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E shout at me. Do not shout at me quotes. Don& 39;t shout at me. Next The Coolant Vent was a mid-tier bar in a mid-tier section of Farshadow Station. Located halfway between the main docks and the primary markets of the massive trade hub, it was far enough away from the unsightly guts of the station to still be a desirable spot to relax. The food and drink wasn’t of a high enough quality to attract any wealthy clientele, but there was enough security and a strong enough sense of proper decorum to keep seediest of the station’s occupants away. In short, it was the perfect place to grab a drink without drawing too much attention to oneself. Which was exactly why Corporal Natalie Boucher was growing so irritated with her squad mates. Shore leave in the largest trade hub on this side of the galactic core was everything she had wanted it to be, and everything she had imagined when she signed up for the Corps. It had even been worth the 6 weeks stuck in a freighter to get here. But she was ready to head home, and this was their last day on Farshadow Station. She just wanted to start the journey back without incident. Though that was seeming less and less likely the longer she left her squadmates to their own devices. The squads two lowest ranking members were on the other side of the bar in the far corner, and had apparently roped in their first mark, an unsuspecting Vorqual who lived on the station. Private First Class Deigo Zapata was quite the pool hustler in his off hours, and didn’t consider it a complete night out without suckering someone out of their money. However, seeing as how the nearest known billiards table was over 6000 light years away, he had to find something else to scratch that itch. So he had settled on what he considered the next best thing: arm wrestling. Zapata and PFC Hamza Hourani had made a show of arm wrestling each other, being loud and gloating obnoxiously whenever one of them beat the other. He had done a great job of drawing in a crowd of the bar’s patrons, explaining to them in dramatic fashion the strange Deathworlder custom, and challenging any of them to see if they were stronger than the galaxy’s newest warrior race. The young Vorqual who rose to the bait had sat down across from the burly Hourani, who made a terrific show of straining mightily before dramatically letting his hand get slammed to the table, to loud cheers from the small crowd. Natalie had resolved to put a stop to her subordinates shenanigans before they got out of hand, and was just beginning to stand up when a hand clapped down on her shoulder, encouraging her to stay seated. “Easy Nat. Just let them be. It’s going to be a long trip back to Commonwealth space, and I’d rather those rowdy bastards worked as much of this energy off as possible before we lock ourselves in a tin can with them again. No offense intended to your ship, captain” The voice and hand belonged to Gunnery Sergeant Nuatu, who had just appeared with Sergeant Fletcher and the captain of the Telarim freighter they had been assigned to, Captain Tennahvesen. They all seated themselves at Natalie’s table as Fletcher waved a server over. Captain Tennahvesen turned with a bemused smile to the gunnery sergeant. “I assure you, no offense was taken. ” Nat felt the gentle thrum of translator implant in her ear whirring to life. “By the time this journey is complete, I will have not seen the skies of my home in over four months. I very much understand the sentiment of feeling trapped in, how did you call it? A tin can? ” “That’s a surprise to me, to be honest with you, ” chimed in Nat. “I figured that anyone with their own starship was out here because they loved it. ” “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do love my ship and my occupation. I always have. But in my old age and with children of my own to care for, my thoughts turn to home a lot more than they did in my youth. In all honesty, with the recent uptick in piracy, I was considering retirement. If your government hadn’t offered their services in deterring the pirates, I probably would have turned my ship over to my clan several years ago. ” No one at the table felt the need to bring up that most of those new pirates were human. They made an odd group, sitting by themselves on the mostly empty side of the bar. Captain Tennahvesen seemed fit right in, clad in his tan robes. The three humans were all so varied in appearance, however, most of the passing xeno’s unfamiliar with humanity wouldn’t have assumed they were the same species. Nat was above average height for being born on Earth, with dark hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, green eyes, and pale skin. Nuatu was huge, bald, brown eyed, with skin almost as dark as the black of his uniform. Fletcher was even larger than Nuatu, standing almost as tall as their Telarim charge, with short blonde hair and hazel eyes. They all wore the black and steel grey fatigues of the USC Marines, with Nat and Nuatu both sporting heavy environment gloves to match. Two large, extremely heavy duffels sat on the ground next Nat and Fletcher. All three humans at the table sincerely hoped that the bags stayed there, unopened. The captain seemed completely unaware of their presence. Nat turned her attention instead to the captain himself. Despite having been stuck together in the same living spaces for the six week trip out to the trade hub, Nat realized that this was the first time that she had gotten to speak with the captain in any capacity outside of the direct running of the ship, and that she actually knew very little about him. The Telarim were a race that was predominantly humanoid physically and reaching almost 2 meters in height. They were covered in an orange and grey mottled skin that seemed vaguely amphibian. Any resemblance to human physiology ended at the head, however, as the Telarim had an elongated face and snout that ended in a narrow mouth lined with teeth perfectly designed for munching on leaves and grass. Two fleshy barbells hung on either side of the mouth, though what they were for, Nat didn’t know, and two goat-like eyes sat on each side of the the Telarim’s face at the base of the snout. The most defining feature of the Telarim, though, was the hollow, bony protrusion that ran from the tip of the alien’s snout to the top of it’s skull, where if fanned out into a large, hollow crest. The Telarim used the large hollow of this crest as their vocal instrument, and were able to generate incredibly powerful sounds. Much to Natalie’s disappointment, most of these sounds were at a frequency well below audible human range, so she had to rely on the translator implant to speak with them. Another raucous cheer went up from the corner of the bar as one of the two humans ‘lost’ another arm wrestling bout. More of the station’s residents had filtered into the bar and joined the crowd, no doubt alerted to the spectacle by their friends. Nat caught the eye of Zapata through the crowd. He was beaming. The poor xenos had no idea they were walking right into the enterprising Mexican’s trap. Four foaming mugs slammed on the table, pulling Nat’s attention back to her companions, and she turned in time to see that half of the sergeant’s mug was already empty. “Uh, Fletch, is that, you know… Safe? ” “Sure is. Why do you think I said to meet here? Only place on this whole damn rock I could find that served ethanol that wasn’t mixed with fucking anti-freeze. ” The big man from Ithaca smiled. “I’m sure there’s more than one bar that serves alcohol on a station of several million sentient beings, James, ” said Nuatu as he picked up his mug. “Tell ya what, Gunny. You find a place that serves drinkable booze, and then you can take us there. Until then, leave me to my hyperbole. ” Fletcher then drained his drink and slammed the empty mug on the table with a smirk. Captain Tennahvesen smiled and let out a series of inaudible sounds powerful enough that Nat could feel the infrasonic waves hit her rib cage. Without missing a beat, her translator implant did it’s work, transforming the passing waves into a good-natured and hearty chuckle. “You Humans are certainly an amusing race. Always so lively. ” The captain then turned to Natalie. “Except for the corporal here. She seems to have left us for somewhere in her own mind. ” Nat snapped back to the here and now. “Sorry Captain. I was just thinking about what your language would actually sound like if I could hear it. I hate having to rely on the implant. ” “That’s a very kind sentiment. But the translators work wonders. Why wouldn’t you want to rely on them? ” “Well, there’s the Corps doctrine, for starters. Never rely too much on a piece of technology that could fail. An emp or something taking out our translators in the middle of a joint species operation would be a disaster. Mostly though, it’s a personal thing. I just like knowing how to talk to people. Learning new languages. ” “Go figure, ” cut in Fletcher, with a devilish smile. “The woman wants to find more ways to talk. ” “Shut the fuck up, Fletch. ” Nat looked around quickly for something to throw at him and, finding nothing, ripped the heavy environment glove off her left hand and whipped it at the sergeant’s head, hitting him square in the face. The big man just laughed. Captain Tennahvesen laughed as well, enjoying the playful nature of his ships guardians. “Really, though. Is that worth the effort? How many alien languages could you possibly learn? ” “Well, ” replied Nat, “I already know three. ” Tennahvesen looked dumbfounded. “Three? How? How can you possibly understand THREE different languages without the aid of the translators? ” “Well, human brains are really adaptive. Great at pattern recognition and thinking outside the box to come up with solutions to problems. We didn’t evolve any natural advantages over our environment, so our problem solving skills and mental flexibility are all we really have. Any advantages we ever had, we had to build from scratch. It’s just how we’re wired. Oh, and I speak six languages, actually, and I understand Jezren. But four of the languages I speak are human languages, so I wasn’t counting those. ” Some of the orange drained out of the captain’s skin. “Wait. What do you mean human languages. You have more than one? ” “Oh yeah. See, we never had anything that really counted as a species wide government until a few centuries ago. All of the different nations prior to that had their own culture and language. The nations don’t really mean much anymore, but the cultures and languages are still there. ” “And you speak FOUR of these languages? ” “Yup. My dad is French, and my mom is Hungarian. But I was born and raised in Germany. Those are all different places with different languages, so I grew up with all three of those languages being spoken in my home. And everybody speaks English. Then First Contact happened when I was 10, and I’ve been studying xeno languages ever since. Like I said, I’ve got three of them down, and I’ve picked up bits and pieces of a few more. I’ve got a bit of a knack for it. That and my mechanical skills are what got me into the Divers. ” Nat paused and flashed an evil smirk at the clearly overwhelmed starship captain before continuing. “That’s nothing compared to Gunny and where he’s from. Right Gunny? ” Nuatu just shook his head apologetically at the captain before replying. “ I grew up speaking 5 different languages, three of which have half a dozen sub-dialects that I mostly understand. And my home of Nigeria alone has over 300 different languages in it. ” Another cheer went up from the now sizable crowd gathered around the two marines in the corner, interrupting the conversation before the captain's brain completely shut down. A split second later, Zapata had extricated himself from the crowd and run over to their table. “Hey, Nat, come on over and help us finish this off. We’ve got these suckers right where we want them, and you’d be the perfect setup to seal the deal. Come on, it’ll be fun. We’ll cut you in for an even share. ” “Dez, I wouldn’t help you with your little scam if you cut me in for YOUR share. ” Zapata recoiled theatrically, looking hurt, and then leaned across the table, doing his best to win her over with puppy-dog eyes and as innocent of a “Pleeeease” as he could muster. When Nat remained unmoved, he threw his hands up and started walking back to his scam. “Bah, you’re a fucking killjoy. Oh well, more for me. ” The table chuckled in unison as Zapata disappeared back into his crowd. Captain Tennahvesen, apparently recovered from the shock of learning that a human can process and speak multiple languages, turned back to Nat to ask “Why would you not want to join them? If I understand their intent, you could make a rather sizable financial gain. ” Nat shrugged and answered without thinking. “I don’t know. It wouldn’t really be fair. ” “Ah yes, ” the captain replied. “My apologies. I still sometimes forget about the severity of the sexual dimorphism in your species, and how much weaker human females are. ” Nat went rigid. Nuatu had to choke back a laugh. Fletcher lost all control of himself, falling off his chair and laughing uncontrollably and loudly enough to drown out all the other noise in the bar. Natalie tried and failed to regain her composure. Her thoughts wouldn’t line up right, and every time she tried to say something to correct the captain, her words were drowned out by the still riotous laughter of her sergeant. She was used to dealing with shit like this. She had prepared herself for it before she joined the Corps. It was expected from Fletcher and the morons in corner. But Natalie was not and had never been prepared to deal with sexism from a goddamn alien of all things. Fletcher slowly regained control of himself, and started pulling himself back to his seat, his laughter fading away to a wheeze as he did so. Strangely, however, the noise of the bar didn’t return as Fletcher quieted. Every creature in the bar, save for the five humans, had turned towards the door. They all stood or sat completely unmoving, frozen in abject terror as they stared at the entryway. With all the warning bells sounding in the deep, primitive parts of her brain, Nat turned in the new stillness to face whatever had come in behind her. Three Raelethi Primarchs had entered the bar, all clad in the infamous armor of a Raelethi Honor Guard unit. There are few absolutes when it comes to the sentient species in the galaxy. Even the most homogenous of races will have outliers. Most ‘truths’ about a species are little more than widespread stereotypes or rumors. Yes, the Telarim are master craftsmen, but many are merchants. And yes, the Jezren are the best engineers in the galaxy, but there are still artists among them. But it is absolutely true that the Raelethi are, down to every last member of their species, the most feared beings in the galaxy. They are predators and warriors, and one of the only known sentient species that will actually eat other sentients. Their warriors are renowned as some of the fiercest and most unrelenting throughout the galaxy. And among the Raelethi, the most powerful and successful of their warriors earn the title of Primarch. Every species can fight, to a certain degree, especially aided by appropriate weapons technology. But even to a competent, combat trained, well armed xeno soldier, there is nothing that can match the terror of facing a charging Raelethi Primarch. The three Primarchs stood just inside the entrance to the bar, their massive frames obscuring any sight of the door. Each was over two and a half meters tall, and easily as wide as two humans standing shoulder to shoulder. They had a low, stooped posture, seemingly designed to let them lean forward and run all all fours, though with arms that were almost the size of Nat, they wouldn’t have to lean far. This was all wrapped up in a thick, leathery skin that was a greyish blue. Their heads were wide, vaguely reminding Nat of a massive salamander, with powerful jaws supporting a mouth lined with serrated, protruding teeth. But it was the eyes of the Raelethi that were most unsettling. They were predatory and focused, their sharp gaze boring into the bar’s patrons. The largest moved forward into the bar, leaving his companions at the door and striding right up to Fletcher, who was still in the process of pulling himself back to his chair. It reached out, grabbing Fletcher by the head and pulling him to his feet, it’s massive, clawed digits completely obscuring his head from view. Nuata shot out a hand to hold Nat in place, and found Zapata and Hourani across the room, quickly shaking his head to tell them not to react. No one noticed Nuata reach for one of the duffel bags with his foot and pull it closer to him. Fletcher flailed and grabbed hold of the two of the digits, trying to pry them away, but stretched out and with his feet barely able to touch the ground, he couldn’t manage enough leverage to break free, forcing him to struggle on in vain. Nothing in the bar moved, save for Fletcher’s struggling, for several long moments. The Raelethi stood, holding him at arms length, surveying the new creature with a growing disgust. When it finally spoke, it was with a deep powerful voice and a slow, measured cadence that barely contained the creature’s growing rage. “For twelve long, boring years, I’ve suffered as a glorified bodyguard on the other side of the galaxy for some lowly ambassador. And for the last 10 of those years, I’ve had to miss out on the war with the Federation. But for all that time I had hope. Tales of a miraculous new species. A great race of warriors. Born of a death world. Forged in unheard of gravities. Strong. Resilient. Something that could be a true challenge. Something finally worth killing. And now I finally get to see one for myself, and this is all it is. ” He shook Fletcher a little to emphasize his point. “How… Disappointing. ” The Raelethi twitched his arm and launched Fletcher backwards, sending him stumbling away until he crashed into the bar and fell in a heap. The massive Primarch continued his rant as he stalked over to the crowd that had formed around the arm wrestling scam. “No teeth. No claws. No armor. No spines. Nothing to be afraid of at all. And yet here all of you are, gathered around two of them, showering them with adoration. ” The massive hand shot out again and grabbed a member of the crowd by the throat and held him aloft. It was the young Vorqual that had been the first to be roped into the arm wrestling scheme. “So tell me, what is so interesting that all of this different fodder would congregate here? ” The Vorqual, clearly struggling to breathe in the massive aliens grip, managed to stammer out “It was.. A… a contest of… strength. ” “A contest of strength with Deathworlders. Now that does sound fascinating. Tell me, meat, who won? ” “I… I did. ” The laugh that erupted from the Primarch could be heard not just from down the station corridor outside the bar, but from the decks above and below as well. It was a grating, horrible, feral sound that came from a primal place and chilled the nerves of every being that heard it. The massive creature rounded on Zapata, the unfortunate Vorqual still stuck in its grasp. “You lost a contest of strength to a Vorqual? Pathetic. I should crush this pile of flesh’s head, just to show you what true strength looks like, Deathworlder. Since you’ve clearly never seen it. ” It’s grip on the Vorqual’s neck tightened. “Why don’t we find out? ” Nat had jumped to her feet, and was shouting at the massive alien. She had just wanted to get home without incident, but now that an incident had found her squad, she’d be damned if she just sat back and watched this monster murder some random bystander. “Your limbs look like they’re hinged about the same as ours. Should be pretty fair. So lets find out who’s actually stronger. Anything to shut you the fuck up. ” The Primarch turned, ever so slowly, to look at the diminutive, to him, human. He stared for a second, then dropped the Vorqual in his grasp to the floor with an unceremonious thud before stalking towards Natalie. “And why would I need to waste my time proving that I’m stronger than you? ” it asked. “Better to find out that you’re wrong here and now than on the battlefield later. ” The behemoths eyes flickered over her, then to Nuatu, settling on the markings on his shoulder, and a realization dawned in his eyes. “You’re soldiers…” “Damn straight. 3rd SOLAR Infantry Battalion, 25th Marines. ” Nat tapped the golden sun pinned to her lapel. “The Sundivers are the best there is. ” The same, cruel sounding, feral laugh left the Primarch. It was too much. Not only were the Deathworlders pathetic compared to the stories and rumors that had circulated, but these pitiful piles of flesh were claiming to be the best their species had to offer. The unfairness of it all was galling. Nat pressed on, ignoring the alien’s laughter. “If you’re so sure of our inferiority, surely you can defeat the smallest of us in one of our own contests. ” “No, I don’t think I will. You’re not worth any more of my time. I hope your leaders are foolish enough to side with the Federation. I’m looking forward to the chance to burn your world. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a meal to attend to” The Primarch turned back to the Vorqual. “Che’kleth” Nat spat the word. The universal translation implants were a funny thing to Nat. They worked so seamlessly that there was never any audio overlap between what was actually said and what was heard. But there was always a slight thrum when it was working, and from what she understood, this was true for almost all species. It isn’t a bad sensation, but it always stood out as a relief when she could talk to someone in her own tongue and not feel the implant working. It was pleasant and refreshing, and most species felt that way. The most convenient feature of the implant to Nat was that if someone was speaking a listener’s native language, the implant wouldn’t activate, leaving the listener to enjoy the conversation in the speakers natural voice. Nat new her voice would be high-pitched to the massive xeno. But she also knew her pronunciation and inflection had been fucking perfect. And she had just called him a coward in his own tongue. The reaction was immediate and violent. The Primarch roared and was across the room in a flash, its massive hands slamming onto the table and its razor claws sinking clean through the stainless steel in front of Nat. The massive Raelethi was shaking with rage when he spoke to her. “You DARE…” Nat cut him off. “I do. I offered a challenge, and you declined. What else is there to think. Now, ” she sat down and dropped her right elbow on the table, extending her gloved hand towards the nearly frothing alien. “It would be simple to prove me wrong. Unless, of course, you’re afraid I’ll beat you. ” The Primarch glared at her for a long second, unable to believe the audacity of this puny, defenseless, pink… Thing. But a challenge had been issued, no matter how pointless. And he couldn’t walk away after being called a coward, in his own tongue, no less, in front of his subordinates. “Very well, human. How does this challenge of yours work? ” Nat smiled. “It’s simple. You sit down at the table, put your elbow down, we grab each others hands, and whoever forces the others hand to the table is the winner. A pure test of strength. No games. ” The Primarch stalked to the opposite side of the table from Nat and shoved Tennahvesen, who still seemed too terrified to move, roughly to the floor so that it could claim a seat. It lifted a massive arm and dropped it’s elbow roughly onto the table, all the while staring daggers at Nat. “When I have won, I am going to rip your arm from it’s socket as a trophy. A fitting punishment for your insolence. ” Nat just continued to smile back at him. “You wouldn’t be the first to try. ” She reached out and grabbed the enormous hand offered to her. “We can start whenever you’re ready. ” Immediately, the Raelethi closed its fist, completely enveloping the tiny human hand in his palm, and drew up every ounce of strength it could muster. It planned to not just win, but to throw the pathetic limb through the table itself and then wrench the arm from it’s socket in one fluid motion. The human would pay for its insults. And so, raging with indignation, the Primarch moved to slam the human’s arm down. And nothing happened. No matter how hard the Raelethi struggled against the human’s arm, it remained completely immobile. The same, steady smile had never left Natalie’s face, though now there was an evil gleam in her eye at seeing the Primarch’s confusion. “Like I said, you can start whenever you’re ready, ” she taunted. The Primarch didn’t understand. It had ripped aliens in half with less effort before. And yet this human sat there, completely unphased, and claiming not to notice it had even tried. With a fury that it had never known before, the Primarch redoubled his efforts, let loose a primal, horrible, roar, and PUSHED. The human’s arm wavered briefly and then budged a few centimeters. “Oh, we started? Great. My turn. ” A shock went up the Primarchs arm as the human’s limb changed from an immovable object to an irresistible force. Ever so slowly, the human began to push. Strain as it might, The Primarch could do nothing to stop or even slow the human’s Raelethi had to stare on in horror as second by second, the back of his hand inched closer and closer to the table, his leverage stripped away as his muscles were bent back on themselves at angles that were never intended by its physiology. The human didn’t even appear to be trying. She just sat there smiling. Unconcerned. Taunting. But defeat was unacceptable. And the Primarch panicked. Nat heard a short hiss from somewhere on the primarch, followed by a quick puff of escaping gas. She looked up just in time to see a small circle in the Primarch’s armor near it’s neck finish depressing into the plate. A shudder ran through the alien, and a new fire raged in its eyes. Natalie just shook her head. “Combat drugs? Oh for shame. That’s not very sporting. Looks like I might have to actually try. ” Ever so slowly, the Raelethi started to gain back ground, eventually forcing their hands back to the neutral starting, they struggled for a few moments, neither willing to give an inch. Then something popped in Nat’s upper arm. She wasn’t too concerned, but she hadn’t realized how much strain this contest was putting on her. So she resolved to end it quickly. Nat cracked her neck, and locked eyes with the enormous alien. Then with a final, swift burst, slammed the Primarch’s hand to the table. Pandemonium ensued. A deafening cheer went up from every non-Raelethi xeno in the bar. The defeated Primarch roared again, grabbing the table between itself and Nat and hurling it across the bar. The two Primarchs that had been guarding the door lunged into the bar, trying to surround Nat. Then two claps of thunder silenced the room. The Primarch turned to find Nuatu behind him at the corner of the bar, one of the heavy duffle bags open at his feet. He was holding a still smoking pistol that was now leveled cleanly at the Primarch's face, and there were two fresh holes in the deck at his feet. Next to Nuatu, Fletcher snapped the last piece into place of a quickly re-assembled rifle, and dropped to the top of the bar to steady his aim as he drew a bead on the Raelethi closest to Natalie. With everything in the room focused on the struggle between the Primarch and Natalie, no one had noticed Nuatu slink into the background with one of the duffles full of their weapons. Fletcher had slid over to him a minute later, and it had only taken them a moment to re-arm. Now the Primarch found himself staring down the barrel of a strange weapon, and one obviously powerful enough to punch holes in the deck plating of the station. The two other humans from the far side of the bar quickly joined the two with guns, and immediately started to arm themselves as well. It turned and started walking towards the door of the bar, stopping as it passed Nat. “This isn’t over, meat. ” It then walked to the door, accompanied by it’s two followers, and disappeared down the corridors of the trade hub. Everything in the bar breathed a sigh of relief in unison, and Nuatu lowered his weapon. “Everybody get back to the ship. Now. ” The humans quickly repacked their gear, got Captain Tennahvesen on his feet, and disappeared into the corridors as well, albeit heading in a different direction than the Raelethi. They were halfway back to the ship before anyone broke the silence. It was Zapata that finally spoke. “Jesus fucking Christ, that was awesome, Nat. I mean, I knew, but damn, I didn’t know. That shit is exactly why I wanted your help hustling everyone in there. No one would have seen it coming. ” “How much did you end up making by the way? ” she asked in reply. Zapata’s boisterousness left him. “I’m actually down about 100 credits. We never got the chance to start winning everything back. ” All six of them laughed at that, and some of the tension finally started to leave the group. It was Captain Tennahvesen that spoke next. “I must admit, had I not witnessed that spectacle with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. If I may ask, how were you able to work such a miracle, Corporal? ” Nat smiled again. “Like I said, Captain We don’t have a whole lot of natural advantages. ” She pulled the heavy environment glove from her right hand and gingerly rolled up the right sleeve of her fatigues. Her arm gleamed silver in the dull lights of Farshadow Station, the solid titanium shell of her cybernetic prosthesis polished to a mirror sheen. She clenched and unclenched her fist a few times for effect, the servos in her knuckles gently whirring as she did so. “We have to make our own. ”.

Short metal cover. Shoot at medicine bend movie. Shout at meaning in hindi. Shout at me suit. Shout at me dire.

