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VENUSTOTO BANDAR TOGEL TERPERCAYA PASARAN PALING LENGKAP TAHUN 2020-2021

2020.11.21 16:07 limmeilisa VENUSTOTO BANDAR TOGEL TERPERCAYA PASARAN PALING LENGKAP TAHUN 2020-2021

VENUSTOTO BANDAR TOGEL TERPERCAYA PASARAN PALING LENGKAP TAHUN 2020-2021
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https://preview.redd.it/f2wvupeezl061.png?width=639&format=png&auto=webp&s=7a259ec881a2b5e22cd26d444a467d5d8f042cb5
BANDAR TOGEL TERPERCAYA PASARAN PALING LENGKAP TAHUN 2020-2021 - VENUSTOTO merupakan salah satu Bandar Togel Terpercaya yang menyediakan permainan togel online terlengkap untuk para pemain judi online dan bermain togel online tentunya tidak sulit dikarenakan taruhan togel ini sudah sejak lama dimainkan,Tapi perbedaan yang dapat anda rasakan dalam bermain togel online terpercaya adalah kebebasan dalam memilih suatu angka yang ingin ditaruhkan dan jika dulu permainan ini dilakukan oleh Bandar Darat tentunya kini anda sudah dapat bermain secara online melalui perangkat mobile anda
perangkat mobile berupa smartphone dengan addanya koneksi internet pastinya sudah bisa membuat anda bermain secara online dimanapun dan kapanpun tanpa harus mengeluarkan banyak biaya lagi tapi pada Bandar Togel Online Terpercaya VENUSTOTO dapat kami pastikan anda akan leluasa bermain togel online kapan saja dan dimana pun anda berada karena hanya bermodalkan smartphone anda sudah bisa menghasilkan keuntungan dalam jumlah besar
VENUSTOTO sebagai Bandar Togel Terpercaya terus berusaha membuat para membernya nyaman dan kerap bermain taruhan togel online dengan beberapa alasan kenapa anda harus bermain di VENUSTOTO akan kami jelaskan sebagai berikut :
1 BANDAR TOGEL YANG MEMIILIKI KREDIBILITAS TINGGI
Tentu saja anda sudah tidak asing lagi dengan VENUSTOTO karena menyediakan jenis taruhan terlengkap seperti 4D,3D,2D,COLOK BEBAS,COLOK JITU,COLOK MACAU/NAGA,50:50,KOMBINASI,TENGAH TEPI,SHIO,DASAR,SILANGHOMO,KEMBANG KEMPIS,DLL apalagi didukung dengan tampilan yang keren dan elegant serta jumlah member aktif yang sangat banyak sudah cukup membuktikan bahwa VENUSTOTO adalah Bandar Togel Terpercaya di INDONESIA dan hanya menggunakan 1 USER ID saja bisa memainkan semua jenis permainan togel online
2 MINIMAL DEPOSIT YANG TERJANGKAU BAGI SEMUA KALANGAN
Dengan mendapatkan julukan Bandar Togel Terpercaya VENUSTOTO tetap memanjakan para membernya dengan tidak menaikkan minimal deposit dan minimal deposit tetap sama seperti dulu hanya 50.000 rupiah saja anda sudah bisa memainkan beragam jenis taruhan togel online yang terdapat didalamnya
3 PASARAN TOGEL ONLINE TERLENGKAP
Alasan lainnya tentu VENUSTOTO juga termasuk Bandar Togel Terpercaya dan Terbaik di INDONESIA dengan menyediakan Pasaran Togel Online Terlengkap dan Favorit seperti Togel Gunsan,Togel Granada,Togel Sydney,Togel China,Togel Rennes,Togel Singapore,Togel Singapore45,Togel Mindoro,Togel Padova,Togel Hongkong,Togel Benfica,Togel Bremen yang kini sudah bisa dimainkan oleh banyak pemain togel online di seluruh INDONESIA dan Tersedianya pasaran togel online terlengkap bisa memberikan anda keuntungan dalam jumlah besar
4 SISTEM JUDI TERBARU DENGAN KEAMANAN YANG TERJAMIN
VENUSTOTO telah didukung oleh sistem judi terbaru dengan keamanan yang terjamin dan adanya sistem keamanan yang terjamin akan menjaga setiap data asli para mmber dengan ketat dan sangat rahasia serta didukung dengan sistem judi terbaru maka tidak akan mudah dibobol ataupun diretas oleh pihak luar manapun termasuk juga robot jadi semua jenis transaksi deposit maupun withdraw anda akan sangat terjamin keamanannya
5 PROSES DEPOSIT DAN WITHDRAW TERCEPAT DAN TERBAIK
Demi mengutamakan para member tentunya VENUSTOTO akan memberikan pelayanan customer service tercepat dna terbaik selama 24 jam penuh dan tanpa offline serta dengan kendala dan keluhan anda akan diberikan solusi melalui fitur Live Chat karena bisa menghubungkan komunikasi langsung antara Customer Service bisa memberikan kemudahan kepada para member setia sebab dapat dipastikan dengan semua deposit dan penarikan dana yang anda lakukan akan diproses dalam hitungan detik tapi dengan kondisi bank online dan tidak mengalami gangguan maupun sedang offline karena hal ini juga menjadi nilai tambah bagi Bandar Togel Terpercaya dengan Pasaran Togel Terlengkap VENUSTOTO
VENUSTOTO juga memiliki Promo dan Bonus Tambahan yang bisa anda dapatkan karena VENUSTOTO selalu memberikan semua yang terbaik untuk para member setia termauk Promo dan Bonusnya seperti yang akan kami jelaskan dibawah ini :
- HADIAH HIBURAN PRIZE 2 DAN 3 - HADIAH BONUS DEPOSIT NOMINAL UNIK - DILENGKAPI PERMAINAN LIVE CASINO,TOGEL ONLINE,SBOBET,POKER - BONUS ROLLINGAN CASINO 0,7% - BONUS REFFERAL 1% - TIDAK MEMILIKI BATASAN LINE UNTUK 4D3D2D - BEBAS BERMAIN INVEST - DISKON 4D:65% 3D:59% 2D:29% - HADIAH 4Dx3000 3Dx400 2Dx70
Penjelasan tersebutlah yang hingga saat ini membuat member setia percaya dan selalu mendapatkan keuntungan yang besar dan pastinya dengan semua kemenangan yang anda dapatkan langsung akan dibayar langsung oleh VENUSTOTO yang telah menjadi motto dan visi VENUSTOTO jadi kami sarankan bagi anda untuk tidak perlu ragu ataupun takut lagi jika ingin bermain togel online karena jika anda memilih Bandar Togel Terpercaya VENUSTOTO maka itu adalah pilihan yang tepat
Demikianlah pembahasan artikel ini semoga bisa menambah ilmu untuk semuanya dan kami ingatkan kembali untuk anda selalu bermain togel online di Bandar Togel Terpercaya dan Terbaik demi menghindari penipuan atau hal-hal yang tidak diinginkan dari Bandar Togel Palsu maka dari itu untuk anda yang ingin bergabung dan bermain di VENUSTOTO silahkan mengunjungi websitenya dilink dibawah ini :
LINK WEB : http://172.104.32.23/reg/propromo05
http://172.104.32.23/reg/meilisalim88
LINK WAP : http://172.104.32.23/wap/reg/propromo05
http://172.104.32.23/reg/wap/meilisalim88
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2020.10.30 20:00 _call-me-al_ Fri, Oct 30 2020

worldnews

The world’s largest seagrass restoration project is a huge success, restoring 9,000 acres of wildlife
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New Zealand announces official Travel Warning to New Zealanders in the United States due to the upcoming election and civil unrest
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Venezuela oil tanker that was abandoned with 1.1million gallons of oil has been kept afloat and is having the oil safely removed
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news

Facebook reports a decline in users in the U.S. and Canada
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Mail delays even worse across Pa., with 42% of Philly mail taking longer than 5 days
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Louisville police officer sues Kenneth Walker, boyfriend of Breonna Taylor, for emotional distress, assault and battery
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science

'Fireball' that fell to Earth is full of pristine extraterrestrial organic compounds, scientists say
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Scientists analyzed the genomes of 27 ancient dogs to study their origins and connection to ancient humans. Findings suggest that humans' relationship to dogs is more than 11,000-years old and could be more complex than simple companionship.
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In 2012, the Obama administration required airlines to show all mandatory fees and taxes in their advertised fares to consumers upfront. This was a massive win for consumers, as airlines were no longer able to pass a large share of the taxes onto consumers. Airlines subsequently lost revenue.
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space

What 50 gravitational-wave events reveal about the Universe: Astrophysicists now have enough black-hole mergers to map their frequency over the cosmos’s history.
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NorthStar satellite system to monitor threat of space debris
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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Successfully Stows Sample of Asteroid Bennu
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Futurology

These drones will plant 40,000 trees in a month. By 2028, they’ll have planted 1 billion
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How Two MIT Grads Created A Painless Mist To Repair And Rejuvenate Skin Without Needles Or Creams
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In September 2020 European registrations for electrified vehicles overtook diesel
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AskReddit

What do most people not realize is newer than they actually think?
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When did someone challenge you at something you were an expert at?
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What’s the best Response to “Fuck You”?
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todayilearned

TIL when Buzz Aldrin, second man on the moon, guest starred in The Simpsons, writers were concerned he would be offended by his line, "second comes after first," and offered an alternative- "first to take a soil sample." However, Aldrin preferred the original line, and it remained in the script.
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TIL Confucius' family tree is the longest recorded extant pedigree in the world. There are 2 million registered modern descendants, with major branches in Korea (where his family was invited by the Goryeo dynasty in 1351) and Taiwan (where family members fled during the Chinese civil war)
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TIL of king penguin, Lala who was injured and nursed back to health in Japan. He didn't leave so the family adopted him and lived in a air-conditioned room. He walked around the neighborhood and got himself fishes from the store. He lived with the family for 10 years before dying of old age in 1996.
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dataisbeautiful

[OC] Presidential election forecast: current standings and comparison with 2016.
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Box Office Numbers might spell the end for movie theaters [OC]
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[OC] More than half of new COVID cases in the US are now coming from counties that Trump won in 2016
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Cooking

I developed a free browser extension that lets you immediately view the recipe, save a copy, print to one page, and order ingredients
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Need fresh ginger for a recipe, but they only sell whole hands at the grocery store? Plant the rest! They make good houseplants, and it will be fresh for next time!
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Those times when, despite 40 years of experience in the kitchen, you just F it all up. Grrrr.
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food

[Homemade] Apples and cinnamon Halloween macarons.
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[Pro/Chef] Pink sprinkle Simpsons donut
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Smoked sea scallops wrapped in bacon [homemade]
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movies

Netflix is increasing its most popular plan to $14 today, premium increasing to $18
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New film Waikiki shows dark, colonial underbelly of Hawaiʻi’s tourism paradise. Waikiki has been billed as the first narrative feature by a Native Hawaiian filmmaker. Congrats to Christopher Kahunahana.
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Awkwafina, Sandra Oh to Play Sisters in Netflix Comedy from Will Ferrell
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Art

MM0050 Lilith, Me, Digital, 2020
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Shine, me, digital, 2020
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"The Moon" pen and ink, me, 2020
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television

"Nathan For You" is the most ridiculous, cringeworthy and insanely brilliant thing I've watched in a while
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Netflix is increasing its most popular plan to $14 today, premium increasing to $18
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The Office-Haunted Warehouse (deleted cold open from season 6's "Koi Pond," which was removed due to controversy)
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pics

3 Jewish men taken to Auschwitz the same day, tattooed ten numbers apart, reunited 73 years later.
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Paul Rudd came into my job today and he is the greatest gem of a human you all expected him to be.
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No Covid puts Baby in a corner. My 2020 Halloween costume with my dog.
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gifs

Dancing light sculpture
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Rodney "The Steeze" Mullen
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The most majestic cat you’ll see today
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educationalgifs

Comparison of Klann and Jansen linkages
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Stripped down RC Helicopter shows the working of the swashplates. The silver piece attached to the silveblack servo links is stationary and does not rotate with the main rotor. It transfers the flight control inputs to the red swashplate that rotates with the main rotor.
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Bomb calorimeter is used to calculate the energy of any food item by burning it in terms of calories. For reference, 1 Joules = 0.24 gram calorie
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mildlyinteresting

I lost 170 lbs, then had 9lbs of excess skin removed. My scars make me look like an IRL Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
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This leaf looks like a flame
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The mark from my water glass made a perfect pumpkin
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interestingasfuck

My Great Great Great Grandfather Amos Locke holding the musket his grandfather used to fire on the British at the Battle of Lexington in 1775
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Fire Agate, found at Deer Creek Arizona USA
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A sun pillar, “A halo phenomenon in which a vertical streak of light appears above and below the sun, believed to be caused by the reflection of sunlight by ice crystals with vertical axes,” recently spotted on Boulder, Colorado
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funny

All of my coworkers agreed to dress up as smurfs for Halloween. Im the only one to go through with it.
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A skateboard goes shopping
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"Enjoy your treats."
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aww

A very kind nice moose
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Pawttery
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Fluffy cows. Thats it, thats the post.
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Random Subreddit of the day: VideoEditing

These are its 3 top posts of all time:
Just to brighten everybody’s day on this VERY formal sub
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Can I post memes on this sub?
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I hate it
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submitted by _call-me-al_ to RedditTLDR [link] [comments]


2020.10.23 15:08 xstream4d SITUS TOGEL TERBAIK 2020 -2021 GRAND4D

SITUS TOGEL TERBAIK 2020 -2021 GRAND4D

SITUS TOGEL TERBAIK 2020 -2021 GRAND4D


SITUS TOGEL TERBAIK 2020 -2021 GRAND4D

SITUS TOGEL TERBAIK 2020 -2021 - HALO PARA PENGGILA TOGEL DI INDONESIA , SAAT INI TOGEL ADALAH SALAH SATU JUDI YANG SANGAT DI MINATI OLEH KALANGAN PECINTA JUDI DI INDONESIA, DI KARENAKAN TOGEL SANGAT LAH MUDAH DIMAINKAN DAN MEMBERIAKAN KEUNTUNGAN YANG SANGAT BESAR. TOGEL SUDAH ADA SEJAK JAMAN DULU DI INDONESIA JADI PARA PECINTA TOGEL SANGAT LAH BANYAK DI INDONESIA. DI KARENAKAN UNTUK SEKARANG INI SEGALA JENIS JUDI SUDAH DILARANG DI INDONESIA DAN TERMASUK ILEGAL MAKA SUDAH SANGAT BANYAK PECINTA TOGEL YANG TIDAK BERANI MEMAINKAN NYA KARENA APABILA KEDAPATAN MAKA BISA TERKENA HUKUMAN PIDANA.
TAPI DI SAAT INI TEKNOLOGI SUDAH BERKEMBANG SANGAT PESAT DAN INTERNET SUDAH LAH SANGAT MUDAH DI AKSES MAKA SEKARANG INI JUGA SUDAH BANYAK MUNCUL SITUS SITUS YANG MENYEDIAKAN JUDI SECARA ONLINE. TERMASUK JUGA PERMAINAN TOGEL ONLINE.JADI UNTUK PARA PECINTA TOGEL SUDAH BISA BERMAIN TOGEL SECARA ONLINE.
KEUNTUNGAN BERMAIN TOGEL SECARA ONLINE ADALAH SEBAGAI BERIKUT :
  1. BISA DI MAINKAN DI MANA SAJA
SALAH SATU KEUNTUNGAN BERMAIN TOGEL ONLINE ADALAH BISA DI MAINKAN DIMANA SAJA DAN KAPAN SAJA. KARENA TOGEL ONLINE BISA DI AKSES MENGGUNAKAN LAPTOP DAN HANDPHONE YANG BISA MENGGUNAKAN JARINGAN INTERNET.JADI UNTUK BERMAIN TOGEL SUDAH ADA DALAM GENGGAMAN TANGAN.
  1. KEUNTUNGAN DARI SEGI KEAMANAN
KEUNTUNGAN DARI SEGI KEAMANAN YAITU APA BILA ANDA BERMAIN JUDI SECARA ONLINE ANDA BISA LEBIH AMAN. DI KARENAKA ANDA BERMAIN SECARA PRIBADI DAN PRIVASI ANDA AKAN TETAP TERJAGA. KARENA SITUS SITUS ONLINE TETAP MENJAGA KEMANAN DATA DATA MEMBER JADI ANDA BISA BERMAIN TOGEL SECARA AMAN DAN TANPA KHAWATIR AKAN TERCIDUK OLEH PIHAK YANG BERWAJIB ALIAS POLISI.
  1. DISKON DAN HADIAH YANG TINGGI
DIBANDINGKAN KITA BERMAIN DI BANDAR DARAT YANG MININ DISKON DAN ADA JUGA YANG TIDAK ADA DISKON PEMBELIAN, MAKA BERMAIN DI BANDAR TOGEL ONLINE BOSKU AKAN MEDAPATKAN DISKON PEMBELIAN YANG LEBIH BESAR. CONTOH DISKON DI BANDAR TOGEL ONLINE : 4D : 65% , 3D : 59% , 2D : 29% , SELAIN DISKON BOSKU JUGA BISA MENDAPATKAN HADIAH TERTINGGI APABILA BERMAIN DI BANDAR TOGEL ONLINE CONTOH HADIAH 4D : x3000 , 3D : x400 , 2D : x70.
  1. BANYAK PROMO DAN BONUS NYA
RATA RATA BANDAR TOGEL ONLINE PASTI MEMBERIKAN PROMO DAN BONUS YANG LUMAYAN DEMI MENARIK MEMBER UNTUK BERMAIN DI SITUS TERSEBUT. JADI ITU BISA MENJADI SUATU KEUNTUNGAN BOSKU APABILA BERMAIN DI BANDAR TOGEL ONLINE. SEPERTI PROMO HADIAH PRIZE 2 DAN 3 , BONUS DEPOSIT UNTUK NEW MEMBER , BONUS DEPOSIT HARIAN DAN BONUS LAIN NYA . PROMO DAN BONUS YANG DI BERIKAN BERBERDA BEDA TERGANTUNG SITUS WEB TERSEBUT.
ITULAH BEBERAPA KEUNTUNGAN BERMAIN DI BANDAR TOGEL ONLINE,DISAMPING KEUNTUNGAN NYA PASTILAH ADA KEKURANGAN NYA. KEKURANGAN NYA ADALAH BANYAK NYA SITUS SITUS YANG MENGAKU BANDAR TOGEL YANG MELAKUKAN PENIPUAN ATAU PUN BANDAR TOGEL ABAL ABAL YANG TIDAK MEMBAYAR KEMENANGAN MEMBER ITULAH YANG MENJADI KEKURANGAN BERMAIN DI BANDAR TOGEL ONLINE.JADI BOSKU HARUS JELI DALAM MEMILIOH BANDAR TOGEL YANG TERPERCAYA. TAPI TENGAN SAJA KALI INI MIMIN AKAN MEMBERIKAN REKOMENDASI SITUS TOGEL TERPERCAYA YANG TERJAMIN KEAMANAN NYA KARENA SUDAH MIMIN RESET DAN PELAJARI DARI BEBERAPA MEDIA SOSIAL DAN FORUM TOGEL JADI SUDAH TERJAMIN. SITUS TOGEL TERSEBUT ADALAH GRAND4D
GRAND4D ADALAH BANDAR TOGEL TERPERCAYA YANG SUDAH BERSEPAK TERJANG DI DUNIA JUDI ONLINE SEJAK TAHUN 2015 DAN SUDAH MEMILIKI MEMBER YANG SUDAH MENCAPAI RATUSAN RIBU MEMBER DAN SUDAH MEMILIKI NAMA BAIK DI DUNIA JUDI ONLINE DAN PASTI NYA MEMBAYAR SEMUA KEMENANGAN MEMBER BERAPAPUN JUMLAH NYA.
BEBERAPA INFORMASI TENTANG GRAND4D SEBAGAI BERIKUT :
- MINIMAL DEPOSIT 10.000
- MENYEDIAKAN 5 PASARAN INTERNASIONAL
- TIDAK ADA BATASAN LINE (BEBAS INVEST)
- PROMO HADIAH PRIZE 2 DAN PRIZE 3
- PROMO HADIAH DEPOSIT NOMINAL UNIK KHUSUS PASARAN HONGKONG
- BONUS REFFERAL SEBESAR 1%
- MENYEDIAKAN PERMAINAN LIVE CASINO , BOLA DAN SLOT GAME
- BONUS ROLLINGAN SEBESAR 0.7% UNTUK PERMAINAN LIVE CASINO
- LAYANAN CUSTOMER SERVICE 24 JAM
ITULAH BEBERAPA INFORMASI MENGENAI GRAND4D , UNTUK DAFTAR DAN INFORMASI LEBIH LANJUT SILKAN KLIK LINK DI BAWAH INI :
>>>> http://139.99.66.182/reg/Propromo02
>>>> http://139.99.66.182/reg/silvia96
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submitted by xstream4d to u/xstream4d [link] [comments]


2020.08.15 19:33 Blazing_Starman Is there any way of adding buttons with images like the way I'm doing it with Tkinter and object-oriented programming?

So I learned you can use classes with Tkinter and I thought to myself that I can save a lot of room and headaches by going the Object Orientated Programming Approach.
I wanted to add buttons with images easily with just doing
Example: imageexample = exampleclass(root, ('path to image'), row, column) image1 = frontpage(root, ImageTk.PhotoImage(Image.open("path to image")), 0, 0) image2 = frontpage(root, ImageTk.PhotoImage(Image.open("path to image")), 1, 0) 
Reference:
import tkinter as tk from tkinter import LabelFrame from tkinter import Button from tkinter import Label from PIL import ImageTk, Image import psycopg2 root = tk.Tk() class frontpagebestiary: def __init__(self, root, image, column, row): self.root = root self.root.title('Class test') self.button = Button(self.root, image=image).grid(column=column, row=row) self.root.mainloop() def clicker(self): pass image1 = frontpagebestiary(root, ImageTk.PhotoImage(Image.open(r"S:\Projects\Python Projects\Python Review\tkinter training\New folder\Demi-Fiend1.png").resize((200,200), Image.ANTIALIAS)),0,0) image2 = frontpagebestiary(root, ImageTk.PhotoImage(Image.open(r"S:\Projects\Python Projects\Python Review\tkinter training\New folder\Alice.jpg").resize((200,200), Image.ANTIALIAS)),1,0) root.mainloop() 
However, One image shows up as one button and the other one, image2, does not show at all and provides this error message when I close the application:
Traceback (most recent call last): File "S:\Projects\Python Projects\Python Review\classestest3.py", line 27, in image2 = frontpagebestiary(root, ImageTk.PhotoImage(Image.open(r"S:\Projects\Python Projects\Python Review\tkinter training\New folder\Alice.jpg").resize((200,200), Image.ANTIALIAS)),1,0) File "C:\Users\Elijah Johnson\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python37-32\lib\site-packages\PIL\ImageTk.py", line 112, in __init__ self.__photo = tkinter.PhotoImage(**kw) File "C:\Users\Elijah Johnson\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python37-32\lib\tkinter\__init__.py", line 3545, in __init__ Image.__init__(self, 'photo', name, cnf, master, **kw) File "C:\Users\Elijah Johnson\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python37-32\lib\tkinter\__init__.py", line 3489, in __init__ raise RuntimeError('Too early to create image') RuntimeError: Too early to create image Exception ignored in: Traceback (most recent call last): File "C:\Users\Elijah Johnson\AppData\Local\Programs\Python\Python37-32\lib\site-packages\PIL\ImageTk.py", line 118, in __del__ name = self.__photo.name AttributeError: 'PhotoImage' object has no attribute '_PhotoImage__photo' [Finished in 4.342s]
Sorry if this is formatted weirdly. But I can't upload photos or links to Pastebin like sites or else they would likely disappear in the future so I just copied and pasted it here.
If there's any need for clarification ill provide it when I get the chance.
Edit: So I deleted the first mainloop() and when I ran it showed 2 blank boxes maybe I'm getting closer to solving this.
submitted by Blazing_Starman to learnpython [link] [comments]


