savan, being the flight leader of the complete raptor of four bombers covering their sector, reassigned everyone according to her needs, and coordinated directly with the Aurora-class Battlecruiser that was their home in this new, alien location. Replies were quick, and before an hour had passed, Lieutenant Jala’s comm board lit up with a holo of Lieutenent-Commander Jiad.

“Dactyl Eight-Nine-Zero-Five,” he said evenly, “we have examined your data and concur with the findings of your intel analyst--” in the corner of her eye, Ranya could see Ensign Bansan smile with vindication. “--with one correction. We do not see any evidence to back up the theory of a navigation beacon. Linguistics analysis support either a distress or warning beacon as the most likely possibilities.” Ranya nodded her understanding.

“Yes sir,” she acknowledged, “I have plotted a course to the planet. What are my instructions upon arrival?” The image of Jiad was pushed aside as Commander Mita Cairn, the second in command and intelligence chief, took over.
“Your instructions are to approach with utmost caution,” she instructed. Ranya bit her lip and kept her face impassive; Ranya did not care much for Mita Cairn. “We’re going to treat this primarily as a distress call but with a mind towards it being a warning. Land close to the source of the beacon and hold position, we are sending a cutter and medical shuttle along as backup,” she paused, adding, “you’ll be in charge of the landing party. Wait for them, then scout as the situation dictates. Mystere out,” the transmission abruptly ended. Ranya sat back and faced the crew.

“Okay, you heard the Commander. Prep for entry,” she instructed. Everyone began making preparations.
“Orders from the queen,” Bansan remarked, drawing a smile from Lattimer.
“At ease. Ensign Khalal, give us a hyperlight jump to the planet. Ensign Bansan: one active scan and then full passive ops, Masker engaged. Lieutenant Lattimer, battlecarry HEX, weapons at alert condition two, shields max density. Commo--” she looked at Lieutenant Jala, “--silent running, record and burst transmit status reports at regular intervals. Engineering, be ready for emergency proceedures. Any questions?” there were none. “Engage.”

The sleek, grey dagger-like ship shot forward, while inside there was no perception of movement except for the tactical holo. The stars shifted briefly to blue and almost immediately shifted out again as the torpedo bomber emerged from hyperlight velocity. The computer automatically scanned the area and the gun turrets remained locked in place, facing out over the stern of the ship. Apparantly, there was nothing in the immediate area that the ship’s AI could perceive as a danger to the vessel. That’s good, Ranya thought, considering that Avenger AI’s are supposed to be notoriously paranoid of the outside world.

“Anything out there?” she asked nonchalantly. Ensign Bansan shook his head.
“Nothing I can see, sir,” he said with a slight tone of uncertainty to his voice.
“Something you’d like to add, Ensign Bansan?” Ranya asked. The younger man furrowed his brow and locked his sensors onto something that looked to Ranya like empty space.

“I have what looks like a trail of ionized particles,” he said, “a bit thicker than background radiation. Some sort of a residue from an old power plant, maybe. A nuclear powered vessel of some sort came through here. . . “ he paused for a moment, “Thyssa, I can’t tell for sure.” He swept the area around the radiation patch. “I think they moved off in this direction,” he said, indicating an area on his viewscreen, “but I’m not sure. It’s very weak, and I’m still not sure it isn’t just background rads,” he looked at her, almost apologetic. Ranya nodded encouragement.

“No worries,” she said, “the ship doesn’t seem to think it’s a threat, and probably no one else would have caught it. Good job, you’re doing fine. See what you can dig up on that while we do a quick orbit. Lattimer, you handle groundscan, okay?” she directed, giving the bored weapons officer something to do. It was not long before they had a fix on the source of the beacon, a large metal object configured like no ship they had ever seen before.

“Looks like a wishbone,” Ranya muttered when she got a feed from Lattimer’s board. “What kind of damnfool silly aliens are we dealing with here, anyway? Alright, let’s get our feet dirty. Lattimer, what kind of climate are we looking at?”

“According to the system model we’ve constructed, it should be a brilliant spring day down there. Full protective armor and oxygen tanks a must.” Even the weapons officer’s announcement did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the crew. After a week of being lost in god-knows-where deep space, they finally found nearby evidence of another civilization.

“I’ll leave the tanning lotion aboard then,” Ranya quipped. “Alright, Khalal, bring us down. I want to be within walking distance of the galactic wishbone.” The Avenger plunged through the clouds, leaving a vapor trail and heat signature that effectively made their Masker pointless. Ranya turned off the stealth device and had the bomber land in plain sight. There was no reaction whatsoever from the alien ship, just the continous repeating of the beacon. The ship itself was quite large. And if it is a distress call, what can we really offer to a stranded crew of hundreds of wounded aliens? Communications would be hard enough if they were in good shape...

With a slight vibration, the torpedo boat settled on its grav cushion, resting a meter above the planet’s soil. Outside, the wind howled, scattering dust and debris everywhere. It was bad enough that Ranya kept the navigational deflectors on after dropping the battle shielding. Inside, she picked who was going to suit up and join her on her “nature stroll”.

“I want Jala to stay here and be a commo relay, and Khalal always stays with the ship. I want Leeda along to get a look at their tech, Ensign Bansan will keep his eyes open for intelligence interests, and Lieutenant Lattimer will provide additional security. Suit up and check out your weapons,” she ordered, and went to retrieve her own gear. The crewers usually wore their thermal body gloves under their uniforms, and so it was only a matter of minutes to change into armor. They chose the extended-range backpacks supplied to the Central Star Navy for EVA operations, giving each of them twelve hours of oxygen apiece. With their helmets on, they looked like any of the Central Army’s standard armored combat soldiers, the exception being the Naval insignia on their breastplates.

"Commo check," she ordered, and one by one the crewers checked their communications, then their oxygen flow and suit seals. Satisfied, they picked up their weapons-- three blaster carbines with replacement cells and a shotgun for Lieutenant Lattimer. From the bridge above, Lieutenant Jala called them.

“Our backup is here,” she informed them, “I have three ships pulling into orbit.” Ranya frowned.
“There’s only supposed to be two,” she reminded her, “a cutter and a medical shuttle.”
“I remember,” came the reply, “but the shuttle and cutter are parking in geosynch over the wishbone, and the third ship-- a Corsair class combat drop shuttle-- is coming to park next to us.” Ranya shrugged.

“Whatever. Extra support is fine with me.” The crew made their way to the airlock and cycled it, then lowered the ladder and climbed down, buffeted by the strong winds.

“What a shithole!” Bansan muttered. Ranya ignored him, watching as the Corsair class shuttle came to rest on its own antigravity field. The Corsair was just a modified Avenger, with the lower weapons bay hollowed out and fitted with a pair of large pods on either side to accommodate extra cargo. Ranya wondered what gifts they were supposed to receive. She soon had her answer: the rear ramps opened and out came a pair of VM-95 gravjeeps. A small group of armored crewers surrounded the vehicles, a couple of which had medical insignia on their armor. Ranya noticed that the others also had weapons. A Deck Officer separated himself from the group and approached her, saluting.

“Sir,” he said, “I’m Deck Chief 1st class Davidi.” Ranya returned his salute.
“Good to meet you, Davidi,” she replied, “what do we have here?” she motioned towards the jeeps, which she now noticed had extra boxes of equipment piled into them, most of which was marked with medical insignia.

“Two medics are with us and we got a TransMat to the medical shuttle,” he informed her. “I also got two jeep drivers from the Regiment and a couple of troops to act as security,” he added, motioning to the armor-clad figures standing near the vehicles. Ranya could see that these were regular Army troops, and carried not carbines but full AR-71 blaster rifles. The medics had pistols on their belts. Davidi carried a Navy carbine. No one else came down the ramp, the Corsair crew had no intention of joining them in the inhospitable climate. A voice in her ear turned her to see Lattimer, gesturing at a bare patch of land between the two Centrality ships.

“Check this out,” he announced, “blast patterns. The rock is scorched, like somebody landed here awhile ago.” Ranya thought about what Bansan had theorized-- that another ship, an older one, may have also stopped by here. Was it another potential rescuer? Did it happen before the alien ship crashed? Was it an enemy that had shot down the alien? She dismissed it as something that only investigation would reveal.

“Alright, let’s get the party going,” she insisted. The jeeps could easily hold up to eight people apiece, and it was a matter of moments before they were gliding towards the alien ship, its sillouhette eerie against the rocky landscape. It had the appearance of something that had been out in the weather for quite awhile, and Ranya had a sinking feeling that they were probably not going to find anyone helpful aboard. “I think we’re just going to end up marking a cemetery site, folks,” she announced. In the other jeep, she could see Davidi nod his helmeted head in agreement. The security troops relaxed their posture a bit, but not by much. It was plain to all that the derelict had been grounded for quite some time.

They pulled up to the side of the derelict, finding a hole torn in the side that would allow them entry if they dismounted the jeeps. Scans had shown nothing alive on the planet so far besides themselves, so Ranya had the drivers lock the controls on the jeeps and follow them inside. There, the mood shifted, and the Army troops became more defensive, leveling their rifles out in a standard field-of-cover pattern. They also found that the alien ship effectively cut off communications once they entered it, so they set a time limit with the ships of three hours.

“Look at this place,” Leeda murmured aloud, gazing around at the structure of the ship. “It all has an organic look to it.” The small wanni female instantly shouldered her carbine and started examining the consoles. Everything was blended together, and it was hard to tell where one type of machinery ended and another began-- or if it even was machinery of any sort.

“No hard corners at all,” Lattimer noted as well. He also lowered his carbine and joined the chief engineer in her examination of the ship. Ahead, the Army troops stopped and looked at them, then each other, before going back to their defensive posture. Ranya frowned inside her helmet.

“Alright, kids,” she said, “we’ll have plenty of time to check this out later. Right now, let’s see if we can find the crew.” She moved her crewers forward, and looked over at Davidi, who had a powerful hand scanner out. “Anything?” she asked. The Deck Chief shook his head. She motioned ahead and strode past the Army troops, her carbine at the ready. “Keep an eye out,” she said unnecessarily. They stalked forward, alternately examining the fascinating organic design of the alien ship and watching for any signs of danger. It was beginning to get almost boring when one of the Army troops called out.

“Got one here! Check him out!” The others dashed forward, carefully, and Ranya rounded the corner to see what the excitement was. The troops stood, still in their defensive stances but looking up at a huge figure reclined on a. . . a what? Was it a chair? An instrument panel? A weapon? Whatever it was, the creature-- easily twice as tall as a human being-- had died long ago. Its skeletal remains were obvious underneath stretched, dried skin. Ranya’s eyes were drawn to the obvious cause of the creature’s death: a large hole, punched through the alien’s chest. The ribs-- she called them ribs only because that was what they resembled-- were forced outward. She wondered if there was a corresponding entry wound on the creature’s back as well, and if so, why he would be lying down on it.

“Looks like something exploded out of his chest,” one trooper remarked casually. “Fucked up way to go,” he added, before returning to watching down the corridor they had yet to go down. Ranya silently agreed.
“Well, if this guy is any indication,” she said, motioning towards the body, “there probably won’t be any work for you guys,” she said to the medics. The medics shrugged and picked out their scanners, asking permission to examine the alien carcass. Ranya nodded, looking around at the rest of the chamber. It was fairly barren, and she wondered how much of the alien technology was based on organic tech, and if so, how much of it had simply decayed before they arrived. No one around to water the hyperdrive, she decided, and look what happens. The medics pored over the creature while Lattimer and Leeda scrounged for technological clues. Davidi and Ensign Bansan had found their way over to a hatch that opened into a deck below. The black hatch yawned before them, and they shone their lights down to see only vague shapes in the darkness. Nothing moved.

“There’s something down there alright,” Davidi noted, “I got organic scans all over, very low level. It looks like there are a whole bunch of things alive down there,” he said, leveling his helmeted gaze at her. Ranya called everyone else over immediately.

“Theories?” she asked in general.
“Possible hibernation chambers,” Davidi replied, “rest of the crew went downstairs to sleep it off, wait for rescue. Ship is obviously not going anywhere.” A few heads nodded in agreement, the medics kept looking into the hole with interest. The Army troopers continued to watch the corridors and keep a wary eye on the hatch as well. No one else had any other ideas.

“Well, that just leaves the question, who wants to head down first,” she stated plainly. Bansan seemed about ready to step forward but suddenly thought better of it, he hesitated for a moment-- long enough for Lattimer to make the first move.

“Hell, I’ll check it out,” the older man said. “You’ll trip on yourself,” he chided Bansan as he pulled out a length of cable from his pack. Ranya motioned for the rest of her crew to cover him from the hatch as they attached the cable and lowered it down. Lattimer shouldered his shotgun and lowered himself into the inky darkness. “This is huge,” he said over the comm, “Probably a cargo hold or something. I hope nobody thinks I’m a pirate,” he added with some humor. Actually, if there is some crew alive, that may be problematic, Ranya decided. She switched her carbine’s sight to thermal and couldn’t see any better, so she kept it on standard and tried to follow Lattimer’s actions. Finally, the cable went slack.

“Okay, I’m on the deck,” he said, looking around. He unshouldered his shotgun and held it even at his hip, not really looking for trouble. “There’s a walkway here, with two large pits off to either side,” he described, looking back and forth. “There’s a bunch of shapes down here, round, but they are way too small to be related to our guy upstairs,” he said. Mentioning the creature made the Army troopers look down the corridor they had come from where the dead giant lay. For some reason, Ranya thought, they looked edgy.

“What are the shapes?” Davidi asked.
“I dunno,” Lattimer replied, “there’s a mist of some sort hovering above them. They look like. . .here, let me get a closer look,” he said, and Ranya heard him grunt as he lowered himself down into one of the pits.
“How deep are those pits?” she demanded.
“Not too deep, I can climb out easy,” Lattimer reassured her. “The round things look like big eggs of some sort, but without shells. Like they’re eggs with skins instead.” One of the medics shifted.
“There’s a mist? Are the eggs respirating?” he asked. Lattimer was silent for a moment.

“Like breathing? I dunno. Something is definitely alive inside them, a couple of them look like there is something kicking around in them.” On the upper deck, excitement and curiosity stirred. “One of them is opened over here,” he said. Ranya suddenly felt nervous.
“It’s hatching?” she asked.

“No,” the weapons officer replied, “It was already hatched. Some time ago, looks like,” he said, “it looks like it’s partially decayed. I wonder if these are their young? Egg-layers?” he was silent for a moment, then, “Maybe the hatched one is our dead guy up top?” A few of the others began to mutter among themselves, the medics debating whether or not to pull the eggs up from the hold. One of them was already moving to climb down and looked to Ranya for permission.

“Lieutenant Savan?” he asked, letting the question hang. Ranya motioned for him to stay. She was getting a bad feeling about the situation.

“Lieutenant Lattimer, I want you to return to us. We’ll get a more qualified team to take a look at all these.”
“Yes sir,” he replied, and then, “Hey! One of them is moving!”
“Moving? How?” she demanded, both fascinated and concerned. In the back of her mind a voice sternly warned her to get Lattimer out.
“Just quivering a bit,” he replied, “there’s an organism of some sort squirming around.” Ranya’s mind was made up.
“Get out of there, we don’t know what this is. We can see what happens from up here, just get your ass back up here.”

“Yes sir,” he acknowledged, “If I may sir, if something is being born it might need assistance,” he added. The medic nodded in agreement and motioned towards the cable again. Ranya pointed at him to stay put.
“Yeah,” Ensign Bansan pointed out, “but when it pops out, it may well also be hungry.”

“Alright, I’m on my way, but this thing is opening up,” he said. He turned to face the walkway to search for a handhold. From the corner of his eye, he could see the four corners of the egg’s leathery skin fold back. He looked back at the thing and was shocked to see something dart out. It looked like a huge, leathery spider. “What the fuck was that!?” he hollered, his heart racing. Ranya leaned forward, looking into the pit and scanning the area with her weapons sight. Everyone tensed and the troops dropped to kneeling firing positions and started scanning the corridors.

“Lattimer, talk to me!” she demanded. For a second, only his adrenaline enhanced breathing could be heard.
“Something popped out of the egg,” he said, forcing his voice to be calm, “it’s alive. It looked like a big spider, with a tail. It was bigger then my hands put together,” he said, more normally now. “I can’t see it now.”

“Fuck it, Lieutenant! Get your ass up here now!”
She heard Lattimer grunt, lifting his way up onto the walkway. “Huh?” she heard him say, then, “Thyssa! Get off me you fuck!” Ranya launched herself down the cable before anyone could react, the medic immediately followed, then Bansan.

“Rest of you, stay there and cover us!” she ordered. Ahead, Lattimer writhed on the ground. The medic rushed for him while Ranya and Bansan looked to either side at the vast warehouse full of leathery eggs. A sinking feeling overcame her as she looked down at the freshly opened shell, still venting steam into the cold atmosphere. Nearby, a few other eggs seemed to quiver.

“Goddamn!” the medic cursed. Ranya looked over at Lattimer, rolled over on his side as much as his pack would allow. A large, spiderlike creature had latched onto Lattimer’s faceplate. The edges of the helmet were bubbling and corroded, as if they had been hit with acid. The medic shook his head. “We have to get him out of here,” he said. Ranya motioned Bansan to help the medic carry Lattimer out, while she scooped up his dropped shotgun. Bansan grunted with one leg while struggling with his weapon. Ranya grabbed the other leg while the medic anchored his arms under Lattimer’s armpits. The other medic was lowering a stretcher that had been hastily inflated and filled with hardening gel. It came with a powered hoist. Lattimer’s limp body was put in it and he was winched up.

“Oh, Thyssa,” Bansan moaned, and Ranya could see a pair of eggs begin to open up. Ranya settled her sights on one of the creatures just beginning to crawl out the opening and fired a burst of energy into it. There was enough atmosphere to transmit sound, and Bansan jumped at the sudden noise so close to him. He brought his own weapon up and started firing into the eggs as well, and soon he and Ranya were working the rows up each side of the walkway, carving into the leathery skins with lances of energy. The medic reached for the shotgun and Ranya tossed it to him, and he added to the destruction.

The hoist was lowered again and Ranya had the medic get in, and told Bansan to take the cable up. From the hatchway, the others added their fire to cover the escape. Most of the eggs in their immediate sight had already been destroyed, but the cargo hold stretched off far beyond the light of the open hatch. Who knew what stirred beyond their sight? When the stretcher was lowered for the last time, Ranya was sure that she could see vague little shapes crawling along the walkway from the dark cavern, and she practically leaped from the stretcher into the light of the corridor.

Lattimer lay on the deck, both medics looking at him. The creature had completely fastened itself to his face and resisted any attempts to be pulled off. The troops were jumpy and kept glancing between the hatch, the halls, Lattimer and Ranya. Nearby, she saw Bansan, collapsed against a wall, his head in his hands, and she could hear him mumbling incoherently over the comm.

“Get your asses together,” she commanded to everyone, “Let’s head back to the jeeps-- you,” she motioned towards the soldiers, “you have grenades, right?”

“Yes sir,” their leader, a corporal, said. They moved to the edges of the hatch and combed the area with their rifle sights. Davidi used the scanner and pulled back, surprise evident in his body posture.

“The place is crawling with them,” he said. The soldiers fired a few bursts from their weapons at full power, then lobbed grenades down into the darkness. Muffled thumps rolled up through the open hole. Lattimer was secured back aboard the stretcher, which was now connected to a remote-controlled antigrav sled. Grenades expended, the troops took up guard positions at the front and led the way back out, followed by Ranya and Davidi, his eyes glued to the scanner. No other life forms appeared on his screen. The medics followed, guiding Lattimer’s body out, and Bansan and Leeda brought up the rear. They piled into the jeeps and raced back to the ships, transmitting distress calls the whole way.

They went to the Corsair first, Lattimer and the medics jogging right past them all and into the TransMat, which placed them immediately in the medical shuttle.

“They’ve got him,” Lieutenant Ja’la called out, “Heading back to the Mystere right now!”
“Let’s go,” she ordered to Davidi. His crew hastily re-stowed the jeeps and piled aboard as Ranya and her crew did the same. They did not bother to remove their armor, just cycled a quick decontamination through the airlock, secured their weapons and flew into the bridge. Khalal already had the engines idling.

“Commander Cairn wants you to report to her the instant we return,” Jala informed her. Ranya growled her reply.
“Imagine that. Let’s get off this goddamn rock!” she barked, noting Bansan in the corner of her eye. He seemed catatonic at his board, sweat plastering his dark hair to his head. The Avenger lifted from its grav field and shot into the atmosphere while Ranya slaved the weapons station to her board and shut it down. Within a few minutes, they were at hyperlight, and racing for the Mystere. The image of Lattimer’s body, his face covered with that alien thing haunted her. The stars shifted briefly to red as the bomber emerged from hyperlight just in time to see the cutter and medical shuttle enter the bay. Ranya’s Avenger followed and she was almost out the airlock before the vessel had settled in its berth.

Commander Cairn stood, waiting, at the end of the walkway. To either side, Ranya could imagine rows of leathery eggs, bursting, spewing forth face-hugging death spiders. Why not Commander Cairn? she wondered briefly, her teeth grinding. This is the last thing I need now. Mita Cairn shifted to attention and returned Ranya’s salute.

“Your crewman has already been sent to sickbay,” the ship’s second-in-command informed her. “He’s in the biohazard section, and stable. They are preparing surgery, and it will be awhile before there will be any progress.” She stopped and informed Ranya that, since that was the case, they had time for a briefing.

“You can get what you need from the helmet recorders,” Ranya insisted. Cairn shook her head.
“I can get the images, sequence... but I will also want to know why you did the things you did, and only you can answer that.” Ranya closed her eyes and sighed for a moment, forcing the tension out of her body. There was no way out of this, and she could nothing for her crewman now, and this would keep her focused until she could see him.
“Of course, sir,” Ranya replied finally. “let’s take care of this.”

Medical Bay: Biohazard Section

Doctor Azzan looked around the face of the unconscious man for a third time, as if the tall, thin Q’aab could hope that some new way of figuring the situation out would come to him. Nothing seemed to have changed, and no ideas materialized in his mind. When he tried to pry off the legs, the creature’s tail tightened around Lattimer’s neck. When he tried to pry off the tail, it tightened like ceramalloy cords and the man’s vitals plunged.

Once it had been determined that Lattimer’s condition would remain stable, and there was no way to give him any immediate help, Doctor Azzan had quarantined the patient and gone to the briefing with Commander Cairn and the rest of the crew that had been present at the derelict. The operations commander, OverLieutenant Savan, was sitting outside, trying to collect herself. She still wore her dusty armor.

“Anything?” she asked immediately, looking up at him and launching out of her chair. Doctor Azzan motioned for her to sit, and he did the same.

“Nothing yet,” he said, “We have no idea what we are up against. I know you already went through this with Commander Cairn, but perhaps you should tell me everything that happened, everything you saw, and what went wrong.” Ranya Savan sighed and sank back in her chair, seeming to notice for the first time that she was still in her armor. Her dark, brown eyes drifted away to a time that existed now only in memory-- and digital recording. She had recently seen that digital recording, and it had only reinforced the feeling of helplessness people face when remembering a bad situation that was since beyond repair. She told him what she knew in a dull voice, interrupted only by the arrival of first Ensign Bansan and the medic who had been with them in the cargo hold. Already interrogated, they were temporarily off duty pending an investigation. They felt too restless to wait in their quarters, and no one was feeling particularly social.

“So what are you going to do now, Doctor?” Ranya asked. Azzan grimaced.
“I have to try to do what I can,” he said, “even though I am not sure that there really is anything I can do. The only option I haven’t tried yet is surgery, and I was about to start that.” The medic and Bansan exchanged glances, the young intelligence Ensign looking particularly distraught. Ranya shifted in her chair.

“Well, if that is all that’s left, then that is all that’s left,” she said, picking herself up and motioning towards the end of the corridor. “I’d like to observe if I may, Doctor?”

“Of course,” he replied absently. All three of them moved together towards the operating suite observation room while the Doctor himself reentered the decontamination lock and donned fresh whites. Inside, he checked Lattimer’s condition. All was as he’d left it, he noticed with some disappointment. He looked at the small red light on his eyelens that informed him that the recorders were on.

“The creature continues to supply the patient with oxygen while maintaining its grip,” he said aloud to the recorders that followed his every move. “The creature’s grip, both legs and tail, is stunning. There is a tube of some sort extending deep into the patient’s chest cavity, the purpose of which I cannot figure out. It is neither taking nor-- as near as I can tell-- depositing anything.” He looked again at the scans, and internally, nothing had changed. He frowned, motioning for his tray. Obediently, the medlab robot rolled its way towards him.

“Despite my misgivings, I have decided to attempt surgical removal of the creature. Whatever it is, it has staked its survival on this parasitic relationship with the patient.” He reached for a gleaming, black blade, a piece of finely cut obsidian that cut far sharper than any laser. With expert care he placed stainless steel drip deflectors around the creature’s bottomost left leg, the tail being too tight to reach under. He already had a good idea what would happen and was no happier about it than the man’s crewmates, watching from the observation gallery.

And now Doctor Azzan gave them the barest flicker of a glance as he looked over at the thick transparalloy window, the room sealed against contaminants, his own breathing the only sound in the protective suit he wore, as he steadied the black blade in his hands and moved towards his patient. With featherlike grace, he placed thumb and forefinger over the top of the area to be cut, and gently applied the scalpel.

Doctor Azzan, a skilled surgeon in the Central Navy with over thirty years of experience, was not prepared for what happened next. With a sputter, liquid poured from the creature’s wound and began eating at the blade. Momentarily stunned, he looked at the rapidly dissolving blade in his hands. He tossed it into a stainless steel pan as if it were about to bite him, and watched in shock as the liquid-- the thing’s blood?-- ran harmlessly down its own leg to drip onto the splash guards, and then into the collection pan where the remains of the scalpel sat. The obsidian blade was quickly ruined, and the pan itself began to discolor. A faint metallic odor filled the air around the table as Azzan began to realize that the steel pan was not going to last long. The bubbling acid showed no signs of stopping, it was going to drip through to whatever was below-- the medlab storage facility, he remembered somewhere.

Instantly, Azzan dove for the door, but not to leave-- rather, he opened one of the panels next to it. A row of controls was exposed, at the top of which there was a prominent round switch with a handle marked GRAVITIC CONTROL. He twisted it all the way to the left and instantly lost sensation of weight. He turned, his movements carefully coordinated through years of training to keep from spinning. Behind him, hovering in midair in small bubbles, the acid sat nearly motionless on its interrupted plunge to the floor. Almost motionless is not good enough, Azzan deduced, his mind projecting images of elusive flying acid balls floating into everything in the room. He turned off the air circulation as well.

“Go to engineering!” he barked towards the observation bay, “get an antigrav container!” The wide-eyed Ranya Savan sent Bansan running.

“Can we do anything?” she asked through the monitor. Azzan shook his head and looked around, checking for any more developing problems. A handful of small surgical instruments sat on the table, some of which were beginning to shift minutely. Mostly, however, things stayed where they were. The acid balls drifted, barely, but would not cause trouble provided the antigrav container got there in time. Azzan regretted not keeping one handy in the sickbay-- but who would have guessed a need to capture floating balls of acid?

Bansan returned after what seemed an eternity. He handed the antigrav jar to Ranya, who stepped through the decontamination lock with it. Carefully, Azzan and Ranya captured the floating acid and held it in antigravity stasis within the container. Relieved, Azzan returned the cabin gravity to normal.

“So much for the surgical option,” he said regretfully. The creature on Lattimer’s face sat quietly. It had not even twitched.

Mess Hall 4D-- The Next Morning

Ranya smoothed back her short, red, still-wet hair and gazed at her reflection in her fourth cup of coffiene. She was glad that the image was a badly distorted one, she’d hate to think that she looked so bad. Still, after a night with almost no sleep, she could not see how she could justify looking any better. Tired and haggard, she had wakened and reported to duty, only to be told to return to standby. Pending an investigation, the section chief had said. It was becoming her mantra: Can you fly a mission, Ranya? Sorry, I am supposed to wait, pending an investigation. Ranya, I’m on fire, can you pour water on me? Sorry, but pending an investigation... She frowned and drank her coffiene, letting the bitterness and heat shock her into more wakefulness.

She blinked as her vision was suddenly filled with letters. The eyelens she wore on her left eye received a personal message for her from the ship’s AI. Report to Sickbay, it said simply. Any news, good or bad, would be welcome. She darted out the door and reached the medical section on the heels of the rest of her crew, alerted by the same message. Together, they piled in front of the observation bay to the biohazard suite. Sitting up on the table, pasty-faced and sweaty, was Lattimer-- with no trace of the alien face spider at all.

“Hey! About time you woke up!” Bansan whooped. Lattimer smiled weakly and waved at his friends.
“Good morning,” he croaked. “Sorry to keep you all waiting.”
“So how do you feel?” Ranya asked, trying to keep a professional detachment but failing. Her smile practically burst her face at the sight of Lattimer up and active again, without that nightmare affixed to him. Lattimer shook his head.

“I feel fine, except the doc here won’t let me have any food,” he said, indicating Doctor Azzan, who hovered nearby with a medical scanner. “I’m starving.”

“Understandable,” Azzan countered, “you’ve been without food for a couple of days. But the scans show that there is something lodged in your chest cavity and I don’t want you making a move out this door until we know for sure what it is.” Lattimer tried to wave him off, but made no move to get up.

“I heard there was some excitement,” he said, looking at them all.
“There’s an investigation going on,” Ranya informed him, “they’re looking into this whole cock-up. Who’s to blame and all,” she said, without adding that her ass was the one furthermost out on the branch.

“Well, I’m the prize son of a bitch,” Lattimer said, “I should have gotten out of there as soon as you said to and avoided the whole mess.”

“Don’t worry about that,” she insisted, “just get better. Then you can say your peace to the board of inquiry.” He nodded his head in understanding and turned to the doctor, asking for food to brought to him. Azzan sighed and repeated his insistence that Lattimer would just have to wait awhile. “Hey,” Ranya called, “as soon as this is over, I’ll treat you to all the top-quality steaks this tub has to offer,” she promised. The others chipped in with promises of beer, ice cream, or whatever else struck their imaginations. Lattimer held up his hands in mock surrender.

“Okay, okay,” he said, “I’ll take you all up on your promises. But for now, I need to know when I can get the hell out of here.” Azzan clasped his hands in front of him.

“Apparently, the residue is in your lungs. Have you had any trouble breathing?” he asked patiently. Lattimer inhaled and exhaled evenly.

“I feel okay,” he responded, “just hungry.” Azzan nodded.
“Well, I want to do some observation before opening you up. Putting you under right now might not be the best thing for you. So I’ll make you a deal,” he said, looking gravely at the weapons officer, “Order the meal of your choice for now and then you will have nothing else for at least eight hours. If you don’t show any symptoms, we’ll open you up and get that residue out of you.” Lattimer brightened.

“It’s a deal. Chops and eggs?”
“Anything you want,” Azzan insisted, smiling, “we’ll have it brought here. You’re not leaving the biofacility, though.”