 

Yell at me. Don& 39;t shout at me quotes. Shout à me décider. Shout at me synonym. A story about alcohol, unlikely connections, and war. (This story started as a discussion I had in the Discord server with /u/LordHenry7898 while I was absolutely hammered, and it took on a life of its own. Drink responsibly. Thank you to /u/lostfol and /u/LordHenry7898 for proofreading, fixing my grammar in places, and pointing out bits that just didn't make sense in the first draft. This story would be nowhere near as good without you! ) ~~~~ "C'monnn. Try it. It's great! " The human hollered this across the table, their legs like jelly as they stood up and staggered their way round to the ambassador opposite. They then leaned over, placing both elbows squarely on the table, inches from the ambassador's plate. "Please, do not shout, " the Veils ambassador replied. "You are attracting the attention of others. " It was true; several others in the eatery had turned their heads or their species' equivalent, though some, upon realising just who had shouted, sighed and turned back to their meals, content in the knowledge that it was simply a human having a little too much fun. "Aww, Riki, don't be like that. Just one sip. Pleeeease. For me? " The human made a face that was probably supposed to look cute, but to Riki, it looked more as if they had sat on something squishy. "Alex, " Riki replied, "I would - to put it as you humans do - rather die, than try your poison. I will continue with my meal now. " He made a show of stabbing a vegetable on the plate with his fork and raising it to his mouth, ignoring Alex's protests and attempts to grab his attention. Eventually, Alex gave up, huffing as he wobbled back to his chair and sat down. As he did, Riki could hear him muttering, something about being a spoilsport and another about alcohol only being a poison if you drank a vat of it. Humans are so strange, Riki thought, as he chewed his next bite of food. Riki had been tolerating Alex's behaviour in this vein for several days now; he would have put a stop to it some time ago, if it were not for the fact that Alex was excellent at his job and had what seemed a sixth sense for danger. He drank to excess only when he was certain the area was secure. Riki was also, though he was loath to admit it, amused by how casual Alex was around him. It served as a form of perverse entertainment during days which dragged on too long. The meal continued and finished without incident. Riki and a now-very-drunk Alex made their way back to their accommodation for the evening. It was dark; the mandated blackout left the streets empty, but Riki carried a lantern dimmed to almost nothing to find their way. For once, the ash clouds from the firebombings did not obscure the sky. Riki had taken a few steps before he realised that he was by himself. He looked back and saw Alex frozen, face looking up to the sky, mouth open, a hand raised as if to caress the pinpricks of light above. The pale glow of his lantern illuminated his face; he was enraptured by the stars, and the look of peace and contentment in his eyes was of surprise to Riki, to the point where he did not interrupt, instead letting Alex stand for several seconds before he came back to his senses and stumbled over to where he could see the second lantern waiting. ~ Riki did not bring up the episode until a few days later, in the next town over, after another event where a Veils ambassador and their guide were required. This time, the two ate bread in their accommodation. They had bought this from a merchant in between the towns, knowing that the local eateries here would be closed. Food rationing had hit such businesses hard. Riki swallowed a piece of dry loaf. "Alex, " He said. "Yeah? " Alex was not facing him. The two were sitting on their beds, Alex keeping one eye on the window, Riki staring at the wall on the opposing side. "Three nights ago, when you were drunk again. You stopped to look at the stars. Why? " "I dunno, " came the reply. "Don't remember well. I guess they just looked pretty. " Riki pressed him further. "I have never seen you so calm. Was it anything in particular? " "Dude, stop. I'm not in the mood for questions. " Alex sighed and spared a glance to a flask sitting on the table, but his eyes flicked back to the window a second later, and he continued to study the darkness outside. Riki chose to say nothing. After a silence lasting a few minutes, Alex relented. "They remind me of home. " He spoke more softly this time. "D'you ever look up to the stars as a kid? " "Not really, " Riki replied. "On my homeworld, they were not visible most days. I tend to forget they exist. " "That's a shame. " Alex reached for his flask, flicking off the cap and taking a sip, eyes not leaving the window as he did. "Ya’ know, I thought you Veils were all annoying and diplomatic, but you're alright. You don't annoy me. " "I will… Take that as a compliment. " Alex blew air from his nose in amusement at the response, and after a pause, he spoke again. "Tell you what. Once we're done with this mission, I'll show you a place I know on this world, by the sea. " He took a larger gulp from the flask. "The stars shine even brighter there. " "I would like that. " Riki turned to look at Alex. He saw the flask in one hand, and sighed to himself, but said nothing more. ~ The third town they visited, six days later, was half-destroyed by artillery; there was a ceasefire in place, though it was as fragile as paper. The two opted to sleep out of town after the events of the day, and they camped in a nearby forest where the trees had trunks to the sky and leaves to the ground. Alex had found a tree with the inside hollowed out. It was large enough to fit two people. They ate their rations in silence, their lanterns dimmed as much as possible. Alex stood as he ate, a rifle within arms' reach. For now, his flask remained full. Alex was the first to speak after the meal. He whispered, his voice going no further than the leaves outside. "Aren't you scared, Riki? Doing all this? Hiding from armies and assassins who don't want peace? Your missions are usually less, well… dangerous, right? " A short silence, then Riki's reply, his voice quieter than Alex’s. "I am scared, yes. But the fear is nothing, not compared to those suffering because of this war. They need me out here. I need you out here, too. " "Wish they'd just send a droid. " "You know that the region of the Four Towns does not deal with such technologies. It is in person, or not at all. " Alex opened his mouth to whisper a reply, but the sound of footsteps, small branches breaking, and rustling leaves came first. Riki froze, wide-eyed in terror, hardly daring to breathe in case it was too loud. In a blink, the rifle was in Alex's hands, and he pointed the end of the barrel towards the entrance, finger pressing into the side of the trigger guard, a bullet already chambered and ready to fire. Riki reached for the lanterns and switched them off. The footsteps passed by the tree, pausing for a moment that stretched into eternity, then continued, fading into the distance. The two waited around twenty minutes before moving or speaking again. "Alex. " Riki's whisper could barely be heard over the rustling of leaves. "Hmm? " Alex turned his head a little to listen, though the majority of his attention was still to the outside, listening for more footsteps. "Does drinking help you relax? " "Mmhmm. " "Can I… try some? " Surprised, Alex glanced over, though he could not see Riki in the oppressive gloom. "Uhh. Sure. " Setting the rifle down for a moment, he pulled out a flask from his back pocket. Taking a swig, he then stretched his arm out in the direction of Riki, flask in hand. "It's in my hand if you reach out. Don't damn well drop it or you're not getting any more. " He felt the flask being plucked from his grasp, followed by a glug, a quiet gasp and then silence for several minutes. Then, a small voice. "This poison tastes terrible. But I do feel more relaxed now. " ~ The fourth and last town on the other side of the forest was gone, razed to the ground, and a sea of tents greeted Alex and Riki as they walked the dusty streets. Citizens and refugees of all species peered from the tents, watching them. They seemed more curious than anything else. In the evening, a banquet was held under the largest tent, held to celebrate the completed and signed Treaty of the Four Towns. The food was not of high quality. It had been prepared with love, however, and Alex and Riki sat on the ground together, enjoying the meal and for the first time in weeks the feeling of safety. Riki had decided to try a glass of homebrew wine. He was doing his best to remain composed. He couldn't help but giggle, however, at something said by the town's leader, and Alex had to move the glass out of arm’s reach and then elbow Riki to get him to quiet down. Alex himself drank from his flask, as always. Luckily, the tent was loud, and the leader did not notice the giggle. "Hey, Alex. " Riki was - for once, Alex noted - a little less uptight. "Yeah? " "What's in that stuff you drink? It's strong. " "Heh. It's rum. " A rare smile came across Alex's face. "Mixed a few different kinds together. I call it '80 proof'. " "What's that mean? " Riki, a little flushed, was speaking with less care than usual. "Dunno. Some really old human phrase I saw in a book once. Think it was used as a measure of how strong it is. " Alex took a bite of food and chewed. "Another question. I mean, uh, I have another question. " "Mmhmm? " "The place you mentioned is nearby, right? Can we go see it? The stars? " Alex swallowed the bite of food. "Sure. Tomorrow. " Riki grinned. Later, under the light of the stars and dozens of lanterns, they all danced. The music was raucous and the beating of drums shook the bones of all nearby. Riki, floating around on a haze of alcohol, moving from one place to another without thought, felt as if reality finally made sense in this strange daze, a unified theory of everything fuelled by the wine he had once thought poison. Alex, laughing as if he would never stop, spun Riki around and around until they both fell over, and where their hands touched, it felt like fire. It felt like fire, and the haze was like lava, and all of Riki’s reservations melted in their combined wake. And then the two began to talk, some of it nonsense, but some of it profound. As they drank some more, Riki reached for his hand again for another dose of that fire, but this time it didn’t stop when Alex let go again as he stumbled over a tent pole and almost fell over. So this is why the humans drink alcohol, Riki thought, as his memories transformed from movies to slideshows of photos, and Alex's laughter rang in his ears until he could hear nothing else. ~ It was long past bedtime, and everybody was asleep. The serenity of the night was shattered by gunfire; shouting and screams followed. Alex started awake, removing one arm that had draped around the sleeping form of Riki, and jumped to his feet. "Riki! Up! Now! " He gave Riki a kick in the leg for good measure and made a grab for his rifle. Riki went from deep sleep to on his feet in seconds. "Who? What? Where? " His head hurt a little; his reaction times were slowed. "Evacuation protocol. " The code-word sent Riki into a flurry, grabbing his backpack with its precious cargo inside. Alex stepped towards the entrance, closed his eyes and concentrated. Within seconds he was able to tell roughly the number of attackers and the direction from which they had entered the town. He opened his eyes again. "This way, " He whispered to Riki, who could just about see where he was pointing to. "I reckon around twenty of them. Follow me, do not say anything unless it's life-threatening not to, and keep that damn treaty safe. Whoever is attacking probably wants to destroy it. " The two crept out of their tent, lanterns in hand but switched off. Luckily, their eyes had adjusted to the dark, and Alex had already memorized an evacuation route. They were well-hidden from pursuers. However, as they crept across the tent-city, they had to stop in places to stay hidden from the flashes of light made by lanterns being switched to full. Alex grabbed Riki's hand as they moved - to make sure he doesn't fall behind, he thought, although the fizz he felt from where human and Veils fingers interlocked indicated that this was not the only reason. Sporadic gunfire and more screams echoed in the distance; they started to hear footsteps, faint at first, then louder and louder, coming from all directions, and then the occasional thump of a body hitting the ground amongst intensifying gunfire. At last, the tents began to thin, and the shadowed giants of trees loomed out of the darkness. Alex squeezed Riki's hand twice as a signal to stop, then looked back. He could see little, but he could smell smoke, and hear still in the distance footsteps and gunfire. Looking forward again, there was a clearing; he guessed it was around a hundred meters to the treeline. Then, the footsteps from behind suddenly grew louder, and above it all, someone began to shout. "This way! " The yell soared over the sounds of fighting. "They weren't in their tent. They'll try to get to the forest! Shoot them! " "Riki! Run! " Alex spared a glance to where Riki was standing as he spoke. Riki was frozen in place, terrified. "Move! The treaty! Go! " Alex began to run, pulling on the hand until Riki defrosted a little and started to run also, and their hands separated as they sprinted across the clearing together. Bullets zinged by them; several figures had reached the edge of the tent-city and were firing upon the two with rifles, although they were struggling to hit two fast-moving figures in the dark. One of the pursuers started forward as if to give chase, but another grabbed their shoulder and yanked them back, as they knew that at night, they were as likely to be shot as those they were chasing. Throughout, the echoing screams from before continued unabated. Alex slowed a little. He allowed Riki to run ahead of him, ensuring that his body shielded Riki's from the hail of fire. By the tents, the group's leader kneeled, then took aim with a hunting rifle. This one, unlike the others, had a night-vision scope attached. Such an item was illegal here, punishable by death. The leader steadied his breath. Breathed in. Breathed out, slowly, letting the crosshairs settle on his target. He fired. The bullet grazed Alex's shoulder, and he grunted in pain, but kept running. Riki reached the trees first, and dove behind a particularly large tree, hitting the ground and staying prone. Alex followed suit, though instead of lying prone also, he dropped into a kneeling position, hoisting the rifle into his shoulder and adjusting the sights for the distance. He leaned to the left a little, checked with his ears that nobody had tried to cross the clearing, and aimed at one of the pursuers who were illuminated by their lantern. He took two large breaths to steady himself. Then, he fired. His shoulder yelped from the movement and the recoil. In the distance, the figure fell. He reloaded, took aim once more, and fired. This shot seemed to hit the next figure, although this time they did not fall. The pursuers' lanterns started to blink out as they realised they had made themselves obvious targets. The leader of the pursuers, having reloaded his hunting rifle and found the source of Alex's bullets, took aim once more. In the background, those who lived in the tent-city, armed with their own rifles, had now engaged his group, and he could hear the last of them shouting to each other, the crack of bullets, and the thump of bodies. He had one chance left to destroy all the treaty stood for before this city killed him too. He took one last breath, and fired. Seconds later, he was felled by a hail of bullets. ~ The shouts of triumph from the tent-city's defenders echoed in the forest. Riki got to his feet and leaned against the tree, panting, still trying to catch his breath. Alex was holding a hand to his chest. He removed the hand; it came back red. Riki switched on the lantern, and gasped. Your chest! Are you hurt? " "Ugh, yeah. Think one of the bullets grazed the side. Hang on. I'll patch it up. " But as he lifted off his shirt, it was clear it was not a graze. Dark liquid spilled at a terrifying rate from where the bullet had pierced him. His burst of adrenaline began to fade, and as he began to tilt to one side, Riki ran forwards and grabbed his shoulders to steady him. He then pushed down on his shoulders, forcing him to sit. Alex? Alex! " Riki's voice became more panicked with every word. Alex tried to respond, but Riki cut him off. "No, no, this wasn't supposed to happen. Oh gods, oh hell, I can't fix this, I don't have the training, I need to stop the blood somehow…" He continued to babble as he tore a length of fabric from his shirt, and pressed it onto the wound. "Riki. " Alex wheezed as he spoke. "Sssh. It's fine. " He placed a hand over Riki's, and gently lifted it away from his chest. The fabric was already sodden with red. The bullet had torn through an artery. "Like hell it is, Alex. You're bleeding out. Your hand is cold. Oh gods, what do I do, do I run back to get help, do I stay, I don't know what…" As Riki's words trailed off into incoherence, Alex reached into his back pocket with his other hand, and pulled out the flask. He felt sluggish and cold, but he was able to pop the cap and take a sip before offering it to Riki. "Here. Take it, ” He wheezed. “Keep it. " The words took more effort to say than before. "W-what? " Riki felt tears form in his eyes. He could see that Alex was fighting unconsciousness. "Keep it. I'm not making it out of here. " Riki's tears flowed freely now. "No. Please don't say that. Don't go. " He squeezed Alex's hand far too tightly, but he didn't care. All he cared about at this moment was holding onto Alex’s hands. Alex weakly squeezed it in return, then spoke again, the words fainter this time. "Drink it when you're sad. Or happy. I dunno, humans drink for all sorts of reasons. " He coughed, and his lips became stained with blood. "80 proof, yeah? " A smile, and his eyes sparkled as they met Riki's. "Remember, it's prolly important or something…" And then he let out the last of his breath, and collapsed to the dirt floor, and Riki screamed in anguish as he tried and failed to revive the fallen human. ~ Two months later The stars were bright here, brighter than anywhere else Riki had seen. He walked along the beach, feet sinking a little into the sand, the gentle swish of the sea accompanying him on his walk. In one hand, he held his lantern. In the other hand, he held Alex's flask. He turned it over in his hand, noticing how Alex's bloody fingerprints still remained. He could even see the scratches and dents from where it had been dropped. How was it possible for one person to leave such an impression after they were gone? It felt as if everything Alex had done and said revolved around this one, tiny item. Humans are really so strange, he thought. They were rude, and brash at times, and they sometimes did and said things without regard for others. But they were also tender, and cared for those around them, and Alex on his final day had shown that second side of himself to Riki. Riki raised the flask to his lips. He took a sip, certainly not the first of the night, letting the buzz of the alcohol permeate his mind and body. He felt as if he was not quite in his own body as he walked, one step after another after another, across the place in which Alex should have been in step with him. If he had been here, he would have been laughing and smiling as he drank from his flask. Maybe he would have been looking at Riki with that sparkle in his eyes. Then, Riki stopped and looked up and for the first time truly saw the stars. They were endless and twinkling, unobscured by ash. There would be no more artifacts of war to disturb the sky. Not anymore; the mission was complete. But Riki wished he could reverse time, to the day of the signing of the treaty, just for one last day with Alex, one last drink, and one last dance. Riki dropped the lantern and raised an arm to the sky, caressing the stars. He felt a longing, small at first and intensifying until it felt like it could choke him, for a home he could not see from here, and for someone he had grown to love that he could not speak to. He stood for what seemed like forever, frozen, enraptured by the vista of twinkling light above. He whispered to them, "Alex, wherever you are, I hope I see you again someday. Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to understand you better. Thank you for telling me about this place. " The flask fell from his fingers, landing in the sand next to the lantern as Riki continued to gaze upwards. On one side, Riki had carved two words into the metal. They shone from the light of the lantern. '80 Proof'.

As strange as it sounds, I hadn't really wanted the doll at first. I mean, I was seven; according to Dad, I was too old for dolls. But, as my aunt put it, Dad wasn't worth listening to on his best day. So I kept the doll, and named her Connie. Connie was a pretty typical doll: her arms, legs, and head were made of plastic, her body was stuffed with cotton, she had long, loose dark hair, and she wore an ankle length red dress and black Mary-Jane style shoes. Not a Barbie or American Girl, but still well made and fairly adorable. She even spoke when you squeezed her stomach. She had three different sayings: "I love you", "What do you want to do? ", and a light-hearted giggle. Despite my initial dislike, she won me over fairly quickly. I mean, I didn't have anyone else to play with. Mom, Dad and I lived in a trailer park for most of my early childhood. Mom worked as a bartender at a club, and Dad worked as a mall cop. Though I didn't know this at the time, Mom was an alcoholic, and spent most evenings passed out on the couch. Dad wasn't an alcoholic, but he wasn't perfect. He was... opinionated, to put it gently. If anyone had an opinion that he didn't agree with, he would shout or fight that person until they agreed with him. It was this little habit of his that had gotten him fired from the CPD, and landed us in the trailer park (a little fact that my grandma shared with me later). I wouldn't call my parents abusive. At least, they didn't hit me or starve me or anything. But they weren't very attentive. I can remember times when they wouldn't be home until past my bedtime, or times when they didn't get groceries until the fridge was literally empty, or once when I was stuck at school until four hours after it ended because neither of them picked me up. And, yes, Dad yelled at me for little things like spilling drinks or slamming doors. But, I still loved them. Does that sound crazy? Anyway, my seventh birthday came and went. I expected my parents to take me to dinner and they didn't. I expected cake and presents; none appeared. I expected them to acknowledge the day; never happened. After school ended the Friday after my birthday, my aunt picked me up and took me to a little pizza place in the city for a late birthday celebration, just the two of us. That's where she gave me Connie. And, if I'm being honest, that's when things started getting weird. Before I continue this story, let me explain something. My aunt (although I wasn't told this until later), had been trying to get custody of me for years. The fact that I was already living with my biological parents and that there was no evidence of them abusing/neglecting me kept her from succeeding. Practically every member of my family knew that I didn't have a great home life, and they had been trying to get me out of my parents' custody for years. Tells you a lot about the justice system, doesn't it? Anyway, on to the story... After my initial hesitance, I fell in love with Connie. I carried her everywhere except school, and played with her every second I could. She became something to comfort me when Dad was yelling or Mom was drinking; a reminder that I wasn't alone. It must have been a week after my pizza party with my aunt that Dad lost his job. He came home, chugged a bottle of Mom's whiskey, and slammed the bottle into the garbage. I had been watching after school TV with Connie, and the sound of shattering glass made me jump. He whirled around and saw me. Or, rather, he saw me holding Connie. "What the hell is this? " He picked Connie up by the leg, dangling her out of my reach. Her dress and hair dangled down towards the floor, but she was still smiling. I stood up trying not to cry, and explained that Aunt Judi had given it to me as a birthday present. He stared at me, as if trying to remember when my birthday was. Then, as if remembering that, yes, it had been my birthday over a week ago, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter. He handed me the coin and Connie, and wished me a half-hearted happy birthday. Tears staining my face, I ran for my room. I laid on my bed, crying silently into my pillow. He'd scared me, he'd scared me so bad. I looked up when I was finished to see Connie sitting at the foot of my bed. I picked her up and squeezed her stomach. "Your daddy is mean. What do you want to do? " I paused. I hadn't heard her say that before. Still, I always felt better after talking to her. "Daddy always yells. I wish he'd stop. " I pushed her middle again. "I love you, I want what's best for you. " Another new phrase, I thought. "I wish I could live with Aunt Judi. She never yells for no reason, and she's nice. " I squeezed Connie again. "I love Judi, and I love you. I hate Mommy, and I hate Daddy. What do you want to do? " Had she always been able to say these things? I'd never seen her box; maybe she could. I answered her question. "I wish they would go away. " I squeezed her again. She giggled. As weird as it sounds, I felt much better after I talked to Connie. Holding her tight, I went to see if Dad was still mad. He wasn't; he had a half-empty bottle in his hand, and was laying on the couch, asleep. I crept out of my room, grabbed a bottled water and a sleeve of saltines from the kitchen, and went back into my room. Connie and I had a picnic on my bedroom floor, and then went to bed. I could hear Mom and Dad yelling at each other as I tried to sleep. Eventually, I did. I woke up at about 3 in the morning. Instead of their yelling dying out and ending as they went to bed like it usually did, this time it had intensified. They were screaming obscenities at each other, him yelling about her drinking and her screaming about his losing jobs seeing other women. Then, something weird happened. Dad said something along the lines of "The duck? " That's when the screaming resumed. But it was so much louder this time, almost as if they were in intense pain. For thirty minutes they screamed. It scared me so much worse than their normal fighting, and I hid under the covers until it stopped. It was around that time that I noticed that Connie had fallen on the floor. I picked her up; she was still comforting. I darted under the covers again when I heard police sirens. I heard the sound of someone breaking down the door. There were muffled voices that I didn't recognize, and the sound of heavy boots marching through the trailer. I started weeping silent tears as the door to my room opened. The blanket was ripped off of my bed. I looked with terror into the eyes of... a policewoman. "Miss, what's your name? " "L-Lori Manchester. " I hugged Connie closer to me. "And this is Connie. " "Okay, we need to get you out of here. Listen carefully: I need you to cover your eyes, and not look until I say so. Okay? " ".. " I squeezed my eyes shut, and put my right hand over my eyes. I hugged Connie close to me with my left. The policewoman held my shoulder, guiding me through the trailer and out the front door. Though I couldn't see anything, everything felt very off. The other police officers stopped talking as I entered the room, but I smelled something weird, like metal. And why was the floor wet and sticky? I wasn't allowed to open my eyes until we were outside. They had surrounded the trailer with yellow police tape. I was led into the back of the police cruiser (after the officer promised that I wasn't under arrest), and we sped away. I never saw the trailer park again. We went straight to the police station. I told them everything; they told us at school to always tell the truth to a police officer. They seemed interested in Mom's drinking and Dad's yelling. They were really interested in Connie saying things she wasn't supposed to. They asked if they could see Connie. I knew I could trust the police (that's what they said at school), so I let them see her. They took her into another room. After a long time, they brought her back (she felt a lot lighter, but she could still talk). They started asking me a lot of questions about Aunt Judi. After that night at the police station, I went to live with my grandma. She lived in an actual house, never drank or yelled, and loved to cook. She told me that my parents were dead, and tried her best to shield me from the truth of what happened that night. Over the years, however, through the news and kids at school, I eventually learned the full story: Aunt Judi had hidden a microphone in Connie, trying to get as much evidence as she could on my parents. Those weird new phrases Connie had said were actually my aunt talking to me. Apparently, she'd been out of her medication for a while, and our "conversation" had given her an idea. That night, she climbed into the trailer through my parents' bedroom window. Their yelling had drowned out the noise. She then proceeded to torture them to death with various tools from the kitchen. The neighbors had heard the screaming, and called the cops. As disturbing as the story was, the murder wasn't the scariest part. My aunt, now convinced that she could be my legal guardian, had been ready to kidnap me and run away when the police pulled up. They found her fingerprints all over the crime scene and the microphone in Connie. She had retreated the way she came, and had cleared her belongings and fled her apartment by the time the police got there. They still haven't found her.


Shout at me in french.