2020.08.13 22:21 OB8O Every Legal 4-Letter Word In Scrabble

AAHS AALS ABAC ABAS ABBA ABBE ABBS ABED ABET ABID ABLE ABLY ABOS ABRI ABUT ABYE ABYS ACAI ACCA ACED ACER ACES ACHE ACHY ACID ACME ACNE ACRE ACTA ACTS ACYL ADAW ADDS ADDY ADIT ADOS ADRY ADZE AEON AERO AERY AESC AFAR AFFY AFRO AGAR AGAS AGED AGEE AGEN AGER AGES AGHA AGIN AGIO AGLU AGLY AGMA AGOG AGON AGUE AHED AHEM AHIS AHOY AIAS AIDA AIDE AIDS AIGA AILS AIMS AINE AINS AIRN AIRS AIRT AIRY AITS AITU AJAR AJEE AKAS AKED AKEE AKES AKIN ALAE ALAN ALAP ALAR ALAS ALAY ALBA ALBE ALBS ALCO ALEC ALEE ALEF ALES ALEW ALFA ALFS ALGA ALIF ALIT ALKO ALKY ALLS ALLY ALMA ALME ALMS ALOD ALOE ALOO ALOW ALPS ALSO ALTO ALTS ALUM ALUS AMAH AMAS AMBO AMEN AMES AMIA AMID AMIE AMIN AMIR AMIS AMLA AMMO AMOK AMPS AMUS AMYL ANAL ANAN ANAS ANCE ANDS ANES ANEW ANGA ANIL ANIS ANKH ANNA ANNO ANNS ANOA ANON ANOW ANSA ANTA ANTE ANTI ANTS ANUS APAY APED APER APES APEX APOD APOS APPS APSE APSO APTS AQUA ARAK ARAR ARBA ARBS ARCH ARCO ARCS ARDS AREA ARED AREG ARES ARET AREW ARFS ARGH ARIA ARID ARIL ARIS ARKS ARLE ARMS ARMY ARNA AROW ARPA ARSE ARSY ARTI ARTS ARTY ARUM ARVO ARYL ASAR ASCI ASEA ASHY ASKS ASPS ATAP ATES ATMA ATOC ATOK ATOM ATOP ATUA AUAS AUFS AUKS AULA AULD AUNE AUNT AURA AUTO AVAL AVAS AVEL AVER AVES AVID AVOS AVOW AWAY AWDL AWED AWEE AWES AWFY AWKS AWLS AWNS AWNY AWOL AWRY AXAL AXED AXEL AXES AXIL AXIS AXLE AXON AYAH AYES AYIN AYRE AYUS AZAN AZON AZYM
BAAL BAAS BABA BABE BABU BABY BACH BACK BACS BADE BADS BAEL BAFF BAFT BAGH BAGS BAHT BAHU BAIL BAIT BAJU BAKE BALD BALE BALK BALL BALM BALS BALU BAMS BANC BAND BANE BANG BANI BANK BANS BANT BAPS BAPU BARB BARD BARE BARF BARK BARM BARN BARP BARS BASE BASH BASK BASS BAST BATE BATH BATS BATT BAUD BAUK BAUR BAWD BAWL BAWN BAWR BAYE BAYS BAYT BEAD BEAK BEAM BEAN BEAR BEAT BEAU BECK BEDE BEDS BEDU BEEF BEEN BEEP BEER BEES BEET BEGO BEGS BEIN BELL BELS BELT BEMA BEND BENE BENI BENJ BENS BENT BERE BERG BERK BERM BEST BETA BETE BETH BETS BEVY BEYS BHAI BHAT BHEL BHUT BIAS BIBB BIBS BICE BIDE BIDI BIDS BIEN BIER BIFF BIGA BIGG BIGS BIKE BILE BILK BILL BIMA BIND BINE BING BINK BINS BINT BIOG BIOS BIRD BIRK BIRL BIRO BIRR BISE BISH BISK BIST BITE BITO BITS BITT BIZE BLAB BLAD BLAE BLAG BLAH BLAM BLAT BLAW BLAY BLEB BLED BLEE BLET BLEW BLEY BLIN BLIP BLIT BLOB BLOC BLOG BLOT BLOW BLUB BLUE BLUR BOAB BOAK BOAR BOAS BOAT BOBA BOBS BOCK BODE BODS BODY BOEP BOET BOFF BOGS BOGY BOHO BOHS BOIL BOIS BOKE BOKO BOKS BOLA BOLD BOLE BOLL BOLO BOLT BOMA BOMB BONA BOND BONE BONG BONK BONY BOOB BOOH BOOK BOOL BOOM BOON BOOR BOOS BOOT BOPS BORA BORD BORE BORK BORM BORN BORS BORT BOSH BOSK BOSS BOTA BOTE BOTH BOTS BOTT BOUK BOUN BOUT BOWL BOWR BOWS BOXY BOYF BOYG BOYO BOYS BOZO BRAD BRAE BRAG BRAK BRAN BRAS BRAT BRAW BRAY BRED BREE BREI BREN BRER BREW BREY BRIE BRIG BRIK BRIM BRIN BRIO BRIS BRIT BROD BROG BROO BROS BROW BRRR BRUS BRUT BRUX BUAT BUBA BUBO BUBS BUBU BUCK BUDA BUDI BUDO BUDS BUFF BUFO BUGS BUHL BUHR BUIK BUKE BULB BULK BULL BUMF BUMP BUMS BUNA BUND BUNG BUNK BUNN BUNS BUNT BUOY BURA BURB BURD BURG BURK BURL BURN BURP BURR BURS BURY BUSH BUSK BUSS BUST BUSY BUTE BUTS BUTT BUYS BUZZ BYDE BYES BYKE BYRE BYRL BYTE
CAAS CABA CABS CACA CACK CADE CADI CADS CAFE CAFF CAGE CAGS CAGY CAID CAIN CAKE CAKY CALF CALK CALL CALM CALO CALP CALX CAMA CAME CAMO CAMP CAMS CANE CANG CANN CANS CANT CANY CAPA CAPE CAPH CAPI CAPO CAPS CARB CARD CARE CARK CARL CARN CARP CARR CARS CART CASA CASE CASH CASK CAST CATE CATS CAUF CAUK CAUL CAUM CAUP CAVA CAVE CAVY CAWK CAWS CAYS CEAS CECA CEDE CEDI CEES CEIL CELL CELS CELT CENS CENT CEPE CEPS CERE CERO CERT CESS CETE CHAD CHAI CHAL CHAM CHAO CHAP CHAR CHAS CHAT CHAV CHAW CHAY CHEF CHER CHEW CHEZ CHIA CHIB CHIC CHID CHIK CHIN CHIP CHIS CHIT CHIV CHIZ CHOC CHOG CHON CHOP CHOU CHOW CHUB CHUG CHUM CHUR CHUT CIAO CIDE CIDS CIEL CIGS CILL CINE CION CIRE CIRL CIST CITE CITO CITS CITY CIVE CLAD CLAG CLAM CLAN CLAP CLAT CLAW CLAY CLEF CLEG CLEM CLEW CLIP CLIT CLOD CLOG CLON CLOP CLOT CLOU CLOW CLOY CLUB CLUE COAL COAT COAX COBB COBS COCA COCH COCK COCO CODA CODE CODS COED COFF COFT COGS COHO COIF COIL COIN COIR COIT COKE COKY COLA COLD COLE COLL COLS COLT COLY COMA COMB COME COMM COMP COMS COND CONE CONF CONI CONK CONN CONS CONY COOF COOK COOL COOM COON COOP COOS COOT COPE COPS COPY CORD CORE CORF CORK CORM CORN CORS CORY COSE COSH COSS COST COSY COTE COTH COTS COTT COUP COUR COVE COWK COWL COWP COWS COWY COXA COXY COYS COZE COZY CRAB CRAG CRAM CRAN CRAP CRAW CRAY CRED CREE CREM CREW CRIA CRIB CRIM CRIS CRIT CROC CROG CROP CROW CRUD CRUE CRUS CRUX CUBE CUBS CUDS CUED CUES CUFF CUIF CUIT CUKE CULL CULM CULT CUMS CUNT CUPS CURB CURD CURE CURF CURL CURN CURR CURS CURT CUSH CUSK CUSP CUSS CUTE CUTS CWMS CYAN CYMA CYME CYST CYTE CZAR
DAAL DABS DACE DACK DADA DADO DADS DAES DAFF DAFT DAGO DAGS DAHL DAHS DAIS DAKS DALE DALI DALS DALT DAME DAMN DAMP DAMS DANG DANK DANS DANT DAPS DARB DARE DARG DARI DARK DARN DART DASH DATA DATE DATO DAUB DAUD DAUR DAUT DAVY DAWD DAWK DAWN DAWS DAWT DAYS DAZE DEAD DEAF DEAL DEAN DEAR DEAW DEBE DEBS DEBT DECK DECO DEED DEEK DEEM DEEN DEEP DEER DEES DEET DEEV DEFI DEFO DEFT DEFY DEGS DEGU DEID DEIF DEIL DEKE DELE DELF DELI DELL DELO DELS DELT DEME DEMO DEMY DENE DENI DENS DENT DENY DERE DERM DERN DERO DERV DESI DESK DEUS DEVA DEVS DEWS DEWY DEXY DEYS DHAK DHAL DHOL DHOW DIAL DIBS DICE DICH DICK DICT DIDO DIDY DIEB DIED DIEL DIES DIET DIFF DIFS DIGS DIKA DIKE DILL DIME DIMP DIMS DINE DING DINK DINO DINS DINT DIOL DIPS DIPT DIRE DIRK DIRL DIRT DISA DISC DISH DISK DISS DITA DITE DITS DITT DITZ DIVA DIVE DIVI DIVO DIVS DIXI DIXY DIYA DJIN DOAB DOAT DOBS DOBY DOCK DOCO DOCS DODO DODS DOEK DOEN DOER DOES DOFF DOGE DOGS DOGY DOHS DOIT DOJO DOLE DOLL DOLS DOLT DOME DOMS DOMY DONA DONE DONG DONS DOOB DOOK DOOL DOOM DOON DOOR DOOS DOPA DOPE DOPS DOPY DORB DORE DORK DORM DORP DORR DORS DORT DORY DOSE DOSH DOSS DOST DOTE DOTH DOTS DOTY DOUC DOUK DOUM DOUN DOUP DOUR DOUT DOUX DOVE DOWD DOWF DOWL DOWN DOWP DOWS DOWT DOXY DOYS DOZE DOZY DRAB DRAC DRAD DRAG DRAM DRAP DRAT DRAW DRAY DREE DREG DREK DREW DREY DRIB DRIP DROP DROW DRUB DRUG DRUM DRYS DSOS DUAD DUAL DUAN DUAR DUBS DUCE DUCI DUCK DUCT DUDE DUDS DUED DUEL DUES DUET DUFF DUGS DUIT DUKA DUKE DULE DULL DULY DUMA DUMB DUMP DUNE DUNG DUNK DUNS DUNT DUOS DUPE DUPS DURA DURE DURN DURO DURR DUSH DUSK DUST DUTY DWAM DYAD DYED DYER DYES DYKE DYNE DZHO DZOS
EACH EALE EANS EARD EARL EARN EARS EASE EAST EASY EATH EATS EAUS EAUX EAVE EBBS EBON ECAD ECCE ECCO ECHE ECHO ECHT ECOD ECOS ECRU ECUS EDDO EDDY EDGE EDGY EDHS EDIT EECH EELS EELY EERY EEVN EFFS EFTS EGAD EGAL EGER EGGS EGGY EGIS EGMA EGOS EHED EIDE EIKS EILD EINA EINE EISH EKED EKES EKKA ELAN ELDS ELFS ELHI ELKS ELLS ELMS ELMY ELSE ELTS EMES EMEU EMIC EMIR EMIT EMMA EMMY EMOS EMPT EMUS EMYD EMYS ENDS ENES ENEW ENGS ENOL ENOW ENUF ENVY EOAN EONS EORL EPEE EPHA EPIC EPOS ERAS ERED ERES EREV ERGO ERGS ERHU ERIC ERKS ERNE ERNS EROS ERRS ERST ERUV ESES ESKY ESNE ESPY ESSE ESTS ETAS ETAT ETCH ETEN ETHE ETHS ETIC ETNA ETUI EUGE EUGH EUKS EUOI EURO EVEN EVER EVES EVET EVIL EVOE EVOS EWER EWES EWKS EWTS EXAM EXEC EXED EXES EXIT EXON EXPO EXUL EYAS EYED EYEN EYER EYES EYNE EYOT EYRA EYRE EYRY
FAAN FAAS FABS FACE FACT FADE FADO FADS FADY FAFF FAGS FAHS FAIK FAIL FAIN FAIR FAIX FAKE FALL FALX FAME FAND FANE FANG FANK FANO FANS FARD FARE FARL FARM FARO FARS FART FASH FAST FATE FATS FAUN FAUR FAUT FAUX FAVA FAVE FAWN FAWS FAYS FAZE FEAL FEAR FEAT FECK FEDS FEEB FEED FEEL FEEN FEER FEES FEET FEGS FEHM FEHS FEIS FELL FELT FEME FEMS FEND FENI FENS FENT FEOD FERE FERM FERN FESS FEST FETA FETE FETS FETT FEUD FEUS FEWS FEYS FIAR FIAT FIBS FICE FICO FIDO FIDS FIEF FIER FIFE FIGO FIGS FIKE FIKY FILA FILE FILL FILM FILO FILS FIND FINE FINI FINK FINO FINS FIQH FIRE FIRK FIRM FIRN FIRS FISC FISH FISK FIST FITS FITT FIVE FIXT FIZZ FLAB FLAG FLAK FLAM FLAN FLAP FLAT FLAW FLAX FLAY FLEA FLED FLEE FLEG FLEW FLEX FLEY FLIC FLIM FLIP FLIR FLIT FLIX FLOB FLOC FLOE FLOG FLOP FLOR FLOW FLOX FLUB FLUE FLUS FLUX FOAL FOAM FOBS FOCI FOEN FOES FOGS FOGY FOHN FOID FOIL FOIN FOLD FOLK FOND FONE FONS FONT FOOD FOOL FOOT FOPS FORA FORB FORD FORE FORK FORM FORT FOSS FOUD FOUL FOUR FOUS FOWL FOXY FOYS FOZY FRAB FRAE FRAG FRAP FRAS FRAT FRAU FRAY FREE FRET FRIB FRIG FRIS FRIT FRIZ FROE FROG FROM FROS FROW FRUG FUBS FUCI FUCK FUDS FUEL FUFF FUGS FUGU FUJI FULL FUME FUMS FUMY FUND FUNG FUNK FUNS FURL FURR FURS FURY FUSC FUSE FUSS FUST FUTZ FUZE FUZZ FYCE FYKE FYLE FYRD
GABS GABY GADE GADI GADS GAED GAEN GAES GAFF GAGA GAGE GAGS GAID GAIN GAIR GAIT GAJO GAKS GALA GALE GALL GALS GAMA GAMB GAME GAMP GAMS GAMY GANE GANG GANS GANT GAOL GAPE GAPO GAPS GAPY GARB GARE GARI GARS GART GASH GASP GAST GATE GATH GATS GAUD GAUM GAUN GAUP GAUR GAUS GAVE GAWD GAWK GAWP GAWS GAYS GAZE GAZY GEAL GEAN GEAR GEAT GECK GEDS GEED GEEK GEEP GEES GEEZ GEIT GELD GELS GELT GEMS GENA GENE GENS GENT GENU GEOS GERE GERM GERS GERT GEST GETA GETS GEUM GHAT GHEE GHIS GIBE GIBS GIDS GIED GIEN GIES GIFT GIGA GIGS GILA GILD GILL GILT GIMP GING GINK GINN GINS GIOS GIPS GIRD GIRL GIRN GIRO GIRR GIRT GISM GIST GITE GITS GIVE GIZZ GJUS GLAD GLAM GLED GLEE GLEG GLEI GLEN GLEY GLIA GLIB GLID GLIM GLIT GLOB GLOM GLOP GLOW GLUE GLUG GLUM GLUT GNAR GNAT GNAW GNOW GNUS GOAD GOAF GOAL GOAS GOAT GOBI GOBO GOBS GOBY GODS GOEL GOER GOES GOEY GOFF GOGO GOJI GOLD GOLE GOLF GOLP GONE GONG GONK GONS GOOD GOOF GOOG GOOK GOOL GOON GOOP GOOR GOOS GORA GORE GORI GORM GORP GORY GOSH GOSS GOTH GOUK GOUT GOVS GOWD GOWF GOWK GOWL GOWN GOYS GRAB GRAD GRAM GRAN GRAT GRAV GRAY GREE GREN GREW GREX GREY GRID GRIG GRIM GRIN GRIP GRIS GRIT GROG GROK GROT GROW GRRL GRUB GRUE GRUM GUAN GUAR GUBS GUCK GUDE GUES GUFF GUGA GUID GULA GULE GULF GULL GULP GULS GULY GUMP GUMS GUNG GUNK GUNS GUPS GURL GURN GURS GURU GUSH GUST GUTS GUVS GUYS GYAL GYBE GYMP GYMS GYNY GYPS GYRE GYRI GYRO GYTE GYVE
HAAF HAAR HABU HACK HADE HADJ HADS HAED HAEM HAEN HAES HAET HAFF HAFT HAGG HAGS HAHA HAHS HAIK HAIL HAIN HAIR HAJI HAJJ HAKA HAKE HAKU HALE HALF HALL HALM HALO HALT HAME HAMS HAND HANG HANK HANT HAOS HAPS HAPU HARD HARE HARK HARL HARM HARN HARO HARP HART HASH HASK HASP HASS HAST HATE HATH HATS HAUD HAUF HAUL HAUT HAVE HAWK HAWM HAWS HAYS HAZE HAZY HEAD HEAL HEAP HEAR HEAT HEBE HECH HECK HEED HEEL HEFT HEHS HEID HEIL HEIR HELD HELE HELL HELM HELO HELP HEME HEMP HEMS HEND HENS HENT HEPS HEPT HERB HERD HERE HERL HERM HERN HERO HERS HERY HESP HEST HETE HETH HETS HEWN HEWS HEYS HICK HIDE HIED HIES HIGH HIKE HILA HILD HILI HILL HILT HIMS HIND HING HINS HINT HIOI HIPS HIPT HIRE HISH HISN HISS HIST HITS HIVE HIYA HIZZ HOAR HOAS HOAX HOBO HOBS HOCK HODS HOED HOER HOES HOGG HOGH HOGS HOHA HOHS HOIK HOKA HOKE HOKI HOLD HOLE HOLK HOLM HOLP HOLS HOLT HOLY HOMA HOME HOMO HOMS HOMY HOND HONE HONG HONK HONS HOOD HOOF HOOK HOON HOOP HOOR HOOT HOPE HOPS HORA HORE HORI HORN HORS HOSE HOSS HOST HOTE HOTS HOUF HOUR HOUT HOVE HOWE HOWF HOWK HOWL HOWS HOYA HOYS HUBS HUCK HUED HUER HUES HUFF HUGE HUGS HUGY HUHU HUIA HUIC HUIS HULA HULE HULK HULL HUMA HUMF HUMP HUMS HUNG HUNH HUNK HUNS HUNT HUPS HURL HURT HUSH HUSK HUSO HUSS HUTS HWAN HWYL HYED HYEN HYES HYKE HYLA HYLE HYMN HYPE HYPO HYPS HYTE
IAMB IBEX IBIS ICED ICER ICES ICHS ICKY ICON IDEA IDEE IDEM IDES IDLE IDLY IDOL IDYL IFFY IGAD IGGS IGLU IKAN IKAT IKON ILEA ILEX ILIA ILKA ILKS ILLS ILLY IMAM IMID IMMY IMPI IMPS INBY INCH INFO INGO INGS INIA INKS INKY INLY INNS INRO INTI INTO IONS IOTA IRED IRES IRID IRIS IRKS IRON ISBA ISIT ISLE ISMS ISNA ISOS ITAS ITCH ITEM IURE IWIS IXIA IZAR
JAAP JABS JACK JADE JAFA JAGA JAGG JAGS JAIL JAKE JAKS JAMB JAMS JANE JANN JAPE JAPS JARK JARL JARP JARS JASP JASS JASY JATO JAUK JAUP JAVA JAWS JAXY JAYS JAZY JAZZ JEAN JEAT JEDI JEED JEEL JEEP JEER JEES JEEZ JEFE JEFF JEHU JELL JEON JERK JESS JEST JETE JETS JEUX JEWS JIAO JIBB JIBE JIBS JIFF JIGS JILL JILT JIMP JINK JINN JINS JINX JIRD JISM JIVE JIVY JIZZ JOBE JOBS JOCK JOCO JOES JOEY JOGS JOHN JOIN JOKE JOKY JOLE JOLL JOLS JOLT JOMO JONG JOOK JORS JOSH JOSS JOTA JOTS JOUK JOUR JOWL JOWS JOYS JUBA JUBE JUCO JUDO JUDS JUDY JUGA JUGS JUJU JUKE JUKU JUMP JUNK JUPE JURA JURE JURY JUST JUTE JUTS JUVE JYNX
KAAL KAAS KABS KACK KADE KADI KAED KAES KAFS KAGO KAGU KAID KAIE KAIF KAIK KAIL KAIM KAIN KAIS KAKA KAKI KAKS KALE KALI KAMA KAME KAMI KANA KANE KANG KANS KANT KAON KAPA KAPH KARA KARK KARN KARO KART KATA KATI KATS KAVA KAWA KAWS KAYO KAYS KAZI KBAR KEAS KEBS KECK KEDS KEEF KEEK KEEL KEEN KEEP KEET KEFS KEGS KEIR KEKS KELL KELP KELT KEMB KEMP KENO KENS KENT KEPI KEPS KEPT KERB KERF KERN KERO KESH KEST KETA KETE KETO KETS KEWL KEYS KHAF KHAN KHAT KHET KHIS KHOR KHUD KIBE KICK KIDS KIEF KIER KIEV KIFF KIFS KIKE KILD KILL KILN KILO KILP KILT KINA KIND KINE KING KINK KINO KINS KIPE KIPP KIPS KIRK KIRN KIRS KISH KISS KIST KITE KITH KITS KIVA KIWI KLAP KLIK KNAG KNAP KNAR KNEE KNEW KNIT KNOB KNOP KNOT KNOW KNUB KNUR KNUT KOAN KOAP KOAS KOBO KOBS KOEL KOFF KOHA KOHL KOIS KOJI KOKA KOLA KOLO KOND KONK KONS KOOK KOPH KOPS KORA KORE KORO KORS KORU KOSS KOTO KOWS KRAB KRIS KSAR KUDO KUDU KUEH KUES KUFI KUIA KUKU KULA KUNA KUNE KURI KURU KUTA KUTI KUTU KUZU KVAS KYAK KYAR KYAT KYBO KYES KYLE KYND KYNE KYPE KYTE KYUS
LABS LACE LACK LACS LACY LADE LADS LADY LAER LAGS LAHS LAIC LAID LAIK LAIN LAIR LAKE LAKH LAKY LALL LAMA LAMB LAME LAMP LAMS LANA LAND LANE LANG LANK LANT LANX LAPS LARD LARE LARI LARK LARN LARS LASE LASH LASS LAST LATE LATH LATI LATS LATU LAUD LAUF LAVA LAVE LAVS LAWK LAWN LAWS LAYS LAZE LAZO LAZY LEAD LEAF LEAK LEAL LEAM LEAN LEAP LEAR LEAS LEAT LECH LEED LEEK LEEP LEER LEES LEET LEFT LEGS LEHR LEIR LEIS LEKE LEKS LEKU LEME LEND LENG LENO LENS LENT LEPS LEPT LERE LERP LESS LEST LETS LEUD LEVA LEVE LEVO LEVY LEWD LEYS LEZZ LIAR LIAS LIBS LICE LICH LICK LIDO LIDS LIED LIEF LIEN LIER LIES LIEU LIFE LIFT LIGS LIKE LILL LILO LILT LILY LIMA LIMB LIME LIMN LIMO LIMP LIMY LIND LINE LING LINK LINN LINO LINS LINT LINY LION LIPA LIPE LIPO LIPS LIRA LIRE LIRI LIRK LISK LISP LIST LITE LITH LITS LITU LIVE LOAD LOAF LOAM LOAN LOBE LOBI LOBO LOBS LOCA LOCH LOCI LOCK LOCO LODE LODS LOFT LOGE LOGO LOGS LOGY LOID LOIN LOIR LOKE LOLL LOMA LOME LONE LONG LOOF LOOK LOOM LOON LOOP LOOR LOOS LOOT LOPE LOPS LORD LORE LORN LORY LOSE LOSH LOSS LOST LOTA LOTE LOTH LOTI LOTO LOTS LOUD LOUN LOUP LOUR LOUS LOUT LOVE LOWE LOWN LOWP LOWS LOWT LOYS LUAU LUBE LUCE LUCK LUDE LUDO LUDS LUES LUFF LUGE LUGS LUIT LUKE LULL LULU LUMA LUMP LUMS LUNA LUNE LUNG LUNK LUNT LUNY LURE LURK LURS LUSH LUSK LUST LUTE LUTZ LUVS LUXE LWEI LYAM LYCH LYES LYME LYMS LYNE LYNX LYRA LYRE LYSE LYTE
MAAR MAAS MABE MACE MACH MACK MACS MADE MADS MAES MAGE MAGG MAGI MAGS MAHA MAID MAIK MAIL MAIM MAIN MAIR MAKE MAKI MAKO MAKS MALA MALE MALI MALL MALM MALS MALT MAMA MAMS MANA MAND MANE MANG MANI MANO MANS MANY MAPS MARA MARC MARD MARE MARG MARK MARL MARM MARS MART MARY MASA MASE MASH MASK MASS MAST MASU MATE MATH MATS MATT MATY MAUD MAUL MAUN MAUT MAWK MAWN MAWR MAWS MAXI MAYA MAYO MAYS MAZE MAZY MEAD MEAL MEAN MEAT MECK MEDS MEED MEEK MEER MEES MEET MEFF MEGA MEGS MEIN MELA MELD MELL MELS MELT MEME MEMO MEMS MEND MENE MENG MENO MENT MENU MEOU MEOW MERC MERE MERI MERK MERL MESA MESE MESH MESS META METE METH METS MEUS MEVE MEWL MEWS MEZE MEZZ MHOS MIBS MICA MICE MICH MICK MICO MICS MIDI MIDS MIEN MIFF MIGG MIGS MIHA MIHI MIKE MILD MILE MILF MILK MILL MILO MILS MILT MIME MINA MIND MINE MING MINI MINK MINO MINT MINX MINY MIPS MIRE MIRI MIRK MIRO MIRS MIRV MIRY MISE MISO MISS MIST MITE MITT MITY MIXT MIXY MIZZ MNAS MOAI MOAN MOAS MOAT MOBE MOBS MOBY MOCH MOCK MOCS MODE MODI MODS MOER MOES MOFO MOGS MOHR MOIL MOIT MOJO MOKE MOKI MOKO MOLA MOLD MOLE MOLL MOLS MOLT MOLY MOME MOMI MOMS MONA MONG MONK MONO MONS MONY MOOD MOOI MOOK MOOL MOON MOOP MOOR MOOS MOOT MOPE MOPS MOPY MORA MORE MORN MORS MORT MOSE MOSH MOSK MOSS MOST MOTE MOTH MOTI MOTS MOTT MOTU MOUE MOUP MOUS MOVE MOWA MOWN MOWS MOXA MOYA MOYL MOYS MOZE MOZO MOZZ MUCH MUCK MUDS MUFF MUGG MUGS MUID MUIL MUIR MULE MULL MUMM MUMP MUMS MUMU MUNG MUNI MUNS MUNT MUON MURA MURE MURK MURL MURR MUSE MUSH MUSK MUSO MUSS MUST MUTE MUTI MUTS MUTT MUZZ MWAH MYAL MYCS MYNA MYTH MYXO MZEE
NAAM NAAN NABE NABK NABS NACH NADA NADS NAFF NAGA NAGS NAIF NAIK NAIL NAIN NALA NAME NAMS NAMU NANA NANE NANG NANS NAOI NAOS NAPA NAPE NAPS NARC NARD NARE NARK NARY NATS NAVE NAVY NAYS NAZE NAZI NEAL NEAP NEAR NEAT NEBS NECK NEDS NEED NEEM NEEP NEFS NEGS NEIF NEKS NEMA NEMN NENE NEON NEPS NERD NERK NESH NESS NEST NETE NETS NETT NEUK NEUM NEVE NEVI NEWS NEWT NEXT NGAI NIBS NICE NICK NIDE NIDI NIDS NIED NIEF NIES NIFE NIFF NIGH NILL NILS NIMB NIMS NINE NIPA NIPS NIRL NISH NISI NITE NITS NIXE NIXY NOAH NOBS NOCK NODE NODI NODS NOEL NOES NOGG NOGS NOIL NOIR NOLE NOLL NOLO NOMA NOME NOMS NONA NONE NONG NONI NOOB NOOK NOON NOOP NOPE NORI NORK NORM NOSE NOSH NOSY NOTA NOTE NOTT NOUL NOUN NOUP NOUS NOUT NOVA NOWL NOWN NOWS NOWT NOWY NOYS NUBS NUDE NUFF NUKE NULL NUMB NUNS NURD NURL NURR NURS NUTS NYAS NYED NYES
OAFS OAKS OAKY OARS OARY OAST OATH OATS OATY OBAS OBES OBEY OBIA OBIS OBIT OBOE OBOL OBOS OCAS OCCY OCHE OCTA ODAH ODAL ODAS ODDS ODEA ODES ODIC ODOR ODSO ODYL OFAY OFFS OFFY OGAM OGEE OGLE OGRE OHED OHIA OHMS OIKS OILS OILY OINK OINT OKAS OKAY OKEH OKES OKRA OKTA OLDE OLDS OLDY OLEA OLEO OLES OLID OLIO OLLA OLMS OLPE OMBU OMEN OMER OMIT OMOV ONCE ONER ONES ONIE ONLY ONOS ONST ONTO ONUS ONYX OOFS OOFY OOHS OOMS OONS OONT OOPS OOSE OOSY OOTS OOZE OOZY OPAH OPAL OPED OPEN OPES OPPO OPTS OPUS ORAD ORAL ORBS ORBY ORCA ORCS ORDO ORDS ORES ORFE ORFS ORGY ORLE ORRA ORTS ORYX ORZO OSAR OSES OSSA OTIC OTTO OUCH OUDS OUKS OULD OULK OUMA OUPA OUPH OUPS OURN OURS OUST OUTS OUZO OVAL OVEL OVEN OVER OVUM OWED OWER OWES OWLS OWLY OWNS OWRE OWSE OWTS OXEN OXER OXES OXID OXIM OYER OYES OYEZ PAAL
PAAN PACA PACE PACK PACO PACS PACT PACY PADI PADS PAGE PAHS PAID PAIK PAIL PAIN PAIR PAIS PALE PALL PALM PALP PALS PALY PAMS PAND PANE PANG PANS PANT PAPA PAPE PAPS PARA PARD PARE PARK PARP PARR PARS PART PASE PASH PASS PAST PATE PATH PATS PATU PATY PAUA PAUL PAVE PAVS PAWA PAWK PAWL PAWN PAWS PAYS PEAG PEAK PEAL PEAN PEAR PEAS PEAT PEBA PECH PECK PECS PEDS PEED PEEK PEEL PEEN PEEP PEER PEES PEGH PEGS PEHS PEIN PEKE PELA PELE PELF PELL PELS PELT PEND PENE PENI PENK PENS PENT PEON PEPO PEPS PERE PERI PERK PERM PERN PERP PERT PERV PESO PEST PETS PEWS PFFT PFUI PHAT PHEW PHIS PHIZ PHOH PHON PHOS PHOT PHUT PIAL PIAN PIAS PICA PICE PICK PICS PIED PIER PIES PIET PIGS PIKA PIKE PIKI PILA PILE PILI PILL PILY PIMA PIMP PINA PINE PING PINK PINS PINT PINY PION PIOY PIPA PIPE PIPI PIPS PIPY PIRL PIRN PIRS PISE PISH PISO PISS PITA PITH PITS PITY PIUM PIXY PIZE PLAN PLAP PLAT PLAY PLEA PLEB PLED PLEW PLEX PLIE PLIM PLOD PLOP PLOT PLOW PLOY PLUE PLUG PLUM PLUS POAS POCK POCO PODS POEM POEP POET POGO POGY POIS POKE POKY POLE POLK POLL POLO POLS POLT POLY POME POMO POMP POMS POND PONE PONG PONK PONS PONT PONY POOD POOF POOH POOK POOL POON POOP POOR POOS POOT POPE POPS PORE PORK PORN PORT PORY POSE POSH POSS POST POSY POTE POTS POTT POUF POUK POUR POUT POWN POWS POXY POZZ PRAD PRAM PRAO PRAT PRAU PRAY PREE PREM PREP PREX PREY PREZ PRIG PRIM PROA PROB PROD PROF PROG PROM PROO PROP PROS PROW PRUH PRYS PSIS PSST PTUI PUBE PUBS PUCE PUCK PUDS PUDU PUER PUFF PUGH PUGS PUHA PUIR PUJA PUKA PUKE PUKU PUKY PULA PULE PULI PULK PULL PULP PULS PULU PULY PUMA PUMP PUMY PUNA PUNG PUNK PUNS PUNT PUNY PUPA PUPS PUPU PURE PURI PURL PURR PURS PUSH PUSS PUTS PUTT PUTZ PUYS PYAS PYAT PYES PYET PYIC PYIN PYNE PYOT PYRE PYRO QADI
QAID QATS QINS QOPH QUAD QUAG QUAI QUAT QUAY QUEP QUEY QUID QUIM QUIN QUIP QUIT QUIZ QUOD QUOP
RABI RACA RACE RACH RACK RACY RADE RADS RAFF RAFT RAGA RAGE RAGG RAGI RAGS RAGU RAHS RAIA RAID RAIK RAIL RAIN RAIS RAIT RAJA RAKE RAKI RAKU RALE RAMI RAMP RAMS RANA RAND RANG RANI RANK RANT RAPE RAPS RAPT RARE RARK RASE RASH RASP RAST RATA RATE RATH RATO RATS RATU RAUN RAVE RAVS RAWN RAWS RAYA RAYS RAZE RAZZ READ REAK REAL REAM REAN REAP REAR REBS RECK RECS REDD REDE REDO REDS REED REEF REEK REEL REEN REES REFS REFT REGO REGS REHS REIF REIK REIN REIS REKE RELY REMS REND RENK RENS RENT RENY REOS REPO REPP REPS RESH REST RETE RETS REVS REWS RHEA RHOS RHUS RIAD RIAL RIAS RIBA RIBS RICE RICH RICK RICY RIDE RIDS RIEL RIEM RIFE RIFF RIFS RIFT RIGG RIGS RILE RILL RIMA RIME RIMS RIMU RIMY RIND RINE RING RINK RINS RIOT RIPE RIPP RIPS RIPT RISE RISK RISP RITE RITS RITT RITZ RIVA RIVE RIVO RIZA ROAD ROAM ROAN ROAR ROBE ROBS ROCH ROCK ROCS RODE RODS ROED ROES ROIL ROIN ROJI ROKE ROKS ROKY ROLE ROLF ROLL ROMA ROMP ROMS RONE RONG RONT RONZ ROOD ROOF ROOK ROOM ROON ROOP ROOS ROOT ROPE ROPY RORE RORT RORY ROSE ROST ROSY ROTA ROTE ROTI ROTL ROTO ROTS ROUE ROUL ROUM ROUP ROUT ROUX ROVE ROWS ROWT RUBE RUBS RUBY RUCK RUCS RUDD RUDE RUDS RUED RUER RUES RUFF RUGA RUGS RUIN RUKH RULE RULY RUME RUMP RUMS RUND RUNE RUNG RUNS RUNT RURP RURU RUSA RUSE RUSH RUSK RUST RUTH RUTS RYAL RYAS RYES RYFE RYKE RYND RYOT RYPE
SAAG SABE SABS SACK SACS SADE SADI SADO SADS SAFE SAFT SAGA SAGE SAGO SAGS SAGY SAIC SAID SAIL SAIM SAIN SAIR SAIS SAKE SAKI SALE SALL SALP SALS SALT SAMA SAME SAMP SAMS SAND SANE SANG SANK SANS SANT SAPS SARD SARI SARK SARS SASH SASS SATE SATI SAUL SAUT SAVE SAVS SAWN SAWS SAXE SAYS SCAB SCAD SCAG SCAM SCAN SCAR SCAT SCAW SCOG SCOP SCOT SCOW SCRY SCUD SCUG SCUL SCUM SCUP SCUR SCUT SCYE SEAL SEAM SEAN SEAR SEAS SEAT SECH SECO SECS SECT SEED SEEK SEEL SEEM SEEN SEEP SEER SEES SEGO SEGS SEIF SEIK SEIL SEIR SEIS SEKT SELD SELE SELF SELL SELS SEME SEMI SENA SEND SENE SENS SENT SEPS SEPT SERA SERE SERF SERK SERR SERS SESE SESH SESS SETA SETS SETT SEWN SEWS SEXT SEXY SEYS SHAD SHAG SHAH SHAM SHAN SHAT SHAW SHAY SHEA SHED SHES SHET SHEW SHIM SHIN SHIP SHIR SHIT SHIV SHMO SHOD SHOE SHOG SHOO SHOP SHOT SHOW SHRI SHUL SHUN SHUT SHWA SIAL SIBB SIBS SICE SICH SICK SICS SIDA SIDE SIDH SIEN SIES SIFT SIGH SIGN SIJO SIKA SIKE SILD SILE SILK SILL SILO SILT SIMA SIMI SIMP SIMS SIND SINE SING SINH SINK SINS SIPE SIPS SIRE SIRI SIRS SISS SIST SITE SITH SITS SITZ SIZE SIZY SJOE SKAG SKAS SKAT SKAW SKEE SKEG SKEN SKEO SKEP SKER SKET SKEW SKID SKIM SKIN SKIO SKIP SKIS SKIT SKOL SKRY SKUA SKUG SKYF SKYR SLAB SLAE SLAG SLAM SLAP SLAT SLAW SLAY SLEB SLED SLEE SLEW SLEY SLID SLIM SLIP SLIT SLOB SLOE SLOG SLOP SLOT SLOW SLUB SLUE SLUG SLUM SLUR SLUT SMEE SMEW SMIR SMIT SMOG SMUG SMUR SMUT SNAB SNAG SNAP SNAR SNAW SNEB SNED SNEE SNIB SNIG SNIP SNIT SNOB SNOD SNOG SNOT SNOW SNUB SNUG SNYE SOAK SOAP SOAR SOBA SOBS SOCA SOCK SOCS SODA SODS SOFA SOFT SOGS SOHO SOHS SOIL SOJA SOKE SOLA SOLD SOLE SOLI SOLO SOLS SOMA SOME SOMS SOMY SONE SONG SONS SOOK SOOL SOOM SOON SOOP SOOT SOPH SOPS SORA SORB SORD SORE SORI SORN SORT SOSS SOTH SOTS SOUK SOUL SOUM SOUP SOUR SOUS SOUT SOVS SOWF SOWL SOWM SOWN SOWP SOWS SOYA SOYS SPAE SPAG SPAM SPAN SPAR SPAS SPAT SPAW SPAY SPAZ SPEC SPED SPEK SPET SPEW SPIC SPIE SPIF SPIK SPIM SPIN SPIT SPIV SPOD SPOT SPRY SPUD SPUE SPUG SPUN SPUR SRIS STAB STAG STAP STAR STAT STAW STAY STED STEM STEN STEP STET STEW STEY STIE STIM STIR STOA STOB STOP STOT STOW STUB STUD STUM STUN STYE SUBA SUBS SUCH SUCK SUDD SUDS SUED SUER SUES SUET SUGH SUGO SUGS SUID SUIT SUKH SUKS SULK SULU SUMO SUMP SUMS SUMY SUNG SUNI SUNK SUNN SUNS SUPE SUPS SUQS SURA SURD SURE SURF SUSS SUSU SWAB SWAD SWAG SWAM SWAN SWAP SWAT SWAY SWEE SWEY SWIG SWIM SWIZ SWOB SWOP SWOT SWUM SYBO SYCE SYED SYEN SYES SYKE SYLI SYNC SYND SYNE SYPE SYPH
TAAL TABI TABS TABU TACE TACH TACK TACO TACT TADS TAED TAEL TAES TAGS TAHA TAHR TAIG TAIL TAIN TAIS TAIT TAKA TAKE TAKI TAKS TAKY TALA TALC TALE TALI TALK TALL TAME TAMP TAMS TANA TANE TANG TANH TANK TANS TAOS TAPA TAPE TAPS TAPU TARA TARE TARN TARO TARP TARS TART TASH TASK TASS TATE TATH TATS TATT TATU TAUS TAUT TAVA TAVS TAWA TAWS TAWT TAXA TAXI TAYS TEAD TEAK TEAL TEAM TEAR TEAS TEAT TECH TECS TEDS TEDY TEED TEEK TEEL TEEM TEEN TEER TEES TEFF TEFS TEGG TEGS TEGU TEHR TEIL TEIN TELA TELD TELE TELL TELS TELT TEME TEMP TEMS TEND TENE TENS TENT TEPA TERF TERM TERN TEST TETE TETH TETS TEWS TEXT THAE THAN THAR THAT THAW THEE THEM THEN THEW THEY THIG THIN THIO THIR THIS THON THOU THRO THRU THUD THUG THUS TIAN TIAR TICE TICH TICK TICS TIDE TIDS TIDY TIED TIER TIES TIFF TIFT TIGE TIGS TIKA TIKE TIKI TIKS TILE TILL TILS TILT TIME TINA TIND TINE TING TINK TINS TINT TINY TIPI TIPS TIPT TIRE TIRL TIRO TIRR TITE TITI TITS TIVY TIZZ TOAD TOBY TOCK TOCO TOCS TODS TODY TOEA TOED TOES TOEY TOFF TOFT TOFU TOGA TOGE TOGS TOHO TOIL TOIT TOKE TOKO TOLA TOLD TOLE TOLL TOLT TOLU TOMB TOME TOMO TOMS TONE TONG TONK TONS TONY TOOK TOOL TOOM TOON TOOT TOPE TOPH TOPI TOPO TOPS TORA TORC TORE TORI TORN TORO TORR TORS TORT TORY TOSA TOSE TOSH TOSS TOST TOTE TOTS TOUK TOUN TOUR TOUT TOWN TOWS TOWT TOWY TOYO TOYS TOZE TRAD TRAM TRAP TRAT TRAY TREE TREF TREK TRES TRET TREW TREY TREZ TRIE TRIG TRIM TRIN TRIO TRIP TROD TROG TRON TROP TROT TROW TROY TRUE TRUG TRYE TRYP TSAR TSKS TUAN TUBA TUBE TUBS TUCK TUFA TUFF TUFT TUGS TUIS TULE TUMP TUMS TUNA TUND TUNE TUNG TUNS TUNY TUPS TURD TURF TURK TURM TURN TUSH TUSK TUTS TUTU TUZZ TWAE TWAL TWAS TWAT TWAY TWEE TWIG TWIN TWIT TWOS TYDE TYED TYEE TYER TYES TYGS TYIN TYKE TYMP TYND TYNE TYPE TYPO TYPP TYPY TYRE TYRO TYTE TZAR
UDAL UDON UDOS UEYS UFOS UGHS UGLY UKES ULAN ULES ULEX ULNA ULUS ULVA UMBO UMMA UMPH UMPS UMPY UMRA UMUS UNAI UNAU UNBE UNCE UNCI UNCO UNDE UNDO UNDY UNIS UNIT UNTO UPAS UPBY UPDO UPGO UPON UPSY UPTA URAO URBS URDE URDS URDY UREA URES URGE URIC URNS URPS URSA URUS URVA USED USER USES UTAS UTES UTIS UTUS UVAE UVAS UVEA
VACS VADE VAES VAGI VAGS VAIL VAIN VAIR VALE VALI VAMP VANE VANG VANS VANT VARA VARE VARS VARY VASA VASE VAST VATS VATU VAUS VAUT VAVS VAWS VEAL VEEP VEER VEES VEGA VEGO VEHM VEIL VEIN VELA VELD VELE VELL VENA VEND VENT VERA VERB VERD VERS VERT VERY VEST VETO VETS VEXT VIAE VIAL VIAS VIBE VIBS VICE VIDE VIDS VIED VIER VIES VIEW VIGA VIGS VILD VILE VILL VIMS VINA VINE VINO VINS VINT VINY VIOL VIRE VIRL VISA VISE VITA VITE VIVA VIVE VIVO VIZY VLEI VLOG VOAR VOES VOID VOIP VOLA VOLE VOLK VOLS VOLT VORS VOTE VOWS VRIL VROT VROU VROW VUGG VUGH VUGS VULN VUMS
WAAC WABS WACK WADD WADE WADI WADS WADT WADY WAES WAFF WAFT WAGE WAGS WAID WAIF WAIL WAIN WAIR WAIS WAIT WAKA WAKE WAKF WALD WALE WALI WALK WALL WALY WAME WAND WANE WANG WANK WANS WANT WANY WAPS WAQF WARB WARD WARE WARK WARM WARN WARP WARS WART WARY WASE WASH WASP WAST WATE WATS WATT WAUK WAUL WAUR WAVE WAVY WAWA WAWE WAWL WAWS WAXY WAYS WEAK WEAL WEAN WEAR WEBS WEDS WEED WEEK WEEL WEEM WEEN WEEP WEER WEES WEET WEFT WEID WEIL WEIR WEKA WELD WELK WELL WELS WELT WEMB WEMS WENA WEND WENS WENT WEPT WERE WERO WERT WEST WETA WETS WEXE WEYS WHAE WHAM WHAP WHAT WHEE WHEN WHET WHEW WHEY WHID WHIG WHIM WHIN WHIO WHIP WHIR WHIT WHIZ WHOA WHOM WHOP WHOT WHOW WHUP WHYS WICE WICH WICK WIDE WIEL WIFE WIGS WIKI WILD WILE WILI WILL WILT WILY WIMP WIND WINE WING WINK WINN WINO WINS WINY WIPE WIRE WIRY WISE WISH WISP WISS WIST WITE WITH WITS WIVE WOAD WOCK WOES WOFS WOGS WOKE WOKS WOLD WOLF WOMB WONK WONS WONT WOOD WOOF WOOL WOON WOOS WOOT WOPS WORD WORE WORK WORM WORN WORT WOST WOTS WOVE WOWF WOWS WRAP WREN WRIT WUDS WUDU WULL WUSS WYCH WYES WYLE WYND WYNN WYNS WYTE
XRAY XYST
YAAR YABA YACK YADS YAFF YAGI YAGS YAHS YAKS YALD YALE YAMS YANG YANK YAPP YAPS YARD YARE YARK YARN YARR YATE YAUD YAUP YAWL YAWN YAWP YAWS YAWY YAYS YBET YEAD YEAH YEAN YEAR YEAS YEBO YECH YEDE YEED YEGG YELD YELK YELL YELM YELP YELT YENS YEPS YERD YERK YESK YEST YETI YETT YEUK YEVE YEWS YGOE YIDS YIKE YILL YINS YIPE YIPS YIRD YIRK YIRR YITE YLEM YLKE YMPE YMPT YOBS YOCK YODE YODH YODS YOGA YOGH YOGI YOKE YOKS YOLD YOLK YOMP YOND YONI YONT YOOF YOOP YORE YORK YORP YOUK YOUR YOUS YOWE YOWL YOWS YUAN YUCA YUCH YUCK YUFT YUGA YUGS YUKE YUKO YUKS YUKY YULE YUMP YUNX YUPS YURT YUTZ YUZU YWIS
ZACK ZAGS ZANY ZAPS ZARF ZARI ZATI ZEAL ZEAS ZEBU ZEDS ZEES ZEIN ZEKS ZELS ZEPS ZERK ZERO ZEST ZETA ZEZE ZHOS ZIFF ZIGS ZILA ZILL ZIMB ZINC ZINE ZING ZINS ZIPS ZITE ZITI ZITS ZIZZ ZOBO ZOBU ZOEA ZOIC ZOLS ZONA ZONE ZONK ZOOM ZOON ZOOS ZOOT ZORI ZOUK ZULU ZUPA ZURF ZYGA ZYME ZZZS
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2020.06.21 08:10 Ralts_Bloodthorne First Contact - TOTAL WAR - 216 (Foxtrot-Nine-Two)