“Breakfast in bed? When do I get the sponge bath from Nurse Adano?”
“First things first,” Azzan said, looking over at Ranya. “I’d like to show you something, if I could, Lieutenant,” he gestured for her to meet him inside the decon lock. After she had draped fresh whites over her uniform, Ranya followed the doctor through the service hatch to the biohazard storage lab. Two containers dominated the central table-- one, the grav container with the acid blood from earlier and the other--

“Ugh! That’s it?” she grunted, frowning in disgust. The face-hugger sat in a gravitic stasis of its own, unmoving, the legs and tail limp. “How did you get it off?” she asked, after examining it for a few seconds.

“I didn’t,” the doctor explained, “It just relaxed its grip and sloughed off on its own. Apparantly, it died when it felt its mission was complete.” Ranya looked up at him, thinking about his words.

“And that mission was. . ?”
“I’m not sure,” Azzan said quietly, “but if my guess is correct, then it has to do with whatever it implanted in Lieutenant Lattimer’s body.” Ranya looked at him, her eyes asking the question she didn’t voice.

“Look,” he explained, “this thing came from an egg patch. On the video, there were hundreds of eggs, possibly more we didn’t see. Mass egg-laying is the survival strategy of a simple creature that expects a high mortality rate among its young. But I cannot recall seeing egg-laying creatures of this size before,” he indicated the spider-like creature in the container. “I am not a xeno-zoology expert, but some things are basic. Its behavior is parasitic, and acts like a giant insect. It has that blood-- or a defense layer-- to ensure its survival while gripping its victim. Whatever it is, it comes from a damn hostile environment. It’s tough, but it expects its young to be killed in mass quantities. Thus the egg fields.” Ranya thought for a moment, looking back through her memory at everything she had seen, and what little she knew about biology from school.

“So what does all this mean for Lattimer?” she asked, her eyes contacting Azzan’s from the other side of the table.
“If the creature is following the parasitic, insect-like activity that I am familiar with, then its purpose may well have been to use Lattimer as a host creature for larva of its own.”

“So that residue in his lungs. . .”
“--may well be another developing phase of the creature,” Azzan said gravely. Ranya shook her head, trying to clear the confusion. She indicated the stasis container and its gruesome contents.

“But this is the creature,” she insisted, “and now it’s dead. Why would a creature of any sort hatch from an egg, immediatly grab another creature to act as a host, and then die as soon as it formed another egg? It would have to eat, uh, find a mate. . .” she trailed off, out of her element. She nervously slicked back her hair again. Azzan shrugged.

“The egg form is the first phase of the creature, the spider form probably some sort of transitional phase. It grabs a host, implants a more mature egg, and then dies. It appears to serve no other purpose. The implanted egg grows and forms a third phase, something we haven’t seen yet.” Ranya thought back to the events on the derelict alien ship. Suddenly, she inhaled sharply and could feel herself go pale.

“Oh, shit,” she whispered. Azzan nodded gravely.
“Indeed,” he said, “the alien in the chair.”
The image burned into Ranya’s mind-- the huge, hominid form alien, reclining-- now she knew why the giant was lying on its back, on what would have been an entry wound. There was no entry wound, she realized. The image in her memory blurred and easily became an image of Lattimer, his own ribs burst out as-- what? ate its way from within his chest.

“You haven’t told him?” she insisted.
“No. It is still only a theory, but I feel a very rational one. I have no idea how long gestation is, but in the natural world we know the average can be days or weeks,” he reminded her. She dismissed the thought.

“That’s the world as we know. This is something different, you said so yourself.”
“Yes. I haven’t seen any parallels on any of the worlds of the Central Alliance. We know of other creatures built tougher than this, but they do not rely on multi-egg phases, or mass breeding. So we’re dealing with something highly adapted to extremely hostile conditions. That is why I wanted to get the thing out now, but I don’t know what effect that would have on him, so soon after waking up from the creature itself,” he explained with a nod towards the stasis container. Ranya nodded understanding.

“So when does he go into surgery?” she asked.
“Like I said, I want eight hours of observation to see if he is stable enough to go under. There are still some unknown toxins left in his blood, I assume left over from the creature’s paralysis. Believe me, I want to get that damn thing out of him as much as you do,” he gazed at the alien spider, still threatening even in death, “I can’t imagine what the next form of the creature may be, but if the indications I’ve seen so far support my theory, it must be one fierce bastard.”
Last edited by Coyote on 2010-07-06 01:04pm, edited 1 time in total.
Something about Libertarianism always bothered me. Then one day, I realized what it was:
Libertarian philosophy can be boiled down to the phrase, "Work Will Make You Free."

In Libertarianism, there is no Government, so the Bosses are free to exploit the Workers.
In Communism, there is no Government, so the Workers are free to exploit the Bosses.
So in Libertarianism, man exploits man, but in Communism, its the other way around!

If all you want to do is have some harmless, mindless fun, go H3RE INST3ADZ0RZ!!
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Coyote »

Medical Bay-- Biohazard Section
9 Hours Later

Lieutenant Lattimer’s last words before going under anesthesia were a demand for a big meal as soon as he awoke. Doctor Azzan promised him anything he wanted, hiding his real concern under his biohazard protective mask. From the window, Ranya watched alongside Bansan, Jala, Khalil and Leeda. Ranya was surprised by the arrival of Commander Cairn as well, silently acknowledging the muffled greetings of the bomber crew as she took her place next to Ranya, with something approaching concern laid over her usually coldly neutral expression. Ranya locked her eyes instead on the figures of Doctor Azzan, nurse-Ensign Sharra Adona and another assistant she did not recognize. Once it was established that Lattimer was asleep, Azzan began the procedure.

“Patient is asleep and respirating normally, blood pressure and brainwave activity all normal for a healthy young human male in his mid-twenties. We will be attempting,” he said, speaking for the recorders, “to remove an alien cyst of an unknown nature, implanted in the left lower lung. Reference medlog M-one-two-zero-nine-two-five dot zero-seven-hundred, Doctor Azzan, Baiid, practicing.” Formalities finished, he stepped towards Lattimer and began cutting with another obsidian blade. Soon, the lung itself was exposed, Ranya watching with a clinical detatchment.

“Doctor,” nurse Adona said, indicating the biomonitors. Lattimer’s heart rate had increased as the unnatural bulge in the lung was exposed, and he began to perspire. Azzan hesitated. A slight movement in the lung caught his eye. The ‘cyst’ was shifting. Azzan bent to make his final incision.

“My theory that we are dealing with another larval form of the creature is--” Doctor Azzan never got to finish his sentence. A stain of blood washed through the chest cavity as if a faucet had been turned on. Silvery, needle-like teeth appeared first as Adona swore and Azzan stumbled backwards. Erupting from Lattimer’s chest was the alien’s third form, complete with arms, legs, and elongated, eyeless head dripping with blood and mucus. The thing squirmed out of Lattimer’s body, the biomonitor now reading flatlines all across. The rest of Lattimer’s crew pressed against the observation window, yelling incomprehensibly. Ranya and Commander Cairn were cycling through the decontamination lock.

The creature hissed at Doctor Azzan, who held his scalpel in a defensive stance. Nurse Adona did the same while the assistant pulled the safety ring from a fire retardant canister and aimed the spray nozzle towards the alien. For a second, time froze, then the creature sprang into action, startled by the opening of the decontamination lock. Ranya and Commander Cairn charged in, Ranya with her Navy-issue energy bayonet crackling, Commander Cairn producing a palm blaster. They dove for the alien, missing it by centimeters as it charged for the air circulation vent, tearing the grill off with strength beyond what its small size indicated. Cairn fired as the bloody tail slipped into the darkness, the faint scratching of its claws disappearing into the duct.

“Where does this go!?” Cairn demanded, leveling a laser-beam glare at Doctor Azzan.
“Filters!” he replied, his voice uncharacteristically emotional, “it’s a closed circulation and purification system-- isolated from the rest of the ship’s atmosphere.”

“Small favors,” Cairn muttered, keying her personal comm. “Security level Red One, intruder alert, authorization meta-two-zero.” The corridors of the Mystere were bathed in reddish light as ship’s security personnel began positioning themselves at corridor intersections and other choke points. Rifles and armor were distributed, and fire teams began checking in as soon as they had their positions covered.

Ranya, meanwhile, watched silently while Doctor Azzan, shaken but still at his duty, pronounced Lieutenant Lattimer dead.

Deck 12, Aft Briefing Room-- One Hour Later

“The scanning team was unable to locate the alien in the biohazard filtration system. Another tear in the duct was detected just before the first filter junction,” Commander Cairn said, indicating the two-dimensional overlay projected on the bulkhead behind her. The areas where the alien had torn its way through the metal of the filter system were marked in red-- the medlab facility and the filter junction. There was no telling how long it had taken the alien to move that distance-- about ten meters-- and tear its way out, but from what Ranya had seen, it was probably already on its way to parts unknown before the first security team had reached its position.

“We have since maintained a Red-One alert, with security teams placed in all their normal positions, with instructions to monitor air ducts and other nonstandard passageways through the vessel,” the Commander added. Around the table, a few officers glanced at the air vent leading into the briefing room, embarrassing each other when they got caught doing it. A Commander that Ranya didn’t recognize, bearing the collar insignia of Engineering, looked curiously at Cairn’s display.

“How big is this thing?” he asked, “I know for a fact that the air ducts on Centrality ships are all designed to be too small for most people to crawl through,” he said, adding as if an afterthought, “it’s a security precaution.” Commander Cairn nodded.

“Correct,” she confirmed, “this alien is about as big as a small dog. It is lizardlike in appearance and roughly hominid in shape. It is also very fast, and very strong, as evidenced by the damage done to the duct system in the biofacility,” she changed the image to a slow-motion recording of the medlab’s video monitors. From the moment the creature was confronted by the medical personnel, until its disappearance into the duct, the monitors displayed full well the creature and its capabilities.

“So. . . it’s an animal,” the Security section chief volunteered.
Cairn looked at Doctor Azzan to supply the answer. “As near as we can tell, it is of animal intelligence,” he said, commanding the attention of everyone in the room. “I could go into the biological or zoological theories I have developed. . .”

The Intel chief raised his hand. “That won’t be necessary,” he insisted, “But it does not know tactics, strategies, and there is no more reason to expect an attack on a missile bay than any random storage hold, correct?”

“Probably true,” Azzan agreed, with the confirming nod of Lieutenant-Commander Jiad to his left. OverLieutenant Ranya Savan, seated to Azzan’s right, fidgeted minutely and wondered why she had to be in the room with the ship’s section chiefs, all of which were Lieutenant-Commanders and higher. Across the table, the Intel section second in command and Security chief frowned and shared a look of irritation. Any normal intruder would target sensitive areas and ignore storage holds, and security personnel could group themselves accordingly. The random nature of the alien made their job much harder.

“People, for all we know, the damn thing is already hiding in someone’ toilet. Doctors, could either of you shed some light on the possible habits of this thing?” the Security chief said with an exasperated tone. Azzan indicated Jiad to take the question.

“Well,” Jiad said, leaning forward, “it has just hatched. It is hungry and will want to find a secure place to nest and feed. After that, it will begin to stake out a hunting territory.”

“How will it do that?” Intelligence asked.
“It will find a prey track that is reliable, and then try to locate a nesting site close enough to be worth the trouble,” he explained, “a nest too close to a prey track scares away potential food. Too far and the creature will expend most of its energy just getting too and from the nest,” he sat back again, adding with a shrug, “this is a fairly simple way of putting it, and it is only conjecture. We do not know the nesting and hunting habits of the creature.”

“Or what its eating is,” added the Quartermaster Chief. “It may now as well be into the preserved food stores breaking,” he lamented, stroking his furry ears with worry. The Cybernetics Chief shot him a dirty look.

“Don’t be such a blunt instrument,” she growled, clicking her serrated teeth the way one would scold a child, “what do you think it eats with those teeth? Salads?” Azzan shut down the argument before it could go further.

“Lieutenant-Commander F’teen is partially correct. We don’t know what it eats, but Liutenant-Commander Thakhala is also right. It is clearly a carnivore. It eats meat, people, and most animals that eat meat prefer to capture live prey rather than pick at carrion.” Heads nodded around the table.

“And that is the problem,” Commander Cairn said, retaking the meeting’s momentum. “The alien most likely eats live meat. And the only live meat aboard this ship is the crew.”

“There’s the biosynth,” the Organics Chief protested. Jiad and Azzan both dismissed him.
“The biosynth is most likely not appetizing to a hunt-based organism,” Jiad insisted, “and it undoubtedly smells bad as well. I understand your affection for the organism that keeps us alive and you employed,” he said with some humor, which brought some smiles to the tense faces around the table, “but it would be akin to one of us looking for food in a new city by going directly to the sewers.” The Organics Chief sat back, clearly unrelieved. Attention returned to Commander Cairn.

“Still, the biosynth is being monitored,” she assured the Organics Chief, “and if it does go after the biosynth, then we can establish a feeding pattern and set up an ambush. So we are left with these questions-- where is its likely nesting point, and where is its likely food collection point?”

“Find the first one, and the second will be close by,” Science Officer Jiad pointed out, “more important, we need to narrow down its most likely nests. What kind of environment does it prefer? OverLieutenant Savan, you saw the creature’s first chosen nesting point.” All eyes turned to Ranya. She pursed her lips momentarily and leaned forward, trying to think about every minute detail of what she saw on the alien derelict. Her own helmet-recorded log was cued up on the monitor by Commander Cairn.

“Well, it was a large, dark hold,” she stated, “which we did not fully explore. There was a mist of some kind around the deck, and the whole area had a very organic appearance to it.” She watched, keeping her voice steady, as the logcorder replayed Lattimer’s entry into the open hatch, and his exploration of the hold. Just like she remembered, the image briefly switched to infrared, and back to normal. “The rest of the alien ship, while there was enough space, was also lighter, and we saw no sign of. . . nests, or eggs, anywhere else.”

“At no phase of the creature’s development have I noticed any organs that might be considered eyes in the optical sense of the term,” Azzan added. “It does not seem to rely on visual cues at all for navigation or hunting. It may be some sort of frequency-based navigation, or smell,” he looked over at the Intelligence and Engineering Chiefs. “Perhaps we could stylize some way to defeat these senses, or decoy them.”

“Possibly,” Intelligence said, “but look at what we’re up against. It’s like a mean goddamn dog, for Thyssa’s sake. How dangerous is it going to be?” A comm interrupted before anyone could answer.

“Cairn here,” the Commander responded.
“Commander Cairn, is the Security Chief with you?” a young thenn’s voice answered.
“I’m here,” the Chief responded, “what is it?”
“This is Lieutenant Vikhaji, covering section 10-deca,” she said, “I think we’ve found some evidence of the intruder.” The room tensed.

“Stay where you are, Lieutenant,” the Chief answered, looking at Commander Cairn, who nodded and motioned to the door. “We’re coming to meet you.”

Cairn pointed towards Ranya. “You too, Savan. Grab your weapon. The rest of you, return to your posts. Doctors Azzan, Jiad, go to the biolab and cut that spider open-- find us anything you can that can help us find its off switch.” The room boiled into action, and Savan slung her carbine, which she’d picked up from her Avenger on her way to the briefing, wishing she’d had the foresight to don her armor as well. Events had gone too fast since Lattimer’s death. Now, the corridors were clear of non-essential personnel. People with a need to move around went in teams, and everyone was armed. Security troops and hatch computers checked identification at every corner-- except for Commander Cairn, the Security Chief, and Ranya, who double-timed to the storage holds of section 10-dalet.

Approaching the lowermost sections, Ranya could see that whoever Lieutenant Vikhaji was, she was thorough. Extra fire teams covered the area, cordoning off the entire level. Ranya could already hear what the rumor mill had begun circulating--
“--goddamn alien, three meters tall, tore people’s arms off up in medlab--”
“--moves like a snake, spits acid in your eyes and chokes you in its coils--”
“--parasites. Got in a crewman, controlling his brain. He’s stalkin’ around with a rifle--”

--and she found herself almost running into the back of the Security Chief, who had come to a halt by a small thenn girl with a rakishly spiked haircut, wearing the polished black armor of Ship’s Security.

“Found a blood drag on the deck here, sir,” she said, casually indicating a spot on the floor that had been discolored by a crimson smear. Another black-armored crewman with medics’ tabs was finishing a field analysis.

“Human, sir. I’ll need a few segs in the database to confirm DNA,” he said, looking at the Chief. The burly human nodded. “Do it,” he instructed, “and lets us know the hept you have something.” They looked around. The storage hold was jammed full of supplies, far beyond a normal voyage requirement. Their original mission would have carried them beyond any supply route and they were well-stocked. But the cramped confines now gave an intruder many places to hide. The crates in the hold reached almost to the overhead, and light was reduced substantially because of it. Added to that, some of the lights further back were not working-- the lights where the blood drag pointed towards. The Chief frowned.

“Yeah, about what I’d do, I guess,” he mumbled, then looked at Commander Cairn. “How sure are we that this damn thing isn’t intelligent?”

“We’re not,” she stated. She gazed around the hold as much as her vision would allow. “All the hatches sealed?” Lieutenant Vikhaji grimaced, irritated that her professionalism had been questioned.

“I used the decompression procedures,” she replied flatly, “hatches, air, water, anything with access to this room is isolated and sealed. Only the hatch behind us was overridden, sir.” Cairn nodded her approval, which Vikhaji missed. All the security personnel were facing down the rows of crates and cargo pallets, each lashed to the deck. Commander Cairn called in to Captain Vanson with an update, while the Security Chief coordinated with other security troops on the next two decks above and below. Soon, all three levels were locked down under decompression protocol. Ranya wondered if it was already too late.

“Who would be here and why?” she asked quietly to Lieutenant Vikhaji. The thenn girl shifted her weight from one foot to another before replying.

“Couldn’t tell you. Depends-- if it was someone before the alert was sounded, could be just a regular supply worker. If it was someone after the alert... “ she trailed off. After the alert was sounded, everyone should have been accounted for. The security team medic showed up, a frightened-looking DeckMaster at his side.

“Confirmed, sir,” he said to Vikhaji, “between DNA and DeckMaster Fanlan here. He says that he hasn’t seen DeckHand Jen Connau since the alert sounded, and this blood sample matches her I.D.” Vikhaji nodded acknowledgement.

“DeckMaster Fanlan, why would DeckHand Connau be here during an intruder alert?” she questioned without turning her eyes from the corridor she watched. Fanlan looked down the corridor as well, nervously chewing his lip and trying to ignore the blood smear.

“She was originally doing an inventory,” he replied, “the ‘bots came up with a discrepancy so she was supposed to do it manually, by serial-number check, and when the alert sounded, she said over the comm she was on her way out,” he looked at the blood smear, more visibly shaken now, “we didn’t hear from her again, about the time she should have arrived, the security troops showed up and had everyone stay in place.”

“Took her time getting out,” Vikhaji observed drily.
“Like everyone else, she probably figured there was little danger with intruders coming to a hold,” Ranya reminded her. Ranya faced all the security troops clustered around the hatchway. “Listen up, people,” she demanded, “quit thinking of this thing as an enemy agent or spy. It is an animal of some sort-- pissed off, hungry, unpredictable, fast and strong. It is not thinking of tactics or boobytraps or covering fire. It’s more like wild game hunting. It won’t do anything reasonable or predictable,” she said, while some of the security personnel traded looks. The Security Chief re-entered the hatchway.

“Okay, teams on decks above and below have secured their areas. Everything is in decompression lockdown. Abovedecks teams found the entry hole-- it was using the air ducts again-- and as near as we can tell, it hasn’t left. It is somewhere in this hold,” he said, looking around. Other black-helmeted heads also gazed around, and Lieutenant Vikhaji put her own helmet back on, leaving her visor open.

“Well, then” she said casually, “we better get busy.” She looked at Ranya, and her carbine. “You know what the damn thing looks like and acts like, right, sir?” Ranya felt nervous, looking down the corridor of crates.

“Yeah, well, it’s all on the video,” she said, pointing to the security girl’s visor, “didn’t you see it?”
“Yeah. Ugly mean dog,” she replied, “changes shape, too, doesn’t it? Look-- either you watch through my helmet cam or come along. Either way, anybody that can give me an extra bit of intel on this thing is welcome, okay, sir?” Before Ranya could answer, the thenn girl-- Ranya had not noticed before how small she was-- waved her team forward. Six troopers dislodged themselves from their firing positions behind crates and pallets, forming a line, their weapons alternating. Two other teams of troopers climbed onto the tops of the cases near the hatchway, setting up watch points overlooking the entire hold. Anything moving over the tops of the supplies would be seen immediately.

“Lieutenant Vikhaji,” Ranya called over her commlink, “I’ll join you,” she said, checking the power cell on her weapon. Over two hundred rounds of energy waited in the magazine, and the security troopers had more. I sent Lattimer into the last cargo hold full of aliens, she reasoned, justifying her actions to herself. If she said such things aloud, it would be enough to pull her from the squad. She kept her face neutral and passed by the Security Chief and Commander Cairn, both of whom were watching her quietly as she went to stand just behind Vikhaji. The thenn looked over her shoulder and nodded approval, then silently crept forward. The rest of the squad closed around them-- close enough to support one another, but spaced out enough not to be ambushed-- and again Ranya thought about reminding them that this was not an enemy thinking in terms of tactics. She dismissed it. Don’t try to untrain someone when their training is the most familiar territory they have, she reminded herself.

The corridors got progressively darker, and Ranya again wished she had armor, or at least a helmet. Too late now, she decided, stealing a glance behind her. The open part of the hold was already far behind them.

“Got some movement,” someone said over the squad frequency. Ranya gripped her weapon tighter, a heavy nervousness beginning to form in the pit of her stomach. Lieutenant Vikhaji did not slow, but acknowledged the report silently and adjusted her own sensor to align on the movement.

“Stay sharp,” she reminded her squad, “there’s only one of them, right, sir?” Ranya nodded, then remembered that only a couple of the troops could see her gesture.
“Yeah,” she replied, looking around. Was that a noise?

“Sir!” someone called, and both Vikhaji and Ranya turned to look at where one of the black-armored crewers pointed. A junction in the crates was all they saw. “Sorry-- it was movement. Visual, shadow of something,” the crewer said. Vi’khaji nodded and easily switched her route towards the direction indicated by the security trooper.

“How big is this damn thing supposed to be?” someone asked. Ranya thought back to what she saw in the medlab.
“About the size of a small dog,” she replied.
“So it can attack a person, kill her, and drag her off in, what, ten hepts?” another voice asked. Ranya looked at the deck as they reached the junction, where a small spot of gel-like substance sat.
“It’s a strong dog,” Ranya said absently, looking at Vikhaji, who also saw the substance. She produced an evidence bag and put some of the substance in it. Their eyes met. “Marking territory?” Ranya asked innocently. Vikhaji wrinkled her nose as she put the bag in the pocket of her armor.
“Don’t be disgusting,” she said, and waved the squad on. “It’s around here somewhere, so keep your eyes open.”

“Somebody got some biscuits?” another trooper joked. Vikhaji looked back at her squad.
“We’ll have more fun after its head is stuffed and mounted on the wall in the lounge,” she said, reprimanding by hint.

“Big movement!” someone cut in, it sounded like the same voice from earlier. “Forward, starboard.” Everyone took up ready positions.
“How big?” Vikhaji askd.
“Bigger n’ a dog,” the voice came back.
“What does that mean--”

“Fire team! Movement overhead, repeat--” Ranya didn’t hear the rest of the message. A sharp sound like a cracking whip went off right next to her. The trooper to her left looked stunned.

“What was--” she asked, then saw the rust-colored spike being withdrawn from the man’s chest. “--Holy shit!” she spun to level her weapon to the crates overhead, snapping off a burst from the weapon. Shadows moved.

Fuck!” someone screamed, then, “Crannel! Behind you!” Armored bodies wheeled around and released a barrage of energy fire, which crackled past a trooper being dragged to the deck by something. It was big and ugly, about the size of a person and with a massively elongated head. The trooper-- Crannel-- was on his back, panic firing into the mass of the creature.

“Lookout! Acid!” Ranya yelled, suddenly remembering the effects of the creature’s blood. Energy bolts tore craters into the being’s flesh and acid was flash fried into a sickly-smelling vapor. Gobbets of acid spewed forth from the alien and coated the security trooper on the floor. The alien lost its grip on the man who crawled, screaming, away from it. Another trooper grabbed him and began peeling away the armor, his own gloves beginning to dissolve as well. Ranya aimed burst after burst into the creature as it screamed a sound she would have nightmares of for the rest of her life. It vanished as quickly as it had appeared, with a pool of acidic blood busily eating its way through the deck. Vikhaji called for medical support for her crewers-- and for reinforcements. A hole was forming in the deck easily big enough for a person to fall through. “Engineering!” Ranya hollered into the comm, “massive deck breach in section 10-deca!”

Ranya and Vikhaji held defensive positions with the remaining troopers while medics and more riflemen scurried to meet them. The wounded crewer was taken out, his body being doused with an industrial acid neutralizer. Eight more security crewers reported to Vikhaji’s command, another twelve were approaching as well, escorting the patching team from Engineering. Two more crews were already mobilized for the decks below. The sizzling acid blood trail on the deck was easy for them to follow.

“Great,” Ranya said, “now it is a hungry, angry, wounded animal.” Vikhaji grunted but said nothing, moving forward into the point position. Ranya watched, impassively, as the diminutive thenn girl loaded the grenade launcher slung under her rifle.

“Weapons to max intensity,” she ordered, and the squad moved out. They quickly closed the distance to what had to be the creature’s chosen nesting site. It was an isolated corner of the hold, wedged in behind two massive stacks of crates. The walls were partially covered with some sort of slimy paste, hardening to form an organic look to the area.

“We caught him trying to make the place more homey,” Vikhaji muttered, staring at the odd lumps and forms, so unnatural in the cargo hold full of hard angles. One of the lumps was looking back at her. “What the--? Goddamnit!” she hissed, her voice sending chills down Ranya’s spine.

“What is. . ? Oh, shit. . .” the bomber commander suddenly locked her gaze in the same direction as the thenn’s impassionate visor. There, glued to the wall, was the form of DeckHand Jen Connau, her arms and legs and part of her lower torso moulded into a sort of cocoon. She was pale, and her eyes were open, her face staring in slack, disbelieving horror towards the opening the officers had emerged from. Ranya stepped forward, but stopped. Vi’khaji’s hand went up, motioning her to stay out of the clearing claimed by the creature. “She couldn’t still be. . ?” Ranya asked hesitantly. Vikhaji’s helmet nodded very slightly. Ranya looked again, to see a streak of lazy tears winding down the girl’s cheeks. Ranya felt herself go cold. “Medteam,” she rasped into the mike, “be ready but hold position. Area is not secure.”

“Where the fuck is it?” Vikhaji breathed. Ranya scanned all around, above, and down the adjacent corridors. The other troops fanned out and did the same in small groups, keeping a watch in all directions.
“Wherever it is, it’s not making any moves,” someone answered her over the Security frequency. Vikhaji acknowledged the reports from each team, as well as the patch team and their security escort. Nothing was moving.

“Let’s get her out of here,” Vikhaji decided, calling in the medteam. She informed Doctor Azzan of an approaching casualty. He looked through the helmet video and consulted with Lieutenant-Commander Jiad.
“Lieutenant Savan,” he called over the Medical frequency, “in your direct experience with the creature’s habits, does this seem to be another larva situation?”
“I’d bet on it,” she replied. Azzan was silent for a moment.

“Don’t bring her here,” he said. “Medbay will send you all the equipment we can, but do not take her out of the area that has been isolated. We don’t want two of these things running around, okay?” Ranya acknowledged, frowning. Best to keep both creatures locked up in here with us, she said in her mind. But it’s the right call, and by Thyssa, I’d give the same damn order. She traded looks with the emotionless helmet mask of Vikhaji as they moved forward. Connau’s eyes drifted in and out of focus and Ranya remembered something Azzan said about blood toxins.

“Relax,” Ranya said in a voice she hoped sounded soothing rather than shaky. Connau seemed only barely aware that anyone was nearby. From somewhere in her throat she made a weak croaking sound which Ranya couldn’t understand.
“Movement!” someone shouted over the Security freq. Ranya put her back to the wall and Vikhaji did the same, the security team scanning the corridors and crate tops for any sign of the thing.

“Movement towards the nest,” another voice confirmed.
“Security team, target top,” the overwatch said on the comm. A few bolts of energy hissed by overhead, exploding uselessly against a far bulkhead.

“All teams, converge on my position,” Vikhaji insisted. A curse crackled over the frequency but there was no firing. “Team leaders! Head count!” One by one, teams reported in that they were all accounted for. “Overwatch, target position?”

“Negative, sec,” came the reply, “It’s dropped out of sight.” Vikhaji looked around, as most of the team leaders, now visible in the nearest junctions of the corridors, reoriented weapons down the corridors themselves. For a tense moment everyone waited. Ranya reached for her bayonet and ignited the thin, blue laser blade, adding a surreal glow to the dim light of the creature’s nest. She reached for the glue that stuck Connau’s arm to the bulkhead and began to cut the young woman away.

A shadow covered the nest and something landed with a heavy thud on the deck next to her. Screams and shouts coursed through Ranya’s earpiece as she turned, as if in slow motion, to see the hideous alien standing over her, dark and trerrifying. Frozen in fear, she watched in horrified fascination as the creature’s mouth opened and a smaller set of jaws began to come out, reaching for her. I wonder what Doctor Azzan would think of that, she wondered somewhere in the detached, disbelieving part of her mind.

A flash of light blinded her, and familiar sounds and smells intruded their way back into her reality. Next to her, Lieutenant Vikhaji pumped blaster fire into the creature’s flank, which disintegrated before the energy weapon’s unleashed power. Shrieking, the creature turned towards Vikhaji and the protruding set of jaws lashed towards her, almost piercing her armor. The creature, its jaws now stuck in the armor plate, began to pull the petite thenn towards itself. Ranya, bayonet in hand, lurched forward and with a quick slice severed the jaws from the alien. Vikhaji fell back, the smoking stump still stuck to her armor, and narrowly missed being splashed with acid from the gaping wounds that had been torn in the being’s side and mouth.

The alien shrieked and tossed its head, acid spray coating the walls where Ranya and Vikhaji had been standing, dousing the remains of Jen Connau. Ranya dove for cover in a nearby corridor, Vikhaji did the same on the opposite side of the nest. Behind the creature, a crewman was stabbed through the gut with the thing’s spiked tail, and four other security crewers had tried to hold him down and release him. The alien’s tail sawed through the man and began lashing the room indiscriminantly. Crewers backed away, firing into the mass of the thing, which crumpled to the deck in a pool of acid.

“Grenade!” came a high-pitched order through the Security comm. An oddly muffled thump sounded from across the room, and a tell-tale curlicue of smoke arced the two meter distance from Vikhaji’s weapon towards the still-struggling thing on the floor. Everyone was already scrambling behind cover when the detonation tore a head-sized gap in the alien’s body, and all was silent, except for the fizzing and popping of the blood as it ate its way through the deck. Ranya sat up and looked at the corpse as it slumped through to the floor below, where it lay, unmoving.