 


Previous “‘Tiny Galactic Newcomer Shames Raelethi Terror! ’ ‘Primarch Defeated in Single Combat by Unarmed Assailant! ’ Ooh, no, no, Nat, this is the best one. It’s fucking gold: ‘Miniature Mammal Maims Massive Monstrosity! ’ Christ, their media is actually worse than ours. ” Corporal Anastasia Koltsov was sprawled on her bunk, the glow from her datapad bathing the angular features of her face in a soft light as she scrolled through the local newsfeed. She couldn’t restrain the smile brought on by her friend’s obvious discomfort. “I didn’t know you maimed the guy, Nat. You been keeping details from me? ” “I didn’t maim anybody, Ana. No one even got hurt. ” Corporal Natalie Boucher sighed as she replied. She sat hunched over the small desk at the foot of their bunks, a small screwdriver in her left hand and her right arm clamped to the desktop amid a sea of spare parts. The armored shell of her bicep had been removed and was propped up against the small lamp on the corner of the desk, the typically pristine mirror finish marred by various oil smudges. Her dark hair was pulled back in it’s usually messy ponytail, and her empty shirt sleeve hung loosely at her side, rustling whenever she shifted a part on her makeshift workbench. “Wait, I got another one: ‘The Butcher of Farshadow Station. ’ Huh. You think that’s a coincidence, or do you think they actually did their homework and ran your name through a proper translator program? My money’s on coincidence. All of these articles are written by hacks anyway. I’d be surprised... ” Natalie cut her off. “Ana, I know you think this is a riot, but can you not right now? This is a delicate enough process without having to relive how I broke my arm over and over while I'm trying to fix it. I’m almost done, and I’d like to have two arms again before dinner. ” Her tone was sharper than she meant it to be. It was bad enough that they were stuck here because of her little exhibition three days ago, and she had really mixed emotions about being turned into a folk hero over what was turning out to be a major diplomatic incident. And Ana’s enthusiasm, while well intentioned, wasn’t helping. “Sorry. But come on, can you blame me? This is the first exciting thing that’s happened to our squad, and I wasn’t even there to see it thanks to Gunny’s ‘three marines on the ship at all times’ rule. I was cheated, damnit. And I’m never going to stop giving him shit for it, either. ” “Fine, ” Nat replied, her words dripping sarcasm. “The next time I unknowingly start a battle to the death and get our ship locked down at a major space port, I’ll make sure you’re there for it. ” “Thank you. That’s all I’m asking for. ” Ana grinned and let the conversation die there so that Natalie could finish her maintenance in peace. She returned her attention to her datapad, scrolling through the ridiculous stories about her friend on the local net. Time wound on in relative silence, the only sounds being the scraping of metal on metal as Natalie worked. After an hour, there was an echoing clang as Nat snapped the armored case closed on her upper arm, shouting “Done! ” in defiance as she did so. “Took you long enough. ” Ana teased. “Hey, I had to replace three of the main actuators. That fucking Raelethi did way more damage than I thought it did. I’m honestly surprised my collar mount didn’t start warping. ” Nat absentmindedly tapped her right collarbone, the metallic reply of the titanium implant weirdly muted by her skin. She then started rolling up her right shirtsleeve. “Now come over here and help me plug this thing back in. ” Ana slid off her bed, leaving her datapad, and strode over to Nat. Instead of moving to grab the mechanical arm on the desk, however, Ana reached around Nat and wrapped her in a hug from behind. Her voice was quiet and serious when she spoke. “I know you think I’m bullshiting about all of this, just trying to get a laugh, but I really am proud of you, Nat. Most of the galaxy spends every day scared of those things. The more I read about them, the worse they are. They’re honest-to-God monsters. You should read some of the message boards. Xeno’s all over the Federation are going on about what a relief it is to know something can stand up to a Primarch. You embarrassing one of them publicly like that has legitimately made the galaxy a better place. Screw what this station has to say about it. ” Natalie could actually feel the tension melt out of her neck and shoulder. Ana was right, of course, and Nat had already known everything Ana had said. But it meant a lot to hear someone that Natalie trusted say it. To confirm it. “Thanks, Ana, ” was Natalie’s only whispered reply for a few moments. She then started squirming in her seat and shrugged off Ana’s hug. “Now knock it off with the touchy-feely crap. ” “Why? Jealous? ” she asked, playfully rapping her knuckles on the exposed titanium of Nat’s empty shoulder socket. “Har fucking har. Just hold my damn arm. ” “Wow, you are a killjoy. ” “You know, the last time someone called me that, I ended up wagering a limb in an arm wrestling contest with an alien super-predator. ” “Ya see? Is that so hard? You just gotta put yourself out there and look for adventure sometimes, ” said Ana as she picked up Natalie’s prosthesis. Nat just shook her head at the absurd thought of being trapped at an alien space station, thousands of light years from Earth, with a third of the galaxy at war, and still having to LOOK for adventure. A violent wave of nausea suddenly washed over her as Ana slammed the arm home into its socket while Natalie was distracted, the control interfaces connecting directly to her central nervous system. It was always the same, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant. Ana stepped back while Natalie recovered and grabbed her datapad again. “It’s almost chow time. You gonna head up with me? ” “Nah, I’m gonna go take a shower. I want to get all this grease off me. Plus the hot water will help the nausea. ” “Alright, but Gunny said he’s gonna break out some of the supplies he picked up on station. Said morale could use the boost. Not sure what it is, but he promised me it wasn’t green, so it’s gotta be an improvement. ” “Hey, ” Natalie called out to Ana as her friend started to walk away. “Thanks. ” Ana flashed her a wide, toothy smile and turned to head towards the galley. “Anytime. ” Sub-Commander Jeralth of the 1st Imperial Grenval Marines coasted through the inky blackness outside of Farshadow Station. His squad’s aim had been impeccable, and none of his seven elite commandos had needed to correct their course since the initial burn from their thruster packs. They drifted ever closer to the Telarim freighter, masked from the myriad sensors in the area by the bulk of the station itself. Even if there hadn’t been massive blind spots to exploit, the heat shielding on their armor would have reduced their sensor signatures to nothing more than that of a small cloud of debris. They reached the freighter right on schedule. It was large for a Telarim cargo ship, with a cavernous cargo bay taking up the forward 80% of the ship’s structure. The extendable gangway was still attached to the cargo hold, and the station’s massive docking clamps were still firmly in place fore and aft. The commandos drifted past the bow of the ship, gliding along its length until they reached their mark, then fired their thrusters in unison. Moving as one, the squad banked towards a small airlock near the rear of the ship. It would normally serve as the main crew entrance when not loading or unloading cargo. Now, it sat unused and ripe for the Grenval to exploit. All eight of the alien soldiers landed on the side of the ship simultaneously, and they immediately set to work. While Sub-Commander Jeralth went about gaining access to the airlock’s electronics, two of his soldiers began unfurling the bulky object they had been carrying between them. Quickly, a semi-rigid polymer tent large enough to contain all eight commandos had been erected around the airlock. Two of the other soldiers attached magnetic seals at the base of the polymer, making the swiftly erected structure airtight. Once completed, the last three Grenval all removed the massive tanks of compressed gas that they had been packing and began to vent the tanks into the tent. It took mere moments for the now airtight structure to fill with nitrogen. A commando watched a pressure gauge with laser focus, shutting off the tank’s flow the instant the pressure in the tent reached one standard Telarim atmosphere. He signaled the others of their success just as Sub-Commander Jeralth completed his bypass of the alarms on the airlock and cycled it open. Less than three minutes had passed from the time the first commando touched the ship to the airlock being opened. All eight commandos then oriented themselves for the artificial gravity and filed into the freighter. Jeralth and his team immediately made for the bridge. He had to seize control of the ship before anyone noticed they were aboard. Once they had control, he could open the gangway doors. The Raelethi were waiting at the base of the gangway, and as soon as the doors opened from the inside, they could enter as ‘guests’ with no political ramifications from the station. The Primarch could slaughter the humans with its own claws, and the Dominion wouldn’t technically be violating Farshadow’s strict neutrality, since the slaughter would take place on sovereign Telarim property. Plus, there would be no one left alive to argue the Primarch’s story. It was a surprisingly cunning plan, especially considering it came from a Raelethi. But Jeralth had to actually capture the bridge first. He was well on his way to doing just that when sounds from a corridor to his right froze him in place. Jeralth stopped his troops with a hand signal and started replaying his mission briefing in his head, trying to remember the schematics to the ship and what was in that direction. They had just passed engineering several corridors back, and life support was on the other side of the ship. It had to be… Jeralth flicked his tongue in excitement. It couldn’t be that easy, could it? He signaled half his soldiers to continue on to the bridge and took the other three with him down the corridor towards the sounds. They stopped just outside an open doorway with light and noise flooding out of it. One of his commandos dropped a small, four legged recon drone to the deck, and it crept around the corner, cameras pointed into the room. Jeralth tapped into the camera feed, and stared dumbfounded at his good fortune. The drone was staring into the freighter’s mess hall, and what looked like most of the Telarim crew were inside, eating and enjoying themselves. More importantly, all five humans were there. Jeralth was under strict orders that the humans were to be kept alive at all costs. The Primarch had… plans for them. He shivered, imagining exactly what that might entail. But the details were of no real concern to him. He just had to complete his mission. Jeralth readied a concussion grenade and waited for the signal that the bridge was theirs. The Tellarim had a much higher water requirement than humans did, both internally and for their semi-amphibious skin. Which meant that their ships had much more robust filtration systems than human vessels, as well as a significantly larger amount of water on hand in those systems. Which meant Natalie got to take real goddamn showers. It was one of the biggest perks to being stationed on a Tellarim ship. The two minutes of water allotted on USC ships was the worst part of being in the Corps. Especially being rated for mechanic work. Two minutes just wasn’t enough to get rid of the oils and exotic greases you would get covered in working in space. But on a Telarim ship? Nat could spend as much time under the hot water as she wanted. Natalie probably would have spent the rest of the evening in the shower if her stomach hadn’t started reminding her that she needed food. She had only eaten a quick snack for breakfast and skipped lunch trying to finish the repairs on her arm, and now her body was becoming rather angry with her for it. She sighed, grumbled something at her stomach about being patient, turned off the shower, and hurriedly toweled off and got dressed. Nat made a beeline for her quarters once she left the showers, wanting to take a minute to polish her arm back to its usual pristine mirror finish before joining the rest of her squad for dinner. All of the human quarters and facilities on the freighter were on a sub-deck attached to the bottom of the ship. The Human Habitation Sub-Deck was a small, prebuilt structure that had been designed to be quickly attached to any ship that requested the protection of human marines. It was simply a matter of attaching the prefab to the ship and connecting power and life support functions. The artificial gravity was set to 1G and the air was mixed to a perfect earth standard mixture and kept at one atmosphere of pressure. Both of these marks were notably higher than the settings on the rest of the Telarim ship. The extra gravity and atmosphere let the marines make full use of the small gym at the forward of the deck, allowing them to stay in fighting shape and stave off the ill effects of microgravity. Next to the gym was a small locker room where the showers were located. The gym emptied out into a respectably sized common room full of couches and tables and that was lined with screens. Along the port side of the common room, four doors led to the actual crew quarters, each of the four small rooms being shared by two members of the squad. At the very back of the sub-deck, there were two large VR simulation rooms, so that the squad could keep their skills sharp despite the boredom of deep space. All of the machinery spaces and primary systems were neatly stashed out of sight behind the VR sim rooms. Natalie walked through the common room and continued toweling off her hair. It was a nice setup, she thought. There was enough space and entertainment options to keep everyone from getting too bored and too irritated with each other. It would have been nice if everything wasn’t olive drab, though. Nat reached her quarters and stepped inside, shutting the door behind her before diving into her footlocker looking for metal polish. She had barely started rummaging around when the sound of a blast from the deck above froze her in place. The dull thud of the explosion echoed in Natalie’s quarters for a second, and then the entire ship fell completely and eerily silent. Nat knew what she had heard, and there should have been alarms going off everywhere. But there was nothing. She dashed out of her room, racing to the forward end of the sub-deck and the hatch leading up to the rest of the ship. Nat practically flew up the ladder, only to find the hatch quite firmly sealed shut. She strained against it for a few seconds before dropping to the deck. Something was very, very wrong. Natalie decided to try to coms next, but had made it a just a few steps from the only way off of the sub-deck when she heard the upper of the two hatches open. She paused to listen and was rewarded with the sound of something heavy and metallic landing directly on the hatch. Something that was shifting its weight around. Something that sounded exactly like a soldier in full battle armor standing on the hatch. “Shit. Shit. ” Natalie scrambled towards the rear of the deck and the machinery spaces. They weren’t much, but it would give her at least some cover. She had just reached her relative safety when the hatch was kicked in and a massive pile of black armor dropped unceremoniously to the deck. Nat watched as it picked itself up and raised a weapon, some kind of plasma rifle from the looks of it, and shakily moved away from the hatch. Nat smiled. The gravity setting on the deck was about 40 percent higher than on the rest of the ship. And her visitor was clearly struggling with it. She was considering rushing him when a second armor clad alien dropped to the deck next to the first. Nat pulled back into the depths of the machinery. She was confident that she could have held her own against one of the mysterious intruders. But not two. Not with so much open space between them and both of them being so heavily armed. Her eyes started darting around the heavy equipment, searching for some solution to her situation. Jeralth stood proudly as the Primarchs approached, his prize firmly grasped in his armored gauntlet. The prisoners had been dragged to the cargo hold to be presented to the Primarchs. The handful of Telarim had been tossed roughly in a pile in the corner of a large open area Jeralth had found tucked away between all of the crates and shipping containers. They were all still unconscious from his grenade, and would be for several more hours. Six of the humans were lined up before him, all on their knees. He had taken the rather extraordinary measure of binding both the hands and feet of these bizarre creatures. They should have still been as unconscious as the Telarim, but they had recovered from the concussive blast in record time. Had Jeralth not been paying attention, the quick recovery of the human’s might well have allowed them to fight back. It all made Jeralth so uneasy his scales were itching. No creature that wasn’t protected by an environment suit of some kind should have been awake after that blast, let alone moving, for at least an hour. And yet, all of these humans were alert and struggling against their bonds. What kind of monsters were these things? It didn’t matter now, though. The Primarchs had arrived. Conscious or not, there was only one outcome left for the humans. Jeralth stepped forward and addressed the largest of the Raelethi. “Primarch, the ship is ours. And as you requested, the crew is still alive to do with as you wish. I also believe you made a special request for the human female. ” Jeralth stepped forward, dragging the seventh human behind him by the fur on her head, and tossed her at the Raelethi’s feet. She wasn’t in the pristine shape as the other human captives. Bright red blood was matted in her yellow fur, and her face was heavily discolored where the subduing blows had been struck. She and the large dark-skinned one had been in the galley unseen by the drone, and had been partially shielded from the blast. Jeralth’s troops had needed to be… a little more forceful subduing them than the other five. None of that mattered to Jeralth, though. His mission had been a resounding success. All objectives had been achieved in short order. His soldiers were completely undetected. There were no casualties. This was the kind of mission that made a career. It might even mean the end of grunt work for him. Everything would be classified, of course, but… “YOU FOOL! ” The Primarch’s roar was deafening, even through Jeralth’s helmet. “This is the wrong human! ” The Raelethi swung it’s massive arm, flinging the female to the side and out of it’s way as it moved on Jeralth. The human flew through the air, crashed into a shipping container and fell in a pile, a puddle of red slowly pooling below her head. The Primarch grabbed Jeralth, lifting him from the deck, armor and all, and continued to rage. “You had one human that I said you must find. Where. Is. She? ” “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You said there was one human female and four others. I brought you the female and even found two extras! ” It was suicide to speak back to a Primarch, especially when one already had you in it’s claws. But Jeralth was extremely confused and not thinking straight, wracking his brain trying to figure out what had gone wrong. “Primarch, ’ One of Jeralth’s troopers spoke up. “Their were eight bunks on the high gravity deck. It’s most likely that the female you’re after is the only human unaccounted for. ” “Then it looks like you only missed the most important one. You may have a chance to save yourself yet, Sub-commander. Tear the ship apart until you find her. I’ll be waiting. ” The massive Raelethi dropped Jeralth to the deck. “And be quick about it. I can’t start killing the others until she’s here to watch them suffer. ” Natalie slid away from the vent she had been watching from. She had to be careful not to let her right arm scrape against the metal of the ductwork lest the sound give away her position. Shimmying along, Nat made her way back in the direction she had come. She had to make it to the armory. Killing these sonsabitches was clearly the only way out of this. And the only hope for the rest of her squad. After hiding in the ventilation ducts to escape the soldiers sweeping the sub-deck, she had used the same ductwork to follow them to the cargo bay. Natalie shouldn’t have been surprised to find the Raelethi behind all of this, but it still shook her to see them on her ship. It took far longer than she would have liked to reach the armory. When she got there, though, she found that what luck she had up to that point had apparently run out. With the armory being as small as it was, really just a converted storage area, there had been no reason to run the main life support lines to it. Nat stared at the junction heading in the direction she needed to go, and thought it couldn’t be more than 25cm across. Natalie swore. Of all the places for the damn aliens to start being efficient in their systems layout, of course it was in the most inconvenient place possible. What was worse, is that while Natalie pondered her options, she watched through a vent as one of the smaller Raelethi lumbered into view and placed himself firmly in front of the actual entrance to the armory. Well, thought Nat, they definitely weren’t stupid. There was no way she could fight through a Primarch unarmed, even if it did barely fit in the corridor. She had to do something, though. There was no guarantee the head Primarch wouldn’t lose it’s patience and just murder everyone anyway. And Ana had looked like she was in pretty bad shape already. Nat looked disdainfully at the large wrench that she had grabbed from her machinery room, just in case. It would have to be enough. Natalie slid along the ductwork, moving towards the center of the ship, looking for targets. It wasn’t long before she found one. A lone soldier was in the galley, overturning everything he could find, ripping through stores and every conceivable hiding place, and making quite a ruckus doing it. It was as good an opportunity as she would find. Nat moved on to the main vent in the mess hall, kicked out the grating over the vent, and dropped to the deck. The alien clearly hadn’t heard her over the noise he was making, as the rhythm of the alien’s frantic search never stopped or even slowed. Nat steadied herself and smiled; it was time to get some payback. She snuck to the mess hall door leading out into the main corridor, swung it shut, and locked the seals from the inside. Jeralth stared at the carnage before him, trying and failing to process what he was seeing. He stood in the mess hall with three of his soldiers who were all as confused as him. Two members of their squad lay dead on the floor at opposite ends of the room. The first was laying at the entrance to galley in a pool of his own bright blue gore, and what was left of his head had been reduced to a bloody pulp filling the shattered remains of his helmet. A massive, gore-splattered wrench lay next to him, along with the smashed remains of his squad's recon drones. His rifle, fortunately, was also on the deck next to him. Jeralth had never been more thankful for the biometric locks on their rifles. Unfortunately, the blade he carried was missing, as one of his other soldiers had discovered. He was lying, predominantly, right inside the entry to the mess hall, though he had been strewn about in four neatly sliced apart pieces. His head and both of his arms at the elbows had been cleanly removed. Jeralth had seen this before, of course, but it had never happened at the hands of a single, previously unarmed, opponent. As Jeralth stood, pondering what his options were, the lights suddenly shut off. A moment later, the emergency lights flickered on, filling the room with a dull red glow. Instantly, he knew what to do. “She’s on the bridge. Lieutenant, you’re with me. You two, swing through engineering and cut her off. Whatever you do, do not let her escape. ” With that, Jeralt raced off towards the bridge, his lieutenant only a few steps behind him. He ran as he had never run before. His life depended on catching this lone human. He had never seen a Primarch with a bruised ego before, but it would be the last thing he would ever see if he failed. And Jeralth had no intentions of dying on a Telarim freighter, of all places. He rounded the last corner and burst onto the bridge, out of breath but with weapon drawn. It was completely empty. Nothing moved. Nothing made any noise. There was no trace that anything had been there since the bridge had been seized half an hour ago. It was just him and his frustrations. Jeralth swore. If he was lucky, they had flushed the human into the waiting arms of his other soldiers. He turned to order his lieutenant to follow him towards engineering, but stopped cold. His lieutenant was nowhere in sight. Jeralth pinged him on his coms. Nothing. He tried again, and was again greeted with nothing. He raised his weapon and stepped back out into the corridor, only to find himself completely alone. Slowly, Jeralth started to make his way back towards the mess hall, retracing the steps of his mad dash, looking for any signs of his lieutenant or the human. He reached the gore filled mess hall having found nothing. His scales started to itch again. What in the Suns was going on? Natalie knew that boarding actions were a primary concern in her line of work. And in any shipboard actions, close quarters engagements were the standard, rather than the exception. She also knew it was rather common among the other species of the galaxy for those engagements to devolve into hand(or whatever analogue they had)-to hand combat. But carrying swords? Fucking really? If it hadn’t been so effective, she would have been questioning it a little harder. As it was, she was just thankful that she had something that could effectively get through the armor those things were wearing. If she made it out of this alive, she’d have to make sure the tech guys back home got a look at it, figure out how it went through armor like butter. Maybe see if they could make some for the Corps. For now though, Nat needed to focus. She had barely had time to get the body of her most recent victim out of sight before his partner came back looking for him. It was too close of a call for her liking. The odds were still stacked against her and she only had the barest hints of a plan about getting into the armory. But, it was better than nothing. She quickly climbed back into the ductwork and shimmied off, looking for a new target. Jeralth stalked down the corridors of the freighter, turning and firing randomly into every room he passed. Plasma bolts scorched machinery and bulkheads alike, but there was still no sign of the human female. Jeralth had never felt such fury. He had barely been on this ship for an hour, and six of his elite commandos were dead. His life was most likely forfeit at this point, regardless of the outcome of his search. He vowed that he was going to make sure the human paid for what it had done to his soldiers first. Plasma continued to fly as Jeralth started on another circuit of the ship’s main areas. His one remaining commando was right behind him, covering every move he made. Jeralth new it was futile. None of his troops had found the human; they had all been found by her. But he couldn’t give up and simply let her win. Then, as he finished unloading another salvo of plasma into a random compartment and turned away from the room, he saw her. She was standing at the end of the corridor, blade in hand, staring at him. She said nothing, but her mere presence and the unblinking stare she shot him in the dim red light was an unmistakable challenge. Jeralth leveled his rifle and fired. The plasma splashed against the bulkhead after hitting nothing but air as the human ducked down another corridor. He bellowed and charged after her, turning the corner just in time to see her disappear down a hatch to a lower deck. Jeralth surged forward, reaching the hatch in an instant, and, foregoing the ladder entirely, jumped down the hatchway. Of the many mistakes he had made today, this would turn out to be his last. As Jeralth fell towards the deck below him he felt the tug of the artificial gravity change, and suddenly he found himself falling much faster than he had expected. He didn’t have time to adjust, and crashed into the deck with a sickening crack. Struggling to his feet in the higher gravity and with an injured leg, he had just enough time to look around for his quarry before the human was on him in a flash of steel. Jeralth had the curious and strangely mesmerizing experience of watching his right forearm separate from the rest of him. He would have continued to watch it fall towards the deck had a metal fist not smashed into his helmet’s vizor with enough force to shatter it and send him flying away. It took several long moments for Jeralth to recover his senses and be able to turn to face his assailant. By the time he did, he found that his lone remaining commando lay dead at the base of the ladder, and that the human was slowly walking over to him. He propped himself up as best he could to face her. Though, with the extra gravity of the deck and the pain from his injuries fully setting in, facing her with any composure would be quite difficult. As she reached him she squatted down to get a closer look at him, surveying her handiwork. Before she could say or do anything else to him, Jeralth choked out a question. “What.. What are you? ” The human frowned. “Did your bosses do any actual research on me before they sent you in here? ” Jeralth managed a quick “No” between gasping breaths. “If they had, you might have known this was coming. The answer was right there in my name for anyone to find. See, they only programed a handful of my species’ languages into these nifty little translators. The four big ones. But French didn’t make it in, so when someone with a translator hears my name, they hear the equivalent of the bastardized English pronunciation. Do you know what Boucher means in French? ” Another gasping “No. ” The monster bared her teeth at him, and brought the tip of her stolen and bloodstained blade to his throat. “It means ‘Butcher. ’ Now, you’re going to call your Primarchs, tell them you found me and that you’re herding me towards the cargo bay. And that all three of them should be there to catch me. If you want to get out of this alive, that is. ” The Primarch paced in front of the line of human captives, clearly anxious and with its last shreds of patience rapidly fading. It glared at the tiny aliens, flexing its massive arms, thick cords of muscle rippling beneath its blue-grey skin in anticipation of finally ripping them apart with its own claws. But uncertainty was once again starting to take hold in the back of the Raelethi’s mind. Something was wrong. It had been nearly 15 minutes since the Sub-commander had made contact, promising that the human was finally to be delivered. And that the Primarch would have the pleasure of catching her itself. But she should have been here by now, along with the last of the Grenval commandos. The Primarch had faced total humiliation at the hands of just one of these puny aliens. Now, that same, lone, unarmed, and weak alien had virtually annihilated an entire squad of one the Dominions best special forces units. None of this made sense. The Raelethi finally ran out of patience. It turned to it’s two Lessers to instruct them to go into the ship after the human. It would be a tight fit for them, squeezing through the corridors of a prey-species ship. But the Sub-commander had clearly failed, and drastic measures were in order. Then, with a deafening boom, the smallest Raelethi’s head exploded in a shower of grey gore and flashing needles. Natalie pumped a fresh round into the chamber of her shotgun and ducked behind the shipping container she was using for cover. She immediately took off running deeper into the cargo bay, zigging and zagging around crates as she ran. Nat was fairly certain that the Raelethi didn’t have any projectile weapons, but there was no point in being careless now. She had taken the time to suit up in her own combat armor, but after seeing what the alien sword had been doing to the alien's protection, she didn’t feel like testing her own armor’s resilience unless she absolutely had to. The sounds of the Raelethi tearing through the cargo bay in pursuit followed Natalie as she ran through the maze of shipping containers. All according to plan. Her primary goal had been to keep the Primarchs away from her squadmates. Once she had lost them in the cargo bay, she could double back and set them free. And finally have some damn backup. Nat turned a corner in a dead sprint, making sure she was out of sight, and vaulted upwards towards the edge of one of the massive cargo containers. Her jump easily gained enough height for her to catch the edge of the four meter high container and pull herself atop it. Nat swore she would never get tired of reduced gravity. Fading back into the shadows away from the edge of the container, she readied her shotgun and waited. The Primarch that had been following her hadn’t been as close as she thought it was, but it eventually tore into view, throwing crates aside as it ran and ripping deep gouges into everything around it with its claws. In it’s bloodlust, it had become a single-minded force of nature, focused solely on hunting and killing its insolent human quarry. But it never bothered to look up. As the Raelethi ran under her, Nat fired. The shotgun leapt in her hands as the 8 gauge round hurled 100 needle thin, solid osmium flechettes at her target. All three of the Primarchs, out of arrogance and the expectation of an easy meal, had decided that their ceremonial honor guard armor would be more than enough for this grand show of superiority. And didn’t bother to wear their helmets. The cloud of silver needles dove into the Raelethi, plunging through it’s unprotected head and deep into its torso. The Primarch collapsed to the deck without another sound, dead in an instant. Natalie wheeled and ran back the way she came, bounding across the top of the container maze. She wasn’t sure where the last Primarch had gone, but didn’t particularly feel like playing hide and seek all by herself. Her path led directly back to her squadmates; there wouldn’t be a better time than now to get them into the fight. She reached them in moments and jumped down to the deck where they had been presented to the Raelethi. They were still there, but their neat line had scattered as they crawled about the area, looking for some way to break their bonds. Before Natalie could help any of them, a deafening, deck shaking roar reached out from the container maze, followed immediately by the charging Primarch it had emanated from. It was the largest of the Primarchs, the one that had instigated this entire incident. The one that personally wanted to rip Natalie apart. And it was already entirely too close to her for comfort. Nat spun, leveled her shotgun, and fired in an instant. The shot connected, ripping through armor and spraying dark grey blood everywhere, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Primarch’s momentum. It bowled into her, sending both of them tumbling to the deck and rolling away as the shotgun flew from her hands. Her tumble stopped when she collided with a steel container, and before she could fully right herself, the Primarch was on her, swinging one of its massive arms at Natalie’s head. She had just enough time to raise her right arm to block it. Nat was slammed back shoulder first into the container with enough force to dent the steel. The Primarch bellowed in protest and swung again. Natalie blocked as best she could, and again the strike fell directly on her right arm. The mounting implants in her artificial shoulder blade and collarbone warped under the blow. The Primarch reached its limit. It was done trying to subdue and torture. It was going to kill her, and it was going to kill her now. The massive Raelethi leaned in, mouth agape, and bit down. Its enormous jaws closed on her arm, tearing through armor and shredding actuators and servos. Natalie and the Primarch locked eyes in that moment, and Nat saw realization dawn there through the fury. The Primarch tried to stand, jaws still clamped shut, and to tear the arm free, to be done with this farce. But it was too late; Nat saw her opening and took it. As the Primarch pulled back, it lifted her from where she was pinned. She reached across herself with her left hand, drew the stolen alien blade, and swung with everything she could muster while dangling from the Primarch’s mouth. The blade traced a line clean through the the Primarch’s abdomen, disemboweling it. The Raelethi stood for a moment, then pitched forward, spilling its guts onto the deck. For a long moment, the cargo deck was completely still. Natalie squirmed out from under the massive corpse. She slowly rose to her feet, covered in grey gore, and looked at her mauled right arm. It was hanging from her shoulder, completely limp, with random parts and bits of metal sticking out at odd angles, and not responding to any input whatsoever. She let out a long, resigned sigh. “Goddamnit. I JUST fixed this. ” With as much grace as she could manage, she hobbled towards her squad, stopping next to Gunnery Sergeant Nuatu. She quickly cut through the metal restraints binding his hands, then handed him the gore-soaked blade. “Here you go, Gunny. This will get everybody loose. You handle things from here. I’m fucking done for the day. ” Nuatu immediately freed his legs and set to work on the rest of the squad’s restraints while Nat made her way over to Ana. She was still where the Primarch had thrown her, though now she was sitting and lucid. Natalie flopped down on the deck next to her, completely exhausted. “You all right? ” Nat asked, as nonchalantly as she could. “Yup. Did you get all of them? ” “Yup. ” Ana flashed Nat a toothy smile. ”.
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Shout me loud.