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The massive ship shuddered again, throwing Mukstet against Vankal, both of them nearly falling in the hallway as the lights in the corridor flickered and the artificial gravity stuttered. They both threw themselves forward, boot shod feet pounding against the floor plates as they hurried. The lift was out so they both headed down the stairs, joining the Terrans, Treana'ad, Mantid, Rigellians, and even a few A'antellians heading for their deployment.
Vankal was almost knocked over the railing and a Rigellian grabbed him, her great strength letting her pick him up and carry him for two long steps even as she pulled him back over the railing. "I got you, Marine," she rumbled, her voice deep and sure.
BAY NINE came into view and both Mukstet and Vankal both peeled off from the crowd. The bay was full of techs running from ship to ship, undogging hoses and pulling ammo carts away from the assault hovercraft. The massive bay door to space was open, the permeable force field designed to keep atmosphere inside while allowing vessels through holding back the vacuum of space. A craft flashed by, lasers seeking it from the massive ship.
"Betty Boop's getting hammered," Vankal panted as they ran across the bay, nimbly dodging mechanics, ordnance loaders, and fuel technicians.
"We dropped into the middle of a Precursor formation," Mukstet said, pointing outside.
The Precursor vessels were so close the pair of Telkans could make out details on their hulls. See the patchwork armor, the glowing engines, the weapon mounts vomiting up death at the CSFN Betty Boop at extreme close range. Even the point defense weapon systems of the combating ships could be brought into play to fire directly at the enemy vessels.
"There it is," Mukstet yelled, angling toward the assault hovercraft.
"Donning armor," Vankal called out, angling toward the back row. Half of the armored Marine Light Scout armor was gone, but Vankal could see his suit.
Mukstet climbed onboard, one of the armored Marines grabbing his hand and pulling him in. He hurried through the short 'hallway' to the cockpit. He followed his training, ignoring the thick fear that rose up in him, attaching his atmospheric hoses first, then synching up his systems to the hovercraft. Data started streaming by his vision as the vehicle ran through the startup checks.
"Control, this is Foxtrot-Nine-Two, co-pilot onboard, seventy percent of scout crew onboard," he intoned.
"Fox-Nine-Two, this is Betty Boop Combat Control Auxiliary, you're clear for takeoff as soon as your loaded or if that bay gets too hot," an unfamiliar voice said.
Auxiliary? Boop must be getting hammered, Mukstet thought to himself even as he answered. "Uh, negative, Control, we're exo-atmosphere, this is a intra-atmosphere multi-role hovercraft."
There was silence and a new voice came on. "You're Telkan? First deployment?"
"Yes, sir," Mukstet said. He didn't need to know the rank to know someone with that much authority was probably an officer.
"OK, here's what you do. Make sure all your armor troops are sealed, your flight crew sealed and on internal atmosphere. You launch, use the Boop for repellant mass. You get clear, let the planet's gravitational pull yank you down. You might have to pull a few orbits, but you can't stay up here," the voice said.
"What about our drop cradle?" Mukstet asked. He breathed a sigh of relief as Vankal and Arlek's icons went from red to green, meaning both the Telkan had gotten loaded. He was only missing Chief Warrant Officer Two Nessark and he'd be fully crewed.
"The Boop's in bad shape. You might not get one. Listen, and listen close, kid. I've done a few of these. We're going to roll the Boop in a couple of minutes. Just hover off the deck, when you see the planet, slam the power to max," the voice said.
A missile detonated on the permeable forcefield and a gout of explosive belched into the far side of the bay. Mukstet looked over in time to see the entire back wall on the far side explode inward then belch out fire.
"I don't have my Chief Pilot," Mukstet said.
"All Bay Nine: Prepare to Launch with current loads" flashed in his vision.
Reflexed kicked in and Mukstet slammed down the troop-bay hatches, ignoring the protests over the internal com-system.
The ship rolled and Mukstet panicked for a second. He had no idea where Chief Nessark was. He'd only done solo-flight in training and in simulators, never in something like...
His hands and reflexes kept moving even as his mind panicked. Check the telltales to make sure he wasn't hooked up to any umbilicals or had any open hatches. Fire the reactors, activate the graviton drives, activate the anti-gravity systems, activate the strike hovercraft's systems except for the weapons and ECM.
The strike craft shivered as it lifted a foot off the deck.
Mukstet could feel the Boop roll, pointing at damage to the artificial gravity systems. A counter appeared in the middle of his vision, mostly transparent, rapidly counting down.
"Mukstet, you there, kid?" It was Chief Nessark.
"Chief, thank the Gods, where are you, we have to launch in less than 10 seconds!" Mukstet yelled even as his hands and feet got ready.
"I ain't gonna make it, kid. It's up to you," the lanky Terran said. He coughed. "Boop's done for, out of the fight at least. Get our boys off her, just like you were taught."
"But," Mukstet started.
LAUNCH appeared in his visit.
"Good luck, kid, and may the Omnimessiah watch over you," the Chief's voice dwindled away as Mukstet threw full power into forward momentum, engaging the atmospheric afterburners that was normally used to 'squirt' forward to escape air defense systems. A missile went by, close enough that Mukstet could swear he could see the markings on it, and then...
Space.
All his systems went haywire. The magnetic nagivation system was completely confused, the mass reaction system detected three masses in the millions of tons, atmospheric warnings went off, radiation warnings spiked as the strike hovercraft was exposed to the unshielded rays of the nearby yellow star, and both afterburners suddenly went out. Both cold and heat warnings started wailing. The warbois and the VI, which had started to wake up, immediately locked back down into their shielded Farraday cages.
Mukstet used the mass repellant anti-grav/graviton system to push himself away from the three ships, which were still locked in combat at less than four miles from one another.
One of the Precursor ones took a full broadside of dropship missiles and broke in half as the dropship hangars passed it. It didn't die alone, its return fire causing fire, shrapnel that had been dropships, and a few intact dropships to spew from the destroyed bays.
Mukstet could see the wreckage of at least five other Precursors surrounding the Betty Boop, the larger chunks still shooting.
Mukstet ignored the babbling of fear and concern and confusion over the intra-ship com-link, slapping it off and concentrating.
"Kanpuk, try to raise up the rest of the strike wing," Mukstet ordered. "See who made it out. Tell them to try to orient on me, we're going to try an unpowered reentry until we hit enough mass and atmosphere to get our systems online."
"Roger," Technical Private Kanpuk replied, glad for something to do beyond gape in horror as one of the Boop's engines exploded even as she kept firing at her foes.
It was difficult. The mass from the planet was tenuous according to his instruments and his systems, but he found if he feathered the controls carefully he could use the mass of the planet as reaction mass (not the fuel type) for his drives. He slowly rolled, aligned, and reconfigured his instruments.
--ok?-- came the question from 793, the leader of the six man green mantid engineer team. The mantid was excited, null-gee launch into medium orbit space above a planet while under attack was exactly the kind of story the egg tenders sang to an entire lineage of engineer grubs.
"I'm all right, how's the ship?" Mukstet asked.
--reconfiguring battlescreens and particle screens for space-- the green mantid said. --201 rewriting software right now on fly--
"But how's the ship?" Mukstet repeated.
--no damage good ship tough ship-- 793 answered, flashing icons of satisfaction and pride. --not a spaceship but engineer team is working we will endure-- The green mantid felt a surge of pride in his team as 837 informed him that he was able to increase the mass detection and mass reaction systems to allow the attack ship to use the planet and the orbiting moon as reaction mass. 793 ordered 605 to pass the data onto the other engineer teams.
The situation was dire there was engineering glory for every green mantid present.
Glory to the first bladearm to wind a wire
Mukstet was completely unaware of the engineering team's efforts or conversations, concentrating on lightly feathering the controls to slowly bring the strike craft into alignment. Belly down, nose slightly lifted. The rest of Foxtrot-Nine all lined up on him, with his craft being the point of the wedge. He did a quick count and saw only three of the twenty-four striker craft were missing. It was supposed to be four wings of six strikers each.
"Kanpuk, see who had their human get here," Mukstet said.
There was silence for a moment.
"Nobody. Cantet said he heard the Terran pilot barracks bay took a direct hit from a near-C velocity cannon," Kanpuk said. "No matter what happened, none of the Terrans made it."
Mukstet thought for a long time. "Find out who's highest ranking."
There was a long moment. "Sergeant Kuplo, one our dismount team. He's a veteran of the Second Telkan War. You're highest ranking of the co-pilots, not including your experience as a wall-gunner during Second Telkan."
Mukstet closed his eyes and made himself relax, push back the panic trying to overwhelm him.
"All right, inform everyone I'm taking Squadron Command. Find out the rankings of the others, go rank, date of rank, time in service, birthday," he said.
--have idea-- 793 said, flashing icons of excitement.
"Go ahead, 793," Mukstet said.
--ok sounds scary but is doable-- the mantid said. In the small engineering space was quivering with excitement. --reconfigure systems. take propellant from missiles, reroute fusion reactor reaction mass tank to afterburners. reconfigure afterburners. use atmosphere. make fuel. use afterburners as thrusters to adjust orbit. reconfigure battlescreens to pull power from reentry heat. simple simple. like plasma, reroute heat to energy to nano-forges and systems. take... oh... 3 hours maybe six--
Mukstet checked his instruments. Speed 18,420 miles per hour, about twenty times recommended max speed. Orbit time: eighty-nine minutes. Number of orbits till reentry: 14.
"We got nothing but time. You're the engineers. How do we handle atmosphere though? We gotta breathe," Mukstet said.
--run symbiosis with scouts. they power armor, not armored vac-suit like crew. send 551 and 377 to hook everyone up. should work-- 793 said.
"All right. Do it," Mukstet said. If he was wrong, Space Force Marine Corps and the Telkan Marine Corps could recover his corpse and court martial it. He opened a channel to the back. "Sergeant Kuplo, it's Mukstet."
"I read you, sir," Kuplo said. He knew Mukstet was only a Private First Class, but he was the pilot, which, as far as Kuplo was concerned, made Mukstet 'sir'.
"Need one man up here, one man at each crew station. The greenies are going to umbilical us so we can breathe off of your atmospheric systems. I want you in the back with the rest of the fire team. We're going to be up here a while, most of a day, unless the greenies figure something out," Mukstet said.
"Oorah, sir," the other Telkan said and cut the link.
In the engineering spaces the six mantids got close enough they could talk rapidly, their bladearms out so they could all touch, heads leaned forward close enough to hear one another. The computations sped by, suggestions integrated or rejected without ego, all of them excited to be part of it. Only in dangerous professions did wrench-ful glory arrive to the faithful engineer and all of them were excited to have their own numbers and formulae names attached to the emergency rigging they were doing. While the Telkans sat and waited the little green engineers planned until the job assignments started to be handed out. They'd break into three teams of two. Team One would start working on the afterburners. Team Two would run software creation and alteration. Team Three would first hook the Telkan up to life support and then start making the adjustments to screens then the tanks. They all recited the formula dealing with the splitting of a hydrogen atom and them broke, scurrying toward their jobs, all of them humming their favorite songs.
Mukstet was glad it was only about twenty minutes before two of the mantids came up and connected him to Private Jekib. He still had two hours of atmosphere to go, but he had started becoming obsessed with staring at his O2 level.
--breathe deep breathe steady we turn wrenches we save day-- 551 said, flashing emojis of a gasping face that suddenly smiled.
"Thanks," Mukstet said.
"You OK? I run my O2 a little rich since I'm heavy weapons," Pvt Jekib said through the commo link.
"Better now. I had a few hours left on my bottle but I was starting to get the gasps," Mukstet answered.
"Think we're gonna make it?" Jekib asked.
"Either way, we'll be recorded in the Corps database," Mukstet answered, chuckling. "Either as the ballseyest hover-striker launch and deployment or as 'those poor sad bastards who died in orbit' that'll be taught in striker pilot classes."
Jekib chuckled and they both sat silently. A few times the instruments came on, changed, rebooted, shut down, then came back. The forward viewport, smart-armaglass, kept updating and rebooting. Once the text was upside down and backwards and it reboot almost immediately.
"Man, those little guys know their stuff," Jekib commented.
"Heard they can actually read molycircs just by touching them and can communicate with VI's at their own speed if they're touching a hardware port," Mukstet answered.
"Mukstet? Kanput here. The other guys are starting to get worried," came the commo-tech's voice. "The flashing instruments are freaking them out."
"Open me up a channel to the rest of the squadron," Mukstet said, wracking his brain quickly to think of what to say.
"Channels open," Kanput said.
"All right, Foxtrot-Nine. We're in a sticky situation, I'm not going to lie, but we're not taking fire, the big boys are interested in each other not us, and we've didn't encounter ground fire. We're too small to really read from the ground unless they're looking for us, and we're stealth strikers anyway," he said.
"All together, we've got one hundred and twenty-six green mantid engineers. That's over five hundred combined years of engineering experience, all working to get us ground-side. Just take this as a relaxation period. We follow our training, we stick to doctrine, and we'll be fine," Mukstet said, feeling more confident.
"I doubt anyone's made an unpowered insertion from orbit," Pv2 Lutmin snorted.
--not true. human made near-orbit jump with O2 bottle and parachute-- 042 broke in.
"Yeah, but he was SUDS'd and probably had a grav chute," Pv2 Ilknup scoffed.
--no. pre-SUDS pre-graviton. jumped with cloth chute and metal bottle with O2. fell from near orbit to set record. fun fun-- 042 answered.
"You know, sometimes I think the humans just ain't all there," Pvt Hekak laughed.
That got laughter across the channel.
"Did they invent SUDS just so that they didn't go extinct from doing suicidal things just to do them?" Pvt Bempet laughed.
--yes-- 406 added with laughing icons.
773 sent an image of a human and a fur covered feline with huge fangs and claws, the feline roaring angrily and the human looking at the feline thoughtfully and thinking "On one hand I could die" and then "On the other hand, cool story, bro" with "And that's how I ended up with my thumb in a tiger's ass!" at the bottom.
That made all the pilots laugh.
"Well, either way, we're going to be the first Telkans to orbit this planet in a striker," Pvt Hekak said.
"All Fire Team Leaders, ensure morale is high and non-mission chatter is permitted," Mukstet said on the separate channel.
For several hours the group sat in their seats, strapped in, while the mantids rewrote computer cable, ran leads and pipes, and made modifications. Once they had to stop while the nano-forges cooled off. At one time Mukstet asked 793 to use the sensor systems to map the planet below as best they could without attracting missiles or ground fire.
Three times they had to sit and do nothing but watch as they orbited past ground-fire and return fire. Once they threaded, luckily, through a launch of drop-pods directly into ground-fire. Another time they went underneath where a dozen Precursor ships were being broken apart by the fire from Confederate Space Force Naval vessels. All they could do was watch, hold onto the controls, and pray for the best.
Each time Mukstet breathed a sigh of relief to hear that none of his tiny craft had been damaged by the clash between titans.
Finally 793 broke into the conversation about who was better: The Red Cosmic Knight or Korgod the Bold, the Demi-God Rigellian Female.
--we're taking local control. test together so not separated-- 793 said. --drop team already secured--
"Roger that. All pilots, HANDS UP!" Mukstet snapped, raising his own hands up and grabbing the 'oh shit' handle above his head.
All of the squadron's striker craft suddenly rolled counter-clockwise then clockwise, then tumbled 'forward' then 'backwards' before leveling off. The afterburners suddenly fired, all of the ships lunged forward, speeding up. The afterburners cut out.
--fire tests done. computer systems ready-- 793 said. --going to add some ablative heat coating and some air brakes. two more hours--
"All right, boys. 793 Just told me we have three hours. Let's start running reentry angles. Everyone combine our topography data and meteorological data. Give us an idea of what we're going to be hitting," Mukstet said.
"We're going to make it, aren't we?" Jekib said suddenly.
"To planetside? More than likely. Through whatever hell is down there against the Precursors? I don't know," Mukstet answered. "But we're going to get these crates into atmosphere."
The Marine Armored Scout just nodded.
Finally Mukstet leaned back and opened the channel. "OK, in two more hours we'll be between the planet and the moon. We use the moon as a repellent reaction mass and the planet as an attraction reaction mass. We'll orient, fire the afterburners, and follow the reentry flight plan. The greenies will have two men on you to help with the flight profiles and pass on any failures to the other four, who will be in position near the equipment most likely to fail. We'll run out of fuel at roughly 450k meters, but our angle will be changed enough we'll enter atmosphere less than an hour afterwards.
"I'm not going to lie, that's going to be the roughest part. If you tumble, try to correct. Remember, if worse comes to worse, try to get ass forward, the armor's thick enough back there and they've redone the battle-screens to handle the thermal overload. If the absolute worst happens and you break up, have the strike team jump, you punch out. Hard light chute opening at 2,000 feet, activate your beacons, we'll come looking for you," Mukstet said.
Saying it out loud sounds like podlings making up stories, Mukstet thought.
"Any questions?" he asked.
"Yeah, who invented liquid soap and why?" someone, who wasn't broadcasting their ID, asked.
"At ease that shit," came Sergeant Kuplo stern voice. "All strike team Marines, prepare for high altitude drop chute deployment."
"Here... we... go..." Mukstet said.
The moon, which had broken metal debris around it and crashed on the surface, slowly got larger and larger. Mukstet watched his mass readings slowly rise. He frowned, looked again, and ordered a tighter graviton scan.
There was an eddy in the gravity interaction between the planet and the moon. A small one, probably compensated for automatically by space going vessels, but the gravity increased by almost 0.25G and pushed down and forward.
We can use that like a chute, he thought to himself. It was small, tiny, almost unnoticable.
On a stellar scale.
The eddy was 'small' at two hundred miles wide, the opening sixteen miles wide and the exit nearly three miles wide. A tiny little gravitational flux.
"973, do you see this?" Mukstet asked, highlighting it with a blink and a tap of a muscle he'd only recently trained to use.
--see it. computing-- 973 answered. A half second went by. --use it. sorry for delay. triple check and updates--
"No problem. Good work," Mukstet said. He opened the channel back up to the pilots. "All right, Foxtrot Nine-Two taking the lead. We'll go in in a wedge. Data is uploading," he said. "Good luck, men."
"May the Digital Omnimessiah protect us," Pv2 Dintin said softly.
Mukstet watched the HUD, orienting when it said to, bringing up the systems in order. While an autopilot could do it he needed to bring the systems up. Part of him was tempted to let the autopilot do it, but something could come up outside the autopilot's abilities and this was way outside of normal operation.
"All pilots, mark countdown," he ordered. He breathed deep, pretending it was a close air support under fire run. "Perform afterburner check. If green, signal. We do this all together or come back on another orbit," he said. The ship-icons all went green. He reset them. "Perform graviton and anti-grav checks. Signal green on good." Again, all the icons went green and he reset them. "Battle and particle screen check. Signal green on good." The icons went green. "Squadron is green. Entering final countdown."
When it hit zero he hit the afterburners, feeling the ship, not designed for this kind of abuse, start to vibrate. Hitting the eddy almost spun his striker craft but he got it under control. He only had a five second lead but it was time enough for 973 to warn the other engineers and let them compensate for it. Within seconds the whole world was vibrating and Mukstet was vaguely aware he'd probably filled his catheter bag. He gritted his teeth and ignored the way the vibrations made his arms go numb and his shoulders ache, how the way he had to adjust the thrust with the pedals and the vibration combined to make his knees and ankles ache even as his feet and pelvis went numb.
It was like trying to skate an iron skillet across a wave of molasses while wearing oven mitts. Speed was dropping even as the angle increased to more than they would have been able to achieve under the afterburners.
The afterburners cut off, out of fuel, just the howling of the graviton and anti-grav systems being operated beyond their tolerances. The ship was still vibrating, just at a different harmonic. Mukstet's vision kept blurring and it was slightly painful to look at different sections of the HUD.
All of the squadron read green.
Finally they were through, the graviton and anti-grav systems cut out, and they were drifting.
Falling.
The planet below them, the pilots waited. Mukstet tabbed up a piece of gum to chew as the HUD reset with new reentry vectors and a new timer.
"Open the channel," he ordered. When it was open he cleared his throat. "All right, twenty-two minutes to the top of the atmosphere. Have your engineers run checks and go green for good. Nine-Two out."
Then it was waiting. The port-side secondary graviton generator was damaged but the engineers got it repaired in time. Two Marines had vomited from the vibration but were fine, their armor's systems cleaning the interior of the armor.
One by one the icons, including his own, went green.
Mukstet closed his eyes for a moment. He couldn't believe they were all still alive. His brain replayed the terrifying launch from the bay of the Betty Boop and the way flames exploded out with them as missiles got through the screen.
Mukstet wondered if the big beautiful ship had survived.
"Thirty seconds. Go green if ready," Mukstet said. One by one the other strikers came back green.
His hands hurt, he was gripping the controls so hard. He felt like he was going to vomit or start laughing or both as the ship started to vibrate slightly. He punched up the graviton systems and the vibration got worse. The port-side secondary wailed, but kept up output within necessary levels.
The battlescreens and particle screens shifted frequency and began to sparkle and snarl as the atmosphere went from stray particles to gasses. He kept the belly up, watching the speed first raise, then start to lower. The engineers had considered hard-light drag-chutes but had ran the computations and found out the airframe couldn't take the stress, that the strikers would have broken up.
It was air-braking or nothing.
The screens were snarling, absorbing the heat. Power levels were rising as the shields drained the energy into the system for re-use. The vibration got even worse, making Mukstet feel like his bones were going to vibrate out of skin. The timer was counting down, the estimates by the engineers for when the atmosphere would be thick enough and the speed low enough for the strikers to make a shallow dive curve.
He was fifteen seconds away when the port-side graviton generators both went out in an explosion that scattered striker armor out in a scythe of shrapnel. The ship whipped around, going into a flat spin, and only training kept Mukstet from puking. He felt like he was going to black out as his flight-suit squeezed him, forcing the blood out of his legs and arms and back up into his brain.
--we're in a flat spin. engines out. trying to wet-start-- 973 reported.
"Don't!" Mukstet barked, cutting the power to the starboard graviton generators and the central line primary graviton thrusters then killing the anti-grav systems.
--all you brother--
PARE PARE PARE he thought to himself desperately.
Mukstet kept breathing, despite the crushing weight on his chest. Jekib was limp in the seat, passed out from the high-G spin. Once the striker was 'idling' he hit the mechanicals and felt the 'squishy' feeling hit his controls. He took the ailerons to neutral, fighting the port-side ones. He counted to two, then brought the opposite rudder to max and held it. He fought with the elevator for a moment, then got his nose down.
The striker slowed then bobbled, before coming in level. He dropped the rudder and leveled out, hitting the power to the center-line graviton systems and the craft roared to life.
The three striker Marines that had gone amber went back green suddenly and the two amber mantid icons went green.
--port graviton is gone need to refab-- 973 reported.
Mukstet could tell by the way the striker wanted to pull to port that he had a big gaping slash down his side.
The rest of the squadron was still green and according to his HUD were only three miles ahead.
The lights went green as the craft finally had enough of the planet's gravity well for the systems to work normally.
"All craft, go to manual and hard reset your controls," Mukstet ordered.
"Thought we lost you, sir," Pv2 Dintin said.
"Good training," Mukstet said. "On the clock," he ordered, and punched up a five second timer. "Now!"
The green mantids reset the computer system, wiping out the RAM and reverting to the package loaded before launch to reset. The stick went dead, mushy in his hand, then suddenly everything came back to life.
He had HUD warnings his portside graviton flight systems were out and thumbed off the alert.
The rest of the squadron slowed and let him take the lead.
He breathed a sigh of relief.
"All right, Kuplo, get our commo together, let's see who needs Foxtrot-Nine," Mukstet said.
"Roger, scanning the net now," Kuplo said. "Heavy jamming, but I'll suss it out."
"I'M AWAKE!" Jekib yelled, jerking in his seat.
Mukstet almost choked on his gum trying not to laugh.
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2020.05.30 18:04 ack1308 [Hammer and Anvil] - Chapter Four