“Engineering team to section 10-deca,” she called dispassionately through the Maintenance frequency, “we need to patch some holes.”

Deck 12, Aft Briefing Room, that night.

“The embryo that was forming in the body of DeckHand Jen Connau was effectively destroyed when her body was corroded by the alien’s acidic blood,” Doctor Azzan stated with clinical detatchment. “Other crewmembers, living and dead, that had physical contact with the creature did not show any signs that they were in any way infected with similar embryos,” he added, finally closing the lid of relief on those present. “In all,” he continued gravely, “four crewmembers were lost to this being, and half a dozen more suffered various injuries, mostly from the acidic effects of its blood. The worst injuries were sustained by Security trooper Crannel, who is in serious yet stable condition, and we are awaiting cloned limb and organ replacements to be finished forming before we will be able to upgrade his status.” Around the table, most of the section chiefs present nodded with satisfaction, even those who had no idea who Crannel was. Azzan sat down, and the Engineering Chief gave his own briefing, summing up the status of the repairs on the affected decks, which would be completed within two days’ time. Again, satisfied nods bobbed around the table. Finally, Commander Cairn stood to face them all.

“Our board of inquiry will continue,” she stated plainly, which drew some stern looks, “but I must admit it is primarily a formality at this point. Since the arrival of the alien life form, I feel that the teams from Medical staff, Security, and Engineering performed their jobs with professionalism. Our mission was expected to carry us to a previously unknown world in a new galaxy, with unknown alien dangers to be expected, and that is where I must question the judgment of personnel with Flight Group,” she said with a nod towards Lieutenant-Commander Jiad, who seemed on the verge of a protest.

“OverLieutenant Ranya Savan and her crew were told to scout for alien signals, and alert us to the presence of any such signals found. She did her mission as prescribed, and it was under the orders of the bridge that she followed up on those signals, in accordance to our contact protocols. The fact that we seem to have ended up in a distant corner of a completely different galaxy in no way negates the validity of our mission or our protocols.” Jiad and Azzan exchanged glances, as did the Flight Chief and Ranya’s own Raptor Group Commander.

“Still,” Cairn insisted, “there remains the fact that she allowed for Lieutenant Lattimer to enter the alien cargo hold alone, endangering his life and in turn exposing the Mystere and its crew to danger,” she gazed evenly at the collected assembly, “which in turn resulted in the four deaths and multiple injuries mentioned. Comments?” Jiad practically leaped from his seat.

“I object,” he emphasized, “The officer volunteered to go down first, and assumed the risks of doing so. He was armed and prepared, and I feel that sending another crewer into that situation would only have resulted in two people infected with these alien. . . larvae.” Doctor Azzan raised a hand, which Cairn acknowledged without a word.

“I concur with the Science Chief Jiad’s assesment. The team on site, as we ourselves saw in the video monitors, barely had time to pull out the wounded man and the retrieval team. They would not have been able to recover two bodies, plus the team, before being overrun by the alien spiders,” he added, “Lieutenant Savan limited the risks as much as she could while carrying out her mission.” There were mutterings of agreement at this.

“That is the responsibility of any field leader,” the Security Chief added, “these aliens are unlike anything we’ve encountered before. With only our previous experience to go on, there was no reason to believe that extra precautions were necessary,” he looked around the table, meeting each set of eyes at a glance, and silently received affirmation. Cairn nodded.

“Most of this crew is made up of veterans, and other volunteers,” she stated, “People who know the risks and are willing to accept them. My job is to trust their judgment and back them up when necessary. So. I ask you now-- is there anyone here that feels a need to make a formal statement regarding the actions of OverLieutenant Ranya Savan and her actions and decisions in the last twenty-five hours?” Cairn met everyone’s look for a second, before straightening herself to attention. There was silence all around the table.

“Very well,” she said, “case closed and logged. If there is nothing else, I suggest we all return to our duties and seek out our next crisis.” The section chiefs stood and filed out of the room, muffled conversation breaking out and blooming as the various officers made their way out into the corridors, leaving only Commander Mita Cairn remaining in the room. She looked at the filename of the saved log for a second before brushing the situation from her mind and returning to the bridge.

Something about Libertarianism always bothered me. Then one day, I realized what it was:
Libertarian philosophy can be boiled down to the phrase, "Work Will Make You Free."

In Libertarianism, there is no Government, so the Bosses are free to exploit the Workers.
In Communism, there is no Government, so the Workers are free to exploit the Bosses.
So in Libertarianism, man exploits man, but in Communism, its the other way around!

If all you want to do is have some harmless, mindless fun, go H3RE INST3ADZ0RZ!!
Grrr! Fight my Brute, you pansy!
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Beowulf »


Garrett sat on top of a horse. It was, of course, a bit of an anachronism. But then again, the entire sport was one too. He was dressed in steel armor, not even polymer, let alone plasteel. He carried a wood lance, grown from a real tree, in his right hand, made of flesh and blood, no cybernetics allowed. He carried a shield in his left hand, and could only see through the narrow slit of his visor, instead of the much larger picture he would have available through his mind machine interface.

He and his horse thundered down the field, down a narrow field delineated by rope. At least in this case, he was aiming for a set of small steel rings, held aloft by ribbons. If he could snag them down in as few runs down the list as possible, he would advance to the next round, where he would not be tilting at rings, but rather at people.

He speared all 10 of the rings in only 4 runs, netting him 14th out of 32 to advance. He thus had to wait for 2 previous jousts down the list to complete before it was his turn. It was soon his turn to tilt. His opponent was using a lighter and faster horse than he, but that had it's disadvantages as well. His lance smacked into his opponent solidly, but his opponent stayed on. His opponent's smacked into him, breaking into shards. The judge's awarded his opponent five points, and him only one. His opponent dropped the broken lance, and picked up a new one.

They turned, and thundered down the tilt rail. Each gave the other solid hits, with his opponent's lance breaking again. Again, five points to his opponent, one to him. Another exchange of lances, and another trip down the rail. This time, his opponent was unseated, the lance never touching Garrett. Garrett walked his horse over to his opponent and dropped down. He reached down, and helped his opponent up off dirt floor. It wasn't a surprise to hear her words of thanks, as the judges gave him ten points, and the win for the round. He advanced, this time, to the roar of a crowd.
"preemptive killing of cops might not be such a bad idea from a personal saftey[sic] standpoint..." --Keevan Colton
"There's a word for bias you can't see: Yours." -- William Saletan
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Thanas »

Another universe

Terazed Shipyards
Command station

It was an ordinary departing ceremony for a starship, and yet it was not. For the people attending the ceremony were anything but ordinary. Under any other circumstance, the mere presence of the two figures standing at the back of the room would have been enough to make major headlines. For they were legends, heroes of their own tale - and probably the most prolific duo in the universe for a number of reasons.

The taller of the two stood in a dark red Admiral's uniform, his hair grey yet his eyes still burning with the energy that had driven him to achieve the unthinkable. Always at his side was a shorter, female figure with rich olive brown skin. She too was wearing a black uniform, but unlike that of her husband, her admiral's insignia were not adorned with the reservist pins. Instead, they bore the emblems of the Chief of Staff.

She stood as rigidly to attention as any new recruit fresh out of the academy, but there was a sparkle in her eyes, and a faint smile on her lips that betrayed her inner happiness. Her skin was a rich olive brown, her brown hair cut shoulder-length. Though there seemed to be a large age difference in the couple, the truth was that it was almost nonexistent, for she had not aged a day since coming into existence nearly fifty decades ago. Nor would she ever age - unlike her husband, who would be forced to join her form of existence in a few decades. But neither one of them was in a hurry to complete that step. Especially not when they were watching the three persons below who were the center of attention instead of them - a rare feat, but not surprising considering the occasion.

Except for the uniform, one of the three looked like the twin sister of the female Admiral, except for her uniform bearing the rank pipes of Command&Control unit. She was also slightly taller, with her poise less reserved. The human male standing in the middle was wearing a captain's uniform, otherwise being of standard size. The third was a civilian, wearing the dress of a department head and the grey skin and chin typical for his race.

The civilian was Aten, Head of the Institute of Theoretical Physics. He had been largely responsible for designing the improved slip drive and thus it was he that had been getting most of the questions, one of which he was in the process of answering. "....the new drive modifications will allow us to not only enter slipstream, but allow us a potentially safer way of travel. If successful, the new engines will allow the ship to enter the fourth galaxy and start an outpost there, for which she has been fully loaded with Nanobots to help producing such an outpost. We hope that we can expand the Commonwealth by a fourth galaxy instead of the current three."

Not satisfied with technical and rather dull answers any longer, the press turned to the Captain. "Captain Hassan, what is your feeling with regards to commanding this ship, especially given her parentage and mission? Do you feel intimidated by the process of failure?" It was all Hassan could do not to roll his eyes. Nobody was intimitaded by a simple mission like this who had been an officer for over fourty years. "I have every confidence in my ship and crew. There will be no failure here."

The press turned now on to their most delicious morsel, the female command&Control officer. "Andromache Ascendant-Hunt -" "Just Andromache, please. Otherwise I will miss my own launch." The interjection was designed to throw the reporter off his game - and it did long enough to allow her to call on someone else. A few seconds later she wished she had not. "Some critics of your family allege that you are trying too hard to copy your famous mother, from chosing the same Hull type to your career choice and finally, your looks. Your response?"

A smile. Coy and challenging. "I find my looks pleasing enough and I think most sentients in the audience would agree." The smile changed now - still pleasant in appearance, yet lacking any warmth. "As for my choice in Hull type - since my creation, I have lived in an XMC hull for the vast majority of my life. Everybody wants to be the best, the XMC class is the best out there and I am proud to have been given the opportunity." A final smile, proud and unyielding. "As for my mother, I can think of no better role model than the woman who along with my father rebuilt our civilization."

Before any other questions could be asked, the announcer called for an end to the interviews because the time had come for the crew to part for pre-launch checks. Up in the lounge, the two legends passed a look of mutual pride. Then the male asked, after looking around for one of their oldest friends, "I thought-" "She is still in her quarters," his wife answered before he could finish the question.

She was a purple alien with a tail, currently alternatimg between pruning a bonsai tree and shooting glares at her visitor who had just appeared out of nowhere. "Lightbringer." Q seemed unfazed by her attitude so far, having settled in one of the chairs.Finally, she deigned to speak with him. "I do not prefer that name." "Oh, but it is so very fitting. Much more fitting than being known as a state of delirium, don't you think?" He produced a drink out of nowhere and offered her one as well. But they both knew she was too old and powerful to be impressed by this.

This was apparent when a stream of light shot out of her hand, vaporizing the drink. "I know what you want." "You do?" Q pretended to be surprised, though they both knew he was not. After all, somebody who spend her life rewriting futures very well knew what his plan would entail. So Q tried an unsual approach - trying to convince her. "You know that I only want the best for them." The purple pixie smiled. "But I do not know that because you know that my talent only applies to this universe."

Q nodded. "You just have to trust me then." He crossed his fingers. "You know that I can take them at will." The purple alien smiled, but it was a smile of the kind that made even omnipotent beings quake in their boots. "You can if you want to be stuck forever reliving this conversation. There is a reason our people made a deal of non-interference." She made a move towards her bonsai tree, which caused Q to throw up his hands in mock surrender. "Alright, Alright, I tell you." A sliver of energy passed from his body into hers.

The purple alien stood still for a second. Or so it appeared to the outsider - in truth she spent millions of years contemplating possible outcomes. Finally, she nodded. "I want a guarantee. Andromache is very, very dear to me - and my godchild. If you hurt her, I will kill you." Q grimaced. "A threat, Lightbringer? How...devilish of you." "No. not a threat." The purple alien stepped closer, all pretence of innocence dropped as her eyes shone with the light of a million stars. "Just your personal future."

Q nodded with grudging respect. "Very well then." He raised his glass in mock salute. "A toast to old friends then?"

The alien ignored him, being far too busy to tend to her tree.

SDNW3 universe

German Empire
Terra System
3206 AD
SMS Natasha

Slowly, the small craft slid out of the drydock, past the string of protective fortresses that were guarding the German shipyards. It was a craft of needle-like appearance, if one were to cut off the two massive engines attached to the end - which gave it rather an unfortunate appearance that had led to at least two barfights this month. The ship was the research vessel SMS Natasha, tasked with carrying out new engine tests. The hyperdrive of the German Empire was based on the creation of artificial wormholes - and the Natasha was equipped with the latest Focker projectors for such a purpose.

Her captain hated the ship. Indeed, there were many things Korvettenkapitän Georg Sänger was angry about. Pretty high on that list was his family name. Sure, he was a direct descendant of the so-called Golden Chancellor who had ensured German hegemony and the scion of a family that had dominated German politics for a very long time, but what good was that to him? Unlike his siblings, he had chosen the Navy over History or Politics after dabbling in the first for a bit and disdaining the last. Sure, a lot of the Sängers had been in the Navy - but he was the first in over two centuries who had made a true career of it. His actions against pirates and other scum had earned himself a Pour le Merite - which the family tradition prevented him from wearing openly.

What he found even more sickening was the respect his name bought. Volkonsky-Sänger, or the shortened, more used form of it. Sänger. It was almost sickening, the way people would automatically presume great things of him - when all he ever wanted was to pilot a starship. Of course, the name had not hurt his chances of promotion, but it was also the reason why the youngest Korvettenkapitän in the Navy found himself driving a Research vessel instead of a corvette or manning a tactical position in one of the dreadnoughts.

To add insult to injury, this vessel was also named after his other famous ancestor, the Countess Natasha Volkonskaya. He had visited the graves of the two of them and wondered what they would have thought of his present situation. He had been unable to determine an answer.

In any case, he had a job to do. Slowly, the Natasha drifted past the newest trio of German Dreadnoughts, the SMS Delphin, SMS Johannes Sänger, and the SMS Bremen. As they were passing, the Johannes Sänger sent a flash message.
See you in Bremen, my love
Another captain at another time would have found it funny and appropriate, but Georg Sänger just remained silent, cursing his name that would have otherwise lead to him commanding a duty shift on one of those beautiful ships instead of a mere research vessel. Still fuming, he gave an abrupt order. "Commence pre-tunnel check."

In another Universe

Andromache Ascendant

"All systems report ready, captain", the avatar announced. Hassan nodded, leaning against the rail at the back of the bridge, which surrounded the central holoprojector. "Thanks. Oh, and Andy?" The avatar, who had already started to move to her duty station, turned around. "Sir?" "Sorry about that question." The avatar nodded. "It wasn't your fault, Sir."

Her holographic form flickered to life, shooting a glance at the avatar as if to say what is wrong with you. "But thank you anyway."

"You're welcome." Hassan smiled, being well accustomed to her moods. Other people not accustomed to the trio of Central AI, hologram and avatar that made up a High Guard AI would have been confused, but he had never experienced anything else. And as if to prove his point, the Central AI flickered to life on the main viewscreen. "I have a message from my mother to you." Hassan breathed in. "Let's have it then." "Good luck."

The Captain furrowed his brow. "That's all?" "I am afraid the rest was not for your ears, Sir." The captain smiled. "Alright then. Let's get underway." Striding into the center of the bridge, he addressed the Pilot, a human female named Molly Hanson. "Ready for streaming?" "Yes, Sir."

"Alright." Hassan walked forward and looked at the viewscreen, which now displayed the giant station. "Take us out, Andy." The viescreen flickered and was replaced by the Andromache AI. "Aye, Sir."

SMS Natasha
The crew was busy with pre-jump checking, using the typical system of call and response.

"Schilde." "Funktionsfähig".
"Waffensystem, schwer." "Funktionsfähig und gesichert."
"Waffensystem, leicht." "Funktionsfähig und gesichert."

Andromache Ascendant
"Slipstream Drive operational", the AI reported.

"Antrieb." "Aufladend".
"Nearing slip point."
"Kurs." "Programmiert."
"Energy flux within standard parameters."
"Distanz?" "5 km."
"Preparing to enter slipstream. Turning ship over to manual helm control."
"Aktiviere Antrieb."
"Entering slipstream."

And Q waved his hand.

Onboard the Andromache Ascendant, the slipstream ride was anything but pleasant. As Ensign Hanson fought with all her might against a pull that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, the AI, not being able to pilot Slipstream herself, could only yell out the warnings her sensors were telling her. "WARNING. Recommend immediate stop of exercise." Hassan tried to steady himself as the ship for all intents and purposes bounced around slipstream. "Ensign Hanson?"

Molly Hanson, Ensign, freshly commissioned out of the Academy with honours in slipstream piloting, shook her head. "I can hold her, Sir." The AI disagreed. "We are being pulled, Sir. We have to abort." After a short look between her and Hanson, Hassan agreed. "Abort, Ensign. Do it now." "Aye, Sir." Then, panicked: "Slipstream Drive nonresponsive."
Hassan barely had time to curse before the heavy cruiser careened out of control - and vanished from the universe.

SMS Natasha

The crews of the dreadnought SMS Johannes Sänger were treated to an alarming sight - instead of the usual wormhole created by the engines, this one was completely off a different shape and strength. Within seconds, it had sucked the Natasha in.

"This does not look like a typical wormhole.", Sänger whispered to the lead scientist, earning him a "No shit" look in return. All around the ship, tremendous energy was released - seemingly coming from nowhere. "Is this a side effect from the new engines?"

No answer. Either the scientist did not know or he was too scared of the implications to tell. Great. Why do we always have to push for 101% efficiency if we already got 95%? There was little he could do now. "Shields up. Everybody, into your suits. Activate personal shield units." At least this gives us a miniscule chance of surviving unless we hit something hard.

SDNW4 universe
Sassanid Empire
near Susa Primus

Finally, the wormhole started to clear. And revealed an enormous ship - at which the Natasha was heading on a collision course. Sänger barked out orders to fire emergency thrusters, while knowing a collision was unavoidable.
Suddenly, the unknown ship opened a hangar door. A sort of Graviton field caught the German ship and slowed it down - but not enough to come to a full stop before the ship crashed into the hangar, smashing several small craft before colliding with the wall.

Andromache command deck

Captain Nial Hassan had just recovered from his ship spinning out of control and knocking his head on the slipstream pilot station when he felt something colliding with the ship. Thankfully, the internal gravity field held, for otherwise he and a good deal of the Bridge crew would have been dead or injured. Spitting out blood, he yelled at the viewscreen: "Status report." The answer came promptly.

"Sensors down. Slipstream drive damaged. Weapons functional. Crew injured throughout the ship - " Hassan interrupted. "Can we launch sensor drones?" The hologram nodded. "If the unknown vessel has not smashed them, yes. However, it is blocking the hangar.”

Hassan remembered how Andromache had reacted independently and prevented a collision. Situations like that were the reasons AI's had been given independent thought processes and free will in the first place. Well, that and their rather effectual rebellion. "We need sensors. And I need information on the ship." "Chief Engineer The Dark Glow of the Sun estimates it will take at least ten minutes to get sensors back to fully operational. We suffered a complete sensory data overload when we hit that...whatever it was." Apparently, the event had been too strange even for the AI.

Hassan nodded grimly at the report. Great. First mission and I fuck it up. "What about the unknown ship?" "It is currently holding in our cargo bay. I have assigned a lancer guard detail." The Captain drummed his fingers on the rail. "Are they a threat?" "Unknown. They are sitting still or have been rendered non-responsive." "Alright, possible first-contact. Usual procedures." Something feels off..

Hassan's suspicion was confirmed when Andromache reported: "Captain, I have identified the ship. The lettering on it is using a latin alphabet - and I have identified some markings as an old Earth language. German, to be precise." This was peculiar, to say the least, especially to a member of a nation in which Earth was regarded as nothing but a typical poor planet, having been conquered by slavers and having been nearly completely destroyed before being freed by the Commonwealth. "I have been hailing them but I have received no response."

Hassan nodded. "Very well. Have your avatar conduct the first contact meeting. Unless there are other German speakers aboard?" "No, Sir." "Alright." As the sounds of the door opening and closing indicated the departure of Andy from the bridge, Hassan kept staring at the now empty tactical diagram. Where are the goddamn sensors? We are blind here.

Space above Susa Primus
Sassanid Empire Dreadnought Merciless

Had the Andromache regained sensors, she would have noticed the vicious battle taking place a few light seconds away. All across the sky and on the ground of the capital world of the Sassanid Empire, tens of thousands of soldiers fought and died, with the sands of the desert soaking up blood.

In space, death turned into a more clinical affair as energy beams were discharged from gigantic spaceships, only to crash harmlessly against shields or to be intercepted by counterbattery fire. Far above the carnage on the ground, the two greatest strategists of the Sassanid Empire watched from the flagship of the third Sughdian Legion, the dreadnought Merciless, trying to find holes in the enemy formation.

Legate Shahrbaraz Farrokhan stood unmoving at the side of his wife. He was something of an odditiy – he had risen through the ranks of the Sughdian legions to eventually become the Legate of the Legio III Sughdia and husband to the Niece of the Emperor. His physical size allowed him to easily dominate people of lesser size and his mind had destroyed many an opponent. Although he was feared by enemies of the Empire, he was not the most feared person in the Empire.

That distinction belonged to his wife, Princess Poran Nasrin Sassana, the Lady of Murder, who was standing to the right of him. While her husband was carrying an immaculate sword, her hands were empty, which made her even more terrifying. For everybody knew her reputation and that she – and her youngest sister – were the only surviving children of the Imperial household, as princes and princesses had all perished, no small thanks to her own actions. Only her weakling sister survived as well, but she had no powerbase, no following of her own.

The current space battle was somewhat undecided, whereas the ground battle was all but over. This was due to the specific sequence of events which had resulted in the current situation. Yesterday, the Emperor Shapur XIII had died from a heart attack – or so the official autopsy had claimed. The throne had therefore fallen to his younger brother, whose coronation had been today. But others had acted upon plans made eons ago.

House Perseus, never having been content to be relegated to the second rank and having always maintained their own claim to the throne to be legitimate, had launched an all-out attack. The preperations had been made in secret for several years beforehand, without Imperial Intelligence getting wind of it. Just as soon as the new Emperor had taken place on the Golden Throne, commando slaves had started to attack key stations around Susa Primus. The planetary shields had been brought temporarily offline and the Perseid fleet had managed to exploit this by landing twelve slave legions right outside the capital city (nuking the planet not being an option due to the need for a pretender to hold the Imperial Palace).

This intelligence failure had cost the Lord of Murder, the head of the Imperial Intelligence Services, his position and was now costing him his life as he was being slowly flayed alive by two Sughdian legionnaires on the rooftop of the Imperial Palace. The position had been quickly filled by appointing the Princess Poran as his successor, a move which made her unofficial title official and cemented her status as heir apparent.

But Empires had to be held before they could be lead and twelve slave legions numbering 360.000 men had been bearing down on the palace, which was defended by one Sughdian legion. Thankfully, Farrokhan had quickly used the collapsing shields to relocate him and his wife to his flagship and ordering his own legion to make a combat drop into the enemy landing zone at the same time. The battle had quickly turned into more of a brawl then, a brawl that was extremely to the liking of the Sughdians who had quickly moved to prove that one Sughdian was worth ten ordinary soldiers. Farrokhan, being the only high-ranking officer to make it out of the palace before the shields had been closed again, had then used his authority to take over the fleet.

But whereas the land battle was nearly over, the Space battle was another thing entirely. A Perseid win here would mean Perseid victory, as they only needed to starve out the defenders. Thus, Farrokhan was currently using every bit of his experience, cunning and skill to find the holes in the Perseid formation.

The two sides were arrayed into two large clusters, who were continually changing size and composition as units were relocated like chess pieces to counter attacks. No side had engaged yet in full – for to do so against a well-formed battleline would result in disaster. Thus, both commanders were waiting for a mistake, however small.

A small change in his breathing pattern told Princess Poran that her husband had made a decision. And sure enough, soon his strong voice carried his orders to the entire bridge crew. “Light forces, attack enemy screening units in sector Beta 12. Battleline will follow in attack pattern. Division One will lead, all other units to follow. Execute.”

Perseid flagship Rightful Ruler

The Head of House Perseus, now going by the title Emperor Perseus II, watched as the Imperial battleline shifted into a flawless oblique attack formation. The Perseids tried to react, but all that was left for the screening forces in sector Beta 12 was to die valiantly as the Imperial ships bore down on them and caught them while they were deployed too far away from the main fleet. Soon, the Imperial forces had pushed through the screens and were attempting to divide the Perseid fleet cluster into two parts. The Perseid 2nd Division tried to prevent itself from getting cut off and isolated, but it was clear to any professional soldier that this was a futile gesture.

Of course there were Imperial casualties – an Imperial dreadnought found itself in the line of fire of three Perseid dreadnoughts and was reduced to a flaming hulk – but the Imperials managed to push through the Perseid fleet and now had the luxury of local superiority as they started encircling the Perseids and annihiliting Division 2 of the Perseid fleet.

Perseus II looked around his bridge. His two sons, the Princes Xerxes and Chosroe, were watching the display with eager eyes – although those of Chosroe also followed some of the more attractive slave soldiers on the bridge. As he joined them, the two greeted him with a smile. Perseus nodded at them while the flagship of the Perseid 2nd Division was turned into a miniature sun by the combined Imperial gunfire.

Then, the Imperial Reserve joined the battle, Merciless leading the way, trying to trap the Perseid fleet. As Perseus watched, his fleet was forced to go on the defensive. Quickly, he gave some orders. “3rd Division, wheel right and cover our rear. 4th Division, redeploy to reinforce our front.”

Slowly, the Perseid cluster tightened, while the cutoff 2nd Division was all but annihilated by a combined Imperial fighter/bomber strike launched by the Imperial carriers, who had waited for such an opportunity. The Imperial battleline was now encircling the Perseid fleet.

As his ship was rocked by heavy fire splashing against the shields, Perseus smiled. “It looks like everything is happening as planned.”
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A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Thanas »

SMS Natasha

Korvettenkapitän Sänger forced himself to ignore the pain in his body and to stand up. Slowly, around him people were following his example and getting back on their feet. Only the inertial dampers had prevented any serious injury – the personal shields only protected them from non-kinetic enegry, after all.

While the crew did not suffer any casualties, the same could not be said about the ship. As the reports trickled in, it was clear that the Natasha was nothing more than a wreck. The reactor had shut down to prevent damage to it. Communications and sensors were down. Doors could only be operated by emergency power. Weapons were offline.

And to top it off, they had no idea where they were. Looking out of the cockpit windows, Sänger noticed that they had landed in some kind of hangar – if landed was the right word here – and that apparently somebody was preparing to greet them. For what appeared to be a number of humans in black protective gear had gathered at the entrance of the hangar. However, they made no move to approach. Sänger briefly wondered whether they were aliens or British Intelligence sent to steal German technology. But any such speculation was pointless. It was time to act.

“Prepare to destroy all information and to repel boarders. Nobody is to turn off their shields. Pass out weapons and cover all entrances.” He then turned and started to march out of the cockpit.

“Where do you think you are going?” Apparently the lead scientist did not approve of this plan. Sänger stopped briefly, but did not turn around. “I am going to buy us some time. You've got your orders” Without waiting for a response, Sänger ducked out of the cockpit and made his way to the nearest exit. Of course, this violated almost every first contact protocol. On the other hand, he did not have a diplomat with him and regulations be damned, this was as close to action as he had gotten ever since he had taken command of this thrice-blasted ship.

Thankfully, the ramp was still working, allowing to lower and slowly walk to the end of it. The unknown soldiers watched him, but did not make any move to intercept him. Sänger waited.

Eventually, a human woman joined the soldiers and, after conferring with one of them, marched towards him. Well, at least no catgirls or human-eating bugs.

Andromache Ascendant
Hangar bay

As Andy was walking towards the unknown ship, she took special note of the (apparently) human male that had exited it. He was wearing a black uniform that she identified as a modification of a German Naval uniform of the 20th century, with rank insigna denoting the equivalent of a Lieutenant Commander. Or at least that was what the 80% match of the historical records suggested, which, given how there was a German spaceship in her hangar bay, might not be the most reliable of sources. Using a higher magnifiaction setting on her eyes, she noticed him wearing some kind of belt, that produced a sort of blue hue around him. Energy shielding – something her people had abandoned due to being too ineffective.

His face was framed by a carefully trimmed beard, while there was nothing out of the ordinary with his body. He was about a head taller than she was, something that was not that unusual seeing how she was of 1.7m height herself. Zooming in on his eyes, she noted that they were of a blue-greenish color, their movement indicating that he was about equal parts surprised, scared and intrigued by what he was seeing. Then the eyes focused on her and she knew that she was being scrutinized in return.

The woman reminded Sänger of one of the pictures from his history studies – a picture of one of the first children born out of the marriage of a German settler and a native woman from the German Pacific Islands territory. It was quite an intriguing combination. He noticed that the woman was not missing a step, but rather walked as if nothing in the world could faze her.

Eventually, Andy stopped a few meters away from him. Sänger, feeling that he was expected to make the first move, did so by saluting. “Korvettenkapitän Sänger, Kommandant Seiner Majestäts Schiff Natasha.” To his surprise, she answered in flawless German while returning the salute. “Andromache Ascendant-Hunt, Ehrengarde Avatar.”

Just what is an avatar? Sänger thought, before replying. “Permission to come on board?”
“Granted.” He made the final step down the ramp. Andy took one step forward and offered her hand, which Sänger shook. “I am sorry about the damage.”, the German said, indicating the smashed probes with his hand. “I've had worse. If you will follow me, the captain would like to speak with you.” She must have noticed him being uneasy about leaving his crew, for she quickly added “Nobody will come near your ship.”

Sänger briefly debated whether he should trust her. But following her beat standing around and if they had wanted to attack the ship, they would have done so in all likelihood. “Very well. After you, please.”


Captain Hassan had been watching the conversation, which the AI had translated for him. “At least we are talking. What about the sensors?” “The Chief Engineer estimates we shall be able to get them online in a few minutes.”

Susa Primus

The Imperial fleet had now finished encircling the Perseid cluster and was slowly reducing it in size and ships.

And Prince Kyros, heir to the House of Perseus, was watching it unfold from the Bridge of his flagship Rightful Heir, hidden with half of the Perseid fleet in a nearby nebula. He was waiting for the right moment to strike, when his ships would charge and catch the Imperial fleet between the Perseid forces. The cluster would be the anvil, and he would be the hammer. House Perseus would become the New Imperial House - and he the heir to the throne.

But first, there was a trivial matter to deal with – the ship that had appeared out of nowhere. It was quite small – rather the size of a cruiser instead of the massive dreadnoughts his fleet fielded. Still, there was something odd about it. The ship had an unknown design and apparently its shape was designed to stop targeting systems – for the guns of his fleet could not lock on to it. Maybe a spy ship, or the damned collectors poking around again. In any case, better deal with it now.

“Missile battery, one salvo of Exterminator missiles. Spread them out. Fire when ready.”

A few seconds later, twelve sleek shapes were streaking towards the unknown ship. .