Yell at meaning in urdu. Fb shout at me. R shout at me. I shout at me. Nf shout at me. Yt shout at me. Readiness condition: DefCon 7 Exercise term: WHITE NOISE Description: Lowest state of readiness within the Terran Union. No hostiles exist that threaten the current military capabilities of fleets or planets. Minimum armaments on all non-colonization fleets as per Unified Module Design (UMD). Dedicated military fleets (excluding capital weaponry) to be maintained at around 5% of total fleet capability, guarding crucial jump points in the Union. Military fleets are to maintain a 20% system redundancy, at 50% personnel capacity. Personnel up to full fleet capacity will be assigned. These additional personnel are to report to their assigned fleet sector in case of DefCon increase. Planetary defense installations are to maintain a 30% activation rate. Orbital defense installations are to maintain a 50% activation rate. For frontier colonies these become 50% and 80% respectively, assuming adequate military infrastructure is in place. Capital weaponry is to be maintained in a non-active state in pre-selected sectors. All personnel assigned to capital weaponry will be housed in said pre-selected sectors and fulfill civilian roles as described in the Economic Morality of Peacetime Capital Weaponry manual (EMPCW). - Excerpt from The Terran High Command Military Documents Collection =============================================== Treaty of Valhalla +20, 18:21, 29 hours Standard Terran Time. Rear Admiral Mid-Section Tatyana Lyudmilovna Voronina was rereading the list of targets she had been provided for the upcoming meeting. Although she looked relaxed, anyone watching closely could see an unmistakable predatory glee surrounding her. Ambassador Kch’athak of the Chitiiri Technocratic Union and Ambassador Olloooleeal al Ollooooluuuel of the Karkat people. The two xenos responsible for her presence upon a Diplomatic Corp cruiser heading towards a meeting that will decide humanities interaction with every xenos species for quite some time. She thought back at the absurdity of it all when she was told that she, a lifetime soldier, would be representing humanity here, today. Her thoughts were interrupted as the ship-wide intercom came to life: “Two minutes to arrival. All quarters, prepare for FTL-disengagement. ” Tatyana secured her documents into the wall-mounted socket and strapped herself to her seat. She glanced back and saw her second putting his reading glasses into a protective case. He caught her eye and asked with a smirk: “Learn anything new, or are you just trying to see if you can burn a whole in that paper with your stare? ” Ibrahim Bashir was a member of the External Branch of the Diplomatic Corp. He had been assigned as her liaison and second chair, a job he had performed admirably, sarcastically and admirably sarcastic these past few days. As he was a regular second chair during military panels and the like they'd met a few times before. She'd always much preferred him over some of his more... distinguished colleagues. “No and in a way, ” she replied “seeing as I was not provided with an actual picture or even a description of my opponents, a piece of paper with their names on it is the closest I’m going to get if I want to practice my death stare. Was there a reason why I was given no audiovisual material? ” Ibrahim chuckled. “Ma’am, with all due respect, if there is one thing about you that doesn’t need anymore practice it’s you death stare. ” She smiled as the voice on the intercom started counting down: “Exiting hyperspace in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1... ” The TSS Diplomati dropped out of hyperspace, shuddering randomly as it did. While not violent enough to hurt individuals on board, provided they strapped themselves in properly, it was enough cause most small objects to take up skydiving as a hobby. Outside a massive space station hovered silently in the void. A giant metal icosahedron that formed the beating heart of the Federation. Ibrahim unbuckled and walked over to the other side of the room, where the windows where. “There she is: the Conclave. Impressive feat of construction, don’t you think? Tatyana looked at the angular black monstrosity floating through space and wondered how many preschoolers it would have taken to design the thing. It looked like someone had a bunch of leftover triangles, glued them together and threw the results into space. “Yes, very impressive piece of architecture, ” she lied. “You also haven’t answered my question yet. ” Ibrahim grinned at her and replied: “Ow there’s a very good reason you’ve not been shown any pictures or video’s. I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out yet. ” Tatyana raised an eyebrow in anticipation. “Being that you’re a Rear Admiral Mid-Section and I’m just a humble Special Attaché whose pay grade is far too low for these kinds of questions. ” He was probably lying although she couldn’t exactly call him out on it. It was an open secret among the upper ranks of the Terran military that Special Attachés had a direct line to the Judicial Branch. They were usually assigned to diplomats who ran the risk of going off-road. Not that she would ever do that of course. The ship-wide intercom once more came to life: “Attention all passengers and crew, we have just dropped out of hyperspace outside Conclave station. We will be in orbit for the next 36 hours. Those with authorized leave requests, report to docking bays 11 to 15. Those without authorized leave, please report to your assigned cargo holds to receive adequate past-time recreational activities. Ambassadors, your shuttle has been prepared. At your earliest convenience, please report to docking bay 7. ” Ibrahim collected his possessions and said: “I’m gonna go ahead and prepare the shuttle. It will be done in about ten minutes. ” Tatyana gave him a nod of approval and he started to make his way to docking bay 7. Looking out over the Conclave, Tatyana let her mind wander for a bit. =================================================================================================== First draft of a new entry into the Online Xenos Encyclopedia of Terra [U]niversal Translation Sphere V1. 0 WIP etc. The universal Translation Sphere (UTS) is one of the most remarkable pieces of technology ever seen. It consists of a metallic sphere the size of a basketball with a number of smaller spheres the size of baseballs hovering around it. The number of smaller spheres varies depending on the number of individuals that are being translated. These spheres will hover near individuals that are in need of a translation. This seems to happen automatically. Initial observations seems to suggest that the smaller spheres act as the microphones and speakers, while the bigger one does the translating. Unfortunately, there is as of yet no way of studying the inner workings of the UTS. The sole proprietors of this wondrous piece of technology are the Haltheon, who currently (preside over? Are presidents of? Rule? ) the Interstellar Federation. Any attempts to obtain a UTS will be blocked by them and would in all likelihood bring the wrath of the Federation down upon the dumb s o b that tries. The UTS is crucial to the proper functioning of the Federation. As the name implies it acts as a translation device. However, to call it a mere translation device would be bad or something, think of good words tomorrow. Rather than just translate the meaning of words that are spoken, the UTS actually analyses what is spoken as well as the context in which it is spoken. In addition, the Sphere can also pick up on slang, idioms and common sayings and translate them into a cultural equivalent for the listener while still keeping the messages original structure and content. The amount of computing power this would require goes far beyond what should be able to This reads like a seduction attempt rewrite. Also sports balls are not an objective unit of measurement. Note to self: further investigate the rumors that a sudden spike in volume don’t immediately get corrected properly a. k. a talking normally and then shouting would cause the shout to be volume boosted to 11. How does this thing translate crosscultural jokes, but can’t auto mute some shouting douche? Ask DipCorp Alice about this. =================================================================================================== Treaty of Valhalla +20, 18:25, 47 hours Standard Terran Time. It was only slightly over three years ago, Tatyana mused, that the first signs of non-human intelligent life were detected. Sapient she heard the voice of her grandfather shout in the back of her mind. She smiled and thought of how he would react to all this mess. Ok, old man. It was slightly over three years ago that the first signs non-human sapient life were detected by one of the newer colonies the Terran Union had established, a far off ice world appropriately named Valhalla. The following year was a flurry of construction, expansion and preparation. Specialists from all fields of study were dispatched to Valhalla. Of course, when it turned out to be one of the worst case scenarios, the Xenos were hostile and part of an alliance with other Xenos, high command was about ready to enact doomsday protocols. Thankfully, all those months of preparation hadn’t been in vain and swift action allowed the human Diplomatic Corps to convince the other Xenos to stay at the sidelines, though apparently that hadn’t been all that difficult (their words). “More of an economic bloc than a single political entity, ” was Aboiye’s description. Fucking Michael Aboiye. Who would have thought that Micky the Obo would guide us through our first Xenos war. Tatyana closed her eyes and thought back to the moment the Terran Union ended the war. And boy did we end it. The first war with an Xenos race and the first ever use of an Exterminatus fleet. A single sustained bombardment on Ak Garmarth, capital of the planet Garmarth, fourth most populous planet in the Marth Dominion. Hundreds of thousands of specialized canisters filled with a mix of liquid flame and some chemical or another she never bothered to learn the name of. A chain reaction, splitting water molecules in the air into their constituent parts. Hydrogen and oxygen. And fire. The bombs would be more effective the higher the humidity, she’d been told. Garmarth looked like the Amazonas if they were a planet. The resulting inferno shone as bright as the sun. Within 4 km2 nothing survived. 37 million died in less than two hours, including most of the planets political elite. The Dominion offered unconditional surrender not an hour after and humanity got a seat at the intergalactic table. Hell of a first contact. =================================================================================================== Excerpt of the transcript of an interview with a potential candidate for assignment 651-18. *CONFIDENTIAL*............................................................................................................................................ *CONFIDENTIAL*............................................................................. This document is EYES ONLY................................................................................................................................................................... Glory to Humanity......................................................................................... Assignment 651-18 Interviewee: Rear Admiral Mid-Section Tatyana Lyudmilovna Voronina Interviewer: Richard Basely, Diplomatic Corp - Assignment Verification Branch Also present: - Ambassador Eva Molina, Diplomatic Corp - Special Attaché Ibrahim Bashir, Diplomatic Corp - External Branch - Admiral Algernon Beaumont - Justiciar Prakoso, Central Terran Intelligence Chamber – Judicial Branch. Richard: Welcome everyone. This is the interview with Rear Admiral Mid-Section Tatyana Lyudmilovna is currently being considered for diplomatic mission 651-18, details of which have been withheld on a need to know basis. Uhm, if everyone could identify themselves quickly, just names, ranks, relevant branches… I am Richard Basely, Assignment Verification branch of the Diplomatic Corp. Tatyana: I am Rear Admiral Mid-section Tatyana Lyudmilovna Voronina, Terran Navy. Eva: I’m Eva Molina, Ambassador with the Diplomatic Corp. Ibrahim: Ibrahim Bashir, Special Attaché, DipCorp External Branch. Algernon: Admiral Agernon Beaumont, Terran Navy. Prakoso: Judiciar Prakoso, Judicial branch. Richard: Quite an illustrious gathering, if I do say so. Uh, the way this usually works, we just call someone by their first names when addressing them in the interest of expediency, is that alright with everyone? [All attendees are in agreement] Richard: Fantastic. Uhm, Tatyana, I would first like to go over your file for a bit. RAMC Voronina, currently in command of the Rapid Response Force “Molniya”. Enlisted immediately after graduating Arkhangelsk Naval Academy at 23. Displayed natural leadership qualities and exemplary discipline under pressure. Was assigned to Rapid Response Force “Molniya”, under then Rear Admiral Low-Section Mikhail Ivanovich Fyodorov at age 24. Stayed with Task Force “Molniya” in spite of numerous offers and promotions for twenty years, going so far as to take command after Fyodorov’s retirement three years ago. Why were you so intent on staying with a Rapid Response Force, while you could have gotten a higher rank, increased benefits, more prestige elsewhere? Tatyana: [laughing] With all due respect, if I wanted prestige and benefits I would have enlisted in the Terran Honor Guard, done the bare minimum service term, then retired at 35, spending the rest of my life basking in luxury in one of the upper spires. Ibrahim, Richard and Eva: [Laughing] Prakoso: [cough] Richard: Well, I suppose when you put it like that, but I’m still curious as to why- Tatyana: Sir, if I may speak freely for a moment. Richard: Uh, yeah, uhm, of course, feel free to speak freely at any time, this is a freely speaking zone after all. [laughing] Tatyana: I am puzzled as to why I am here. As you just summarized I have been in the Navy my entire life. I am not, nor will I ever be, a diplomat. Although I don’t know the precise details of this assignment, it stands to reason that it would require a… delicate touch. Ibrahim: Sir, if I may? Richard: Yes, go ahead. Ibrahim: Tatyana, you were present at the orbital bombardment of Ak Garmarth. You were also part of the post-war Ethics Inquiry. In your opinion, how would you place the events of that day in the wider context of the war. [pause] Tatyana: I, uh, that is, what happened on Ak Garmarth… [pause] Tatyana: What I saw on that footage was the single most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I have been through every live-fire exercise the Terran Navy has to offer. If their was footage of a war on our history, I have seen it. Nothing you can imagine could ever come close to what I saw in that footage. If you ever have a chance to review it do not do so, unless you have no say in the matter. Outside of the Ethics Board that footage holds no value to anyone. [pause] Having said that, I consider what happened an absolute necessity. Ibrahim: How so? We were winning the war. It just seemed like pointless cruelty. Tatyana: Yes, we were winning the war, but this wasn’t just about the war. We needed to show to every member of the Federation what would happen should they decide to act against the Terran Union. We needed to burn into their very souls the cost of going against us. You’ve read the XIC report. Unless we ended the war with overwhelming brutality and violence, unless we showed them exactly how far we were willing to go to protect ourselves, they would not have understood how different humanity was from every other race in the Federation. Ibrahim: And that is why you are here. Tatyana: I don’t.. follow. Ibrahim: Ambassador? Eva: She’s your pick. You have the honors. Richard: Uhm, at this point documents containing information considered “classified” will be discussed. For anyone without the proper clearance the, uh, recording will end here. End of recording. =============================================== Treaty of Valhalla +16, 05:13, 31 hours Standard Terran Time. Wolfgang Kaiser walked into the room. He was still wearing his regular work outfit, a charcoal grey three piece suit, which for every other person would function as formal, but to him felt far too casual for meetings like this. This wardrobe crisis did nothing to aid his mood, which was already soured by the rushed nature of this meeting, worsened still by the fact that he had committed a capital sin: he was late. He looked around, noting the few handful of notable individuals among the thirty-odd people present. He sat down at the large round table that dominated the room, followed quickly by the rest of those present. The space itself was drab and functional, with only a few plants in various corners offering much in the way of color. “My apologies for being slightly later than planned, we had some last minute intel coming in, as per usual. Seeing as we are on a tight schedule and already behind it, I suggest we skip formalities and get straight to business. ” Murmurs of agreement arose around the room. “Because of the impromptu nature of this meeting we were unable to secure nametags or signs or the like. If you happen to find yourself speaking, state you name and position so everyone knows who they need to stop ignoring. Case in point: Wolfgang Kaiser, Senior Supervisor of the Xenos Behavioural Unit, sub-branch of the Xenos Intelligence Chamber. As the highest in rank I will also be acting as the chairman of this meeting. So, let’s get to it: DipCorp, why are we here? He looked towards on section of the table where an Asian woman in her late fifties with short, cropped hear wearing a long-skirted diplomats uniform stood up. “Zhao Liu, Ambassador at Large, Conclave station. Approximately sixteen hours ago the combined diplomatic forces of the Chitiiri and Karkat have petitioned the Conclave to hold an expedient inquiry into humanity, specifying our continued refusal to publicly identify our so-called ‘warrior class’. In spite of our best efforts their Federation seniority combined with general fear towards humanity meant the request was quickly pushed through. The inquiry is scheduled four days from now at 19:10, 00 STT. ” Wolfgang rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Fantastic. So the purpose of this short session will be to determine the goal of this inquiry? What are the rats and the bugs planning and why? ” “Not quite. Briefly summarized: the Chitiiri Technocratic Union, the Karkat people and the Marth Dominion have had a three-way cold war going on for about a century now. With our overwhelming victory over the Marth, on the back of which we negotiated our entry into the Federation, the fear of the Chitiiri and Karkat is that we will continue to expand our influence over the rest of the Federation members. So far they are the only ones to have openly expressed this sentiment, but similar thoughts are going around within the diplomatic castes of the other species. It is no great leap in logic to suggest they seek our immediate expulsion from the Federation. Additionally, given the result of the war they may also seek some form of military supervision over humanity as ‘safeguard against hostilities’ or something of that description. ” Wolfgang sighed. “So your typical ‘we are scared so we don’t want you in our club house’-response. Since we already know this, why hasn’t the Diplomatic Corp selected an ambassador to fix this then? ” He leaned backwards and stared intently at Ambassador Zhao. She almost cracked a smile. He always had a fondness for theatrics. “As you know, Senior Analyst Kaiser, for a while now the Diplomatic Corp and Xenos Intelligence Chamber have collaborated on research into the natural prey response found in the various species within the Federation. This research, combined with their remarkable societal structuring, has created several highly exploitable diplomatic avenues. We at the Diplomatic Corp believe that now is the time to utilize as many of these avenues as possible. This ‘inquiry’ is nothing less than a diplomatic act of war. They wish to isolate humanity from the galactic stage, out of base fear and ignorance, and that will not stand. ” “Like the war with the Marth, we did not start this and we have given them ample space to negotiate. Like the war with the Marth, our opponents feel they are superior to us and have refused. And thus, like the war with the Marth, we feel there is but one way to end this: with overwhelming force and aggression, to break the will of those that would stand against us and force them into submission. ” “We have gathered you here today to discuss a joint training program, utilizing the combined resources of the Diplomatic Corp and the XIC, to create, within four days, the diplomatic equivalent of an Exterminatus fleet. ” =============================================== Selection of decrypted e-mails from the Xenos Intelligence Chamber’s servers regarding predator/prey responses in the Xenos species encountered. Sender: Charlie Cox To: Robin Molenaar Subject: Orders from THE MAN Sup nerd, Attachment for you’s perusiality. Upper command has suggested that, given the Xenos vastly different evolutionary path (check XIC doc “on the evolutionary differences, with regards to home world suitability for nurturing life” if you haven’t done so (which you deffo should have), their response to predacious stimuli should in theory be vastly and more amplified then ours. They’ve posited that, since in their evolutions they didn’t have the uphill battle that we had (humans are metal confirmed) they’ll have a significantly lower benchmark for labeling something “a threat”. Like, for them a wasp is an agent of satan (I mean they are, but that’s beside the point), while we don’t get out of bed for less than a hive. Ok, maybe not the best example but you get what I mean. What they want from us: draw up a preliminary report detailing the various stress-responses typically seen in predators and prey here on earth. Rough outline, so don’t go deepdiving into the archives just yet. We’ll meet tomorrow for coffee yeah? Charles the weiner _________________________________ Totally our homework and not a troyan dot Sender: Robin Molenaar To: Charlie Cox Cc: Yael Uzerli Subject: Preliminary finding re: prey response found in Federation xenos by Diplomatic Corp stationed at the Conclave Dear colleagues, before we begin: I’ve added Yael to this chain. She has previous experience mapping behavioral patterns in isolated prey animals and, given the initial findings we shall discuss, command felt she would be a valuable addition to the team. On to today’s topic: initial anecdotal testing seems to support the theory that the xenos have a heightened fight-or-flight response compared to humans. Ordinary interaction that involve “predatory behavior”, i. e. speaking with a noticeable growl, showing teeth, prolonged eye contact etc. all provoke a noticeable response from every single species present with the exception of the Haltheon, who’s nature appears vastly different than all the species including humanity. They will be excluded from any further research in this field. See attachment for the full report. To properly introduce ourselves I suggest we have lunch sometime this week. I would suggest this Wednesday, but if you have other suggestions do let us know. Kindest regards, Robin Molenaar _________________________________ Initial findings of the diplomatic Corp with regards to prey response of xenos present on the Sender: Yeal Uzerli To: Robin Molenaar, Charlie Cox Subject: Some more videos to help categorize specific species behavior Hey gang, Some more video’s from the DipCorp people on the Conclave. This time we got the Findolein (the goat people), Karkat (hedgehog dungbeetles right? ) and some more Chitiiri (steampunk rats). Same deal as before? Three says of viewing, then link up and compare notes? - Yael _________________________________ Findolein stress response Karkat stress response Chitiiri stress response Sender: Charlie Cox To: Robin Molenaar G, Yeal Uzerli Subject: re:Some more videos to help categorize specific species behavior Ok, is it just me or do some of these goat people look kinda hot? I mean not that I wanna go for it or anything, just as a subjective observation. _________________________________ Sender: Robin Molenaar To: Yeal Uzerli, Charlie Cox Subject: re:re:Some more videos to help categorize specific species behavior I understand that with a last name like yours, being led by one’s genitals is a natural instinct. Be that as it may, I would suggest not openly admitting to affection for Xenos species, lest your credentials be reviewed by some individuals of significant extra-legal influence. Having said that: I do admit to finding some of them aesthetically pleasing. Humanity’s ability to find specific “human” characteristics in other species never ceases to amaze me. - Robin Molenaar _________________________________ Sender: Yeal Uzerli To: Robin Molenaar, Charlie Subject: re:re:re:Some more videos to help categorize specific species behavior I have no idea what you mean. Attached are totally not some lewds by some very talented artists. I would never do that. - Yael _________________________________ No Findolein The goat and the Totally not a modern Whatever floats your Sender: Robin Molenaar To: Yeal Uzerli, Charlie Cox, Sidney Houston Subject: Addition to the team Greetings colleagues, This is a notification of a new member joining the team. Sidney is part of the Diplomatic Corp. Since we are moving into strategy formulation based on our research, most teams will be joined by a member of the DC. Good to have you Sidney. - Robin Molenaar _________________________________ Sender: Charlie Cox To: Yeal Uzerli, Sidney Houston, Robin Molenaar Subject: re:Addition to the team Sup Sid, good of you to hitch a ride on the crazy train. Never a dull moment! So: emu or eagle? Charles III, esq. _________________________________ Sender: Yeal Uzerli To: Charlie Cox, Sidney Houston, Robin Molenaar Subject: re:re:Addition to the team Hey Sidney, Nice to have you here. I was wondering how we we’re going to be formulating strategies with some people here apparently failing to outgrow puberty. More importantly though: emu or eagle? Greetings, Yael _________________________________ Sender: Sidney Houston To: Yeal Uzerli, Charlie Cox, Robin Molenaar Subject: re:re:Addition to the team Hey all, thanks for having me. I’ll be working with you to formulate active social strategies to exploit the various vulnerabilities you’ve categorized. First off: fantastic work. Just knowing what the tells are makes all the difference in the world during negotiations. I’ll be looking forward to working with you. I’ve included a doc on general social strategies used by us during aggressive negotiations. I don’t expect you to memorize it or anything, just give it once over so you know what we’ll be working towards. Sincerely, Sidney P. s. Kiwi actually. I’m pretty sure my parents were high on meth when they signed my birth certificate. _________________________________ General strategies during hostile =============================================== Treaty of Valhalla +16, 19:10, 31 hours Standard Terran Time. Upon entering the great auditorium, the first thing that struck Tatyana was its deliberate design. The description she’d read didn’t do it justice. A flat circular floor surrounded by concentric circles, increasing in height with each ring. Each circle had seats for delegates of various species, with specific sections tailored to fit any one species’ particular physiological needs. All envoys present would be looking down upon the poor delegation standing in that center circle, who were no doubt feeling very small and wishing they had in fact chosen the cold hard vacuum of space over this meeting. So naturally, when Tatyana passed through the doors leading into the auditorium, she confidently strode into the exact middle of the room closely followed by Ibrahim. As they came into view every envoy present suddenly took a quick breath, which lead to sounds ranging from drowning puppies to cocaine rats to cement mixers turned up to eleven. The Xenos envoys tried to maintain proper decorum, but the collective tendency was to lean as far away from the creatures standing, mercifully, on the lowest level. In this particular instance, rather than making the beings standing in the center feel small and insignificant, the room seemed designed to make the envoys sitting high up and far away feel just a bit safer. Soon however, the Chitiiri and Karkat managed to organize a joint Xenos booing of the humans delegation. The different delegations were seated as she’d been told, with the lone Haltheon directly on the opposite end of where Tatyana and Ibrahim entered, at twelve o’clock. At eleven o’clock sat the Chitiiri who had indeed packed their section to the brim, creating the feeling of a legion of sports hooligans if those sports hooligans resembled Skaven having joined the Adeptus Mechanicus. Ambassador Kch’atchak sat in the center of the first row, proudly flying the Chitiiri diplomatic flag. Bless their hearts, they really are going all out. The Karkat were seated at three o’clock, also packing quite a delegation but not as many as the Chitiiri. Or as rowdy for that matter. Ambassador Olloooleeal al Ollooooluuuel also sat in the center of the first row, also proudly flying their diplomatic colors. I’ll almost feel bad crushing their spirits. Tatyana spent a few moments observing the Marth delegation. They numbered just three and really did seem like they had preferred the airlock rather than this meeting. Looking at them, she felt really only pity. Although the war they started caused a lot of human casualties, these paled in comparison to what they’d suffered. She remembered various wars on earth, where armchair generals sent millions to their death in pointless conflicts. At least this time, the ones responsible had gotten their just desserts. Now to make sure none of these other sniveling xenos bureaucrats try and do a repeat. The rest of the delegations also sat in their assigned section, although most had brought no more than a few dozen delegates. The Thorians and Pleocykwa had, as predicted, not sent anyone. As they were standing at the center of the room a small translator sphere began silently hovering near Tatyana and Ibrahim. Tatyana tried to decipher some of what the Chitiiri and Karkat were shouting, but even the Haltheon’s vaunted translation sphere couldn’t deal with the cacophony of sounds filling the room. All she heard was cocaine rats screeching something about “integrity”, supported by the sounds of, what, beached whales with cement lungs? She looked around and found the source of this sound was the Karkat delegation. It sounded like someone rubbing two pieces of concrete together and adding a bunch of bass effects in post. Tatyana’s respect for the diplomatic corps doubled when she was forced to listen to it for a length of time. She wondered if not allowing her to hear this beforehand was some sort of Diplomatic Corp hazing. As soon as the translator sphere had properly aligned itself with human envoys, the melodic voice of the Haltheon presiding over this meeting began to reverberate around the room: “We are honored to once again preside over a meeting of equals, here in this great Federation. We would like take this moment to welcome the newest member of this league of species: Humanity. ” Ok, showtime. Various reactions ranging from quiet disapproval to outright disgust arose from the various Xenos envoys, with the exception of the Marth, who just seemed to want to disappear, and the Findolein, who just seemed rather amused by the whole affair. “We, Haltheon, will be presiding over this inquiry, requested by the honorable envoys of the Karkat and Chitiiri. I will now give the floor to envoy Kch’athak, speaker on behalf of the Chitiiri Technocratic Union, who will explain their reasoning for requesting this inquiry. Speaker Kch’atchak also speaks on behalf of Envoy Olloooleeal al Ollooooluuuel of the Karkat. ” Envoy Kch’atchak rose to his paws and started speaking: “It has been less than two Standard Federation Cycles since the nightmarish attack on Ak Garmarth, a horrifying act that still has our people terrified from its brutality. In the history of our Federation, no single species has ever dared commit and act of such a reprehensive nature. We therefore saw it as the first priority of the Federation to ensure the humans align with our customs and laws, the number one law being the immediate and open identification of their warrior class, be it societal caste or client race. To date they have refused any and all such requests! How are we expected to allow them to walk around when we can’t even tell is one of them is a warrior? ” Loud noises of support filled the auditorium. The Karkat were particularly noisy, no surprise since they co-funded this circus. She acted suitably humbled by the words and sounds around her, all the while keeping a sharp eye on ambassador Kch’athak. She caught it immediately: the change in his breathing, the shift in posture. Here we go. Go ahead. Drop your little firecracker. “We would therefore, honorable envoys, like to use this inquiry to establish why exactly humanity has failed in its obligations to the Federation. If the humans once again fail to identify their warriors in the interest of public safety, or if their reasons for not complying sooner are unsatisfactory, The Chitiiri Technocratic Union and the honorable people of the Kartkat will put forward a motion to revoke humanities admission to the Federation, and to place them under strict military supervision by the combined forces of the Federation to safeguard the integrity and the continued existence of this great league of species. ” At this the auditorium erupted in a hurricane of sounds. Cries of support were thrown around again, once more dominated by the cement whales. The Marth for their part were shocked out of silent dread into full-blown panic mode. The Findolein shouted what Tatyana guessed was a flurry of racially motivated slurs at both the Chitiiri and Karkat, judging by the few snippets of words she could make out. Shame, some new curse words would have been nice. The noise was deafening and showed no signs of slowing down. Ambassador Kch’athak looked at Tatyana with what she assumed was the techno-rat version of smug condescension. But instead of the cowed and scared human he had expected, he saw something else entirely. There, in the center of this maelstrom of profanity being hurled around she stood. Smiling. A simple, genuine smile, aimed straight at Kch’athak. He saw this strange creature, with it’s face flaps curled up and seemingly wholly relaxed. It felt like he was staring in the eyes of a great beast, ready to pounce and rip his throat out. He shivered as a thought crept up, along his spine, firmly lodging itself in his mind: had he just made a terrible mistake? Tatyana caught his shiver and recognized that look in his eyes. She’d seen it a thousand times in her decades as a soldier. She slowly widened her smile, revealing her teeth. Yes, little mouse, you did just make a mistake. It is bad. And it is going to get. A. Whole. Lot. Worse. Glory to Humanity. ============================================== Readiness condition: Defcon 6 Exercise term: FADE IN Description: Increased readiness, indicating a possible, but as of yet unconfirmed, threat to the Terran Union. Defcon increase requires 50% support from Central Military Threat Assessment Committee (CeMTAC), Central Military Command (CMC) senior leadership as well as the United Terran Parliament (UTP). Intermediate stage between peacetime mobilization and escalation to war economy. Conversion of governmental civilian to military vessels to start, in accordance with the assessments made by CemTAC. Rapid Response Fleets (RRF) to be stationed at every major jump point connected to the region a hostile force is threatening. All military personnel currently assigned to military fleets are to maintain draft-readiness if so ordered. Systems where combat is occurring or expected to occur may draft soldiers as needed up to fleet capacity and request the resources to increase system redundancy across fleets and defensive installations, pending approval from CeMTAC. Planetary defense installations are to maintain a 50% activation rate. Orbital defense installations are to maintain a 70% activation rate. For locations where combat is expected to occur these become 70% and 90% respectively, assuming adequate military infrastructure. The following capital weapons are to be activated, pending unanimous support from CeMTAC, CMC senior leadership as well as the Military Ethics Board (MEB): Super heavy Carrier Groups (designated as HCV) and Dreadnoughts (designated DBB). If hostile landings have occurred or are occurring, fallout shelters are to be opened and evacuation protocols are to be put in place. Planetary Defense Forces are to be activated on such planets. Suspension of civilian code of law in effect, to be replaced with the Conduct under Martial Law (CML). - Excerpt from The Terran High Command Military Documents Collection ===============================================.