Chapter Four: Striking Sparks

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It was a mystery that I worried at on the short transit to the Earth system. Our ships, including the damaged Unity is Strength, were holding formation even in hyperspace. With Pishka keeping a keen eye out for potential ambushes, we were as secure as we were going to get.
Once we got to Earth system, that was going to change. Unlike the colony system, this next time it would not be a holding action. We were going to have to dig in and repel a determined invasion. While we’d managed to shred maybe one-sixteenth of the attacking force, that still left far more Worm ships than I’d ever seen before in one place. I could only hope that the humans hadn’t put all their faith in those oddly named guard ships.
Ja’kara was talking to Unity’s captain, with Burble cut in on the link. I overheard a few words that suggested they were going over ways to get their battleshields back up to full capacity before we got neck-deep in it again. Shields weren’t my speciality and I didn’t have enough esoteric knowledge to bypass the limitations of physics, so I didn’t try to add anything to the discussion. Pishka’s head came up and he flattened his ears in relief. “They got out,” he said.
“Who got out?” I asked. “The Earth ships?”
He gestured confirmation. “They’re coming along now. I’d be very interested in seeing what they’ve done to their hyperdrives. It’s got a strange harmonic to it. But fast; very fast. Better than the Worm ships, which is good.”
“Slow in realspace, fast in hyper?” I wiped my nictitating membranes across my eyes a few times in bemusement. “They must have monster hyperdrives.”
“Well, all that weight didn’t come from oversized lasers, that’s for sure,” he pointed out, twitching his whiskers in amusement. Then he got serious again. “Captain, we’ll be there in a demi-cycle. The Earth ships are in transit. They’ll get here about three demi-cycles before the Worm ships.”
“Good to hear.” Ja’kara stood up straight, her eyes on the display. On it was the hyperspace imagery of the oncoming Earth system. “Attention. Attention. We’ve done well. Very well indeed. The enemy came at us and we bit their nose off. Our allies are following on. We’re all still in the fight, and they’ve lost a chunk of their forces. But this is no time to congratulate ourselves. We’re coming up on the Earth system in half a demi-cycle, so assume battle order when we get there. Finding Hope and Lighting the Void, I’m going to need you to buddy-shield Unity is Strength until they get their battleshields up and running again. Now, just remember; all we have to do is survive. Anything extra is a bonus. Ja’kara, out.”
Just before we slid out of hyperspace again, I set all my systems to max gain. I needed to know the emissions in this system, and how to hide the Promise Upheld against the background noise if necessary. There was a good chance that this battle would devolve into hunt-the-prey, with us cast as the prey.
When the blare of signals blasted out of my console and lit up the command deck, I nearly went over backward. The only thing that saved me was that the chair literally was not designed to do that. Hastily, with my eyes watering and my tympanic membranes ringing, I dragged everything down to a reasonable level. Then I began to look at what I was seeing.
There was electronic noise everywhere. The gas giants seemed to emit it as a slow, rhythmic hum. Earth radiated it like the local sun radiated light and heat. Even the fourth planet out was blaring into the void. And finally, there were point-sources spaced in a vast circle around the local star, between the fourth and fifth orbital regions. I wasn’t quite sure what those were about. “Apologies, all,” I said. “I underestimated the amount of noise in the system.”
“That’s fine. Don’t do it again.” Ja’kara’s tone was barely censorious. “I’m not surprised the Worms found this place. Between the noise the colony was putting out and this one, they’re probably listening in from sixteen light-years away.”
“Ships coming out from Earth orbit,” Pishka reported. “More of the same type. Many more.”
Oh, good, I thought. We might have a chance at surviving this.
One of the oncoming ships hailed us as we shook ourselves into formation. “Outsider group, this is Admiral Holloway commanding the Ackbar, overseeing Battlefleet Anvil, callsign Anvil Actual. Identify immediately, over.
Ja’kara rose to the occasion. “Admiral, this is Commodore Ja’kara, captain of Promise Upheld. This strike group is under my command. I need to inform you that there’s a very large fleet of Xan’thuilli due in this system in … about sixteen of your minutes. The ships you had guarding the colony are right ahead of them. Over.”
Admiral Holloway’s voice changed tone slightly; still crisp, it became almost friendly. “So noted, Commodore Ja’kara. It’s good to have you back. Also, congratulations on your promotion. I attended several of your lectures when you were last here. I see at least one of your ships is damaged. We’re going to need you to follow the refugee ships inward, at least until you get through our screen. Over.”
“Admiral Holloway, this is a very substantial fleet,” Ja’kara tried again. “There are thousands in it. Perhaps as many as seven or eight thousand. You’re going to need every ship that can fly and fire a weapon.” She stared at the display, where Pishka had helpfully placed up a graphic of the ships that were coming out to meet us. “You have fewer than a hundred ships. They will surround you and bring you down with numbers. Over.”
“Commodore Ja’kara, I appreciate the concern, but there are facts that you do not know about this situation. Number one: you need to clear our line of fire. Now.” The human’s voice took on the snap of authority.
It didn’t take Ja’kara any time at all to take note of how the ships were gradually forming up into a wall of battle like we’d done back at the colony, with all those gaping muzzles pointing directly at us. We had a robust hull and a powerful battleshield, but one of those magnetically-propelled projectiles would tear through us like a plasma blast through a snowbank. There was still a gap in the middle, where the refugee ships had gone. Perhaps deliberately, it had been left open for us.
“Understood, Admiral.” She touched the collar of her shipsuit. “Helm, take us through that gap. All ships, follow in line astern. Once we’re through, form up behind the Earth ships. Let’s get out of the way of the scary big guns.”
As if we’d practised the manoeuvre a thousand times, we swooped through the gap and took up station behind the Earth ships. But not too close; we’d all seen the other ones jolt backward when shooting those massive main guns. One by one, the other ships fell into place. I could tell Ja’kara was trying to puzzle out the strategy at work here; with the sixty-something ships before us, it would be like our holding action in the colony system, only taking a little longer to overwhelm us.
“Thank you, Commodore Ja’kara. Now, did you have any questions?”
“Two,” she said at once. “First, how do you expect to stop so large a fleet with so few ships? Second, how are you going to stop them from hyperjumping straight past you if you do stop them?”
“To answer your first question, this isn’t all the ships we have. And for the second, we’ve seeded interdictor satellites through the asteroid belt. Nothing can reach hyperspace inward of there.”
Pishka was already working to update the image on the display. On it, we could see the relative locations of the local star, the Earth, and the other planets. In between the fourth and fifth was a band of planetesimals; the asteroid belt Anvil Actual was talking about. Along with the refugee ships, we’d come out of hyperspace just outside that band, and we’d travelled inward on our realspace drives, so we were now inside the indicated volume of space.
“Interdictor satellites?” she asked. I sent an update to the display, to show the unusual point-sources that I’d detected before. She studied them and made a gesture of understanding.
“Captain Ja’kara, one of the things you probably noticed about us humans is that we can’t stop poking at things. When we got the specs for your hyperdrive, we started building test rigs and playing around with them, until we came up with some interesting effects. The hyperdrive interdictor field is one of those effects.”
“I know it’s possible to create an … interdictor effect,” Ja’kara replied, the slight flare of her nostrils betraying her irritation, even though it didn’t show in her voice. “My question is: why? Why would you deny all ships in your system the ease of rapid transit?”
“Because sometimes you want to be able force ships to go from point A to point B the hard way,” replied Holloway. “On that note, if you could go out and flank the battlefleet and help deal with any spillage, that would be greatly appreciated. Anvil Actual, out.”
The dismissal was clear. Also, the timer Pishka had running in the corner of the display showed that we didn’t have long before the Xan’thuilli ships showed up. The interdictor satellites were welcome news, but again I was worried that the humans might be attempting to ingest a bug larger than their head, as the saying went.
If Ja’kara had similar worries, she wasn’t showing them. Crisply, she gave orders for Unity is Strength to withdraw and effect repairs to their battleshields, while the rest of the strike group moved out and around the slowly-assembling battlefleet. Three ships were placed on each ‘side’ of the fleet, while Promise Upheld waited behind, ready to dash out and reinforce whichever side needed help the most.
The next arrivals in the system were the four guard ships. I listened in on their communication chatter while I scanned them for damage. There were only a few scorch-marks on their outer paintwork, while their shields were still radiating the remnants of the excess energy that had been flung their way by the Xan’thuilli ships. The banter was light and contained many cultural references that I did not comprehend, but I was glad to see more reinforcements. We were a tiny guard force trying to throw back an overwhelming weight of attackers; the only good thing in all this was that they couldn’t simply opt to hyperjump straight past us.
I didn’t know humans as well as I would’ve liked to, but they didn’t seem to be showing the grim fatalism of people who had chosen a suicidal last stand and know they’re going to fail anyway. I knew that mindset well, having held it myself from the moment that Ja’kara had made the decision to defend Earth no matter what. They seemed upbeat, optimistic. Making plans for the future.
I envied them their ability to ignore the inevitable.
The four newcomers were still moving out to reinforce the outer fringes of the battlefleet alongside our ships when the timer ticked down to the last demi-cycle. As if this had tripped a timer, all ships in the main battlefleet simultaneously jolted backward. I knew what that meant, as did everyone on the command deck. Literally hundreds of solid metal projectiles, each one the size of a groundcar, were now hurtling toward the edge of the hyperspace interdiction field. It would be like getting caught in the type of meteor swarm that only existed in extreme training exercises, the type that are arranged to teach arrogant young officer cadets that it is indeed possible to be in a no-win situation.
Still, no matter how I ran the numbers in my head, there seemed to be no way to reduce the incoming fleet below half before the remainder surrounded each and every ship and overwhelmed their shields with massed fire. Once breached, they could be boarded; if not, destroyed in place. After that, Earth and its in-system colonies would be open to the incoming invasion. If even one-sixteenth of the fleet survived to reach the surface and disperse its squirming cargo, the only way to be absolutely sure of cleansing the planet would be to burn it down to the bedrock with nuclear fire, along with any of the eight billion inhabitants who had been infected along the way.
Harsh methods, but failing to carry them out stringently would only lead to outbreaks flaring up behind our backs. We’d learned that lesson the hard way.
Again and again, the battlefleet fired off its hail of death. Unaimed, unguided, they were devoid of any electronics and barely visible on sensors. I didn’t know how many projectiles the Earth ships held, but there had to be a limit, and they were only really good for a surprise attack. Any ship with even a modicum of manoeuvrability would be able to stay out of line of fire while raining its own return attack on the battleshields.
“Incoming!” warned Pishka. “They’re not slowing!” This meant, of course, that the Xan’thuilli had detected the mass of metal in the Anvil battlefleet and were timing their drop-out to get much closer. It appeared they could learn from what the four guard-ships had done to them back at the colony system.
Unfortunately for them, what they wanted was not what they were going to get.
They came out of hyperspace abruptly, the transition a lot rougher than normal. Even a smooth drop-out could knock a ship around if the drive wasn’t tuned just right; an unplanned one could blow out entire ship systems and leave crewmembers wondering which way was up. Their slower reactions showed the effects as they worked out which way to go and activated their realspace drives.
There were a lot of them. Worse, the battlefleet had set itself up somewhat farther back from the interdictor field boundary than we had from the drop-out point in the colony system. As ship after ship appeared from hyperspace and oriented themselves toward us, I found myself wondering what had happened to the salvos fired by the battlefleet. They jolted backward again, reminding me that it was still going on.
And then, after an estimated four-sixteenths of the Worm fleet had poured into realspace, the first salvos arrived. Not all rounds hit the front wave, but the benefit of firing into a crowd was that the shot was going to hit something. Xan’thuilli ships began exploding, the destruction spreading back into the fleet as projectiles punched clean through their targets, the sheer transferred kinetic energy ripping them apart on the way. I estimated that any one shot was able to destroy five ships or damage ten before it ceased to be effective.
If any ships had any intention of fleeing, they didn’t show it. Inside the interdiction field, they would have to literally turn around and fly away, and none of them were doing that. Instead, they were doing what the Xan’thuilli had done since we’d first encountered them, millennia ago. They pressed the attack, seeking to swamp our weapons until one of theirs got in a telling strike. Once they overcame us, they could use us or the countless people behind us as fodder to continue their expansion.
I had a very definite opinion about that, as did every member of the crew of every ship facing them.
Not on my watch.
More and yet more Xan’thuilli raged out of hyperspace and joined the charge toward us. The battlefleet continued its steady firing, even as the leading wave of the surviving Worm ships loomed ever closer. One shot would kill five ships, but between reloading the Xan’thuilli ships would get that much closer. The first few shots hit the battlefleet shields, fired by the Worm ships. Unsurprisingly, they glanced off, but that fire would get more intense as the enemy got closer.
“That’s it,” Pishka said abruptly. “That’s the last Worm ship out of hyperspace.”
It wasn’t exactly a comforting thought. The display said it all; our seventy-plus ship array was drawn up before an oncoming mass still comprising of thousands and thousands of ravening enemy vessels, all bearing down on us faster than the magnetic-array weapons could smash them. It was an uncomfortable trade-off; a weapon that could single-shot kill any Worm ship plus his five friends, but it was horrifically slow on the reload.
We must have still had the channel open, because Admiral Holloway answered. “Good to have confirmation, Promise. Initiating stage two: Hammer Down.” Signals flared out from the Ackbar on the hyperspace band.
“What …?” I asked. “What is that?”
Pishka stiffened in his seat, his ears going straight up. “Hyperspace traces!” he reported. “Numerous hyperspace traces from the gas giants! Hundreds of them!”
I stared at my own screen, my nictitating membranes flickering back and forth three or four times. Probes had been shot into place alongside the Xan’thuilli fleet, bracketing it on three sides. These were showing up on the hyperspace bandwidth, blinking steadily. “Beacons,” I said. “They’ve put beacons around the fleet.”
Micro-cycles later, as the intensity of laser-fire against the battleshields of Fleet Anvil began to ramp up in earnest, the first ships arrived. As bulky as the others, they should still have been climbing out of the gravity well of whatever world they were waiting on. But they weren’t. Inside the hyperspace interdiction field, they simply showed up … out of hyperspace.
“How is that even possible?” demanded Pishka, jolted out of his normal reserve. “Hyperspace travel should be impossible inside a field like that.”
“Humans,” Ja’kara said flatly. “Do you honestly think they’d come up with something like that and then not figure out a work-around?” She waved one arm, the other occupied with a hand-hold. “All of this did not arise out of nothing. They’ve put thought into this trap.”
And trap it was. The onrushing Xan’thuilli fleet was now surrounded on four sides by the heavy Earth ships, which began to open fire with yet more of the horrifically powerful projectiles. Hammered from the front, smashed on all sides, the previously-overwhelming fleet evaporated faster than an ice planet in a supernova. I watched as the looming bulk lost cohesion and broke apart under the unyielding fire, shedding more and more ships as it went.
Then the Anvil battlefleet ceased fire, possibly because they were out of ammunition, or perhaps because they didn’t want to inadvertently target their fellow ships, which were pressing ever closer to the fleet. Igniting their realspace drives, they pushed forward to meet the remnants of the Xan’thuilli fleet, numbering fewer than a thousand by now. As they did so, I saw them activate extra battleshields. But there was something very unusual about the tuning of those shields, not to mention the fact that the main shields of those ships had proved perfectly adequate to this point.
Burble, when I shot the data to her, scratched the back of her head in confusion. “That doesn’t make sense,” she stated.
“What doesn’t make sense?” asked Ja’kara.
“They’ve got their outer shields tuned wrongly. Inverted. Those won’t stop a drought-stricken thing.”
“Well, they’ve got to be useful for something,” I decided. “They’ve been playing it by the numbers so far.”
Half a demi-cycle later, I saw what it was all about. Some of the shredded Worm fleet tried to turn and go around the battlefleet, but our ships and the guard-ships from the colony were ready for them. Explosions lit the void all around.
The rest seemed to be trying to slip through the array in front of them and get to Earth that way. If that happened, we’d be the only thing standing in their path. If they got through, we’d be ready.
Except that not one managed to get through. As the array of Earth ships surged forward, the Xan’thulli hit the expanded battleshields, which were nearly touching one another, and kept going … until they tried to exit out the far side.
“They’re not battleshields!” I shouted, just ahead of Pishka.
“They’re nets!” he agreed.
“They’re insane,” Burble added, but she didn’t disagree with our assessment. Neither did I disagree with hers.
Pushing forward, the Earth ships collected the fleeing ships in their own battleshields, inverted to prevent them from going anywhere. And then, within the shields, the captured ships began to explode. I zoomed closer with my sensors, not sure as to the reason why … until I saw the turrets. Chemical-kinetic weapons were far too short-ranged for serious space combat, but when the targets were literally only a few ship-diameters away, there was no missing. Each ship became the focus of multiple twin-barrelled turrets—I later got to handle one of the projectiles, as long and thick as my forearm—which hammered rapid-fire high-powered explosive rounds into it.
It was all over within sixteen demi-cycles. The human ships began sweeping the drifting debris out of the region, while the Ackbar approached us. “Well, that’s done,” Admiral Holloway said by way of greeting. Pishka managed to get an image of him up on the display. “Want to come down for the celebration? I’m pretty sure we can throw in free dry-dock facilities for your damaged ship. We’ll go and reset the honey trap on Alpha Centauri in a week or so.”
That was one of the few times I would ever see Commodore Ja’kara taken totally and thoroughly off balance. “Wait, you mean to say you deliberately attracted them here?”
“Well, yes,” Holloway said off-handedly. “We’ve been doing it for years. They won’t come in if we have a huge mass of ships waiting, but if we hide out in gas giants, we can usually trap them and wipe them all out. Sometimes we even board and capture the ships.”
I met Pishka’s eyes, and saw in his gaze the beginning of the revelation that was dawning in my own mind.
“Board?” demanded Ja’kara. “Do you have any idea how stupidly dangerous that is? If a single Worm gets you, you’re as good as dead.”
The human admiral made a gesture with his mouth that came across as amused. “Sure I know. I’ve done it half a dozen times. But we had a secret weapon. So did you, even though you didn’t know it.”
“Excuse me,” I said, just ahead of Pishka, “but how long have you been drawing them in and killing them?”
About six years or so,” Holloway noted.
From the glance Ja’kara gave me, I knew she’d figured out the same thing Pishka and I had. It was the humans, casually trapping and destroying the Xan’thuilli, that had given us the reprieve we had so badly needed, five years ago.
Unaware of our revelation, Admiral Holloway was still talking. “We’ve been getting some very nice tech off the captured ships. Also, it’s amazing what you can find out from live Worms in captivity.”
“Unless you’re mind-readers, there’s no way you’re going to interrogate one,” Ja’kara said, then narrowed her eyes. “Are you mind-readers?”
“Heh. No, we’re not.” Admiral Holloway made the mouth gesture again. “But we did a lot of tests and we found out what they’re unable to tolerate. And it turns out ethanol is one of those things.”
Ja’kara may have been confused, but she could connect data-points as fast as anyone. “So … being drunk kills them?”
“If you’ve got enough in your system to register over about zero point zero one percent blood alcohol capacity when a Worm tries to get into your nervous system, it dies in convulsions.” Holloway held up his hand. Around the wrist were several puckered scars. “I’m living proof of that.”
Amid the stunned silence on our command deck, Ja’kara was the only one able to speak. “So, when you meant we had a secret weapon, you meant the vodka your people gave me the last time we were here?”
Holloway made a bobbing motion with his head that I recognised as a ‘nod’ of agreement. “That’s correct, Commodore. So, if you wanted to bring your crew down, we could get started on another case. What do you say?”
“Admiral,” declared Ja’kara, “that would be my genuine pleasure.”
Humans, I decided, were full of surprises.

