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The NINE agencies Trump is using to corrupt the election
Over the past six months, Trump has been making increasingly false, absurd, and dangerous claims - from saying the “only way” he’ll lose in November is in a rigged election to claiming his opponents illegally “spied” on his campaign. However, not only is he making these claims, the president and his cronies are corrupting the power of government to inflate his lies to the level of truth and oppress any evidence to the contrary. With the help of loyalists atop every federal agency, Trump has perverted the government to serve his own re-election desires. This list is nowhere near comprehensive. There are many more examples that could be given, but I tried to keep it short enough that it is still readable.
ODNI and Intelligence Community
Limit disclosure of knowledge of Russian sabotage. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, led by Trump loyalist John Ratcliffe, canceled future in-person briefings on election security issues to the congressional intelligence committees. Instead, the ODNI will provide written briefings only. The change came after a classified briefing in which top counterintelligence official Bill Evanina told House members that Russia is again trying to boost President Donald Trump’s reelection and denigrate his opponent, Joe Biden. Trump was enraged after details of the briefing leaked to the public, revealing that his own administration’s intelligence officers contradict his repeated assertions that Russia is not interfering on his behalf. Reminder: Trump fired the previous DNI, Joseph Maguire, after learning that one of Maguire’s staff members gave a 2020 election security briefing to the House Intelligence Committee. In the briefing, Maguire aide Shelby Pierson alerted committee members that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign in an effort to tip the election in Trump’s favor. In firing Maguire, Trump sent a warning to the entire intelligence community: Trump’s opinion and electoral prospects must be prioritized over facts.
Department of Homeland Security
Twist intelligence to support campaign and personal motives. Election interference Former acting Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis Brian Murphy filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf interfered with intelligence assessments in order to benefit Trump politically. In May 2020, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Murphy to “cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran.” Wolf told Murphy those instructions came directly from the White House. In July 2020, DHS chief of staff John Gountanis intervened to stop publication of an intelligence bulletin warning about a Russian disinformation plot to “denigrate” the mental health of Joe Biden. On July 8, Murphy said, he met with Wolf, who told him that the intelligence notification should be “held” because it “made the President look bad.” Trump not only attempts to hide intelligence that contradicts the false narrative he continues to push about China actively interfering to boost Biden, according to Murphy Trump’s officials directed him to prioritize intelligence on China and Iran.
It’s disturbing enough for a president and his allies to distort intelligence assessments for political gain, but Murphy’s account suggests something more nefarious—that intelligence authorities and positions of public trust might have been used to engineer the narrative from the outset.
Campaign agitprop Murphy’s complaint also details that Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli ordered him to modify intelligence assessments to make the threat of white supremacy “appear less severe” and include information on violent “left-wing” groups and Antifa. The reason given was “to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups.” Trump has spent months fear-mongering about imagined mobs of far-left activists coming to attack the suburbs. On Saturday, the Trump campaign sent out an “ANTIFA ALERT” text message to supporters, saying “they’ll attack your homes if Joe’s elected. Pres Trump needs you to become a Diamond Club Member.”
Customs and Border Patrol
Cause unrest in Democratic-cities to assist in fear campaign. Border Patrol agents were among the federal forces sent to Portland to confront and arrest protestors over the summer. Gil Kerlikowske, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection under President Barack Obama, said BORTAC, the unit dispatched to the city, is chiefly trained to pursue fugitives and criminals. "They're clearly the wrong group to be doing this.” The violence they provoked was featured in Trump’s campaign ads and RNC nomination acceptance speech. “Trump has ratcheted up political ties to border patrol to another level,” Todd Miller, the author of Empire of Borders, said. “He based his whole 2016 campaign around this, and it is now at the core of his 2020 re-election bid. These are his people.” Most recently, the Border Patrol produced and published a dramatized video showing a Spanish-speaking attacker stabbing and killing a man in a dark alley after escaping from U.S. agents - “a clip apparently created to dramatize President Trump’s depiction of migrants as fearsome criminals.”
Weaponize the law to harm opponents and save himself. Investigate Trump’s rivals Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr are reportedly pressuring U.S. Attorney John Durham and his team to release the results of their probe before the November election. Durham was appointed by Barr to investigate the origins of the Mueller investigation and the FBI’s Russia probe. Last week, a highly respected and experienced prosecutor, Nora R. Dannehy, resigned as a senior aide to Durham due to concern over this improper political pressure. Trump has publicly expressed impatience with the Durham investigation, saying there should be more prosecutions and disclosures of information that would damage his political rivals. Last month, Barr indicated the DOJ would not respect an informal policy against taking investigative steps 60 days before Election Day. In a speech on Wednesday, Barr essentially rebuked the Mueller investigation and the cases it spawned: “Smart, ambitious lawyers have sought to amass glory by prosecuting prominent public figures since the Roman Republic. It is utterly unsurprising that prosecutors continue to do so today to the extent the Justice Department’s leaders will permit it. As long as I am Attorney General, we will not.” Assist Trump’s allies Attorney General Barr has explicitly interfered in at least two criminal cases against Trump’s allies, helping the president promote the narrative that the Obama administration (in which Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden served) acted inappropriately. In February, Barr overruled career federal prosecutors in order to recommend the former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone receive a lesser prison sentence. The entire team of prosecutors resigned from the criminal case due to the Justice Department’s interference. Trump ultimately commuted Stone’s 40-month sentence, much less than the original recommendation of seven to nine years in prison. Then, in May, the Justice Department filed a request to drop the criminal case against Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, despite the fact that Flynn twice - before two separate judges - admitted to lying to the FBI. In response, nearly 2,000 former DOJ employees called for Barr’s resignation, saying he had “assaulted the rule of law.” Politically-motivated actions Barr reportedly told prosecutors to explore aggressive charges against people arrested at recent demonstrations across the US, even suggesting bringing a rarely used sedition charge, reserved for those who have plotted a threat that posed imminent danger to government authority. The AG asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for not acting immediately to disrupt the police-free zone created by protestors over the summer. According to the Associated Press, charges were also explored against city officials in Portland, Oregon, for the continued protests in the area. The Justice Department is targeting Democratic governors for coronavirus outbreaks in state-owned nursing homes. The four governors - PA’s Tom Wolf, MI’s Whitmer, NJ’s Murphy, and NY’s Cuomo - are frequent targets of Trump for not lifting pandemic restrictions as fast as he’d like. Republican-run states have very similar rules about nursing home admissions yet are not under DOJ investigation. Just yesterday, Barr publicly bashed states that still have restrictions in place, saying that “stay at home orders” are “like house arrest.” Incredibly, Barr added: “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history."
More: In April, Barr issued a memorandum directing the nation’s U.S. attorneys to be on the lookout for public health rules that might, among other things, constitute “undue interference with the national economy.”
CDC and FDA
Rush coronavirus treatments to save his election chances. At the end of March, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to allow hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for coronavirus COVID-19 treatment after weeks of pressure from Trump. For instance, eight days before the EUA, Trump tweeted that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin could be "one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine" and should "be put in use immediately." Ultimately, the FDA revoked its EUA in June after more evidence revealed hydroxychloroquine can cause “serious cardiac adverse events.” Experts say the FDA again caved to political pressure when it approved an expanded use of convalescent plasma to treat covid patients, the night before the Republican National Convention. Despite concerns over plasma’s effectiveness, Trump called Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the N.I.H., to tell him: “Get it done by Friday.” When it wasn’t, Trump took to Twitter to accuse those at the FDA of being part of the “deep state” withholding an approval “to delay the answer until after November 3.” The next day, the FDA announced its approval. Finally, and most obviously, Trump has pressured the FDA to approve of a coronavirus vaccine before the November election. Experts across the board have said there is no way our government and existing infrastructure will be ready to distribute, administer, and track doses by November.
Trump, Sept. 2: "[It's] going to be done in a very short period of time -- could even have it during the month of October… We’re going to have a vaccine very soon, maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I’m talking about” (clip 1 and clip 2.
Just yesterday, Trump contradicted CDC chief Robert Redfield’s timetable for the vaccine, saying the doctor was “confused” in his congressional testimony.
"If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third, late second quarter, third quarter 2021," Redfield told a Senate appropriations subcommittee.
"I think he made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information," Trump said about Redfield's vaccine timeline. Following Trump’s repudiation, a CDC spokesman walked back Redfield’s statements to be in line with the president’s. "He was not referring to the time period when Covid-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans," the spokesman said.
Department of Health and Human Services
Convince the public that the pandemic is gone. DHS is bidding out a more than $250 million contract to a communications firm as it seeks to “defeat despair and inspire hope” about the coronavirus pandemic. Among the goals of the contract: “sharing best practices for businesses to operate in the new normal and instill confidence to return to work and restart the economy.” In other words: exactly what Trump has tried to project onto the nation despite his failure to effectively contain the spread of the coronavirus. As the House Oversight Committee has expressed, “rather than focus on planning and executing a national strategy to contain the coronavirus, the Trump Administration is using a quarter of a billion dollars in taxpayer money to fund what appears to be a political propaganda campaign just two months before a presidential election.” Remember, the pandemic crisis still gripping America is Trump’s own creation. Olivia Troye, Pence’s top aide on the White House coronavirus task force, went public yesterday with her firsthand experiences. She relays that throughout the pandemic, Trump was consumed by himself and his prospects in November. “For him, it was all about the election,” Troye said. Instead of trying to help Americans and slow the spread, Trump is spending 250 million taxpayer dollars to try to convince us not to believe our own eyes and ears.
US Postal Service
Discredit vote-by-mail and suppress the vote. President Trump on Thursday continued his months long campaign against mail-in voting this November by tweeting that “MAYHEM” will occur in states that send ballots to all registered voters. In another tweet, Trump falsely asserted that “the Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED” due to nine states running universal mail-in voting. By casting doubt on mail ballots and the election results, Trump is trying to accomplish two things: (1) persuade voters not to participate in the election, and (2) claim victory prematurely, or even after a decisive loss. To this end, Postmaster DeJoy - a big donor to Trump’s campaign - has sent confusing misinformation to voters in these states that automatically send registered voters ballots by mail. DeJoy has also implemented changes at USPS that significantly slowed the delivery of mail, making it harder for people to vote by mail with confidence and, likely, scaring some people away from voting at all in the middle of the pandemic. Trump is betting on these changes having a bigger impact on Democrats than Republicans, especially considering the fact that he has spent nearly the entire year downplaying the threat of the coronavirus to his base.
Note: Barr is also cranking out false public statements to discredit vote-by-mail, whether it’s falsely claiming it’s vulnerable to a massive foreign-engineered conspiracy or blatantly misrepresenting actual domestic cases of fraud.
National Park Service
Assist in taxpayer funded staging of campaign events. Yes, even the National Park Service has been corrupted by Trump, via former oil industry lobbyist and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Most recently, the NPS produced what appears to be a campaign ad, with no other purpose than promoting Trump. In fact, the words “PRESIDENT TRUMP” in all caps are the first words to appear on screen. The video likely breaks the law:
The federal Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits the use of federal funds for purposes other than those Congress has authorized… if Congress has not authorized the Interior Department to use our money to create campaign ads (and it hasn’t), then the Interior Department cannot legally create campaign ads. In addition to this general prohibition against using funds for unauthorized purposes, there is an express prohibition against propaganda.
Additionally the NPS allowed Trump to take over Mount Rushmore National Memorial for an air and fireworks show ostensibly to celebrate Independence day. In reality, Trump used the event to rail against Democrats, promote his statute-protecting executive order, and warn of a "left-wing cultural revolution." Put differently, it was a campaign event in the middle of a national park. In June, U.S. Park Police (officers of the NPS) took part in forcibly removing peaceful protestors with tear gas and rubber bullets from the area in and around Lafayette Park, a national historic landmark and public place, for the president's photo-op with a bible. And in 2019, the Park Service used $2.5 million in fees paid by national park visitors to fund President Trump's "Salute to America" celebration in the National Mall.