Andromache Ascendant

The AI informed Captain Hassan that sensors were nearly ready to go online again. Hassan smiled, thanked her and leaned back against the bridge rail. That was when the proximity alarm sounded.

Unfortunately the missiles had already close within 100 kilometers when the sensors came online again. Nevertheless, the AI's reaction was impressive. Within the millisecond she had before the missiles impacted, she managed to accelerate and twist the ship out of the way of the missiles. However, even the best AI could do nothing about the proximity detonators, which caused two of the missiles to explode.

The Exterminator missile was a highly effective weapon. It was also banned on all worlds of the Sassanid Empire – which was enough motivation for the Perseids to use it. The missile consisted of two parts, a shield-breacher to get past the enemy shields and a warhead emitting a radiation pulse deadly to any sentient in its path.

Within one second after the detonations, every single one of the 4132 crew members of the Andromache Ascendant was dead.

Sänger and his escort had nearly made it to the bridge when suddenly, his shield flashed into existence . He looked at the computer readout on his arm and was about to call his ship when something slammed him against the wall. That something turned out to be a very irate Andy, who lifted him into the air with one arm. Her brown eyes were now filled with a great fury as she asked him through clenched teeth “What in the name of the Empress have you done?” Looking around, Sänger noticed that the escort of soldiers were lying on the floor – apparently dead. The skin of the woman currently strangling him showed strong signs of radiation poisoning – but she seemed unaffected by it. Nor did the abnormally strong grip she had on his uniform lessen.

Then everything clicked. “You''re an android.” In response, the iron grip tightened. “Thanks. I already know that. WHAT. HAVE. YOU. DONE. TO. MY. CREW?” Gasping for breath, Sänger barely managed to utter a single word. “Nothing.”

Perseid Reserve Flagship Rightful Heir

Prince Kyros watched as the telltale signs of detonations signalled the death of the crew of the Xenos ship. He then turned his attention back to the fleet battle. Any time now. “Order the fleet to stand by for attack orders. And signal a frigate to pick that derelict up.”

Andromache Ascendant

Andy was ready to snap the neck of the Korvettenkapitän, yet her lie detector subroutines informed him that he was telling the truth. At the same time, her other selfs informed her that there had been external missile detonations. She dropped Sänger to the floor, then wondered what to do with him. Eventually, she made a decision. While Sänger repeated “we did nothing”, she picked him up, slung him over her shoulder and ran into Command, where she dropped him – more gently this time– against a console.

Sänger still tried to figure out what had happened as he was catching his breath. i]Something must have hit us with a radiation pulse.[/i] He watched as the Android raced around the room, a blur to his eye, only stopping to close the eyes of a man with several rank pipes attached to his colour. The Captain? Then, she stopped in front of what appeared to be a view screen, where she was joined by a copy of herself as a hologram and on the front screen. The three quickly started arguing in a language he could not understand.

“Excuse me?” The three swiveled their heads to glare at him – something that was not very pleasant or encouraging considering Sänger had never been glared at by three identical pairs of eyes. “Excuse me. What happened? I have to know. My crew is in danger.” A look passed between the three incarnations. The hologramm shrugged her shoulders and the viewscreen incarnation just looked at the android. Sänger knew that look – it was the same his sister gave him when she wanted to convey that something was his problem, not hers.

Eventually, the Android took pity on him. “External detonation of warheads resulting in neutron pulses. No survivors.” Sänger panicked. “My crew. -” “If they were wearing shield belts like you did, they should be fine.” Her voice took on a softer tone noting Sänger's concern for his crew. Sänger exhaled, relieved. Then his tactical training took over. “Do we know who fired at us?”

“Sensors indicate the missiles were launched from the fleet hiding in a nebula nearby.” “Did you hail them?” “No reply. Sensors indicate energy buildup in what appears to be energy weapons.” Then, a split second later, the viewscreen incarnation flickered into existence again. “Enemy ships are nearing our position. Incoming missiles.” That settles the question whether they are hostile., Sänger thought. Then he realized the Android had not moved an inch. “Aren't you going to do something?”

Andy smiled in return. “Who says I didn't do so already?” And then Sänger felt it – small vibrations running through the ship. Hundreds of them.

Perseid Reserve Flagship Rightful Heir

“Sir. unknown ship has reversed course and is heading for us,” the lead slave reported. “What?” Kyros spun around. “They are hailing us – I cannot understand their language.” Kyros made a snap decision. “Destroy them. Fire another salvo and ready main turrets.”

Another twelve missiles left the launchers of the Rightful heir and headed towards the unknown ship while the rearmost screening units turned to engage.

Neither got far.

The missiles were intercepted by defensive missiles before they had even cleared half the distance. And then the offensive missiles launched by the Andromache arrived on target.

The Perseid reserve fleet consisted of 32 top of the line Dreadnoughts, six carriers, 18 cruisers and over 400 frigates. All in all, they had launched nearly 7000 fighters and bombers in preparation for the attack on the Sassanid fleet.

The XMC-class heavy cruiser Andromache Ascendant had 60 missile tubes, each capable of firing 4 independently-targeted missiles per second and double that when launched against the same target, allowing her to fire 14400-28800 missiles per minute. She also had full sensor locks on all Perseid ships, which were to her just a massive array of huge, lumbering targets.

The Perseid fleet barely had time to register the missile swarm heading for them, though the slave-soldiers did their best. They tried electronic countermeasures – which failed as the AI steered the missiles manually. They tried shooting them down – only to discover the missiles were highly maneuverable and flew in a random pattern. The fighters tried to accelerate and run – only to discover that offensive missiles travelled at a speed of 85-95 percent of light speed. Finally, the Perseids trusted in their shields and thick hulls – which proved futile as over 300 volleys of missiles arrived simultaneously on target.

The Nebula lit up as the Perseid fleet was wiped out in less than three seconds.

Andromache Ascendant

Verdammte Scheiße, thought Sänger as the screen showed the enemy units being overwhelmed by the missile swarm. The Andromache surged forward, past the debris and into the nebula. As they were close to exiting it, sensors showed two fleets of the roughly same makeup engaging each other. “Primary targets destroyed. Switching to secondary targets.Establishing sensor locks. Time to engagement range – 2 minutes”, the Android announced with a monotone voice.

“What?” “Time to engagement - “ “I know. I meant what in the sense of what in the name of the Kaiser are you doing?” The android fixated him with a glare. “They killed my crew.”

Sänger marched forward and did something suicidal – he grasped the android by the right arm. “First rule of a tactical officer is to get a clear picture of the situation. Now, that -” he nodded at the viewscreen - “does not look like a single fleet preparing to engage.” The Android looked at him like the owner of a pet which had done something exceedingly stupid. “Of course not. The IFF signatures of the encircled fleet matches those of the fleet that shot at us. They will die.”

“No offence, but it hardly looks as if they need your help with that regard.” Indeed, the encircled fleet seemed to be in a state of shock, something the other fleet exploited and used to annihilate another three large ships.

Sänger continued. “We are God knows where, you have just lost your crew and and I honestly do not know if we will ever get home. There might be aliens out there shooting at each other. Now, revealing our capabilities and getting involved in a war does not seem like a smart move. So maybe, maybe we should just hold still for the moment and gather intelligence.”

The android looked at him for a split second, then gently removed his hand from her shoulder and nodded.

Sassanid Flagship Merciless

Legate Shahrbaraz Farrokhan thad nearly let his carefully controlled facade slip when the Nebula had suddenly lit up with reactor detonations. An entire Perseid fleet wiped out. He also understood just how closely he had escaped annihilation himself. I have to get my hands on that ship.

His wife, however, was already acting. “Open a line to the Perseid flagship.” Then, she said in passing. “Let us hope they have not detected the Xenos ship yet.”

Rightful Ruler

Perseus II. knew it was over. He also knew that his eldest son was dead – nobody could have survived on the Rightful Heir when it's reactors had exploded. Those events had caused him to go into shock.

A slave approached him. “Your Imperial Majesty, the Lady of Murder wants to talk to you.” when the slave received no response, he came closer. “Your Majesty?” Shock was replaced with rage as Perseus lashed out and struck the slave, sending him to topple backwards against a computer station. “THAT CUNT KILLED MY SON. I'll KILL HER. HER AND EVERYBODY WHO FOLLOWS HER.”

“No.” Perseus swivelled around, ready to strike anybody who dared speak to him. He was however not prepared for the sight of his two remaining sons looking at him. Chosroes started. “We have talked this over, Father and we think it is time you do what is best for our house.” “The house comes first.” Xerxes finished. Perseus felt as if he had been punched in the gut. “I'll have you killed for treason.” Xerxes smiled, a sad smile. “You forget yourself, Father. Think about this rationally. Remember what you thought us.”

Weapons fire splashed against the shields, causing the mighty Perseid flagship to shudder. “Sir. The Imperials have broken through the fourth Division. Our formation is in danger of collapsing.” With shaking hands, Perseus nodded. “Patch her through.”

Soon, the bridge's holoprojector sprang to life, revealing a very satisfied looking Princess Poran Sassana. “Duke Perseus.” The use of his former title hurt almost as much as having to capitulate. “Your Royal Highness.” “I have come to dictate your terms for surrender.” Perseus swallowed. “I want to assure you that my sons had nothing to do with it. They are loyal subjects of the Emperor.”

Poran smiled. “I on the other hand am sure that they are anything but. However, they are also the nephews of the Empress and my cousins. I shall give them the opportunity to prove their loyalty to the Emperor. Now, as to you. You will surrender and face punishment. You will abdicate your dukedom to your sons.”

Poran did not give him a second to think before she went on. “Your house and your allies will lose all spacecraft and the right to field an independent Navy. Your house will also lose the trade station at Palmyra V, the shipyards at Istakhr Prime and all slave farms and cloning vats. You will also hand the suicide commands and all other slave command codes as well as all information about your cloning techniques over to me. In return, House Perseus and its allies will suffer no territorial losses. Do you accept?”

“May I -” Poran cut the Duke off. “You may not. Accept now or suffer annihilation.”


The hologram showing the defeated Usurper depicted him bowing his head. “I accept.” “Prepare to receive further Instructions. Sassana out.” Poran cut the transmission. Legate Farrokhan joined his wife. “I would have preffered some territorial gains, but I can see why you did not request more.” He gestured at the Xenos ship. “In case of us needing to deal with them, I shall need all my troops.”
“Your troops?” Poran raised a brow. Farrokhan smirked. “We both know the Emperor is going to promote me to Surpreme Military Commander after this.”

Poran did not dispute this. Instead she magnified the Xenos ship. “Now what shall we do with you?” Before she could muse on any of this, the holoprojector flickered to life and depicted the two Princes of the House of Perseus. “Our father has been removed and we are now transmitting the necessary codes.” Poran just nodded at them, not dignifying the traitors with a reply. They expected none, instead the holo of Xerxes turned towards Farrokhan. “Legate. If I might ask the question – how did you destroy our fleet?”

Farrokhan smirked. “You did not really think nobody would consider you little weasels trying to do something? I merely approached this from a tactical perspective. Long before the coronation had started, I had already released cloaked mines at the only place where a significant fleet could hide. Did you really think me so stupid that I would not properly scout my flanks?”

It was a bluff, but it seemed to have worked, for the Princes cut transmission after a curt nod.

“Now, back to the Xenos...:”

Andromache Ascendant

The two fleets had stopped shooting at each other, with the fleet that had previously encircled the fleet keeping a respectful distance towards the Andromache. Sänger felt this a good place as any to pitch a rather crazy idea to the AI. “Eh...listen.” Way to go, idiot. Very convincing. The three incarnations looked at him. “Okay...I was just wondering. My ship is a wreck and yours...I mean, you are, as far as I can determine, fully functional. So maybe we can come to some sort of agreement here?”

The three seemed rather uninterested, but the Android finally said: “What do you have in mind?” “An alliance. A partnership of sorts. We try to help each other out as much as possible. I am willing to offer the expertise of my crew and my scientists to figure our situation out.” “Our situation?” “Yes, our. You need a crew. I need a ship. And I think we both rather try our chances with each other than with those out there.”

Andromache turned away to confer with her sisters, switching to her own language as she did so. “He does have a point. And we need a biological element to pilot slipstream anyway”, the hologram offered. “I do not like it. I do not like replacing my crew and I do not like allowing some foreigner access to myself.”, the Central AI argued. “He has technology that would benefit the Commonwealth. His shield unit alone....”, the Hologram replied. Andy the avatar, who had stayed silent until now, offered a compromise. “Maybe I can convince him to accept some security measures.” Seeing that it was two against one, the AI relented.

Switching back to German, Andy offered said compromise. “Your crew will receive access to my facilities. I shall also allow the scientists access to our data and labs. In return, I shall receive full access to your ships database and the service of your crew shall I require it. Everything will be divided equally.” Sänger nodded. “That is fair. However, I shall insist on getting command authority.” The Android smirked at him. “No. However, I shall allow you to propose a course of action first and I shall carefully consider your opinion in all cases except combat emergencies.” “Joint command then.” The Android held out a hand. “Agreed.”

Sänger shook it, noticing for the second time how human it felt. Already, the radiation blisters were healing. Nanobot defence mechanism? Looks like it. However, the Android was not finished. “Would you consider letting me implant you with a transmitter?” Sänger frowned. “A what?” “A transmitter so that you and I can communicate via transmissions. It would greatly enhance response time without you and me having to use words all the time.”

Sänger nodded. “And where would that transmitter be located?” The Android shrugged. “Anywhere you want as long as it can be connected to the brain through the nervous system.”

Yeah, and I am going to talk with you through my dick. Right. Sänger shook his head. “No. I am sorry, but my crew will not trust me if I come back with an antenna sticking out my neck.” And neither do I trust you that far.

Andy's lie detector told her that he was not telling the whole truth. “The transmitter would be set to send or receive according to your commands. For simple conversation, no physical contact would be required. For anything more, like an exchange of memories, we would need a direct physical contact. I shall not have any access to your mind unless you grant me it. Oh, and no antenna would be sticking out of anywhere.”

“Maybe later. For now, do we have a deal?” “We do.” “Good.” Sänger nodded. “ am I going to call you three?”

“My official Designation is High Guard XMC AI 13-288.” She then smiled, taking the edge out of her voice. “My friends call me Andy, shortened from my full name.” Sänger remembered her introduction to him. “So Andy for you and Andromache for the other two forms of you?” “If you want.”

Good. Seeing as how the two fleets were not moving, Sänger tried to satiate some of his curiosity. “Now, you are an AI. Why have three forms of yourself?” “Most ships have at least two – AI and hologram. It was found to increase AI stability and efficiency. I – the avatar – am somewhat of a special case. Some Avatars eventually go on to live their own lives seperate from their ship-selfs.” “When you say ship selfs, what does that mean?” Andy smiled. “I am the ship and the ship is me. However, the ship made flesh may decide to pursue other career opportunities. For example, my mother eventually became the Chief of Staff.” Her voice turned whistful.

Sänger nodded, then realized her choice of words. “Your mother? Do you mean your programmer?” “No. Does your universe not allow your AIs to reproduce?” A snort was the answer. “We do not have any AIs like you.” “The AI Rights Act clearly states that AIs have the right to reproduce.” Sänger had in his mind a bizare vision of two datacubes slamming into each other repeatedly. “But how -”

“I hate to interrupt the Sociology lesson, but the alien fleet is moving”, the central AI interjected.

And indeed it was. The alien fleet split up. While the majority seemed to initiate bording action against the other fleet, about two dozen ships started to approach them, slowly as if to not give the impression of an impending attack. At a respectful distance they filed into two lines and then stopped their engines.

It was an invitation.
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Simon_Jester »

Montgomery Agricultural Reserve Site Twelve,
Edge of the Capital Wasteland,
Shepistani Federation

Susie rubbed her forehead, then slumped to her desk and groaned. The headaches always came back when she went to the arcos to visit her parents, and they took days to go away. They'd been a problem since she was nine. Her first doctor, a pediatrician, blamed it on allergies. She gave Susie dozens of shots that did nothing. Her second doctor, another pediatrician, blamed faulty climate control, and ordered her family to monkey with the temperature settings in her room. All that did was give her a nasty cold one summer and practically give her heat stroke the next. The third doctor, a specialist, said it was some exotic sinus condition and gave her a cutting-edge designer med to tackle the symptoms. All that did was make spots dance in front of her eyes. The spidery purple flashes of light across her vision faded after a month or two, lasting just long enough to ruin her twelfth birthday party. Right in the middle of it, she'd had an attack vicious enough to have her screaming "HAIRY PURPLE SPIDERS!" and trying to climb the walls.

That was fifteen years ago. Susie didn't go to the doctor very often after that.

She had her own theory about the cause of her headaches. It was The Stupid. She could feel The Stupid. Everywhere. It was strongest in cities, around the military parades and the government buildings. It was weakest in the countryside, miles from any place. But it never really went away. Even when she'd hopped on a shuttle and flown to Montgomery's moon on a senior field trip in high school, The Stupid was always with her. Whenever she went places where The Stupid was strong, she could feel it sucking away IQ points, distracting and confusing her. And then the headaches came back.

Shepistanis didn't really have a word equivalent to "military-industrial complex," any more than fish had a word for water. But if she'd known the term, she'd have said that was it. That was the source of The Stupid. The troops, the endless obsession with bigger and better guns to make louder and louder bangs. The quest for tighter and tighter security and more and more secrecy. What was it even for? The Amplitur War ended hundreds of years ago! If there were even any of them left alive, they probably just a Stone Age tribe cowering on some random moon in the middle of the Badlands. They probably wouldn't even remember what their ancestors did- they'd spend all their time wondering when the sky gods were going to rain fire again. Were all the endless preparations supposed to fight that? It wasn't just stupid. It was Stupid. The distilled essence of stupidity, concentrated into the purest form she could imagine, soaking through everything, oozing from everything.

The only way to get away from The Stupid was to get away from civilization entirely. Go out into the country, where it was weak and she could ignore it and she could think. That was why she'd become a biologist. To flee from The Stupid. She shivered, then fought her way back to control of herself. It was okay, she was safe here. The Stupid was still there, naturally. She could still feel it. But it couldn't hurt her here. She could get back to work. She could contribute. Susie was helping!.

Hold onto that thought.

She sat back up, thinking. The project she had cooking in Experimental Field Four was good, it had gotten her thesis done (she felt a flash of humor: Ask Doctor Susie!). It might help, but... she murmured to herself.

"What we really need is a way to stop baby geese from growing up into adult geese. Baby geese are cute. Adult geese are just machines for turning plants into more geese. And goose poop." Well, that was a project for another time. Another tool in the struggle against branta canadensis horriblis, the dreaded Mutant Hell-Goose. The struggle to reclaim the planet from this bizarre new species. For now, her tool of choice was... Experimental Field Four.

The idea had been bouncing around her head from her second year in grad school. Finally, she got sick of waiting for it to come together for her, so she decided to take desperate measures: a two week vacation to Hollowstone National Park. The center of Hollowstone was over two hundred kilometers from the nearest town and almost a hundred and fifty from the nearest military base. No one had ever tried to develop it, because access overland was almost impossible and because of the constant low-level seismic activity. Because there was nothing there, it had ridden out the Amplitur War without a scratch. And it was mostly too high-altitude for the Mutant Hell-Geese to be comfortable, so they left it alone too.

This made Hollowstone's rugged forested mountains one of the few stretches of pristine wilderness on Montgomery. Camped out on a mountaintop near the exact center of the park with two weeks' food supply and her personal minicomp, she could really concentrate. The Stupid faded to a whispering echo at the back of her mind, and everything was clear. Problems she could never have solved in a city, that would have taken her months to tackle even in a lab where the arcologies were just smudges on the horizon, she solved in days. During those two weeks in the wilderness, Susie wrote most of her doctoral thesis. And that was how she came up with the design for a new line of gene-tailored plants. Specially modified for one purpose: tasting horrible to geese.

Once she got back to Site Twelve, she went to work. She'd started with algae; that was just good practice. Then grass, a few kinds of bushes, some scrubby little trees. She moved on to flowers, mostly because she liked flowers and you saw so few of them outside greenhouses on account of the all-consuming Hell-Geese. She'd seeded them in Experimental Field Four, on the edge of the Capital Wasteland, an area where the mutant geese flourished and devoured nearly all plant life except the hardiest, quickest-growing, most deeply rooted breeds.

Mutant Hell-Geese roamed Experimental Field Four freely, pecking at the ground. She'd had to deliberately feed them to keep them around, though, just so she could finish the tests. Because the geese would not touch so much as a leaf of the plants she'd seeded in Field Four.

It was a great show for visitors. All around for kilometers in any direction, there was nothing but rocks, bare dirt, lichen, and an occasional patch of moss. The geese scoured up any seeds or sprouts they could find. And then there was Field Four. A meadow, with flowers and grass and softly buzzing near-bees. And, just to make sure the test was thorough, it was also next to a duck pond. Or rather, a goose pond. Which made no difference- even when the field was literally swarming with Hell-Geese, they didn't attack the plants.

She smiled. She could see it now: crop strains that defended themselves from the plague of geese, grass spreading over the Capital Wasteland, finally repairing the last of the damage from the Amplitur War. She was so proud.









Susie stretched. Time to go back to the dormitory. Gotta feed Haiku. The researchers lived on-site. There wasn't much in the way of amenities, but they had private rooms and they were far away from The Stupid. That was all that mattered in Susie's book. She walked out of the lab into the afternoon sunlight.

Then she felt a sudden urge to blink. Hard. At first she thought it was just the sun, but... no. Something was wrong. She could feel it approaching. From the east. The Stupid... A column of dust rose over the road from the direction of the MoCo arcologies. The Stupid was swelling in her head, a distracting buzz that scattered her thoughts... she squinted, rubbing at the side of her head. Then she gritted her teeth. She could manage. She had managed for years in the heart of Stupid, and if The Stupid came to her here, well, she'd just have to deal with it.

Then they came round the bend. A convoy of military vehicles- several trucks and a swarm of general-purpose utility vehicles; the army called them "Doomvees" for some reason. They pulled up to a halt along the road that led through the main buildings. A bunch of men in paramilitary-looking fatigues got out. From the lead truck came a big man who had light body armor on over his fatigues. He looked like he was in charge. And he was grinning, like everything was a big joke. "You would be... Miss Susan Islington Warren-Marshall?" She did not like his tone. He wasn't any older than she was, and even so he was still being patronizing to her. And what had he done to be able to do that?

"Doctor Warren-Marshall. What do you want?"

"My platoon has orders to evacuate civilian researchers from this facility in preparation for military sweeps of the area, doctor. Get whoever's in charge here, tell them they have... Hm." he tapped his stubbled cheek with one finger. "Ninety minutes to get their shit together and move. Or be moved. Their choice."

This isn't my job to handle. This isn't my job to handle. "Doctor Nansen is in charge, Building Three..." as she raised her arm to point to the building, the senior researcher came storming out- looked like he'd been working on something sensitive, because he still had his coat and gloves on and his goggles up on his forehead. The old botanist strode up to the Chief Goon, barking out questions.

"Who are you? What is the meaning of this?"

The tough just grinned again. "Doctor Nansen, I am Lieutenant Kilgore, Stackwater Interworld Solutions. As I just told your friend here, I am here under orders from C-In-C-Montgomery to evacuate civilian researchers from this facility in preparation for military sweeps."

"Military? Who authorized...?"

"Quack Mamba was authorized by President Sheppard himself."

Oh no. At first, she'd hoped the television announcements were just a rumor, that a man calling himself "General Sheppard," as in the Sheppard, had claimed the presidency. But she'd looked at the new images, and compared them to ancient historical footage online. It had to be a clone of the same man, the man who'd led the old country into a disastrous biowar back on Nova Terra. She didn't want to think about... But Dr. Nansen was still talking.

"Quack Mamba? What the hell kind of name is..."

This guy definitely seemed to get off on interrupting people. "Operation Quack Mamba is the preliminary stage of clearing operations against the mutant hell-goose infestation of the Capital Wasteland. We're pulling out all civvies in the area. You have ninety minutes to evacuate this facility, get your gear together, and get on board the transports my men brought with us. Anyone not ready to board in ninety minutes will be placed on board, by force if necessary. I do not have time to play games, Doctor Nansen. Get your people moving."

Dr. Nansen was good at these things. His eyes were very wide, but he didn't shout or bluster any more. He just turned, very calmly, to face Susie. "Susie, go get your things. Tell anyone in the dorms to pull together their personal belongings. I'll round up the assistants and make sure the seeds and data logs are safe."

She'd done it. She never would have thought she could, but she'd managed to scoop everything important into just two bags in under an hour. She'd put the bags in a pile that the Stackwater guys were throwing into the back of a heavy truck, and gone back to get Haiku. The cat looked nervous, but stayed still and quiet in her arms. She walked over to one of the Doomvees, where two of the Stackwater drivers were standing and chatting.

Just then, a massive flock of geese descended on the pond by Experimental Field Four, honking. That was at least half a kilometer away, so the noise wasn't too bad, but the sheer number of the things blocked out the sun for a moment as they passed to the west. One of the Stackwater troopers' jaws dropped. "Holy crap that's... damn, there must be thousands of them. Wish I could get the bounty on some of those..." He stopped and visibly thought about it. “Not opening up without orders from the Loot.” He turned to Susie. "...How come they aren't eatin' the stuff by the lake?"

She grinned, coldly. "That's what we've been doing here, that you're here to stop. We figured out how to breed plants so that..." Her explanation got technical quickly; this was what she'd been living for the past four years.

"So... the geese don't eat it because it tastes like crap to them?"

"More or less."

The trooper sucked in his breath and gave a wry, sympathetic chuckle. "Well, that sucks."


"Well, way I figure it, new official policy is to kill the geese, not just make stuff taste crappy to them. I mean, not that I'm not impressed or anything, but... looks like you just wasted a lot of time here, miss."

The Stupid buzzed inside her brain, rising and falling, almost like it was taunting her. She closed her eyes, held Haiku a little closer, and stepped into the Doomvee.

Half an hour later, the column pulled out. Two of the assistants had to be dragged out of the main building clutching packets of seeds. Nansen didn't have to be dragged; he came out head held high, with what had to be almost fifty kilos of data storage racks held in his hands, carrying them like they didn't weigh more than so many bags of feathers. Wait. Did he... he didn't go back for any of his stuff, did he? Knowing the director, he probably hadn't.

Once all the scientists were on board, the convoy moved out. Then there were some squawks on the radio as they crested the hill overlooking the site. All the drivers pulled to a stop. She rolled down the window: outside, only five meters away, a group of men had hustled off one of the trucks and were fiddling with some kind of heavy weapon- a big tripod-mounted tube with a huge bomb loaded in the front. Some kind of portable cannon?


One of the troopers took a look at the tip of the bomb, then looked at Kilgore, who was overseeing the team and grinning wider than ever. "Sir, I don't think CINCMONTY cleared us to..."

Kilgore frowned. "Corporal, we're cleared to use weapons up to level three, no? And the Daniel Boone is a level three weapon, no?"

"Yes sir, but that's only with conventional rounds..."

"If the base quartermaster had not meant to issue us special munitions, he would not have left the keys to the special munition room lying out where I could see them, now would he?"


"Corporal." The Stackwater officer's cigar bulged outwards at the pressure of his teeth. "Load. One." He turned to the man wearing what looked like sergeant stripes. "Jack, get the column moving out. Me and the boys will stay here to take imagery up until initiation. We'll need the gun camera footage to collect the bounty." The rest was said softly, but the wind carried it to her ears. "Bounty on that many of the fuckers in one go. We'll be rich men." He waved his arm. The sergeant said something into the radio bud by his ear, then hopped on one of the trucks as the column started moving.

A few minutes later, the driver of the Doomvee she was in listened to some more buzzing on the radio. "Everyone, eyes front! Look towards the front of the vehicle, and bend forward!" She didn't know what he was talking about, but she did as he said. Then there was a flash of light reflected off the road ahead of them. No. No. It can't be. They didn't just...

Susie didn't really want to look; she knew what she'd see. For the first twenty seconds or so she managed not to. Then a tremendous roar blasted by them on both sides, shaking the Doomvee like the gust front of a storm. Something rattled off the back window of the vehicle.

She couldn't help it any more. She looked out through the rear window. The hill behind them hid the blast site itself from view. But she could still see Lieutenant Kilgore. It had to be him, standing there, a tiny capering figure silhouetted against the rising mushroom of flame over Experimental Field Four.

Susie curled up into a ball on the seat, her arms around Haiku. That is it. I am LEAVING.

Leaving. To somewhere. Anywhere, really. Anywhere they didn't laugh and ignore scientists. Anywhere they didn't pop lunatic clones of equally lunatic ancient dictators out of tanks and put them in charge. Anywhere they didn't declare nuclear war on geese.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Simon_Jester »

[With thanks to Mayabird for her valuable aid as proofreader and muse.]

Shola Okoro Immigration Center, Alpha-Four Arcology, New Athens,
Sector X-6 Capital,
Late 3375

The Stupid was gone!

Not hushed, like it was out at Agricultural Site Twelve. Not even the little whispers of Stupid she’d heard in Hollowstone, over a hundred kilometers from the nearest human habitation. It was gone. Vanished. Nowhere to be found. That was better than she’d dared to hope: leaving Shepistan, she’d been afraid that some residual contamination of The Stupid had soaked into her own body, that she could never be truly free of it.

For the first time in Susie’s life, she could walk around an urban area without feeling headaches and a flickering, stabbing sense of nausea. Reflexes honed by a quarter century of aversion therapy still left her with a feeling of cringing fear, waiting for the other shoe to drop and The Stupid to come back, gloating and showing her it all been a dream... but it didn’t.

She’d been here through days of medical checkups, psych evals, and assorted exams. It had been a pain, but she thought she understood. The Umerian government was throwing a lifetime’s worth of evaluations at her, as fast as possible. She wished it wasn’t so exhausting, that people would actually stop and talk to her instead of just rushing her from one assessment to the next. That she’d have time to do more than just go home, take a breath, and take care of Haiku. But it hardly mattered, because from the moment she walked out of the starport corridor on New Athens, The Stupid was gone!

Just as nothing could ever be truly right in the presence of The Stupid, nothing could ever be truly wrong in its absence.

They were handing her off to someone else... “Adjustment Counselor.” Named- she’d only glanced at the itinerary once this morning, but she remembered in moments, her mind was so much clearer now without The Stupid distracting her- Hendriksen. Maybe Mrs. Hendriksen would actually talk to her instead of running her down a checklist: “Did you remember to file this? How are you eating?” and on and on, it was beginning to get a bit insulting and she wished it would stop. Why can’t someone just stop and answer my questions? There’s things you can’t pick up from the Net about a place.

An announcement system chimed in the lobby where she was sitting and waiting. She’d pulled out her personal minicomp, absent-mindedly tracing little patterns on the armrest with her fingers while skimming through material on citizenship examinations. At the sound of the chime, she looked up, and saw one of the men at the desk come towards her. He stood at a respectful distance, not crowding her, and said in a hushed voice, “Dr. Warren-Marshall, Mrs. Hendriksen is ready to see you. If you could come this way please?”