Art from same CN auther, didn't find the artist, and circulate in CN webpages. Tell me if copyright infringement Warning, the article below contains personal opinion, contains guessing, contains in-game evidence, cotains real life story, and contains spoilers. May change your impression of this game. Operator in-game arts are from GamePress Wiki, Texts are from early version Wiki that may have some translation issue. Memes and images come from CN webpages, and widely circulated. If suspected of infringement please notice me. Most of the research prototypes came from a CN author, and I did translate and proved them by seaching things on EN wiki. CN author --- AshuraSJ. His article in chinese: So far we have done the textual researchs about DeepColor and BluePoison, this time we keep going, do researchs about the new 6* waifu in Abyssal Hunter. This time I got some difficult problems, the original article, operator profile and audio seem to be full of poetry, I will try to translate them. Discuss below how to translate better. And I found some Skadi memes and jokes, I will share and explain. Bold part in the article are the important clues, may be helpful for understanding the story. Italics part is the text from GamePress Wiki, Profile and operator voice. Spoiler part is the related stories found in real life, personally think its interesting. For some profile and audio I made some personal translation for reference since I feel something wrong with official TL. This time we talk Skadi ------ Joke for FGO players: Sorry wrong one (purposely) This time we talk about Skadi, a mysterious operator in every sense. S ·· skadig··shovel··Weight10t··kiss apologize ·· kadi. Skadi and Skaði The operator's name Skadi is from the winter goddess Skadi/Skaði in Norse mythology. Skaði loves winter and snow, likes forests and hunting, So regarded as the god of winter and hunting. The setting of the her Bounty Hunter identity was from here. Well, in fact, it's not incomprehensible that dokutahs are so keen on making jokes about Skadi, because her prototype has a certain comedic color in Nordic mythology. (In CN, she is in the third place of getting "persecution" (they say persecution mean "make memes, make jokes, make doujins), first is "Donkeya/Amikey", second is " Rich Crying Jessica"). Comedy of Skaði: In chapter 56 of the Prose Edda book, recounts to Ægir how the gods killed Þjazi, and Skaði---Þjazi's daughter, took a helmet, a coat of mail, and "all weapons of war" and traveled to Asgard, the home of the gods. Upon Skaði's arrival, the gods wished to atone for her loss and offered compensation. Skaði provides them with her terms of settlement, and the gods agree that Skaði may choose a husband from among themselves. However, Skaði must choose this husband by looking solely at their feet. Skaði saw a pair of feet that she found particularly attractive and said "I choose that one; there can be little that is ugly about Baldr (The god of light, spring and joy, is probably the most handsome in Nordic mythology). " However, the owner of the feet turned out to be Njörðr (The god of summer and the sea, in charge of summer, sea, storm, fishing and wealth. ). He standing in the sea all the year round, so his feet were washed completely clean by the sea... unlucky Skaði... Skaði also included in her terms of settlement that the gods must do something she thought impossible for them to do: make her laugh. To do so, Loki tied one end of a cord around the beard of a nanny goat and the other end around his testicles. The goat and Loki drew one another back and forth, both squealing loudly. Loki dropped into Skaði's lap, and Skaði laughed, completing this part of her atonement. For more specific stories, please check the Skaði wiki: It is worth mentioning that she later had a perfect marriage, which is related to the final conclusion And now we look Skadi's shoes, she is wearing a pair of wide leather boots. This could be from Skaði (She is also called Öndurgud/Snowshoe Goddess) Her shoes More about her place of birth, Skadi born in "Ægir", in English "Aegir", in Old Norse mean "sea", also the name of Ocean god in Norse mythology. And Specter, who also born in Ægir Lesbian, Wet, Skadi, Specter, Nude Prototype As you can see in Skadi E2 art, her animal prototype is Orca (Killer whale) Skadi E2 art Orca Orca, also called Killer whale (Scientific name Orcinus orca), is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family (yes dolphin, not whale), of which it is the largest member. Its length is between 5-8m and its weight is about 4-6t. Killer whales are fierce and often prey on animals such as penguins, seals, sea lions, sharks (even great white sharks), and sometimes they attack other whales (such as the largest whale blue whale), you can call them Sea Overlords. Art Design Skadi's operator design contains lots elements related to Orca: Skadi's pants have two bare cuts inside the thighs, combine to the skinny black leggings and bare skin, it can be determined that this design originated from the fusiform white spots behind the eyes of the killer whale. Design of pants Skadi selfie(? ), see the white spots behind the eyes Skadi's hat shape is derived from the characteristics of the killer whale back, it approximates to looking at the dorsal fin from a left angle and raised side fins: E1 hat, like a killer whale jumping out of the water E2 hat Killer whale jumps out Personal Profile [Place of Birth]: Ægir [Race]: Unknown [Height]: 166cm Oripathy Status: Non-infected as confirmed by medical report. (Basic File) Unlike most Operators who wear heavy armor to protect themselves, Skadi relies only on her sword and her strength *. * (Personal translation: Unlike most Operators who wear heavy armor to protect themselves, Skadi was able to fight against most enemies with the sword blocking and her body physical strength. ) (In Archive File 2) Here is a funny thing, in CN and JP ver, there is an attribute "[ Body Weight]: ██kg" for Skadi, and only for Skadi ( other operators don't have), I don't know if our wiki didn't cover it or they didn't put it into global ver. Weight and mosaic, presumably girl's reserved? Fight with body physical strength... She is Non-infected and done everything with physical violence... Forgive me for laughing... Someone guessing she is 10T weight. The engineering staff have tried to reverse-engineer her sword but all efforts have failed. The materials used to forge the sword are ordinary, but the craftsmanship is impossible to explain. Some Operators from remote areas have seen similar weapons (CN ver has: when they doing trade contacts), but are not aware of the source. (In Archive File 2) Mentioning remoteness and trade, associate "Kjerag" (Silverash), but no detailed evidences. Have a bigger thing than SA (I mean, Sword) Curiosity killed the Orca (cat) Who knows what lurks within the kelp forest? (In Battle 1) Killer whale is a very intelligent animal, very curious about everything. Killer whales like to hook seaweed in the shallow waters of the bay with the notch on their tail, makes translucent seaweed entangled with themselves. But sometimes trapped by the ship's cable because of that... Sword action (Why she called Skadig) [Skadi wields a giant sword that splits armor, cleaves enemies in two, and busts through barriers. Her face is distorted and intimidating as she rampages through the battlefield in a bloody dance. It is as though she is fighting more than just the enemy in front of her *. ]* ( Personal translation: [Skadi exaggeratedly wields a giant sword that splits armor, cleaves enemies, broke fortress; Her posture was twisted and wild, seems dancing exotic dances on the battleground, as if the operator Skadi was not trying to defeat the enemy in front of him, but fighting some distant and huge existence. ]) All reports like this are rejected, as such poetic embellishment is not appropriate for an official report. (Archive File 3) The killer whale has a strong triangular dorsal fin towering from the center of the back, Up to 1. 8m tall. It has the role of a rudder, and also an offensive weapon for killer whale. With sharks, orcas may herd sharks to the surface, then orcas rotate its body and stick their tail out of the water, and use tail to slap sharks with a powerful slap to make the shark lose consciousness. The whole process looks like a strange dance. Cthulhu Here According to legend, my people (Ethnic) have fought against the calamities(huge thing) for aeons *. Perhaps we* kept them from making landfall and terrorizing you city folk as well... So, how about buying me a drink, as a thank you? (as a thank to me? ) (Talk after Trust Increase 2) I can't explain, The Unnamable. Her social (Kiss apologize here) In fact, killer whales like social life, they travel together, eat, and use populations as social organizations, growing up with each other to survive, is a highly socialization animal. Some of their complex social behavior, hunting skills, and even voice communication are considered evidence of killer whales having their own culture. They always spends 2-3 hours quietly on the surface of the water every day, floats safely on the sea, exposing huge dorsal fins. Members maintain a gentle and friendly attitude towards each other, and even if there is a dispute between peers, they can quickly reconcile, and they will apologize and reconcile by kissing the tongue of each other. (Japan research) Lets imagine this: Skadi: Apologize! Dokutah: Sorry. Skadi: No sincerity! Dokutah: Then I kneel...? Skadi: Don't you know how to apologize? Dokutah: What should I do...? Skadi: Isn't it common sense to kissing for apologize?? Dokutah:?!?! Damn I want it Hair My hair is long and beautiful *? Well, thank you... * Would you like to touch it *? It should be* quite soft *. I'm* confident of that. (Talk 2) I want it Friendly to Humanity Oh you, how are you so tenacious? Then I suppose I have no choice but to defend you with all my might *. (Talk after Promotion 1)* The orca has a scary name " killer whale ", but in fact they are friendly to Human. The source of this name is a captive orca 'Tilikum' in American Oceanarium killed 3 people; but it is because he watched his mother killed by humans when he was young, then was sold to the aquarium and subjected to 30 years of brutal training. The other reportes about hurting ppl later also happened in places such as zoos and aquariums. Like other dolphins, orca have always maintained a more friendly attitude towards humans. They never attack humans in the wild. Generally, they will avoid when they encounter humans, and sometimes they will also like humans ------You can think of orca as larger dolphins, and there were news about orca saving people. Overall, this is an animal that is gentle to human. Photo of 2012 Spanish football team's Gerard Pique being kissed by a orca at the aquarium Personal character and story Now is the part about in-game evidences, same with previous articles, touching stories. Does that sound antisocial *? * Wandering alone is a heavy burden to bear... Sigh, she became a wanderer because she was trying to escape *, and also showing some rebellion. * ( Personal translation: How does she look like a person who doesn't like living with group? She is just a wanderer with a heavy burden to bear, a wanderer without home... Sigh, her stray was just a kind of escape, and this escape, was probably her meager resist. ) (Archive File 4) Down beneath the vast blue sea *, below the* white waves that lap endlessly at the earth, lies( buries) all that I once held dear. I fear that one day misfortune will once again take someone important to me *. That is* why I fled *. I* don't want anyone I care about *... to* suffer on my account. (Suffer for me. ) (Talk after Promotion 2) Most people don't know the only reason Skadi refuses to cooperate with others is that she "doesn't want to put anyone else in danger. " Skadi claims everyone who has ever been close to her has met an untimely end *, * and as such she has avoided socializing altogether. **********(So in order to protect her friends, she chose not to have friends anymore. ) (Archive File 3) Put me in a room by myself please. (Assigned to Facility) I am quite skilled at teamwork too, however *... (Added to Squad)* The loneliest one Although orca are a social animal, there are still few orca who leave the group and live alone for some reason (Mostly external factors), since such orca leave the ethnic group, they cannot obtain information and knowledge sharing among the ethnic group members, and it is generally difficult to survive for a long time. Combining with Skadi's experience, it is speculated that in addition to the orca species, Skadi's prototype also refers to a whale named Alice -------She is called "The loneliest whale in the world". Occasionally, others (operators) have seen her sitting on the edge of the deck *, * softly singing to herself. Those who heard the song reported that although they couldn't hear the lyrics *, the* tune was long, low *, and* imbued them with a sense of tremendous sorrow. (Archive File 3) Cetaceans have strong vocal and even language skills, of which orca have the top spot. Orcas can make 62 different sounds. The whale, known as Alice, was discovered in 1989, and has been tracked since 1992. The reason she got attention was the frequency of the sound waves she emitted was 52Hz, while the frequency of a normal whale was only 15-25 Hz. Her frequency has always been different---which means that in the eyes of other whales, Alice is like a dumb. She doesn't have a relative or friend. No one hears her when she sings, and no one care her when she is sad. The first signal was captured on December 7, 1992. It's a Whale Song (a sound pattern for communication between cetaceans), over the next more than ten years, the frequency of the singing voice gradually decreased, from 52Hz lowed to 50Hz, it was always legible. In August 2004, a paper on the whale was accepted by "Deep Sea Research". A month later, the author died, but his colleagues began to receive letters about the paper. These letters are very different from past academic exchanges. Most of them came from ordinary people — sad people, heartbroken people, who heard themselves in Whale Song. So Alice's legend was born. People imagine her as a whale alone, swimming alone in the sea, singing songs that no one knows. People imagine that she has been calling her partner for the rest of her life, but has never responded. People imagine that she is a unique horn, facing the depths of the ocean, and shout sounds that has never been in the past and will never have in the future. Skadi, operator who has always been lonely, has been separated from her ethnicity, but she is not indifferent person who loves living in isolation. She did this on the one hand to prevent her situation from hurting close people, and on the other hand to find something that could solve the problem; Her preference for isolation stems from a desire to protect others *. * She has no malicious intent. However, she is hesitant to trust a capable, powerful organization like Rhodes Island. ( Personal translation: After all, for her, self-isolation is an act of protecting others. In the final analysis, she is not a bad person. But when groups with strength that can self-protection are willing to help her *, she will* hesitate. ) This is because she believes she has to resolve her own issues *. ( Why does she hesitate? The reason is simple, because she* really needs to solve her own problems. ) In our long conversation, I promised to her on behalf of the Doctor (and if the Doctor doesn't like this, well, it's for the greater good! ) that if an unknown peril hit Rhodes Island that we could not resist *, we would* give her up *. * I came to two conclusions: 1. There is a secret organization to which Skadi has close ties. Not only is this organization hostile *, it is* violent. 2. This organization goes far beyond just Skadi herself. From her description *, I think* they experimented on Skadi *. Or they could be* trying to entice her ***(induce her to do something)***, little by little. Another possibility is they can't control her right now and don't want to deal with her until they've crushed her spirit. (have no time to deal with Skadi, but want to hit her mental state, waiting for a better time. ) Skadi also hoped she could find something that would prevent future tragedy *. ( Skadi also said that he was looking for something that might prevent some tragedies. ) (Archive File 4)* Combined with profile, this organization is not Abyssal Hunters ( Skadi herself is a member of the Abyssal Hunters), but a certain force opposite to the Abyssal Hunters. And does the purpose of this organization seem a bit familiar? Yes, actually these are the things that Specter has experienced. I cannot say what calamities I may bring with me *. (------I'm the kind of person who will* bring you disaster. )(Onboard) I advise you to keep at least two meters away from me, for your own good. And of course you shouldn't speak to me either... I wouldn't want you to suffer on my account(suffer for me). (Appoint as Assistant) You've read my file *? * Terrible, isn't it *? Indeed, if you stay near me( if you want me to stay with you), the same* misfortune will befall you *, and that's* trouble for me too *. (Talk 1)* Skadi is very aware of her situation. In order to prevent this ulterior organization from hurting more people around her and those she cherishes, she chose to drift alone, take danger away from others by self-exile ------Because her heart is so gentle that do not want other people get hurt, so she covered herself with a hard, indifferent appearance, with a cold attitude, to protect others from the evil that hurt her. “ One must endure without losing tenderness. ” ------ Che Guevara However, the cold and hard appearance is not seamless, her feelings and truth can still be seen through the little crack. She do something beyond the bounty hunter for Grani's wishes; She do allow the doctor to touch her hair; She do tell her past to doctor. The shattered dreams of the past, fragments of the memory, has always been regarded as part of her own. Only people who are intimate with her heart are qualified to be shared by Skadi with everything she has experienced. And doctor, maybe the one touched her lonely heart, the most important one for her. I advise you to keep at least two meters away from me, for your own good *. * I wouldn't want you to suffer on my account. (Appoint as Assistant) Down beneath the vast blue sea, below the white waves that lap endlessly at the earth, lies all that I once held dear. I fear that one day misfortune will once again take someone important to me. That is why I fled. I don't want anyone I care about... to suffer on my account. (Talk after Promotion 2) When you've made the long journey through the dark up to the water's surface *, opened your eyes and had them* filled with the glimmering light of a billion stars as the eternal undulation of the ocean waves caress your cheek, lapped the salty taste of your tears that remind you of your salty home, can you imagine what that tiny bathtub here at Rhodes Island might be like for me...? I'll have to show you my home someday. ( Personal Translate: When you go through the endless darkness *, finally across the water surface------At the moment you open your eyes, * brilliant starry dripped in front of you *, * infinite waves brush over your cheeks *, * tears taste like home, salty. Compared to that, Rhodes' bathtub is really shallow and narrow... I must take you to try that feeling someday. ) (Talk after Trust Increase 3) In reality, the lone whale, Alice, like Skadi, dinally ushered in a turn of fate. In 2010, another research team captured the Whale Song at the same frequency as Alice for the first time in many years later ---and it was detected in two places at the same time. One detected does not mean anything, but the hope. **Maybe Alice finally found another herself with the same sound; Maybe she has always been a member of the special whale group, but just likes to act alone for sometimes; Maybe even after twenty years of roaming, she taught her song to other whales. At least it means she will no longer alone------** maybe she has never been alone. Token Sheet music written in home language. Although you can not understand this language at all. But she did intend to teach you this song. (Personal translation, cause I didn't get Skadi, and wiki didn't upload this T^T someone tell me what's official translate plz) After go through the endless darkness, finally across the surface, Skadi, like Alice, probably found the one who might have same sound with herself. Maybe one day later, when Skadi can really stop worrying about her past, her will bring doctor to her home Aegir, look up at the starry sky in the wet and salty sea breeze. At that time, Skadi will no more lonely like the goddess who once faced Deep Winter Snow, no more lonely like the whale who once walked in the ocean. So far the research is almost done, if you think I made something wrong pls tell me below. Tell me if you like it, I will post more Arknights lores.

Yell at me meaning. Shout at me on twitter. Yell at me quotes. A shout at me. Sp shout at me. Actors shout at media. Shout me out. Shout merry christmas. Sr shout at me. Shout à me mettre. Here’s the Spotify playlist Ripping off INSPIRED BY this post by /u/ThatParanoidPenguin, here’s a collection of 57 songs that came out last year that I felt were overlooked or underrated. These writeups were posted in the Daily Discussion threads last December and I consolidate them here, now, for your viewing pleasure. There’s songs you might have missed from artists you’ve heard of and then songs/artists who are super obscure, but in general all of them slipped through the cracks and I hope you’ll find some of them worthy of attention. There’s a definite pop focus but I picked these tracks with an ear for diversity of sound/artistry so there’s a LOT of different things going on here and some picks that might make you roll your eyes, but I think there’s something for everyone! Singles: Fantastia - "Enough" from Sketchbook for fans of Aretha Franklin Fantasia has an iconic voice and this song uses it perfectly. A classic power ballad about endless love, that full voiced chorus with the guitar wailing in the background is definitely a highlight of the year. nelward - "GHOST" for fans of Dorian Electra The sonic palate sounds like a dying computer, which is unique, and the lyrics are... memorable... but these quirks give it a sort of edge that really makes it stand out from a lot of the pop scene. It verges on the edge of being bad but it manages to stay firmly charming. It’s mall goth music for the internet age. Imani Coppola - “Sage” from The Protagonist for fans of Fiona Apple On The Protagonist Imani usually cloaks herself in an armor of irony and humor, but in the middle of the album all of the smokescreens give way to reveal this song, an emotional guitar ballad about Imani’s struggle to cope with the modern world. It’s clear, cutting, and beautiful, but perhaps best word to describe this song is “cathartic. ” Her frustration and fear are palpable as she wails her way through one of the best, most anthemic choruses of the year. RIRI (feat. Junoflo) - “luv luv” from Summertime EP for fans of Ariana Grande Riri gives her best sass above an oh-so-cool synth (Kpop fans might notice the song is co-written by Hoody), assisted by a pleasantly memorable rap verse from Junoflo. It feels chic and breezy, a perfect little piece of ear candy; songs like this one are a refreshing throwback, and Riri has the vocal chops and the attitude to make them still feel relevant. Tank and the Bangas - “Hot Air Balloon” from Green Balloon for fans of Noname A relaxing r&b/soul song about taking some time to just dream and be happy. The lyrics are poetical nonsense, but Tank could sing basically anything and make it sound good and when the vibes are this good, who cares about words? This is what bliss sounds like, when this song comes on I just feel so calm. Caravan Palace - “Miracle” (link is NSFW) from Chronologic for fans of Mark Ronson The grooves here are impeccable, every piece of the song is perfectly calibrated from the twangy strings to the rolling waves of piano. Even the singer herself feels like an instrument, with the lyrics being used more for sonic pleasure than sense, but it works. It’s not just feel-good, it’s feel- cool. Ruth B. - “Slow Fade” from Maybe I'll Find You Again for fans of Julia Michaels This is a melancholic song about a slowly dying relationship but the tone is underscored by an air of peacefulness; she accepts the end of the relationship gracefully, and only asks that the conclusion be satisfying. The thumping production on the verses contrasts with the smoother production in the chorus giving the song a very neat structure, and I love the sound of her voice. An understated song, but a worthy one. Kotonohouse (ft. TOFUKU) - “Pitter Patter” for fans of Hannah Diamond This song was such a treat to find: it takes the best elements of the "anime music" style (the bright sonic palate, the dreamy atmosphere, the unique blend of innocence/peacefulness/nostalgia) but applies them to an actual song with a catchy melody. TOFUKU’s sugary vocals combine nicely with Kotonohouse’s lush production to create a track that’s wistful, but still memorable. The whole thing just feels very cozy to listen to. Diana Wang - “愛因斯坦 (Einstein)” from Moon for fans of H. E. R. It's a softer sort of song with a doo-wop twist; Diana has an airy voice that drifts over the piano and it’s the subtle details that really make the song. Her emotions translate very well despite the language barrier, but I looked up the lyrics and they’re actually very interesting! She muses that because we aspire for a love that’s universal and constant, Einstein is the most romantic man on Earth for inventing his theory of relativity. It's a weird idea but she makes it sound good. Magdalena Bay - mini mix vol. 1 from mini mix vol. 1 for fans of Carly Rae Jepsen Look… they this whole EP as one continuous video, it counts as a single. I tried to pick just one song from this EP but they’re all so good and they’re all so short and nobody even reads these so I figured why not just link the whole thing? A visual mini-album, the pop duo challenged themselves to quickly create “mini” pop songs/videos and put them out without second guessing themselves, and the results are fabulous! The album is tied together by a dreamy, synth drenched sonic palate, but within that formula they find room for a diversity of sounds. KAINA (feat. Sen Morimoto) - “Could Be A Curse” from Next to The Sun for fans of Kali Uchis A soulful bolero of all things, Kaina describes this song as being about “feeling down and not knowing if it will last forever. ” However both artists approach it with an air of gentleness that makes the song meditative rather than depressing. As their cool voices sigh out the chorus again and again over the seemingly ever descending music the effect is almost hypnotic, pulling you away from the world into a state of calm. A song about being mired in melancholy is transformed into a song about coping with it. Flying Lotus (feat. David Lynch) - “Fire Is Coming” from Flamaragara for fans of Tyler, The Creator Clever sound design and Lynch’s performance make the fairly mundane narrative extremely unsettling, giving the story a note of wrongness all the way up until Lynch’s climactic final line: “fire is coming. ” As he repeats that he fades out and Flying Lotus’s fierce electronic beats take over (this part isn't in the video) and create the soundtrack for a terrifying dance floor. I don’t know if I can call a song that’s 70% an old white man talking about a kid answering a phone a “bop, ” but whatever this is it’s listenable as hell. Blood Cultures - “Flowers For All Occasions” from Oh Uncertainty! A Universe Despairs for fans of The xx It starts off fairly unassuming with some cute indie strumming and faded out vocals but then this fantastic dance beat kicks in and we’re off on this fantastic little space voyage. The music swirls as quirky synths pop and bubble by and add a ton of fun texture to the track. There’s a touch of eeriness to the song (note the unusual inspiration) but it remains upbeat. It’s a pretty weird song, but it’s also insidiously catchy. Haiku Hands - “Dare You Not To Dance” for fans of Gwen Stefani Heavy dance beats and unison chanting combine to create a song that's completely off-the-wall in the best way possible. What genre is this even? There’s all manner of synths, drums, and drops thrown into this song, and hooks and melodies are shouted/sung with abandon. It never holds onto any one sound or structure long enough for you to get tired of it, but the constant changes are energizing rather than exhausting. It’s loud dance floor fun that feels fresh, fans of upbeat or weird pop would do well to check this out. Dinah Jane - “Retrograde” for fans of Tinashe “Retrograde” is a huge flex in how unexpected it is coming from someone like Dinah Jane. It’s got this real down and dirty energy to it and an “urban” grit that feels a tad forced, but isn’t unwelcome. She projects a “possessive ex” persona very well that provides a neat narrative for the song. It’s interesting that it’s not a particularly vocal track either, Dinah chooses to ride the trap beats in near-vocal fry and it works to make the song really memorable. Cazwell & Manila Luzon (feat. Craig C. ) - “Hella Horny” for fans of Cupcakke Neither Cazwell nor Manila Luzon are artists who I would say make “good” music, but they’re both novelty artists who understand what they are and try to make fun music rather than good music, and when they join forces for this track (along with producer Craig C. ) the combined strength of their campiness is enough to overwhelm conventional notions of “quality. ” Everything about this song is so dumb that it cycles around into greatness. The hook is monumentally insipid yet frustratingly enjoyable, achieving catchiness through sheer audacity. Yuna - “Not The Love Of My Life” from Rouge for fans of Caroline Polachek The instrumental is is sparse and dreamy, punctuated by a garbled vocal hook that adds a bit of ear candy to the song. Yuna is known for her rich and buttery voice and she doesn’t have to do much with it to leave an impression, but she still gives it her all with her performance. The verses are rife with emotions (bitterness, sadness, anger) as she explores the conflict of the relationship, so it’s downright cathartic when she raises her voice above it all to find resolution in the simple but powerful chorus. Tiffany Young - “Lips On Lips” from Lips On Lips for fans of Camila Cabello This song feels like a fairytale, a song where love is the most important thing in the universe. She describes the euphoria of a kiss so well through poetic lyrics and shamelessly upbeat music. It’s so fluffy it’s practically ear-cotton-candy, literally every single part of this song is a hook. There’s a lot of power hiding under this song’s rosy pink exterior, and when it all builds up to that final chorus and Tiffany unchains her voice to do some ad libs, wow, you’ll believe in love again. Lindsey Stirling (feat. Elle King) - “The Upside” from Artemis for fans of Halsey “The Upside” is a song from her latest album that features violin over a rollicking EDM beat, but fortunately Lindsey recognizes that sometimes you can’t beat good old fashioned vocals and she brings in Elle King to take over the main melody line of the song. Elle’s voice is every bit as fiery and evocative as the wild fiddle the line was written for, and I think the addition of singing and lyrics is a great choice because it means when the violin comes in it really shines. It’s an elegant stallion of a song, a thrill ride from start to finish. Aries - “Un Gran Puente” from Juramento Mantarraya for fans of Rosalía The track creates a quirky soundscape that sounds like a whole bunch of electronic elements tripping over each other, but it’s playful rather than chaotic. Aries has a soft but sweet voice at the center of this chaos and she lilts with the music rather charmingly. And of course there’s the hook; that refrain of “aquí hoy” (“here today”) has been hammered into my brain since I heard it. Low-key it sounds like something out of an old Japanese videogame like Katamari or Locoroco, especially on the acoustic bridge, and I can’t give praise that’s higher than that. Z-Girls - “Streets Of Gold” from Z-Pop Dream -Singing For You for fans of BLACKPINK Their corporate overlords may be hella sketchy but the Z-Girls themselves have pipes and they sell the shit out of this song. There’s a ton of fun imagery in the lyrics of this song and they really bring it all to life with their fiery performances. They’re singing about love opening a magnificent new universe, and damnit, they’re not gonna whisper! The rest of the song follows in suit, with excitable production (when’s the last time you heard a swinging blade be incorporated into the beat of a song? ) and a monster of a chorus. KYLE (feat. Teyana Taylor) - “F You I Love You” from Light Of Mine (Deluxe) for fans of Usher Blurring the lines between rap and r&b, KYLE and Teyana Taylor sing/rap their way through the ups and downs of a rocky relationship. “Troubled relationship” songs are a dime a dozen these days, but this rises above the pack by the earnestness of the lyrics and the performances. KYLE has a side hustle in acting and that works to his advantage here because his performance is nuanced, managing to transform even the cliched hook into what feels like an earnest confession. Teyana is pushing the limits of her vocal range here, but I think the airiness kind of works for the vibe. Estelle & Zach Callison - “True Kinda Love” from Steven Universe the Movie (Original Soundtrack) for fans of LOONA 1/3 This is a gentle pseudo-ballad about the power of friendship that’s dripping in heart. I’ve always loved the lo-fi sound palate that this show uses for its score and it works beautifully as the underscoring for a song, very soothing. Estelle and Zach (in his brief appearance) commit more to communicating the message of the song than to hitting all of the notes flawlessly, and the results are touching. It’s downright criminal that this show was never even nominated for any awards for its music! WALK THE MOON - “Timebomb (Ryan Riback Remix)” for fans of Zedd “Timebomb” was the kind of song that gets you out on the dancefloor, and the remix leans into that by adding a genuine dance beat to it, giving the song some muscle. Although the house beat feels a little bit awkward at first, it only grows more and more in sync with the song as it continues. Every time that drop hits it’s just so slick, cradling the already energetic chorus in piano and synths that are so pleasing on the ear. Alessia Cara - “October” from This Summer for fans of Lauv "Summer" starts to mean less and less as you grow older and all you can do is watch and hope you can hold on to it all. There’s a bittersweet, nostalgic air to the lyrics that’s reflected in the sound. Her voice is great here, her voice flows like heavy water yet she’s so relaxed and calm, as if she’s just focusing on taking on everything in. And she’s surrounded by all of these lush harmonies, a veritable sea of voices that buoy her gently into the future. Alex Newell (feat. DJ D-Sol) - “Rescue Me” for fans of Lizzo A cover of classic that's a good display of Alex’s explosive singing voice. The vocals rocket this song into bop status; through sheer force of personality the simple lyrics and hooks are made absolutely delightful. The production has a few interesting quirks as well, offering up a serviceable drop, some fun horns, and a dance friendly beat. The extended version highlights this, the whole thing just becomes one long ride of pure, joyous dance music. Ally Brooke (feat. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie) - “Lips Don’t Lie” for fans of Mariah Carey A pleasantly low-key track because of Ally's unique vocal delivery, which straddles the line between breathy whispers and full voiced belts. She plays coy very well, and the song gives her a lot of fun wordplay to heap her saucy delivery onto. Her collaborator A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie sounds cute as well, he brings a nice energy to the track even if his lyrics are nonsense. Add in a fun piano driven beat and a catchy chorus and we have what should have been a hit. Her lips don’t lie when it comes to making bops. I’ll just go now Sheena Ringo & Utada Hikaru - “浪漫と算盤 (Sun & Moon)” from Apple Of Universal Energy for fans of Lady Gaga This song is grand and mysterious in the best way. Utada and Sheena play it very low-key for much of the song, and their confidence makes it riveting. They don’t need to raise their voices to make a point and when they do, it’s at the climax of a slow burn of energy. The chemistry between the two is off the charts, they share the track like only two friends and legends can. Sheena’s scratchy, keening voice harmonizes fantastically with Utada’s clean, cool voice; the blend is even more apparent in the acoustic version. MIKA - “Tomorrow” from My Name Is Michael Holbrook for fans of Aly & AJ The lyrics are a little corny but Mika can sell anything with that falsetto of his, and his voice on the verses is pure velvet. Essentially this is a song about Mika having a booty call in the backseat of a car, but damn, does he make it sound like a beautiful experience. Mika has always gotten by on a delicate blend of optimism/melancholy/camp, but this song has a maturity (and sensuality) to it as well that makes the devil-may-care message ring just a little bit deeper than it might otherwise. It’s sexy and uplifting at the same time because he ties the carefree attitude of the situation in with a lust for life and a sense of hopefulness; who gives a shit about tomorrow when today is so much fun? Non-Singles: Olivia O’Brien - “Call Me” from Was It Even Real? for fans of Dua Lipa An up and coming “moody pop” girl, I’ll often give Olivia props on being willing to switch up her sound; this song is the perfect example of that. It’s straight up disco, and it feels like an old school disco hit right down to some cheesy spoken word peppered throughout the track. The lyrics are classic Olivia though, dealing (as a lot of her music does) with a trifling boy that she says she’s better than (in the verses) but just can’t seem to get over (in the chorus). Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 - “Land Of The Midnight Sun” from Vagina for fans of Troye Sivan Her songs are silly and stuffed with memes, but Alaska has some amazing producers behind her and when she stops joking around she can drop some damn good music. Case in point is “Land Of The Midnight Sun, ” the stunning closer to her new album Vagina. An electro-ballad about Alaska ghosting a lover, it’s as sprawling and icy as the titular state of Alaska itself. She makes dance music so slow and heavy it’s as if the dancefloor has suddenly gone into slow motion and you can feel the weight of everything you had been avoiding creeping up on you. EVERGLOW - “Moon” from Arrival Of EVERGLOW for fans of Allie X EVERGLOW debuted in 2019 with “Bon Bon Chocolat, ” which is a very good song, but this B-side track is the one that really caught my attention. In the lyrics they compare the boy they’ve become obsessed with to the dark side of the moon, hidden from them, and the production of the track is very mysterious to match. Anticipation runs through this track; pulsing synths hide pattering trap drums, with their clear voices slicing right through the center of the mix. It’s a great example of autotune used properly, as the robotic feeling of their vocals gives them an almost cutting edge. Jamila Woods (feat. Nitty Scott) - “SONIA” from LEGACY! LEGACY! for fans of Janelle Monae Critics and audiences agreed that what Jamila did on this album was undeniable, and for me this song is the crown gem. Inspired by a Sonia Sanchez poem about the pain that slave women experienced, Jamila sings of the pain she experiences in a bad relationship until she comes to the realization that these are issues all women face and like her ancestors she can overcome them. It’s a poignant message, and Jamila’s agile performance and delivery of a few catchy hooks over spacey synths make it very listenable. Rapper Nitty Scott gets the entire second verse of the song to herself, and she doubles down on the message with impeccable flow and lyrics. It’s the kind of song that sticks with you after listening, every line is truthful and quotable. Jane Zhang - “Balance Me Out” from Past Progressive for fans of Jessie Ware This is the closing track to Past Progressive, and after an album of serving huge, loud bangers, she surprises us with a low-key song that doesn’t even crack two and a half minutes and it’s so addictive! It’s a simple track (the instrumental is really just two synths and a drum) with some fun lyrics about Jane finding a guy who “balances her out, ” but it’s elevated by the use of a distorted vocal hook that literally balances her out. The end result is pure, straightforward ear candy that’ll have you jumping for the replay button. Snoh Aalegra - “Find Someone Like You” from Ugh, those feels again for fans of Amy Winehouse Snoh Aalegra perfectly captures the sensation of a love that bubbles up from inside of you and envelops you; snug, yet infinite. This is a masterclass in how to build a song: it starts off simple with just some piano but then Snoh’s warm voice fills the track and then new elements just start spilling out until everything is practically overflowing with music. It’s all pretty simple r&b/soul really, but the earnestness of the lyrics and Snoh’s performance are enough to make you believe in love again. This is the song that plays in the movie after the protagonist realizes that they’re in love and everything feels perfect, it makes me want to run around the city smiling at strangers. Sir Babygirl - “Cheerleader” from Crush On Me for fans of Lorde This song gives you everything you need: quotable lines, catchy hooks, slammin’ production, great vocals, even a hint of camp. Like, there are literally cheerleader chants in the back of this song and it works amazingly. The song brims with a thrilling, almost sexual energy, thanks in no small part to Sir Babygirl’s incredible performance. She stuffs every syllable with meaning, savors every beat, and nails every note to the wall. The production is her doing as well and it’s equally incredible, combining a bubblegum sensibility with some of the best synth work I’ve heard all year. It’s as if someone took the most sapphic moments of But I’m A Cheerleader and turned them into an '80s synth pop song; definitely one of my favorite discoveries this year. NECRONOMIDOL - “Children Of The Night” from Scions of the Blasted Heath for fans of Poppy NECRONOMIDOL are members of Japan’s dark idol metal scene, and I’m not a metalhead but I enjoy their music. This is their poppiest venture yet and it’s also, coincidentally, their first fully English track! The steady vocals aloft on a sea of shredding guitars is an old, but effective standard, and they fully deliver on it. While a lot of their songs can be sprawling and huge this one feels very tight and focused, a straightforward rocket of energy from start to finish. The chorus has been stuck in my head basically all year, maybe it’s just me but I feel like a bad bitch while listening to this. Rapsody (feat. Queen Latifah) - “Hatshepsut” from Eve for fans of Kendrick Lamar Every track on Eve is named for and inspired by a powerful black woman from history, and so for “Hatshepsut” (the ancient Egyptian pharaoh) Rapsody knew she had to call in a queen. Latifah, that is. I just like hearing Queen Latifah doing things, and she does the damn thing on this track. She rides the beat with a relaxed confidence, rapping a retrospective on her career and lending Rapsody some experience. Not that Rapsody necessarily needs the help, she easily holds her own with a legend and could probably have done the song alone, but really, if you have the option to involve Queen Latifah why would you not? There’s a mutual respect between the two and they create a great track together; it feels like there’s a torch being passed from one generation to the next. Crystal (Lauren Dyson) - “Unbreakable” from Carole & Tuesday for fans of Beyoncé “Unbreakable” is sung by this anime’s in-universe pop diva (think Britney meets Beyoncé) and it really nails that r&b influenced pop sound that was big in the late ‘90s/early ’00s, playing off of the “futuristic” vibes of the era while still sounding gloriously retro. Shamelessly velvety, as Lauren Dyson’s rich voice melts all over that dreamy production the overall effect is heavenly. There’s so many good hooks and melodies in this song, and the lyrics are surprisingly great too? Faye Wester - “Jonny” from Atlanta Millionaire’s Club for fans of Kacey Musgraves A melancholy confessional, Faye drifts from thoughts of her own insecurities to thoughts of an ex with an honesty that’s really compelling. She didn’t even bother to change the guy’s name! One of my favorite songs of the year lyrically, it’s just hard hitting line after hard hitting line. It’s heartbreaking, with a note of humor too. It helps that the chorus is quite lovely as well, sung with Faye’s country wail against the gentle backing track. There’s even a saxophone solo. What more could you ask for? Ciara - “Trust Myself” from Beauty Marks for fans of Jennifer Lopez Ciara does sexy so well, and as she coos her way through this track she’s almost breathless with desire. The gentle up and down of the melody emphasizes just the right vowels in just the right places, an excellent example of a song that’s memorable without being showy. The lyrics are simple but I actually think they’re a strong point in the song, making the sexual themes feel almost innocent and really communicating the singleminded desire that’s consumed Ciara. It’s a shameless display of bliss that only a gorgeous pop star married to a hot millionaire football player would dare to release; I’m just happy to sing along with it. Kim Ji Yeon (Kei) - “Paper Moon” from OVER AND OVER for fans of Red Velvet This is a slick city-pop tinged r&b song; the lyrics describe her stopping for a kiss with a boy on a moonlit night, knowing that he’ll be gone in the morning but still savoring the moment. She has a gentle, almost birdlike voice that she rarely raises throughout the track, in fact, she actually gets quieter on the hook. As the track patters along at a leisurely pace the end result is an almost reverence to the song, almost as if she doesn’t want to spoil the mood. It really succeeds in creating the mood described in the lyrics; fleeting, yes, but oh so sweet. Keke Palmer, Ryan Destiny, Brittany O’Grady - “Try” from Star for fans of TLC A blatant homage to ‘90s girl groups like TLC and Destiny’s Child, and even if it doesn’t offer anything fresh to the formula it at least nails it. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s #girlpower, and all three of the girls are bringing it in a way that would make their predecessors proud. I can’t say that I have any particular nostalgia for this era but this song hits just right, you hear that old school melody and for a second you wonder why anyone would listen to anything else. Meghan Trainor - “Foolish” from The Love Train it’s Meghan Trainor This song is a thrill ride that builds and builds and builds until the very end, it’s honestly impressive how long the song manages to hold off on climaxing, and once it does it just doesn’t stop. Much of the credit for that goes to Meghan herself for driving the song with her voice, this song is a smorgasbord of harmonies and vocal lines and she nails all of them. I don’t think her voice has ever sounded so full and flexible? She sounds cocky and confident and I’m living for it, it’s a great match for the flirtatious lyrics. FRANKIE - “Good Enough” from STA7GES for fans of Sara Bareilles Unlike the music of recent years there’s no irony here, no heavy air hanging over everything, it’s just a girl belting her heart out. It’s honestly kind of refreshing, I feel like it’s been a while since we got a really good piano driven power pop ballad like this and I didn’t realize how much I missed them. FRANKIE has a warm, powerful voice that’s really up to the task too. The Mountain Goats - “Possum By Night” from In League With Dragons for fans of Vampire Weekend This is a song written from the perspective of an opossum, and it’s beautiful. For a song about something considered commonplace and dirty there’s an air of almost magic about this, the character that they’re portraying is so full of reverence and wonder even as he sings about garbage trucks and compost piles. The song is defined as much by silence as it is by music, the hushed phrases of music scattered between hanging pauses give the song a very unique sound befitting of its namesake, almost as if they’re skittering about in the dead of night. Kehlani (feat. Musiq Soulchild) - “Footsteps” from While We Wait for fans of H. A parable of a failed relationship, the story that Kehlani tells of the cycle of struggles is downright biblical. The lines in this song flow after each other like, well, like water through someone’s fingers. The cerebral lyricism of the song hearkens back to her previous mixtape You Should Be Here, but it’s more downtempo sonically than much of her previous work. The measured percussion is much more delicate than the more pop/electronic palates she usually trafficked with and it works beautifully with her softer, more confident delivery. Musiq Soulchild is an artist I’m unfamiliar with but he makes a good impression here, playing his role as Kehlani’s foil well. Kelsey Lu - “Poor Fake” from Blood for fans of FKA Twigs This song is campy high drama, and Kelsey is clearly LIVING for every second of it. She wails this song like she’s a madwoman or a ghost stumbling through a haunted hall of forgeries, and the music sets this scene perfectly. Elegant, almost haunting classical orchestration is backed by a heavy dance beat that gives the song an uncanny feeling that’s exceptionally dramatic. This song is volcanic, starting off as just a low rumble of strings and slowly growing more intense until it erupts at the end of that gloriously stupid spoken word bridge. mxmtoon - “my ted talk (acoustic)” from the masquerade for fans of Mitski It’s a silly little song about how weird it is that mxmtoon writes love songs when she herself has never been in love, which is a strange premise but it works. A big part of mxmtoon’s appeal is how straightforward and relatable she is, and what’s more straightforward and relatable than admitting you have no clue what you’re doing? I like the acoustic version better because of how simple it is, this isn’t the kind of track that needs any kind of fancy production. Purple Beck - “Holiday” from Crystal Ball for fans of Meghan Trainor This song is like a piece of candy that I know is bad for me but it’s so sweet and easy to get down that I find myself addicted. It’s a sonic assault, but like, in a fun way! Sometimes you just want your ears blasted out by a wall of noise, and this song has a grimy chorus that’s just perfect for that. I’m doing a TERRIBLE job of selling this song but it’s like a dog whistle: shrill noise to everybody else, but if it’s attuned to your frequency then you’ll love it. CHANMINA - “Yesterday” from NEVER GROW UP for fans of Charli XCX Everything about this song makes it feel tumultuous, even before any words have been sung that wailing descending guitar riff lets us know that things are about to get emo. CHANMINA sounds great here, her crunchy autotuned vocals sound great and perfectly convey what’s happening here without me understanding a single word. Her transition between the breathy vocals on the pre chorus and the harder vocals on the chorus (which is great) works really well, and her flow when she’s rapping is great. Adam Lambert - “Closer To You” from The Velvet: Side A for fans of Adele We all know Adam can sing (he was almost American Idol after all) but his performance here is particularly touching, you can tell he really means every word that he’s singing. The lyrics of this song are so raw and powerful, I can’t believe he wrote a line like “all I wanna do is be brand new. ” He makes love sound so monumental, earth shattering. MAMAMOO - “Where R U” from White Wind & LOONA - “Where you at” from [X X] for fans of Red Velvet Similar titles but different approaches: MAMAMOO look forward to meeting someone, LOONA long for someone they’ve lost. In my mind both songs make it feel like the girls are searching the universe for this person, but the vibes are completely different. “Where R U” underscores anticipation with curious, staccato beats that are playful, almost as if the searching is a fun little adventure. Meanwhile “Where You At? ” pulses with a mournful energy, creating a slowly expanding universe of synths that seems endless and cold. These sonic playgrounds make great backdrops for both groups to play in, and each nails their assigned mood. Both groups sound relaxed, but the easy going nature of MAMAMOO’s assuredness is galaxies away from the distant yearning that LOONA project. NIKI - “urs” from wanna take this downtown? for fans of SZA I love the sound of this track, NIKI has a beautiful voice that sounds razor thin and almost fragile here, and the production is so vibey. Those simple chime sounding synths in the background are soothing and give the track a placid air, but the song actually has a fairly quick tempo. NIKI and the beat skitter around with a nervous energy as she angsts in the verses/chorus, but notice how this aspect of the song cuts out when the postchorus hits after she delivers the climactic “I’m already yours. ” Sabrina Carpenter - “Tell Em” from Singular Act II for fans of Mariah Carey There are so many different layers to this song, if you look up “lush” in the dictionary the definition would just be a link to this song. But it’s a very intimate kind of song, with Sabrina sitting firmly at the center of the track drawing you in. I think she pushes her voice too far sometimes but she holds back here and the result is perfection. She sounds smoky, heavy, mischievous, lovestruck, so many different things and all of them so effortlessly. AJR - “Finale (Can’t Wait To See What You Do Next” from Neotheater for fans of MIKA Neotheater has a unique sound that pits harsh electronic sounds against ‘40s Disney-esque style themes, a technique which is used to great effect on this track in particular. Cartoonish music opens the tracks with a note of optimism, only to be cut short by the clashing electronic verses that describe the fear and uncertainty running through the band’s mind. The two themes are foils to each other, with the Disney voices cheerfully ushering the band on towards the future even as the boys sing about how hard the situation is. As the heavenly chorus beams “we can’t wait to see what you do next” it comes off more as ominous than anything else, because how is anyone expected to live up to such sky high expectations? So there we have it! Sorry about the length, I tried to trim it down a bit but brevity has never been my strong point, but please listen some of these people because I have nobody to talk to about most of them.

Gfr shout at me. So shout at me. Part 9 I sat cross legged at the edge of the property, stars glinting above me…pinholes in the black blanket of the night sky. The sounds of insects chirping kept me company. The rifle that Elvis had smuggled across the boarder for me sat fully assembled to my right, nestled in the grass. It was loaded, and waiting patiently. Learning to handle a rifle, shoot one, were not easy tasks. Even before my handicap, I was a bad shot. I’d had an aversion to guns, as I always saw them as more dangerous than they were worth. That long night, though, changed my views on a lot of things. When I wasn’t trotting the globe, I was training. Not alone, either…I’d hired various instructors, from doomsday preppers to retired military. I was taught that firing a large gun one handed was not only possible, but had various techniques that would make it quite effective. Using my stump for balance, and digging the butt of the weapon into my shoulder just right, I could absorb the recoil and control the gun properly. I was no expert, but felt proficient enough to carry out my task. Believe it or not, my biggest struggle with learning to shoot was figuring out hand-eye coordination. Additional clips rested in my jacket’s left pocket. Around my waist I wore a belt of grenades, little pouches fixed to the leather strap to hold the fragile eggs, pins meticulously sewn into the fabric of my jeans. If I was going out, it would be with a bang. My travels during the prior year had taken me all over the world, hunting down a single artifact. Steven Nez of Nebraska had given me a good start, but the item had traveled far…to the Land of Pyramids. That’s where I finally tracked down the weapon that could kill The Old Gods. Getting my hand on such an elusive object was no easy task…I had to pay the right people and break a few laws, but my determination and the McGrath fortune prevailed. I held my walking stick with my right elbow and twisted the ivory head with my left hand, ejecting the eight inch blade from the camouflage of the cane’s body. No one I spoke to knew the origin of the golden dagger. It seemed to predate any human civilization, and perhaps even life itself. I slowly rotated the weapon, watching the light of the moon travel the length of it’s gilded blade. It’s handle was meticulously carved from some kind of bone, giving the thing a look of both majesty and horror. Heaven and hell were colliding in a single object…and I held it in my hand. My initial plan had been to burn the place to the ground. Not knowing what would happen to the innocent ghosts, my late wife included, combined with the feeling that Maddox would be able to extinguish the flames at will, that idea had quickly been rendered obsolete. So during my exhaustive recovery, I began to scour the internet, looking for anything even slightly similar to the events I knew to have occurred at McGrath’s, and then Slappy’s. After all, Maddox had mentioned “his Kind”. It was slow going. For the first month my search turned up nothing. Then it did. I don’t recall exactly what I typed in to query the results I did, but I discovered a small sect, a cult, that worshiped what they called the “Death Patch”…a small area of land in Nebraska. The cult, a piddling group of less than a hundred fanatics, mostly espoused bullshit religious propaganda on their website…end of the world, find your true calling, blah, blah, blah. I wasn’t interested in them. The “Death Patch”, however had my attention. I virtually explored the small, Midwestern city that housed the plot of land, and found that it did indeed have a high number of deaths. Surely enough, the overwhelming majority fell within a certain area of prairie…a section of land that’s had numerous ghost sightings throughout the years. The caveat, though, was that the “record” of deaths were no more than legends, and they were thousands of years old. Outside of the cult, no one truly believed there to be any curse…including the storytellers…a tribe of Native Americans that had called the land home for thousands of years. Nevertheless they told fairy tales of a great behemoth that once roamed the planes, it’s back shelled like a turtle…it’s head like the eye of a tornado, swirling with darkness. Six elephant legs carrying it to the Sacred Ground, where it would consume the very souls of those the tribe would offer it…appeasing it until it again called for a meal. Even the cult considered the great beast mere legend…but it sounded similar enough like Maddox for me to become a quick believer. The myth took a David and Goliath turn, telling of a young boy who was meant to be a sacrifice rejecting his role, and charging headfirst toward the giant beast, drawing a knife and planting it in one of the massive legs, killing the creature. A happy ending. But I could feel that that part of the story was far from the truth. Steven Nez as much as confirmed my suspicion. “You’ve encountered one, haven’t you…” Nez had said somberly as he closed the fabric sheet that served as his faux teepee’s door. “…of course you have. How else would you know about the dagger? Does anyone else know? ” “No one living. ” I’d replied. “My family have been keepers of the truth for countless generations…normally we wouldn’t breathe a word of it to an outsider. You though, may be able to persuade me. ” Nez had then rubbed his thumb and index fingers together in the universal sign of “if the price is right”. Lucky for me that this was the era of greed over honer. I’d paid up another hundred bones, and listened to what he’d had to say. Of course I’d researched the shyster before flying to meet him, and while I normally wouldn’t pay for merely someone’s word, it was true that he was a versed tribe historian. He’d proceeded to tell me a very similar story to the legend, save for the ending, which was more of a group effort, planned by the elders who were sick of losing friends and family to a terrible monster. Surprisingly enough, it WAS a young boy chosen for the killing blow, as all of the adults feared retribution if their plan had failed. The origin of the blade was left shrouded in mystery, as Nez claimed not to know how the tribe had come by it, however it’s fate was revealed. It had been stolen at some point, by early French explorers sometime in the early 1700’s…long after the beast had been destroyed. From America to France, From France to England, From England to South Africa, and finally I journeyed north, to Egypt. The final resting place of a weapon that had killed a god was a shelf in a simple home, an heirloom of a family that had no idea what history the blade held. I tossed the useless cane to the side, coming back from my reminiscing and focusing on the large building across the large parking lot. It was dark, no sign of life, but I knew better than that. I glanced at the watch on my left wrist and read 10:59. It was time. I stood, securing the knife in the pouch on my hip, and slinging the rifle over my shoulder. I knew that Maddox wouldn’t turn the lights on for me, so I slipped my headband on, and checked it’s mounted light. After checking the item secured to my right side, under my arm, I anxiously ran my fingertips over the bulge of each grenade lining my waist until I heard the small chime of my wristwatch. 11PM. I started walking, stepping onto the broken asphalt as I began my march toward the storefront of Slappy’s Diner… ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- *…*Approaching the place felt nostalgic in the worst possible sense. I felt Maddox…and was aware that he felt me. I knew that he knew that I was coming for him. I crossed the parking lot and reached the sidewalk, where I eyed the Slappy statue. Maddox was smart enough not to send the golem for me. Instead, as I stood before the glass door that read “WELCOME”, I heard a voice. “What are you doing here, Jack? ” The soft, sad voice uttered, barely above a whisper. I looked to my right to see a redhead with her arms crossed over her chest. She looked cold, protective of herself, and her face was angled down, avoiding eye contact with me. Her orange hair tossed slightly by the weak breeze of the night. “I have to end it, Katie. ” I said, turning to face my late wife. I placed my left hand on the handle of the door, and pressed inward, where I was met with resistance. It was locked. “Did he send you? ” I asked the ghost of the woman I’d married. She nodded. “He said to warn you. Turn back. If not, you’ll be his next meal. ” Katie said, lifting her eyes to mine. “You don’t want to be here, Jack. ” She added. “No. Maddox doesn’t want me here. Because he’s afraid. Maybe for the first time ever. ” I spoke plainly, fishing my keys from my jeans’ left pocket. I’d become quite adept at using my non-dominant hand, and managed to free the golden wedding band from the prison that had kept it since Katie and I had split. I held it out, allowing Katie to see my offering as it dangled between my thumb and index finger. Hesitantly, she uncrossed her arms and extended an open hand. As I released the golden trinket, letting it fall from my hand and out of my life, Katie began to fade away, her hand curling into a fist around the memento. “Good luck. ” She whispered, and smiled solemnly as she blinked out of existence. I turned back to the glass door, Maddox’s first barrier. Bringing my ring of keys up to my face, I clumsily sorted through them, finally landing on the one that Robert McGrath had entrusted to me so long ago. The key that I had stared at for countless hours while I fought internally over what to do. I heard a howling from behind, and threw a look over my shoulder, where I saw the hanged man dangling from the massive tree, and below him the charred body of Travis milled about aimlessly. I saw them for the scare tactic they were, as my dead wife’s lover was clearly no more than a Residual. It was only more confirmation that Spencer Maddox was indeed afraid, and willing to pull out all of the stops to get me to run away, tail between my legs. This in mind, I slipped the key into the round lock, and turned. I pushed the door open and heard the jingle that had haunted my dreams. I flicked on my headlamp as I stepped into Slappy’s Diner. Robert had been right. Slappy’s again wore the cloak of a spotless eatery…everything in it’s place as it should be…but when I examined my surroundings closely, I could see through the cracks. My headlamp’s beam cut through the blackness, occasionally catching a broken tile, or an empty napkin dispenser, or an inconsistency in the color of paint between the walls as I scanned the dining room. The place felt more artificial than ever, since I knew the truth. It didn’t take long for Maddox to launch his counterattack, for as soon as my light fell upon the entrance of the restrooms, I saw something poking it’s head from around the dark corner. I readied my weapon as the sinewy skull retracted behind the dividing wall, and never took my eye off of the spot as I slowly, methodically took steps toward it. My shoulder blades tingled as I remembered my last encounter with the reptilian creature. “Well, well…I must say I’m surprised you were foolish enough to come back, Jack-y boy. ” The voice of Spencer Maddox came from the jukebox behind me. I knew that he was trying to distract me, and ignored the words as I continued my approach toward the restrooms. “But I’m glad you’re back. And hey, I’m not the only one…” The vile voice added, before I heard the screeching laugh of a woman. That laugh, I couldn’t ignore. I pivoted, turned, and sidestepped just in time, as I felt Piper’s sharp blade slide across my cheek. A second later and the knife would have been buried in my skull. She stumbled, trying to recover from her missed attack, and I wasted no time in jamming the butt of my rifle into her slender midsection, knocking her to the floor. She screamed up at me, enraged, as I squeezed the trigger of my gun, pumping several bullets into each of her companions. The rest of jaw-less Wally’s face was erased by the loud thunder and bullet rain. Clem was struck in the chest by several rounds knocking him backward where he tumbled over the bar. Wally was evaporating when I turned my rifle to the fallen Piper. Her hateful face softened, and her thin lips curled into a sinister smile as she began to dissipate. I was just about to pull the trigger and blow that colorful hair to kingdom come, when I felt the sharp talons digging into my shoulders. The wet, breathy hiss infiltrated my ears as I felt the weight of the skinned monster on my back. I didn’t panic, though, despite the pain. I’d survived this very attack once before, and had played through in my head what I’d do if I was ever faced with it again. I stood firm, not allowing the beast to ground me. I shifted my balance, centering the meaty monster on my back, and threw myself backward, pinning the bitch between me and the ground. I jabbed my elbows at the screeching creature until I felt the grip of it’s claws loosen. I rolled over to where I was on top of the wriggling savage, and jammed my right nub into it’s gnashing mouth. It’s sharp teeth sank in, but I pushed the pain to the back of my mind as I sank my own chompers into it’s muscular, exposed neck. Like a vampire feeding for the first time in centuries, I bit down with all of my might, and pulled back, ripping a patch of the thew free of it’s host. I spit the hunk of meat out, and without hesitation, shoved my left hand into the bloody, gaping wound. I grabbed whatever fiber was in the monster’s neck, and yanked, feeling veins and tendons snap as I pulled them from the thing’s neck hole. The beast writhed for only a second before beginning to dissolve. The taste of blood and flesh in my mouth faded as well, and I stood again. I grabbed my weapon, and scanned the room for Piper. The slippery teenage bitch was nowhere to be found. However, my lamp did illuminate something else. In the booth nearest the jukebox, the first one I’d been assigned, sat three figures, all staring at me. Well, they would be staring had their eyes not been nothing more than empty black voids, streaks of blood traveling down their cheeks like crimson tears. “You have to leave now, mister. ” Jimmy Rand spoke monotonously, as if he were being controlled by a novice ventriloquist. “Yes, leave. You must. ” Terry Willis added, just as flatly, while rustling his son’s hair without adjusting his gaze. “Have to go now, Jack. ” The final monotone voice instructed, and I saw that the girl sitting across from father and son was none other than Lydia. The three horrors all let their mouths fall open, and I swore I saw a string of drool slipping down the zombie-like chin of the girl. The glass door abruptly swung open, accompanied as always by it’s little jingle bell. “Leave…leave…leave…” The trio chanted in unison. Then, I felt the sharp sting on the back of my remaining hand as a fresh line of ruby blood formed on it. I heard