[Author's Note: This was the last chapter. I might write more for this universe, but I have nothing planned.]
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2020.05.30 18:00 ack1308 [Hammer and Anvil] - Chapter Three

Chapter Three: Holding Action

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“Attention.” Ja’kara kept her voice level, the microphone on her shipsuit transmitting her voice shipwide. Hyperspace comms squirted it to the other ships in our battlegroup as we ran at flank speed toward a certain location in the galaxy; to save or destroy, we didn’t know yet.
“Those of you who were on Promise Upheld when we encountered the Earth humans last time, you will know what I’m talking about. For those who don’t, I will be circulating an information packet. Briefly speaking, Earth is a moderate-G world with a dominant sapient species called ‘human’. Bipedal, my height, mammalian, dimorphic, adventurous, highly social, technologically adept. They helped us kill a Worm ship the last time we were there, despite the fact that their space travel was still based on chemical propellants. So, I made the executive decision to hand over engineering specs for hyperdrives, sensors and all the other technology that would give them FTL capability before the Xan’thuilli came calling a second time.”
She paused to let her words sink in. I listened with one tympanic membrane while focusing the rest of my attention on my screens. We didn’t think the Worms were setting any ambushes in this region of space, but assumptions by definition didn’t have all the data in hand. If there was the slightest emanation from a lurking ship, even in hyperspace, Pishka and I were going to spot them before they spotted us.
“The computer equipment we just captured from that Worm ship yielded some information about why the Worms aren’t reinforcing this area of space anymore,” she said, clearly not liking what she had to say but saying it anyway. “They’ve found Earth again, and they’re sending out messages that translate to ‘big and tasty’ and ‘come quick’. Earth and its humans are our allies. It is our duty to go to their aid. I’ve sent away a message probe to inform High Command of our findings and our intent, and now we’re heading to Earth to render aid.” She paused. “Or, if it’s too late, to render honours and give them their final rest. Ja’kara, out.”
She cut the comms and dropped into her command chair. It was only ever used when she had absolutely nothing else to do; she much preferred to be on her feet, looking over our shoulders as we worked. I may have found this irritating and intrusive with other officers, but not Ja’kara. With her, it was oddly reassuring to know she was at my back. She drove us hard, but no harder than she drove herself. Every one of us on the Promise Upheld would’ve set course into the heart of a supernova if she’d given the command, with absolute faith that she knew how to get us out the other side.
Even if it wasn’t her giving the orders to head for Earth, I would’ve gone anyway. I’d only had the chance to associate with humans for a short while, ten GA years ago, but they’d made an impression on all of us. They were the scrappy newcomers to the Galactic scene, and I personally liked them. Enough of them seemed to be out and about that they wouldn’t be driven extinct if Earth was destroyed, but it would be a huge blow to the species as a whole. I’d heard of some that had declined and let themselves go once that sort of thing had happened to their birth world, and while I didn’t think humans would go down that same path—the fact that one of their favourite insults invited the listener to go and copulate with themselves told me that—it still wouldn’t be good for them.
Ship cycles came and went as we bored a hole through hyperspace, heading for our goal; Earth, still hopefully untouched. We took the time to prep the ships for imminent combat. Every system that could be maintained while in hyperspace was checked over and tested. The grunts in engineering hovered over the hyperdrive engines, twitching at every flicker of a gauge away from the norm.
When Remember Panares called in that their hyperdrives were starting to show problematic oscillations, Ja’kara didn’t hesitate to tell them to drop into realspace until they had it fixed. She also detailed They Also Serve to stay with them; the last thing anyone wanted was to be stuck in the middle of interstellar space with a busted hyperdrive. In that situation, all a crew could do was set out for home and hope their descendants—or remains—got there eventually.
My second was a flightless avian, a Gallan called Lileel; she was adept enough on my board for the most part, but this was not a normal situation. I took to only sleeping while Pishka was on shift so that he could back her up on the Weps board, and I did the same for him when he had to take a mandatory rest cycle. When we were both up, I ran her through drills, trying to get her to the point where she could spot a problem by instinct rather than thinking about it.
Overall, it was a tense time. This was not helped when we got a signal from one of the probes we’d sent out, returning with data. We dropped to realspace, briefly, to take it on board, then resumed our onward dash. Ja’kara accessed the onboard data herself, then threw it up on the main display for all to see. Behind me, I heard Pishka mutter something about ‘excrement of the sun god’ but I wasn’t listening, because I was swearing too.
The first star system where we’d fought the Worm ship, one hyperspace jump away from Earth, had a binary pair plus a third a little way away. Humans had evidently colonised the system, with domed settlements on one of the planets as well as orbital habitats. These were in the process of being evacuated, with ships of all sizes and shapes swarming around them. Despite the fact that we’d warned them that the Xan’thuilli were able to detect EM emissions with their ships, and quite often homed in on such emissions, the installations were all blaring out audio and video signals even while they were prepping to bolt.
But that wasn’t the bad part.
The bad part was the other half of the data the probe had returned with. It had locked onto a Xan’thuilli fleet and gotten a heading as well as approximate numbers. They were incoming on the colony system with literally thousands of ships, and there was no way of knowing if the humans would all be evacuated by then.
I glanced around the command deck. A Xan’thuilli fleet that big was unheard of, or at least I’d never seen or heard of one like it myself. Pishka met my eyes and gestured a negative to my unspoken question. Ja’kara was staring at the display like she could change the facts there by sheer force of will. We were all right there with her.
“Orders, Captain?” asked Burble.
That broke the spell. “Yes.” Ja’kara turned to face us. “I want a course change. How fast can we get to that colony system?”
Pishka already had an answer, because he’d known she was going to ask that question. “Half a cycle to a cycle ahead of that fleet, ma’am.”
It wasn’t a huge amount of time, but at least it would allow us to get set up in the system before the Worms arrived. Ja’kara clearly was of the same opinion. “Very good. Lay in the course. Send it to Helm. Make it happen. When they show, I want the first and last thing they see to be our guns.”
The formless tension that had been laying over us up until that point dissipated, to be replaced by a very definitive tension. When we hit that system, we’d be setting up for a fighting retreat. There was no way our fourteen-strong strike group could hold it against a fleet of that size, but we didn’t have to. All we had to do was slow them down long enough for the humans to hit hyperspace, and then we could jump out too. If they had sense, they’d go anywhere other than Earth, but we couldn’t depend on that.
Our strategy was already laid out before us, just awaiting the tactical finesse that Ja’kara could bring to it. Once the last human was out of the colony system, we’d jump back to the Earth system and hope that whatever defensive capability they had was able to at least hold off the oncoming invasion until a relieving fleet came in from High Command. If a relieving fleet got there in time.
In the best case, the fleet we were facing would be of the same quality as the ones we’d been routinely smearing across spacetime for the last couple of years. But even then, with thousands in play, it would be a matter of quantity overcoming quality. If they were of the better quality, we were going to be in for a hellish fight. I had no illusions about the end result; we were probably going to go down no matter what, but if that happened we were going to go down fighting. Ja’kara had made it clear to all of us that she was prepared to blow the ship if we were boarded and looked like losing to the invaders. We might die, but they weren’t going to get anything out of us.
Only Pishka and myself were even able to detect our course change. At this distance, it was barely noticeable. We still had cycles to go before we got there, and the two star systems were only about four light-years apart. I found my attention wandering, and logged off shift to refresh myself and get some sleep before the biowaste storage inevitably suffered catastrophic containment failure.
When I rose, we were close. Pishka immediately sent me the faint traces he’d raised of the passage of the fleet, still light-years hence. One ship wouldn’t be detectable at this range, but thousands left a considerable drive-wake. He left his console to his second while I took over the vigil. There was only a cycle or so before we were due to get there, but his species were able to get by on minimal sleep at short notice.
I let Lileel run my console, while I shadowed Pishka’s second on his. The invasion fleet hadn’t changed heading or speed, though it seemed to have spread out a little. They wouldn’t arrive in one huge mass, which would be to our benefit. If we could disable or kill the frontrunners, that would buy the humans a little more time. The one good thing seemed to be that they were all coming from roughly the same direction.
With only a few demi-cycles to go before arrival, Ja’kara put a sharp tone over the shipwide annunciators to get everyone’s attention. Pishka arrived at a run and dropped into his seat as she began to speak.
“Attention. Attention. We are about to go into battle. Secure your ships for combat. We will not be seeking to hold the system. This will be a fighting retreat. Watch each other’s backs, and be ready to enter hyperjump on my order. There are eight billion sapients in the next system over, and it’s our job to make sure they don’t become eight billion incubators. I’m not going to tell you to do your duty, because I know damn well you’ll do it. I couldn’t be prouder of you than I am today. Ja’kara, out.”
While on normal running, we only went with lapstraps. I secured my full restraints, and made sure Lileel did hers as well. The only one not fastening in was Ja’kara, because she liked to be up and keeping an eye on how things were going.
“Transitioning out of hyperspace in four!” called out Ga’takka. “Three! Two! One! Drop!”
The hyperdrive engines spooled back as we slid down into realspace. There was hardly even a jar; Ga’takka was that good. Pishka had analysed the system traffic from the drone data and placed us above the ecliptic so we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. Which was a good thing; there were still a lot of ships milling around. Had they been caught unawares? Whoever had organised this evacuation had botched it badly, given that there seemed to still be almost as many ships in-system as there had been when the probe came through.
A couple of larger ships with what I recognised as military lines came poking out of the pack toward us. It didn’t take long for us to receive their hail. My Human-to-Trade translator software deciphered the audio immediately.
“Patrol ship Promise Upheld, welcome back to our corner of the galaxy. This is Captain Peterson, of the Leeroy Jenkins. Is Captain Ja’kara still commanding that vessel?
“I am indeed,” Ja’kara responded, sounding briefly pleased before she got back to business. “But this isn’t a social call, Captain Peterson. Xan’thuilli are on the way in overwhelming numbers. They’ll be here in …” She paused, possibly doing math in her head. “… about one and a half of your ‘hours’. You need to get these people out of here.”
“Yes, we know.” Peterson didn’t sound very concerned. “We’ve got it all under control. You’ll see.”
With a huff of strained patience, Ja’kara tried again. “Captain, I’ve been fighting these things my entire adult life. So has all my crew. We have never faced a fleet this big before. Believe me when I say you do not have it under control.”
While they talked, Pishka and I were probing them with our sensors. They were allies, certainly. But they were also people who had taken the technology we’d given them ten years earlier and gone their own way with it. We knew Ja’kara would want to see their performance statistics for herself. The last thing any of us wanted was for the newest starfaring sapients in the galaxy to get overconfident when dealing with the perpetual menace that was the Xan’thuilli.
The first thing that popped up on the screen I kept reserved for Pishka was a layout of the weapons on the craft we were talking to. Four holes opened around the nose, being the muzzle openings for tubes leading back into the craft, parallel to the long axis. It could only be a weapon, but whoever it got fired at, the entire ship would have to be pointing at them.
Around the four enigmatic shafts, I saw eight laser turrets, far smaller than the ones we mounted. They’d damage an unshielded Worm ship, but wouldn’t do anything against even the most basic battleshield. Farther back on the ship, there were many other turrets, each one much larger than the laser emplacements, containing paired weapons that didn’t look like either laser or plasma weaponry. I did a quick analysis and came up with the conclusion that nothing could come close without being targeted by at least three of the turrets. What they were, I couldn’t be sure. They didn’t fit the profile of either plasma or laser weapons, and simple chemical-kinetic weaponry would be horrifically short-ranged for any sort of space engagement.
Over and above that, their acceleration was horrifically slow. This wasn’t due to underpowered engines, as I’d first assumed, but the sheer mass of each craft. Looking deeper, it seemed that part of it was a series of mechanisms surrounding the four mystery shafts, and part of it seemed to be high-end capacitor banks, while another part showed up as a secondary set of battleshields, separate from the first. And, apparently, actual metal armour plating on the outer hulls.
By the time Pishka and I had finished our analysis of the Earth craft and finished tossing notes back and forth, we’d come up with half a dozen unsatisfactory explanations for exactly why those ships had been designed that way. Our best guess was that humans had to deal with design-by-committee as well, and we silently commiserated with them.
There were four defending ships in all; they were called Leeroy Jenkins, Murphy’s Law, Hold My Beer and Invading Russia. I wasn’t quite sure of the cultural background behind any of them; two seemed to be relatively standard human names, one referenced a beverage and the other a nation. When this was all over, I decided, I’d ask someone about it. If I was around to ask, and if there was someone around to answer. Until then, we had a battle to survive.
Moving slowly to allow for their atrocious acceleration, we arranged ourselves in wall-of-battle, facing the direction where Pishka’s sensors told us the Xan’thuilli fleet would be emerging from hyperspace. It didn’t take much of a rearrangement to slot the Earth ships in among ours, then we all ran up our battleshields to full as a standard test.
With those massive engines behind them, the human ships had suitably impressive battleshields, though they were oddly tuned, not to mention hugging closer to the massive hulls than I was used to seeing. Of course, the smaller the overall surface area of the shield, the less power needed to keep it up, but it still seemed an odd choice to me. And they hadn’t even energised the second set of shields, which made me wonder what they were for.
The time ticked down slowly. Behind us, the refugee ships slowly, almost grudgingly, lifted off from the planet and pulled away from the orbital habitats before engaging their hyperdrives and fleeing the system. Briefly, I met Pishka’s eyes, and he made a gesture of resigned negation. Every single one of them had headed straight back to the Earth system. Their drive wakes, which would normally have dissipated in less than a cycle, would leave the Xan’thuilli a clean trail to follow.
There would be no hiding from the Worms. This was going to be a fight. And given that we had the only vessels capable of manoeuvring fast enough to engage in decisive ship-to-ship combat, I had the unpleasant feeling that it was going to be very one-sided; and not in our favour.
“Incoming!” sang out Pishka. “Three demi-cycles, maybe four.”
Well, that nailed it down neatly. Even though we were in realspace, Pishka could read a hyperspace ripple out to beyond the point where most of us (me included) would doubt there was anything there to see. The leading edge of the invading fleet was going to pop up in no more than four demi-cycles, probably three and a half.
The information went out to the rest of the blockading fleet, all eighteen vessels that we had. Behind us, more and more civilian ships lined up their trajectories, spooled up their hyperspace drives, and jumped away. A query popped up on my screen, sent from Peterson of the Leeroy Jenkins.
“The humans want to know where they’ll start coming out,” I called across to him.
In about two micro-cycles I had the answer; a box of space about two planet-diameters in front of us. How Pishka even calculated that I only had the vaguest of ideas. I did know he could track and trace the easing down of hyperspace engines as they came close to the dropping-off point, but like all the best showmasters, he never revealed his deepest secrets. Burble once confided to me that she was convinced he used those big cup-like mammal ears to listen to hyperspace directly. I couldn’t say she was wrong.
I sent the information back. We only had about two demi-cycles before they were going to emerge. Ja’kara was directly behind Pishka’s station, her eyes devouring every twitch and ripple in his readouts. All weapon crews were ready, their firing solutions trained in on that box. They weren’t going to fire until Ja’kara gave the word, to ensure the most destruction in the shortest time. Eighteen of us were not going to make a huge dent in a thousands-strong battlefleet, but we wanted to sting them and give them at least a brief pause before falling back.
And then, on both Pishka’s screens and mine, the four Earth ships literally jolted sternward a good quarter of their lengths. Their realspace drives flared, slowing the rearward movement and pushing them forward again, but Ja’kara was already on it.
“What was that?” she demanded. “What happened?”
“Magnetic burst, ma’am.” Pishka was at his most terse in these situations. “Metallic objects have been ejected from those ships.”
The enlightenment burst on me all at once. “Those long shafts! They’re for magnetic acceleration! I wondered what they were for!”
Just then, all four ships jolted backward once more, despite the forward impulse of their drives. They’d fired again, while we had yet to shoot even once. Of course, we didn’t have any targets to shoot at as yet.
“Why are they firing?” Ja’kara wasn’t asking the question of anyone so much as sounding it out loud. “The enemy isn’t in sight yet.”
“The Earth ships know where they’re going to be, and when they’re going to be there,” I said slowly. “Those projectiles are still on the way. If they’ve calculated the velocity correctly …” I didn’t have to say any more. Slowly, I began to revise my initial judgement of the thought process behind the four ships. Humans had already shown themselves adept at war. Maybe they weren’t as wrong-footed as we’d thought.
“Sixteen micro-cycles!” called out Pishka, after the Earth ships had belted out two more salvos. The projectiles were simple dumb munitions, of a type that I’d only read about in old manuals. Simpler even than the ‘cruise missiles’ that had so thoroughly destroyed the Xan’thuilli ship when we’d last visited Earth. No warhead, no drive, no guidance, no emissions. Nothing that could be spoofed, and a huge amount of kinetic energy. I didn’t know the exact mass of the projectiles, but the fact that firing all four acceleration tubes at once jolted the whole ship backward told me that whatever those projectiles hit was in for a galaxy’s worth of pain.
And then, right where Pishka had predicted, the fabric of space rippled and bulged, then the Xan’thuilli ships began to emerge. One after the other, then eight, then sixteen, then hundreds. All lighting off their realspace drives and hurtling toward us.
“Now!” shouted Ja’kara.
In the infinitesimal interval between her giving the command and every single ship in the strike group activating their lasers … the Worm ships began to explode. The frontrunners were spared for a few micro-cycles, but the larger bunch, farther back, detonated in a long line coring out the middle of the pack, all the way back to where their fellows were still sliding out of hyperspace.
Then, while I was still blinking over the destruction caused by that first salvo, we fired.
The front-runners died then, targeted by fourteen ships’ worth of high-end lasers. We began to work our way back down the pack, while I spoofed their sensors and Pishka called out useful targets. Our shields hadn’t even been hit yet, but Burble was tensely ready to make sure not one Worm got through our defences.
When the second salvo hit, it was less of a surprise to us, but far more Xan’thuilli ships had poured out of hyperspace by then, so the projectiles had a lot more meat to bite into. Even as I worked to distort the sensor signals going back to the Worms, I had to admire the sheer devastation the four Earth ships were wreaking on the fleet. It was a claw-puncture to the main mass, of course, but still very satisfying to watch.
“Fall back,” Ja’kara ordered. “Keep firing but fall back.” She glanced at the main display, now featuring a view of the colony world. The last of the transport ships was just staggering into orbit. It would be woefully slow in hyperspace. “We need to keep them slowed down.”
The human ships were tied into our battlenet, so they moved back with us; or rather, they ceased using their drives to keep station. Slow though their rate of fire was, each shot drove a horrific weight of metal through the massed droves of the oncoming Xan’thuilli invasion, even a glancing blow causing huge damage to whatever it hit. And they just kept firing.
But even that tremendous weight of metal, aided and abetted by our constant barrage, was not enough to kill the nearest Worm ships before they could start firing back. Spread over eighteen of us, it was bearable, but the intensity was rapidly growing to the point where something would have to give. Unity is Strength reported battleshield fluctuations, threatening to send its shields entirely out of calibration.
“Pull back,” Ja’kara ordered. “Those of you with stronger shields, cover those without. Captain Peterson, do your ships require covering fire?”
“We’ll be fine,” Peterson replied. A transmission came through, popping up on Pishka’s screen. “Head for those coordinates. Follow the refugee ships insystem. Thanks for the assist, by the way. You really helped sell it. Now get the hell out of here before we’re all surrounded.”
A shot punched through Unity’s wavering shields and scored a molten line along its flank. That decided Ja’kara. “All ships. Jump for Earth using these coordinates, on my mark.”
As we turned and lined up for the jump, I saw the Hold My Beer slide into place behind the wounded Unity is Strength as more shots flashed across the void. The Earth ship’s beefed-up shields took the fresh barrage and barely showed any change.
We were fleeing across the system now, the Earth ships falling farther and farther behind with every micro-cycle. Were they planning to engage the entire Xan’thuilli fleet with their four ships? I hoped not; as brutally effective as those magnetic-propulsion weapons had shown themselves to be, any ship could still be swarmed and disabled.
Just as the hyperspace engines spooled up and we jumped to hyperspace, I wondered: what did he mean, you really helped sell it?
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2020.05.29 12:56 ack1308 Hammer and Anvil (Part 4 of 4)