Apologies for the long delay. Life happened. ⏮ First | ◀️ Previous | 🌐 Wiki | Next ▶️ Only an alien would think leaving a bunch of teen and tween girls loose on a spaceship with nothing to do was a good idea, thought Kay. Surveying the damage, she figured it could have been worse. She had already disabled the cargo airlock and was now sitting on a crate by the working personnel airlock practicing her spiel in Galactic Standard hoping Soimt would not freak out too much upon seeing the mess. Mentally cataloging the sounds of destruction echoing through the ship as various groups played or took things apart to see how they worked, she focused on conveying her message in Galactic Standard. “It’s not as bad as it is. No. It’s not as bad as it looked. No! It’s not as bad as it looks. Yes! It’s not as bad as it looks, and we can destroy— No. It’s not as bad as it looks and we can fix most of it us-selves. No! It’s not as bad as it looks, and we—” “Destroyed my ship!” yelled Soimt. The sound of the airlock opening had been masked by a falling shipping container. Kay leapt to her feet and spun to face the airlock. Soimt flinched in anticipation of an attack. And the two other humans pushing him through the door alternated between laughing and gaping at the wreckage in the hold. Busted pipes from early attempts to find suitable gymnastics equipment had long since stopped spewing fire-suppressant foam, yet the foam seemed to be spreading still. It was all over the ship and everything in it. Kate’s eyes went wide as she realized the problem. “Soimt! You idiot! Is that standard fire suppressant? It’s a hallucinogen and inhibition blocker for humans!” Ducking down, she aimed her shoulder for Kay’s hips and scooped her up in a fireman’s carry with the scout still practicing her speech in Galactic. “JT! Get him out! Now!” Carrying the scout out to the relatively fresh air of the docking bay, Kay trusted JT to follow orders. Setting her charge down several meters from the open airlock, Kay said, “Deep breaths. Lots of deep breaths. Need you to focus, hon. How many? How long? How bad? Breathe. How many? Breathe. How long? Breathe. How bad?” JT dumped a protesting Soimt on the deck next to the scout and silenced the stream of invectives with a simple smile. A wide smile that showed every tooth it possibly could. Soimt’s hindbrain kicked in and he sat mutely waiting to see if he was about to be eaten. “How many, hon?” Kate repeated. “Sixteen.” “Does that include you?” “Seventeen.” “How long were they exposed to the foam?” “I don’t know. Right after he left.” “How bad is it in there?” “I don’t know. Things broke. It was funny at first, then…” Kate hugged her and said, “JT, watch for runners. We don’t know their mental state and can’t let them run loose on the station. Soimt! Get off your ass. There are five humans working the docks here. Find them. Bring them to me. If they argue, tell them I know their tabs to the credit and they’ll be cut off from the only good booze on the station if they don’t get their asses over here now.” Soimt scrambled back away from JT, turned and fled. “Well, babe. You said you were bored. We’ve got seventeen young girls stoned out of their minds, no protective gear, and a ship filled with foam that breaks down into some really nasty [excrement]. We don’t know if they’ll be dangerous drunks or good ones like our little friend here. What’s your take?” “Can I go back to serving watered-down hooch?” “Sure. After all of our young friends are safe and sound on the deck with us, but I think you’d regret it. Hon, what’s your name? I’m Kate.” “Kay.” “No, hon, Kate. With a T. What’s your name?” “Kay with a Y.” JT quipped, “Oh, no. This won’t cause confusion.” Kate sighed and said, “My given name is Katelyn. I want you to look at JT behind me here, and I swear if you tell me he so much as smirks, every meal he eats from here on in will have to be from paste tubes.” Kay stared at JT and said, “He’s terrified of you.” “Damned straight!” said JT. “She used to ride with PJs — pararescue and race into burning downed aircraft to pull people out while rounds were cooking off all around them.” Katelyn smiled, “See, hon? Dreams can come true. How’s your head?” “Call me Kayla. I still feel kind of foggy, but better. Deep breaths. Lots of deep breaths. Fifteen scouts and my brother on board still. I have to get them out!” Katelyn rocked Kayla gently and said, “No. Hon, if you go in, you’re going to succumb right away again. That stuff is nasty. What model is the ship? Is it a standard layout?” “I don’t know. First time in a space ship.” “Okay, hon. I’m going to let you go, but I need you to stay here and stay calm, okay?” JT interjected, “Two runners!” Katelyn replied, “Fetch!” “No!” shouted Kayla. “Jenn! Keiko! Get your butts over here! Now!” JT’s attempt to adhere to both commands left him face down on the deck as his sudden start turned into a far more sudden stop. The two girls approached, clearly sizing both adults up for a fight. “Release Kay now!” Katelyn slowly unwrapped her arms from Kayla and said, “Please take some nice, deep breaths. You’ve been breathing poison on that ship for a while. You need to get it out of your systems. JT, don’t move.” She then sat down on the deck. Looking to Kayla for their cues, one girl placed her shoe on JT’s neck while the other took a position behind Katelyn. Smiling slightly and giving JT a barely perceptible shake of her head, Kayla said, “I think they’re okay. That foam messed with us. My head is starting to clear up. Don’t hurt them. I think we’ll need ‘em. Just breathe deeply and find something to focus on. Do you know where the others are and how they’re doing?” “Jeff tried to hit on Jessica. It didn’t go well for him. He’s tied up in one of the passages. I think he might like it,” giggled Jenn. “Summer was still looking for a gym last I saw her.” Keiko pondered this and said, “I heard some girls in the Engineering section.” “Oh, [excrement],” muttered Katelyn. Glancing back to Katelyn, Kayla asked, “How bad can it be?” “Depends. But I need to know how to get to them fast.” “Hey!” shouted a burly guy running up to the group. Jenn tensed and her foot pressed harder against JT’s neck as the newcomer continued, “Get the hell off—” Katelyn yelled, “Shut up, Barry! Calm down. They got dosed with fire foam. Keep cool and don’t get too close!” At the mention of the dreaded foam, Barry backed off in a hurry. “What do you need?” “There are fourteen more on the ship,” Katelyn said, nodding toward the right airlock. “We need to get them off. Get them sober. Get them cleaned up.” Barry shook his head slowly. “You can threaten all you want to about banning us at the bar, but we can’t go in there. It’s not just airborne. That foam gets into everything and as it hardens and breaks down. The fine powder it turns into contains chemicals that are absorbed through our pores. We’d be likely as not to go ape and hurt whoever’s still on there.” Katelyn looked at the dried foam flaking off Kayla’s uniform and her own sleeves, then sighed. “I’ve been exposed, but not too bad yet. Can we cycle the air quickly?” “Only if we do an exchange between this bay and the ship. That would get us all funked. We’d have to vent the bay right after then do a scrub,” replied Barry. “Kayla, will the girls come out if we ask?” “We can try.” “Okay, Barry. Get the dock workers organized. Send someone to medical and get help finding anti-hallucinogens. Or a damned sedative. A lot of sedatives. Find some protective gear and rig up decon showers. Make sure there are clean clothes waiting. I swear, any asshat trying to sneak a peek won’t have eyes when I’m done.” “I’ve got kids back home. They’ll be safe.” “Okay,” Katelyn replied and started to stand up. She froze when JT grunted as more pressure was applied to his neck. “Kayla?” Kayla nodded to Jenn and Keiko who backed off. “Okay, get up, and let’s see about getting everyone off safely.” Rubbing his neck and rolling into a sitting position, JT snickered. Until he saw the look Katelyn gave him. “Soimt!” barked Katelyn as she pulled her tablet out and pressed it against his chest none too gingerly. “I need a map. Pull up what you can from your files, the shipyard, or wherever the hell else you have to. Just remember: The longer I’m stumbling around in that toxic crap, the less sane I’ll be when I get out. You want me to know the layout. The whole layout. Now.” Turning to JT, she continued, “Babe, when I get out, you take me down fast. If I’m rational, I’ll forgive you. If I’m not and you don’t disable me before I hurt people—” “I’m not contaminated yet. No powder, barely a whiff in the hold. I’ll do the run,” JT said, hopping to his feet and moving toward Katelyn. “Stop! You get any closer and you will be — it’ll be the Holturian trader incident all over again. You have [excrement] for tolerance. Besides, Jenn didn’t take the time to wash her sneakers before stepping on your neck, so you might just find some of the little shoe print ridges on your neck have foam in them. You have to decon right away. Anyway, I can do this, you can’t. I’m a former scout.” “Hey, I did my 19D!” JT snarked. “No, dear. I’m a former Girl Scout. Part of the pack. You did a little recon before you re-upped and re-specced. You’d go in trying to be slow, which gives the foam more time to work you over, and stealthy, which is predatory. The pack would tear you apart to protect each other. You and your muscle mass, threatening. Sweet little me, non-threatening,” she said, noting his disbelieving expression. “Has to be me. Kayla! Do they all know the official songs? Specifically, the marching cadences.” “Most of them. Not many new girls came with us. The rest are covering back at Encampment.” “Will they all know Funky Chicken?” In unison, Kayla, Jenn, and Keiko all sang out, “What’s that you say?” “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ then.” “Yes. It’s still a fave when we can’t bust out the unofficials and still used for a lot of large groups. Why not go with the Scout Marching Song? It’s the first one everyone learns.” “The scouts go marching one-by-one, the little ones stops to shoot their guns,” rattled Katelyn. “I don’t want to put thoughts of violence in over a dozen drugged minds. That turns a ship into an urban battlefield. The best place for urban warfare is not in a ship, it’s in vacuum. Funky Chicken is fun and nonsensical. Soimt! Where’s my layout?” Taking her datapad back, Katelyn sighed and said, “Okay, here’s the plan…” The earlier excitement of a handful of humans and grey marketeer were quickly forgotten by the rest of the people running around the cargo bay. This station was busy and nobody had time to sit back and watch the primitives running around. This might change when they achieved FTL and the first traders to reach the planet could legally rob them blind. For now, there was no profit in voyeurism and many ships were waiting to dock. After the one loud human marched into the ship [twenty minutes] ago, the humans were of no interest. The Skytrs, however, were freaking out. With their large, arachnoid bodies, stumpy humanoid torsos, and strong arms, they often found employment in docks. Their natural leaping abilities were useful for moving light parcels to and from high shelving units quickly. They were getting steadily more anxious because the entire deck seemed to be pulsing once per [second] like someone was using it as a drum. “— me see your Funky Chicken!” The Tuhkhans were the first to notice the strange noises coming from a small trader ship on the docking port green-eleven of the primary outer ring. Descended from herbivorous stock on a planet with lots of dense jungles, hearing had been key to survival. The addition of advanced reasoning skills did not eliminate all the threats on their home world, merely ensuring better use thereof. Many Tuhkhans became auditors or dock masters. Their sharp hearing often provided a boost to the local tax coffers when ill-advised comments were made, even at incredible distances, about illicit goods or unreported trades. “What's that you say?” “I said:” A number of Tuhkhans paused mid-argument with various captains and quartermasters. All thoughts of lucrative tax opportunities went on hold as their hindbrains picked up electric guitars and waited expectantly. “Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo One more time now!” The rhythmic pounding of feet along with the chanted cadence plucked a nervous chord from the Tuhkhans ancestral memory buried deep in their genetics. These descendants of tens of thousands of generations of survivors knew only one lyric that went with that chord: RUN! “Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo Back in line now!” Puzzled crews and station stevedores watched in confusion as tablets clattered to the ground and every Tuhkhan disappeared seemingly chased by the Skytrs. “Left, Left, Left, Right, Left” As the chanting and coordinated footfalls grew rapidly louder, representatives of more species experienced their flight or flight moments with no genetic coding for fight. Some grabbed their crewmates and pulled them back to their ships which began emergency launch prep. Others ran or flew deeper into the station. The Sorc dock workers, finding the rhythm oddly comforting, started nodding to the rhythm of the pounding feet as that translated from the docked ship to the bay. Soon their own steps began to echo ever so slightly behind the beat enhancing everyone else’s panic. “Left, Left, Left, Right, Left” An exception to all the evolutionary rules was Captain Mindar, from a Dominion military cruiser. As a Timmintar, he stood half again as high as a human and looked rather like the product of a buffalo being savaged by a randy Irish wolfhound. Mindar picked up the abandoned tablet at his feet and strode purposefully toward the human dock workers with his Quartermaster nervously in tow. He was unaccustomed to waiting. Even the most ornery Dock Master, no matter how annoyed they were with military ships jumping the queue to dock and not having to vacate in a timely manner, rarely felt comfortable arguing with that much pure muscle staring them down. This was part of his reasoning for assisting the Quartermaster “Let me see your Dracula!” Mindar was surprised when he approached the knot of dock workers who simply ignored him. Clearing his throat in a manner that implied just making room to swallow you whole, he was immediately met with … no response. Just the hiss of the jury-rigged field shower units. Sorc, not the fastest thinkers, yet selectively quick on certain types of uptake, stopped nodding to the rhythm of the marching cadence and suddenly realized they almost certainly were needed in Purple section, the exact opposite edge of the docking ring Unfortunately, this is where their selective cognition failed them and they took off in random directions eager to have the brewing fight well behind them. “What’s that you say?” Mindar pushed the tablet into the side of one of the humans expecting his needs to be serviced immediately. Momentarily distracted but not enough to look away from the open docking port, JT said, “You should get that throat looked at. Medical. Two rings in. One ring up. Tell them JT sent you. If you go now, they can help you get back to your ship quickly.” Mindar pushed the tablet against the fleshy human again with greater emphasis, and grunted, “You’ll help me n—” “You see, friend,” said JT, “If you don’t get the hell away from here and wait until it’s your turn, two things will happen.” Mindar, unaccustomed to such treatment and well-aware that his Quartermaster would spread whatever happened here throughout the ship, blustered on, “Human! You will—” “Let me see your Dracula!” JT sighed, turned to face the Captain, and continued, “Buddy, you’re about as quick as molasses. If you don’t back off, I won’t be in position to prevent over a dozen drugged humans from tearing you and this [vigorous reproductive act] station apart. There’s a peculiar kind of [nonsensical reproductive act technology] at work here and you do not want to mess with it.” Mindar froze. This future stain on the deck had just mouthed off to him. This could not happen. His frontal lobes tried to process the event and failed. Shaking with rage and frozen with confusion, he barely realized his Quartermaster, a young Timmintar fresh from the academy, was speaking. “What’s that you say?” “What’s the other thing that will happen?” asked the junior officer. “I said:” JT grinned, showing off every tooth he could, “Then, buddy, you won’t have to tell the medical staff I was the one who sent you two up there. They’ll know when you get dumped on the floor. Now back the [sexual act] off and wait by your ship. We’ll have someone come by once the situation has been defused.” “Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo One more time now!” Mindar dropped the tablet and launched himself at JT. JT stepped to the side allowing the Captain to faceplant into the support pillar he had been leaning against. Mindar’s upper skull plate rang against the metal support like a bell, and his left horn snapped off. “Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo Back in line now!” Glancing briefly at the Quartermaster, JT yelled, “Sit!” and watched the young one’s legs obediently collapse. Behind JT, so did Soimt’s. A chorus of call-and-response lefts and rights peppered the background as the fight went on. Focusing on the dazed Captain, JT muttered, “This is a bad idea. So far, I haven’t had to lay a hand on ya, and you’re already hurt. Come at me in this state and anything I do is self-defense. One of your horns is off. Go to Medical. Now. They can probably reattach it. The rest of you, watch the ship. Tell me when they come out. I’ve got this. Just another kind of drunk, and I’ve been a bouncer for [years].” This last was directed at the rest of the humans. The girls went back to watching for their friends. The dock workers started betting on the fight. The Captain chose poorly. Head still ringing and vision a bit wonky, he ducked his head and tried to gore the human with his remaining horn. JT stepped aside, grabbed the horn, and said, “I guess you don’t want to keep this.” Jerking the horn up and down sharply, he snapped