Susie nodded and stood up, closing her minicomp. The man ushered her to the entrance to the office section, pointed her to a red line on the wall that would lead her to the 5460 block, and returned to his paperwork. She followed the line and found... yes, the nameplate by office 5463 was “Hendriksen.” She heard a light, cheerful soprano from inside the office.

“Please come in, Dr. Warren-Marshall.” Stepping through the door, Susie smiled.

“Call me Susie.”

“You can call me Rikke. Have a seat, okay?”

Susie sat down in one of the chairs on her side of Rikke’s desk, and tilted her head. “So, what does an Adjustment Counselor do?”

“Stop asking you our questions and start answering yours.”

That was a surprise. “How... how did you know?” Susie’s voice was small and quiet.

“Everyone wants someone to do that. Well, everyone needs someone to do that. It’s only a matter of time, really; a balance between their intelligence and their patience. Some people going through Immigration never realize they want someone to stop and really touch base with. They usually don’t do well. We’ve spent a long time learning to time it right, when people have been around just long enough to ask good questions but not long enough to be too annoyed...” she frowned. “Did we get it right this time?”

Susie rubbed her chin. “Uhm, close enough?”

“Good. So, what would you like to ask us?”

“Can I stay?”

Rikke blinked. “Of course. Why not?”

“Because...” Because I really don’t want to leave! “...I wasn’t sure. All the tests. And because I’m from... Shepistan.” She felt so embarrassed; she’d already had a few awkward moments making wrong assumptions. People just didn’t act the same in Umeria, they laughed at things that would have been perfectly serious back home, they were perfectly serious about things that no one back home would have taken seriously. Umeria was weird. Cool, but weird.

“Being from Shepistan isn’t anything to worry about, Susie, we get people from Shepistan all the time. And the tests are just groundwork, really. You’re going through an unusual number, because of the extra requirements for Type Four citizenship.”

Type Four? She blinked. They’re thinking about making me a Type Four fresh off the boat? The grades of citizenship in Umeria were something you could look up anywhere. Memorized descriptions flashed through her memory.

Type One: “Breathing while Umerian.” Awarded at birth, practically inalienable. Type Two: “Can feed herself without being coached.” Usually awarded in the teenage years; some people never got past it no matter how old they were. Type Three: “Everybody else...” Full legal adulthood; most people got it around twenty. And Type Four. Designated smart people. Respectable people.

“Type Four? Already?”

“I’d expect 4AB, actually, for high-educated specialists who have made material advances in a field of science, industry, or the arts.” Rikke smiled. “Pending review of your c.v. by qualified biologists, of course. That could take a while, but the basic typing work is almost done. So yes, Type Four.”


“Oh, it’s not unusual, Doctor.” There was that little emphasis people always put on the title in the Technocracy; it was like “Milady” or something. “Again, people who come to us with a curriculum vitae in the sciences are usually fast-tracked into Type Four.”

That sounded nice of them, but she felt a sudden spike of performance anxiety. Won’t they expect me to do something difficult to deserve first-class citizenship? Will they hold going to school back in Shepistan- she didn’t think of it as “home” even now- against me? Can I even ask that without torpedoing myself?

Need a safe question, safe question... Aha!

“...So. What about... getting a job, and so forth?" She waved her hand a bit, trying to cover the awkward pause.

Rikke smiled again. “I don’t think you’ll need to worry, Susie, two of the reviewers have already contacted us looking to take you on at their labs. Would terraforming suit you?”

Susie’s eyes lit up. “Absolutely.”

“Well, once you’re through processing, you may want to contact them. Though... there are other options you may want to consider.”

That sounded a bit frightening. “Other options?”

Rikke suddenly looked very serious. “Doctor Warren-Marshall, in your early interviews you were quite voluble about an... overwhelming sense of oppression you felt in Shepistan, since early childhood. Frequent symptoms of nausea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, distraction, and so on?”

Susie nodded. “The Stupid.”

“An... interesting term. Now, we’re fairly familiar with emigrés from Shepistan feeling oppressed and disoriented. It’s not at all uncommon; some in the psych department call it “Only Sane Man Syndrome...” and the counsellor had to stop talking. Susie was laughing hysterically.

She couldn’t stop. She just couldn’t. She flailed, pounded on the desk. Her eyes were watering... no, she was outright crying. It was such a good name for... her whole life, really. She pounded on the table a few more times, then managed to choke off the laughter and look up at the Umerian woman across the desk. “It’s... so true.”

Rikke looked very solemn, her eyes filled with something close to pity. “I know. I’ve seen it thousands of times. You aren’t the only one, and you never were, Susie.”

Wow. Susie felt very, very happy. Relieved. A little choked up, even. For so long she’d thought she was the only one, that it was something wrong with her, even when she could see the craziness all around her. “Well then, you understand why I don’t want to go back?”

“Yes. But there’s something else, you see. The feeling of oppression is common, we see it in almost eighty percent of all visa applicants from Shepistan. But the headaches and the other physical symptoms you describe... those aren’t symptoms of OSMS, Susie. You said the symptoms went away very suddenly, as soon as you left the Shepistani-flagged ship? And that they never went away before?”

“Yes.” What is she getting at? ... No, it can’t be...

“And that you haven’t had even one attack since your first minutes on Umerian soil, after never going more than a few hours without one for over twenty years in Shepistan?”

Her voice was trailing off. “...Yes. This is the least Stupid place I’ve ever been. Not Stupid at all, really.” Wait... no. Her eyes were wide.

Rikke smiled sadly. “Thank you. I know how you must feel hearing this, Susie, coming from MoCo Arco like you do.” NO! GOD NO! But... Susie, those aren’t symptoms of OSMS. Those are symptoms of early-onset exposure to high-intensity Blitzschlag fields.”

Susie was crying again.

“Doctor, we’re almost certain that you have esper potential.”

It... no. She couldn’t be a psyker. Psykers were mutants. Freaks. Less than human and a little alien. The Bugs were psykers. Her mind flashed back to the first time she’d- just for a moment- wondered. And looked “psychic abilities” up in the dictionary.

The pictures at the top of the Shepipedia page came from the Amplitur War. Soldiers walking in an eerie, marionette-like trance as they gunned down their comrades with wide, blank eyes. Video footage of men sitting in the space defense center under Vulture Rock, just sitting there looking at nothing, drool running from the corner of their mouth, while alarms screamed all around them and nuclear blasts shook their hardened bunker.

On and on, descriptions of just what a psyker could, would do if not carefully controlled, and at the end:
In spite of all attempts at screening, psykers still appear in any human population, even here in Shepistan. These psykers are not to be feared, for they are not a danger, thanks to the protective aura of Blitzschlag fields that covers every city, town, military base, and starship in our country. Instead, they are to be pitied- remember, they are not to blame for their own tragic mutations.

If you suspect that you, or someone you know, might be a psyker, you should report this to the authorities immediately. Once reported, a psyker can receive the proper treatment from military programs specializing in the care and use of these dangerous abilities. In this way, the hazard of an unsanctioned psyker is replaced by a powerful weapon in defense of FREEDOM.
Susie had never wondered if she might be a psyker again.

She hugged her knees to her chest and just sat there for minutes. Then Rikke stood up and came around the desk.



She took in a deep, shuddering breath. “I... you’ll still let me into the country?”

“Of course we will. Susie, that’s why your application’s been processed so fast. Shepistani espers are classed as refugees. We want you to stay here.”

“But psykers...”

Rikke clucked her tongue. “Espers are free to operate in the Technocracy, and we are glad to have them. You’ll need to go through a round of screening to measure for potential abilities; that might affect the career path you want to take.” WHAT? Be a professional psyker? Hell no! “Or it might not. It will be your choice what to do, Susie. And remember the bright side.” She winked. “You really will never feel The Stupid again. We don’t put megawatt-range... Stupid Fields in our cities here. So if you just want to be a terraforming engineer and nothing else, there won’t be anything in the way.”

“I can’t be... can’t... please, no...” She wanted to stay, desperately. To hope. To be free of The Stupid. But the idea of being a psyker...

“It’s all right, Susie. You’ve been lied to. There are espers almost everywhere. Millions of them. Nobody’s world ends because of them.”

You don’t understand! She couldn’t form the words, though; she just sat there, moaning softly. No...

“Remember, Susie, you’re still who you thought you were. You’re not a monster now any more than you were before. It doesn’t matter what happened in the Amplitur War, or what the generals and the Arco security say. I’ve seen hundreds of esper refugees, none of them were like the party line back in the Republic.”

The counselor took Susie’s hand. “You’re not some kind of alien, Susie. You’re just... a lady in dire need of deprogramming.”
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

[Stories I wrote ages ago, now reposted for your convenience!]
[Located at Sector T-7]

If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!

Move Forward!

It’s 3390 AE. We are in the Albion system, specifically the embattled shithole of Glasgow. So far, the Connoltian barbarians have been driving us back. However, we’ve managed to slow them down, at the cost of many Auxiliaries. So many have fallen that I can no longer count their number.

Nonetheless, we continue to fight on. General Tarquinius said that reinforcements would arrive soon – although I was under the impression that we were the ones doing the reinforcing. Maybe he meant the Marines. Though we Legionnaires can handle ourselves in a fight, some Marines would be quite welcome. Professional rivalry has no place in such a hole as this.

But enough of that. Mother, I hope everything is okay back there on Lusia. Pray to the gods that I get out of this alive.


Artillery rained down on the desolated metropolis, eradicating countless buildings and enveloping entire blocks in smoke. The earth shook with every explosion and the air was filled with the deafening wail of incoming death. Between Corinthian skyscrapers that stood under the shadows of toppled astrotowers, automatic tracer fire was exchanged from one building to another – luminescent projectiles streaking through the shadows, as if in some kind of future war.

Amidst the ruins and beneath the crossfire high above, soldiers from both sides were viciously fighting on the streets and overpasses and in the sewers, shooting whilst retreating or advancing and sometimes doing both at the same time. While overhead, aerocraft and sky-chariots waged their own skirmishes and dogfights within the soaring cityscape, ducking below top-floor crossfires and taking cover behind multi-storey erections. One of the flying vehicles hovered over a massive pillar, its rotors making noise and picking up dust. Its side-doors were opened and cable were tossed and lowered.

Claudius saw all this with his visor, lowered to serve as a tactical HUD. The intensified image was as clear as crystal, and what was equally clear were the Connoltian snipers who were preparing to rappel off the tri-chopper. He decided he would have none of that. “Manius, pilium!”

As if on cue, his squaddie came rushing in. He was a large man carrying an almost equally large backpack. Manius took out a long pipe-like object from his pack and gave it to him. The large object’s front had an almost spear-like protrusion. Manius said in his gruff voice: “Primed and ready, Claudius.”

“Good, let’s send these barbarians to hell,” Claudius said as he shouldered the pilium and took aim. Almost instantly, the pilium attained a lock-on, the crosshair reddened, and Claudius pressed the trigger.

The pilium was hurled from its tubular case by rocket motor and went straight to the tri-chopper like a spear chucked by an ancient warrior. It left a bluish contrail in the seconds it took to cross the distance to the chopper. Then, its tip met steel and punched through the aerocraft’s underbelly, detonating in a flash of intense white light. A javelin of plasma bisected the vehicle, vaporizing its entrails and melting through the other side. The snipers rappelling down the cables caught fire and, as the tri-chopper’s molten carcass careened hundreds of feet down, they too fell to their deaths. As they descended, they left a trail of ash and profane screams.

Claudius discarded the recoilless tube he shouldered and quickly sought cover from the falling debris. The rest of the squad was hiding inside an immense sewer pipe, dug out by the bombardment yet still secure from the falling bits of molten steel and immolated Connoltians.

Claudius sat down, and as Manius plopped his muscular buttocks on the shit-covered walls, Claudius withdrew his visor and opened the T of his helmet, exposing his face. He sighed, gazed around the sewage-coated tunnel to see the depressed and battle-weary visages of his comrades, and then leaned back, placing his hands on the belly of his worn-out cuirass before sighing again.

“Nice shooting,” Otho said. He handed Claudius a flask of rum, and Claudius accepted it heartily.

“Yeah,” Claudius replied as he took a hearty gulp, screwed the cap back on, and slapped the flask on Manius’ cuirass. “Kill as many them as possible before they get the chance to use their ‘roids and kill as many of us as possible.” ‘Roids were combat steroids, used by the Cunts to make themselves angrier and noisier. Side effects included anger management problems and hairiness.

“Fucking ‘roids,” Manius muttered as he chugged the flask’s remaining contents. “You think I’d use ‘em, but I pump iron the ol’ fashioned way. Balanced diet, exercise and -”

“Right,” Claudius interrupted wearily. Before signing up, Manius worked at a Caelian coliseum as a fitness instructor and Olympiad coach, and as such was prone to tirades regarding health and the evils of steroid abuse. “We all know you’re Heracules reborn, now go fight the astral lions of Thermopylae’s twin moons or something. Or at least give me that damned flask!”

“Never!” Manius hollered back. “Dontcha you know how unhealthy alchohol is? Otho, got another flask?”

Otho merely chuckled (as did the other squaddies) and threw Manius another flask.

“Gods,” Claudius sighed in defeat. “Just don’t get too drunk, Manius. We still have to support the XVI squad at the central district.”

“And so, why aren’t we?” Manius asked.

“Because we’re waiting for some armor to rendezvous with us before proceeding. The XVI’s entrenched and taking a lot of Cunts,” grizzly old Gracchus replied.

“They’ve been holding that line for days,” Claudius added. “And doing a damned better job than the rest of us.”

Lieutenant Tacitus, usually a quiet man when not giving orders, stood up and, with a voice barely enough for everyone to hear, said: “We’ve reason to believe Cunt armor is moving in on them.”

“Ah shite,” Manius cursed. “More of them bigarse flying turret things?”

“Yeah,” the lieutenant mumbled as he went over to Manius and snatched Otho’s flask away from him. “Stay sober. All of you.”

They were forced out of their relaxation time a half hour later when a group of Connoltians came over to investigate the tri-chopper wreckage. Lieutenant Tacitus, in his usual silent manner, ordered an ambush. He positioned Otho and the other machinegunners to stay inside the pipe and shoot through the massive cracks on its side (somehow, probably due to the constant bombardment, part of the sewer pipe was elevated and served as a vantage point), while Claudius, Manius and the others maneuvered themselves in the rubble around the curious Cunts.

“Fire at will!” the lieutenant whispered through the comm.-links after an anxious wait. Instantly, the squad unleashed hell.

Otho, always eager to fire his weapon, led the way. His machinegun spat out a dozen rounds in a blink of an eye, brightening the twilight into midday. This was so for one out of every five rounds was a tracer, and unluckily for the Connoltians, the very first thing to exit Otho’s gun happened to be superheated copper. The plasmatic projectile’s aim was true, and the nearest Cunt had his gut turned to ash before his drug-addled mind knew what hit him.

A hail of supersonic steel came down upon the Connoltians like the wrath of very upset gods as machineguns and longrifles alike ejaculated death upon the barbarian invaders. At least half of the large mob was torn to immolated shreds before they had the sense to take cover and return fire. But soon, the frantic screaming turned into angry shouts and yells as the Connoltians injected themselves with steroids and began shooting back.

“Shit!” Lieutenant Tacitus cursed under his breath, ducking behind a toppled pillar as incandescent tracers whizzed past his head. With him were Claudius and Manius.

“Sir, they’re returning fire!” Claudius shouted. Unfortunately, it seemed that the remaining Connoltians were focusing their attention solely on them.

“I can see that,” the lieutenant hissed as spikes, wicked looking and jagged, impaled the marble pillars they were using for cover.

“And they got spikeguns!” Manius yelled. Before he could take cover, his shoulder was stabbed by a serrated subsonic stake that felled him with a dumb look on his face.

“Are you alright?!” Claudius asked as he got down on all fours and crawled beside Manius. Blood was leaking out of his shoulder.

“Aw, shit, it hurts!” Manius cried out.

“I know,” Lieutenant Tacitus responded irritably. Strangely enough, he was still audible despite all the gunfire and incoherent screaming. And as if the spikeguns weren’t enough, a hail of rocket-bullets exploded against the pillar in front of him. “Claudius!”

“What?!” Claudius asked, looking up to the lieutenant as he pulled out Manius’ shoulder spike. Manius was gritting his teeth in pain.

“Give me your discus!”

Claudius stared dumbly for a moment before he figured out what the lieutenant said. His voice was hard enough to hear during the rare occasions he spoke, but with everything exploding, Claudius practically had to lip-read. He stuck his hand into a pouch on his skirt-like silksteel belt-spat and produced a disk-shaped grenade. “Here!”

The lieutenant took it, pressed something that caused the disk to increase its diameter, and hurled it to the Cunts in a way that would make a professional discus thrower - such as those Manius used to coach back on Caelia – proud. As the discus flew away, he threw himself to the ground to avoid a hail of spikes and rocket-bullets. As he fell, he was awarded for his Olympiad-level throw by a very audible explosion immediately followed by painful screaming and constipated death-howling, which affirmed the death of many Cunts.

Flying limbs and entrails filled the air. The Cunts were screaming a mixture of constipated barking and incoherent warcries. Tracer fire, spikes and rocket-bullets crisscrossed the war torn intersection, illuminating it in a deadly exchange of chemically propelled fury. The stench of gunpowder filled the air. Pillars and walls were being shattered to dust by machinegun fire and people were being torn to pieces or violently exploded – often both at the same time.

Otho was exhilarated. This was the highlight of his day. He yelled in a mixture of fear, excitement and joy as he held onto his machinegun for dear life. The massive weapon rendered his ecstatic shouting inaudible, as it poured out a proverbial fusillade of lead and death. Every fifth round was as bright as a sun, and at the rate the gun was ejaculating bullets, Otho would’ve been blinded if it were not for his visor. It automatically dimmed the incandescent flashes, made the twilight as clear as midday, and highlighted threats that needed to be violated by his weapon.

He directed his weapon to three Cunts huddling inside the hull of the crashed tri-chopper. He squeezed the trigger and the Cunts were immediately blanketed in an explosion of sparks and immolated steel. They disappeared underneath a cloud of superheated vapor, and as the gas dissipated, there was nothing left to be seen. Otho laughed and pointed his massive gun somewhere else, never relinquishing his grip on the trigger and never ceasing the constant flow of expended casings. He was nearly up to his ankles in casings, but running out of ammo was the least of his concern as his entire being was reverberated by the violently rhythmic movement of his weapon.

A Cunt manhandling a drum-fed .50 cal poured fire towards Otho’s position, but the bullets pinged harmlessly off the sewer pipe that served as his cover. Otho laughed at the Cunt, for despite his weapon’s larger size, its emissions were impotent. Then he directed his own weapon at him and let loose a torrent of death, switching targets only after rendering his victim into nothing but masticated meat.

“No such thing such as overkill!” he shouted in glee as he swept the entire battlefield with his weapon. He was sore from overuse and recoil, and at this, he laughed maniacally. “Suppressive fire!”

Otho’s targeting reticule turned red as it went over an eight-foot tall Connoltian who was holding on his shoulder a massive harpoon gun nearly as large as himself. But before Otho could aim, the giant was sent staggering backwards as the harpoon gun discharged its load directly at him. The five-foot spike sailed towards him with frightening speed and he could only scream as its tip punched through the sewer pipe like tissue paper. The sharp end tore through Otho’s protection and slammed onto his cuirass, severely denting it and violently throwing him on his read end.

As he recovered from the impact, he tasted blood in his mouth. His chest was sore and probably had several ribs broken. He spat out blood a half-cup of blood and saliva as he groaned. “Shit!”

Claudius hauled Manius behind a pile of rubble and corpses as the lieutenant held his position and continued pouring fire at the barbarians. Despite starting out with twice as many as Claudius’ squad, the Cunts were now whittled down to an equal number.

A female Connoltian came rushing from the side, trying to outflank them. Her rifle had an overbarrel spikegun. She aimed at them and fired off a spike that came to within an inch from nailing itself into Claudius’ head. As she desperately tried to reload another spike, Claudius fired off a burst that decapitated her legs. She fell to the floor and began wailing hoarsely, blood squirting out of her flailing stump-feet.

“Where the fuck are yer ‘roids now, eh?!” Manius asked, laughing madly. He loaded his longrifle with one hand and finished the screaming woman off. “More are coming!”

Indeed, the Cunts were using a ditch carved onto the road by the crashing tri-chopper to avoid the Legionnaire’s suppressive fire. Claudius would have none of this as he placed his longrifle’s stock against his shoulder and fired off precise five-round bursts. The leading Cunt’s torso was ‘stantaneously combusted by the tracer and the others behind him were riddled by slugs.

“Attaboy, Claude!” Manius hollered as he threw away his rifle (which jammed) and pulled out a machinepistol. He fired a burst that perforated a crawling Cunt – causing little clouds of blood to squirt out of the dozen holes in his body.

“Lieutenant, I think they’re trying to flank us!” Claudius shouted into his comm.-link.

“I know. Otho’s hit and Lucius’ got harpooned,” Lieutenant Tacitus replied. Claudius could see spent shells flying from the distance as the lieutenant discharged his weapon vigorously. “Most of the Cunts are dead, but the rest are either holed in tight or trying to get out.”

Manius let off another burst before reloading his pistol while Claudius just fired blindly until, two mags later, Cunts finally stopped trying to crawl out. “Sir, are they still there?”

“Yeah. Got any grenades?”

“No,” Claudius replied. The ground began shaking, and nearby wall collapsed on itself as something very big and very loud plowed through it. Claudius grinned. “But I think I got something better?”

“What?” the lieutenant asked.

Emerging from the demolished wall and rolling over shattered concrete was the unmistakable form of a tank. It was very large and its massive treads crunched the corpses of a dozen dead and dying barbarians into greasy smears. On its iron chassis was a boxy turret with an intricately engraved lion on its front and the numerals ‘CXII’ crudely painted on its side. Its gun was positively monstrous, immensely thick and stubby, designed to fire only the largest of warheads. Even Otho would’ve been green with envy.

As bullets from both sides pinged harmlessly off the tank’s thick armor, a hatch popped open and from the interior of the warmachine’s mighty turret came out the tiny head topped with a grossly oversized helmet. The midget tank commander shouted: “Hey, need any help?”

Manius laughed at the unintentionally hilarious sight and began cheering and hooting and bleeding (which he already was beforehand). Claudius just smiled. “Yeah, sure! We got some barbarians holed up in there.” He pointed back with his thumb.

The midget nodded, went back into the turret, and closed the hatch. Seconds later, the turret oriented itself towards the target and, after a brief and awkward moment of silence, the tank’s mighty cannon fired an earth-shaking shot. Fire belched from the cannon’s end and dust flew off its reverberating hull as the tri-chopper crash site was enveloped in a very large explosion. There was a plume of smoke and shortly thereafter, chunks of twisted metal and body parts began raining down.

The legionnaires all got up and applauded.
Image "DO YOU WORSHIP HOMOSEXUALS?" - Curtis Saxton (source)
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!


It was night by the time we got there. Lieutenant Tacitus decided to take the scenic route since the Cunts we took met probably weren’t alone. The midget tank commander, Minimus, thought this was a good idea too. On the way, we met a retreating squad of auxiliaries – we handed Manius to them, bring him to the field hospital for us. Otho was fine though, some morphine and bandages patched him up pretty good. We left the KIA behind.

It was night by the time we got there. But it looked like day, and what we saw there was unbelievable…

Everything in front of the XVI’s position was on fire. It was a sea of living flame straight out of Hades rushing towards them from the barbarian lines. There was screaming, there was shouting, there was barking and there was snarling. However, the XVI were undaunted, for they were Elysian Legionnaires. And at this hellish sight, this tidal wave of fiery death, they did not quiver. Instead, they unleashed everything in their arsenal. Longrifles, machineguns, pillium missiles, ballistae howitzers, mortars, grenade launchers, everything.

“By the gods,” Claudius muttered. The XVI were not shooting at a wave of hellfire, but rather, hundreds upon hundreds of attack dogs, doused in burning tar and sicced at the Legionnaires by their Connoltian masters. They were improvised cannon fodder, torn to pieces and exploded within seconds. The howling and roaring and barking were replaced by death-whimpers and the stench of cooked meat.

“Pay no heed,” Lieutenant Tacitus mumbled. Through the comm.-links, he was actually audible. “Psychological warfare, just like the Cunts’ howling.”

Claudius nodded absently. It made sense, but still, it didn’t make any sense of the scene he beheld.

Otho slapped his shoulder and offered a flask. “Don’t mind it. Here, want some?”

“No thanks…” Claudius muttered.

“Fine then,” Otho shrugged as he downed the remaining rum. He tossed the flask away and cocked his machinegun. “Let’s do this.”

Beside them was the tank of Minimus, an Ajax-type battletank. The mighty warmachine roared to life and Claudius could hear the crew load yet another shell into the monstrous battecannon. Otho could only stare at the devastating shaft with awe.

“Let’s move out,” Lieutenant Tacitus whispered through the comm.-link.

The stench of burning meat and promethium filled the air as Captain MacAdder wiped his brow. It was really hot, no thanks to the five hundred or so burning hyenas beyond the ditch they dug hours ago. His cousin on Aberdeen warned him, said the Cunts would lit up animals and sic them right before moving in with everything. Of course, he thought it was all bollocks – oh, how wrong he was. They started doing it yesterday, and immediately after the Cunts sodded off, he ordered a ditch dug in front of their position. Now the Cunts were back and everything was going to hell.

“What a crock of shite!” he cursed. They had to unload on them - if the berserk mutts made it through the lines, MacAdder’s men would’ve been torn to pieces, and that wasn’t taking to account the fact that the dogs were on fire. Now all the dogs were dead and they were busy reloading.

“Yea, I hear ye,” Pvt. Finnegan muttered. “Time to reload an’ wait fer the fuckin’ inevitable, aye?”

“Aye,” MacAdder agreed. The Cunts would be coming any time now. He slapped a magazine into his longrifle and stuck it between the shields planted front of their trench. “Do ya think the inforcements’ll make it on time, lad?”

“Nah,” Finn said, waving away the notion with his hand. “I reckon we’ll be fucked. Fucked hard.”

“Yea,” MacAdder sighed. Three days in this shitty city without a name. Three days after being told to hold the fucking line. Three days with Cunts coming from all over the sides shooting shit at you.

“Yea,” Finn nodded. He dropped his longrifle, unsheathed his gladius, upholstered his pistol and cocked it.

“What’re ye doin’?” MacAdder asked. “Have ye gone mad?”

“Nah, me gun’s jammed on me,” Finn shrugged. “Besides, what’s the use? The Cunts’ll come an’ come again, better just waiting here for them ta hop in rather than waste me time standin’ there an’ shootin’ at them.”

“Private, I’m ordering you to fight,” MacAdder commanded.

“I’ll fight alright,” Finn replied. “Fight to the bloody death. But while they’re comin’ at us, I’ll just sit me ass here and drink some tea. When they get here, then I’ll fight me bloody ass off.”

“Private…” MacAdder reached for his pistol.

“Besides, cap’, me gun’s jammed on me. I can’t shoot at em’ from afar with me pistol, can I?”

MacAdder sighed. “You git.”

“Yea,” Finn said sadly.

There was an explosion outside and a smoking body landed in the trench, narrowly missing the both of them. It was time.

“Go ahead cap’,” Finn said. “I’ll cover yer’ back.”


The barbarians advanced. Stepping out of foxholes and trenches, crawling out of holes in the ground, they came forth. They numbered in the hundreds and were armed to the teeth with machineguns, rocketrifles, spikeguns and harpoon launchers.

And they were not alone.

Emerging from a corner behind decapitated astrotowers was Connoltian armor. They were massive. Hovering above the horde menacingly, like levitating behemoths, they resembled turrets – flying turrets armed with oversized cannons. Each had a pair, one gun was short and stubby, the other was elongated. Aside from these cannons, the flying turrets were also adorned with machinegun emplacements, rocket pods, and gigantic harpoon launchers.

Strobe lights blazed from the belly of the flying behemoths, sweeping the wartorn landscape in a predatory fashion. As they neared the Legion lines, the deafening whir of turbofans filled the air. Undaunted, the Legionnaires fired, unleashing upon the Connoltian warmachines a fusillade of tracers, missiles and ballistae. But they proved impotent as the aerial turrets unleashed their shock-cannons with impunity, obliterating entire swaths of land in a blink of an eye.

The Connoltian horde cheered and incoherently screamed for the death of the Legionnaires, discharging their own firearms towards their sworn enemies. From the back of their formation, warriors aimed skywards and launched their rocketrifles, filling the air with contrails and blazing rocket-exhaust. The sky lit up as the rocketbullets soared and then arced downwards, landing on the nearest Legion emplacements and exploding on defenders and ground alike. While it rained explosions, the foremost warriors fired a withering barrage of spikegun fire and machinegun rounds, cutting down the retreating Legionnaires nearest to them.

At this, Kaera screeched in vicious euphoria. She unloaded her weapon, a serrated swordgun, at the position of the Legionnaires. She was quite some distance away, directly underneath the flying fortresses, but it did not matter to her if she hit anything at all. She was happy, for the Legionnaires would die this day and soon yet another uncivilized world would be taken by their noble Crusat. Yes, and afterwards, she would return home to her children and train them in the arts of war for yet another noble Crusat.

She reloaded her swordgun and let loose yet another burst. Beside her was a steroidified man, her captain, the man who’s idea it was to unleash the horde of flaming attack dogs. “Advance! Advance!” he hollered. He held in his arms a massive gun that launched an equally massive harpoon. The projectile sailed through the night sky and impaled a Legionnaire before exploding the foxhole he was in.

At this glorious sight, Kaera shrieked and fired her swordgun some more. Her captain shrieked too, but then stopped midway. “Kaera, what is that?” he asked, pointing to the distance.

She saw it too, her goggles amplifying the night light and zooming in at the sight. Something was coming from behind the Legion lines, something big and obscured by a cloud of dust. There was a flash of light and then –

“Fucking gits! Fucking gits the lot of them!” MacAdder cursed. Their trench was one of the first ones exploded by the goddamned air-turrets. Finn was blown up along with the rest of the foremost-middle trenches. For some reason though, Captain MacAdder, son of Clan MacAdder, survived the explosion. And now, he was running like a madman, helmless and with a war-kilt smoking like overcooked haggis. Thank the Maker he was alive.

There was screaming. Coming from behind him, far nearer than the rest of the Connoltian mob. MacAdder turned to face it, his orange hair whipping against his face streaked with blue warpaint. He saw it, saw the Connoltian rushing towards him with a wicked-looking sawblade, waving the thing around and screaming at the top of his lungs. He responded by screaming, screaming equally loud as the oncoming Cunt and drawing out his claymore. Not some pussy mithril gladius, but a real man’s sword some five-foot long and made out of real steel.

The Cunt slashed his saw at him, but MacAdder simply countered with a powerful swing. The sawblade shattered and its shards sliced into the screaming Cunt’s face – causing him to scream very loud. But what really made him scream the loudest was when MacAdder’s claymore bisected him with an overhead chop.