Part Four: Striking Sparks

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It was a mystery that I worried at on the short transit to the Earth system. Our ships, including the damaged Unity is Strength, were holding formation even in hyperspace. With Pishka keeping a keen eye out for potential ambushes, we were as secure as we were going to get.
Once we got to Earth system, that was going to change. Unlike the colony system, this next time it would not be a holding action. We were going to have to dig in and repel a determined invasion. While we’d managed to shred maybe one-sixteenth of the attacking force, that still left far more Worm ships than I’d ever seen before in one place. I could only hope that the humans hadn’t put all their faith in those oddly named guard ships.
Ja’kara was talking to Unity’s captain, with Burble cut in on the link. I overheard a few words that suggested they were going over ways to get their battleshields back up to full capacity before we got neck-deep in it again. Shields weren’t my speciality and I didn’t have enough esoteric knowledge to bypass the limitations of physics, so I didn’t try to add anything to the discussion. Pishka’s head came up and he flattened his ears in relief. “They got out,” he said.
“Who got out?” I asked. “The Earth ships?”
He gestured confirmation. “They’re coming along now. I’d be very interested in seeing what they’ve done to their hyperdrives. It’s got a strange harmonic to it. But fast; very fast. Better than the Worm ships, which is good.”
“Slow in realspace, fast in hyper?” I wiped my nictitating membranes across my eyes a few times in bemusement. “They must have monster hyperdrives.”
“Well, all that weight didn’t come from oversized lasers, that’s for sure,” he pointed out, twitching his whiskers in amusement. Then he got serious again. “Captain, we’ll be there in a demi-cycle. The Earth ships are in transit. They’ll get here about three demi-cycles before the Worm ships.”
“Good to hear.” Ja’kara stood up straight, her eyes on the display. On it was the hyperspace imagery of the oncoming Earth system. “Attention. Attention. We’ve done well. Very well indeed. The enemy came at us and we bit their nose off. Our allies are following on. We’re all still in the fight, and they’ve lost a chunk of their forces. But this is no time to congratulate ourselves. We’re coming up on the Earth system in half a demi-cycle, so assume battle order when we get there. Finding Hope and Lighting the Void, I’m going to need you to buddy-shield Unity is Strength until they get their battleshields up and running again. Now, just remember; all we have to do is survive. Anything extra is a bonus. Ja’kara, out.”
Just before we slid out of hyperspace again, I set all my systems to max gain. I needed to know the emissions in this system, and how to hide the Promise Upheld against the background noise if necessary. There was a good chance that this battle would devolve into hunt-the-prey, with us cast as the prey.
When the blare of signals blasted out of my console and lit up the command deck, I nearly went over backward. The only thing that saved me was that the chair literally was not designed to do that. Hastily, with my eyes watering and my tympanic membranes ringing, I dragged everything down to a reasonable level. Then I began to look at what I was seeing.
There was electronic noise everywhere. The gas giants seemed to emit it as a slow, rhythmic hum. Earth radiated it like the local sun radiated light and heat. Even the fourth planet out was blaring into the void. And finally, there were point-sources spaced in a vast circle around the local star, between the fourth and fifth orbital regions. I wasn’t quite sure what those were about. “Apologies, all,” I said. “I underestimated the amount of noise in the system.”
“That’s fine. Don’t do it again.” Ja’kara’s tone was barely censorious. “I’m not surprised the Worms found this place. Between the noise the colony was putting out and this one, they’re probably listening in from sixteen light-years away.”
“Ships coming out from Earth orbit,” Pishka reported. “More of the same type. Many more.”
Oh, good, I thought. We might have a chance at surviving this.
One of the oncoming ships hailed us as we shook ourselves into formation. “Outsider group, this is Admiral Holloway commanding the Ackbar Was Right, overseeing Battlefleet Anvil, callsign Anvil Actual. Identify immediately, over.
Ja’kara rose to the occasion. “Admiral, this is Commodore Ja’kara, captain of Promise Upheld. This strike group is under my command. I need to inform you that there’s a very large fleet of Xan’thuilli due in this system in … about sixteen of your minutes. The ships you had guarding the colony are right ahead of them. Over.”
Admiral Holloway’s voice changed tone slightly; still crisp, it became almost friendly. “So noted, Commodore Ja’kara. It’s good to have you back. Also, congratulations on your promotion. I attended several of your lectures when you were last here. I see at least one of your ships is damaged. We’re going to need you to follow the refugee ships inward, at least until you get through our screen. Over.”
“Admiral Holloway, this is a very substantial fleet,” Ja’kara tried again. “There are thousands in it. Perhaps as many as seven or eight thousand. You’re going to need every ship that can fly and fire a weapon.” She stared at the display, where Pishka had helpfully placed up a graphic of the ships that were coming out to meet us. “You have fewer than a hundred ships. They will surround you and bring you down with numbers. Over.”
“Commodore Ja’kara, I appreciate the concern, but there are facts that you do not know about this situation. Number one: you need to clear our line of fire. Now.” The human’s voice took on the snap of authority.
It didn’t take Ja’kara any time at all to take note of how the ships were gradually forming up into a wall of battle like we’d done back at the colony, with all those gaping muzzles pointing directly at us. We had a robust hull and a powerful battleshield, but one of those magnetically-propelled projectiles would tear through us like a plasma blast through a snowbank. There was still a gap in the middle, where the refugee ships had gone. Perhaps deliberately, it had been left open for us.
“Understood, Admiral.” She touched the collar of her shipsuit. “Helm, take us through that gap. All ships, follow in line astern. Once we’re through, form up behind the Earth ships. Let’s get out of the way of the scary big guns.”
As if we’d practised the manoeuvre a thousand times, we swooped through the gap and took up station behind the Earth ships. But not too close; we’d all seen the other ones jolt backward when shooting those massive main guns. One by one, the other ships fell into place. I could tell Ja’kara was trying to puzzle out the strategy at work here; with the sixty-something ships before us, it would be like our holding action in the colony system, only taking a little longer to overwhelm us.
“Thank you, Commodore Ja’kara. Now, did you have any questions?”
“Two,” she said at once. “First, how do you expect to stop so large a fleet with so few ships? Second, how are you going to stop them from hyperjumping straight past you if you do stop them?”
“To answer your first question, this isn’t all the ships we have. And for the second, we’ve seeded interdictor satellites through the asteroid belt. Nothing can reach hyperspace inward of there.”
Pishka was already working to update the image on the display. On it, we could see the relative locations of the local star, the Earth, and the other planets. In between the fourth and fifth was a band of planetesimals; the asteroid belt Anvil Actual was talking about. Along with the refugee ships, we’d come out of hyperspace just outside that band, and we’d travelled inward on our realspace drives, so we were now inside the indicated volume of space.
“Interdictor satellites?” she asked. I sent an update to the display, to show the unusual point-sources that I’d detected before. She studied them and made a gesture of understanding.
“Captain Ja’kara, one of the things you probably noticed about us humans is that we can’t stop poking at things. When we got the specs for your hyperdrive, we started building test rigs and playing around with them, until we came up with some interesting effects. The hyperdrive interdictor field is one of those effects.”
“I know it’s possible to create an … interdictor effect,” Ja’kara replied, the slight flare of her nostrils betraying her irritation, even though it didn’t show in her voice. “My question is: why? Why would you deny all ships in your system the ease of rapid transit?”
“Because sometimes you want to be able force ships to go from point A to point B the hard way,” replied Holloway. “On that note, if you could go out and flank the battlefleet and help deal with any spillage, that would be greatly appreciated. Anvil Actual, out.”
The dismissal was clear. Also, the timer Pishka had running in the corner of the display showed that we didn’t have long before the Xan’thuilli ships showed up. The interdictor satellites were welcome news, but again I was worried that the humans might be attempting to ingest a bug larger than their head, as the saying went.
If Ja’kara had similar worries, she wasn’t showing them. Crisply, she gave orders for Unity is Strength to withdraw and effect repairs to their battleshields, while the rest of the strike group moved out and around the slowly-assembling battlefleet. Three ships were placed on each ‘side’ of the fleet, while Promise Upheld waited behind, ready to dash out and reinforce whichever side needed help the most.
The next arrivals in the system were the four guard ships. I listened in on their communication chatter while I scanned them for damage. There were only a few scorch-marks on their outer paintwork, while their shields were still radiating the remnants of the excess energy that had been flung their way by the Xan’thuilli ships. The banter was light and contained many cultural references that I did not comprehend, but I was glad to see more reinforcements. We were a tiny guard force trying to throw back an overwhelming weight of attackers; the only good thing in all this was that they couldn’t simply opt to hyperjump straight past us.
I didn’t know humans as well as I would’ve liked to, but they didn’t seem to be showing the grim fatalism of people who had chosen a suicidal last stand and know they’re going to fail anyway. I knew that mindset well, having held it myself from the moment that Ja’kara had made the decision to defend Earth no matter what. They seemed upbeat, optimistic. Making plans for the future.
I envied them their ability to ignore the inevitable.
The four newcomers were still moving out to reinforce the outer fringes of the battlefleet alongside our ships when the timer ticked down to the last demi-cycle. As if this had tripped a timer, all ships in the main battlefleet simultaneously jolted backward. I knew what that meant, as did everyone on the command deck. Literally hundreds of solid metal projectiles, each one the size of a groundcar, were now hurtling toward the edge of the hyperspace interdiction field. It would be like getting caught in the type of meteor swarm that only existed in extreme training exercises, the type that are arranged to teach arrogant young officer cadets that it is indeed possible to be in a no-win situation.
Still, no matter how I ran the numbers in my head, there seemed to be no way to reduce the incoming fleet below half before the remainder surrounded each and every ship and overwhelmed their shields with massed fire. Once breached, they could be boarded; if not, destroyed in place. After that, Earth and its in-system colonies would be open to the incoming invasion. If even one-sixteenth of the fleet survived to reach the surface and disperse its squirming cargo, the only way to be absolutely sure of cleansing the planet would be to burn it down to the bedrock with nuclear fire, along with any of the eight billion inhabitants who had been infected along the way.
Harsh methods, but failing to carry them out stringently would only lead to outbreaks flaring up behind our backs. We’d learned that lesson the hard way.
Again and again, the battlefleet fired off its hail of death. Unaimed, unguided, they were devoid of any electronics and barely visible on sensors. I didn’t know how many projectiles the Earth ships held, but there had to be a limit, and they were only really good for a surprise attack. Any ship with even a modicum of manoeuvrability would be able to stay out of line of fire while raining its own return attack on the battleshields.
“Incoming!” warned Pishka. “They’re not slowing!” This meant, of course, that the Xan’thuilli had detected the mass of metal in the Anvil battlefleet and were timing their drop-out to get much closer. It appeared they could learn from what the four guard-ships had done to them back at the colony system.
Unfortunately for them, what they wanted was not what they were going to get.
They came out of hyperspace abruptly, the transition a lot rougher than normal. Even a smooth drop-out could knock a ship around if the drive wasn’t tuned just right; an unplanned one could blow out entire ship systems and leave crewmembers wondering which way was up. Their slower reactions showed the effects as they worked out which way to go and activated their realspace drives.
There were a lot of them. Worse, the battlefleet had set itself up somewhat farther back from the interdictor field boundary than we had from the drop-out point in the colony system. As ship after ship appeared from hyperspace and oriented themselves toward us, I found myself wondering what had happened to the salvos fired by the battlefleet. They jolted backward again, reminding me that it was still going on.
And then, after an estimated four-sixteenths of the Worm fleet had poured into realspace, the first salvos arrived. Not all rounds hit the front wave, but the benefit of firing into a crowd was that the shot was going to hit something. Xan’thuilli ships began exploding, the destruction spreading back into the fleet as projectiles punched clean through their targets, the sheer transferred kinetic energy ripping them apart on the way. I estimated that any one shot was able to destroy five ships or damage ten before it ceased to be effective.
If any ships had any intention of fleeing, they didn’t show it. Inside the interdiction field, they would have to literally turn around and fly away, and none of them were doing that. Instead, they were doing what the Xan’thuilli had done since we’d first encountered them, millennia ago. They pressed the attack, seeking to swamp our weapons until one of theirs got in a telling strike. Once they overcame us, they could use us or the countless people behind us as fodder to continue their expansion.
I had a very definite opinion about that, as did every member of the crew of every ship facing them.
Not on my watch.
More and yet more Xan’thuilli raged out of hyperspace and joined the charge toward us. The battlefleet continued its steady firing, even as the leading wave of the surviving Worm ships loomed ever closer. One shot would kill five ships, but between reloading the Xan’thuilli ships would get that much closer. The first few shots hit the battlefleet shields, fired by the Worm ships. Unsurprisingly, they glanced off, but that fire would get more intense as the enemy got closer.
“That’s it,” Pishka said abruptly. “That’s the last Worm ship out of hyperspace.”
It wasn’t exactly a comforting thought. The display said it all; our seventy-plus ship array was drawn up before an oncoming mass still comprising of thousands and thousands of ravening enemy vessels, all bearing down on us faster than the magnetic-array weapons could smash them. It was an uncomfortable trade-off; a weapon that could single-shot kill any Worm ship plus his five friends, but it was horrifically slow on the reload.
We must have still had the channel open, because Admiral Holloway answered. “Good to have confirmation, Promise. Initiating stage two: Hammer Down.” Signals flared out from the Ackbar Was Right on the hyperspace band.
“What …?” I asked. “What is that?”
Pishka stiffened in his seat, his ears going straight up. “Hyperspace traces!” he reported. “Numerous hyperspace traces from the gas giants! Hundreds of them!”
I stared at my own screen, my nictitating membranes flickering back and forth three or four times. Probes had been shot into place alongside the Xan’thuilli fleet, bracketing it on three sides. These were showing up on the hyperspace bandwidth, blinking steadily. “Beacons,” I said. “They’ve put beacons around the fleet.”
Micro-cycles later, as the intensity of laser-fire against the battleshields of Fleet Anvil began to ramp up in earnest, the first ships arrived. As bulky as the others, they should still have been climbing out of the gravity well of whatever world they were waiting on. But they weren’t. Inside the hyperspace interdiction field, they simply showed up … out of hyperspace.
“How is that even possible?” demanded Pishka, jolted out of his normal reserve. “Hyperspace travel should be impossible inside a field like that.”
“Humans,” Ja’kara said flatly. “Do you honestly think they’d come up with something like that and then not figure out a work-around?” She waved one arm, the other occupied with a hand-hold. “All of this did not arise out of nothing. They’ve put thought into this trap.”
And trap it was. The onrushing Xan’thuilli fleet was now surrounded on four sides by the heavy Earth ships, which began to open fire with yet more of the horrifically powerful projectiles. Hammered from the front, smashed on all sides, the previously-overwhelming fleet evaporated faster than an ice planet in a supernova. I watched as the looming bulk lost cohesion and broke apart under the unyielding fire, shedding more and more ships as it went.
Then the Anvil battlefleet ceased fire, possibly because they were out of ammunition, or perhaps because they didn’t want to inadvertently target their fellow ships, which were pressing ever closer to the fleet. Igniting their realspace drives, they pushed forward to meet the remnants of the Xan’thuilli fleet, numbering fewer than a thousand by now. As they did so, I saw them activate extra battleshields. But there was something very unusual about the tuning of those shields, not to mention the fact that the main shields of those ships had proved perfectly adequate to this point.
Burble, when I shot the data to her, scratched the back of her head in confusion. “That doesn’t make sense,” she stated.
“What doesn’t make sense?” asked Ja’kara.
“They’ve got their outer shields tuned wrongly. Inverted. Those won’t stop a drought-stricken thing.”
“Well, they’ve got to be useful for something,” I decided. “They’ve been playing it by the numbers so far.”
Half a demi-cycle later, I saw what it was all about. Some of the shredded Worm fleet tried to turn and go around the battlefleet, but our ships and the guard-ships from the colony were ready for them. Explosions lit the void all around.
The rest seemed to be trying to slip through the array in front of them and get to Earth that way. If that happened, we’d be the only thing standing in their path. If they got through, we’d be ready.
Except that not one managed to get through. As the array of Earth ships surged forward, the Xan’thulli hit the expanded battleshields, which were nearly touching one another, and kept going … until they tried to exit out the far side.
“They’re not battleshields!” I shouted, just ahead of Pishka.
“They’re nets!” he agreed.
“They’re insane,” Burble added, but she didn’t disagree with our assessment. Neither did I disagree with hers.
Pushing forward, the Earth ships collected the fleeing ships in their own battleshields, inverted to prevent them from going anywhere. And then, within the shields, the captured ships began to explode. I zoomed closer with my sensors, not sure as to the reason why … until I saw the turrets. Chemical-kinetic weapons were far too short-ranged for serious space combat, but when the targets were literally only a few ship-diameters away, there was no missing. Each ship became the focus of multiple twin-barrelled turrets—I later got to handle one of the projectiles, as long and thick as my forearm—which hammered rapid-fire high-powered explosive rounds into it.
It was all over within sixteen demi-cycles. The human ships began sweeping the drifting debris out of the region, while the Ackbar Was Right approached us. “Well, that’s done,” Admiral Holloway said by way of greeting. Pishka managed to get an image of him up on the display. “Want to come down for the celebration? I’m pretty sure we can throw in free dry-dock facilities for your damaged ship. We’ll go and reset the honey trap on Alpha Centauri in a week or so.”
That was one of the few times I would ever see Commodore Ja’kara taken totally and thoroughly off balance. “Wait, you mean to say you deliberately attracted them here?”
“Well, yes,” Holloway said off-handedly. “We’ve been doing it for years. They won’t come in if we have a huge mass of ships waiting, but if we hide out in gas giants, we can usually trap them and wipe them all out. Sometimes we even board and capture the ships.”
I met Pishka’s eyes, and saw in his gaze the beginning of the revelation that was dawning in my own mind.
“Board?” demanded Ja’kara. “Do you have any idea how stupidly dangerous that is? If a single Worm gets you, you’re as good as dead.”
The human admiral made a gesture with his mouth that came across as amused. “Sure I know. I’ve done it half a dozen times. But we had a secret weapon. So did you, even though you didn’t know it.”
“Excuse me,” I said, just ahead of Pishka, “but how long have you been drawing them in and killing them?”
About six years or so,” Holloway noted.
From the glance Ja’kara gave me, I knew she’d figured out the same thing Pishka and I had. It was the humans, casually trapping and destroying the Xan’thuilli, that had given us the reprieve we had so badly needed, five years ago.
Unaware of our revelation, Admiral Holloway was still talking. “We’ve been getting some very nice tech off the captured ships. Also, it’s amazing what you can find out from live Worms in captivity.”
“Unless you’re mind-readers, there’s no way you’re going to interrogate one,” Ja’kara said, then narrowed her eyes. “Are you mind-readers?”
“Heh. No, we’re not.” Admiral Holloway made the mouth gesture again. “But we did a lot of tests and we found out what they’re unable to tolerate. And it turns out ethanol is one of those things.”
Ja’kara may have been confused, but she could connect data-points as fast as anyone. “So … being drunk kills them?”
“If you’ve got enough in your system to register over about zero point zero one percent blood alcohol capacity when a Worm tries to get into your nervous system, it dies in convulsions.” Holloway held up his hand. Around the wrist were several puckered scars. “I’m living proof of that.”
Amid the stunned silence on our command deck, Ja’kara was the only one able to speak. “So, when you meant we had a secret weapon, you meant the vodka your people gave me the last time we were here?”
Holloway made a bobbing motion with his head that I recognised as a ‘nod’ of agreement. “That’s correct, Commodore. So, if you wanted to bring your crew down, we could get started on another case. What do you say?”
“Admiral,” declared Ja’kara, “that would be my genuine pleasure.”
Humans, I decided, were full of surprises.
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2020.05.28 21:46 ack1308 [OC] Hammer and Anvil: Part 3 of 4

[A/N: This was going to be a three-parter. Now it's four. Dammit.]
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Part 3: Holding Action

“Attention.” Ja’kara kept her voice level, the microphone on her shipsuit transmitting her voice shipwide. Hyperspace comms squirted it to the other ships in our battlegroup as we ran at flank speed toward a certain location in the galaxy; to save or destroy, we didn’t know yet.
“Those of you who were on Promise Upheld when we encountered the Earth humans last time, you will know what I’m talking about. For those who don’t, I will be circulating an information packet. Briefly speaking, Earth is a moderate-G world with a dominant sapient species called ‘human’. Bipedal, my height, mammalian, dimorphic, adventurous, highly social, technologically adept. They helped us kill a Worm ship the last time we were there, despite the fact that their space travel was still based on chemical propellants. So, I made the executive decision to hand over engineering specs for hyperdrives, sensors and all the other technology that would give them FTL capability before the Xan’thuilli came calling a second time.”
She paused to let her words sink in. I listened with one tympanic membrane while focusing the rest of my attention on my screens. We didn’t think the Worms were setting any ambushes in this region of space, but assumptions by definition didn’t have all the data in hand. If there was the slightest emanation from a lurking ship, even in hyperspace, Pishka and I were going to spot them before they spotted us.
“The computer equipment we just captured from that Worm ship yielded some information about why the Worms aren’t reinforcing this area of space anymore,” she said, clearly not liking what she had to say but saying it anyway. “They’ve found Earth again, and they’re sending out messages that translate to ‘big and tasty’ and ‘come quick’. Earth and its humans are our allies. It is our duty to go to their aid. I’ve sent away a message probe to inform High Command of our findings and our intent, and now we’re heading to Earth to render aid.” She paused. “Or, if it’s too late, to render honours and give them their final rest. Ja’kara, out.”
She cut the comms and dropped into her command chair. It was only ever used when she had absolutely nothing else to do; she much preferred to be on her feet, looking over our shoulders as we worked. I may have found this irritating and intrusive with other officers, but not Ja’kara. With her, it was oddly reassuring to know she was at my back. She drove us hard, but no harder than she drove herself. Every one of us on the Promise Upheld would’ve set course into the heart of a supernova if she’d given the command, with absolute faith that she knew how to get us out the other side.
Even if it wasn’t her giving the orders to head for Earth, I would’ve gone anyway. I’d only had the chance to associate with humans for a short while, ten GA years ago, but they’d made an impression on all of us. They were the scrappy newcomers to the Galactic scene, and I personally liked them. Enough of them seemed to be out and about that they wouldn’t be driven extinct if Earth was destroyed, but it would be a huge blow to the species as a whole. I’d heard of some that had declined and let themselves go once that sort of thing had happened to their birth world, and while I didn’t think humans would go down that same path—the fact that one of their favourite insults invited the listener to go and copulate with themselves told me that—it still wouldn’t be good for them.
Ship cycles came and went as we bored a hole through hyperspace, heading for our goal; Earth, still hopefully untouched. We took the time to prep the ships for imminent combat. Every system that could be maintained while in hyperspace was checked over and tested. The grunts in engineering hovered over the hyperdrive engines, twitching at every flicker of a gauge away from the norm.
When Remember Panares called in that their hyperdrives were starting to show problematic oscillations, Ja’kara didn’t hesitate to tell them to drop into realspace until they had it fixed. She also detailed They Also Serve to stay with them; the last thing anyone wanted was to be stuck in the middle of interstellar space with a busted hyperdrive. In that situation, all a crew could do was set out for home and hope their descendants—or remains—got there eventually.
My second was a flightless avian, a Gallan called Lileel; she was adept enough on my board for the most part, but this was not a normal situation. I took to only sleeping while Pishka was on shift so that he could back her up on the Weps board, and I did the same for him when he had to take a mandatory rest cycle. When we were both up, I ran her through drills, trying to get her to the point where she could spot a problem by instinct rather than thinking about it.
Overall, it was a tense time. This was not helped when we got a signal from one of the probes we’d sent out, returning with data. We dropped to realspace, briefly, to take it on board, then resumed our onward dash. Ja’kara accessed the onboard data herself, then threw it up on the main display for all to see. Behind me, I heard Pishka mutter something about ‘excrement of the sun god’ but I wasn’t listening, because I was swearing too.
The first star system where we’d fought the Worm ship, one hyperspace jump away from Earth, had a binary pair plus a third a little way away. Humans had evidently colonised the system, with domed settlements on one of the planets as well as orbital habitats. These were in the process of being evacuated, with ships of all sizes and shapes swarming around them. Despite the fact that we’d warned them that the Xan’thuilli were able to detect EM emissions with their ships, and quite often homed in on such emissions, the installations were all blaring out audio and video signals even while they were prepping to bolt.
But that wasn’t the bad part.
The bad part was the other half of the data the probe had returned with. It had locked onto a Xan’thuilli fleet and gotten a heading as well as approximate numbers. They were incoming on the colony system with literally thousands of ships, and there was no way of knowing if the humans would all be evacuated by then.
I glanced around the command deck. A Xan’thuilli fleet that big was unheard of, or at least I’d never seen or heard of one like it myself. Pishka met my eyes and gestured a negative to my unspoken question. Ja’kara was staring at the display like she could change the facts there by sheer force of will. We were all right there with her.
“Orders, Captain?” asked Burble.
That broke the spell. “Yes.” Ja’kara turned to face us. “I want a course change. How fast can we get to that colony system?”
Pishka already had an answer, because he’d known she was going to ask that question. “Half a cycle to a cycle ahead of that fleet, ma’am.”
It wasn’t a huge amount of time, but at least it would allow us to get set up in the system before the Worms arrived. Ja’kara clearly was of the same opinion. “Very good. Lay in the course. Send it to Helm. Make it happen. When they show, I want the first and last thing they see to be our guns.”
The formless tension that had been laying over us up until that point dissipated, to be replaced by a very definitive tension. When we hit that system, we’d be setting up for a fighting retreat. There was no way our fourteen-strong strike group could hold it against a fleet of that size, but we didn’t have to. All we had to do was slow them down long enough for the humans to hit hyperspace, and then we could jump out too. If they had sense, they’d go anywhere other than Earth, but we couldn’t depend on that.
Our strategy was already laid out before us, just awaiting the tactical finesse that Ja’kara could bring to it. Once the last human was out of the colony system, we’d jump back to the Earth system and hope that whatever defensive capability they had was able to at least hold off the oncoming invasion until a relieving fleet came in from High Command. If a relieving fleet got there in time.
In the best case, the fleet we were facing would be of the same quality as the ones we’d been routinely smearing across spacetime for the last couple of years. But even then, with thousands in play, it would be a matter of quantity overcoming quality. If they were of the better quality, we were going to be in for a hellish fight. I had no illusions about the end result; we were probably going to go down no matter what, but if that happened we were going to go down fighting. Ja’kara had made it clear to all of us that she was prepared to blow the ship if we were boarded and looked like losing to the invaders. We might die, but they weren’t going to get anything out of us.
Only Pishka and myself were even able to detect our course change. At this distance, it was barely noticeable. We still had cycles to go before we got there, and the two star systems were only about four light-years apart. I found my attention wandering, and logged off shift to refresh myself and get some sleep before the biowaste storage inevitably suffered catastrophic containment failure.
When I rose, we were close. Pishka immediately sent me the faint traces he’d raised of the passage of the fleet, still light-years hence. One ship wouldn’t be detectable at this range, but thousands left a considerable drive-wake. He left his console to his second while I took over the vigil. There was only a cycle or so before we were due to get there, but his species were able to get by on minimal sleep at short notice.
I let Lileel run my console, while I shadowed Pishka’s second on his. The invasion fleet hadn’t changed heading or speed, though it seemed to have spread out a little. They wouldn’t arrive in one huge mass, which would be to our benefit. If we could disable or kill the frontrunners, that would buy the humans a little more time. The one good thing seemed to be that they were all coming from roughly the same direction.
With only a few demi-cycles to go before arrival, Ja’kara put a sharp tone over the shipwide annunciators to get everyone’s attention. Pishka arrived at a run and dropped into his seat as she began to speak.
“Attention. Attention. We are about to go into battle. Secure your ships for combat. We will not be seeking to hold the system. This will be a fighting retreat. Watch each other’s backs, and be ready to enter hyperjump on my order. There are eight billion sapients in the next system over, and it’s our job to make sure they don’t become eight billion incubators. I’m not going to tell you to do your duty, because I know damn well you’ll do it. I couldn’t be prouder of you than I am today. Ja’kara, out.”
While on normal running, we only went with lapstraps. I secured my full restraints, and made sure Lileel did hers as well. The only one not fastening in was Ja’kara, because she liked to be up and keeping an eye on how things were going.
“Transitioning out of hyperspace in four!” called out Ga’takka. “Three! Two! One! Drop!”
The hyperdrive engines spooled back as we slid down into realspace. There was hardly even a jar; Ga’takka was that good. Pishka had analysed the system traffic from the drone data and placed us above the ecliptic so we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. Which was a good thing; there were still a lot of ships milling around. Had they been caught unawares? Whoever had organised this evacuation had botched it badly, given that there seemed to still be almost as many ships in-system as there had been when the probe came through.
A couple of larger ships with what I recognised as military lines came poking out of the pack toward us. It didn’t take long for us to receive their hail. My Human-to-Trade translator software deciphered the audio immediately.
“Patrol ship Promise Upheld, welcome back to our corner of the galaxy. This is Captain Peterson, of the Leeroy Jenkins. Is Captain Ja’kara still commanding that vessel?
“I am indeed,” Ja’kara responded, sounding briefly pleased before she got back to business. “But this isn’t a social call, Captain Peterson. Xan’thuilli are on the way in overwhelming numbers. They’ll be here in …” She paused, possibly doing math in her head. “… about one and a half of your ‘hours’. You need to get these people out of here.”
“Yes, we know.” Peterson didn’t sound very concerned. “We’ve got it all under control. You’ll see.”
With a huff of strained patience, Ja’kara tried again. “Captain, I’ve been fighting these things my entire adult life. So has all my crew. We have never faced a fleet this big before. Believe me when I say you do not have it under control.”
While they talked, Pishka and I were probing them with our sensors. They were allies, certainly. But they were also people who had taken the technology we’d given them ten years earlier and gone their own way with it. We knew Ja’kara would want to see their performance statistics for herself. The last thing any of us wanted was for the newest starfaring sapients in the galaxy to get overconfident when dealing with the perpetual menace that was the Xan’thuilli.
The first thing that popped up on the screen I kept reserved for Pishka was a layout of the weapons on the craft we were talking to. Four holes opened around the nose, being the muzzle openings for tubes leading back into the craft, parallel to the long axis. It could only be a weapon, but whoever it got fired at, the entire ship would have to be pointing at them.
Around the four enigmatic shafts, I saw eight laser turrets, far smaller than the ones we mounted. They’d damage an unshielded Worm ship, but wouldn’t do anything against even the most basic battleshield. Farther back on the ship, there were many other turrets, each one much larger than the laser emplacements, containing paired weapons that didn’t look like either laser or plasma weaponry. I did a quick analysis and came up with the conclusion that nothing could come close without being targeted by at least three of the turrets. What they were, I couldn’t be sure. They didn’t fit the profile of either plasma or laser weapons, and simple chemical-kinetic weaponry would be horrifically short-ranged for any sort of space engagement.
Over and above that, their acceleration was horrifically slow. This wasn’t due to underpowered engines, as I’d first assumed, but the sheer mass of each craft. Looking deeper, it seemed that part of it was a series of mechanisms surrounding the four mystery shafts, and part of it seemed to be high-end capacitor banks, while another part showed up as a secondary set of battleshields, separate from the first. And, apparently, actual metal armour plating on the outer hulls.
By the time Pishka and I had finished our analysis of the Earth craft and finished tossing notes back and forth, we’d come up with half a dozen unsatisfactory explanations for exactly why those ships had been designed that way. Our best guess was that humans had to deal with design-by-committee as well, and we silently commiserated with them.
There were four defending ships in all; they were called Leeroy Jenkins, Murphy’s Law, Hold My Beer and Invading Russia. I wasn’t quite sure of the cultural background behind any of them; two seemed to be relatively standard human names, one referenced a beverage and the other a nation. When this was all over, I decided, I’d ask someone about it. If I was around to ask, and if there was someone around to answer. Until then, we had a battle to survive.
Moving slowly to allow for their atrocious acceleration, we arranged ourselves in wall-of-battle, facing the direction where Pishka’s sensors told us the Xan’thuilli fleet would be emerging from hyperspace. It didn’t take much of a rearrangement to slot the Earth ships in among ours, then we all ran up our battleshields to full as a standard test.
With those massive engines behind them, the human ships had suitably impressive battleshields, though they were oddly tuned, not to mention hugging closer to the massive hulls than I was used to seeing. Of course, the smaller the overall surface area of the shield, the less power needed to keep it up, but it still seemed an odd choice to me. And they hadn’t even energised the second set of shields, which made me wonder what they were for.
The time ticked down slowly. Behind us, the refugee ships slowly, almost grudgingly, lifted off from the planet and pulled away from the orbital habitats before engaging their hyperdrives and fleeing the system. Briefly, I met Pishka’s eyes, and he made a gesture of resigned negation. Every single one of them had headed straight back to the Earth system. Their drive wakes, which would normally have dissipated in less than a cycle, would leave the Xan’thuilli a clean trail to follow.
There would be no hiding from the Worms. This was going to be a fight. And given that we had the only vessels capable of manoeuvring fast enough to engage in decisive ship-to-ship combat, I had the unpleasant feeling that it was going to be very one-sided; and not in our favour.
“Incoming!” sang out Pishka. “Three demi-cycles, maybe four.”
Well, that nailed it down neatly. Even though we were in realspace, Pishka could read a hyperspace ripple out to beyond the point where most of us (me included) would doubt there was anything there to see. The leading edge of the invading fleet was going to pop up in no more than four demi-cycles, probably three and a half.
The information went out to the rest of the blockading fleet, all eighteen vessels that we had. Behind us, more and more civilian ships lined up their trajectories, spooled up their hyperspace drives, and jumped away. A query popped up on my screen, sent from Peterson of the Leeroy Jenkins.
“The humans want to know where they’ll start coming out,” I called across to him.
In about two micro-cycles I had the answer; a box of space about two planet-diameters in front of us. How Pishka even calculated that I only had the vaguest of ideas. I did know he could track and trace the easing down of hyperspace engines as they came close to the dropping-off point, but like all the best showmasters, he never revealed his deepest secrets. Burble once confided to me that she was convinced he used those big cup-like mammal ears to listen to hyperspace directly. I couldn’t say she was wrong.
I sent the information back. We only had about two demi-cycles before they were going to emerge. Ja’kara was directly behind Pishka’s station, her eyes devouring every twitch and ripple in his readouts. All weapon crews were ready, their firing solutions trained in on that box. They weren’t going to fire until Ja’kara gave the word, to ensure the most destruction in the shortest time. Eighteen of us were not going to make a huge dent in a thousands-strong battlefleet, but we wanted to sting them and give them at least a brief pause before falling back.
And then, on both Pishka’s screens and mine, the four Earth ships literally jolted sternward a good quarter of their lengths. Their realspace drives flared, slowing the rearward movement and pushing them forward again, but Ja’kara was already on it.
“What was that?” she demanded. “What happened?”
“Magnetic burst, ma’am.” Pishka was at his most terse in these situations. “Metallic objects have been ejected from those ships.”
The enlightenment burst on me all at once. “Those long shafts! They’re for magnetic acceleration! I wondered what they were for!”
Just then, all four ships jolted backward once more, despite the forward impulse of their drives. They’d fired again, while we had yet to shoot even once. Of course, we didn’t have any targets to shoot at as yet.
“Why are they firing?” Ja’kara wasn’t asking the question of anyone so much as sounding it out loud. “The enemy isn’t in sight yet.”
“The Earth ships know where they’re going to be, and when they’re going to be there,” I said slowly. “Those projectiles are still on the way. If they’ve calculated the velocity correctly …” I didn’t have to say any more. Slowly, I began to revise my initial judgement of the thought process behind the four ships. Humans had already shown themselves adept at war. Maybe they weren’t as wrong-footed as we’d thought.
“Sixteen micro-cycles!” called out Pishka, after the Earth ships had belted out two more salvos. The projectiles were simple dumb munitions, of a type that I’d only read about in old manuals. Simpler even than the ‘cruise missiles’ that had so thoroughly destroyed the Xan’thuilli ship when we’d last visited Earth. No warhead, no drive, no guidance, no emissions. Nothing that could be spoofed, and a huge amount of kinetic energy. I didn’t know the exact mass of the projectiles, but the fact that firing all four acceleration tubes at once jolted the whole ship backward told me that whatever those projectiles hit was in for a galaxy’s worth of pain.
And then, right where Pishka had predicted, the fabric of space rippled and bulged, then the Xan’thuilli ships began to emerge. One after the other, then eight, then sixteen, then hundreds. All lighting off their realspace drives and hurtling toward us.
“Now!” shouted Ja’kara.
In the infinitesimal interval between her giving the command and every single ship in the strike group activating their lasers … the Worm ships began to explode. The frontrunners were spared for a few micro-cycles, but the larger bunch, farther back, detonated in a long line coring out the middle of the pack, all the way back to where their fellows were still sliding out of hyperspace.
Then, while I was still blinking over the destruction caused by that first salvo, we fired.
The front-runners died then, targeted by fourteen ships’ worth of high-end lasers. We began to work our way back down the pack, while I spoofed their sensors and Pishka called out useful targets. Our shields hadn’t even been hit yet, but Burble was tensely ready to make sure not one Worm got through our defences.
When the second salvo hit, it was less of a surprise to us, but far more Xan’thuilli ships had poured out of hyperspace by then, so the projectiles had a lot more meat to bite into. Even as I worked to distort the sensor signals going back to the Worms, I had to admire the sheer devastation the four Earth ships were wreaking on the fleet. It was a claw-puncture to the main mass, of course, but still very satisfying to watch.
“Fall back,” Ja’kara ordered. “Keep firing but fall back.” She glanced at the main display, now featuring a view of the colony world. The last of the transport ships was just staggering into orbit. It would be woefully slow in hyperspace. “We need to keep them slowed down.”
The human ships were tied into our battlenet, so they moved back with us; or rather, they ceased using their drives to keep station. Slow though their rate of fire was, each shot drove a horrific weight of metal through the massed droves of the oncoming Xan’thuilli invasion, even a glancing blow causing huge damage to whatever it hit. And they just kept firing.
But even that tremendous weight of metal, aided and abetted by our constant barrage, was not enough to kill the nearest Worm ships before they could start firing back. Spread over eighteen of us, it was bearable, but the intensity was rapidly growing to the point where something would have to give. Unity is Strength reported battleshield fluctuations, threatening to send its shields entirely out of calibration.
“Pull back,” Ja’kara ordered. “Those of you with stronger shields, cover those without. Captain Peterson, do your ships require covering fire?”
“We’ll be fine,” Peterson replied. A transmission came through, popping up on Pishka’s screen. “Head for those coordinates. Follow the refugee ships insystem. Thanks for the assist, by the way. You really helped sell it. Now get the hell out of here before we’re all surrounded.”
A shot punched through Unity’s wavering shields and scored a molten line along its flank. That decided Ja’kara. “All ships. Jump for Earth using these coordinates, on my mark.”
As we turned and lined up for the jump, I saw the Hold My Beer slide into place behind the wounded Unity is Strength as more shots flashed across the void. The Earth ship’s beefed-up shields took the fresh barrage and barely showed any change.
We were fleeing across the system now, the Earth ships falling farther and farther behind with every micro-cycle. Were they planning to engage the entire Xan’thuilli fleet with their four ships? I hoped not; as brutally effective as those magnetic-propulsion weapons had shown themselves to be, any ship could still be swarmed and disabled.
Just as the hyperspace engines spooled up and we jumped to hyperspace, I wondered: what did he mean, you really helped sell it?
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2020.05.23 22:25 SabatonBabylon The HEL Jumper [Chapter 3.15]