it off around its midpoint then dropped it as the Captain, balance thrown off, stumbled into the pillar again causing another dull chime to peal across the dock. JT, realizing the Timmintar was likely no longer thinking, made one last effort to break through, “Captain, I don’t have time for this [excrement]. You are setting a bad example for your young officer. Calm down before I have to put you down.” Mindar wobbled slightly then charged again. JT stepped to the side, grabbed his attacker’s arm as it passed, then flipped the massive creature up and over so it landed on its back. Diving down shoulder-first into Mindar’s midsection, he forced all the air out of the Captain’s lungs. “Let me see your Flight Attendant!” With the brawler trying to recover from this double assault, JT grabbed a leftover roll of duct tape (well, the closest they’d been able to make locally), and started taping the hairy legs together. “What’s that you say?” As JT flipped him over, Mindar, now on his stomach, lashed out groggily with his dominant arm. JT neatly jumped over it, landed, dropped the duct tape, and said, “Naughty, naughty.” grabbing the arm with both hands, JT popped it out of socket then repeated the process on the other arm to the bellows of the Captain. “Let me see your Flight Attendant!” Seeing the Quartermaster trying to get to his feet, JT yelled, “Sit!” but it didn’t work a second time. “Get your hands off my Captain!” “What’s that you say?” “Kid, calm the [excrement] down. He attacked me. An unarmed civilian. I defended myself. He’s experienced and nearly twice your size. I took him down without getting bloodied. I could have killed him. I could have broken his arms, but I just dislocated them so he can’t keep attacking me and getting hurt. THINK! If I have to take you down too, then who is going to carry him to Medical? I bet he doesn’t want the crew to see him like this.” “I said:” The junior officer sank back down. “Good,” JT said. Now, I’m just going to finish taping him up. We’ll put him on a cargo lifter and you can cart him to Medical. Then he can cool off for a bit. Nod if you understand.” The Quartermaster nodded. “Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo One more time now!” “Alrighty. I won’t ask you to help tape him up, but we’re short on time. This is going to look rough, but he won’t be hurt any worse as long as he doesn’t fight.” That said, JT nodded to a couple of the dock workers who picked up the groggy officer and rotated him in a series of flips. After JT and his helpers went through two rolls of duct tape, they tossed Mindar on a cargo lift and gave the young officer directions to the Medical unit as they watched a string of scouts follow Katelyn out of the ship. “Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo, Ahhh - Ahhh - Ahhh, Oooo Back in line now!” JT gestured toward the decon zone, and Katelyn used the next round of left-right cadence to lead the girls into the strong showers. “Let me see your wet dog!” “What’s that you —“ The normal response broke down into “what”s and “huh”s as the girls realized they didn’t know that one. Katelyn, approaching the end of the shower array, shook herself wildly like a dog trying to dry off and started laughing. As the girls mimicked her, more of the dreaded foam got washed off. “Headcount!” she yelled. JT shouted, “You got twelve out. With the three from before, that’s two unaccounted for.” “[Excrement!],” Switching to English, Katelyn yelled, “Girls, get that gunk off you. In a minute, we’ll get some strong soap in here, get rid of the contaminated uniforms, and you can scrub that toxic [excrement] off! We’ll have fresh clothes for you and your friends who already went through will make certain nobody looks. Kayla! I’ll have them sound off, you tell me who’s missing! You!” Katelyn pointed at the first girl behind her, “Name!” The surprised girl belted out, “Missy!” Going down the line, the girls sounded off in turn as Katelyn pointed. When they were done, Katelyn told them to keep scrubbing and stepped out. Turning to Kayla, she asked, “Who did I miss?” Kayla, biting her manicured nails, replied, “Jessica and my brother Jeff.” Katelyn sighed, “Oh, for [reproductive act’s] sake. What’s with all the middle-of-the alphabet names? Was there a shortage of early and late consonants? Okay, I’ll go back in and see if I can find them. I picked these troops up doing a loop of the main corridors. Any idea where those two might have gotten to? Oh, no. That’s the boy and the girl he was hitting on, right? I didn’t see him trussed up in the main passages.” Kayla nodded nervously. Katelyn took a couple of deep breaths, started moving toward the ship double time, and was tackled from behind. “What the bloody—” JT, arms and legs pinning her as best he could, said, “You’re not thinking clearly. Your skin is wet. That foam remnant powder in there will go right through you. Either I go in, or we wait for a bit while you dry off.” Allowing her weariness to creep into her voice, Katelyn asked, “JT, hon… You, who just tackled a wet woman and warned her she can’t go into the ship until she’s dry, think it’s safe for you now? The guy who hijacked a transport to go catch space fish when he was last exposed to this stuff?” JT rolled off her and looked at his wet clothes. “So we wait?” “Looks like… I’m going to go get a good shower. Make sure we’ve got plenty of towels and dry clothes ready.” Jessica was confused. She wasn’t sure whose idea the barbeque was, where they’d gotten the meat, or where everybody else had gone. Ever since that pipe broke in the cargo hold, everything was just fuzzy. Cargo hold, she thought. I’m on a space ship. Looking around the room, she saw the meat on the spit staring at her with the fire pulsing below. Something wasn’t right, though. “What was I just…” Shaking her head to clear it, she had a realization. “I forgot to get more wood for the fire!” Bustling around the campsite, she picked up the strange sticks and carried them back to the fire. Tossing a couple more in, she watched the flame rise and fall. “Weird,” she commented, “the animal looks worried. What is it? A wild pig? How did we catch that? Wait! Did we spit it without killing it?” It made some strangled noises and she felt horrible. “I’m so sorry. I’d never be cruel to an animal! I don’t know how we forgot to kill you before putting you on the spit! Hang on! I’ll put you out of your misery!” Searching for her backpack, she could hear the animal thrashing on the spit. But her pack wasn’t here in the campsite. She must have left it… in the cargo hold! “I’m on a ship! I’m on a spaceship! Backpack. Cargo hold. Backpack. Cargo hold.” Barbeque forgotten, she wandered off in search of her backpack. The Tuhkhans Quartermaster had returned once his Captain was safely sedated in the medical bay. While the orders he had received were quite explicit, he was fairly certain they were not legal. He cautiously approached the knot of humans in hopes of learning what was going on. “I see her!” shouted Kayla. “Jess! Over here!” The lost scout, wandering around the cargo bay searching for her pack, looked up at the sound of her name. Jeff strained against the paracord and thought, Just a few hours ago, I might have admitted that the idea of being tied up by a girl — especially this one — excited me. Now? Hells no! How did things get so screwed up? Pushing as much of the sock gag as he could into his cheek, he slipped his tongue under the rest and tried to pull his lips in a bit so he could lick the adhesive off the duct tape. That stuff is evil. Why does it seem like someone always has a damned roll? All I did was hit on her, and she — okay, *maybe** I should have stopped when she said to. Calling me a pig is one thing, but trying to roast me alive is going a bit too far! Yes! * Jeff could feel the tape giving way slightly. Just … a … bit ... more… He curled his lips further between his teeth. Unfortunately, this pushed the sock further back in his mouth and triggered his gag reflex. Jeff panicked briefly then struggled to suppress the gag reflex as a bit of stomach acid got into his mouth. Can’t let that happen! I’d choke! Ever so carefully, he slid the sock forward toward his teeth, safely away from the danger zone. Ever since Jeff got knocked down and tied up, his life had consisted of one adrenaline-fueled moment after another. If he hadn’t taken a solid hit off his inhaler just before this all went wrong, he would likely have had an asthma attack and died by now. That thought sobered him slightly. Now the idea of being unable to take another hit off the inhaler in his pocket ranked equally with the dangers of the “fire” below him. When he saw the “fire” comprised of various things with flashing yellow and red lights being built under him, he would have laughed with relief had he been able. But that changed when he saw the teepee “fire” being built up under him with all sorts of slender, pointy tools. Each tool Jess had added to the fire made him more nervous. Even if she didn’t like the attention, this was going too far! Why did they all go crazy at the same time? Why didn’t I? Did I? he thought. If she came back and kept building her “fire,” the rickety spit would eventually fail and he would become a space pincushion. If she didn’t, he’d eventually have an asthma attack, struggle, and likely become a pincushion anyway. Torn, Jeff thought he would at least like to see the girl he lusted after since his sister joined her troop before he died. If he could just get the gag out, maybe he could talk her down… “My name is Haddin,” the returning Quartermaster said, trying to infuse as much confidence in this one thing he knew to be true at the moment. “What is going on here?” A human female looked him up and down. “Are going to be a problem, too?” she asked. “NO!” he exclaimed. “What started all this? I … I have to fill out a report…” Several of the nearby humans erupted into strange barking sounds interspersed with comments like “Paperwork! Militaries are all the same!” and “Accompanied Captain to port. Learned not to [engage in sexual intercourse] with humans. Accompanied Captain to med bay.” Each comment caused the barking sounds to get longer and louder. Eyes widening in horror, Haddin stammered, “That was a sexual act? Your species— you engage in sexual acts that put people in med bay?? You—” While the other humans kept barking even louder until they struggled to breathe (Mental note: Humans have a weakness if we can just disrupt their breathing…), the stone-faced female he initially addressed just inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. She then said, “No, it’s a term with multiple meanings and was used as an invective in this case. And no we don’t…” she paused, eyes looking toward the ceiling as her head bobbed side-to-side. “Okay, we usually don’t engage in sexual activities that lead to trips to the med bay. There are exceptions, but it’s been a while.” At this, one of the human males changed color! He went from a mottled white/pink to a solid red while the other males pointed at him and convulsed with their barking. “But that’s an entirely different discussion for another time, if ever,” she continued. “My name is Katelyn. Seventeen humans on a vessel were exposed to fire suppressant. We were attempting to address the issue before things got out of control. Your narcissistic Captain interfered, and he became aggressive when told to wait. All actions taken by humans were for the protection of the station and all those aboard.” Eyeing her suspiciously, Haddin asked, “Who cares about fire suppressant? We are always exposed during drills. It’s hardly a threat to the station.” Katelyn asked, “Have you ever wondered what happened to the Void Suppressor? That Kelros Empire battleship that disappeared about nine cycles ago…?” “They encountered a freak spatial anomaly near the event horizon of a black hole, their engines were damaged, and they were unable to escape. Everyone knows that.” Scooping up one of the tablets dropped by fleeing dock workers, Katelyn pushed a video to it from her own tablet and said, “Yes, that’s what everyone knows.” Pressing the spare tablet into Haddin’s chest firmly, she looked him in the eyes and said, “Everyone knows a lie.” The Quartermaster found he was unable to push back enough on her arm without breaking the tablet, so he held it while he took a step back before realizing that this was a sign of weakness in front of a fleshy little human. Raising the tablet to obscure his face as the thought struck him, he watched the queued video. It was a bloodbath. What appeared to be three humans destroyed the entire crew of an Imperial battle cruiser. Those held over six hundred crew and usually at least five hundred troops. They simply slaughtered their way to the bridge, took over control, and vented the rest of the ship into space. He had heard tales of boarding actions against these vessels and even with double the troops, casualties were horrendous. There was no love lost for the Imperials, but still… Just three humans… “This is fake!” “No,” Katelyn smiled, not bothering to hide her teeth. “This is one thing that can happen when humans are exposed to fire suppressant. Needless to say, we don’t like the video getting out. And the Empire doesn't want anyone to know how easily their battleship was lost. It was far easier to send another ship to tow it to a black hole and sabotage the tug’s engines so they thought all witnesses would be gone.” Grabbing the tablet back, she chucked it at JT and said “Slag it.” Turning back to Haddin, she continued, “You want to be really careful with that knowledge. If you ever encounter humans, you should make certain they are well cared for and not exposed to that suppressant [excrement]. And your command leaks info like a sieve, so I wouldn’t go telling everyone what really happened or you’ll learn how effective the Empire’s assassins are.” “But I have to repor—” “What you have to do is tell your superiors that when your Captain interfered with a bunch of humans attempting to care for their young who had been exposed to a toxic mess, the errors of his ways were explained to him. If you want to get creative, you can…” she trailed off. “Can what?” “Kid, I like you,” Katelyn suddenly grinned at the junior officer. “Do you think you can handle a human who is completely tied up? Bear in mind, if you injure him...” Swallowing hard, Haddin replied, “I … I suppose so.” Thinking back to the video, he asked, “Completely tied up?” “Yup. Can barely wiggle. If you go in that ship, retrieve our lost child, and return him safely to us, well… I think we can all agree on a version of the story where you and your Captain valiantly assisted us in protecting our young from a toxic spill and your brave Captain was hurt while the rescue operation was in progress. I think your superiors will like that version more, don’t you?” Edit: Formatting
Letter on the election from a former BYU professor - shared on Facebook
From #BYU Professor Frank Fox: Dear Sister or Brother, My name is Prof. Frank W. Fox. I taught American History at Brigham Young University until my retirement in 2006, and, along with my colleague Clayne Pope, created the university’s American Heritage Program under the guidance of the First Presidency. Some of you may have been my students. I also wrote a biography of President J. Reuben Clark, also under the direction of the First Presidency. Both of these experiences grew out of my love for our country and my lifelong devotion to American ideals. For those same reasons, I am writing this letter to share with you my deep concern about the approaching election. Although I am a conservative Republican, I will not be voting for Donald Trump in November. I would like to explain why. For me, the choice is not between Republican or Democratic policies, nor between Liberal or Conservative principles. It is a choice growing out of the very nature and being of our democracy—which is far more fragile than most Americans realize. Democracy depends on more than party preferences or individual interests, it depends on critical qualities of mind and spirit. Our Founding Fathers knew this profound truth in the marrow of their bones. I have the gravest misgivings about certain of those qualities of mind and spirit. I would like to set down a few of these for your consideration. First, there is the matter of truth-telling. No President of the United States can make falsehood a common, daily practice. No free government can stand on a foundation of lies. False-speaking in the public square will destroy the soul of America as surely as it destroyed the souls of Italy and Germany before World War II. The first requirement of any would-be dictator is the ability to lie convincingly, and the first attribute of a people he intends to enslave is their willingness to believe his lies. Second, Mr. Trump has preached fear and divisiveness among the American people, then used these raw emotions to create a mindless, militant personal following. With this private army, which believes every word he utters, he holds the Republicans of both houses under his thumb—some of them in sheer terror— thus destroying the Constitution’s single most important check and balance. This is precisely how democracies have met their end from ancient times to the present. Third, in a democracy no one can be above the law, not even the President. Mr. Trump seems to reject this crucial principle. He has violated the laws of the United States in large ways and small ones, often with disastrous results. People have gone to prison for the violations he instigated—one of them cynically pardoned by himself! He was impeached for violating the law and would have been convicted if Senators had been free to vote their consciences. Fourth, no American patriot can maintain an intimate, secret, and possibly dependent relationship with a foreign adversary. It is absolutely unthinkable. There is overwhelming evidence that our President does in fact have such a relationship with Vladimir Putin, and that this relationship has resulted in the undermining of our most sacred institution, free elections. It is so well documented that it is virtually beyond question. Finally, no President in our history has been guilty of shirking the Chief Executive’s single most important responsibility—that of protecting the people. President Trump’s handing of the COVID pandemic cannot be seen in any other light than a callous disregard for the safety of the American people in the sole interest of furthering his own political advantage. I have studied his every move in this regard, and I have listened to his every excuse. None of them works. These things are not “just politics.” They are not incidental and harmless. They are not “fake news.” They are beyond all constitutional limits and outside of all historical precedent. I can scroll through every President from George Washington to Barrack Obama without finding a single instance (including Watergate) of misconduct on this scale. The death of every democracy begins with a stolen election. The tyrant simply rejects the voice of the people and turns instead to power for its own sake— always claiming that the election was “rigged.” If he cannot win legitimately, he will win by any means available to him, and then just keep right on “winning.” That was what happened to Putin’s Russia. One final comment. It was recently reported that Vice President Pence, in visiting Arizona, intimated that the General Authorities of the LDS Church were quietly supporting the President. I will bet my eternal salvation against that. The values of patriotism, truthfulness, justice, honor, decency and respect for the law are deeply ingrained in LDS culture. Few church members in full possession of the facts would condone what I have described above. For these and other reasons, my vote is going to Joe Biden in this election—for his balance, for his wisdom, for his humanity, and more than anything else, for his power to heal. Our country is sorely in need of that. If any of this touches your heart, please help me to spread this vitally important message. The future of our democracy depends on it. Sincerely, Frank W. Fox edit: removed broken FB link