Piper’s giggle as I turned, pointing my rifle in the direction of the laugh. The manic titter continued as my unseen assailant struck again, a new slice appearing on my right leg, just above the knee. My jeans split, and a streak of blood again began to form. Piper was toying with me, but moreover, Maddox was having her try to scare me into fleeing rather than outright killing me. “Hey Piper…” I said as another stinging swipe crossed the left side of my neck. “…I wrote a poem for you! ” I said humorously. “There once was a girl with rainbow hair…” I said as my eyes slowly scanned the room. “Where did she go? They looked everywhere…” I rambled, making it up on the spot as my eyes checked each of the corners before I slowly turned. "But days and days passed, and fewer folks asked…Today they go on unaware, that there ever existed a girl with rainbow hair. ”   She did exactly what I wanted…my mockery and insinuation had made her drop her camouflage and lunge at me, knife drawn, roaring a rage-fueled scream. I squeezed the trigger and watched as bloody holes appeared on her chest. She fell face first onto the tile, and her knife clattered to the floor. I kept my gun trained on her even as she dematerialized. My audience of three looked on, mouths agape, empty eye sockets watching as I rejected their offer and rounded the bar. I took pause when I saw a bloody trail leading from behind the counter through the kitchen door. Clem. I followed the trail and saw that my suspicions had been on the money, as he’d left behind a beeline toward the freezer door. He was still army crawling toward it when I spotted the slowly moving ghost. I assumed he was attempting to free Ray, but found his strength lacking. I pointed my rifle’s barrel at the back of Clem’s head, and sent a single bullet into his skull. He disappeared, along with the slug-like trail he’d left, and I turned my light to the door marked “MANAGER”. The bookcase had been replaced, and I approached it, when suddenly the small manager’s office was filled with a blinding white light. I could see my shadow standing out on the bookshelf before me, and concluded that the flood of light was emanating from behind. I whipped around, raising my weapon, and saw that Maddox must have liked Clem’s plan, as the freezer door stood wide open. A single shadowy figure stood in the glow, and I emptied the rest of my clip into the silhouette. My gun returned clicks in place of it’s boisterous bangs, and I lowered it, watching the shade fall to it’s knees, pinholes of light shining through it. I stepped toward the downed being, squinting and letting my weapon fall to my side where it’s strap held it. I raised my hand above my eyes, and was shocked to see the clump of meat fall from the crooked head of the phantom. I’d shot the harmless Residual, emptied my weapon on it, and it was him that was fading away before me. As soon as that realization hit, so did Ray. He charged through the threshold at me, catching me off guard and narrowly missing my gut as he plunged, knife forward. I’d stumbled backward, luckily, and his stab struck only the air before me, but before I could even regain my composure he was slashing at me wildly. His skin was still black and frosty, but his movements…he’d certainly limbered up since I’d last seen him. One of his mad slashes connected, leaving the leather sleeve of my jacket torn, but my arm remained protected from it’s sharp touch. Formulating a plan, I continued to take steps backward, until I felt the wood in my back. The book case. Perfect. Ray continued his approach, and I watched carefully, waiting for the right moment. As predicted he reached striking distance and raised the saber above his head and let out a wet growl, exposing his rotten teeth as he drove the knife downward. Had he slashed, he’d have gotten me…but he didn’t. I quickly dropped to my knees as I watched his blade fall. Instead of meeting my flesh, it collided with the solid wood of the book stand behind me. That was the opening I needed. I charged the child murderer, catching his gaunt waist with my shoulder, tackled him to the floor, grabbed the collar of his ice-cold shirt, and proceeded to bash the back of his frostbitten skull against the hard tile of the ground until his squirming stopped. His elongated mouth continued to twitch as I stood, pulling the hunting knife from the wood as if it were Excalibur. I knelt beside the dying phantom, and drove the knife into his forehead, ushering him into fate’s arms. He flickered out of existence, and I turned my attention once again toward the bookshelf as the glow from the freezer went dark. My trusty headlamp guided me as I pushed the heavy unit out of the way, just as I had a year earlier. Before opening the door it hid, I dug a new clip from my pocket, and readied my rifle again. Still a way to go before Maddox… There were no glowing halos for me as I stepped into McGrath’s Department Store, but the crimson veins that climbed the walls emanated a brighter glow than ever. Maddox was angry. Good. I flicked off my head lamp as the voice spoke to me from the vibrating roots. “You should have left you never will…” Maddox teased. I stared ahead at my next roadblock. Across the vibrant red room, was the desk I’d have to move to enter Spencer Maddox’s cavern…and atop that desk sat cross-legged, was a specter clad in nylon. The Night Surgeon’s white outfit took on a pink hue, absorbing the light cast from the walls. He stared at me, and I stared back. The only thing between the two of us was his army of mannequin chimeras. I raised my gun, and began to carefully make my way across the room, weaving around the statuesque monstrosities. Their faux bodies remained completely still as I passed, but their human parts twitched…fingers curling, limbs jerking subtly, and the most eerie was the way their sack covered heads all turned to watch as I passed by. The night surgeon maintained his stare as I closed the gap, remaining just as still as his creations. Where the translucent horde had gone, I didn’t know, but I would have felt better with them around. At least their faces I could read, unlike the covered visages of the mannequins. I trained my eyes and my weapon on the Surgeon, though, and marched onward. I was about twelve feet from my destination, and by proxy, the living doll that sat upon it, when he finally moved. The Night Surgeon raised a single mitten-like hand from his lap, and I saw that in it, he held something extremely disturbing. My right wrist tingled as I looked upon the skeletal hand he held up, the skin on it that remained was gray, mummified. The fingers I’d used to write, eat, and scratch itches pointed skyward. The horrific being then proceeded to wave at me with the remains of my dominant hand. The noise from my left came suddenly, and I jerked my head in it’s direction, effectively falling into the Nylon Man’s trap. It had been the mere scraping of a mannequin’s foot, but had succeeded in distracting me long enough for the Night Surgeon himself to spring from his perch, and charge me. He grabbed the barrel of my rifle before I could recover, using his new found leverage to fling me to the rust covered ground. I’d bitten my lip as I fell, and tasted blood as I turned to see the figure standing over me. He held my rifle by the barrel like a wine bottle, and shook his head slowly from side to side, scolding me. I saw the shiny silver cleaver in his other hand, red glow of the room reflecting off of it’s shimmery surface. The demon tossed my rifle away, and gestured with it’s now free, finger-less palm for me to stand. He wanted to finish the job his way, it seemed, as he anxiously twirled the butcher’s tool. I did as I was told, bringing my right stump to my lip, wiping away the blood that was trickling down my chin. “I just want to say one thing…” I muttered. The Night Surgeon cocked his head slightly, and I heard Maddox chuckle from the walls. “Well, I’d certainly love to hear this. Had your chance to leave, Jack…don’t tell me you want to beg for your life? ” Maddox spoke heartily. Smugly. I took a few deep breaths, and then answered. “I just wanted to know…” I smirked. “If you really thought I’d come in here with no backup plan…” I quickly allowed my coat to slide from my arms, giving me easier access to the sawed off shotgun I’d kept hidden in a holster under my right arm. I drew the very illegally short cannon, and pumped the first of it’s two shots into the sternum of the bleached demon. The Night Surgeon stumbled backward, and looked down at the buckshot wound in his chest. The white of his suit was blooming a dark red, and he looked up at me, somehow conveying confusion with his blank face. I wiped that look away with my final shot, eviscerating the demon’s head. The Night Surgeon’s body fell backward, and was gone before it hit the ground. The modified shotgun had served it’s purpose, and I tossed it to the side, retrieving my jacket and rifle. Each of the mannequins remained static, their master dead. I figured I was dealing with a hive-mind situation with them, and with no leader, they were little more than Residuals. “What are you doing, Jack? ” Maddox asked, all confidence drained from his smooth voice. “What do you hope to prove?! Why did you come back here?! ” He sounded panicked as I began to push the counter off of the hatch door. “Who do you think you are?! ” He shouted as I knelt and pulled the metallic barrier open. “Why Spencer, I’m a bringer of death…” I spoke as I began my descent into the monstrosity’s subterranean lair. The crimson glow as I moved down the steps gave the feeling that I was traveling into hell. The putrid, sulfur smell added to the “fire and brimstone” motif. Nevertheless, I wasn’t turning back. I’d come to do a job, and by God I was going to do it. I reached the bottom without incident, and followed the corridor that had haunted my nightmares for a year. A chill ran through me as the ground below my feet shifted from hard stone to the spongy, squishy mass. Yet I pressed on. Eventually, I arrived at Maddox’s chamber. I felt a rage bubble up inside me as my eyes fell upon the dark crater at the back of the cave. Every memory of that horrible night culminated, and without thinking, I began taking potshots at the fleshy walls, relishing the whining cries that came as each bullet lodged in the scarlet mass. “Hiding, Maddox?! ” I shouted between my rifles bursts. “Don’t tell me you’re scared! I’m just a fucking ant to you, remember?! Look at me! Look at me! ” I howled, launching a hail of bullets at the closed membranes of the beach-ball eye. Maddox’s cries danced into my ears as my bullets punctured his eyelids, and I felt pure joy. I was beginning to think that I may actually succeed in my mission, when I felt the cold, steel cylinder press into the back of my neck, right at the base of my skull. I immediately stopped firing. “That’s enough, Jack…” I heard Penny’s voice from behind. “Drop it. ” Her revolver had obviously been returned to her, and even though I suspected it was just as empty as it had been the last time I’d held it, I dropped my rifle. After all, if Maddox was capable of manifesting food, and mugs of pus, who’s to say he couldn’t also produce bullets. “I was wondering what became of you. ” I said plainly as I raised my arms, my ears ringing from my assault on the cave’s walls. “Maddox needed a new right hand after Rob’s failure. While I do hate seeing him banished to his office, perpetually struggling to free himself of the noose, I must say I enjoy the perks of being Maddox’s feeder. Walk. ” I heard her instruct from behind, jabbing the weapon into my neck just as she’d jammed it into my back all those nights ago. “What about Abby? ” I asked as I was marched toward the crevice. I saw that it was filling with those squirming tentacles, bony tusks rising in the middle. I was pleased to see the damaged I’d done to Maddox’s eye as it finally peeled open. A dozen bullets floated in the jelly of the lizard eye, the paths they’d carved into it oozed a strange, light-green blood. “She stays out of sight, but don’t you worry, when I cant find her, I take my frustrations out on that pretty little redhead you brought here. After tonight, it looks like I’ll have a new toy, too. ” She finished as I was led to the edge of the writhing crater. I looked upon the abomination that was Spencer Maddox for the second, and final, time. “Jack. It was a nice try, but I think we both knew this is how it would end. ” The vibrations of the room spoke. Every bit of cockiness had returned to Maddox’s voice, and I watched as the bubblegum colored tongue snaked slowly from the jet black beak. “I have to say, Jack, that I am going to savor this…” He added as the forked organ slithered along the ground, inching toward me. I steeled myself as the serpentine tongue reached me, and rose like a cobra from a basket before me. I winced as it started to flicker along my flesh, lapping at my face’s fresh wounds…indeed savoring the moment. “You taste like a wasted life, Jack. ” Spencer Maddox cooed as his slender, muscular tongue slid around my neck. I felt the barrel of Penny’s revolver pull away as it was replaced by the organ, and watched the thing grow taut in front of me. I felt my feet inch toward the tusks as the abomination began dragging me toward it’s hungry maw. To tell the truth, that’s where it would have ended. I hadn’t been able to predict just what exactly Penny’s involvement would have been, and that single variable had crushed my war on Maddox…or it would have, had the elder Sullivan sister not made her grand reappearance, and with a bang, no less. “Penny! ” I heard Abby shout, a savageness in her normally soft voice caused even Maddox pause, as I momentarily stopped being dragged. I glanced to my right to see Abby standing…yes, standing, in the wings. In her hands she held my dropped rifle. She’d been reassembled, it seemed…reunited with her lost body parts…and two viridescent eyes glared angrily at her little sister. “You aren’t the only one Dad taught to shoot. ” She didn’t even blink as she squeezed the trigger, sending a torrent of bullets toward Penny. The younger Sullivan only managed to fire off one shot, confirming that she did, in fact, somehow have ammo. The shot went wide, presumably because the girl that fired it was falling backward as she was gunned down without a word. Maddox, apparently recognizing the turned tables, jerked me by the neck. Hard. I was lucky that alone didn’t snap my neck as I tumbled to the wormy floor. I was pulled toward the tusks rapidly, feeling the grip of the tongue on my neck tighten, squeezing my throat and cutting off my supply of oxygen. Very aware of the panic that being unable to breathe could induce, I opted to focus on my goal rather than my inability to draw air. My primary task at that point, was pulling the dagger I’d traveled the world to obtain from the leather hilt. My fingers fumbled with the ivory handle as I collided with the tusks, my head slipping through the massive teeth. I wrapped my right arm around one of the slick, saliva coated bones, holding on for dear life, wishing that I still had my hand as the crook of my elbow struggled for a grip. I felt my hair rustle, and an unholy, warm breath on the back of my head as the tongue pulled at my neck, desperately trying to drag me into the waiting, toothy beak. Maddox was even ignoring the shots Abby was firing into it’s fleshy mass, totally focused on it’s gruesome task. Remembering Terry’s fate, I knew that my time was severely limited as I was already feeling my neck stretch. Not only that, but my oxygen deprivation was beginning to affect my vision. I wagered that I had about a minute to save myself. I didn’t need the full sixty seconds, for as soon as I tore the knife from it’s pouch, I brought it up and dragged the golden blade across the snakelike appendage clutching my neck. An ungodly roar filled the cave, and the hold Maddox had on me immediately loosened. No, not loosened…the tongue around my neck turned to ash, freeing me. I took a deep breath, inhaling rancid air, but feeling the oxygen fill my lungs. Maddox’s animalistic scream intermingled with pained words as I pulled myself to my feet. “That’s not possible! ” He shouted in disbelief. “I cant be hurt! ” Maddox sounded as if he were trying to convince me, despite me being able to clearly see the trail of soot that used to be the monster’s tongue, and the pained squirming of it’s countless tendrils. “Guess that makes this a big day for you, then…” I said, turning to face the jaundiced eyeball, thrilled to see the fear in the reptilian globe. I held up the majestic and nightmarish weapon, and saw the inky black pupil dilate. “Jack, stop. I can give you your heart’s desire! I can-” Maddox pleaded. But my scream cut him off. I dashed around the slime covered tusks, keeping my footing on the shaking tentacles that made up the floor. I flew toward the wall like lightning, all of my anger culminating in the moment that I jumped toward the wall and drove the eight inches of the ancient blade into the soft meat of Spencer Maddox’s lone eye.   “It…cant be. I…I…” The monstrosity choked out softly…weakly…as the light-green blood oozed from the rapidly decaying oculus. I retracted the knife as the eyeball turned to ash, leaving a gaping black hole in the fleshy wall. Crimson rain began to fall all around me, as the mossy roots covering the cavern began to die. Their glow fading as they grayed, sprinkling the room as the muscles disintegrated, creating a snowfall of ash. The mass of tentacles I stood on stilled, and began to sink back into the crater. I turned and dashed toward the rising cliff wall, but quickly realized I’d not make it before the ground sank too far, and with my singular hand, climbing out would be impossible. I was comforted in my knowledge that my death would be marked with the destruction of the monstrosity, but Jack Collins doesn’t give up. In one last effort, I lunged for the canyon’s edge, drilling the golden blade into the remains of the rapidly decaying mass that lined it. A cruel twist of fate left me dangling from my weapon as the remains of Maddox continued to lower. I was inches from the cusp of the ledge above, but as I’d theorized, my left hand holding the hilt of my knife, and my right hand being long missing, my feet alone were unable to climb the slippery wall of the cliff. It seemed Maddox and I would fall into hell together. Just as I’d resigned myself to my fate, the form of Abby appeared on the ledge above, where she crouched, and reached down with an open palm. I stretched my right arm upward, placing far too much weight on my makeshift piton, and my spike slipped from the remaining mass just as Abby wrapped her hands around my wrist. I wasn’t out of the fire, yet, though, as I heard her struggling to support my weight. I drove the dagger into the wall again, attempting to hoist myself upward and assist with the climb, but it was no use. The remains of Maddox had faded too much for the knife to get a sufficient hold. “I…cant hold you! ” Abby grunted. “You’re slipping! ” It was true. The blood that coated my wrist from the teeth of the skinless horror’s attack didn’t help as her slim fingers fought for a grip. “Jack! ” She shouted just as her grasp failed. I expected to plummet into the pit below, be consumed by the void, but that isn’t what happened. I looked up to see another hand had taken hold of my jacket’s sleeve. A stronger hand. Robert McGrath’s hand. It was the older version of the man, but his strength was quite impressive, and determination poured from those electric blue eyes. I was hauled up enough for a second hand to join in, and higher still so that Abby’s hands could accompany McGrath’s. Finally, I crested the ledge, my two saviors falling backward as I was hauled over the threshold. The three of us caught our breath, exchanging quick glances as we returned to our feet. Wordlessly, I undid my belt of grenades…miraculously none of the pins had been pulled free until then…and tossed the explosive laden strap into the black pit. I’d intended on using them as a last resort, if things had gone badly…but they ended up serving as a final exclamation point. They fell quickly, consumed by the darkness of the hole as they plummeted, and five seconds later I heard them go off. I like to imagine they tore the walls and rubble would bury Maddox’s corpse for all time. As I stood there, staring satisfied into the abyss below, I heard my saviors’ exchange. “How did you get here? ” Abby’s voice spoke behind me in disbelief. Robert responded with raspy, wheezy words. “I guess…I don’t…it seemed that suddenly Maddox no longer had control, and the rope holding me turned to ash…” I turned to see my great-great grandfather rubbing his neck. Both his eyes and Abby’s were on me just as the last of the scarlet light faded. I flicked on my headlamp and retrieved my rifle from Abby’s offering arms. I slung it over my shoulders. “I cant believe it…” Robert choked out hoarsely. “…You really did it. ” “What happens now? ” Abby asked. I held the golden dagger to my face, allowing it to catch my lamp’s glow, silently admiring the way the light ran the saber’s length before speaking. “Maddox said it himself. His Kind are out there…the Marcum House in West Virginia has an unnatural history of tragedy. I think I may go check it out. ” Afterparty Painto Presents.

S shout at me. Continuing “OK, douse your lights, ” I say, “Let me show you how we used to do things when real men hewed the earth. ” They comply and it's dark; dark as pitch, dark as a whore’s soul, dark as camp coffee. I bleed a little acetylene into the miner’s lamp. PWSSSStttt. Then I spark it. “KWA FWOOM! ” It makes a bit of noise. Like a detonating M-80 firecracker. Everyone but me jumps. “Jesus fuck, Rock!, ” Chuck yells, “You could have warned us! ” Al and Leo stand there shaking just a little bit. “Oh, I could have, ” I reply, “But where’s the fun in that? However, I guaran-goddamn-tee you, you’ll never forget this lesson. ” They are forced to agree. I don the old miner’s hardhat and carbide lamp. This is my go-to for this trip. “Oh, guys, ” I say, “Watch this. ” They immediately cover their ears. I snicker, hole the top of one of the carbide cans with my Estwing and pour half my canteen into it. I drop a match on the can, there’s a subdued WHOOSH and this entire section of the mine is bathed in eerie, flickering yellowish light. “Old School, ” I smile. We look around. It’s a large gallery, and we can see quite the distance down the sloping tunnel. We see lateral drifts off to the left and right, all the way along as far as we can see. We also spy piles of evidence of parties part. Broken booze bottles, empty beer cans, used condoms, torn up mining artifacts, ripped up wood used for a campfire, which is a whole new level of idiocy. “Guys, “ I say, “There are times I really hate my species. ” They all agree. “OK, guys. Nut cuttin’ time. ” I say, “We split up into pairs. Al and Leo, me and Chuck. We’ll take the left and you guys go right. Check out and map the drifts until you reach the face. Stay in touch with your radios. At the halfway point, we’ll swap partners. And wipe those shit-eating grins off your faces. ” They all snicker. Kids. “OK, ” I say, “Radio check. ” We check to ensure all our radios function here and we’re all on the same frequency. “OK, good, ” I note, “Synchronize watches. At my mark, it’s exactly 1101 hours. MARK! ” Leo stands there, looking confused. “Problems, Leo? ” I ask. “Rock, I’ve got this digital watch. Hard to synchronize. ” He laments. Well, I suppose it would just be silly to be crawling around here wearing a Rolex or Omega. “OK, we can order you a new, manual mechanical watch, ” I say, “Until then, do the best you can. ” “Roger that, ” he replies. We split up and spend the next few hours exploring the mine. It’s a dry mine, so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. The only critters we find are traces. Some bones of something small, a few cave crickets, a shed snakeskin. This place, for all intents and purposes, is dead. And it’s up to us to bury it. We swap halfway in, and we’re making good time. Leo is paying rapt attention. I’m schooling him in not only what needs to be done, but what not to do. “Ore chute, ” I say, pointing to the wooden structure hanging on the wall. “Dangerous. Full of loose run-of-mine. Usually unstable. Give them a wide berth. ” Leo nods and writes that in his notebook. “Good, ” I think, “He’s picking things up, finally”. “Mind all wooden boards. Could be rotted, ” I say, “Or could be concealing a false floor, or chock full of rusty nails. Step on one of those and it’d ruin your whole weekend. Think before you step. Look, look again, and observe. ” He nods in agreement. “An never just pick up a likely looking rock, ” I add, “That’s one reason why you’re carrying a geology hammer and have field boots. Want to inspect that rock? Kick it over first, smack it with the hammer, make sure there’s nothing nasty living underneath. ” Leo looks aghast. Obviously, he’s never thought of that happenstance. We continue along and I’m instructing Leo on the use of subsurface GPS, Brunton compasses, Silvas, the theodolite, and other orienteering and mapping devices. We make some pretty good time. Then I get a call on the radio. “Rock? Al. Get over here, No injuries or casualties. But it’s important. Dropping a fusee at our 20. ” Al says. We see the smoke-belching red-burning road flare. We double-time it, cautiously, over. “Al, Chuck, ” I ask, “What’s up? What’s all the hoo-haw? ” “Look at this., ” Al points with his hammer. It’s a wooden chest, like a wardrobe, only bigger. It’s 6’ tall and easily thrice that wide. It’s marked: “EXPLOSIVES! DANGER! ” I look and now it’s my turn to gape. “Holy shit, ” I remark, “It’s still locked? Back off, slowly. ” “Yep, ” Chuck says, as they move back. “Good thing the party animals never got this deep and found this here. ” “No shit, ” I said. This was a poser. Old, rotted dynamite leaks nitroglycerine. It’s ridiculously touchy and super-uber fucking dangerous. Old mercury fulminate is worse. We’re standing there and just pondering. No one wants to make any untoward moves. “Well, now what? ” Chuck asks. “We need to open it. ” I say, “And see what’s inside. “What’s this ‘we’ shit, White Man? ” Al asks, clearly a bit distressed. “You all haul ass toward the adit, ” I say, I’ll handle this. No use we all going up in a puff of smoke and a hearty Hi-Oh! Fuck. ” Leo’s been inspecting the case and it’s lock intently. “Rock, ” he says, “Look here. The lock’s almost rusted through. The backing board holding it is warped and rotted as well. ” I begin to take a cautious step closer. Quick as a bunny fucks, Leo takes his Estwing out and smacks the lock; luckily a glancing blow. I grab his hammer before he can land another lick. “Are you out of your motherfucking mind!?!, ” I scream. “Jesus Q. Christ. We’re lucky to still be in one piece. ” “Oh, sorry, Rock, ” he says. “Sorry don’t feed the goddamned bulldog. ” I yell, “Get the fuck out of here. All of you. Scat! ” They exit, very cautiously, out of the drift. I hear Al remark to Leo: “Nice one, asswipe. ” The lock wasn’t evidently locked tight, as it had popped open. Well, that’s just nifty. I cautiously ease the remains of the lock and keeper off the warped board and ease it to the floor. Not knowing what, if anything, is in there, I am trying desperately to avoid any jars, jolts, or jitters. A piece of the backing board falls to the floor and makes me jump a bit. “Deep breaths, old sod, ” I remind myself, “Let’s not get too panicky. Yet. ” Slowly, I open the doors. They squeal in protest at one point. I actually closed my eyes, and grit my teeth; like that would accomplish anything. It’s packed to bursting with case after case after case of old, moldering, leaky dynamite. There are spools of rusty old, iron demo wire. Boxes of oxidized blasting caps. Rotted cannon fuse. An old, and I mean old, falling apart blasting machine. I photograph the tableaux and back very slowly away. I make my exit quickly and carefully. Back in the main tunnel, I’m still doing a slow burn. “Rock, ” I’m sorry, ” Leo starts. I hold up one index finger and snarl, signaling that I do not, right now, want to hear from him. “We’re done here for the present, ” I say, “Mine egress. Now. ” We walk out of the mine in silence. Back at camp, I see it’s getting late in the day. By the time we remove all our mine gear, we note we’ve missed lunch and nearly being launched into orbit. I stoke the campfire and put on the coffee. My hands are still involuntarily shaking. “Guys, ” I holler, “Camp meeting. NOW! ” All three show up in mere minutes. “OK, whose turn for dinner?, ” I ask. Chuck raises his hand. “OK, ” I reply, “Franks and beans again and you’re going back into the mine and bring that locker out yourself. Right. Now that’s all settled. Today was a classic example of what not to do. True, I never specifically said not to whack an old cabinet full of explosives with your hammer, but I had hoped that a smidge of common sense might have prevailed. ” No one said a word. “Yeah., ” I continue, “Now that our pulses have returned from the stratosphere, let’s just see how we can put a positive spin on this little micturition-inducing misadventure. ” They all stand at attention like they’re in a cadet review. “Guys, ” I say, “I’m not going to eat anyone. Chill. Have a seat and a coffee. ” They do as suggested. “OK, ” I continue anew, “Now we all agree that Leo here pulled the bonehead stunt of the century. We could have all died there. Everyone, POOF, instant coyote shit. That is what we in the business call ’a bad thing’. ” The atmosphere around the campfire lightens slightly. “OK, ” I go on, “So let’s learn from this. Sure, don’t go whacking old explosives cabinets, but let’s apply it in a broader sense. These old mines are deathtrap Disneylands. Just think that everything in there is trying to kill you. Your only defense is knowledge, training, and equipment. Plus a healthy dollop of common sense. ” They are all shaking their heads in agreement. “So, ” I say, “Use this as a learning experience. I know it’s not one I’ll soon forget. Accidents will happen, but stupid is everywhere. Always be on your guard against it. We green? ” “Oh, fuckin’-A, Rock. Green as lime vodka. ” Chuck speaks for the team. “Coolness., ” I remark, “Well, since the day’s almost over, gentlemen…” “The drinking light is lit? ” Al asks. “Betcher ass. ” I reply, “Leo, since you need to get back into my good graces, please fetch me a Rocknocker. A stout double, in fact. ” Leo looks confused. “What’s that Rock? ” “Adopt, adapt, and improve., ” I remark, “Quiz your team members. ” After dinner of bacon-wrapped antelope rib-eye steaks, seared to a turn, grilled seasonal vegetables, and Chuck’s attempt at Dutch Oven chocolate souffle, and dishes; we’re sitting around the campfire. Things have slowly returned to something approaching normal. The après -dinner conversation topics venture far and wide. Chuck gets up for a cold beer, stops, and looks off to the west. I notice he’s staring intently into the distance. “Yo, Chuckmeister, ” I ask, “What’s up? ” “Could have sworn I saw a light. Like headlights from a car. Or cars. ” He reports. “Could be a reflection from the highway, ” Al offers. “Or off low dust clouds or fog, ” Leo proposes. “Yeah., ” Chuck agrees, “Probably. ” We sit and now it’s story telling time. Most are meh, but some are real knee-slappers. We don’t mention the drift containing the locker that shan’t be mentioned. I see a brief flash of light. Leo does as well. “Guys, ” I say, “Find me a pair of binoculars, please. ” Al returns from his tent with a fine pair of Olympus sports binoculars. I focus on the distance. Nothing. “There! ” I say, “It was headlights. Maybe desert dune rats or motocross bikers. ” We resolve to keep a sharp eye on them, just in case. Half an hour later, we hear engines. More than one. And see a lot of headlights. They’re heading this way. There’s nothing out here, just the mine. “Guys, ” I say, “Sidearms. I’m getting my shotgun and the sat phone. ” Leo sits and waits. We return, armed to the teeth. If these are local partiers, they’re sure as fuck not going anywhere near that mine, especially after our little discovery today. We sit and wait. The headlights grow closer. They were headed right for the mine adit. “Fuckbuckets. ” I think. I hand Leo the shotgun. “You said you can handle one of these? ” I ask. “You weren’t just pulling my lariat? ” “Yes, sir, ” he says, and racks the shotgun, seeing it’s loaded. “Good. That ain’t no skeet gun, ” I warn, “It’s a 10 gauge Mossberg, loaded with double-ought buck, backed up by Forester deer slugs. Hold it tight to your shoulder so you don’t bust it when you fire. ” “Right, ” he says. Serious-time. Pucker time. “Leo, ” I say, “You stay here. Defend the camp. We’ll “HIYAH! ” before we return. Anyone else breaks perimeter, you let them know you’re here and armed. Got that? Keep the home fires burning. ” “Got it, Rock, ” he assures me. “You can count on me. ” “Look, ” I say, “I’m not overly keen on all this but I’d sure hate to be shot by my own team. 100% vigilance, care, and observance. A dose of common sense? Right? ” “Right! ” Leo replies. “Marvelous, ” I say in return. “Chuck, Al, ” I say, “Let’s take us a little walk. ” I caution Leo one final time, we don our miner’s hardhats, light them up, and head toward the mine adit. We’re there well before the partiers arrive. We kill our lights. The first carload of revelers arrives and skid to a dusty halt. They’re already well beer, and perhaps other cheap recreational intoxicants, lubricated. I’m getting a bad feeling about this. “Chuck, go right; Al, go left. I’ll go up the middle. When I signal, we light’em up. Got it? ” I whisper. “Right. ” “Ditto. ” They sneak away and find good cover. I walk right up the middle towards the car. They’re pulling out coolers and other party favors. They’re not armed, I see. At least, not openly. They have no earthly idea that I’m standing there. “3…2…1…NOW! ” I yell. Our lights blaze on. The revelers are caught in the crossbeams. I let their eyes adjust for a bit and walk up to introduce myself. “HELLO THERE! ” I shout. “What brings you out this far into the desert tonight? ” They look at me and gawk. I have my usual cigar, field boots, tall Scots socks, cargo shorts, and garish Hawaiian shirt outfit. They look at me like I just teleported in from NGC 4151. “Who are you? ” I hear one voice ask. “I could ask you the same question, ” I reply, “May I approach? ” “Yeah. I guess, ‘spoze. ” Someone says. I walk over near their car. It’s a bunch of late teens, early 20s-types. Memories of a boney previous mine flash through my memory circuits. “What are you up to out here? ” I ask. The head scruffy, one Mick, walks over and tells me there’s a party tonight. “Way out here in the desert? ” I ask. “Seems like an odd place to party. ” “No, ” he chuckles lightly, “Well, yeah. We use that old mine over there. ” “I’m sorry, folks. I’m afraid not. ” I calmly reply. “Why the fuck not? ” he growls, in 3. 