Book 1 of The HEL Jumper
Book 2 of The HEL Jumper
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A/N: A happy Memorial Day to all of my American readers. Please take a moment this weekend to remember those who fought and died so that we could be here to enjoy tales of raptorcats. Stay safe everyone!
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“While I appreciate this, should you not be protecting the excitable young woman here with you, Alice?” Sentaura asked neutrally as she and Lachlan returned to the fields following an hour of shelter in the forest for lunch and relaxation at the height of the day’s heat.
“Yer right, that is my job,” Lachlan acknowledged, filling two buckets at the aqueduct pool as they nodded and waved at various other farmers going about their business. “But the lass finally accepted my advice and took my pistol. She’ll be fine; not ta mention she’s always runnin’ around faster than I can keep track of. Besides, near as I can tell yer people are all warm an’ friendly with her on account of her brother. You and yer wee fluffy lad have been very acceptin’ of me. So thanks.”
“I suppose that’s fair. Rumors have it that she is a keeper of all kinds of benevolent magics; moreso than others of your species, I suppose. That is a… welcome change,” Sentaura acknowledged as they returned to her plot, watering crops and checking for weeds. “Oh, I do believe congratulations are in order? I apologize for not offering them sooner. I am sure the two of you will have many healthy children.”
MacGregor almost lost both buckets as his mouth dropped open, barely catching them before they doused the soil beneath his feet or crushed a plant or two. “I think there’s been a wee mistake, Sentaura.”
“How so? I saw the two of you yesterday in the forest as you comforted her. Her fur is glossy and her complexion seems appealing, though I must admit that the concept of human beauty remains foreign to me. Your children would likely have fur the color of Ursol’s. I approve of that as well,” Sentaura explained.
“I hate ta burst yer bubble, Sentaura, but we aren’t seein’ one another,” Lachlan clarified immediately. His statement seemed to truly surprise her.
"You and she do not mate?"
"No. We don't have sex," Lachlan clarified, mollified only by the fact that he was discussing his private affairs with a curious alien and not a human woman.
"And you are not pledged to one another?" Sentaura sought further information. MacGregor shook his head.
"Nay. We're just friends." He wasn’t sure if he was at all convincing.
"Is that so? How curious," the Cauthan took it in stride, turning her attention to her crops as she inspected leaves and growing vegetables. Her abrupt satisfaction left Lachlan flat-footed, but he couldn't complain about the cessation of unwanted questioning. "I suppose that's a relief in some way. It would be difficult to explain to Ursol that you were leaving to live with her. He is too fragile," Sentaura sighed and shook her head, casting a defeated look at the ground. "I am sorry for bothering you with such things."
"It's hardly a bother. You and the wee lad have been through a lot. If anything’, I’m sorry to have complicated things," Lachlan said quietly as a breeze ruffled the plants around them and the trees of the forest swayed gently in the warm air. Seil was hot but not unbearable. He wanted to say more but he knew it was not his place. He wanted to say it was alright, that Ursol's behavior was natural given the circumstances. But he didn't know that, nor did he know what sort of expectations would fall upon the young Cauthan's shoulders as he grew older. The two of them stood quietly for a while, not saying or moving much on account of the pleasant weather and species barrier. That was until one of the acolytes of Meylith ran through the open north gate, panting and clutching her dress so as not to trip herself up. The on duty guardsman had already dissolved into laughter as Ursol led the young woman on what he surely considered was a merry chase, giggling happily as he made for the fields.
"Ursol! You get back here this instant!" She shrieked, much to the young lad’s delight. Lachlan handed his empty buckets to Sentaura.
“If ye would excuse me, fluffy lass,” he offered with a wink, doing his best to move unassumingly through the fields until he was near the span of well-trodden earth that separated the fields north and west of the village from those to the north and east. When the time was right he simply walked out in front of the scampering little Cauthan, who stopped dead in his tracks upon seeing Lachlan so close by. Eventually the full ramifications of his actions seemed to catch up with him and he made to bolt for the greenery, but no pint-sized Cauthan could hope to outmatch an HEL Marine. The acolyte rested her hands on her knees and began sucking in deep breaths as Lachlan held the boy by his armpits at arm’s length. “Now then, why don’t ya tell me what this is all about, fluffy lad?”
Ursol blubbered sadly for a few moments before sniffling and devolving into full on tears as Sentaura approached and stood just to Lachlan’s side. “Ursol…” she began threateningly. Lachlan glanced at her quickly and shook his head.
“Do ya think we should hear what the boy has ta say for himself first?” The Marine offered. Sentaura looked ready to claw him for his audacity, but Ursol miraculously began to apologize.
“S-sorry, unca Lach,” he managed, rubbing his eyes with one of his paws. He was beginning to lose the fur on his forearms and hands, making way for the scales that marked every male Cauthan.
“Why are ye apologizin’ ta me, Ursol?” Lachlan questioned, taking the boy in one arm and pointing to Gentia’s acolyte. “Don’t ya think that’s who should be gettin’ yer apology?”
The young Cauthan did not look at her, but he did manage to obey MacGregor’s suggestion. “Sorry C-Centy.”
“That is Centille, Ursol. And his name is Lachlan. Try them again,” Sentaura insisted sternly. “You will be five years old soon.” And so Ursol was made to repeat ‘Lachlan’ and ‘Centille’ until his mother was satisfied. The moment the Marine offered to take him back to the Temple, Sentaura flared her feathers in annoyance and turned back to her fields. “Ursol, we will speak about this tonight.”
And so Lachlan found himself transporting a small, sad ball of fluff through the village. Once they were out of Sentaura’s earshot he spoke to the boy, who was sniffling quietly into his shoulder. “Why’d ye run off like that, laddie?” He asked softly. “And use your full words, we have plenty o’ time.”
“I-I don’t like the temple,” Ursol told him. “I wanna play.”
“Can’t ye play with all the other lads and lasses?” Lachlan wondered as Centille kept up silently. Ursol began crying louder.
“It’s not the same as d-d-daddy,” the cub managed. Lachlan closed his eyes and began petting the kid’s head with his free hand.
“And what games did ya play with yer dad?” He asked the cub. Ursol tried to dry his tears and answer.
“H-hunting games,” the child replied. The Marine looked a question at Centille.
“His father was a hunter,” was all she would say. Lachlan nodded quietly, understanding well enough why Ratha, an otherwise hardened individual, seemed to have a soft spot for Ursol and his mother. Even so, that didn’t mean that any of the other hunters had stepped in as a surrogate father, at least not so far as he could tell. He didn’t blame them. Most of them left the village at or before the crack of dawn from what he could tell. He made a mental note to ask Natori if the Event Horizon was capable of monitoring individual hunters, a measure to ensure Ursol’s tragedy would not be repeated under their watch.
“Ursol, I’ll make ye a deal,” Lachlan offered the cub. “You go back to the temple now and behave for the rest of the day. If Miss Centille here tells me you’ve been good, you and I will play some hunter games tonight.”
Delighted at the possibility of play, Ursol hugged Lachlan around the neck. “Ok, ok!” He repeated over and over as the human looked at his caregiver.
“If he misbehaves, let me or Sentaura know about it,” Lachlan insisted. Centille was happy to agree to the terms, relieved at the prospect of not having to track down runaways again.
“Of course, human. Thank you.”
Further conversation was arrested as they pulled up to a sizable congregation outside of the temples in the eastern half of the village. Gentia and Yvonne Dupuis were relaxing just outside the temple of Meylith. Lachlan nodded to them both as Ursol was returned to Centille and the two of them headed inside without further fuss.
“I must say, having another male human around seems to have its perks. Thank you, young man,” Gentia offered sincerely.
“Mum, Madame, good day to ye both,” he replied formally before updating Gentia on the situation with Ursol. The matrons nodded to one another.
“We don’t have enough males,” Gentia acknowledged sadly. “Hunting, killing, fighting fires…when I think of how many we lost in the last year alone I wonder if any of us will remain in a generation or two. Lachlan MacGregor, I have no authority to ask this of you, but please do what you can for him. He desperately needs the guidance of one of his own, even if you are not Cauthan. Ratha will be able to tell you what you need to know. If she gives you any trouble you come right back here and I will deal with her,” she finished, brandishing her cane like a fencing foil. Yvonne and Lachlan chuckled merrily.
“As the mother of two boys, I am more than willing to admit that once they hit three or four they began to run me ragged,” Yvonne added sagely, playing around with her tablet to ensure Gentia could hear her translations appropriately. She glanced over at the temple of Kel, where a large gathering of Cauthan had remained for most of the day. “Well, if the concept of glasses takes off to the extent that it already seems to have, perhaps we can arrange for personalized translation devices.”
“Is that what that’s all about?” MacGregor wondered. “I’m guessin’ the little piece Alice put together for yer husband was a hit?” Gentia smiled so genuinely Yvonne swore she regressed in age.
“I do not remember a time when the light of life was so bright in his eyes,” the small Cauthan elder reported approvingly. “And it does not surprise me one bit to see half the village milling about there. She is doing well for herself. I am sorry that you have been made to wait, Yvonne.”
“It is no trouble, Gentia. If anything it is my fault for not checking my patient’s schedule beforehand.”
“The bushy-tailed lass with the big ol’ belly?” Lachlan inquired.
“Hey, it’s not my fault!” Came a voice from behind him. The Marine went white as a sheet as Yvonne and Gentia had themselves a fine laugh at his expense. Turning, he found Asha cradling her swollen tummy along with the elegant, blonde Cauthan who had been a part of the welcoming party on his first day in the village.
“But he’s not exactly wrong now, is he?” Alyra posited, waving her feathers in greeting to them all. “So this is the human you spoke of, Gentia?”
“Doctor Yvonne Dupuis at your service, madame. I am an expert on the care of pregnant women and infants. And you must be Asha.” Yvonne bowed at her in lieu of more traditional human greetings.
“I am. It’s a pleasure to meet you as well. Alyra, you know you didn’t have to come all this way with me,” the young Cauthan insisted. Her master threw her a coy smile.
“No, but I have a few words for that Alice human and her insistence on spending all her time with those stuffy death priests. No offense, Gentia,” Alyra finished with a carefree fluff of her feathers.
“One day those feathers of yours will gray and fall out, and your coat will not shine as it does now. In those years you will find that ‘stuffiness’ has its virtue,” Gentia replied wisely as Lachlan did his best to pretend he was not there.
“Ha, by that time I’m sure the Twins will take me,” Alyra replied without concern. “Asha?”
“I’ll be just fine, Alyra. Thank you. Gentia will be with me.”
“Great! Then I’m off to get in on a bit of magic myself. See you later!” Alyra departed with a flick of her thin, silky tail. Lachlan soon found himself alone in the street, with both Gentia and Yvonne much more focused on Asha than him. He bade them farewell before looking about, at a loss for what to do.
“Oh, Private MacGregor. Good day to you,” Antoth called out to him.
“Antoth, sir!” Lachlan fashioned a salute out of habit. To his surprise the Cauthan touched a couple fingers to his forehead. They smiled thinly at one another.
“Heh, no need for that, but I’m actually glad to run into you here. I was going to ask this of Alice but I believe you are better suited. Could you explain to me why Winters came to me today and demanded he be allowed to clean the outhouses for seven days?”
The Marine tilted his head back in a momentary start of confusion before he put two and two together. Slowly the two men began to laugh, their low, booming voices filling the street as they imagined the mighty Omega Jumper shovelling shit. “I’ll do my best, Antoth. Pretty sure I know what’s goin’ on here,” the Marine assured him.
For a couple minutes Antoth remained quiet, humming and nodding as Lachlan described the concept of latrine duty as punishment with mainly symbolic importance. The Marine attempted to explain that the Jumpers likely saw one another as rivals and that conflict was inevitable. When he was finished Antoth scratched his chin and considered his options. “Can you summon your Admiral to speak with us?”
“I can try, Antoth. Give me a moment,” Lachlan offered, pinging the Event Horizon. About thirty seconds of soft chirping sounds later, Natori’s voice came over the line. Lachlan fiddled around for a moment, ensuring that English would go only into his own ears and that any projected sound would be translated. He swore to ask Alice about translators after speaking with Ratha.
“Antoth? How may I help you? Is there a problem?” Natori asked, a hint of concern in his voice.
“No, Admiral. Thankfully there is not. I was just… what is the right word?”
“Calling?” Lachlan supplied. Antoth shrugged his shoulders.
“I suppose so. I was calling to inform you that I am nullifying the punitive measures directed at Winters. Your vessel is your own, but in my village his actions merit no punishment.” Antoth’s tone was tactful but firm, and Natori replied shortly thereafter.
“I understand. I am of the opinion that allowing him off scot-free would be inappropriate, but in light of your judgment I will suspend his service until such time as he can perform it on the Event Horizon. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes. Thank you, Admiral. That will be all.”
“Ah, if I could jus’ a moment; so long as I have ye both here?” Lachlan cut in. Antoth looked at him with a curious but permissive gaze.
“Go ahead Private MacGregor,” Natori encouraged.
“I was thinkin’, sir. Can we track the hunters that head out from the village each day?” Lachlan questioned.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t. Trees are what they are but my watchstanders would love a challenge during the orbital period. Can I ask why you’re asking?” Natori finished curiously.
“You can do such a thing?” Antoth asked worriedly. “Ratha will not be happy.”
“That’s why I’m askin’ instead o’ tellin’,” Lachlan clarified. “I don’t mean to intrude on anyone, Antoth, but I’m livin’ with Sentaura, ya know?”
“I do,” the Sun Priest replied shortly. It was clear they all understood the need for his dour tone.
“And I was just thinkin’ things might have been different for the wee laddie if his dad had a Jumper lookin’ out for him,” Lachlan suggested hesitantly. “I know things are difficult aboard the ship right now, sir. But if another of em gets into trouble?”
“Admiral, just what is your soldier suggesting?” Antoth demanded sternly, feeling a bit lost at the mention of Jumpers.”
“Indeed. Antoth, I believe that Private MacGregor is suggesting in the event one of your hunters runs into trouble we might dispatch aid to him or her most swiftly. He is describing what Russell Winters, and the individuals he came in conflict with today, were trained for.”
Another pause fell between them as Antoth crossed his arms over his chest, growling in quiet contemplation. Coming to a conclusion, he gestured to Lachlan. “I would like you to speak with my mate, Private MacGregor. Admiral, I will call on you again regarding this matter.”
“As you say, Antoth,” Natori agreed. “Good luck, Private. Ratha is a rather imposing woman.”
Antoth laughed as the Admiral disconnected. “Maybe so, but wipe that hesitant look of your face, human. I think she might enjoy this idea once she gets over the idea of your people being demi-gods.”
-----
“Xan, help me!” Alice pleaded, finding herself the subject of Alyra’s scrutinizing gaze. The apprentice death priest shrugged.
“What do you want me to do? She’s obviously not here for us,” he pointed out. The Priestess of the Twins had been allowed to the front of the line rather quickly, where she proceeded to observe the latter half of an eye examination for one of the villagers. Alice had taken some quick notes regarding prescription, interpupillary distance, width of the nasal bridge, gender, and name before allowing the Cauthan to pick from a small selection of frames that were easy to manufacture. Xan, at Thantis’ behest, was playing the role of assistant while his master looked on with pride, constantly extending his own glasses into the light of day before retracting them and examining the shifting shade of the transition lenses.
“No, I am most certainly not. While your scruffiness may do Uthos and Kel proud I cannot say the Twins would feel the same,” Alyra agreed.
“The Twins can stuff it then, or give me a new ear,” Xan replied without concern. Thantis watched closely, but said nothing. Alice agreed that the comeback was, at a minimum, provoked. Alyra swished her tail once and turned to Alice.
“Alice, dear, why are you spending your days here with dusty scrolls and males? Did we not agree that you would come visit and we would see to the changing of my fur color?” Alyra reminded her sweetly, with a hint of accusation. Alice laughed nervously.
“I was going to, I promise. Things just got a little out of hand here with the glasses situation.”
‘And in terms of priority, making you look like a flamingo is the last thing Alice should be focused on,’ Io agreed, commandeering Alice’s tablet to present herself. The vision test gave way to a well dressed Cauthan sporting a human-styled ball gown in deep forest green, an obvious challenge-cum-greeting to the Priestess. ‘Oh, this is a flamingo by the way,’ she remembered, displaying a video of a flock of the bright pink birds. Thantis was there in a flash, adjusting his glasses.
“My word! Magnificent. What a color! Is that natural?” He was a veritable font of questions.
‘I assure you it is, Thantis. Their feathers are that way on account of their diet. Now Alice, I have come to your aid because I was bored. And because there is now enough HEL tech in the vicinity for me to ping myself around from Russell’s home. He’s taking a nap.’
Alice and Xan glanced at once another, sharing an unspoken agreement that the idea of Russell Winters taking a nap was strange and unexpected. Io carried on, waving at a few Cauthan behind Alyra who were always eager to catch a glimpse of the guardian spirit of Kel’s avatar. ‘Now then, before anyone gets their feathers bent out of shape might I propose the following? Alice, I see that while you have dutifully been taking notes on your patients you have only generated orders for villagers with a need for corrective lenses. I think all farmers could benefit from transition lenses for the purposes of UV protection if nothing else. Furthermore, if we make a few adjustments we can transition this data into an anonymized profile of various biological properties of this village’s population. I have already done so using some of the spare capacity in your brother’s armor. With your permission I will continue to add to it as this endeavor grows. Oh, and don’t worry Alyra. I didn’t forget you.’
With a devious smile and a snap of her fingers, Io disappeared, replaced by a slowly scrolling set of images. All of them were glasses frames with varying levels of aesthetic properties. They ranged from decidedly utilitarian to something one might expect to find on the red carpet. Alyra was roped in immediately, squatting next to Xan so she could get as good a view as possible. Delight and need burned simultaneously in her eyes as she considered each new option in turn. Suddenly she shouted gleefully and poked the display with her finger, highlighting a set of frames. They were sleek tortoiseshell ovals with a teal hue on the reflective surface and pointed accents on each upper corner. “Consider yourself forgiven, Alice, but I would still love to know how your fur is so silky and long. When can I expect this?”
“Please, have a seat and we’ll begin your examination then,” Xan offered with excess politeness. Alyra allowed it to pass without comment as she did so, intrigued by the symbols that had reappeared on the tablet. As Io prepared a line entry for her measurements, Alice looked to the Cauthan who had been next in line.
“Do you mind?” She asked politely. “I know you were next.” After receiving assurance that it was very much ok and that they needed to decide on what sort of frames they wanted, Alice smiled and turned back to Alyra.
“I am quite ready,” the Cauthan assured her.
“Great. Oh, and before we begin please do your best on this test. Even if your vision is perfect we can design lenses that have no magnification,” Alice insisted. Alyra clapped her hands together as Thantis scribbled away behind them.
“Any chance we can get the old man one of these?” Xan wondered with a gesture at Alice’s tablet. He began the vision test process he’d already been through a couple dozen times since that morning. It was a bit dull, but Thantis had stressed early and often that to serve Kel was to serve others. In that, he found agreement.
“And then Gentia could skin us both because he never goes to sleep?” Alice laughed as Thantis hummed loudly, seeming to acknowledge the point. “Let’s stick with the glasses and lantern for now. Io?”
‘I have already made a reminder for Veera to approach Staroth and Antoth regarding the lantern situation. There are quite a few Cauthan with perfect vision in this dataset already. Perhaps unsurprisingly it seems to rest around twenty fifteen. Ah well, I am sure they will be back soon enough when they learn everyone is getting a pair. Would you like me to request that Natori send more crew to help in this effort?’
“Let’s just see how today goes,” Alice decided. “Now then Alyra, I want you to tell me which direction this arrow is pointing. Please remain seated and don’t lean forward.”
-----
“Wait here,” Antoth ordered softly, leaving Lachlan MacGregor just outside of a small leather-covered doorway at the back of the hunter’s lodge. After a brief moment of conversation within, during which the Marine had a chance to gaze about at tools, meat, and trophies, the village chieftain re-emerged along with his wife. Lachlan nodded his head respectfully.
“Good day to ye, Ratha.”
“What do you want, human?” She demanded in a blunt tone, only to have Antoth grip her shoulder tightly.
“This is not Winters. He is here to help your hunters and Sentaura’s boy,” Antoth provided needed clarification. Ratha, clad in leather and fur that she’d altered and stitched together as something of a beginner’s maternity outfit, brushed his paw away.
“Then why didn’t you say so in the first place, scarface?” She snapped. “What’s your name again?”
“Lachlan MacGregor, at yer service,” the Marine replied, leaving Ratha silent for a long while. He could just make note of her lips moving subtly, trying to pronounce his name. In the end she gave up, spinning to head back to her abode.
“Let’s talk then, human.”
Antoth let out something of an unintelligible grumble at Ratha’s thorniness, but Lachlan did what he could to take it in stride. After being seated and declining polite offers for a beverage, Lachlan began explaining to Ratha what he’d attempted to describe for Antoth earlier in the day. In a stunning show of civility, she allowed the Marine to finish before tearing the idea to pieces.
“Yes that’s just what I need, all my hunters getting soft, fat, and lazy because they know that if they run into trouble humans will drop from the sky and save them. Even if you could do something like that my answer is no,” she declared with finality.
“Ratha, be reasonable,” Antoth implored, resting his chin on his hand.
“I am being reasonable!” The Huntress snapped back, anger slowly bubbling up in her eyes. “How much more charity will you accept before you are eating from the palm of their furless hands? You were selected to lead us, not sell us out to aliens!”
Antoth closed his eyes and mulled over his next words carefully, quite aware that they had a relatively unknown human in the room with them. He finally replied in a forced and level tone. “Perhaps it is best if we move on, Lachlan.” Ratha huffed in annoyance as her mate proved capable of pronouncing the strange name. “We will discuss this matter further in private.”
“We will do no such thing,” Ratha insisted.
“We will,” Antoth brokered no argument. “And now we will move on to the subject of Ursol who has apparently been driving Gentia and her acolytes up the walls of late.”
MacGregor found himself scratching his head, a subconscious attempt to do anything rather than remain still and be a subject of Ratha’s scrutiny. Pregnant or not, it was clear to him why she was the leader of her chosen profession. He cleared his throat and continued, hoping the change in subject would at least partially alleviate the tense atmosphere. “Impressed as I am that he made it to the north gate and all, I think the wee lad misses his father somethin’ awful. I asked him about his friends an’ why he won't play with em. He said he misses ‘hunter games’. Given I’m not a hunter myself I figured I’d ask,” he recounted.
“And you intend to play these games with him?” Ratha demanded sharply, not bothering to hide her suspicion. Lachlan nodded, running his thumb and forefinger through his beard as he stroked his chin.
“Someone’s gotta run the little guy ragged, right? Or are ye sayin’ Sentaura doesn’t want him to get ideas in his head, bein’ like his father and all?”
Ratha sighed and looked off to the side, as if to peer through the walls of her temple. “She’s no huntress, but I always liked Sentaura. No nonsense, good figure, hard worker. She should have had a whole litter of cubs with him, not just the one.” The Huntress paused, casting a most weighty gaze at her own mate. “And before you jump down my throat, Antoth, I will stop hunting soon.”
“Pending a conversation with Winters so I could understand more, if the humans were watching over you I might not mind so much,” he countered. She scoffed and shook her feathers at him.
“I will stop hunting soon,” she said again. “The humans will not control me. But this is not about our cub, Antoth. I suppose I can understand Sentaura’s fears. She lost her mate and of course her little boy immediately decided he was going to be a hunter too, to head out into that forest and bring his father back. The real world will divest him of that notion soon enough.”
Lachlan remained silent as Antoth and Ratha seemed to converse with eyes and feathers. He had not the faintest idea whether they were trying to debate the dynamics of their own family or what was left of Sentaura’s. After a long span of silence, during which the sounds of butchering, conversation, and street noise filtered into the private space, Ratha leaned back in her chair and smiled at him. It was not a reassuring smile by any stretch of the imagination. He didn’t know much about Ratha other than the fact that she was willing to fire arrows at HEL shuttles and sling knives at HEL Jumpers. All that taken into consideration though, he thought he saw some measure of understanding at the edges of her eyes. “I appreciate that you aren’t a chesko-brained dolt like Winters, so I’ll let you in on a little secret, human. There are no hunter games.”
“I… see,” Lachlan said quietly. Antoth’s shoulders slumped forward.
“And you wonder why I am open to the idea of a human safety net?” He tried tiredly.
“I know why, scarface. And you told me we would discuss that later. Human, whatever it is that little Ursol recalls, it’s nothing more than figments of happier times playing with his father. Perhaps he did call them hunter games. Most young boys enjoy that fantasy and a few even have what it takes. Any real training would begin at the age of seven, if he shows promise. I look forward to hearing about what sort of games you come up with.” Ratha’s soft tone indicated that while she appreciated his presence, the conversation was very much over. Nodding, Lachlan stood from the table and bowed again.
“Thank ye for the advice, Ratha. I’ll be going now. Antoth, good day to you as well.”
“Selah, Private,” Antoth replied, comfortable with the idea of addressing him by rank. “I will come find you should our conclusions regarding your offer change.”
“Of course.”
Ratha and Antoth were left alone as the door flap slowly fluttered and fell still in the wake of Lachlan’s departure, the heavy footfalls of his boots making their way slowly out of the temple and onto the main road outside. Their eyes met.
“Thank you for not going for your knife,” Antoth chuckled. Ratha proceeded to brandish said knife directly at him.
“You just had to bring it up, didn’t you scarface? Whatever, I’m not so dumb to confuse him with Winters, different fur color.”
“Is that what it was?” Her mate wondered, moving to take a sip of water from a large wooden jug that they shared when they had a few moments to relax in Ratha’s quarters. “The fur on his head is the same color as yours.”
“You must be blind. My fur is much more beautiful than his, but it helps,” Ratha admitted with a smirk. “You know what else helps, Antoth? The fact that instead of barging in here and giving me shit about Veera, he came asking how to help one of my hunter’s orphans. Sentaura is going to turn that boy soft… because she is in unimaginable pain. I don’t see any of your former charges stepping up to adopt him. And before you say anything, I know none of mine have either.”
Antoth stood in stunned silence, walking a couple paces to stand next to his mate. He helped her stand and cupped the small swell of her belly. It was not nearly so obvious as Asha’s or a handful of other females who were due around harvest time that year, but the tautness of her skin and the contours of her midriff were unmistakable. “You… never cease to surprise me, Ratha.” Her eyes closed and she grabbed him by the upper arms, accepting his kiss willingly.
“Valta forbid you get bored of me, scarface. Now-”
“Antoth, have you seen this torch? Alice said we could all get one!” Veera gushed, boldly pushing the door flap aside and presenting one of Alice’s spare lanterns proudly. Ratha growled quietly as Antoth tilted his head towards the ceiling.
“Veera, why don’t we discuss this somewhere else?” Antoth offered, turning to find that she at least looked sorry.
“When I saw Lachlan on the way out I just figured… yeah, ok, point taken! Let’s go then,” Veera beat a hasty retreat, not looking to incur Ratha’s ire so shortly after what had transpired on the Event Horizon. She wasn’t sure the Huntress’ show of support for her extended to interruptions of private time.
“Duty calls, sun priest,” Ratha insisted with a sneer before adopting a more conservative air. “And don’t be late for dinner.”
-----
“I really need to stop doing that. I’m sorry,” Veera provided an earnest apology as she and Antoth took a stroll through the village. Such walks were his favored setting for conversations both important and carefree, a way to continually evaluate the state and health of his people.
“Then I accept your apology and assume it won’t happen again,” Antoth replied with little concern. “I haven’t had a chance to speak with you today about the incident. You’re sure you’re fine?”
“I am, Antoth. Don’t think me so helpless,” Veera insisted, straightening her shoulders proudly.
“This isn’t about helplessness. I didn’t get that good of a look, but the humans you had an altercation with didn’t seem to be meek farmers or priests.”
“No, they are supposedly like Russell. That may be so in terms of training but I find them to be hardly like him at all,” Veera declared haughtily. “The Admiral of the ship helped me to remove the broken feathers, which I donated to him. He said that his… we do not have a word for it but the human word is scientist. It is like Thantis, but more specialized. He said that his scientists could learn much from them, so I allowed it.”
“I see,” Antoth said without really ‘seeing’ at all. “These times are… difficult. So what’s this you have here? You called it a torch? Where is its fuel? How does it work?”
“Watch!” Veera replied excitedly. “I just twist this little knob here and-”
Antoth raised his feathers in surprise. He reached for the dial Veera had just been fiddling with. “May I?”
“Sure! Alice said it was designed for harsh conditions, so hopefully that includes a couple of us playing around with it!” Veera said, clearly over the moon at the introduction of seemingly harmless and useful technology into their village from her husband’s people. Antoth was turning the dimmer back and forth, watching closely as the brightness of the pale blue light changed with precision.
“Such fine control,” he mused. “How bright does it go?”
“Wait Antoth, maybe you shouldn’t-” Veera’s warning did not come quickly enough as he cranked the dimmer to max, promptly staggering backward as the lantern put out a prodigious amount of light even during the day. The burly Cauthan snarled in discomfort as he bumped against the wall of a nearby home and pressed his fingers to his eyes. He saw spots as though he’d been staring at Seil itself.
“By Uthos that was bright! Where is its fuel? How does it do that without flame?!” He demanded.
“Alice showed me that too!” Veera replied excitedly, beckoning him over as she turned the lantern off and flipped it upside down.
“You like her, don’t you?” Antoth insisted kindly as Veera worked her claw into the battery compartment’s cover and removed the plastic piece. She handed it to him gently, unaware of the resilience of HEL survival-grade plastics.
“She is my sister by marriage,” the striped Cauthan explained with all due reverence to the institution. “And I believe she truly cares about our people. She is still at the Temple of Kel measuring anyone who approaches for the magical devices she gave Thantis yesterday, the ones that help him see again. They are the talk of the town.”
“Yes, I believe even Alyra got swept up in that,” Antoth recalled, examining the battery that Veera had withdrawn from the lantern. The two of them took turns flipping the lamp on and off, finding the contraption inert without its power source.
“It’s the same device that Russell uses to power his armor and keep Io alive, though he needs more of them. I asked Alice about it, and she said they intentionally designed them to be usable in as many of their strange machines as possible.”
“Interchangeability, yes I can see how that would be useful,” the former guard captain agreed, recalling battles in which he cared not that he had his sword in hand, only that he had a weapon capable of obeying his will. “You believe the guard force would benefit from these?”
“Yes, at least the guards if not the entire village. Imagine being able to work a bit longer at the forge or in the fields or even at home without needing to burn wood,” Veera elaborated. Antoth grunted in agreement as they continued on their walk.
“And the fuel? What happens when it expires?”
“You plug it into a machine that absorbs Seil’s light and… oh what’s the phrase Alice used?” Veera wondered, tapping her chin with an extended claw. “Charging! Yes, that’s the word. It charges itself back up using Seil’s energy. Oh, did I ever tell you that Seil is actually a giant gas furnace? Russell told me,” Veera related excitedly, gazing up at the sky through the gap in the roofs on the narrow street. “It’s a ball of fire far far away.”
“And you believe this?” Antoth entreated, more hesitant than skeptical. Veera waved her feathers calmly.
“With all of my heart.”
“The threads of fate are truly unknowable,” Antoth opined, unsure what else he could say regarding the chain of events that had begun decades before when Daretho had brought home a starving nomadic woman. “But they have led us here all the same. Speak with Staroth about these human torches. If he agrees we will arrange a shipment from the ship above us. Pending the evaluation of the guard force, we may expand that to the village at large. Given the current state of diplomatic affairs I don’t think this will be an issue.”
“Would you have really killed him?” Veera demanded quietly, remembering her own aborted torture at Vash’s hands. Antoth placed a hand on her shoulder. She covered it with her own in a sign of acceptance.
“You are my comrade. You are Winters’ mate. You are one of us. I would have flayed the skin from his back in an effort to let him live, but make no mistake Veera. Ratha was ready to slit his throat then and there. Enough of this dour conversation, though. You appear to be healthy and Winters made a strong statement to his people. Let’s see if our mercy wins us a few more of these magnificent torches.”
-----
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Own The HEL Jumper: Survive in the format of your choice: Hardcover, Softcover, and epub from Lulu Amazon Kindle
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2020.05.19 18:07 RobYaLunch Billboard Hot 100 Discussion - May 17-23 2020 Gooba debuts at #3