Location: Cape Canaveral, Florida, United States of America “Ready?” “Ready as you can ever be. Never thought when I joined they’d give me this kind of an operation.” “I assumed when I became an astronaut that’d put my fighting days behind. But we’re here now.” Bobby sighed. He’d known this was coming. The briefings had been stringent as hell. The cause was just. But it just didn’t feel right, not in a moral way, but in a literal way. Astronauts are not meant to fight wars. When he’d asked about it, he just got told “easier to teach astronauts how to be soldiers, than soldiers how to be astronauts”. As if that somehow assuaged the weirdness of the situation. It was simple, though. Utilising a heavily modified Crew Dragon capsule, a 4 person team would, under the pretext of servicing a geostationary satellite, enter a high orbit, then setting up a rendezvous with a Hekatian space station. From there, they would board it, and hopefully take possession of it. Initially the plan had also involved a Chinese Shenzou rocket that would carry 3 more to space, but that had to be scrapped due to weather conditions today. Unfortunate, but they should be fine without. If all went well, this would be the first battle of any type in space. Humans would be going up against plasma-armed Hekatians, with special guns that fired rockets, avoiding the recoil issue. Nothing was known about the station itself, but intelligence believed it to be a long range communications system, and that it controlled the network of satellites deployed by the Hekatians. This operation had been put together in hopes of capturing it, but it seemed that UN Command had plans for a massed anti-satellite missile strike if that was necessary. That was a last resort though, Humanity didn’t want to Kessler Syndrome itself. No one was around to wish them luck, as the cover for the operation required a great deal of secrecy. Besides, fuel rationing made it impractical for most to come anyway. Well, nearly time to get going. Location: Geostationary orbit, approaching Hekatian space station The station just looked wrong, like it just shouldn’t be a space station. It went against conventional Human station design so much, that it had to be the result of advanced technology far beyond the current cutting edge. There were no radiators, no solar panels, no observation windows, nothing. It was a smooth, mostly featureless tic tac shape, with two objects docked onto the side that Bobby assumed were the SSTO shuttles spotted occasionally flying between Earth and the station. Barely visible at this distance, were 2 more docking ports for shuttles. 1 had been blown up by Resistance forces, while it was landed on the ground, while the other had been successfully captured intact during the liberation. That was good, it gave them the chance to return to Earth with any prisoners and casualties, and keep bringing science teams up to investigate the station. Plus they could disassemble one and still have a spare. “100 metres now. Everyone get ready.” 100 metres would be close range in land warfare. In space, it was the equivalent of knife range. The full team was wearing the famous “starman” suit, no other options being possible in the cramped space of a crew capsule. Helmets were donned, weapons retrieved, ammunition loaded. When everyone was ready, the nose retracted, revealing the modified docking collar. “50 metres. 40 metres.” There was silence from the majority of the team as they approached the Hekatian space station. “30 metres, 25… shit we just lost the pole!” That wasn’t good. The pole was just that, a special pole on a deployable arm that had been jury-rigged to the front of the capsule. It’s purpose was to confirm the suspected existence of an energy shield around the station, which was believed to be responsible for disintegrating any micrometeoroids that may otherwise have damaged it. Successful disintegration meant that they were now at risk of severe damage should they pass the threshold. Bobby imagined the constituent atoms of the pole being scattered into the There were no questions of what to do now. Everyone had been over the plan dozens of times. Thermite charges were readied, and deployed from external storage ports, in a roughly circular pattern, large enough to fit the capsule through. With tiny thrusters, they inched towards the rough location of the shield, before the reaction was ignited. The shield flickered and failed as the charges burnt, not designed to respond to something that powerful. This gave the capsule an opening, which it exploited quickly, the entire bulk of the capsule passing the threshold before the shield could reappear and destroy the craft. “5 metres, 4, 3, 2, 1, contact.” The docking collar touched the skin of the space station. This inspired the usage of yet more thermite charges, cutting through in order to force a breach. The Human team took up positions, ready to fire on anything that appeared on the other side. While they waited, a terse message from Mission Control informed them that the other team had made a successful breach of the shield perimeter, and were in a similar position to that of Bobby’s team. Finally, the hole was formed, and the interior of the space station was visible through it. Jackie went first, her rifle tucked into her shoulder as she floated forwards. Then she fell. “Looks like some sort of a gravity effect from the floor! Air is breathable as well.” Gravity generators? Incredible. The technology onboard could advance Human spaceflight by decades, if not centuries. Bobby went through next, feeling the same sudden tug down upon his head, then on his neck, and so on, as he faceplanted. It was the most bizarre feeling, impossible to describe to those who’ve never experienced low gravity. Oddly, the gravity seemed to be slightly stronger than that of Earth, a possible sign of what the Hekatians considered “normal”. Sergey came next, having been smart enough to go feet first, followed by Anjana, constituting all four members of the strike team. “Suppose we could have just brought regular old rifles with us then.” Sergey chuckled as he scanned the corridor. Then he got down onto one knee, the rest of the team bar Jackie taking suit, at the sounds of an approaching Hekatian. Jackie placed herself around the frame of a door, ready to jump the Hekatian given the chance. The Hekatian who came around the corner was armourless. He stopped, absolutely stunned by the sight of 3 armed Humans pointing their guns directly at his face. Then Jackie jumped out, seizing him and dragging him to the floor. She glanced at Bobby for orders, as he writhed in her grasp. “Knock him out.” She complied, reaching into one of her suit’s pockets for a small bottle of CS gas, which she then sprayed directly into the Hekatian’s mouth. He sputtered, before slumping over. That reminded Bobby, the objective was to locate the air exchange facilities, and dump vast quantities of CS gas into them. It’s incapacitating effects upon the Hekatians were well documented by this point, and would make the task of clearing the station much easier. The Human team relied on that same air, of course, but they had their helmets on, and air filters to scrub the gas before it affected them. Failing that, they had 5 minutes of reserve air to fall back on, likely enough to enable them to overwhelm the station before the gas started to affect them. The group split in 2, searching for the air exchange facilities. Bobby went with Jackie, advancing steadily down the corridor. The problem was, none of them spoke Hekatian, nor could they read it, so they had to simply open every door on the way there. After several minutes, they found the equipment in question. Sergey made a quick run back to the capsule, returning with multiple canisters, which he then emptied into the system. Thick clouds of gas were visible spreading through the pipes, and soon began appearing into the room. “All right, everyone, onto the command centre!” Bobby said that as if they knew where the command centre was, which they did not. “Ready? Breach on 3, 2, 1, BREACH!” Bobby gave the order, and the door was blown. The first thing he noticed was the air from the corridor being blown into the room. The Hekatians inside had removed all the air from the room, likely an attempt to try and kill off their opponents. That wouldn’t work though, the team had switched to their emergency reserve air just before breaching, and the corridor likely had more than enough oxygen to spare. The next thing was how objects seemed to be in different gravitational states. A wrench-like object immediately next to the door floated in mid air, but a small distance behind it, a book lay on the floor as if pulled by gravity. The final, and most vital thing, was that there were 5 Hekatians pointing guns towards him, and all of them wore armour, a special type that didn’t match that seen on Earth. Plus several others sprawled on their desks with what looked like emergency depressurisation gear, but they weren’t as important. There was a 6th Hekatian, who seemed to lack proper combat gear, who was hunched behind the low wall of the circular console which dominated the room. He was likely controlling the station’s functions mid-battle. Immediately shots began to be traded, Human miniature rockets against Hekatian plasma. One Hekatian went down immediately, fire from Sergey and Bobby combining to tear his armour to shreds. Disconcertingly, there was a brief flash similar to that seen with the shield as the first rockets barreled towards their targets. While it didn’t actually do anything to stop the rockets, likely being a similar mechanism to the station’s for protecting against micrometeorites, it did represent a slight edge for the Hekatians, and that was a threat in the future. Bobby emptied his magazine, slapping a new one in rapidly, before tucking his head down and charging towards a central console by the door that offered a degree of cover. As he ran, he had the disconcerting experience of trying to run through what felt like reverse gravity, then returning to regular gravity, then back to reversed gravity, before regular gravity returned as he slammed himself into cover. Luckily, his momentum had carried him just far enough to reach the console, but that wasn’t the end of his trouble. Panicked plasma fire from his left caught him by surprise. Turning to face the threat, he saw a single Hekatian who had been lying in wait for someone to come through, but hadn’t expected Bobby to react so well to the gravity switching. Bobby repaid their failure with several rockets aimed at the head, annihilating the Hekatian. Anjana followed Bobby in, this time having come with more of a running start and reaching cover with more momentum to spare. As she pressed herself against the console, several plasma lances shot overhead, impacting Jackie who was still by the door. The first hit tore a great hole in her arm, the second carving straight through her cheek, and the third straight through her brain, killing her instantly. Then the Hekatians switched the gravity in the corridor to what seemed to be reversed, and then zero gravity in the corridor, complicating things for Sergey as he was lifted “upwards” and left stranded. He struggled to grab hold of something to steady himself, while staying in cover and providing fire at the same time. Making things even worse, they similarly reversed and disabled gravity for the portion of the command centre under Human control. “Anjana, on my word, flank right, I’ll go left. Sergey, try and launch yourself into the room, we’ll take the central console.” Bobby gave the orders via the radio. Sergey complied, setting himself up for a manouevre they’d planned in advance. He pushed himself off the wall, aiming for the wall on the opposite end of the corridor. Then, pulling himself along by use of the handrail, Sergey brought himself to face the open doorway, and kicked himself off the wall. The zero gravity environment allowed him to fly right through, his gun swiftly dispatching the lone Hekatian who manned the computer console. Meanwhile, Bobby and Anjana sprung out from their cover, using each others boots as a launching point. Bobby grabbed a hold of the console with his right arm, hooking his momentum around and then forward, resulting in him passing back into a section where gravity was online. Downing another Hekatian, he ducked into the console, watching as Sergey not-so-gracefully landed on the side of the console, dragging himself to the floor. Bobby moved over to the computer the deceased Hekatian had been using. It displayed a schematic of the control room, with different sections highlighted in various colours, presumably correlating to gravity levels. Bobby glanced behind him, roughly working out where the remaining Hekatians were on the schematic. He then selected that location, scrolling until the bar was at the bottom, before clicking what he assumed was the “confirm” button. Another glance showed the Hekatian team had lost their footing, and were being pushed away from the floor. Then, Bobby upped the gravity to maximum. He had no idea what maximum was, but if the scale on the bar was accurate, it was somewhat in the region of 2-3 times Earth’s gravity. The Hekatians slammed into the floor, struggling to pick themselves up. Anjana moved out, firing several rounds into one of the Hekatians as he attempted to lift himself up. Bobby put the Hekatians back into reversed gravity, before yet again dragging them to the floor. He almost felt like he was toying with them at this point. Meanwhile Sergey fiddled around with the console, finding the section that dealt with atmospheric controls, and activating them, allowing the team to stop using their emergency reserves of air. “I can keep doing this all day if you don’t give in!” Bobby shouted in the general direction of the Hekatians, as he repeated the same gravity trick on them. “Do you want to test my patience, or do you want to live?” “Fine! We give in! Just stop doing this!” One of the Hekatians shouted back, as they began floating once more. Bobby complied, dumping them back down at a more leisurely 1G. Anjana collected their weapons, and led them away to be locked in some storage cabinet. Bobby leaned over and grabbed one of the Hekatians, bringing him towards the console. “Alright, does this thing have a switch language function?” “Of course not, why would we include such a feature? Are you stupid?” “Still smart enough to beat you it seems. Anyway… well you know what that means?” Bobby nudged his gun far into the back of the Hekatian. “You’re going to explain how we take control of this station, and if you so much as try to trick me even once, I will pull this trigger. Got it?” That was somewhat of a bluff, the bullet needed time to accelerate once it left the barrel, and at this range wouldn’t be very effective. Regardless, the threat seemed to work, and the Hekatian quickly explained how to work the most critical parts of the station, before he was herded to the same temporary prison as his friends. “Complete control over the station achieved. I think that makes us the first space pirates in human history. A cause to celebrate, surely.” Sergey nudged Bobby as he watched Anjana lead the prisoners away. “Shame we couldn’t all be here to see it.” Bobby noted as he glanced at the body of Jackie, which had returned to resting on the floor with the gravity now restored. He had just witnessed the first Human combat death in space, and had a distinct feeling that it would in no way be the last. “Indeed. How will we bury her?” “Not our choice is it. That’s the family’s to work out. Call Mission Control, give them a report, they’ll talk with them and give us our next orders.” Sergey nodded, heading towards the capsule to use it’s communications system. Bobby fiddled with the controls, activating an external camera feed which began displaying on a nearby screen. It was nothing much really, just a view of a large collection of stars. Bobby then pressed another button, which added small annotations to the feed. He couldn’t read them of course, but he assumed them to be detailing who owned that system and so on. Bet they think this is the furthest we’ll ever go unsupervised, Bobby thought to himself. Well, they’d best be prepared for a shock.