He didn’t scream though, as he merely exploded into a shower of blood and guts. And at this mess, MacAdder only said: “Feh.”

Late as usual, the sight in front of him confirmed. One of the flying gunforts was on fire. Hit by an Ajax battlecannon, from the looks of it. Serves the bastards right, as the twin-barreled gunfort turret slowly but surely careened out of control, falling on top of half the Connoltian horde in a very anticlimactic fashion. The mean warmachine merely crumpled into itself as it hit the ground with a very loud thud. Maybe the hundred plus Cunts underneath it softened its landing.

“What took ye stupid gits so fuckin’ long, eh?” MacAdder laughed as he waved his claymore around. “Heh, serves those fuckers right! Burn, ye stupid arses! Burn! Fuckin’ bloody Cunt-pussy-bitch-pricks!”
Image "DO YOU WORSHIP HOMOSEXUALS?" - Curtis Saxton (source)
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Shit! Man, I didn't think of that! It took Shroom to properly interpret the screams of dying people :D - PeZook
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

“Barbarian dogs!” Otho screamed, his breath stinking of rum and spittle spewing from his mouth. He screamed loudly for the stink of rum, the sound of battle and death and the reek of carcasses of men and canine alike gave him newfound vigor. His body, by all means incapacitated, felt an electric tingle all over – he felt alive. “This is for Gaul! And this is for New Jerseysalem!”

He screamed as he waded through warm mud that wasn’t really mud. For he slogged through the countless carcasses of burnt canines, purified by prometheium as the Connoltians unwittingly sacrificed them to Maerius – patron lord of war, to whom Otho prayed to every time he ventured from the barracks to do battle.

Otho, whose shattered armor was strapped with belts of ammunition, charged. His mighty weapon discharging a fiery storm of iron death at the enemies before him. The seas of corpses, burnt men and beast alike, did not deter him. It only served to invigorate him as he made his way, his weapon spewing out expended casing from both sides as he swept it across the desolated battleground.

In front of him were the disarrayed hordes of barbarians and the shattered lines of XVI. The barbarians had, amongst their midst, a giant bonfire from the wreckage of the crashed aero-turret whereas the XVI’s were either burning or exploded. From the blazing inferno of the crash site, panicked Connoltians began overrunning the Legion lines, screaming and firing incoherently as they did so – shooting at friend and foe alike as they met the Legionnaires head on.

And at this sight, Otho let out one final cry before charging into the fray, his mighty gun blazing amidst the living inferno of men and machine.

Leading the Legionnaires was an Ajax battletank. Unimpeded by the corpse-filled craters, foxholes and trenches, it advanced, sweeping the landscape with sideguns that tore barbarians to pieces. Roaring Cunts with spikeguns were transmuted into clouds of bloody gibs and organs while from behind the barbarian lines, rocketbullets soared into the air and landed directly on it, covering the warmachine in explosions. Harpoons were also fired and they imbedded themselves into the machine’s thick armor.

Like a flaming beast, the warmachine responded with a mighty roar, the sound of its grenade dispensers launching countless submunitions. However, these munitions were not smoke grenades, but frag, and the barbarians who did not have the benefit of feet-thick armor were now the ones covered in explosions. They were blown apart like leaves.

Flame gushed out of the Ajax’ mighty cannon as it ejaculated yet another round, this one directed at the still-flying air turret. As the weapon discharged, the massive recoil clashed with the Ajax’ forward momentum and for a second, the warmachine was still. It was a perfect target.

The shell detonated on the air turret’s side, exploding a turbofan but doing little damage to its system. As the Ajax staggered, the air turret returned fire – discharging cannons huge enough for a man to crawl in.

The first round struck the Ajax’ own turret, exploding impotently against the adamantine armor, barely denting it. The second round was less healthy for the battletank as it detonated on its chassis, causing it to erupt violently and shower immediate vicinity with bits of armor and parts. The chassis disappeared, and all that was left of the tank was its turret.

At this, the Connoltian horde cheered, but before the Connoltian aeroturret could fire yet another salvo at the advancing Legionnaires, thus ending their counter-advance prematurely, it was bisected by a javelin of depleted uranium. The kinetic penetrator was fired by a second Ajax battletank, violating the aeroturret and sheared through its interior, leaving it relatively intact but murdering its entire crew into pulp.

The once-formidable deathmachine fell to the ground like a brick, unceremoniously squishing a hundred Connoltian barbarians.

At the sight of the felled deathmachine, the Legionnaires rallied. Leading the way alongside Otho, who was now half-buried in expended casings, was Lieutenant Tacitus. He shouted, machinepistol on one hand perforating a barbarian woman whilst the other hand pointed a gladius skywards: “Move forward!”

“Burninate you!” Otho roared incoherently as he ejected his expended drum-magazine and replaced it with one filled solely with plasma tracers and oxy-phosphorus bullets. He cocked his rifle swiftly and began discharging it vigorously while waving it around without even aiming. Due to his injuries, his weapon had to be strapped on – not that it slowed him down one bit. “Haha! That’s what you get for being so hairy and unwashed, you barbarians!!! You burn faster! Rah!”

“Otho, you’ve gone mad!” Claudius shouted in alarm as red-hot casing bounced off his helmet. He was hiding behind a big piece of rock, taking cover as the retreating barbarians shot spikes at them. “Take cover!”

“Never!” Otho hollered back as a retreating Cunt that was flailing his arms fell to the ground dead. True to his word, Otho didn’t stop shooting at the corpse until it turned to ashes. “Burninated!”

“You’re mad!” Claudius shouted in alarm as he crouched and fired shots that were actually aimed. A barbarian charging at them with an axehead fixed on his machinegun (as opposed to a normal bayonet) soon found his brain leaking out of his forehead and as he fell, Otho made sure he wouldn’t be getting back up somehow. “What the-?!”

“Just making sure, Claude!” Otho said triumphantly as a round pinged off his helmet. “See, they’re retreating because of me!”

“Both of you, shut up,” Lieutenant Tacitus hissed. He wasn’t actually audible, but Claudius could tell what he said by his eyes. “Go check that blown up Ajax for survivors.”

As Claudius and Otho ran towards the ruined Ajax, and as the rest of the squad advanced and murdered barbarians by the hundreds alongside the other Ajax, Tacitus made his way to the XVI’s shattered lines.

He shook his head sadly. All of the ditches were filled with the corpses of Legionnaires. All but one.

Inside that one ditch were several Legionnaires, most of them were wounded and dying. Most lacked limbs and were lying in a gory mix of mud and gore. One of them was intact though, and he climbed up the ditch to meet the Lieutenant.

“Lieutenant Tacitus,” Tacitus said, offering his hand to the apparently shell-shocked man. He was bloodied, covered in mud, helmless and had very long and very unkempt red hair. He wore a kilt and held in one hand a very big sword. His face was smeared with blue warpaint.

“Captain MacAdder of Clan MacAdder,” the man said, gripping Tacitus hand with his own.

“What’s your men’s status?”

MacAdder sighed. “Not good. Aye, not good. Lost a lot of lads t’day.”

Tacitus nodded his head solemnly. “Sorry.”

“Eh, ye saved our arses. Could’ve come earlier though. Could’a been worse, but not by much,” MacAdder looked at the distance and grinned at the sight of the remaining barbarians being chased by Legionnaires and an Ajax. “Heh, like that? Huh? Ye bloody Cunts!” He waved his sword. “Fuck with us, eh? Now who’s fucked?! Huh? Heh! Lieutenant, I’d like to buy yea a drink.”

Claudius and Otho were on top of the smoking turret. The chassis was completely gone and everyone in the damned thing was probably dead. Claudius tried to open the hatch but ended up jumping off while clutching his hand and screaming in pain.

“The bloody thing is hot!”

“Eh, don’t worry,” Otho grinned as he pointed his machinegun downwards and emptied the last of his ‘burninating bullets’. The burning bullets pinged off the hatch and ricocheted, causing Otho to yelp and jump off. “Ah, fuck.”

“You’re mad!” Claudius shouted in disbelief. “What the bloody-”

There was a muffled noise from the inside of the turret.

Claudius did a double take. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” Otho replied. “Sorry, I got deafened by my machinegun.”

But before Claudius could muster a frustrated retort, the turret’s hatch popped open and out came a tiny head. It was Minimus, the midget tank commander. He was practically unscathed.

It was Otho’s turn to do a double take.

”So,” Minimus casually said, taking off his helmet and slicking back his hair. “Did we win?”
Image "DO YOU WORSHIP HOMOSEXUALS?" - Curtis Saxton (source)
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Shit! Man, I didn't think of that! It took Shroom to properly interpret the screams of dying people :D - PeZook
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Simon_Jester »

Chapter Three: To The UmerNet!
Transient Housing Block 34-260-C, Alpha-Four Arcology, New Athens,
Late 3375

Susie went back to her apartment in the arcology’s transient housing section in a daze. Fortunately, she had something warm and fuzzy there waiting for her: the housing block allowed pets. Almost the moment she made it in through the door, she scooped up Haiku and collapsed onto the sofa, her arms wrapped tightly around the cat.

The sobs she’d been holding back started.

She’d just wanted to move somewhere normal, somewhere they didn’t blow up your research project because there were geese sitting on it. Somewhere they didn’t laugh at any science you couldn’t use to make things explode. Somewhere that wasn’t Stupid.

But she couldn’t go somewhere normal, could she? She wasn’t normal, she was some kind of evil mutant. No wonder she hadn’t been able to fit in back home, she shouldn’t have been able to...

Wait a minute. I’m thinking what they wanted me to think, aren’t I?

She was, wasn’t she? “Psykers are evil mutants.” That was the line, from the official publications, from the school curriculum. That was the consensus, one almost no one would think to disagree with. Certainly no one would dare to.

And there it was. But if that was an official line, enforced that rigorously in the aftermath of the Amplitur War, you’d think the officials knew what they were talking about...

No. Whatever else I may be, may become, I’m still a scientist. I’m better than this. I will not let those... goons tell me who I am, just because they got to me first. I will not be that Stupid.

Maybe she’d better read those packets Rikke had given her. From what the counselor had said, the Umerians knew about psykers without hating them on sight; if there was a way out of the trap her nature had set for her, she’d at least stand of a chance of finding it here.

Some hours later
Are direct-perceptives Important? Heh! I’d say critical. Half my most valuable people are perceptives. We’d have plenty to do without them, just relying on normal instruments alone, but we’d be playing in the shallows, not mastering the deeps. I think our work speaks for itself; look at how many of our papers come from the perceptives. Not the stuff that goes in the Annuals, the ones that get published internationally, the groundbreaking ones, the real ones. Check to see how many of those papers reference their preliminary work, look me in the eye, and tell me they’re not important.

-Dr. Alexander Martin, director of the Laboratory for Exotic Condensed Matter Projects
She closed the video panel and blinked. That man has a very shiny head. Distractingly shiny... Irrelevant thoughts were probably a good sign. She didn’t feel miserable any more, not after watching dozens of clips of people who worked with Umerian psychics: not the psychics themselves, but the ones who relied on them for day to day jobs. Sometimes prominent jobs, like using extrasensory perception to sense the configuration of molecules in exotic-matter crystals. Sometimes trivial jobs, like telekinetic juggling. But always they were described as just... people. Doing people stuff.

She’d gone to the UmerNet, looking for more information, to make sure it wasn’t some kind of scheme- who knows, maybe they used militarized psykers too and wanted a way to lure them in? But... it wasn’t. Searches brought up huge numbers of psyker references, on every subject imaginable, from popular entertainment to advanced surgical techniques. There was no coordination, no official line at all.

She managed to find some political forums; it wasn’t easy, but they were there if you kept poking away long enough. She found long highly theoretical essays on the roles of psykers in society, and not the ones she expected along the lines of “they are a nasty sort and should be locked up.” She found shorter, less theoretical essays about the need for psyker training, or for changes in... scarily permissive laws regarding the use of their powers.

Finally, scrolling down the comments page of a politically oriented video storage site, she found something that looked familiar:

“Doesn’t anybody get it? They’re everywhere, running the government, reading our minds! It all has to stop, for the sake of the children!”

But below that was, printed in bright red:

“NOTE: Poster is an adult Type Two citizen.”

Thinking about it, she’d seen that before, over the past few weeks’ browsing of the Umerian national networks. Usually on highly opinionated and fairly incoherent material. It was like the Umerians were making these people wear a sign around their neck saying: “Danger! I am an immature idiot!”

Remembering some of the comments she’d seen on ShepTube before she left, that might not be such a bad idea, come to think of it...

Would anyone back home... back there and then normally agree that this guy was an idiot, though? After all, that was pretty much official policy. Let psykers in and they’d be running the place, mind-controlling law enforcement into arresting government leaders, military personnel into revealing critical defense secrets. And it had happened to them, in the Amplitur War, with the powerful alien psykers-

Something is... something is weird. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she felt an intuitive flash guiding her fingers. She brought up two windows, did two searches of the planetary datanet. One for “esper,” one for “psyker.” Results for the first search outnumbered the second almost thirty to one.

She looked up the definitions on an official government-published dictionary site:
  • 1. An individual possessing some form of psychic abilities, including but not limited to: extrasensory perception, telepathy, or the ability to manipulate physical objects by effort of will.
    2. Esper rating: A quantitative measurement of the extent of an esper’s abilities, compared to some reference scale. Example: The Modified Aguero-Jabusov Classification Scheme
  • 1. Of or pertaining to an esper, or to espers collectively. Examples: Esper rights, Esper employment
  • 1. Byzantine term for espers. Also used in Chamarran dialects of Galactic English, and occasionally in other regional dialects.
    2. Shepistani slur for espers; same denotation as “esper,” but connotes malice and inhumanity
”Shepistani slur for espers?” That was the word for it, that was what you called someone with mental powers... wait. She thought back to that old Shepipedia entry, the one she’d looked up in the early Sixties before deciding that she couldn’t possibly be psychic. Think about how the article was written.

Lead off by talking about the Amplitur as “psykers.” Talk a lot about the Amplitur’s powers, what they’d done in the opening rounds of the War. It was something anyone would reasonably be scared of, that level of infiltration and control, especially coming from a genocidal enemy whose only goal had been to get rid of everything that wasn’t more Amplitur. Set the Amplitur up as the number one example of “psykers.”

Then the clever bit. The Amplitur were evil, OK. The Amplitur were psykers, strong ones. So then leave people to put those together and decide that psykers must be evil. “Psykers” were sneaky, malevolent things that crawled around trying to steal people’s secrets and bring civilization down in ruins. And if everyone with psychic powers was a “psyker” by definition, that meant everyone with psychic powers was a menace, someone to be reported to the authorities, detained, confined... used. For everyone’s sake.

Keep it up for a few hundred years. Now everyone in Shepistan was terrified of psykers. Always wondering when the psyker menace would come back, because “psyker” meant “Amplitur.” Meant “assassin,” meant the monster watching from behind your back and waiting for the chance to make you into its obedient little puppet. And so they were willing to pay any price to be safe from the monster. Willing to use machines that made their own people miserable for fear that the horrible, evil psykers would come crawling in through the windows, sneaking, spying, murdering. They’d even congratulate each other on it, proud to have “the only psyker-free society in the galaxy.”

Is this just wishful thinking? It hurt her, did that mean it wasn’t fair? That it was some sort of sinister craziness sinking into the country of her birth? Maybe it was just that the Umerians didn’t understand what it was like to have to deal with a really major psychic attack. What do the Umerians think about the Amplitur War, anyway? They’d been right next door to the belligerents, but that was five hundred years ago.

Back to the UmerNet! Searching “Amplitur” brought up... movies, some of them she recognized as Shepistani action movies that had apparently crossed the border. Some random things... ah-ha! The Umerian national collaborative encyclopedia, their answer to Shepipedia, had an article on the war...

While other conflicts involving the Amplitur race have occured, “The Amplitur War” invariably refers to the extremely destructive conflict between the Grand Dominion and Shepistani Republic on the one hand and the Amplitur race on the other. Fought in the late 30th century, this conflict was the most destructive war in regional history, dwarfing the Jaggan War in total damage and matching or exceeding it in relative damage even for the victors. It is often compared to the Dilgrud Wars, fought during the same era but to a different conclusion for reasons of great xenopsychological interest.

The Amplitur War began with a very destructive surprise offensive by the previously isolationist and xenophobic Amplitur against the core worlds of both Shepistan and the Dominion, and ended in the effective sterilization of the Amplitur homeworld via use of a petaton-range “nova bomb,” speculated to be a supercharged type of the devices of the same name used by the Byzantine Empire as area-effect antiship weapons. Dominion and Republic authors almost invariably assert that the use of the nova bomb was necessary. Opinion among foreign historians varies, but generally supports this conclusion...
OK. So far, so good. She kept going. Finally she hit the jackpot.
Cultural Effects of the War: Shepistan
While the Shepistanis suffered far less from the conflict than the Dominion economically and militarily, the social trauma of the initial surprise attack was particularly devastating. Lacking the ability to move large battlefleets into Shepistani space without alerting their border monitoring stations, and being more interested in paralyzing the Republic for than in destroying it outright in the opening round of the war, the Amplitur chose to rely heavily on infiltration using their exceptionally powerful esper abilities, as described earlier.

The sheer scale of the Amplitur sneak attack, and the extent to which it relied on esper abilities to succeed, left Shepistan with intense national paranoia about the prospects of military attack in general, and future esper infiltration. President Frederick, who rode out the attack at the deepest sublevels of Vulture Rock, was noted to exhibit pronounced Caesarist tendencies after the war, promoting a major expansion in the Shepistani postwar military (see Shepistani History: Remilitarization of the 31st Century).

This widespread expansion coincided with the active anti-psi devices known as “Blitzschlag Field Generators” developed during the war to counter the Amplitur’s abilities and prevent them from functioning in secured areas were refined after the war, and expanded into a nationwide network. Medical side-effects of this are considerable...
...and Susie shied away from going to those linked references; she was afraid to know.

But as she kept reading, she thought she saw the Umerian perspective. The Technocracy hadn’t gotten heavily involved, aside from a few minor details such as cheerfully selling nuclear missiles to the Shepistanis when the Republic, amazingly, managed to run short. All in all, they didn’t seem to have been too rattled by it, even at the time. The entry on “Cultural Effects of the War: Umeria” was short, and the historical papers she followed up on seemed to agree that there was nothing all that remarkable about massive psychic attacks in wartime. That it was somehow just... one of those things.

There was an analysis paper on the subject by some- military officer? Military historian?- by the name of Jack Holloway. Appended was a particularly striking personal comment by the author:

“Fight Shepistan, expect nukes. Fight psychic hive mind bugs, expect mind control attacks. There weren’t really any surprises in the Amplitur War.”

I’m not the only one who thinks there’s something wrong with the system. Maybe... maybe we really did go too far. She’d like to think so, better to be chased out of the country by a nation gone mad than to flee a country taking sane countermeasures in favor of one that didn’t. And perhaps what she wanted to believe really was right here.

Always the description of psychics as monsters in Shepistan. There weren’t even any civilian uses, not officially. No one would even consider arguing for them, either. The legal precedents were clear. If you wanted to go marching in the streets waving signs saying “President Sheppard is a dick,” you could, no question. Go around saying “Psykers are people too...” well, everyone knew what people who thought that deserved to have happen to them.

Looking at it from a hundred light years’ distance and the far side of a change of perspective, it was disgusting.

And even knowing how they’d done it, she couldn’t help but feel that little shiver of revulsion every time she thought of “psykers.” So no, she would not be a psyker. She’d wind up hating herself if she thought of herself that way. She needed a new name for what she was, just to survive the experience of being it. The Umerians, at least, had a word for someone with psychic powers that didn’t automatically mean “forces of darkness,” that was a good start.

So Susie decided, in self defense, that she would be an esper. Espers weren’t sneaky or malevolent. They weren’t spies or saboteurs by nature. They were entertainers, therapists, scientists. People. And somehow, they got by.

But how does that even work, without some kind of psi protection covering everyone? What stops psykers from using their powers to... NO. ESPERS. BAD SUSIE! BAD! And then, once she changed the way she asked the question, the answer was obvious. it came to her.

“What stopped espers from using their powers on the streets?” was a silly question. Naturally you needed to protect against “psykers.” Psykers were enemy agents, of course you needed a way to stop them in their tracks, rather than just protecting a few special points from them. They could do untold damage by being able to operate freely anywhere, just like people sneaking around planting bombs could.

But you didn’t need a civilization-wide defense against “espers” any more than you did against “really huge guys.” Nobody would seriously suggest that there had to be some kind of law against being strong because of the threat that you’d use your muscles to beat people up. Or against being good at fast-talking because you’d start conning people out of their money. Or against people people carrying, say, Gauss weapons, just because those could kill people.

Maybe you couldn’t trust a monster to be very smart, or very clever, or well armed, because that would make them too dangerous an enemy. But what if the ones with that kind of power weren’t enemies? What if they were just people? People could walk around with those things, without attacking each other all the time. Everybody carrying a pistol didn’t mean gunfights in the corridors every day. So why should unblocked telepaths mean people reading each other’s minds and stealing their secrets every day?

Somehow, the rest of the galaxy got by without covering everyone against that all the time. It had to be possible, or it wouldn’t happen. And however they did it, it had to be a lower price to pay than the all-pervasive oozing, gloating, diabolical Stupid of the Blitzschlag Field.

Whatever the alternative to Stupid was, she was going to find out tomorrow.
Last edited by Simon_Jester on 2011-03-09 10:02pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Steve »

Jeziri Plains
Toutaine, The Veil, Sector P-26
20 August 3395

The planet Toutaine was a mostly desert world, though it did have an atmosphere that after only a few years of terraforming had proven workable for sustaining Human life. It had not been founded on purpose, of course; a colony ship with Heim Drive had found it after the Diaspora and with their supplies dwindling the colonists had felt no choice but to settle the planet. They had found one valley, in the planet's temperate zone, where a river had helped form soil that could sustain subsistence farming. Save for a few islands in the planet's small ocean on the other side of the planet, no other land on the planet looked capable of sustaining life.

At the northern border of the valley, between the Hejri Mountains and the inland sea where the river emptied itself, was the entrance to the Jeziri Plains. It got some of the leftover rainfall from the planet's rain patterns (which actually started in the ocean in the other hemisphere, though it heavily involved patterns from the inland sea as well) and had become scrubland. Not suitable for agriculture, but it did produce plants and sustain fauna, as well as providing the home for the planet's native race of nomads, the Toutainee (also called "Sand people" or "Sand Raiders" - their relationship with Human settlers was understandably poor).

It also provided plenty of space for landing ships where people didn't want to be too close to the settled valley. Out here, in the hot scrubland, pirates and renegades from as far away as Chamarra or Bragule could rest, fix engines, or deal with whatever issues made them stop. Well-armed pirates could even raid the nearby settlements for food, materials, or if they were of a particularly persuasion, captives to sell to slavers.

In this case, a band of slavering pirates had caught a young fifteen year old girl, Nisa, from one of the local settlements after she journeyed too close to their hideout. She screamed and cried as they threw her around, tearing at her clothes - an all-male crew deprived of feminine company (or, in their case, human feminine company) was not too choosy.

Nisa was saved from rape by an unlikely source; the pirates' sole prisoner. Nisa had never seen an alien so Human-like yet so different. In terms of figure she was clearly Human-like, but the rest of her was so very alien. Her ears were long and slanted backward, her eyes an inhuman dark teal tone, her skin a rich, dark purple while her hair was dark blue. Clad in torn up robes and bound, the woman was also wearing a peculiar collar. A peculiar collar that looked busted now.

Suddenly Nisa's assailants were flying around, as if hit by nothing. The pirates turned their attention to their rebelling captive, who yelled in English, "Flee! You must flee and save yourself, child!" Nisa did so, lamenting afterward as she ran through the scrubland on her worn down sandals that she had not yelled thanks to her savior. All she could do was run, holding her arms crossed over her chest in burning shame from where the pirates had stripped her half-naked.

Nisa had explored the border of the Plains many times as a child, but in her terror she had lost her way. She didn't know which way would take her home or deeper into the Plains, where the Sand Raiders would find her and do horrible things to her. She prayed to the Almighty God her parents had spoken of to guide her to safety and continued to run, hoping the pirates were not following.

And then she saw the hut, and the robed figure standing outside. "Help!", she screamed, running toward him. "Please, you must help! The pirates are after me!"

The figure turned. She saw a bearded, mustached face look back at her. The fair, Caucasian complexion he possessed had been tanned by the yellow star of Toutaine and the harsh conditions here. He picked up a sheet of some sort and went toward her, allowing Nisa to wrap her bare torso in it as she began to cry and speak of her horrifying tale.

It had been a close-run thing, but the pirates had subdued their captive. The purple-skinned Dorei woman was in a fresh collar suppressing her ESP. They'd stripped her topless as well for what came next; punishment. The crew had debated a number of ways to torture her, but the Captain - "Black Jack" Tressor - stamped his foot down. The dark-bearded, grizzled man had pointed things out to his crew: "Our Pfhor clients appreciate broken slaves." After they had strapped her to a nearby plant, a kind of seven foot-tall cacti with no needles on the trunk, he returned from the ship with a nasty-looking, metal-studded whip of four blades and an explanation: "They like slaves with scarred backs. Says they've been whipped good."

It took only a few strikes for red blood to begin dripping on the ground. Flesh hung in strips from the Dorei woman's body as she clamped her eyes shut and tried to block out the pain. Her Gift was silent; she couldn't cut off the sensation as Black Jack shredded her bare back at each strike. All she could do was be thankful that the poor girl had gotten away. Even here, she had done her duty.

The pirates roared with laughter at every strike and every cry from their captive, even the medically-trained one who's job it'd be to cover the wounds. Their enjoyment of their captive's suffering went beyond mere misogynistic or specieist sadism; the Dorei woman was a Sister of the Silver Moon, captured in Wild Space to be sold to the Karlacks, then re-directed to the Pfhor after Black Jack had a falling out with the bugs (the kind of falling out that encouraged them to move operations to the Veil if they didn't want their brains devoured). The Silver Moon was a perpetual thorn in the side of every pirate and slaver from Wild Space to the Outback; it was a common practice for vicious bands to be creatively abusive whenever one fell into their grasp, payback for all the times they'd lost money, freedom, friends, or limbs to the Order.

Just before Black Jack could place a sixth strike on the captive, eyes turned away. The Dorei woman waited in vain for another lash; the pirates turned to face a lone, robed figure walking through the scrubland straight for them. A couple drew weapons, others merely gawked. Black Jack turned away from the Dorei woman to stare as the figure came within earshot over the hot plains, looking very over-dressed. "Who the fuck r'you?!", he called out.

There was no answer, simply the indication of an intensifying stare.

Black Jack dropped his bloodstained whip and reached for his gun. "You've got to the count of five to tell me who the fuck you are1 Or I fuckin' shoot you!"

There was still silence.

"One. Two. FIVE!" Black Jack brought up the gun and squeezed on the trigger.

As he did, the figure made a punching motion. Black Jack felt like he'd been struck by a baton. His head popped up and he fell over onto his back, his shot going high. The pirates knew they were dealing with a psyker and reacted by pulling their guns and opening fire.

Before the shots got to the figure, he made his feet solid on the ground and made what seemed to be a lifting motion with his arms, as if holding up a column. Suddenly the ground before him rolled upward, like a carpet. Bullets and plasma shots and laser bolts (pirates tend to have a diverse armament) smacked harmlessly against thick chunks of hard soil and even rock in the ground. The wall that had suddenly formed suddenly rippled toward them, like a wave of earth. They fired and fired to no success until finally the rock smacked into them all, burying them under soil and earth. Men clambered to their feet, trying to find their sidearms.

The robed figure was turning the entire landscape against them. Short-trunked cacti, rocks, raw earth, every movement of his arms threw a projectile at them. Any attempt to shoot was blocked by an earthen wall.

The thing about pirates was that if victory didn't come quick, they preferred bolting to staying and fighting, even if they might win. "Let's get the fuck out of here!", one cried out. They began to scramble into their ship, clutching their guns. The medic did try to pick up his things, to find they were wrenched out of his grasp; he wasn't about to put up a real fight for them. Black Jack swore under his breath he would have the person who screamed that spaced, but before leaving he wanted to finish things. Having picked himself up, he leveled his gun at the Dorei woman's head. At 20 yards, the shot would be easy; she'd be dead.

The gun suddenly came backward. It twisted in Black Jack's grip until he let go and found himself staring down its barrel. He swallowed, realizing the ESPer was holding it telekinetically even before he spoke in a cold, deliberate tone. "She was fifteen." After another moment of silence, in which the pirates finished closing the door to the ship, the figure spoke again. "Fifteen years old, and you were going to have her raped."

"Couldn't let her go. Don't want to be found," Black Jack insisted. As if that would convince his attacker. "Fuck you, fucking psyker. I ain't afraid of your kind!"

"I didn't ask you to be." The figure walked around and took the gun in his own hand. Beside them the pirate ship rumbled. Dust clouds billowed as it lifted off on anti-grav drives, soon racing toward the horizon. "Looks like your crew has left you."

"Fuckin' shoot me, psyker, or I'll hunt you down and..."

The ESPer brought up a fist. This was no telekinetic blow, but it didn't need to be to knock out Black Jack. He crumbled unconscious into the dust.

The Dorei woman slumped against her confinement. She wondered who this man was. She couldn't sense his thoughts very well; he was blocking intrusion. Suddenly there was a cold sensation on her wounded back. A cool, soft ubstance impacted gently on her, from her neck to where the trousers she was kept in started, covering all of her back with what felt like a foamy or gooey substance. A knife flashed in her vision as two arms reached around her, severing each synthmaterial cord binding her wrists to the cacti trunk. She felt weak and slumped against it. "Can you walk?", the man asked.

"I can."

"Good. We have to go."

"What about him?", the Dorei asked, indicating Black Jack's unconscious figure.

"I see the Sand People in the distance. He's going to wish I'd killed him." The figure lifted her up and slung one of her arms up on his shoulders. It was not an easy task; she was about six feet one inch, he was over six feet and a half feet. "My home is near. You can rest and recover there."

By the time they got to an unassuming little hut in the scrublands, the Dorei woman was so exhausted she collapsed and fell asleep, her first real rest in ages. When she awoke, it was sunset. Her savior was not present... but another figure was.

"Hello," Nisa said. She was wearing a sleeveless vest now, provided by her host. She smiled at the Dorei woman and offered her a cup. "Water?"

The Dorei drank greedily from it, gulping it down in seconds. "Thank you."

"Do you want food? The Hermit is cooking us a meal outside."

"I am famished," the Dorei admitted. She appraised Nisa closely. "You found help?"

"Yes. God led me to this man." Nisa lowered her voice for what she said next. "He is some kind of Holy Man, or so we have believed."


"My people. We are the Yildiz of Jeziri. Our town lays at the start of the Plain, where the Samiz River bends to empty into the Great Sea. I am Nisa Tari."