2 beer-fueled bravado. “Because that mine is slated for demolition. Tomorrow morning, in fact. ” I reply. “The fuck you say. ” He replies. “The fuck I do, ” I reply. “Well, who the fuck are you? Some old claim jumper? ” he snarls back. I see the mood getting uglier as the rest of the car has piled out. There are at least two or three more cars on the way. “Nope., ” I say, “I am Doctor Rocknocker, late of the Department of the Inferior, Reno branch. I’m the guy whose team area doing the demolition of the mine in the morning. ” “Oh, fuck off. You are not. ” Mick growls. I see a couple of baseball bats have made a surreptitious appearance in the crowd. “Actually. Yes, we are., ” I say calmly, trying to keep the situation as cool as can be. “Not just me, but my associates as well. ” As I gesture to the twin beam of lights they’ve not noticed until now. They realize they’re bracketed. Two more cars slide up, just as loaded with well-lubricated party-goers. “What the fuck’s going on? ” someone hollers. “This old asshole is telling us we can’t use the mine. Says he’s a doctor or some-fucking-thing and he’s going to blow up the mine in the morning. ” “More or less correct, ” I reply, nodding. “Well, fuck him. I’d like to see him try and stop us. ” Some brave idiot called. “Now, now people., ” I say, “No need for violence. Just be good little boys and girls. Now get back in your cars, and get the fuck out of here before my friends here and I lose our composure and coolness. ” “Or what? ” someone growls and walks forward brandishing a baseball bat in a most decidedly unfriendly manner. I had really hoped it wouldn’t come to this. But I just smile with my cigar clenched between my teeth, and quickly show them the business end of a. 454 Casull Magnum. “Now, folks. Let’s remain calm. Take it easy. No need for any of this. Let’s all be cool., ” I say. Luckily, their bravado was tempered by the appearance of what looked, to them, to be the Holland Tunnel. “Chuck! Al! Front and center. ” I yell. Chuck and Al appear, with their Glocks drawn, but at their sides. Clever guys. I show them the satellite phone and mention that I have already dialed the State police. All I need to do is press the call button and they will be here forthwith with the necessary medics and body bags. This caused them great consternation. “Fuck that, ” one brave idiot says, “They can’t get us all in a rush. ” “Really? ” I think. “Over a damn party spot? That’s literally a hole in the ground? ” I let loose a single round skyward at an acute angle away from the crowd. Nothing out there but sand and scorpions. That really took the starch out of them. They realized we were serious. Deadly serious. “OK, now which of you brave folks want to be first? I’ve got four left. My compatriots, on the other hand, have 38. Who wants to be that brave soul and go first? ” I ask. Nothing but murmurs. “Look, let’s instead just be cool. Can we just talk a minute? Point the first: you’re not going in the mine. That’s a stone-cold fact. At least let me explain why it’s posted, why you’d be trespassing, and why it such a fuckingly stupid idea. ” I say. They reluctantly agree. We holster and clip our sidearms. After I gave them a good stern talking to, explaining all the dangers of old mines, they actually seemed to be taking some of this to heart. ”Hell, ” I said to them, “I’ve been doing this for years. I’ve had a lot of close calls. But I’m ridiculously well trained, educated, and experienced. You’re a bunch of kids, pretty much braindead when it comes to mines and mining. You’re out getting liquored up and have no fucking idea just how close you come to death every time you walk into one of these places. Guys, it ain’t worth it. First off, it’s illegal. Second, it’s posted as to why. Third, there are so many dangers in there, it would take the rest of the night just to hit the highlights. Hell, I hate being a killjoy, I might even be known to enjoy a drink or two now and again... ” Chuck and Al look at each other and chuckle. After a comically exasperated look at 2/3rds of my crew, I continue: “But goddamnit, kids, it’s for your own good. So go on, be pissed off at me. Curse me. Mutter dark oaths at me. But at least, you’ll still be alive to do so. ” “But we’re careful, ” one of them says. “Before or after those cases of beer and who knows what the fuck else? ” I ask, “Some idiots have lit campfires in the mine here. You know just how incredibly, monstrously fucking stupid that is? Mine damp, methane, CO2, H2S, old dynamite, limited airflow. Hell, raise the carbon monoxide levels just a scant couple of percent in that closed off mine and you’d just go to sleep. For good. All permanent like. Dead. Seriously fucking dead. Period. Guys and gals, go find somewhere else. I don’t really care that it’s illegal, it’s just plain fucking bone-deep stupid. ” They hem and haw, and there are some grumbles but it appears that I have made a little headway. “And not just this mine” I add, “Any abandoned mine. They’re abandoned for good reason. Nothing in there of any value. Is it really worth losing your life over a fucking old hole in the ground? ” They had to agree, I made many valid points. “Go find a beach, a dune, a lake, a river, a meteor crater, a disused section of railway, anything. But stay the fuck out of these old mines. I have to do this job because too many people were dying in them. My team and I are blasting them closed so no one else has to die because of youthful idiocy, cheap beer, and bad decisions. ” I remark. There are mumbles from the crowd. “We good here? ” I ask. “We’re not leaving until the job is done. Although, after tomorrow, you’re free to come back here and party your fucking socks off next to the closed mine adit. ” I heard grumbles of agreement. “OK, ” I say, “Good. Now drive safely. Lots of nasties out there in the desert, especially at night. And please, remember what I said. I really hate having to go into these dark, nasty places and drag out such youthful corpses. ” That got them, right in the feels. The ringleader came over to talk. “I guess you’re right. ” He says, “Never knew they were that dangerous. Sorry about all this, Doctor. ” We shake hands, he calls for everyone to mount up. They all depart in a flurry of dust and dashed expectations. Walking back to camp, Chuck and Al just are stunned by the turn of events. “What a bunch of yokels. Imagine them in that mine, finding that explosives locker. ” He says. “Ah, fuck. They would have done our job for us, ” I reply, “Then again, we’d be on a recovery mission. Not much chance for search and rescue if that stuff lit off. ” “HIYAH THE CAMP! WE’RE BACK. ROCK. CHUCK. AL! ” we all call. “Come forward, ” Leo says, brandishing the shotgun. “Stand down, Leo. It’s been handled, ” I say, “Good job, guys. Real fine teamwork there. It could have been mega-nasty. But it all worked out in the end. ” I retrieve the shotgun and replace it my Easy Rider Rifle Rack. I stash my Casull in the truck’s lockbox. I go to the cooler and pour myself an especially stout drink. It’s been a long night. And it’s going to be a longer day tomorrow. The next day is not going to be usual in any way, shape or form. We need to demolish this mine and secure the adit as per usual. However, I am taking sole responsibility of neutralizing the danger posed by that locker full of old, drippy dynamite, leaked nitro, and oozed-out who-the-fuck-knows-what-else back in that far, far, distant drift. I’m going in solo here, wearing my bespoke ‘special situations suit’. I’ve worn it only rarely. The last time was for body recovery in an oil well fire. I haven’t even told Es about its existence, much less its use. It’s made of a thick Kevlar-Tyvek-Nomex composite that comprises the outer shell of these custom-fit coveralls. It’s layered with several sheets of different, flexible, reflective, and lightweight materials that are triply and internally grounded to help eliminate static electricity, random EMF [Electro Motive Force], and dampen body vibrations. It has a full-face SCBA helmet-pack that covers my head completely; think of a deep-sea diver’s helmet, just in thick gold-plated, anti-glare, polycarbonate. It has built-in forward-facing lights, heads-up display, and head-nod actuated flip-down/flip-up magnifiers and UV/IR filters. I also need to wear special hydro-oxy fuel-cell power packs on my lower back to power the thing. It’s all very, very 2001: A Space Odyssey. My helmet’s connected through a Kevlar hose to something very much similar to a diving regulator that is on-demand for my air supply. Special ports in the suit diffuse my exhaled breath, as one tends to hyperventilate a bit while wearing one of these. One also tends to sweat a lot. A whole lot. Every time I use the thing, I have to drain out a few pints afterward. The helmet is also engineered to prevent the faceplate from fogging, which could prove disastrous. All this is connected to a 60-minute Scott-style triple-filtered backpack air bottle, which rides on my upper back under my suit. It’s wired for hands-free communication which allows me to speak with my crew. I have custom-fit Nomex-Kevlar anti-static ‘finger-fine’ gloves that attach seamlessly to the arms of my suit and give great tactile response. Plus, I’m wearing Antarctica-style Mickey Mouse felt-pack rubberized moon boots that attach to my suit as well. The whole suit is heated or air-conditioned as well as water, chemical, and fire retardant/resistant. It’s not like the suit you see the guys in bomb disposal wear. No amount of padding here would help me if this thing decides to get cantankerous. It’s designed for immediate environmental protection and maximum mobility. Unfortunately, ROVs [remotely Operated Vehicles] are still a but a glint in General Dynamic’s corporate eyes. The suit is a pure bitch to put on and I require the help of my entire team as it takes over an hour to suit up, boot up, and make sure everything’s functioning. Underneath, I’m just wearing boxers and a T-shirt. I need freedom of movement. Finally, all systems, communications through the internal environment, are triply redundant. We’re not just baking cookies here boys and girls. After all that, I have to walk all the way back to that distant drift, ease in and deliver the package right to the explosives locker. I need to plant the remotely-detonated, one-off device I’ve dreamed up to remove this hazard. Then get out before I run out of breathable air. Chuck, Al, and Leo will remain back outside the adit, out of harm’s way, until I return from delivering the device. The situation is really that risky. That load of old explosives are that sensitive and could detonate by my just being there, breathing and setting up microscopic air-shock waves. Even the static electricity of a man running a hand through his hair could set it off. Vibrations from me walking back there could cause it to go supercritical and detonate. Imagine if one of last’s night’s party-goers got lost and wandered back there. Now there’s an unpleasant thought. I’m not exaggerating one little bit here. We came off very fucking lucky once. I’m not looking forward to this little scheme one minor smidgeon. But, as I like to say: “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it”. Then we all will prime and charge a few larger drifts and the adit itself. We will retire to a safe distance and I alone will detonate the locker drift package first. This is so hazardous that I’ve keyed a passcode into the remote detonator and told no one that code. I’m the only one that can actuate the device and I’m not doing that until I’m absolutely certain everything is 100% “go”. But first, breakfast. No coffee for me until this is all over. The last thing I need in there is a case of the shakes. But, still, there’s wild blueberry pancakes, patty elk sausage, cranberry juice, and real maple syrup. Umm. Real maple syrup… They say the condemned man shall enjoy a hearty meal. I finish my single morning cigar. Make sure I’m going in with an empty bladder, strip to my skivvies, and begin the long process of suiting up. After an hour and a half, it’s all systems go. Chuck, Al, and Leo are all kitted out in their mine-ingress gear. They tote along a case of dynamite and all the necessary goodies to prime, set, and place the adit charges. I alone am carrying the ‘device’, and I’m 500 meters ahead of the guys. We establish communications links, sync up watches, and I say “Da Svidonya, ” make ingress, and head back to the old explosives locker. It’s a necessarily slow trudge. I’m carrying about 60 pounds of ‘device’ wearing a suit that is around 135 pounds in total. The helmet lights, while steerable, are kind of feeble in these big tunnels. The main tunnel slopes away at around 15 0, which just adds to the fun. There’s tangle-foot everywhere; old rails, half-exposed nails, rotted lumber, piles of breakdown from the roof, errant, undisciplined rocks…Plus there are slippery smooth sections where it was worn down by the miners in days long since passed. I have 48 minutes remaining to get to the explosives locker, secure the device, make certain it’s armed and receiving, exit the drift, and hot-foot it as best I can back to the mine adit. While I walk back, I review the ‘device’. It’s a radio-controlled package of approximately 15 pounds of HELIX binary at the core. Then there’s a layer of Torpex and RDX. Then a layer of Tyvek, all wrapped and secured with that handyman’s friend, duct tape. After that, I’ve set the first of three demolition charges. This is a triply-redundant package in case that the primary or secondary fail, for this one will certainly detonate the package. Why? Because it’s already primed, charged, and live. It carries its own battery supply, its own radio link, and its own redundant initiators. Which is why these layers are wrapped in metallic per-foam Kevlar. It’ll prevent, I hope, impingement of any errant radio waves. Luckily, the thick surface rock cover of subsurface mines do a pretty good job of that already. But, stray radio waves could conceivably cause the package to fire prematurely. That would be messy. This just adds to the precarious nature of this little job. I’m carrying a large live bomb; one which if it went off while I was walking here, well, let’s just say, it’d be a closed cigar-box funeral. I see I’m approaching the drift in question. Slowly, with a definite fixity of purpose, I tread lightly on. Back to the device. The next layer is my old friend, C-4, aligned in long strips along the length of the device. It has its own set of actuators and detonators. It’s hard-wired right into the detonator which rides upon the last layer, outward, of the device. That is row after row of primed 40% Extra Fast dynamite. It’s all wrapped in Tyvek and duct tape with the remote radio detonator, and it’s cute little springy antenna, nestled atop of this whole bundle of boom. Overkill? No way. For some reason this doesn’t work, it’s a literal Federal case. All sorts of alphabetical agencies would get involved. I just don’t let myself think of that possibility as I’d probably no longer be around to chronicle our little endeavor. I’ve arrived at the drift and thus begins the really dicey part of this little drama. I look and can see the explosives locker at the end of the drift. It just sits there, taunting me. So, I throw the package and run. No, not really. I walk up to the locker, very, very gingerly. I set the package gently on the floor for the time being. I photograph the thing without moving any part of the locker. My in-suit radio cackles and Chuck reminds me I’m down to 18 minutes of breathable air. “Click, click, ” I respond. “Acknowledge transmission. ” One-click for no, two for yes. “Message received, but I’m kind of busy now. ” Remember what I said about errant radio waves? No worries. The remote detonators are all UHF [Ultra High Frequency]. Our internal communications are all HF [High Frequency]. We’re good. I look at the locker and do a visual inspection. Much of the wood is heavily stained and a much darker color close to the dynamite than in areas not so near. That dark stain is raw, bleeding nitroglycerine. I go to breathe heavily but stop myself. I’ve gone internal, on scientific auto-pilot. There’s rusted through carbide cans, rolls of rotting cotton cannon fuse, and box after box of heavily oxidized blasting caps. These worry me the most right now. They contain mercury fulminate, one of the most twitchy explosives known to Detonic science. It’s been known to detonate for no reason. Just because. Fun stuff. I figure it’ll take me a couple of minutes to place the package, make sure it’s in ‘receive’ mode, press the test buttons once or twice, and haul ass. To be continued.

M shout at me. Li shout at me. Shot at meaning. Zillow shout at me. The following was written by Rag:Shade Yutata, a cleaner abord the UGF Guard (a class 2 defender ship). It details her survival, along with one fellow crew member, from after her ship was destroyed to the day of her rescue. Translation errors may occur for some languages. Day 1 The day everything happened started normal, I'd cleaned floors, walls, emptied some of the bins on the floor I was cleaning, then an alarm went off. At first I was unsure of what to do, I'd went through training of course but when it's not a drill everything seems so diffrent. I never did find out what happened or why we had to abandon ship. I just started running for the escape pods. When I got there most of the pods had left. I got into one with two crewmembers inside already. With the three of us all buckled in the pod automatically launched and who was in front of me, with what little control he had, aimed us at the nearest planet. The landing was not soft. We crashed down through several trees and skidded along the ground for many meters. Maybe it was luck, or just good aiming by the one who aimed our pod, but we'd come to a stop in a clearing, maybe eight meters by twelve meters, give or take. That was all the luck our "pilot" had though, the impact had killed him. One of the chairs in front of me spun round to reveal the person who I'd be with until my rescue, a human who'd worked in the kitchens and went by the name Sam, short for Samual. He, at the time I didn't know his gender, pointed to the small screens at the front of the pod before speaking. He told me that I would be able go breath the air outside but it would be bad for him. Then he asked for me to pass a breathing mask. I didn't speak, just did as I was asked, not a minuet after he'd fit the mast th his face did he open the pod's door. It was now I realised how big the clearing was and just what trouble we were in. While I stood there worrying about what to do the human, Sam, was busy getting things from the pod and flipping through a book on what to do. Eventually I snapped back to reality and asked how I could assist. My task was simple, get some things from one of the pod's wall panels and put up a shelter going out from the pod's door. The last thing we did that day was bury out fallen crewmember. We used a small hand trowel from the "survival tools" on the pod, dug a pit and lay him in it before covering him. Sam seemed like all his energy was gone and suggested we try to sleep in the pod. After the pod door was shut it was amazing how fast sleep came to us. Day 2 The weather was the same as the previous day, cloudy but not cold, and we both woke when a loud band rang out around us. The sound of someone, letting off a survival flair, mere seconds later I was out of the pod and firing out own flair. There was at least one other who'd survived the landing and with any luck we'd meet them soon. Tbe days tasks mostly blued into one long task. Try to make out pod camp livable. Sam went to get wood from some of the trees to make a fire, he claimed it was for warmth even though the pod was warm enough, he then set about checking all the get and equipment we had on the pod. I spent the day making sure tbe pod was sending out a distress call and fixing the shelter to the pod after it came undone. After a light lunch, that Sam had to eat inside the sealed pod, we went back to our tasks. I was thankfull that out food supply would last us longer, food for three being eaten by two. As evening approached I found out that Sam would need much more sleep than me, eight hours at best, and it blew my mind. I thought humans didn't sleep much and my usual three hours of sleep suddenly seemed much better. He went the sleep I the pod as I stayed up trying to plan what to do next. I was glad that the fire was made, the pod may be wall but outside at night was cold. Day 3 The morning was not an easy one, I'd fallen asleep next to the fire and jerked awake when a cold breeze blew, my boy ached from sleeping on the floor. I tapped on the pod door to wake Sam. There was only one more task in the guide book we had, find food and water. To call the guide book a book as a stretch, it was hardly even a leaflet. Be that as it may we both set off together with a few tools from the pod. A compass, step tracker, sharp knife, small bucket, and toxicity indicator. We headed where the compass said was north for 812 steps before be came to a fruit bearing tree that was safe to eat from, it was only small but there was a great many more close by. When we reached the 5, 000 step mark we turned back, we'd found no water but we would try heading east next. The trip back was easy. Turns out the Sam brought the knife to carve arks into trees we'd passed and now we had a marked out route between camp and the safe fruit tree. It was early afternoon (we think) when we got back to camp so we tried heading east for water. The trip was cut short though when after only 350 steps we came to a cliff, we just turned back and decided to spend the rest of the day in camp. Eating was uneventful that day and I'd like to say the night was the same. Sam was about to go to sleep when a scream eang out through the trees. Sam was back up in seconds and armed with the knife and an axe I'd not known about. There was more screaming and voices we couldn't make out, Sam brought me into the pod with him and shut it. He insisted on taking 'first watch" and said he'd wake me in a bit it took me a while to sleep as the screams took some time to stop. True to his word I was roused sometime later to take "my turn" as he slept, it was an uneasy night. Day 4 The first half of the day was spent in camp. Sam used the newly found axe to cut some more wood from the fire but kept one long straight piece for himself. After several slow hours he was happy with whatever he'd done to the stick and told me not to add it to the fire. Lunch was hard but I got though it. Afterwards Sam insisted on going north again. I didn't understand why yet but didn't want to argue. The reason was quickly apparent. Less than 200 steps from camp was a large amount of sharp rocks about 15cm long. Sam and myself filled our bucket with the rocks and brought them back to camp. When we got back was asked to sort them from sharp to dull. They were all sharp but some where clearly sharper than others. *Sam got more lengths of wood and went about doing what he was doing to them. When evening came I finally understood what Sam was doing. He was making spears. Crude and primitive, but I wasn't going to complain. The evening meal went better. I felt that much safer with the few spears we now had. Sam wanted more. So did I. Our "night shifts" went fine with nothing happening. Day 5 Noting much happened. We made some more spears until we ran out of rocks, we had a nice pile of nineteen. We both stayed in camp though. Day 6 The morning was spent talking and getting to know one another more. I was a little surprised we'd not spoken about ourselves at all and only talked about surviving. After a light lunch we headed south in search of water and joy of joys we found it. A little over 5, 000 steps south we came to a fast flowing river. A quick check later revealed some bacteria living in it that we could kill by boiling the water. We spent some time there hoping to find bigger life in the river but nothing could be seen. I, a herbivore, wasn't to bothered but Sam seemed upset, remarking how he'd "love a fried fish right now". The evening and night was quiet as was all of the next few days. Day 11 I'd like to say that our quiet says kept going. They didn't. My night shift was finally worth it. I saw sow something in the tree line, something moving. It was low to the group d and seemed long but I could t make it out. I woke Sam and we spent a few hours just watching the tree line for anything we could. As the sky got lighter and we could see better it became clear that nothing was there anymore. The daylight hours went well enough and nothing of note happened. Then evening fell. Sam took first watch again and this time was outside the pod with me inside, before getting my sleep I watched him walking around the clearing with his eyes locked on the tree line and spear pointing forward. I felt safe. Strange, me a herbivore, feeling safe when along with an omnivores. Shure Sam and me had only been eating the survival rations and fruit we'd found but his comment about fish still stuck with me. Eventually he woke me for my turn at standing guard. It started well. I did as he did and walked around with my spear forward watching for movement and it was going good for a while. Then it wasn't good. Whatever was watching us that morning was back with what seemed to be two others, like lightning they bolted from the tree line and ran straight for me. In that moment I wasn't a brave defender anymore, I was pray, with the instincts to match, and I turned on my heels and ran. As I approached tell trees a lept up high to land on a branch, I can only thank my ancestors for evolving leg like these. At first I had no idea what to do. My Spear was on the floor and I was trapped in a tree with what looked like large lizards trying to get to me. I did all I could think of and yelled out to Sam for help. I saw his face appear in the window of the pod's door before be ran out. I'll never forget what happens next. Sam ran out with a spear and shouted louder than I thought possible. The first part of his shout 'leave her, leaver her" made me feel safer but his next line "attack me instead you stupid godzillas" worried me. Sam was actively wanting to be attacked. The three lizards turned their atention the him and ran for him. Sam was ready with a spear and had even grabbed a long piece of wood from the fire too. The first lizard to get to him was batted away with blazing stick. The second, and largest, was given a few nasty stabs from the spear before backing off for a bit. The first attacker tried again, this time rearing up high looking like it was trying to bite Sam's neck. My eyes were fixated on the scene as Sam shoved the burning stick into the lizards mouth. It recoiled from the pain and Sam stepped after it shoving the stick further down it's throat. The creature looked to be trying to regurgitate the wood but Sam stopped it by shoving the spear into it's torso. Suddenly Sam let out a blood curdling scream. I'd completely lost track of the other lizards and it seemed that Sam had too. The smallest of then three had bitted down on his ankle. It was the last mistake the lizard made as Sam lifted the spear over his head and with both hands brought the tip down right through the lizards head with a strength I almost thought was untrue. The largest of his attackers tried to bite at Sam again, he took a hand off the spear to grab the neck of the creature. It seemed that the spear was stuck where it was as Sam was forced to the ground by the weight of the reptile, laying atop him the length of the creature became truly apparent. Almost four meters long with it's tail making up half its length. In their downed position the creature had an advantage and Sam's movement looked to be more desperate. I'm ashamed to admit it but I found myself crying. All I could think was that Sam was soon to die and I would be next. Worst of all though, I didn't do anything, I just stayed where I was and did nothing to help. I could tell Sam was shouting but I couldn't make out what, and it took a nasty snapping sound to get my mind off my fear. I focused on the two fighting and through my tears could half make out them. Sam had snapped one of the creatures front limbs and it was trying to escape. Now injured and without back up the lizard seemed much less of a threat, from where I was at least. It made an attempt to escape but Sam wasn't going to let it. He grabbed it's tail and, placing a foot on it's back, reached down to snap both its back leg after some violent wrenching. With only one working limb on his attacker Sam ran to grab a fresh spear from by the pod. He ran back and started to repeatedly stab through the torso of the lizard. I'll never be able to see humans the same way again. I stayed up in the tree for some while as Sam went back to the pod. He got the first aid kit and went to work on his leg. He'd just killed three creature and only suffered one injury himself. Eventually I built up the courage to return to ground level and approach Sam. He was in pain and his blood kept flowing for a dangerously long time before clotting. There was little sleep for the rest of the night and we both hid inside the pod. Day 12 It was not an easy day. I'd known all along but only now was I truly reminded that I was alone with someone who could kill me. I was told to remain in the pod and didn't dare question the instruction. I had no idea what Sam was doing outside for some time, not even daring to look out the window. I jumped when the pod door opened again and Sam stood before me covered in blood. What he'd done was suddenly clear. He'd cut up to reptiles and had now come to get the toxicity indicator. Had he left me in the pod so I didn't have to watch? I like to think so. Lunch wasn't fun. Sam could eat the meat safely and, much to my disgust, did so. I don't judge, of course, but I still feel a little sick when I see someone eating any part if an animal. Sam didn't mean to make me feel unwell, I'm sure. The rest of the day went as well as I could hope. Resting and no more attackers. Sam didn't have anymore meat thst night, to my joy. Day 13 I was awoken by Sam's sounds of pain. His injury wasn't healing, it hadn't even formed the smallest of scabs, and he wasn't sure if it would. After fully removing the dirty bandage we both worked out that there may be venom in the bite that was keeping his blood flowing. I was asked to go out and collect more sharp stones. I felt fairly safe in the daylight hours but still ran fast. I returned as fat as I could though after hesring Sam yell out. As I got the our camp I saw him pressing the flat of the knife against his injury. I'd been worried that more lizards had attacked, what I'd do if they had I didn't know. Probably run, I hope not, but I suspect so. He then put the knife in the fire before touching it to the other side of his leg. I waited a few minutes before making myself known. Sam and I then spent some time placing the stones in, the start of, a ring around our pod and shelter. I decided to go and get some more rocks that we added to the line. I decided again to go and get some more, I hadn't noticed how dark it was getting until I'd already collected the rocks, it was getting late so I ran back to camp. Upon my return it took a few seconds go notice Sam's location. He'd lay down on the top of the pod with a spear in hand. It was both unsettling and reassuring, paradoxically. Day 14 Most of the day was spent in camp, I collected one more bucket of rocks just before lunch but that was the only excursion from camp. We finally had enough to make a full, if small, ring of the stones around us. Sharp and pointy as the stones were they provided more comfort than I expected. Sam's injury seemed to be better now that the bleeding had been stopped. Day 15~18 The days seemed to be getting better. I took two trips out a day and collected even more rocks, we'd made a full three rings around ourselves, Sam stayed behind and used the axe we had to cut up more wood to make our rings that bit more of an obstacle. He also used my trips out to have lunch, he only had meat when I wasn't at camp, our dinner time was spent with me eating the fruit and him eating the rations from the pod. On the eighteenth day I had to take a third trip out to get some more fruit. Day 19 Both happy with out current defences I asked if there was anything else we may need. Sam's response of "a pup" made me laugh. We both just relaxed for a while, it's surprising just how quick I became comfortable around him again after what I'd seen, I suspect it was because he waited for me to leave or sleep before eating more meat. After some time he requested I pick some larger branches from the trees to cut off. At first I expected more spears but he actually wanted to make the fire bigger. "More fire, more warmth" He remarked. By evening we had built a sort of round pyramid from larger pieces of wood. We buried them a little into the ground so they wouldn't slip and fall away. We both felt safe again (or as safe as we could). Day 20~21 There was little to do now, not counting topping up the fire of course, we had weapons, fresh food and water (we still had both food and water rations), defences for our camp, warmth and light. The nights were not to cold, Sam was fine, but I felt slight chills when the wind picked up. Best of all Sam's injury was looking much better. We changed the bandage after lunch on the twenty-first day and Sam spent several hours exercising his leg. Mostly just walking around, a little jogging and some posing. Day 22 Sam finished the last of the lizard meat and discarded of what was left to the bodies over our defensive line. Day 22~29(? ) Despite our situation we found ourselves getting bored, some days blurring together. I thought we may have been going crazy but I realise now thst we were just getting more and more comfortable with each other. One day, I think the twenty-sixth, Sam left camp to come gather fruit with me. It was a big deal as he had remained in camp since his injury. Day 30(? )~50(? ) We'd gotten a pattern down by now. Wake up, a light breakfast, some exercise and rest, lunch, gather fruit or water (if water then boil it), a short nap for Sam, evening meal, first watch for Sam as I sleep, Sam wakes me for my night shift as he gets his sleep. There was some change from day to day but nothing major. Day 51(? ) Our final day before rescue started as any other. Then, to our joy, not long before lunch we heard the sound of an approaching landing craft. Our rescue had arrived. It was only after we got on the rescue ship did we both realise just how bad we both smelled, we'd gotten used to it but we had only worn one set of clothes for (I think) about fifty days straight. A nice long shower was on both mine and Sam's mind, then a stiff drink for us both as well. Before leaving we mentioned the person who died when we crashed, his body was dug up to return to his family. EDIT: I can't believe I'm having to add this but I've been told do. We dug a hole and used that as out toilet. EDIT 2: It was on the other side of the clearing to our dead crewmember. We did not use his grave as a toilet.
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