I'd never really enjoyed the water. When I was a kid I went to a classmate's birthday party and their older brother threw me headfirst into their pool. I hadn't known how to swim at the time. Those resulting feelings of clawing panic and choking suffocation have remained with me my whole life. It's still hard for me to get into water of any depth and I'm in my late twenties now. For this reason my friends and family were confused when I told them I'd landed a job on an oil rig a few hundred miles off the coast of Galveston. Partly because of its location in quite a lot of water and partly because I'd never done anything like it before. I'd lost my job about a year earlier and eleven months of hunting down another office position hadn't been going well. I was preparing to head up to Austin, where I'd heard there were more opportunities in my field, when the oil rig gig fell into my lap. Literally. I was at a diner one night around midnight. Not a prime time for business, so there were only a few people around. There was a no-nonsense waitress with dark hair and a savage wit that I'd been working up the courage to ask out for a drink, a group of drunk teenagers arguing over syrup distribution and an old guy sitting in the booth across the aisle from mine. He'd been nursing a cup of coffee while studying the day's newspaper. He wore a tan windbreaker, faded dad-jeans and the kind of tight, iron-grey haircut you'd expect to see on an ageing vet. Otherwise, he was as nondescript as a person could get. I ran drink proposals through my head, determined to pose the question to Cassie when she came over to refill my mug. Maybe I shouldn't though. She probably had a dozen jackasses asking her out every- "You need something?" The old man asked, returning my stare. I'd been zoned out, looking at him while lost in thought. Awkward. His eyebrow raised up, irritated. "A job?" I was trying for glib, but I suppose some of my frustration must have leaked through because his eyebrow relaxed. When he did, something about him changed. Visibly the same, but something in the shape of his stance and the color of his eyes shifted imperceptibly away from generic and into something unsettling. Then it was gone. Before I had a chance to form any real thoughts about it, he'd shuffled sideways out of his booth, stood over me and held the paper out in his hand. "Good luck then," he said, then dropped the folded-over newspaper into my lap and walked away. I watched him dodder out the door. I guess I had a look on my face because Cassie was suddenly there, filling my mug and asking if everything was alright. "Yeah, sorry - that weird old guy just tossed his paper at me," I held up the folded sheaf of newsprint as evidence. "Dick," she glanced over her shoulder and appraised the pile of change on the table behind her, "No tip either. Want me to throw that away for you?" As I passed it to her, I saw that the paper was folded open to the classified section and one entry seemed perfectly centered on the page. It read:
WANTED: OFFSHORE RADIO OPERATOR - JUNIOR - PERDIDO PLATFORM. ONSITE TRAINING FOR SR POSITIONS AND CERTIFICATIONS: FCC, MEDICAL, MARITIME SECCLEAR, DOE-Q. COMPETITIVE RATES. IMMEDIATE AVAILABILITY.
There were other details and some contact information but they felt irrelevant. I'd already come to some kind of decision before I'd even finished reading it all. Not just that I'd decided to apply, but that the intervening time and tasks that would take place before my boots were on-deck were inconsequential. I was already there, tasting the salt-spray in my beard and relaxed with the fatigue that only comes from a long day of hard work. The wind gusted and I rocked back in my booth, letting the chilled, wet breeze play across my face. "Guess not," Cassie muttered as she walked away. I never did manage to ask her out.
Water doesn't seem much like water from five thousand feet. On the way out over the Gulf of Mexico it looked like a distant, shimmering sheet of solid cobalt stretching away to the horizon. The interior of the AW139 that I and fourteen other offshore workers occupied was utilitarian, and decked in the corporate red-and-yellow of the owners. I was new and could barely pull my eyes away from the ocean far below, or the helicopter itself - both were fresh experiences for me. Most of the other relief crew were in various states of world-weary repose and it was likely the same on the two choppers ahead of us. I was the only new recruit, brought in to replace the previous radio operator who'd apparently quit just days earlier without bothering to let anyone know. The rest of the people in transit were relieving crewmembers who were headed back inland for a month or so of downtime. I'd already seen a few signs of large aquatic animals and so found myself studying the calm waters for the black fins of an Orca - one of my favorites from childhood. Which is why, when I happened to glance back to the horizon, I was stunned by what I saw. The Perdido platform reared up out of the ocean like the metropolitan conning tower of some massive submarine. Giant cranes sprouted up from the edges of the structure and spread their limbs out over the water, creating the illusion that the oil rig was adding to itself. Growing. A helipad extended out from the large residential block at the top, like a beggar's hand held up beseeching the sky for some act of charity. The lead helicopter deposited itself on the pad and fifteen people spilled out of it, heading for a scaffolded set of stairs. Our bird circled lazily while the process repeated for the second chopper. We landed soon after. I was the last passenger out and I quickly retreated from the aircraft and the deafening whirlwind it produced. A short, blonde woman with a clipboard approached me and we shared a brief laugh as she tried to corral her wind-whipped hair. "Name?" she shouted over the noise. "Nat Shaw!" I barked back. The remnants of her laugh faded as she scanned through her papers, "I don't see you on here!" I stepped around to her shoulder to check myself, and she obliged by holding the clipboard out for me. As I did, I noticed another man climbing down from the co-pilot seat of the chopper. I could feel the woman looking at me as I watched him approach us. It was the old guy from the diner. He was dressed more or less the same. "Lara! I see you've met Mr. Shaw!" he shouted, then raised his arm and swirled it above his head. Behind him, the chopper lurched off the helipad and began to ascend out and away over the water. "Yes sir, I've met him," she smiled a glance at me, "but he's not on my crew roster," and held out the clipboard to the older man. He waved it away without looking at it, "Not a problem Lara, Mr. Shaw will be helping us on the exploratory barge for the foreseeable future. We'll manage him through the duty roster on the Blue Auger." At that, Lara stilled. It was only for a moment, but something about her demeanor shifted. There was an awkward pause where nothing was said. The man cleared his throat, "Yes, well - Mr. Shaw, if you'd come with me? We'll let Lara here get back to work. She's got a whole bunch of people to process, don't you?" His eyes swiveled back to her. She stammered out another affirmative. The older man turned to walk back to the helipad and I moved to follow when Lara's hand touched my elbow. "Good luck over there. Be careful," and with that she hurried off down the stairwell. I suddenly wasn't much enjoying my first day at work. What did I have to be careful of? The old man? The Blue Auger? I studied the nearby barge while I walked back to the helipad where the man - I realized he hadn't yet supplied a name - was busy poking at his cellphone. The barge was an enormous twin-hulled catamaran, with a massive administration tower topped by a deck-wide wheelhouse. It looked like someone had dropped a mid-sized office building onto the center of a ship. There were people on deck, moving with a purpose. Nestled between the two hulls was a smaller shape floating in the water. It looked like a tiny submarine. "Pretty impressive, isn't she?" the old man shouted back to me over his shoulder. As he did, he waved broadly at the Auger, giving the impression he was saying hello to it. A chopper, smaller than the one we rode in on, lifted off from the distant helipad and began to make its way over to us. I stepped up beside him. "So what am I doing here?" I asked, staring at the approaching helicopter, "and who are you?" The old man continued to stare out at the barge, and some distance beyond it, before he spoke. "You're empty. You have nothing back there," he gestured vaguely back to the mainland, "and you've no idea how to find something to fill what's missing either." I gaped, suddenly very angry. Who the hell was this asshole to say that shit to me, employer or not. I immediately began fantasizing about the helicopter fuel they were about to burn hauling me back to the mainland. Before I could speak, he turned and looked me in the eyes. They were different. Not the watery-blue from the diner, nor any brief flash of compassion. Instead, they were almost as grey as his hair and as focused as any I'd ever seen. This man was not the nobody he'd crafted himself to resemble. "Back there, you're playing a game you're not equipped for and have no interest in winning. Out here," he gestured to the broad expanses of sea and sky, "the rules are a rough draft. You can find meaning, unscripted." He stepped closer, and though he was almost a foot shorter, he loomed over me. "That," he pointed back to shore again, "has always been a collection of accorded lies. All crafted to help keep the chaos at bay. The most offensive among them being that if you look around the pig pen hard enough, you'll find your purpose. But the truth is there isn't anything to find. You have to make it yourself. That's what we're doing here Mr. Shaw - forging purpose." He stepped back to watch the helicopter make its final approach. "What happened to the other guy? The other radio operator. Why'd he quit?" The old man's face crumpled into a frown, but his eyes lost none of their resolve. His mouth moved in quiet response, but the words were lost in the wash of descending blades.
Despite the strange first day, the first few weeks of my time on the barge had been almost boring. A lot of extremely inane radio chatter and records logging. My ongoing battle with seasickness had also begun to take its toll. I hadn't been sleeping well and my mood had darkened under the oppressive quiet of the ship. Barely anyone spoke to one another. Those that did, did in whispered tones and wary glances. Many of the interactions I'd had were short and unpleasant. I'd only really found any comfort while alone in my bunk, reading. Even that had taken a few days. The first night I'd rolled onto the surprisingly comfortable mattress to find myself staring at a nightstand photo of two strangers. A beautiful woman with her arms wrapped around the poster-ideal of a man's man. I picked it up and looked closely. The man was wearing heavy duty overalls, a plaid shirt with a high-vis vest on top. Behind him, towers of steel and piping made an abstract backdrop. He had a rich, dark beard and bright white teeth in a textbook grin. A topography of smile lines and crows feet mapped the contours of his face, which was framed with a dash of silvering at his temples. He looked like he should be selling aftershave and lumber. I flipped the frame over.
Hannah & Rick, '18
I opened the nightstand drawer, tossed the picture frame inside and slid it closed. I guessed I was this guy's replacement. Rick the radio guy. I thought briefly of Cassie, and rolled back over. After that, I assumed most people were cold-shouldering me because I was Rick's replacement. He didn't look very replaceable and I certainly didn't feel like I came close. I'm sure Hannah would have agreed. It was almost two weeks before a co-worker explained what the actual reason for the standoffishness was. "He likes you," Ferdinand mumbled around a mouthful of cold chicken. We'd bumped into each other down in the canteen well after hours, raiding the staff fridge. The water had been calm that evening and my stomach had settled down long enough to remember what hunger felt like. "What? Who? What?" I asked over a plate of half-finished fruit and vegetables. "No. Not like that. The other guy, the other radio guy. I think he feels responsible about that. He treats you different. Like a person. With the rest of us, he's - I dunno. An asshole." "Responsible?" I asked. "Didn't the other guy quit?" Mitch paused before taking another mouthful, "Yeah. Sure he did. He went down, then he didn't come back up. I guess he found a job down there, eh?" "Down? On the mini-sub? I haven't seen anyone go down on that since I've been here. Where does it go?" For the first time since the conversation began, Mitch looked uncomfortable. "Look man, if no one's told you anything, maybe it's -- He was cut off by a brutally loud claxon that cut through my thoughts like a razorblade. Lights began to flicker on all over the canteen. Mitch had gone white. "What is it?" "Looks like you get to find out." The old man was standing silhouetted in the doorway of the canteen, flashing lights ran riot behind him. "Oh good. You're already up. Mitch, take him to fitting please - five minutes," then he spun around and strode away. He'd been wearing a wetsuit with some kind of harness over the top of it, festooned with boxy objects and pouches. "Come on," Mitch said over his shoulder, already heading for the exit. Before I could say anything, he repeated, "come on," and disappeared out the door.
I began to have serious misgivings. Stripping naked in front of Mitch to frantically don a wetsuit hadn't been enjoyable, but that unease paled compared to what I felt seated and strapped securely in the mini-sub. For people with a longstanding fear of water, submarines don't feature on the bucket list. I didn't want to be there. Mitch had deposited me in the minisub and rushed off. The old man were there too, along with five other people I'd seen around the 'Augur but hadn’t yet met. They looked like the cast of a budget action flick. Come to that, so did I. My harness contained various tools and electronic components, a hand-held HAM radio and an alarming amount of medical supplies. "Hey," I said into the murmur of conversation happening in front of me. No one responded. The old man was pointing around the sub and saying things that I had no context for. "Hey," I said more loudly than before. One of the others, Simon I think, glanced at me briefly to shake his head. "Hey asshole!" I barked into the compartment. Everyone froze. The old man paused, facing away from me, nodding his head. He turned those intense eyes back on me, but my irritation was an effective bulwark. "Yes Mr. Shaw. What can we do for you?" "Why am I sitting here, and where the hell are we going? I don't have to be here, I shouldn't be here. I could just quit," I babbled. I was angry and confused - what I'd thought had been a genuinely lucky opportunity had rapidly become a nightmare. "Go ahead," the old man said, gesturing to the hatch that led outside. Everyone else had fallen silent. I hadn't expected that. Slowly, I began to unbuckle my belt. "If you truly think that what you want is back there, you should go. Maybe your purpose is there. Maybe if you empty enough bottles and make enough acquaintances, you'll find it. You people," he glanced around the compartment, "are always looking for answers everywhere except where they are." He took a breath to compose himself and dismiss the small bit of rage that had leaked out of his composure. "Do what you want," he finished, and turned back to the console he'd been examining. My hands retreated from the buckle. He was an asshole. He was also right. Might as well see what was in this direction.. The ride down had been a pleasure. The first in weeks. After almost a month of constant nausea, I found my seasickness lift completely during the descent, and it was quite a descent. Many hours went by while we gained depth at the snail's pace required to allow our bodies to adjust to the pressure. Let me be clear. I passed all the courses and exams necessary to operate radio equipment on a major offshore oil platform. Submarines were not part of the curriculum. I knew almost nothing about them. Any knowledge I had was gleaned from movies. One of those tidbits was that wartime subs in World War Two could only drop down a few hundred meters safely. You can drop that far in a few minutes. We'd been at it much longer. After seven hours on the minisub, listening to the creaks and groans, I began to grow uncontrollably restless and anxious. Everyone seemed to have something to do but me - there was already someone at the radio, passing information up to the Augur above. She was cute too - and the thought had me irritated with myself. My life was changing on a moment-to-moment basis. A wild variety of new experiences and input assaulted me from every direction, but I couldn't appreciate it past the details - a habit of mine in uncomfortable situations. Most situations. "Look. I don't want to sound like that guy, but are we close? There's nothing to see or do except brainstorm ways I could die in here and I'm getting a little strung out." A few of them turned to look at me and the old man reached over to push a button on the console. Below me, a section of the floor panel began to recede into the wall (the bulkhead?). It revealed a six-inch-thick partition of plexiglass in the floor. It was a porthole. I slowly unbuckled my straps and knelt to peer through. My fear succumbed to wonder. We were descending down through a narrow chasm. The minisub's spotlights played up and down cliff walls to either side. Below, the crevasse descended into darkness, but in the middle of that darkness was an oasis. Four intensely bright lights betrayed the corners of a structure. Clearly manmade, it was the rough shape of a thick book laying face down, but instead of laying on a flat surface, a semi-circular channel had been carved along the length of it, right down the middle. Fastened to it, in the carved-out space, was some sort of pipe that extended from one side of the chasm wall to the other. Maybe some sort of underwater oil pipeline? Guylines stretched outward from the structure and connected to the surrounding walls of stone. They'd clamped a huge submarine onto a underwater pipe. I looked up. The old man was staring at me with one eyebrow raised. The structure soon passed by my field of view as we slipped below it. I got a brief glimpse of the pipe from much closer than before. It wasn't a perfect cylinder after all and had a rough-seeming texture to it. It looked old, possibly damaged. It seemed likely that this was some kind of repair vessel they'd attached to it. A short while later my attention was pulled away from the porthole by the sounds of loud splashes and voices beyond hull of the minisub. "Docked," said Simon, at the helm. His companion, Steph, noted the air outside was good and that they still had a clear connection to the surface. The other three crew on board were people I hadn't met before. They moved differently than the rest of us - in concert, as if they'd been moving around in close proximity for a long time. I had no real experience with classifying people in terms of their threat level, but I felt these three were very dangerous indeed. Morgan, Spencer and Loraine. Definitely not mechanics. The three of them slowed to a stop as they saw me watching. "Need something?" their apparent leader, Morgan, asked. "Nope." Never had they met someone as gifted at avoiding conflict as me. I went back to listening beyond the walls of the minisub and the trio continued their inscrutable preparations. Something clanked loudly against the hull and I yelped, then shrugged at the looks I got. I felt completely out of my element. A few feet to my left, the hatch airlock began to crank open. Cool, scentless air gusted in. "Welcome aboard the Lucky Barnacle," a voice announced from outside. The old man grimaced at this and glared at someone beyond the threshold. "Fine. I mean, welcome to Deep Sea LB-1," the voice recited in sarcastic monotone. I poked my head around the hatch and found a hand waiting to be grabbed. I did so and it pulled me through into bright, halogen light. I stumbled up a short, floating platform and onto a rubberized deck. Behind me the minisub bobbed in a moon pool that was sized just right to accept it. Looking around revealed a scene straight out of a movie. On one side of the room, high-pressure dive suits hung in racks along the wall, with nearby rows of pressure tanks lined up like soldiers at attention. A woman moved along them, taking notes with a tablet. A small crane overhung the minisub, and seemed fully capable of lifting the vehicle without issue. On the other side of the room an array of small portholes ran along the bulkhead, revealing the ultramarine darkness beyond. The hand that gripped mine was attached to a mountain of a man who was grinning huge teeth out from behind an unruly auburn beard. "Hey buddy, watch yer step," he said, grinning wider. "Sorry, first time on a … uh, whatever this is." "Mobile Subaquatic Habitat, or the Mosh Pit. Or," he somehow grinned wider as he leaned back to the minisub's hatch, "the Lucky Barnacle!" His head pulled away from the hatch as the old man stepped out. "I see you've met Curtis, the manager of the DSLB-1," he grimaced. Curtis mouthed the word captain at me as the old man reached back to help the rest of the crew out debark. It appeared I wasn't the only one lacking experienced sea legs. "Nat," I said and reach out to shake the man's hand. I've heard you can tell a lot about someone by their handshake, but I'd never been able to suss out what that meant. What I did know, was that I fully expected a man like this to do his best to crush my hand bones and, when he didn't, I found myself grinning too. "See, I told you he'd smile," Morgan punched Loraine in the shoulder as they clomped by with their overfull seabags - moments later Loraine handed her a fiver. Spencer rolled his eyes as he passed. All three seemed to know where they were headed. Steph and Simon loitered nearby, chatting. "Nice to meet ya. So what brings you down to the Mosh Pit? No offense, but you don't look like a PSC." "I'm not sure actually. No one's told me much of anything. What's a PSC?" At this, Curtis' ebullient demeanor faltered and he pivoted his head deliberately toward the old man, who'd already closed his eyes and begun to sigh. "You didn't brief him first?" Curtis asked flatly. "No time. And what would I have said? What would you say?" "I'd at least tell him-" "Tell him what?" The old man leaned in toward Curtis. "Tell me Mr. Warsaw, what would you have said?" Curtis flushed red and his frustration seemed about to become physical. He abruptly relented, "I don't know." "Yes," the old man agreed and strode between us toward the only exit that wasn't back out through the moon pool, "come with me, please, Mr. Shaw." His shouldered glance took us both in, "It's time we got to work."