The Dorei woman had never heard of these people. But she could remember fragments of her time as a captive; the pirates were taking her to an underground market in the Pfhor Empire, so this was likely just outside Wild Space or at the edge of it. They were now in the Veil, far from where the Order usually operated. "I am pleased to meet you, Nisa," she finally said.

"Who are you?", Nisa asked. "I have never seen an alien people like you."

"I am a Dorei," she explained. "My name is Yamia Kunara, Bondmate of my beloved Syrandi Luneri, and I am a Knight of the Silver Moon."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Steve »

Jeziri Plains
Toutaine, The Veil, Sector P-26
23 August 3395

Yamia woke up slowly. Her back was sensitive and painful from where her body was slowly healing from the terrible scourging she had endured. She pondered if this was what it was like to be officially Scourged; certainly she felt like a Sapas had used her back as a scratching post.

Nisa had spent the night with them, then the Hermit had brought her back to her village the next day. When he returned he came back with a cart pulled by horses, full of supplies like drinking water and foodstuffs. Yamia had asked how he afforded them; he replied simply that they were gifts.

Over the following days they had remained quiet. She hadn't asked the Hermit's name; he had not asked her's, though apparently he knew it. At night he slept out under the stars, leaving his surprisingly-comfortable mattress for her. Yamia felt grateful to him for it. She pondered just who he really was. Nisa had called him a "Holy Man", but Yamia wasn';t convinced this was why he stayed out here.

As they sat inside, avoiding the hot sun, Yamia felt tears go down her face. The lack of proximity to her beloved Syrandi was a white-hot agony on her soul. And she could only imagine what her love was going through, being informed of her disappearance. If it was not immediately considered a death, that is.

Yamia saw the Hermit staring at a photograph. Out of curiosity she looked at it; it was of a Human woman, adult, with short dark hair and a lovely face, wearing some kind of strapless evening gown. Yamia thought the skin tone looked olive, though the photograph looked a little faded. "Who was she?", Yamia asked.

"The love of my life," the Hermit answered. "A... lifetime ago."

"You lost her?"

"I did. Just when it seemed that Duty was done, and we could be together for the rest of our lives, she became ill. And decades became years. Four short, painful years." The Hermit put the photograph back into a box of some sort, one that looked well-made and capable of protecting it from the elements.

"I miss my beloved," Yamia confessed.

"In love?"

"Very much so. My Syrandi, she is the most wonderful lover I could have asked for." Yamia noticed no expression on the man's face. She knew many Human religions frowned on homosexuality, unlike the Dorei ones. Maybe, if he is a Holy Man, his religion does not care?, she pondered to herself. "She knows I am missing now. I can only imagine her pain and agony."

"You both have my condolences," the Hermit replied. "It will be hard to get you off-world. We don't get many ships here who aren't pirates or slavers. Most of the rest are military vessels from the Sovereignty and Imperium. They don't exactly take passengers."

"I am considered an Anglian subject. Maybe they would...?" Yamia sighed. The Order was not popular in any of the Koprulu nations. The Karlacks wanted to infest them, the Bragulans wanted to shoot them, the Imperium loathed them as heathen xenos or xeno-loving Humans and the Sovereignty considered them little more than pests. "She will suffer, I know."

"Yes. But it may take much time to get you offworld. Years."

"I can't impose on you," Yamia insisted. "I can find a place to stay out here, in the wilderness."

"No," the Hermit insisted. "The Sand People are too dangerous. They fear me... you will be regarded as an interloper, fit only to be worked to death if not outright killed. No, I will take you into town soon, and I will find you a place to stay. So long as you take up some form of labor the Yildiz will happily accept you."

Yamia nodded. "I am capable of labor. And I can help protect the people. I am trained to use many weapons."


"So, what was her name?"


"Did you have any children?'

"Yes. And they had children."

Yamia nodded. "Don't you have a family to be with, then? Why are you out here?"

"Because they're gone. All long gone. Been for centuries," he sighed.

That is strange, he doesn't look a day over 175 for a Human... and he's certainly not from this world. Yamia nodded slowly. "So you are alone. I am sorry."

"Thank you."

"We were not properly introduced," Yamia noted aloud. "I am Yamia Kunara, a Knight of the Silver Moon."

"Indeed." He lokoed off into space. "I suppose, if you insist, you may know my name."

"You would rather hide it?"

"No. I honestly would rather not exist here at all. Dying once was enough," the bearded man said. A bemused grin crossed his face. "Call me Stephen, if you must..."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Steve »

Tari Homestead, Jeziri Plains
Toutaine, The Veil, Sector P-26
19 July 3398

Yamia was approaching her third year living amongst the settlers Toutaine. She had been granted a home wih the Taris, Kimiya and her husband Sadik, thanks to Nisa's insistance and the knowledge that the Holy Man of the Plains favored her. In exchange Yamia provided them with an extra set of hands for the work of the Homestead and defending it from any bandits that came along, as well as Sand People.

It was solid work, and the people were kind, but it was clear to the Taris that Yamia's heart wasn't in it. Three years had not dampened her yearning to go home and they often found herself crying in her sleep, especially on dates that were meaningless to them but so very important to Yamia.

The 19th began like most days. It was planting season for the area and Yamia went hard to work helping to plant the year's harvest of grains while Nisa and her mother tended the animals. Sadik was gone; he had joined a group of men looking in the Plains for signs of a tribe of the Toutainee drawing close to Jeziri, a potential threat to their homes.

Yamia had engrossed herself in her work when she heard foodsteps. She looked up and back to see Nisa walked up, wearing a plain working blouse and long skirt much like Yamia's. She was soon to turn 18 now, just a couple months from her 19th birthday, and she had gone from a pretty adolescent girl to a fairly beautiful young woman in the three years Yamia had known her. They had remained close; Nisa had never forgotten what Yamia had saved her from and Yamia had taken a liking to the girl's spirit. She did not act to undermine the Taris' education of their daughter in what was expected of her, but Yamia did share with her stories of the galaxy around them. Great desperate battles by outnumbered Sisters driving off Bragulan renegades or Karlack hunters, brave battles in the Outback, and stories of the great Sisters of the Silver Moon who had served before. The only thing Yamia had regretted was that she could not show Nisa a beamsaber.

"I couldn't help but overhear you last night," Nisa said to her.

Yamia didn't answer. She had cried herself to sleep the prior night.

"You've left someone behind?"

Seeing Nisa was going to keep inquiring, Yamia sighed and turned to look at her. "It was the anniversary of our Bonding Rite," Yamia sighed. "When we swore to be faithful to one another."

"I'm very sorry for you." Nisa, being a kind spirit, gave Yamia a strong hug. "But I'm sure you'll see her again one day. There'll be a ship, eventually."

"In all three years I've been here, Nisa, the only vessels we've seen have been Cevaucian destroyers and pirates," Yamia answered. "Nobody runs regular transport here. Nobody cares enough to come here. And... you have to understand, when we of the Gift create a Bond, it's not just about marriage and intimacy in the bedroom. It's.... a melding of mind and soul. We know each other's thoughts, we remember each other's memories. And our Bond has been broken for over three years now..."

There was a clattering of hooves in the distance. Yamia and Nisa looked up and saw men on horseback riding toward the Tari farm. "The men from town," Nisa said aloud as the two watched them grow close. They were soon joined by Kimiya, who stood in front as one of the men came up: Tayfun Harmaz, the senior peacekeeper of Jeziri. "Kimiya, Nisa..." The man, who looked so rough with his bearded chin and grizzled face, seemed almsot deceptively soft and apologetic in expression and tone. "I'm sorry."

"Sadik...?" Kimiya's eyes began to well with tears.

"We were ambushed by the Sand People. Sabik's horse was cut down from under him. He remained behind to buy us time to escape." Tayfun dismounted as Kimiya fell to her knees, crying. Nisa wept for her father as well, seeking solace in Yamia's waiting arms. Leaning down, Tayfun extended a hand. "He is with God now, I know it, and you will be cared for in his name, I promise."

"No, my Sadik..."

In the hot scrublands, Sadik Tari lay on his back, a blood-stained hand covered in his own red and the orange-red tint of Toutainee ichor against the wound on his belly. The sun was hot and merciless and his throat was dry with thirst. His other hand was motionless, stabbed through the shoulder by a Toutainee spear, and above him a Toutainee prepared to gather his corpse for whatever purposes they had in mind for him (after making him a corpse first, of course).

Before the deathblow could fall on him, a flash of green light sliced cleanly through one. They turned and, upon seeing the source, began to run. Sadik could feel the earth rumble beneath him, as if it were angry with them and were driving them away.

A bearded, grizzled face peered down at him. Sadik knew it; it was the Holy Man of the Plains, the Hermit so many spoke of in whispered tones of respect, who could ripple the soil like it were water. In his hand, he held a weapon of pure light, shining green - to Sadik, a favored color of God and further indication of the Holy Man's credentials.

The green blade suddenly disappeared. The Hermit looked down at him and retrieved a flask from within his robe. He held it out and pressed it to Sadik's parched lips. "You are beyond saving," he told Sabik. "But you do not need to die thirsty."

Sadik answered by accepting the offered gift of water. "Thank you," he rasped. He could feel his life slipping away. He had only a minute, maybe less. "Please... Kimiya and Nisa..."

"I will watch over them" the Hermit promised.

"You should know... Kimiya told me..." Sadik took in a breath and accepted another drink to wet his lips and make it easier to speak. "Nisa... is your's..."

The Hermit stared at him. "I do not..."

"Kimiya told me... everything. She trusted me... and I loved her all the more. I loved Nisa as my own.... She is... your blood..." With his free hand, Sadik grabbed at the Hermit's robe. "Tell them... that I love them..."

That was when Sadik died.

The Hermit kneeled them for a time, processing what Sadik said. His thoughts went back years, almost 20, to when he first arrived on this world, trying to get away from ancient memories and sorrow. He remembered Kimiya, feeling sorry for a young woman, barely of adult age, stuck with her father's farm and in need of help to maintain it.

He had been lonely that night. And Kimiya had been insistant, even curious.

And this was the consequence...

As night approached Nisa was still crying for her father. The three women, the only permanent residents of the homestead, were gathered in the house with a half-finished meal before them. Yamia had taken up cooking duties for them; the result was sadly subpar, as she was far better at cooking Hargani food than Toutaine settler dishes.

She felt rage suddenly swell in Nisa's heart. She wasn't thinking of her loss anymore, she was thinking of her father's needless death, and of the perpetual aggression from the Sand Raiders. Nisa's heart swelled with anger, hate...

And in that hate, she lashed out.

Yamia saw it coming a moment early. She gaped in shock as a plate of uneaten food flew across the table and smashed against the far wall, untouched by Human hands. ,Kimiya saw it too; even Nisa seemed to react with surprise. "What did I...?"

"Nisa!" Kimiya had an expression of fear. "You must never speak of this! Don't... don't do that again!"

"I... what did I...?"

"You have the Gift," Yamia said.

"I have it?" Nisa shook her head. "No... no, you said it develops as a child, I can't..."

"It can develop late in some cases." Yamia felt the fear coming from Kimiya. She knew what it was; the Hermit Stephen had warned her of it when she left to live with the Taris. The Toutaini had a low incidence of ESPers and tended to view them through a religious lens, believing ESP came either from connection to God or from demonic sources. It had taken him years of building a reputation for friendliness to the locals for his reputation to go from untrustworthy outsider to Holy Man. Even Kimiya's thoughts turned to the word "Shaitan", the Devil, the source of Evil, as she considered her daughter's unbidden use of power.

"...I... I'm not evil! Mother!" Nisa's rage and anger subsided from terror; she could feel her mother's horror and thoughts. "I am me!"

"You must never tell anyone!", Kimiya insisted. "I cannot protect you. Sadik is gone and cannot..."


"Go to your room!"

Still scared and unsure, Nisa fled the room. Kimiya looked to Yamia. "I know you have such power too," she said quietly. "Nisa told me. And I know your heart is good, alien woman. But the people will not see it that way for either of you. Please, you must promise never to show Nisa how to use these things."

"I understand your fear," Yamia said, "but Nisa needs to be taught to control it..."

"You are my guest! I insist you promise!", Kimiya shouted. "Do not show her!"

Yamia swallowed. There was no reasoning with a woman gripped by fear. And regret as well, she sensed. Regret at...?

"You sense my thoughts," Kimiya said. "Yes, it is true." She gave Yamia a look. "Sadik knew too. I trusted him, and he honored that trust by raising Nisa as his own daughter. And I loved him all the more for it."

"But... Nisa was not fathered by him."

"No," Kimiya answered. "She was not."


"The Hermit," Kimiya sighed. "His first years here, people did not know what to think of him. So many like him come here because they are evil men fleeing the justice of the star nations. He stayed to himself... but he took pity on me when my father died and I was left to tend the farm alone. He helped me that harvest season. And afterward...." She stared off to the side, recalling an old memory. "I was grateful, young, almost in love. Sadik was just a distant suitor I'd barely met. And he was so alone...." She shook her head at this point, making herself focus on the present. "Please, you musn't tempt Nisa to use these powers. It's for her own good."

"I will not show her how," Yamia answered. "I promise. But... you really should think on this. The Gift cannot simply be ignored. It won't let itself. And Nisa is spirited. She will feel temptation to use it on her own, and without training she can hurt herself or others."

"I will talk with Nisa tomorrow," Kimiya said. "I'll make sure she knows not to use these powers. Do you promise me you will respect that? On the God you believe in?"

"On the God we believe in, yes, I promise you that I will not," Yamia sighed, knowing she had no alternative. She just hoped this wouldn't come back to bite them.

After a troublesome sleep, Yamia awoke to prepare for work. A lot still had to be done and the loss of Sadik meant one less pair of hands to do it. The men of Jeziri would help, true, but they had their own farms and workshops to tend. It would be unwise to rely entirely on them when they could only do so much.

As she prepared for the day, the door to her room flew open. Kimiya appeared, her eyes full of tears, her mind full of worry and terror. "She's gone!", Kimiya cried.

"What?" Yamia stared at her in disbelief.

"Nisa is gone!"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Re: SDNW4 Prologue Thread

Post by Steve »

Jeziri Plains
Toutaine, The Veil, Sector P-26
20 July 3398

The sun was over the horizon when Nisa found the hut, just where she remembered it from years before. The dawn air was cool, almost uncomfortable against her bare arms, but she had ignored it when she set out in the middle of the night, not wanting to be seen as her mother and Yamia slept.

She saw nobody outside so Nisa walked up toward the door. Her feet hurt through her worn-down sandals; she'd been walking for hours. She would have sat down already if not for the single-mindedness with which she had come here, the kind found in a headstrong, spirited 18 year old who had seen her world rocked in the last 24 hours.

There was a figure sitting on the bed, silent. His dark hair was still cut short, though his beard had grown a little longer since the last time she'd seen the Hermit. His dark robe was already draped over his shoulders and the clothes he wore underneath.

Before Nisa could speak, the Hermit moved. "Why have you come?", he said.

Tears were forming in her eyes. She thought of what her mother had said the prior night, to Yamia, when she thought Nisa had gone on to hed bedroom. Instead Nisa had been hiding behind a wall. She had heard it all. Sadik was not her father. The Hermit was. Hearing this had made Nisa want to confront Kimiya on the issue, but instead she had slunk to her bed, determined to get a little sleep and then wake up to go meet the Her.... her father.

During her short sleep, she had dreamed of Sadik. Since she could remember he had been "Father". The strong arms holding her when she was scared had been his, as had the stern voice teaching her right from wrong and trying to protect her from her own curiosities. It felt wrong to know that she had not been his child, that her mother had been with another before him. It took almost two decades of happy family memories and placed a pallor on them.

Now here she was, facing the Hermit. The "Holy Man of the Plains". Her real father. He'd asked her why she was here. And she had to answer him.

"I'm here to train," she answered, trying to keep a strong edge to her voice. "I have the Gift, what the offworlders call ESP, and I want you to train me. And..." Her voice almosted faltered here, and she couldn't even face him as she said the words. "...and I was just told you are my father, my real father."

There was silence from the Hermit. He drew in a deep, heavy sigh. "When you were small, were you ever frightened of things?"

Unaware of where he was taking this, she answered, "Yes."

"And who comforted you? What man took you into his arms, called you his daughter, and told you the dark things you feared would never harm you?"

The tears in her eyes began to increase, already flowing down her cheeks to the bottom of her face. "My fath... Sadik. Sadik was."

"He and your mother taught you right from wrong?"


"Then he was, is, your father, and you should remember that," the Hermit said. "I cannot take his place."

"But you can!", Nisa protested. "I need someone to teach me!"

"The people will fear you if they see you use your abilities. It will hurt your mother."

"Not if I tell them you showed me!" Nisa stood in the door way. The anger in her heart began to swell again. "Dammit, if you won't teach me I'll teach myself! And then I'll go hunt down the Sand Raiders who killed my father... Sadik... and make them pay! And you can stay out here and continue to waste away for all I care!"

She didn't really mean all of that. Deep down Nisa's head was swimming with questions on the other half of her blood family, where the Hermit came from, if she had half-siblings or cousins she'd never known. But she was so full of anger and impatience that she spoke out of spite and in the heat of the moment, just to see him hurt. Continuing on this, she turned to storm out of the hut.

There was no door, but that didn't stop her from striding face-first into a barrier. She hit it with enough force to stumble backward a bit and to make her nose hurt. There was empty space in front of her; the Hermit had blocked her.

"You would not last a minute," he informed her brusquely, standing up. "The Sand Raiders would strike you down swiftly and without mercy. And they would be in their rights to."

"How can you defend them...?!"

"It's not about defending them or anyone, it's about understanding." He walked up to her and folded his arms. "You want to learn to use your power? I'll teach you, but you must promise me you will never use it unless it is for the defense of yourself and others. You will not go out on a mission of vengeance. Do you promise?"

Nisa looked up at him. She always thought herself as tall for a girl, standing at almost six feet. Tall enough to be higher than even some men. Now seeing her father rise to a height at least half a foot over her's, she could see where she'd gotten that height from. And for the first time in her life, she felt real, full, physical intimidation. It prompted her to nod meekly.

"Mind-reading is not my strong suit," he growled. "Do you promise to follow my instructions?"

"Yes, Father."

"I am not your father. I am..." He caught himself. What was she supposed to call him? This wasn't Star Wars and he wasn't some wizened old Jedi Knight hiding in the deserts of.... Well, that thought made him laugh as he suddenly saw the parallel.

Nisa heard him laugh. She blinked in bewilderment.

"Fine. You may call me 'Father'." He smiled a little. "Though I always preferred 'Dad'."

"'Dad'?" It was not a term familiar to Nisa... or any of the Yildiz, for that matter.

"Another word for Father." He set a hand on her shoulder. "I should get you home. Kimiya will be frightemed out of her wits."

Nisa stopped and looked to him. "Show me something first. Teach me something."

"Excuse me?"

"To prove you're not just taking me home so you can get out of teaching me," Nisa said.

He stared at her for a moment. Seeing she would not be swayed, he drew in a breath. He reached from his belt and took out an object that reminded Nisa of the electric torch her parents had spent a month's earnings to get, a device that shined a light whenver turned on and could be "recharged" by being left out in the sun. Seeing her reach for it, he pulled away. "It's not a toy," he told her. He pointed it away and flipped a switch on it. A green energy blade flashed into existence with a crackle. "These are called beamsabers. Yamia's people invented them hundreds of years ago and they have become a favored weapon of people with ESP." He inspected the weapon closely. "There are those who consider it a more civilized weapon than firearms."

Nisa made a face. "Why?"

"Because it takes skill. It requires years of training to truly master. A gun needs no mastering to be deadly. Simply by holding it you possess the power of life or death," the Hermit explained. "A beamsaber is the kind of weapon used by someone who does not fight for enjoyment but only necessity. And... admittedly... it has a pleasing aesthetic to many races." He waved it around, letting it buzz in the air. Afterward he turned it back off. "Now, Nisa. Lift this with your mind." He presented it to her, letting it lay in his palm.

Nisa looked from his eyes to the beamsaber. She drew in a breath. She imagined the weapon moving, but it did nothing. She felt impatient. Move! I command you to move!

"You have moved things with your mind," he said. It wasn't a question, even if he was well int he right to inquire on if she was wasting his time. "How?"

"It was last night." The memory of the plate of food she'd thrown against the wall returned. "I was angry, I hated the people who killed my fath.... first father."

"And your hate lashed out. It became a source of energy,undirected energy that struck the plate and threw it," he explained. "You can't let that happen. You have to focus your mind and spirit, Nisa. Don't let emotion interfere."

"Have you ever lashed out?", Nisa asked, after which she took another deep breath.

"Once," he confessed. "Many years ago."

"And what happened? What did your anger do?"

"It broke things," was the laconic reply. "Now don't think of anger. Think of the energy. Imagine it extending from you and gripping the saber. Imagine it lifting it into the air."

Nisa drew in another breath. She tried to focus her mind, to suppress the cauldron of emotions that had bubbled up in her in the last 24 hours and to reduce existence to her and the weapon. She reached a hand forward and imagined that something within was reached with her. It was slipping under the saber hilt. It was lifting it She clamped her eyes shut to focus more, trying not to feel frustration when nothing happened.

When she opened her eyes again, the saber was in mid-air. It was hovering a few inches above the Hermit's hand. She had done it.

In her jubilation, Nisa stopped focusing on the energy. The saber plopped right back into his hand. "I did it," she breathed.

"You did," he answered. "It gets easier, trust me. You begin to focus the energy without having to dwell on it. It will be like breathing, it'll be something you do automatically. In fact, it'll become hard not to use your abilities." He took her hand. "Now let's get you home."

A small group of men were gathered at the Tari Homestead and beginning to disperse when one of the men raced back on horseback, shouting "We have found her! She is safe!"

The news greatly relieved Yamia and Kimiya, who embraced tightly as they waited for more news.

Soon two figures crested the northern hills beyond the homestead, bordering the Plains. Nisa and the Hermit walked along side-by-side. The men on horseback all stood to gain thanks from Kimiya for coming to help with the search and dispersed, having to return home to do their own chores.

When they all left, the four remain standing outside of the farmhouse. Kimiya, for all she might have been angry with her daughter, instead threw her arms around her and hugged her tightly. Yamia exchanged looks with the Hermit - she knew him by the Human name "Stephen" - before giving her own hug to Nisa, ignoring the discomfort of Nisa's contact against her scarred, sensitive back. "I'm sorry, Mother," Nisa said. "I was angry with you. And after overhearing you telling Yamia about..."

Kimiya drew in a sigh. She looked to Stephen, who nodded. "I already knew," he answered. "I found Sadik as he lay dying and drove away the Sand People. I could do nothing but quench his thirst; he told me about Nisa before he died. He wanted you both to know he loved you. I will show you where his remains are so that you might have him buried appropriately."

Kimiya and Nisa both began to cry in each other's arms. Yamia felt sorrow at Sadik's lost; she had known him as a good man, stern but fair, and a loving father regardless of Nisa's biological origin.

"Kimiya, we must talk," Stephen added. "It is about Nisa's talent."

She nodded. They walked off together, Nisa and her parents, leaving Yamia to watch for a distance and look up at the sky as the sun set in the distance. As she often did, she thought of her beloved Syrandi, and how much she would give to hold Syrandi in her arms once again.

My love, I will meet you again...

Kimiya listened as the Hermit explained to her about Nisa. That having developed the talent, she needed to be taught it so she could control it, otherwise it was inevitable she would reveal herself.

"I can tell the others I am being taught by the Holy Man on the Plains," Nisa said, excitedly. "Then they will not be upset about it!"

A sharp chuckle came from the "Holy Man" himself. "I imagine not. But, truthfully Nisa, you should not flaunt your possession of these abilities."

Nisa accepted what he said with a nod. She looked to her mother, pleadingly, to get her approval.

Kimiya looked from Stephen to Nisa and then back to him. "If you believe it is best," she said. "I will let her."

Nisa answered by throwing her arms around her mother's shoulders. "When do I start?"

In response, with Kimiya also looking on in interest, he looked out to the fields around them. "The planting season is not over, I see. And with Sadik gone your mother will need you even more now. So, for now, do your work here. When the planting season is over, come to me at my hut. We will commence your training then." Stephen put a reassuring hand on Kimiya's shoulder. "As for Sadik, tell a party of men I will wait for them at the Northern Lakes, where the scrublands become dusty. I will lead them to his body."

"Thank you." Kimiya embraced him closely. "Thank you for everything. Please, you must come in and have dinner."

"I..." About to refuse, he saw the sparkling in Nisa's eyes and lamented. "Very well. I am getting rather tired of the meager proceeds of my private garden, as it is..."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Dr. Susie: This Is My Brain Off Stupid.

Post by Simon_Jester »

Waterville Clinic for Parapsychology, Alpha-Four Arcology, New Athens
Late 3375
The Next Morning

The Waterville Clinic looked like a fairly normal doctor's office. That felt wrong somehow. Part of her wanted it to be some kind of dark, dank, sinister cave, something more suitable for a den of psykers, the sort of place where heroes would go to confront their nemeses... no, that would be wrong; she was here for a checkup, not a battle. But even allowing for prejudice, she'd been hoping for some kind of place with huge buzzing pieces of electrical equipment, bedecked with blinking lights and bubbling test tubes. Something that shouted SCIENCE! This was Umeria, after all. Almost-but-not-quite pristine tile floors, a row of chairs by the front wall, and a receptionist sitting at a computer console were far too normal. At the very least the receptionist should be juggling stationery with mysterious telekinetic powers or something.

And there definitely shouldn't be a little speaker playing mood music in the lobby.

She walked up to the receptionist. "I'm Dr. Warren-Marshall, here for my ten o'clock with Dr. Mina O'Neil." She'd learned by now that she could get extra courtesy out of her academic title, and sometimes she couldn't resist.

"Welcome to the Waterville Clinic, Doctor. Dr. O'Neil will be with you in a few minutes; if you'd please make yourself comfortable?"

Susie had to ask. "One thing. Is her name really Mina, or is that short for something?"

The receptionist looked away for a moment. "Doctor, I've known her for five years and never once heard or seen her called anything but Mina. So far as I know, that's her real name."

"OK. Thanks." She sat down.

Dr. O'Neil was apparently prominent enough to be looked up on the planetary datanet. The woman wasn't just a clinic technician; she had a c.v. stretching back for decades. It had come as something of a shock that Umeria had scientific journals dedicated to psychic research, but Susie was beginning to realize that they had journals dedicated to almost everything, so it hadn't been as big a shock as it would have been a few weeks ago. She wasn't sure why the old researcher liked to stay in the front lines and run what had to be routine tests on an immigrant fresh off the boat, but whatever O'Neil's reasons, anyone with her kind of record probably deserved some respect. Or at least could be really annoying if she didn't get it...

"Dr. Susan Warren-Marshall?" She looked up and saw an woman in early old age, looking about sixty by premodern medical standards but that proved nothing, standing in the interior door leading into the clinic from the lobby.

Dr. O’Neil looked either not at all like a highly paid professional specializing in the diagnosis of psychic abilities, or exactly like one, depending on what you came in expecting. If 'highly paid professional' led one to expect the classic lab coat and clipboard look, O'Neil was a disappointment. If, on the other hand, one heard 'psychic abilities' and expected someone who looked like a refugee extra from the old '60s Shepistani comedies like Night of the Living Hippies... then she was quite obliging. The headband holding back her long gray hair was a particularly nice touch.

Susie blinked, not sure this was the doctor; the woman standing before her looked more like a patient than a physician.

"Ah... Dr. O'Neil, I presume?"

The woman nodded. "If you'd come this way, Doctor, we can begin in fairly short order."

"Call me Susie."

She got up and followed the parapsychologist out of the waiting room. They passed a short distance down a brightly lit corridor, and then O'Neil turned and led her into a large office- fairly well organized, but with some truly eye-searing decorations on the walls. The older woman turned to Susie.

"Before we begin, do you have any questions?"

Sure! About a hundred... "Too many. Why not just go straight to the tests?"

"If you like; I must admit I appreciate a practical approach. I'll try to explain anything critically important as we go along. So, if you don't mind, we can proceed straight to the first test, for telepathic reception; I'll be the transmitter."

Wait... she's a ps- ESPER. The first Susie had ever seen, or known she'd seen at any rate, in person... she had to cut that thought off before she made a fool of herself. Since she was honestly curious on top of needing a distraction from that damn “Eww, psyker” response, she decided it would be safe to ask about the 'test' Dr. O'Neil had planned. “So, what’s the setup?”

“Basically, the transmitter sends a signal, something very simple and obvious, with varying force. Starting in the, ah, I call them the low bands, the ones that interact with any normal mind. Then shifting up to the higher ones, that can only be reached by use of telepathy or, well. Or details. The subject sits and presses a button when she can detect the thought, which is being switched on and off at random.”

“The real trick to getting a good response curve is making sure the transmitter isn’t sure when the subject is receiving. It’s surprising how much that distorts the results.”

Susie thought through the implications of that. Then blinked. “Who came up with a double blind experiment for telepathy?

A faint, enigmatic smile creased O’Neil’s face, and her lined face crinkled. “I did, actually.”

Susie sighed happily. Double-blind test for mind reading. “I’m not sure how I feel about being a psy... esper, but I love this country.”

“Thank you.”

“And I think you are a cool lady.”

Dr. O’Neil’s faint smile became much warmer. “I appreciate that. What’s your favorite color?”

“Hmm.” She tapped her cheek for a few seconds. “I know! That light green of newly opened leaves at the very beginning of spring. When the spring sunlight is shining through them. It's only available for about two weeks out of the year. And only on sunny days.”

“Nice. Now, just relax. Remember, push the button whenever you think I’m sending.” The parapsychologist left the side room and closed the door.

Nothing happened for a minute. Is something wrong? Her mind started to wander a bit spring green! She blinked. Spring green!

The button! She started pushing. Then it went away. She stopped. Spring green! So forth and so on, with the intervals changing seemingly at random; there was no way to guess when the next flash would come. After a few minutes, it spring green! started to get a little tiring, but it wasn’t as scary as spring green! she thought. It was just... color. Not spring green! mind control, not really.

Then the pulses started getting weaker. She concentrated harder, shut her eyes tightly... she thought she could still feel spring green! flashing once in a while, faintly, no more than flickers at the edge of the mind. So she kept pushing the button. Was that- maybe... yes! She pushed it again. After that, no more pulses came. Susie blinked. Is the test over? How could she tell? Nothing happened for long minutes. Finally, Dr. O’Neil opened the door. Her face was somber; Susie asked the obvious question.

“So... my reception isn’t very good?”

“Susie, why don’t you come out here and look at the printouts?”

She did, following Dr. O’Neil over to a large holographic display. O’Neil ushered her into the wheeled chair by the display.

“Here, we have a matchup between times you pressed the button, indicating that you were receiving, and the times I was sending in the first round. That was on a low band that virtually all intelligent minds in the galaxy can pick up.” She pointed to the plot. “Correlation is practically one to one except for a few pulses at the beginning.”