Have I mentioned I don't like water? It's amazing how far you can get on confusion and adrenaline. Eventually, however, your brain climbs out of the back seat and really examines what's going on. I had just taken a small submarine down to a larger submarine that was clamped onto an old, broken pipeline almost a kilometer under the gulf of Mexico. My ears felt weird and I was a little dizzy. The whole structure around me creaked with metallic groans that evoked scenes of explosive flooding from a dozen different movies. I was a radio tech. A brand new radio tech. What the fuck was I doing here? Halfway down the third nondescript corridor I stopped following Curtis and the old man. They continued for a half-dozen paces, muttering to each other in tones of frustration. Curtis stopped first and glanced around at me, assessing. Then he grabbed the old man's arm, and they both turned to look at me. "What the fuck am I doing here?" I asked flatly into the corridor. "Like I said before, you-" the old man started, but I'd had my fill. "No. Stop. Three months ago my days were a blur of masturbation, whiskey, and cold cereal. Why the fuck am I here? Tell me now or," I gestured around, "I'll start breaking expensive stuff until you send me back up. I shouldn't be here. I heard what you said and I want what you described, purpose, but my whole body is telling me I shouldn't be here. Why?" The old man's face creased in irritation and he took a step toward me. Behind him, Curtis was carefully expressionless. "That discomfort is called personal growth Mr. Shaw. You were nothing, and now you're just a little bit more. Now if--" "WHY AM I HERE?" I hadn't expected to scream, but the bellow echoed up and down the corridor, and I heard the sounds of other crew noises throughout the structure grind to a halt. Even the old man faltered. Curtis spoke for him. "Because if you die, too, you won't be missed. Fewer questions." The old man's shoulders tensed and he pressed a few fingers to his forehead, "Curtis.." "Well it's true, ain't it? I mean, he's smart enough to work the gear and he's relatively fit and healthy." He looked at me, "I bet you don't have a girl and I bet you're not real close with anyone up top, are ya? Did you have a job when you applied for this one?" I looked at the old man, quietly daring him to look at me. He did. The truth was right there, all over his face. "I'm expendable?" "We all are, yes." It figured. Even this new frontier was just another facet of life letting me know my biggest value was that I had none. I turned on my heel and began to walk back to the moon pool. I'd wait there until the minisub headed back to the surface. Behind me, in the distance, someone else screamed, "WHY AM I HERE!" This time the silence that followed was filled with a tension I understood. Where my voice had been filled with frustration, fear and anger, this new one… Hadn't reflected anything. Have you ever tried to scream without emotion coloring the words? I'd been parroted. I slowly turned around to find the old man and Curtis facing away from me once more, staring down the corridor, both rigid with the same unease I felt. I walked up and stood beside them. Curtis spoke first, "I.. Didn't know he could do that." "Do what?" the old man replied. "Yell." The old man glanced at me, this time with a slightly higher appraisal than he'd had previously. "Come on. Both of you."
A couple corridors later, Curtis opened a locked hatch. Behind it was a ladder that went up. As I waited my turn to climb, I plotted our path here from memory. We'd docked on the bottom of the structure, at the edge. By now we had to be somewhere near the middle. Near the pipe the habitat straddled. I followed them up. The room I found myself in was unlike any other I'd seen. It was long, about the full length of the Lucky Barnacle, but only about fifteen feet wide. Three of the walls sported racks of equipment, some of which I recognized but most I couldn't fathom uses for. The fourth wall was one of the long ones. The entire length of it was glass, buttressed every ten or fifteen feet by steel girders. The thick glass was fastened to the steel supports by hundreds of inch-wide bolts. The glass had the familiar crosshatch of safety wire. A half dozen tripods topped with expensive camera equipment were positioned near the windowed wall. Morgan, Loraine and Spencer were on their feet, compact submachineguns held in tense grips. I was about to object to being around deadly weapons when my eyes shuttled sideways and looked through the glass. My objections died. The "pipe" dominated the view. It ran across the far side of the room beyond the glass, and disappeared into giant gaskets in the bulkheads at either end of the wide space. The thick rubber was pressed down onto the pipe by concentric rings of hydraulic pistons. Even still, the seals weren't perfect, and seawater could be seen dripping down the walls under both apertures. The pipe itself was much larger than I had thought, almost ten feet in diameter - though the width wasn't perfectly consistent. Actually, it seemed to be changing slightly as I watched. Undulating. Breathing. The texture I'd seen before hadn't been rust either, but long striations of material separated by deep gaps - like tree bark but much more pronounced. It was so enormous and strange that whole seconds went by before I noticed the man in the room with it. He was facing away from the six of us, looking at - I couldn't call it a pipe anymore - the trunk. He was ghostly pale, bald and totally naked. He was also very well built with well-defined muscles that rippled in the bright lights. He was flexing randomly, almost spasming. He reminded me of drug addicts I'd known in the most violent stages of their withdrawal. I watched in rapt fascination as his hands crept up to his scalp and clawed at the skin there, like he was trying to pull his thoughts out. "WHY AM I HERE!" he screamed again, but the trunk remained inscrutable. He panted with the exertion. I looked back at the old man and found him staring at me. Everyone else was focused on the scene beyond the glass. I opened my mouth to shove one of the hundred questions I had out, but he shook his head slightly at me and pointed back to the big room. Watch. I did for a few more moments, when the figure suddenly grew still. Very still. I leaned closer to the glass. He wasn't moving at all. Even his gasping breath had stopped completely. He could have been a statue but for the sweat. Off to the side I saw Curtis look at his watch, then at a screen I couldn't see. Curtis looked toward the old man. "Thirty-three minutes this time. The new phrase must've bumped it up," then he looked at me, "See? You're already making a difference." The old man put a finger to his lips and pointed back through the glass. Curtis and I both looked again. The figure unlocked, and now seemed totally limber and relaxed. A hand idly crept up and scratched his head, the very picture of nonchalant confusion. Then he seemed to look down and notice his nudity. A slightly uncomfortable chuckle came through the speakers, and the man spun around with his hands covering his sex. He stared at us through the glass for the moment, then laughed. "Alright. Good one guys, now gimme back my clothes." His eyes landed on mine and became confused. Modesty forgotten, his hands dropped slightly, "who's the new guy?" Beneath where his hands had been, there was nothing. He had no genitals - nothing but a smooth patch of hairless skin where they should have been. "Who's the new guy. Who's the newguywhosthenewguy," his look of confusion grew concerned, as he repeated the words a few more times. When no one responded to him, a nervous smile began to flicker on and off his face. It was when he smiled that I realized I knew him. Without the beard and full head of hair he was almost unrecognizable. The smile lines and crows feet were also gone, but the face belonged to the photo in my nightstand up top. Rick. Rick the radio guy. The guy I'd come down to replace. "Holy shit," I said. "Holy shit," Rick agreed. The old man's hand on my shoulder startled me out of my shock. "Now we can chat about why you're here."
The end has arrived. I gotta say between this month being... very difficult for a lot of reasons and actually finally fucking finishing something since MoC 88 I had a lot of trouble with this. I'm still not sure how I feel about any of it! Lot to process for both Jaeger and myself so... I hope you all enjoy as always! My Stories Material Differences Wiki Chapter 1 Chapter 49 “The fuck happened in there?” Brandy-Lynn was standing at the edge of the lobby watching Tanya and Jaeger walk back out. Behind her Figs was trying to strap his dismembered arm to his rig one handed while Kuv helped. “Nothing.” Jaeger muttered quietly, still trying to process the emotions flowing through his mind. Brandy-Lynn glanced past him a moment. “You had to kill a copy Marque made of Leona didn’t you?” Jaeger just stared back at her, unsure if he hated Brandy-Lynn right now or not. “Yeah you did. Man does your life suck. I’m telling ya, this is why you just get yourself a gaggle of fuck boys and don’t get bogged down in deep relationships. Or… fuck girls in your case… uuhhh… on second thought no that doesn’t sound right. Figs, what’s the female equivalent of fuck boys?” Brandy-Lynn turned to the big guy struggling with his single arm. “How the fuck should I know?” He grumpily replied before twisting and turning a little as Kuv finally secured the arm to his back. “Is it falling out?” “It will have to do. I am short on cords of bungee.” Kuv replied as he pulled on a strap to watch it snap back into place. “What are we talking about? Fuck boys?” Figs looked over now back in the conversation. “For sarge? What about that spy girl with the daddy issues?” “Yeah, I think that ship has sailed because ol sarge here shot her in the leg.” Brandy-Lynn wagged a finger at Jaeger. “What? When did this happen?” Figs looked over, obviously surprised. “Just before we left. Apparently she wanted to come with us and Sarge decided no no and went blat blat.” Brandy-Lynn added some finger guns to accent her point. “Isn’t that a bit extreme sarge?” Figs asked. Jaeger meanwhile just stared at Kuv, who was the only one who would have been present for that. The xeno was rather distinctly not looking his way and in fact carefully counting his grenades. “She snuck onto the Obsidian Guard shuttle. Better safe than sorry. I’m sure sarge made sure it was a clean shot.” Tanya said in his defense standing besides him. “Yeah, clean shot or not you don’t typically get a girl wet by shooting her. Typically. Especially if you just want a cheap rebound pump ‘n dump like you need sarge.” Brandy-Lynn wasn’t letting off even as Jaeger just stood there, silent. “Actually sarge might be onto something. We’ve established she has daddy issues. So, he shoots her right? But, it’s for tough love reasons. The toughest love considering… the bullet and all that. He wants her safe, and takes her out of the action. She’s in pain, but then gets healed and feels better, and being shot increases adrenaline for obvious reasons, which can be related to attraction. So she’s sitting in the med bay while we’re here getting flooded with feel good drugs, and tangling with what he’s done to her. It’s like a really extreme version of spanking. I bet you she’ll be twice as hot for his dad bod once we get back.” Figs nodded confidently after laying out his thoughts on the matter. “Ooohhh… and it’s the thigh. Pretty decent erogenous zone the thigh…” Brandy-Lynn nodded. “Was that your plan sarge? Tough love daddy issues your way into her panties? We can ping home and see if she’s ready to give you a blowie when we get back.” The squad was silent as they looked at Jaeger. He had just killed a person who looked, sounded, and behaved exactly like his dead wife. Yet, this is how they welcomed him back. “Fuck you.” He pointed at Brandy-Lynn. “Fuck you.” He pointed at Figs next. “Fuck you.” He pointed at Kuv whho continued to look away. Then he looked at Tanya besides him. “And fuck you, but for different reasons.” “We love you too sarge.” Tanya immediately replied. He let out a deep heavy sigh then and shook his head. Then he began to shake his shoulders, and arms, and just generally wiggle and shake his entire body for several seconds. “Okay.” He felt better. Though he would absolutely never give Brandy-Lynn any kind of credit for her behavior he knew she did it to help pull him out of the emotional pit he had been in. “Why the fuck are we standing around in a clump where a single well placed explosive could take us all out. Fucking spacing you cognitive rejects. Figs if you can’t operate your shotgun get your fucking sidearm out already or take one of the SMGs off the Draugr. Brandy-Lynn… Just… More drugs or something get up front.” “More drugs it is! Right you are sarge! Good call!” He watched her shudder a moment before she began to jog up the ruined lobby towards the hallway that should lead them to the command center. “Is that wise?” Tanya asked. “Fuck I don’t know. Get her out of here at least.” Jaeger shrugged. “Kuv.” The xeno finally looked at him. “Stay in the back and be ready with whatever you got left. If we face off against another killer bot like that monster do you have another satchel charge?” He glanced over at the heavy frame that had nearly taken them out. “I do not. Also I only mentioned the leg shot in reference to your excellent marksmanship.” He tried to explain but Jaeger just shook his head. “Simmer down. It is what it is. Obviously they’d find out. Figs are you honestly okay? You are an arm down…” He was watching the big synth pick a gun off one of the bodies and try and shift it around in one hand. “Awkward as hell but I’m living my best life sarge.” He then began picking up more of the guns, clipping them to his rig. “Fuck it, I’ll fire em one handed and chuck em. Can’t reload for shit anyway.” Jaeger had to think about ordering Figs back, but then he considered what might still be ahead of them. “If you can’t fight… Don’t think you have to stay but if you’re… Sure… then uh…” Jaeger shrugged as Figs fell in behind him while they followed after Brandy-Lynn. Even as they got to the hallway he heard the spinup of her Trident before the roar of the gun filled the air. “Contact?” He called out and quickly checked the corner to see Brandy-Lynn standing in the hall unloading on something further down. “Turrets. Popped right out of the ceiling.” She called back as she let off the trigger. Jaeger could soon see the guns smoking and sizzling as they dangled from the ceiling further down. “Well, that’s bad. Pull back a moment. Spike.” He shifted his arm, holding it out for the bot to run up and stick into the ceiling before it scurried along. Jaeger and the others spread out around the junction in the hall, each covering a path to ensure they didn’t get ambushed. Jaeger soon saw a rough echo of the halls ahead, but even as Spike carefully moved forward it was as though the images being bounced back were muted. Something dampening his ability to scan them it seemed. “Spike, try getting into the holes one of the turrets came out of. See if there’s any space in the ceiling.” He called out as the bot reached one of the lightly smoking turrets. The bot slipped up into the darkness as they waited before Jaeger saw more echoing images and heard a negative chirp. “Looks like each one is independently sealed. Good news, limited magazine. Bad news, spotting the damn things.” “I’m a bit surprised Marque would bother.” Tanya mentioned as they began to creep forward. Spike crawled back out of the turret’s hiding spot and kept moving forward. “If even one catches an intruder by surprise it’s worth it I guess. Plus he probably expected intruders to use a bot like Spike. The walls are all dampened.” Jaeger mentioned as he held his rifle up and ready as they looked for new targets. Here the halls seemed to lead past a series of offices mixed in with workshops and the like. Clearly Marque had still been leading a robust R&D effort here. Jaeger opened a door to glance inside a few of the doors as they went past. Assassin bots, exploding insects, mind altering drugs, a sound that kills, and more. It seemed like he was throwing everything at the wall to find out what stuck. Jaeger would be more concerned but from what he could see the projects all seemed to be just starting out. The fact that they were here in Marque’s command center didn’t bode well for any projects continuation anyway. Though there was a chance that Whispertail would be interested in some of what they found once this was all over. Jaeger had some hope that the Ravex was uninterested in the assassin bots, drugs, and such and just focus on more combat oriented projects. There wasn’t all that much subtlety in how he looked down on Jaeger and the other Revenant for their more covert tactics in the past. Spike chirped out a warning and everyone pressed themselves flat to the walls of the hall. As they watched the bot on the ceiling took a few steps to the side and then forward before a turret started to descend from one of the ceiling tiles. Just as it did the bot quickly crawled into the opening and after a moment the turret stopped moving as they all heard a few sharp jolts of electricity arcing in the air. Then Spike crawled back out and gave an affirmative chirp. “Got a room up ahead. Should be the cafeteria, stay alert.” Jaeger called out, going off what it would have been at the base; this layout seemed to be based off back on Edenshard. The group moved up carefully while Spike led the way. Soon as it got to the edge it gave a chirp as Jaeger got a quick echo that didn’t seem to show any hostiles, though it confirmed his thought that it was the cafeteria. Brandy-Lynn edged up first and spun up her trident before rounding the corner. Though as she moved up no one took a shot so Jaeger and the others moved in and spread out. All around were the typical tables and chairs he’d used a thousand times while working for Absolute Dynamics. Trays with plates of food were strewn about, some tossed on the floor, some knocked across tables, all rather obviously left behind in a hurry. “Spike, any track analysis?” There were a few halls connected to the cafeteria that operated as a hub of sorts for most Absolute Dynamic’s compounds like this. Considering they hadn’t found any eggheads in labcoats indicated they’d move elsewhere, but considering the massive assault on the surface he had no idea where that might be. Soon Spike chirped up again as it jumped from table to table and scanned the area. “The reactor? I understand why some headed to the command center but why would so many run to the reactor?” Tanya asked once Spike gave his answer. “Most secure room?” Jaeger suggested with a shrug. “Or they have some kind of escape route.” “Maybe they figure if they can’t get out might sabotage it. Marque hires fanatics right? What would a shard reactor going critical do? Bye bye mountain. And us with it.” Brandy-Lynn pointed out. “Shit.” Jaeger did not like that prospect one bit. He didn’t think of Marque as that kind of suicidal type… but there was a chance the synth had some way to escape on his own. Jaeger looked around for a moment as they took up a defensive posture in the area. Not like the little tables would do much against Revenant HEAP ammo. Figs was down an arm and Brandy-Lynn had been shot several times. Regardless of the drugs and medical tech in her suit that had to be impacting her. “Max what’s the sit rep on the surface?” “Units have entered what remains of the hangar complex. No sign of Marque. Resistance is heavy.” His son replied immediately. “Do you have any units looping off into the ventilation area we opened up? We need some reinforcements right about now.” Jaeger was hoping an entire platoon of bots was headed to them right now. “No. All assets are in and around the crater. Whispertail has some in there though. Want me to patch you in?” Jaeger considered Max’s request for a moment. “Give him a beacon on my location with a one second delay and then connect me.” He replied, shifting his gun around a moment as he looked back up the hall. “Why a one second delay? Wouldn’t you want him getting real time location data?” Max was obviously confused. “Because a one second delay encrypts the feed.” He explained simply. “Just hurry please Max.” “On it dad.” Jaeger wanted to tell his son how proud he was of him, but something told him now wasn’t the time to be a parent so much as a commanding officer. “Jaeger, what is it?” Whispertail was as cheerful as ever it seemed. “My unit is inside a copy of an old Absolute Dynamics R&D facility. You should be getting our location data shortly. We need reinforcements because we have a situation. A number of lab techs or the like ran off into the reactor. We’re concerned they might be trying to overload it in case their forces lose the battle for the base.” While he spoke to Whispertail Kuv seemed to be inspecting some of the trays of food, as if looking for one that wasn’t too bad. “Of course they are. You do know that your species is the only one suicidal enough to even use shard reactors right?” Whispertail grumbled at the idea. “None of my commandos have experience operating shard reactors. Will you take that, while they take the command center?” “Not a chance. Marque is mine. We’re not even sure they’re doing anything yet. Or that they will. All the reactors have alarms in place that you can’t bypass in case things go wrong… But… I have no idea if Marque would keep those for obvious reasons. Ah… Spike! Broad spectrum scan real quick.” He waited a moment while the bot spun around a moment and began to let out a rapid series of chirps. “Oh cool. Levels are already that high? Sounds like we’re all gonna piss purple tonight. That’s always a joy.” Brandy-Lynn muttered. “Mmhh… we don’t know if void rays are building up on purpose or if containment was cracked when some jackass dropped a space station on the complex.” Jaeger told Whispertail. “It fucking worked! You’re just jelly, you didn’t think of it!” Brandy-Lynn hissed at him. “I will… instruct my team to obey your orders. Within reason. I am also sending additional units. Bad as letting your nemesis escape might be I am far more concerned with the potential eradication of this mountain range. Especially since I am currently on said mountain range. Jaeger I hope you survive this so I can yell at you afterwards in person.” Jaeger just smirked as the Ravex expressed his feelings about the situation. “I appreciate you too bud. How close are your units?” He glanced up the hallway once more. “Momentarily.” Whispertail promised. After another second or two Jaeger saw movement as a group of Obsidian Guard rounded the corner of the previous junction. “They’re here. Keep you updated best I can.” Jaeger shifted his rifle to appear as non threatening as he could while the Ravex approached. Their gear was a fairly sharp contrast to Jaeger and the others. While the Revenant’s smart cloaks were partially shredded and in rather obvious disarray the Ravex looked like they’d stepped right out a recruitment vid. They didn’t bother with any kind of stealth either, they were all in heavy armor. Not to mention the blades along their gauntlets, shins, elbows, knees, and of course studding their tails. Spreading out around the opening to the cafeteria the ten of them made for a very imposing display of force, their reflective visors gleaming back at him. Until one opened up. “Hiiiii Jaeger!” “Oh hey Twilightbloom. Are you in charge?” Jaeger was glad to see a familiar face. “Nope! He is.” She tilted her head at the Ravex besides her. “First Claw First Feather Shock Master Goldtalon.” The Ravex didn’t extend a hand for a greeting and just kept his rifle in hand. “I’m told you have a possible shard reactor meltdown in progress. That is my priority.” “Yes…” He glanced over his own group for a moment. “Figs, Kuv, Brandy-Lynn you go with Goldtalon and… whoever he sends.” “What? The hell I will!” Brandy-Lynn immediately started to complain. “I wanna kill Marque!” “Get in fucking line. You’re wounded and you’ve got the Trident. If there’s heavy resistance around the reactor they’ll need you.” Jaeger turned to face Brandy-Lynn as she shifted her minigun around a moment and then sighed. “Yes, sarge.” She knew better than to push it even if she had her own reasons to want to kill Marque. “Just be sure to kick him in the nuts for me will you?” “Will do.” Jaeger nodded. “Kuv you know how these reactors work?” “I know how to make them explode.” The demolitions expert shrugged. “Then, you also know how to make them not explode. Right?” Jaeger checked. “Theoretically. Like most reactors it’s a matter of coolant and containment. But also in this case additionally deadly deadly radiation from another dimension. Or whatever the void is. Experts still disagree. Even Jipasi experts.” As he said that Goldtalon snorted. “Isn’t that a moronic oxen? Jipasi experts?” The Ravex asked, which made Kuv’s tail immediately unfurl in indignation. “I’ll have you know-” Jaeger stepped between them before the small demolitions expert could even step up to the towering Ravex commando. “The term is oxymoron, and while I appreciate a Ravex telling a joke, you need his help to ensure this mountain range stays in this plane of existence. So… Cool it.” Jaeger was glad his helmet hid the smirk across his face while the big xeno just shrugged. “This one told me irreverent conversation is how you all ease tension and foster camaraderie.” He gestured at Twilightbloom who just gave Jaeger a massive smile full of all those very sharp looking teeth. “That’s fair. But we don’t know you that well yet. Good first effort though. Mind if I get her on my team by the way?” He nodded at Twilightbloom then. “That’s acceptable.” The leader barked at the others in Ravex Battlespeak for a moment as Twilightbloom and three others split off from Goldtalon. The leader began to jog towards the reactor hall then. “Live good, die great comrades.” He gave a parting wave. “He’s not so bad… Go get em sarge.” Figs nodded as he nudged Kuv to get the xeno to quit preening and start following. “Seriously. Give Marque a solid nut kicking.” Brandy-Lynn added as she flipped Jaeger off. “Solid nut kicking.” Jaeger agreed and flipped her off in return. “Twilightbloom who are your friends?” He asked as he glanced over the other commandos. “Friend Jaeger this is Redpaw, Shadowtail, and Starsparrow.” She introduced the others who each nodded in turn. “I’ll be honest I’m not going to remember your names. Red. Green. Blue.” He pointed at them and flagged each with the colors in his HUD. “This is Tanya.” He jerked a thumb at Tanya who just stared at them. “Now that we’re all acquainted let's do this. We’re approaching Marque’s command center and resistance has been fairly light considering but if he has any guards left this is going to be where they are. You are all weapons clear and free to fire upon any suspected hostiles. Questions?” The Ravex all just stared at him. “Great. Tanya.” He nodded and she turned to jog ahead to take point while Jaeger reached out to let Spike climb up his arm and settle back onto his shoulder. Moving past the main cafeteria counter he noticed it must be mediteranian today. Lots of spiced chunks of meat were still slowly rotating on their spits under heat lamps and he saw several trays of