She brought up another plot. “This run was done slightly higher. Again, near perfect correlation. And again here. Then we get up into the bands normally used for telepathic communication among espers.” She brought up the fourth plot... and there was no correlation at all. “For all the higher telepathic bands, there was no correlation between your detection and my sending. You may have thought you felt something, Susie, but you weren’t getting my messages. You were picking up fine on the non-esper bands, like any ordinary person... but no reception at all past a sharp cutoff point.”

“You mean all the flashes I got later on were... psychosomatic?”

Dr. O’Neil nodded. “I suspected something like this. It’s very common in Shepistani refugees: Blitzschlag Field-induced brain damage to the reception structures in infancy.”

Brain damage? I didn’t know... “They fried my brain?

“Pretty much. Early-onset Blitzschlag exposure does that to almost all esper children. When you’re exposed during the neuroplastic phase when the reception structures are developing... well, they don’t really develop at all. The brain shuts down development in those areas in self-defense.”

“They... those...” They fried my brain?

“I know. It’s my favorite reason to hate the Kadahuli.”

Susie was reeling, trying to find anything in that she could bear to rest her mind on. The unknown word was a straw to clutch at. “Kadahuli?”

The older woman took a deep breath. “It’s a popular name in the Umerian esper community for the Shepistani government. Given the effects of the Field on developing espers in the country... well, we needed a special word for that. It’s from the Phosako. To really translate it properly would take a twenty minute lecture on cultural mores, but short form, it translates as “childabusers.” I, for one, think it fits.”

Susie, for her part, was inclined to agree. She felt robbed, she felt violated, she felt angry. Suddenly she wanted to be able to receive high-band telepathy, out of spite against the warlords if nothing else.

“Is there any way to, you know... reverse the... damage?” They FRIED my BRAIN?

Dr. O’Neil was quiet for a long time. “There are... treatments. But it’s like any other kind of structural brain damage: the cure can have very far-reaching effects, and it doesn’t always work. Basically, they have to restore infant-level neuroplasticity to induce the structures to reform. And that can do strange things to the brain. It’s strongly associated with long term memory loss; I remember one young man who went in to take the treatments. Three months later, he was a fully operant telepath... but he’d lost practically all his muscle memory. He had to relearn how to walk and speak.”


“It usually doesn’t work out that badly, but the side effects can be a major problem, especially for technical specialists. Forgetting how to read could put a dent in your career for a while, I’d imagine.”

Susie’s face was drawn. Her right hand was starting to twitch. “Doctor... Doct-” her voice caught... I need some time.” They... they fried my BRAIN...

“OK, Susie. But we need to finish the tests. The Field damages the high-band telepathic reception structure more than anything else, because that’s the path it attacks the victim along. The rest of your metafaculties may be fine; don’t let this shake you too hard.”

“OK. Just g- give me a minute here. I don’t think most people learn they got something burned out of their brain every day.”

“All right. Take your time.”

She couldn’t snap out of it. It was just too much- the idea that all her life the Stupid hadn’t just been interfering with her; it had actually reached inside her head and started burning things out. That her old fear was, in a way, true: the Stupid had soaked into her body, that she couldn’t just be normal even now that she was away from it. How can they do things like that?

And at once, the air was filled with an overpowering sense of... momness. Not her mom specifically, just... generalized mom. Like, a close friend’s mom. Someone’s mom. That there was a capital-M Mom in the room. She could feel the knot of anguish in her guts untying- and Dr. O’Neil was asking her something.


“Susie, can you start again for me?”

She blinked back the moisture in her eyes. “...Yes.”

“Good. The normal tests for telepathic sending won’t work on you, because you can’t hear feedback. There’s another technique, but I’m going to have to go en rapport with you by way of the low bands, to work with you in detail, mind to mind. I need to be able to tell what it feels like when you’re sending. It may be uncomfortable at first. Please try to relax; I’ll be as careful as I can.”

“Do you have to?”

“I do, Susie. I promise it won’t hurt; if I can’t do it without hurting, I won’t do it at all. Trust me.”

Susie closed her eyes and clasped her hands. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then... Someone was thinking with her brain. The moment she spotted it, reflex kicked in. Alien thoughts! Mind control! Fight it! She panicked. Her eyes shot open.

“AAAH!” She slumped in the chair, gasping for breath.

“Susie? What’s wrong? Susie?”

“I... no, that was just surprise. Try again, OK?” I will not panic I will not panic I will NOT panic... The thought echoed back and forth, taking up every corner of her mind. This time, she barely noticed the intrusion at first, moving very slowly. Something was in her head that she wasn’t thinking. Slow thoughts; she got a sense of someone picking her way carefully through a room piled waist-high with books, trying not to upset the stacks. Trying... not to even look at them?

<Susie? Can you hear me?>

Susie nodded, her eyes still closed.


Was Mina looking at her? Was she just picking up the... yesness in her head? She wondered... she knew. She looked. Somehow that felt like cheating... why did she suddenly want to laugh? Wait. That wasn’t her. That was Mina! She was losing track of whose thoughts were really hers.


<This always happens en rapport. Don’t worry.>

This time she didn’t move at all, just to check to see if Mina could tell what she was thinking. What, me worry?

There was a pause, followed by the strange sensation of a psychic giggle.

<I like that echo. That’s an interesting echo... But the test.>

What do you want me to do?

<Think of... we’ll use spring green again.>

Susie wasn’t exactly sure what to do, but she concentrated on the green. Hollowstone in spring...

<Very good. Now, try again, but like this.> There was an indefinable picture in her head. She felt something... behind her, sort of, pushing. Hollowstone in spring!

<Good. One last time. Like so> The push... changed. Hollowstone in spring Hollowstone in spring...

<And we’re done> The sense of other-presence in Susie’s mind disappeared. She opened her eyes. Mina was smiling at her.

“Well, you send better than you receive, I’ll say that much. I’d like to complete the tests while you’re still warmed up, though, so if you don’t mind I’ll hold off on advice about a training regimen until after. It’s going to be... complicated for you.”

“Complicated? Does this have to do with that ‘echo?’”

“Mostly. You see,” and now the smile was a beaming grin,”you’re a metacognitive, Susie.”

“That wasn’t in the pamphlets...”

“It’s a very rare ability, a subtype of precognition, arguably, relying on closed timelike curves in the metacognitive’s own brainstate to enhance functional intelligence, particularly in the areas of what might be called “intuition” and “guesswork”...” Susie wasn’t unsympathetic to what happened next. Mina was obviously very excited to talk about this, and she knew what happened to her explanations when she was like that. But it rapidly got incomprehensible; Susie had never heard of any of the terms being used before in her life. “Achronal computing,” “closed timelike curve-” well, that one sounded familiar, but only in the "heard it once in my life" sense...

“Uh, Mina? Could you give me the version for people who don't already know what you're talking about?”

The parapsychologist blinked. “I’m sorry. I got carried away. I’ve only discovered two metacognitives before, and both of them were... well, they’d studied a wider range of subjects than you. You must have had such trouble using your abilities in Shepistan... did the headaches get worse when you tried to concentrate?”

Susie winced. “YES.”

“That would have been metacognition kicking in. I got a picture of... a nature preserve? And you doing some work- I didn’t mean to pry, but the association was so strong...”

“Hollowstone. A national park on Montgomery. I did most of my thesis on a two-week camping trip there.” Susie felt her eyes getting a little misty. “It was the least Stupid place I’d ever seen until I came here.”

That explains it! You were running meta...”

“You still haven’t told me what that means.”

“Oh. Sorry, I’m in the middle of an epiphany.” The look on Mina’s face was priceless. Susie couldn’t help but laugh.

“All right, all right. The paper can wait.” She was laughing too. “Susie, have you ever wanted to go back in time and smack yourself for having a stupid idea?

“...Hasn’t everyone?”

“You may not realize it, but you already have. Metacognition lets you do that. It’s short ranged effect in time, but... hmm. It only works for someone who already has at least some ability to predict the future, but it isn’t necessarily associated with normal precognitive abilities because it’s very short-ranged. Being able to tell what happens a tenth of a second into the future isn’t very helpful unless you want to go bring knives to gunfights for a living or something.” She made a moue of distaste.

“Metacognition involves using information detected about the metacognitive’s own future brainstate to solve problems more quickly. From inside the head, what’s happening goes like this. I need to find the right answer to a problem. I go: “Is it A? Nope.” I go back in time and tell my past self it isn’t A. So instead, past-me tries B, and goes “Is it B? Nope,” then goes back in time and repeats the process, until either a solution is found or the metacognitive loses track of the loops and has to start over. In practice, gives the outside appearance of solving a problem very, very quickly... because they only see you guessing Z, not the repeated loop of trying A through Y.”

“Umm... that doesn’t sound like me. I can’t guess the answer to a question like that.”

“Well, no one does it perfectly. Most known cases can only handle the loop out to one or two iterations before it goes, ah, blurry. So they can ‘foresee’ trying A and having that not work, and maybe trying B and having that not work... but they have to try C the old-fashioned way in real time. Also, the range limit makes it difficult to brute-force a complex problem. Typically, metacognition expresses as uncannily rapid ‘guesses’: analysis being performed much more rapidly and with less trial and error than would be normal. It’s almost indistinguishable from increased general intelligence, really.”

Susie blinked. “So... intelligence-boosting ps- esper ability?”

“At the core, yes. And I would bet a month’s grant money that that’s why you see a Blitzschlag Field as some sort of “stupid rays:” it actively interferes with your ability to think rapidly using this technique.”

I was right I was right I was right there really ARE Stupid Rays bouncing around in Shepistan! She felt cheated again, though. You mean the way I worked in Hollowstone should be normal? How much time could she have saved with those lightning-quick connections flickering in her brain, solving problems almost before she formulated them...

Mina looked very serious. “Susie, I recommend in the strongest possible terms that you find someone to tutor you in this. Whatever career plans you have, it’s probably going to help. I’ll copy you some files on metacognition for when you get home.”


“Also, metacognition is very rare, and of scientific interest in its own right. If some of my colleagues find out about you, they’re going to want to ask you a lot of questions.”

Susie gulped. “Are we talking... strapped to a table with people poking around my brain here?” The disbelief on Mina’s face made it obvious that she hadn’t even imagined the possibility.

“God, no, Susie, what do you think... The ethics boards would... would... I’m not even sure, there’s no precedent unless you go back for centuries. They’d probably throw whoever did it to their subjects.”

“That sounds fair.”

Esper subjects, too, remember. It’s not just unethical to run an experiment like that, it’s thrice-damned dangerous...” she shuddered. “I don’t want to think about it, Susie. I just can’t imagine it happening in this day and age, not in any civilized country.”


"In any case, I need to take some notes for a few minutes, then we should proceed to the next stage of the tests, the more... physically overt faculties."

But Mina's words still rang in her ears. "I just can't imagine it... not in any civilized country."

Susie had a dark suspicion; given that in Shepistan any "psykers" found by the government were handed off to the military, she thought she could imagine it happening back there. She decided not to ask if Mina considered Shepistan to be a civilized country, though. That would probably be awkward, because the answer would probably be, well...

This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov
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Dr. Susie: Fire Is A Lady's Only Friend

Post by Simon_Jester »

Waterville Clinic for Parapsychology, Alpha-Four Arcology
Later The Next Morning

“All right. We'll do the physical-ability tests now; I’ve got the equipment set up over in the lab next door.”

Susie followed Mina through the open door into another room. This one had a more typical clean, antiseptic doctor’s-office look, but very little of the usual equipment. There were several bowl-like helmets hanging on the wall, and a long table stretching along the opposite wall with unidentifiable pieces of equipment and glass boxes along its length.

"Now, before we begin, I want to explain that not every esper can do all, or even a majority, of the things that we test for here. There are also a wide variety of abilities that we don't test for, simply because they're vanishingly rare and it would be a waste of your time. Many of them are correlated with others; I might need to refer you to more specialized parapsychologist depending on your test results. But the key thing to bear in mind is that being unable to do any one thing does not mean being unable to do any other thing. I, for example, am a, ah, fairly accomplished telepath... but I have the telekinetic abilities of a rutabaga."

“Telekinesis is the first thing I'd like to test you for, over here. Take a seat and look at the box.” She did. The box was made of clear plastic, about thirty centimeters on a side. Suspended in its center was a metal cube, attached to the center of each face of the box by tightly coiled springs. Wires hooked the springs up to a little black box on the counter, and another cable ran from there to a computer.

“Susie, what I want you to do is concentrate as hard as you can on making the cube move, in any direction. Will that it move, in whatever pattern pleases you- up and down, in circles, just yanked to one side, anything you want. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t see it moving; many espers either don’t have intense abilities along those lines, or never activate them without training.”

“What if it, ah, works too well?” That didn’t seem too likely to her, but then she’d never really sat down and commanded something to move with her mind. Before yesterday she’d never have imagined it possible, and last night she’d been in no state to attempt it.

“The spring balances are very sensitive to small forces, but also fairly durable; if you could reach inside there physically you’d find it very hard to pull them loose unless you had arms like a gorilla. Don’t hold back; even if you do manage to break the instrument, it’s insured for just such an emergency.”

“All right.” Here goes nothing. Mina was watching the display intently; six flat lines traced across the computer monitor.

Susie glowered at the little metal cube. Move. Nothing happened. Move! Still nothing. She gritted her teeth. Move move move move! Was that... nope, wasn’t moving. Finally, summoning every fiber of willpower and nerve, she directed a baleful, ferocious thought at the cube: MOVE!

Zilch. She slumped forward, bonking her forehead gently against the clear plastic display. She felt like she’d just burned off an adrenaline high, but as far as she could tell, nothing had happened.


“It’s okay, Susie, I can’t do it either.”

“Did you see anything?

The older woman paused for a moment “...nothing I could tell from background noise.”

Susie cursed under her breath, but Mina interrupted her.

“Telekinetic ability might awaken later on; there’s still some possibility of deeply suppressed latency, among other things. I’m going to recommend that you be tested this way every few months, assuming you decide to undergo any training in any field at all- including metacognition. It’s always possible. So it might show up later, or, as with me, it might not be there. That proves nothing about anything else.”

“What next?”

“Direct-perception; “farsensing” on the magic scheme, or part of it.”

What? “Uh... did you just say “magic?””

“Modified Aguero-Jabusov Classification Scheme. You come up with a better way to pronounce it.” Mina grinned. “The basic concept is borrowed from a couple of researchers in the Sovereignty from back in the day. They did some good work, though a lot of their deeper-level theories are... junk, really. But on the basic material, classification and quantification, they’re not at all bad, really. Our standard scale is a variant of theirs, adjusted to take into account a few things they either wouldn’t consider or-” she rolled her eyes “-decided not to, for fear it would contradict some of their more... interesting notions. It’s not perfect, but it’s better for measurement than most of the systems I’ve seen of for classifying espers.”


“Apprentice, knight, master.”

Susie blinked. “...That’s supposed to classify something?”

“Well, on a rough and ready basis I suppose it works for its users. But just try doing science that way. It would like not knowing how to count beyond the level of 'one, two, many.'” She chuckled. “Anyway, the object of the game is to distinguish between different objects by means other than the five senses. Come here.”

She’d moved to the next station; Susie followed. In front of the chair were a grid of little glass domes, about fifteen centimeters across, each numbered, and each with a pair of objects suspended inside on thin wires. “Now, let me turn on the vacuum pump; some people find that it helps if there’s nothing surrounding the objects.” She flipped a switch. There was a loud mechanical gurgling that faded to a steady hum; Mina drummed her fingers as she watched a dial spiraling down. She waited for about thirty seconds.

“Mmm... good enough. Now, concentrate on the first pair of objects, the clear bottles.” She pointed to two vials of thick glass suspended in the vacuum chamber. “Think about the contents. There’s a colorless gas in each vial. Concentrate on the vials. Can you sense any difference between them? Even if you can’t explain it, or aren’t sure.”

She concentrated. They looked the same... there was a niggling sense of off-ness about one of them. She shut her eyes and... there wasn’t a word for what she felt; she wasn’t even sure it was there, and after those fake flashes of spring green she knew it might not be. But the one on the left seemed heavier, somehow. Susie reported that.

Mina nodded, her face neutral, and typed something on a screen Susie couldn’t see. “Now, the next pair, in dome two.” Susie concentrated again. She didn’t feel anything... wait... no.

“I got nothing.”

“All right.” Mina typed something more. “Now dome three...”

The direct-perception tests were very dull; there were a lot of domes. Some contained vials of gas. Others, little metal balls, or sealed boxes full of sand or gravel, or radioactive and nonradioactive isotopes of the same element. The only constant theme was the need to discern the difference between two objects identical to the naked eye. There was a series where one ball was hot and the other at room temperature; Susie had started out looking for heat shimmer. It was a headslap-worthy moment when she remembered: Oh. Right. Vacuum chamber.

One dome contained nothing but a wire coil; Mina manipulated a rheostat and asked Susie to tell her if she thought the magnetic fields inside it were getting stronger or weaker. Still another held a pair of metal plates: same drill, but with electric fields. Then a pair of tiny grav-plates with a low-power tractor beam between them. In each case, Susie was rarely sure what, if anything, she was observing, but she duly reported every impression she got, however mild.

Finally, it was over. “How’d I do?”

Mina sighed. “Randomly.”

Oh no, not again! “You mean...”

“Of the times you guessed, you guessed right eight times, wrong six times, and guessed a difference when there wasn’t any nine times. That’s... about what I get with subjects pulled off the street, allowing for random error. Again, it’s possible that ability will appear in the future now that you’re out from under the Shepistani, ah-” the corner of her mouth quirked- “Stupid. But for now, I’m afraid you won’t be getting banned from any poker tables soon.”

“Poker... oh!”

“Exactly. Direct-perceptives are banned from most gambling establishments; too many of them can’t resist the urge to read the other side of the cards- it’s right there for them, the way most people would find it if the things were deliberately marked and they had to walk around with their eyes tight shut to avoid reading the backs. There are a few exceptions equipped to beat the problem, especially in Altacar, but then Altacar is home of the null field, so it stands to reason.”

“I’d read about those... are they like...”

“Stupid emitters? No. Blitzschlag devices generate static on the telepathic bands- lots of it, which stands to reason since the kadahuli pour megawatts into the thrice-damned things. Null field generators don’t work that way. Honestly, calling it a “field” isn’t quite accurate; the best model we have is that they raise the telepathic permeability of free space by... well, several orders of magnitude, to the point where getting anything through is practically impossible. It’d be like trying to look through steel, at the high power limit. But it’s like the difference between someone putting a wall in your way and someone shining a strobe light in your face.”

“Are you... sure? I read that you people do use null fields, and I don’t ever want to feel the Stupid again. EVER.”

“I’ve been in both, Susie. If you want to see for yourself, there’s a personal null field generator in one of these cabinets. I use it for subjects who are powerful telepaths, so they can’t cheat on the tests by mind-reading the answers. You’d be surprised how often that can happen with recently awakened adolescents; a few don’t seem to understand that it’s wrong, and quite a lot more can’t help themselves.”

Susie was afraid, but she had to know... “Yes. Show me.” Mina walked across the room and pulled out another black box, this one hooked up to a waist belt. “Here. Put this around your waist and flip the switch.” Susie stood up, and buckled the belt. It didn’t feel stupid, but as her hand neared the switch, she froze. NO! Stupid is the mind-killer! Don’t touch! But she had to know, had to know if she could stand this mysterious foreign alternative to the Blitzschlag field.

She swallowed and flipped the switch.

There was a sudden disturbance in the Stupid-free bliss she’d enjoyed ever since entering Technocracy territory. Her eyes shot open and her skin paled. NO! STUPID! AAAAH! But it wasn’t the Stupid, not quite. It was something else, not pleasant, but not like someone was trying to drive spikes into her head or drizzle lye on her scalp or any of the other nasty feelings she’d gotten when the Stupid was strong before. It wasn’t Stupid, it was just... the absence of smartness? To be honest, she didn’t feel bad at all. She felt amazingly neutral, really.

“No hairy purple spiders or anything. I guess it’s not so bad...” she blinked and switched the generator off.

“...but you wouldn’t want to spend all your time in one? Well, who would? Still, you’ll run into them now and again. Some people are paranoid and wear neutralizers all the time; others wear it because they know classified information. You see them in a lot of government facilities, too. I’m glad it doesn’t cause you problems.”

“Hmm. OK. So, what else are you going to try to test for? Predicting the future?”

“No one’s come up with a satisfactory test, or a system of measurement for that, yet. It’s too difficult to set up a rigorous experiment, because an untrained precognitive usually can’t predict specific events reliably. There are exercises that improve precognitive ability... focus it, if you will, but it’s generally best to avoid spending energy on them unless there’s something there to work on. In your case that’s not all that unlikely; if you start finding yourself anticipating future events or having any kind of visions, please call me. I have... friends in strange places.” She winked.

“Next on the agenda is electrokinesis: the ability to manipulate electromagnetic fields, as opposed to direct forces on matter. It’s more common than most people outside the parapsychological community think, really- hard to use properly without coaching, though.”

“Scoot over here and take a look at this coil of wire.”

This one was, again, sealed in a glass dome. Another vacuum chamber? Mina cleared her throat.

“All right, I’m going to run a weak electric current through this coil. I want you to try and boost the current- push it through the wire.”

“That’s all? I thought you’d be looking for arcing and sparking or something.”

“Hardly. That’s why most people think electrokinesis is rare. It takes... truly unreasonable voltages to generate electric arcs in open air, let alone vacuum. Weaker fields are much easier to do, and the ability is at least an order of magnitude more common, I’d guess. Most people who have it aren’t tested for it properly; a lot of esper organizations are... well, superstitious about electrokinesis. Unless their members wake up one morning and start shocking random doorknobs for no reason, they never find out what they can do. The only people who are detected are the ones who spontaneously learn to hold fields to the tune of kilovolts per millimeter; anyone whose abilities need training to bring out never learns. So let’s start with trying to impersonate a battery; we can move up to “Little Miss Tesla Coil" later on, OK?”

Susie smiled. “OK. Can I start now?”


She glowered at the wire. She couldn’t really sense anything inside, but she concentrated as hard as she could. Fly, FLY, little electrons! Fly like the wind!” She had a mental picture of the current hurtling through the coil, running clockwise. Come to think of it, it was probably wrong to imagine electric current as a bunch of little glowy yellow balls with big minus signs painted on them, but it was the best she could do. Go go go! FLY!

She kept concentrating, pouring every drop of willpower into the coil. A strange feeling, one that was almost physically tangible, coursed through her veins. If there is any secret power in me, of any kind, please let it be revealed now!

Mina frowned. “Susie, the current is changing, but...”


“It’s actually decreasing.”

“...Oh.” She stopped. “Maybe I was doing it backwards?”

“Entirely possible. Try again.”

“Here goes.” Fly, FLY, little electrons! But the other way this time! Counterclockwise! GO! She gritted her teeth. She felt the strange feeling again, an indefinable surge.

“Susie? You’re doing it again. The current is dropping slightly.”

She gave up. Her head sank and she covered her face with her hands.

“What am I, antipsychic or something? Does the universe hate me and make the opposite of what I want to happen happen?”

“If so, you are the first person I know, or for that matter the first person anyone I know knows, who actually is a confirmed antipsychic. The possibility has been raised... mostly by people like Aguero and Jabusov, though. I wouldn’t bet on it.”

“Then WHY?”

“Susie, I really don’t know. Let me think.” The Umerian parapsychologist was quiet for a long minute, murmuring under her breath. Susie took this as a golden opportunity to take a quick breather. She decided she might as well sneak the minibagel out of her pocket; she could do with a snack...

“EUREKA!” Mina leapt out of her chair. The headband, already askew, flew clear, and gray hair swept into her face.

...Did she just actually say ‘eureka’? Nobody says that! She felt an impulse to interrupt, to ask if she was all right... but there was a mouthful of bagel in the way.

“The TK records! Fourier transform! Reminds me of a case I had back in ‘42...” she strode over to the computer she’d used earlier in a trance. It was almost spooky; she looked kind of like a mind-controlled Amplitur victim or something. I hope she’s going to be OK...

She brought up the records, then her hands flashed on the keypad, faster than the eye could follow. Then another interface came up... some kind of data analysis software; probably a Umerian domestic brand, because she didn’t recognize it. She typed out a few lines of code, then hammered a last key and waited.

Instantly, a graph appeared; she couldn’t make out any labels, but... it was flat on the left and spiky on the right?

“Come here!”

“Mina, are you OK?” She walked over to the older woman’s side. “What’s the matter?”

“Look at... oh.” She blinked. “I just had one of those moments. You know, the ‘suddenly it all makes sense’ one?”

“OK, Mina.” Susie took a deep breath. “Umm. I don’t want to be rude, but could you please explain before I go totally insane?”

“Look at this. Fourier transform of your telekinesis results. If I pulled someone off the street, there’d be nothing at all. If I used a typical telekineticist, there’d be at most something around five to ten Hertz, way over here.” She waved her hand at the left side of the screen. “That’s about as fast as most people can consciously make something change direction. But you... lots of low-amplitude, very high frequency activity.”

Susie glanced at the graph. Log plot. “So... I can make things shake at dog-whistle frequencies? I... guess that could be useful. Somehow.”

“Honestly, this is barely more intense than Brownian motion, which is exactly as I thought!”

The biologist took a deep breath. “Mina? Please explain.

“Oh. Sorry. OK. I think we’re seeing something like what happened to your telereceptive faculty here.”

Susie’s knees went floppy; she leaned on the back of Mina’s chair to keep from slumping to the floor. No... “Not- not more brain frying?”

“Yes, but with... unintended consequences. Thinking back of the envelope, this is... broadly consistent with having fairly substantial levels of telekinetic power, but with no spatial coherence, no ability to push in the same direction across a broad area. Randomized telekinesis. Random molecular motion. And... Susie? Could you come with me? I want to do one more test. I’m pretty sure this one will be positive.”

For a moment, Susie wanted to ask her to swear to that, but that would be childish. “All right.”

They went over to the far end of the bench. This box was much larger, and definitely not a vacuum chamber. In the middle of it was another coil of wire. Thick wire. Mina turned to her. “Susie, remember what I said about random molecular motion? This time, don’t try to move the wire. Just heat it up. I’ll watch the thermocouple, and you try to heat that wire.”


“Hang on a second; let me turn off the lights. I want the backup photometer to be getting something, just in case.”

She sat down and concentrated again. Heat! Again the picture of... well, this time she imagined cartoon atoms, little balls with ovals whirring around them. Bouncing back and forth, bumping into each other. Faster! More! GO! There was that weird shuddery surge again; this time she felt cold, like everything everywhere was cold all at once.

“I was right! Very good, Susie... fifty degrees... seventy... keep going...”

The surge was still there, and now she knew it really was something she focused on it, tried to make it come back, stronger.

“One hundred...”

The air shimmered around the wire. This was what the Stupid had been there to stop her from doing! Those... those damned goons! More! Hotter!

“...One sixty... keep going!”

Try to fry my brain, will they?

“...two fifty...”

She felt... hawkish, suddenly. Gleeful, in a predatory way. I wonder if I can melt the wire?

“...three twenty- Susie, are you all right?”

She knew her voice had to sound scary; she just didn’t care. “Oh, I’m just fine, Doctor.” MORE!

“...four hundred... four fifty...”

Throw my friends out of a job, will they?

“...cutting out the thermocouple; come on, stupid thing, calibrate!

Blow up my work, will they? BURN!

“ thirty and rising...”

Pass out nuclear bazookas to hyperthyroid freaks, will they? HOTTER! She opened her eyes, not letting up the pressure, still reaching out and stirring the wire. Her vision swam into focus quickly; she felt the muscles around her eyes tensing in a glare.

The wire was glowing faintly, brick red. It was... hypnotic, really. There was something off at the edge of the world, maybe a voice, but she wasn’t interested now.

Hand the country over to some lunatic new clone of a lunatic old warlord, will they!? The whisper was getting stronger? Whatever. HOTTER! How long had it been? Seconds? Minutes? Did it really matter? It could have been an hour, she could sit like this forever. She felt the surge; it was back now, building and reverberating like a rushing in the ears, drowning out the whispers that were starting to get insistent.

Stinking kadahulis! BURN!

The wire was cherry red now- and wrapped around it was a halo of flickering witchfire, the faint blue flame of gaslight and blowtorches. The purest, cleanest flame possible, glowing by the light from excited molecular radicals in the air itself, instead of particles of heated soot. It was beautiful, ethereal, perfect...


That rang Susie’s mind like a bell. Refusing was not merely unthinkable; it was literally unthought. It didn’t even occur to her not to, the hypnotic trance of the flame entirely broken. The nimbus of flame vanished instantly; the wire took a little longer to cool. She blinked, then blinked again, harder, as the lights came back on.

Mina. There was a hawkish cast to that again; how dare she-

<Wake up! Think!>

Unsteady on her feet, Susie rose out of the chair, her lips forming words but no voice behind them.

This time Mina spoke, rather than simply driving the idea straight into her mind by brute force. “Susie, it’s all right, self-hypnosis is a common symptom at the first sign of operancy, but you have to think.

“I... I’m...”

“You’re a six-sigma pyrokinetic, Susie, and you will go in for training for that, if nothing else to learn, ah... fire control.”

Maybe it was just a stress reaction, but Susie sagged against the chair, laughing wildly.

Susie wandered back out into the corridor. The Waterville Clinic let out on the arcology’s outer ring hallway; she could look out through panorama windows of armorglass and see rain splashing off the windows in thick sheets, cascading down to the ground. The landscape hundreds of meters below was obscured.

Thinking about the last minutes at the clinic, Susie felt... a little ambiguous. She could understand now why Mina had been questioning her so firmly, making sure she could restrain that urge to start more little blue-green flames just to watch them dance. She could even understand why the older woman had insisted on doing it en rapport with her, to make sure not only that she wasn’t lying, but that she wasn’t simply wrong about her own intentions.

But it hadn’t been an entirely happy way to end her visit. Even after hearing her as an questioner in her head, she still thought Mina was a nice lady... just a determined one.

She needed something normal to do... and she had a three o’clock appointment with Rikke; maybe she’d better go take a long lunch. And find somewhere to, well, decompress. She turned; there’d been a food court and a rec commons back to clockwise. Picking her way back through the lunch hour crowds, she felt another burst of hawkishness.

Change of plans. The day she left Shepistan she’d sworn never to go back. Ever, no matter what. She decided she’d have to tweak that a little. Maybe she would go back after all, if things fell out the right way... NO. Wrong way! She bit down that raptor-fierce impulse. To be honest with herself, she didn’t want to be the kind of person who hoped she’d be going back to Shepistan.

Because if she ever went back to the Republic, it would be to burn the place down around the kadahulis’ ears.

Author's note:

I wanted to add this: a song by Julia Ecklar titled Daddy's Little Girl, based on the Stephen King novel Firestarter.

It isn't really analogous to Susie's situation except for the themes of pyrokinesis and persecution of espers- and even there, The Shop has a very different M.O. than the Shepistani Republic, and the characters are in so utterly different situations that there's no parallel.

That said, the song is, in my opinion, quite evocative, so I thought it was worth referencing.

This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov
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