falafel. Not to mention some pita, and that yogurt sauce stuff. When was the last time he had a gyro? Fuck was he starving... Shaking his head to clear the train of thought he focused on the task at hand. Past the main cafeteria was the door to the executive dining room, but a quick glance through showed it was just as empty. Tanya paused as they came up to another junction ahead. “This should be… The final lobby…” Jaeger and the Ravex pressed flat to the sides of the hall as she carefully leaned around the front corner, sweeping the area to look for hostiles. “Looks clear.” They fanned out as they entered the lobby all of them with weapons up and ready. There was a fancy stone reception desk, and flanking the hall behind it were a number of pillars of worked stone that seemed like some kind of art installation. Jaeger was just looking at them when Spike chirped a warning and he saw the shimmer “DOWN!” He hadn’t even finished yelling the word when Tanya’s body seemed to split in two at the waist, his visor darkening as an explosion consumed her. Jaeger threw himself flat behind a set of chairs in the waiting area while the Ravex returned fire. Even as they did he heard another explosion go off and a vague scream. Leaning up he was about to fire on the area the others were, but he could already see a great deal of red splattering the area as the smart cloak which had hidden the sniper was torn apart. His focus was shifted then to the hall as he saw figures emerging. More Draugr. Bracing his rifle on the back of the armchair he just held down the trigger, sweeping the hall. Explosive rounds peppered their bodies as he saw puffs of blood and flesh to confirm his hits. They didn’t even have a chance to fire back as they dropped dead. After reloading he kept covering their bodies for several seconds as he waited to see if there was any more movement or hidden threats. But no one moved, and no one shot. Then he heard Twilightbloom barking out something in Battlespeak. Looking back he saw that she was also covering the hall as Red tried to drag Green’s body behind cover. His eyes moved to Tanya then… Her upper half at least. She was reaching for her rifle… Slinging his own rifle back he rushed out to grab her and drag her back behind the chairs for cover. But still no one shot at him. “Fuck… Sarge… sorry I dropped my gun… Why… am I so… out of breath? I don’t… need to… breathe.” Jaeger wanted to pull her helmet off, but he knew it was better to leave it on. “Tanya, system’s report.” He tried to get a sense of what she had… Her torso looked mostly intact but there was an awful lot of red and grey leaking out of the whole where her waist should be. Synth guts, pulsing even as he watched. He felt his own insides seem to tense up a bit at the sight. He had lost friends before… so many of them… Part of his mind knew how to accept it, but he still hated every moment of this. He couldn’t even see her face in case… No. This wouldn’t be the last time. He’d see her later. She’d be fine. “I… something is… I can’t detect… my legs…” She muttered as her hands began to reach down, as if trying to feel for them. “They’re over there.” He nodded to her legs in the middle of the lobby. Why did he say that? Lie you bastard. Tell her it’s fine! “Fuck…” She muttered then tried to push her torso up a bit, as if to sit up. After her hand slipped in her own synth blood though she gave up. “I’ll be… okay… shunting everything to emergency… recovery… I’ll be okay… just wake… me up when… I have a body… again.” Jaeger gripped her hand for a moment, entirely unsure of what else to do. But he felt the pressure ease up before his HUD gave him an emergency SOS from her rig. She’d survive if he could get her hooked up to external power in a few hours. Probably. Fuck. “TB. Uh Twilightbloom.” He let go of Tanya’s hand then and looked for the Ravex. Move. Advance. Win the day and save Tanya. Don’t think about it. Nothing you can do. Keep going. Get up. “Hall is still clear.” She declared. No waver in her voice. She was strong. Good. Can’t embarrass yourself in front of the Ravex now. So get up! “Did…” What was Green’s name? “Your guy make it?” Inconsequential! Stop asking! Get up you bastard! “No.” She just kept her gun trained on the Hall, unwilling to look away. “Spike…” Jaeger tapped the bot from his shoulder, unfortunately smearing some of Tanya’s synth blood across his chassis. Jaeger wiped his hand off on his leg then to try and get the blood off. It kind of worked… “Check the bodies. Grab any grenades you find.” The bot Chirped and jumped from his shoulder to scurry out across the lobby. Jaeger pulled his rifle back up and waited. He wasn’t sure he really needed Spike to do this but… his legs didn’t feel like moving just yet. The bot picked across the corpses before scurrying back, a string of grenades wrapped around his body now. “TB… You have point.” Jaeger called out once Spike was back on his shoulder. The Ravex got up and rushed the stone desk, sliding into cover behind it. Then she peered over the top a moment and let out a bark. Blue rushed up next, bypassing her before posting up at the edge of the hall. “Did you guys bring grenades?” He asked. Blue just yanked something from his harness and chucked it down the hall. A few seconds later came the explosion. Still nothing seemed to move or shoot at them. Jaeger got up then, running past Twilightbloom to post up on the side of the hall opposite Blue. His legs worked fine. Good. “Spike.” The bot hopped to his other shoulder and leaned around the corner as he got a view of what the bot was seeing in his HUD. Some ruined ceiling lights and a junction going left and right. There was a sign on the wall. Officer Quarters/Command Center to the left… observatory to the right. Did Marque really have an observatory? “Red.” He called out next and watched the Ravex sprint up the hall and slide into place besides the next junction. The Ravex peered around each corner for a moment and waved them forward. Twilightbloom ran up first and posted up against a corner to check the halls on either side for herself. Jaeger came up behind her with Blue besides him. Glancing around the corner looking towards the command center Jaeger saw another hall of doors on either side. No cover either. “Spike, one grenade per room.” The bot hopped down off his shoulder and began to scurry forward, running up the walls to quickly pop open each door a crack and then toss in a grenade before running on to the next one. Jaeger and the three Ravex just waited in the cover of the hallway junction. The third door Spike tossed a grenade into started to open a moment before they heard the somewhat muffled explosion. Jaeger focused on it before an arm slipped out of the opening and slid to the ground. One of the Ravex fired a shot into the exposed arm sticking out of the crack in the door. No movement even as it began to bleed. After the fourth door Spike grenaded two further down the hall opened up. Draugr tried to rush out, realizing that staying inside was sure death but so was rushing the hall as Jaeger and the others just opened fire. One of the Draugr let out a scream as a spray of bullets wildly shot up into the ceiling while he collapsed but the other three were shot down before they could even fire. Spike paused a moment and chirped. “Yes, those rooms too. Just in case.” Jaeger answered. “I am not a fan of clearing a complex in this manner. Rooms are bitches.” Twilightbloom muttered which caused Jaeger to arch an eyebrow in surprise at her comment. “Urban combat in general is awful.” He agreed and focused on Spike once more. Spike tossed another grenade into the doors the four Draugr had tried to rush out of, but they didn’t hear any other panicked running. Just as Spike prepared to move on to the next door Jaeger saw it open a crack. “Non combatant!” The cry made him frown and he kept his rifle trained before he saw an empty hand poke out. Then shortly after another one. “Don’t shoot!” The hands weren’t very large, and were rather feminine. Though he was well aware that meant nothing with the assassin bots Marque might have. “Come out! Slow!” Jaeger called. After a moment the door opened wider, the hands still sticking out as best they could. A person took a hesitant step out of the room. Slim female figure. Looked to be a woman in her twenties. Light brown hair, fairly slim, basic slacks, and a blouse. Light office attire. Probably just off the rack Dress Barn. Possibly Target. “I’m unarmed!” She insisted and took another obviously nervous step into the hall with her hands raised. “Spike, top down scan.” He called out as much for the woman’s benefit as to command the bot. With a chirp the bot scurried forward and began to climb up her body. “Ow. Ow ow! Owww!” The woman gasped and flinched as Spike climbed up her legs and then torso to perch on her shoulder. She was quivering and if she was acting she was doing a very good job. After a moment Spike chirped out. Baseline human far as he could tell. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Jaeger asked next, his gun still trained on her. “I’m just a tutor! For Alexie! Mr. Malinovsky said if you made it this far to surrender myself and his son and remind you of… some deal!” Alexie? Was that Marque’s son’s name? After his great grandfather? That seemed right… “Spike, room.” Jaeger called out and the bot jumped from the woman’s shoulder to latch onto the wall and peek inside. Jaeger checked the vid feed. Table, chairs, couch, vid screen, bed. There on the bed was a boy, he looked a bit big for what? Nine? Ten? But he was a Synth and he supposed Marque would have designed him to be bigger than average. He was sitting on the bed, a tablet in his hand that he was focused on. Watching something to distract him from what was happening outside? His features did remind Jaeger of Marque a little. But his hair was black and there was some other mix in there… Ham had thought Marque was dating Kotaru Sasaki. This did… fit. “On the ground.” He called out and the woman slowly dropped down onto the floor. “Ankles crossed, hands stretched out above your head.” He watched the woman obey and then glanced over at the Ravex besides him. “Blue, do you have zipties?” “Negative.” The big xeno rumbled. Jaeger patted his rig for a moment and pulled out a small wad of the things to hand over. Without asking Twilightbloom began to advance, her gun trained on the woman while Blue moved up past her. Crouching above her the xeno gave her a quick pat down and then swiftly ziptied her wrists and ankles. “No weapons.” He confirmed. “Blue, you stay here and guard her and the boy.” Jaeger ordered. “Why? The command center is the goal. This target has no strategic value.” The Ravex replied. Before Jaeger could even form a counter argument Twilightbloom stepped up and roared in his face. Jaeger didn’t know their language but his suit helpfully translated her words as something along the lines of “Don’t embarrass me in front of my friend!” Before smacking the other Ravex upside the head. Blue flinched and gave a growl back for a moment but then just stood up, hauled the tutor off the ground and turned to toss her onto the couch inside the room. “Don’t worry Jaeger I set him straight.” Twilightbloom promised as Blue stepped inside the door without another word. Past him Alexie glanced up from his tablet on the bed but didn’t seem otherwise concerned. “Alright… Let's keep going.” Jaeger was down to Spike, TB, and Red. This was not even remotely close to the way he figured a final showdown with Marque was going to turn out. Even as he thought about that the lights flickered, then died. A moment later emergency power kicked on but it wasn’t a good sign. “Figs, Brandy-Lynn sitrep?” “FUUUUUUUCK! WHY AM I HERE!” Jaeger winced as Kuv’s voice screeched across his comms. “SO MANY BULLETS!” There was quite a bit of gunfire going on in the background. “Stiff resistance sarge. We’re fine. Don’t mind panic Pete here.” He heard Brandy-Lynn a moment later. “Reactor won’t go critical or nothin now. Promise. Also Figs lost a leg. He’s pretty mad about it. Hilarious stuff. Talk later. Love you. Smooch smooch. COVERING FIRE!” The call cut as he heard her trident opening up on what he presumed to be some Draugr. “Okay. Well… It’s just us then. I have no idea who Marque might have around him. This could be a suicidal last stand… or he might be alone. Just… be alert.” Jaeger said to the others who nodded. “I’m with you Jaeger!” Twilightbloom very cheerfully replied. “I’m just following orders.” Red much less cheerfully announced. “But I don’t mind killing more humans.” “Yes sir. I do make the best friends.” Jaeger muttered and just shook his head as he began to jog up the hall. If this was like Edenshard then the command center was just up ahead. The door was sealed shut as he approached, but that likely wasn’t going to be an issue. “Echo.” He said aloud as Spike tried to ping, but as he expected nothing came back. “Alright…” He backed up then and looked up at the wall around the door. “The maintenance hatch used to be right…” Jaeger jumped up and slapped part of the wall, making a panel that was flush with the rest of it pop open. It wasn’t nearly big enough for a person. But that wasn’t the point. “Still got it.” He grinned and held his arm out toward Twilightbloom. “TB, do you mind giving Spike a lift?” “Sure thing Jaeger! Hi Spike!” Twilightbloom held out a hand as the bot quickly moved along Jaeger’s arm and then hopped onto her hand. “Here ya go!” She lifted her hand up and Spike quickly crawled into the open hatch. Jaeger stepped to the side of the main door then as he waited and watched Spike’s view. Maybe Spike could get the drop on Marque and just give him a breech charge bolt to the face? That would be nice… Jaeger wouldn’t even mind if Spike got the kill. For now though what he mostly saw was paneling. Wires. Vent. Wires. So many damn wires. He understood that everything had to be hooked up. After all this was the command center but holy shit so many wires. Crushed soda can, empty pack of cigarettes, more wires, another vent. This time Spike paused to look down a moment and finally give him a view of the room below. It looked pretty much exactly like he expected it to look. Same command center layout. This time there were some cracks in the foundation however, and several destroyed computer terminals. Though it wasn’t clear if they were destroyed earlier or if someone wrecked them out of anger. What was of much more concern was the dozen or so Draugr positioned around the command center, all focused on the door. With the power out he didn’t see any security cam footage so they must just be waiting for them to open the door. But where was Marque? Back of the room… The vid screen switched through a few different modes as Spike scanned the area but Jaeger had already seen it. Someone in a smart cloak was standing below one of the emergency lights in the back. Specifically up in the back corner that didn’t have a line of sight on the door, and that conversely no one from the door would be able to shoot at directly. A good spot for someone who intended to use the rest of the men in the room as canon fodder so they could ambush anyone who actually made it inside. Total Marque position. Smart cloaks were extremely impressive, when they hadn’t been torn apart by bullets or explosives, but they still had trouble in odd lighting conditions like this. Especially from high vantage points where one could see the shadows didn’t quite line up correctly. If Marque had been in the field as much as he liked to think he probably would have known this. The question now was how the hell did they get into the room? Or rather… how did they do it without dying? Jaeger was mildly surprised Marque didn’t have a secret escape hatch or something other such contrivance to run away through. Perhaps his arrogance had forbid such a measure. What about a bot for Spike to drop on and hack into? Jaeger was only seeing Draugr. Hack the turrets? Spike looked up from the vent and continued to scurry through the maintenance panels in the ceiling. No sign of turrets. Did he even need to do this? The battle outside was still ongoing but it would end. If Marque was still here why would it matter if Jaeger killed him now or with backup? Of course he had forced Jaeger into killing his wife. Then done it, again. Jaeger did want to kill him. Right? Plus he needed to get the codes to unlock the Absolute Dynamics encryption cypher… thing. He could turn those assets to his purposes… His purposes. Jaeger’s vision unfocused slightly as he realized why he was hesitating so much right now. Fear. Not a fear of death, since he had long ago come to grips with his own mortality. But a much more insidious and nebulous fear. Something that had gnawed at him with greater frequency lately. Killing Marque was his only concrete and objective goal. When the war had ended he had retreated into isolation to follow the last order Leona had given him. Survive and raise their kids. But all that had happened recently showed isolation wasn’t going to work. The world around him would keep moving on and if he didn’t take an active part in it… Well it would be shittier for his kids that’s for sure. And shittier for everyone who wasn’t a fascist prick worshiping Marque. Yet, making the world better… How the fuck was he supposed to do that? His entire life had been focused on being a soldier, and then a father. He wasn’t supposed to be a commanding officer. He was just… sarge. He was good at that part but… He looked around a moment at Twilightbloom and Red. Would Leona have made it this far with… absolutely no plan? She’d have been better. Ordered some of the bots to follow them. Or create an army. Or just… be better than him. Once Marque was dead it was the end of any true goal he had with a truly discernable end. After this it was just… keep raising his kids but now in someplace they could meet other kids. And… try to make the world better… And then… die. Possibly of old age. Likely from something else. Once they breached the room and killed Marque… That was it. Perhaps now, far closer to his death than his birth he should accept a great deal of life is supposed to be like that. Unsure and entirely confused about how to do the right thing. There was a great run of time where he didn’t have to think, and could just kill people. But that had ended in the apocalypse. Plus didn’t he keep doing all he could to foster critical thinking skills in his kids? They’d sure be surprised to know he struggled with that very concept even now. Marque did need to die. The codes had to be retrieved. And it would be easier to sneak those out if it was just him. Twilightbloom, and Red over there. Time to accept uncertainty… Then it hit him. Revive Leona! That had a very objective end goal! He let out a deep and heavy breath that he didn’t realize he had been holding in. “Okay. I have a plan. How many grenades do you have?” “I have eighteen.” Twilightbloom immediately replied. “Eighteen? What the fuck?” Jaeger gasped out. “I have a dozen.” Red added. “Wh- Why the hell do you have so many grenades? You guys never used to carry anywhere near that many!” Jaeger was entirely surprised by this turn of events. [Continued in Comments]
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