Billboard Hot 100 chart
Position Title Artist ▲/▼ Last week Weeks Charting Peak
1 Stuck With U Ariana Grande & Justin Bieber ▲+100 [FRESH] 1 1
2 Say So Doja Cat Featuring Nicki Minaj ▼-1 1 19 1
3 Gooba 6ix9ine ▲+98 [FRESH] 1 3
4 Blinding Lights The Weeknd ▼-1 3 24 1
5 Savage Megan Thee Stallion Featuring Beyonce ▼-3 2 9 2
6 Toosie Slide Drake ▼-2 4 6 1
7 The Box Roddy Ricch ▼-2 5 23 1
8 Rockstar DaBaby Featuring Roddy Ricch ▲+1 9 4 8
9 Don't Start Now Dua Lipa ▼-3 6 28 2
10 Circles Post Malone ▼-2 8 37 1
11 Intentions Justin Bieber Featuring Quavo ▼-1 10 14 8
12 Adore You Harry Styles ▼-1 11 23 6
13 Life Is Good Future Featuring Drake - 13 18 2
14 The Bones Maren Morris ▲+1 15 34 12
15 The Scotts THE SCOTTS, Travis Scott & Kid Cudi ▼-3 12 3 1
16 Roses (Imanbek Remix) SAINt JHN ▲+4 20 8 16
17 My Oh My Camila Cabello Featuring DaBaby ▼-1 16 23 12
18 Someone You Loved Lewis Capaldi - 18 53 1
19 Everything I Wanted Billie Eilish ▼-2 17 27 8
20 Blueberry Faygo Lil Mosey ▲+2 22 14 16
21 Chasin' You Morgan Wallen ▲+2 23 16 21
22 Falling Trevor Daniel ▲+6 28 26 22
23 I Hope Gabby Barrett ▼-2 21 20 16
24 Memories Maroon 5 ▲+2 26 34 2
25 Nobody But You Blake Shelton Duet With Gwen Stefani ▼-1 24 18 18
26 High Fashion Roddy Ricch Featuring Mustard ▲+7 33 20 20
27 Death Bed Powfu Featuring beabadoobee ▲+4 31 9 26
28 Does To Me Luke Combs Featuring Eric Church ▲+8 36 9 28
29 Sunday Best Surfaces ▲+8 37 11 28
30 RITMO (Bad Boys For Life) The Black Eyed Peas X J Balvin ▲+8 38 25 26
31 Break My Heart Dua Lipa ▲+9 40 7 21
32 Whats Poppin Jack Harlow ▲+12 44 14 32
33 Be Kind Marshmello & Halsey ▼-4 29 2 29
34 I Hope You're Happy Now Carly Pearce & Lee Brice ▲+16 50 19 34
35 Hot Girl Bummer blackbear ▲+8 43 35 11
36 Beer Can't Fix Thomas Rhett Featuring Jon Pardi ▲+5 41 9 36
37 Before You Go Lewis Capaldi ▲+16 53 15 37
38 After A Few Travis Denning ▲+10 48 7 38
39 Supalonely BENEE Featuring Gus Dapperton ▲+15 54 9 39
40 Heart On Ice Rod Wave ▲+6 46 27 25
41 Ballin' Mustard & Roddy Ricch ▲+6 47 43 11
42 Dance Monkey Tones And I ▲+7 49 32 4
43 3 Headed Goat Lil Durk Featuring Lil Baby & Polo G ▲+58 [FRESH] 1 43
44 Hard To Forget Sam Hunt ▲+11 55 7 40
45 Sum 2 Prove Lil Baby ▲+12 57 18 16
46 Chicago Freestyle Drake Featuring Giveon ▼-32 14 2 14
47 Level Of Concern twenty one pilots ▲+13 60 5 23
48 Party Girl StaySolidRocky ▲+16 64 3 48
49 Righteous Juice WRLD ▼-7 42 3 11
50 Can I Kehlani Featuring Tory Lanez ▲+51 [FRESH] 1 50
51 Pain 1993 Drake Featuring Playboi Carti ▼-44 7 2 7
52 Walk Em Down NLE Choppa Featuring Roddy Ricch ▲+15 67 8 52
53 Dior Pop Smoke ▲+10 63 13 30
54 In Your Eyes The Weeknd ▲+8 62 8 16
55 We Paid Lil Baby & 42 Dugg ▲+6 61 2 55
56 Emotionally Scarred Lil Baby - 56 11 31
57 Bluebird Miranda Lambert ▲+19 76 6 57
58 Heartless Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley Featuring Morgan Wallen ▲+8 66 16 57
59 Here And Now Kenny Chesney ▲+9 68 6 59
60 Turks NAV, Gunna & Travis Scott ▲+31 91 7 17
61 If The World Was Ending JP Saxe Featuring Julia Michaels ▲+10 71 7 59
62 Ride It. Regard ▲+12 74 5 62
63 After Party Don Toliver ▲+21 84 4 63
64 Yo Perreo Sola Bad Bunny ▲+9 73 9 53
65 Zoo York Lil Tjay Featuring Fivio Foreign & Pop Smoke ▲+36 [FRESH] 1 65
66 P*$$y Fairy (OTW) Jhene Aiko ▲+13 79 17 40
67 Out West JACKBOYS Featuring Young Thug ▲+10 77 18 38
68 Toxic Kehlani ▲+33 [FRESH] 1 68
69 One Margarita Luke Bryan ▲+18 87 2 69
70 Believe It PARTYNEXTDOOR & Rihanna ▲+10 80 7 23
71 I'm Ready Sam Smith & Demi Lovato ▲+1 72 4 36
72 In Between Scotty McCreery ▲+13 85 5 72
73 More Hearts Than Mine Ingrid Andress ▼-4 69 20 30
74 I Love My Country Florida Georgia Line ▲+25 99 4 74
75 I Love Me Demi Lovato ▼-5 70 10 18
76 Go Crazy Chris Brown & Young Thug ▲+25 [FRESH] 1 76
77 D4L Future, Drake & Young Thug ▼-58 19 2 19
78 Godzilla Eminem Featuring Juice WRLD ▲+4 82 17 3
79 All In Lil Baby ▼-20 59 3 45
80 Change Your Life Kehlani Featuring Jhene Aiko ▲+21 [FRESH] 1 80
81 God Whispered Your Name Keith Urban ▲+8 89 4 81
82 Die From A Broken Heart Maddie & Tae ▲+12 94 5 80
83 Catch Brett Young ▼-5 78 16 29
84 Don't Rush Young T & Bugsey Featuring Headie One ▲+16 100 2 84
85 Desires Drake Featuring Future ▼-58 27 2 27
86 Be A Light Thomas Rhett Featuring Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin & Keith Urban ▲+9 95 6 71
87 Jump DaBaby Featuring YoungBoy Never Broke Again ▼-4 83 4 17
88 Me Vs Me Moneybagg Yo ▲+13 [FRESH] 1 88
89 Drinking Alone Carrie Underwood ▲+12 [FRESH] 2 89
90 Six Feet Apart Luke Combs ▼-32 58 2 58
91 Viral Moment Lil Durk ▲+10 [FRESH] 1 91
92 Sigues Con El Arcangel x Sech ▲+9 [FRESH] 2 78
93 Homemade Jake Owen ▼-1 92 16 39
94 Time Flies Drake ▼-64 30 2 30
95 Grace Lil Baby & 42 Dugg ▼-7 88 9 48
96 Slow Dance In A Parking Lot Jordan Davis ▼-6 90 19 37
97 You Should Be Sad Halsey ▼-4 93 18 26
98 That Way Lil Uzi Vert ▲+3 [FRESH] 10 20
99 Demons Drake Featuring Fivio Foreign & Sosa Geek ▼-65 34 2 34
100 July Noah Cyrus & Leon Bridges ▲+1 [FRESH] 10 85

Notes

Billboard 200 chart
Position Title Artist Sales Change Last week Weeks Charting
1 Good Intentions NAV 133,478 (70,783 pure) -- [FRESH] 1
2 It Was Good Until It Wasn't Kehlani 81,970 (24,362 pure) -- [FRESH] 1
3 Dark Lane Demo Tapes Drake 80,010 (1,622 pure) -65% 2 2
4 My Turn Lil Baby 66,084 (478 pure) -27% 3 11
5 Just Cause Y'all Waited 2 Lil Durk 55,957 (3,107 pure) -- [FRESH] 1
6 BLAME IT ON BABY DaBaby 43,017 (447 pure) -8% 4 4
7 Las Que No Iban A Salir Bad Bunny 39,828 (7,931 pure) -- [FRESH] 1
8 Eternal Atake Lil Uzi Vert 42,507 (909 pure) -4% 5 10
9 After Hours The Weeknd 39,900 (2,925 pure) -10% 6 8
10 Hollywood's Bleeding Post Malone 35,475 (1,260 pure) -5% 8 36
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Why is X artist higher than Y artist on the 200 chart, even though X artist sold less?
A: This is because of a discrepancy between Billboard's ranking and the ranking from the website that the sales data is scraped from
Q: Where do you get the sales data from?
A: https://hitsdailydouble.com/sales_plus_streaming
submitted by RobYaLunch to hiphopheads [link] [comments]


2020.05.10 20:01 cazador5 Currently writing a fan fluff piece based on the Imperial Navy. It's early days but would appreciate thoughts, C&C.

Chapter 1
Red emergency lights lit the cabin just a moment before the blaring klaxons began their piercing cry. It cast garish shadows across the spare room, with the slight corner table elongated into a ghoulish spider-like creature in the glare.
Andrius was out of his narrow cot before the vox horns started repeating their message between each series of klaxon blasts. “All crew, attend your stations and report to your commanding officer. All crew, attend your stations and report to your commanding officer.
Outside the simple sliding door to his cabin, he could hear the hundreds of other ensigns bustling down the hallways to their appointed stations. In a moment Andrius himself was properly dressed. He rarely slept outside of his regulation bodyglove anyway, and as such only needed to throw on his simple Ensign uniform and boots. Shortly he was shoving himself out of the doorway into the crowded hall.
To an untrained observer the scene was a chaotic mess, but a closer look showed a discernible discipline in the movements of the young officers as they rushed through the halls towards the main staircase and lifts. There were no collisions (though a few clumsier youngsters dropped their data slates and held up the files for a moment, to much general chagrin and a few noisy curses) and the men and women moved promptly with little friction.
The klaxons continued to blare amidst the low red light. “All crew, attend your stations and report to your commanding officer. All crew, attend your stations and report to your commanding officer.”
Moving swiftly forward, the files grew sparser as the various hatchways and stairwells swallowed up their respective compliments. Andrius saw Ensign Kaulder rushing the opposite direction towards the ship’s stern - Kaulder was stationed in the sensor array suites located aft. He raised his hand in a quick gesture that Kaulder didn’t see in the red gloom.
Finally he arrived at the stairwell appointed for the crew heading to the bow of the ship. Already hundreds of common ratings were joining the general flow towards the great macro batteries along the ship’s sides, and he joined the crowded but organized press.
By the time he was on the main hall level, there were thousands of crew moving through the ship’s dark interior. Elevated walkways stretched above and beside him, where engineering staff made their way along catwalks performing their routine checks on the equipment and innards of the ship. To Andrius they looked like nothing so much as lampreys on a giant cetacean. He passed the medicae wards stationed in the midship hold, and a brief glimpse gave him an impression of grubby white robed medicae staff sanitizing instruments and preparing new linen on the beds. The sight sent him moving a bit faster through the press.
The crowd of officers, voidsmen and specialists thinned again and by the time he reached the final stairwell leading to the forward turret battery, there were only a few crew headed the same way. Lance Officer Kannig, dressed far more resplendently than himself, hurried through an open hatch followed by several sub officers and voidsmen.
The hatchway to the forward turret he’d been assigned to was open when he arrived. He checked his chronometer, an antique styled trinket that hung on a brass linked chain from his uniform pocket. Not bad, he thought to himself. The better part of a kilometer in just over 9 minutes, including the numerous flights of stairs. Lieutenant Warrene, commanding the battery, turned to him on approach, eyeing him keenly. Her face gave away little, though this might have more to do with the hideous scar that had taken her left eye and given her an eternal rictus-like grin than it had to do with any inherent look of reproach. Nevertheless Andrius couldn’t help but feel small beneath her gaze.
“Report, Ensign” she barked.
“Ensign Andrius Uzziah Grimm, present and ready for duty Ma’am!”
---
Compared to the lower decks, the bridge of the Arbitrator was awash in light. The red warning lights flashed here also, though they were mixed with the light of UM-6556, the blue star in the midst of the system. In addition, holographic images floated in the central actuality sphere, around which Lord Captain Kraupt paced slowly. His trained eyes scanned the scrolling tactical information that spilled from the surrounding data slates, and one ear was tuned to the tittering vox chatter of his officers. In descending levels that resembled nothing so much as an orchestral pit, the various bridge staff observed and directed the working of the light cruiser’s systems and crew. Around them, demi-human servitors warbled snatches of binary into the cogitator units they were bodily connected to. Heaps of bio-cordage connected their wasted bodies to the consoles, coiled into neat piles by the attending voidsmen. The Navy was brutal, Kraupt mused, but at the very least it was orderly.
The source for all this distraction blinked determinedly in the upper left quadrant of the display sphere. The Arbitrator’s automated servitor-systems had alerted all commands the moment it had spruing up on the sensor readings, triggering the emergency response.
“Lieutenant Morrows, see if you can get me an updated reading, and remove all but critical tactical overlay.” Morrows, eager faced and attentive, worked her fingers quickly over the keys of her cogitator. She refined the image and then removed the non-essential information. The holographic picture shifted, larger in size and with a simpler tactical readout.
“Good. Harden, what do we have?” Kraupt looked down his aquiline nose at the elderly sensor officer. The spectacled man conferred briefly with a sub-lieutenant and scrolled through a data slate before rotating in his chair to face the captain.
“The warp rupture appeared approximately eleven minutes ago sir. Roughly 54 million kilometers to starboard, just outside the system’s inner asteroid belt. Nothing has exited as of yet, but our astropaths have detected at least one significant form moving through the Empyrean.”
“Very well.” The captain turned to his executive officer, First Lieutenant Rysing, who stood modestly to attention near the raised command throne. As he turned the Lieutenant snapped to attention with the Imperial Salute, hands raised across his chest in deference.
“At ease Lieutenant. You did well to raise the general quarters alarm. Take your station, and prepare a review of all weapons systems.”
“Yes, sir. And if I may, good morning sir.”
Lord Captain Jorj Helderman Kraupt twitched the corner of his mouth. “And what you mean by ‘morning’ in this Emperor-forsaken fringe system I’ll never know. But I appreciate the gesture.”
With a turn that swirled the grand deep blue cloak that befitted a Lord-Captain’s uniform, Kraupt sat upon the raised Command Throne. Hushed tech adepts hurried forward, and proceeded to connect the holy bio-cordage that would link him directly into the ship’s systems. With whispered litanies they linked the cords into the numerous augmetic plugs that dotted the back of Captain’s skull. Kraupt closed his eyes. A whiff of incense wafted across his nose - loosed by one of the adepts’ swinging neck-censors, no doubt. Then it was no longer smell or hearing or taste that occupied his senses, but the living, breathing feel of the Arbitrator itself. He opened his eyes and he saw not with his pupils but the immense sensor arrays of the ship, reading data from millions of kilometers away like he would have the pages of a book. His skin bristled not with the insignificant hairs of his arm but the powered radiance of the cruiser’s void shields. He could feel his heart beat with the thrum of the engines as he accelerated the ship towards the waiting wound in realspace. He could sense the rift with an uneasy feeling, like when the hair of a cat rises in response to an approaching thunderstorm.
The ship’s acceleration pressed the captain back into the padded leather of the command chair, despite the ship’s inertial dampeners. Information swam through the bio-cords into Kraupt’s mind in an exhilarating rush - energy levels, crew reports, sensor readings, even the dull whispers of the hundreds of servitors, all combined and intertwined as he ran his hand across the panels near his fingertips.
For the first time that day, Lord Captain Kraupt smiled.
---
“Two fives. Pull.” Stig, a wiry voidsman covered in arm length tattoos, spat on the deck behind him with a deft movement of his head that gave the impression of years of practice.
“Three helms, and I’ll meet.” The equally wiry and rough woman across from him tossed three cards neatly on the small pile and leaned back to light her iho stick that rested in the corner of her mouth.
“Fuck your helms, with all due respect Qwyl. three fives and king. Pull.” The rumbling voice of the third player made them both turn. Jorro Bandar, his thick arms moving with a surprising grace, dropped his four and swiftly counted and collected the low denom credit wafers from them both. Both cursed eloquently under their breaths.
“How, just explain how you manage a third king and triple in five games? I’m watching your damned hands from now on I swear.” Stig muttered as he chewed his iho leaf thoughtfully. “It’s unnatural.”
“Perhaps if you watched the cards half as much as you dart your eyes around you’d win from time to time, Stig.” Bandar’s voice was deep but non-threatening. He chuckled lowly, bright teeth shining amidst the general gloom of the turret deck.
“Brass” muttered Qwyl, standing swiftly and jamming the deck of suicide cards into her loose trouser pocket. The other two rose in turn and faced towards the approaching officer. Stig’s salute was somewhat lackadaisical, though nothing surprising to those that knew him. A former hive ganger on Diadem, he’d always had a problem with proper etiquette. And he’d proven quite resistant to the usual discipline meted out on listless voidsmen.
“Detachment 6B, report.” the young officer eyed them all warily.
“All ready and accounted for sir. Gun’s been cleaned and inspected. Just awaiting orders Sir.” Qwyl, their nominal head as the watch-mate, curtly answered. She was slender and hard, with only a little less ink than Stig. Her short cropped hair had been dyed badly with platinum sometime recently, and it framed a pale face and blue eyes that seemed to stare through Andrius as he inspected them. He admired the average rating’s ability to give blank stares when under review. They gave away less than nothing, and he felt almost guilty for asking them anything at all. After all, they were in their thirties except for Jorro, who was nearly fifty but looked in better health than either of the other two. Andrius meanwhile had turned 19 a month before and had a hard time not looking every inch the earnest young officer every voidsman despised.
“Noted, Qwyl. I’m glad you were all on the fourth watch and therefore already present when the general quarters was sounded. And it gave you time to finish your game of Rasal suicide I see.” Stig sniffed and shuffled his feet nervously. One of the cards had fallen beside the raised piping they had been playing upon. Bandar’s barely disguised grin almost caught Grimm’s attention before he mastered himself.
“Carry on. We’ll know more in the next few minutes. I’d gauge there’s a solid chance of a scrap. And Stig, find a bucket or something for that vile habit of yours. It’s unkind to leave such sludge for the next watch to clean.” He walked away towards the turret cannon, a mammoth figure in the enclosed space. It’s firing mechanism alone nearly dwarfed him, and mounted upon the rotating turret platform it loomed like a caged drakke from the tales of his homeworld, Cassia.
As Qwyl had said, the gun was clean and loaded, prepared for action. The entire station was well kept to even a reproving eye.
Brace, brace” came bursting over the vox speakers in the loading chamber and hallways leading to it, the almost imperceptible delay giving the impression of an echo traveling the length of the ship. The entire crew of the station, from Lieutenant Warrene to Stig with his mouthful of iho juice, rushed to their seats (in the case of the officers) or to the bracing rail along the sides of the room (in the case of the ratings). The Servitors, who lined the room in recessed alcoves, were already fully attached and hooked in and not many of the crew gave them a thought anyway.
The cruiser’s surging acceleration had many of the ratings holding on for dear life. Andrius felt as if he were going to be pushed through his seat, but the polished metal chair was bolted into the floor and wasn’t going anywhere. Seconds that seemed like minutes passed, and the acceleration slowly evened out. Some of the more experienced hands began to shuffle along the guide-rails to their stations. Andrius regained his posture and gazed at the winking cogitator console before him. It was a simple affair, nothing like the complex calculating and sensor units that adorned the bridge, but it gave him and the other officers of the forward turret batteries a general description of the situation for those that could read it. Data streamed down the data slates, describing and framing their position in relation to the system’s star and the various planetoids around them. Andrius discerned they were headed to a non-planetary point near the inner belt of dust and rocks circling UM-6556.
Before long the data readings began to describe something else. Instead of a simple description of the point’s location, data began spilling down regarding an object departing from it. Andrius knew enough to understand that a vessel had just exited the warp, spit out of the Empyrean into realspace. Whether the ship was friendly, they would soon learn.
Lieutenant Warrene paced along the corridor linking the numerous turret batteries of her command. Now that the ship’s speed had evened out, she could walk steadily, though she kept one hand on the railing like any experienced voidsmen would. “Crew of the Arbitrator. We are approaching a warp rift that was detected minutes ago, and a ship has just entered realspace. Identification checks are being made. In the meantime I want everyone at combat stations.” The order was practically unneeded, as most had been hooked in near their appointed stretch of deck before the ship’s acceleration anyway. A few inexperienced hands had been roughly guided into their positions by older ratings. The mention of another ship made several blanch.
Andrius checked his console. The data stream indicated that the Arbitrator was nearly within distant lance range of the unidentified vessel. He eyed the crew of his station and was encouraged by the resolve he saw there. Nonetheless every rating and officer was tensed. The waiting, Grimm decided, was the worst part.
---
Lord Captain Kraupt felt the tension of the ship’s weapon systems. The bow lance was at full power, and he could sense the readiness of the crew along the ship’s main batteries and turrets. “Lieutenant Harden. Raise them.” Harden’s fingers flashed along the panels in front of him. The vox hailing began.
Within a moment there came the first of several incomprehensible blasts of vox static. Kraupt nodded briefly to the signal’s officer. The vox hail repeated.
Out of the static emerged a grainy voice barely distinguishable from the background noise. “----tain Niev---ting severe------all systems, requesting-----reply.” All the vox chatter across the bridge had dwindled, and Kraupt could tell his officers were listening intently. He keyed across the controls at his finger tips and focused his mind away from the constant sensory stimulation of the ship’s running.
“This is Imperial Cruiser Arbitrator. We are approaching on interception vector oh-one-seven-six. Remain at geo-stationary orbit of the asteroid UM-1-8976 marked on your tactical map.”
“-----ted, be aware---wing. Repeat following----”
Before the vox static had died away Morrows cut into the bridge command channel. “Captain, we’re receiving traces of another ship entering realspace. We aren’t getting any signal hails from them.”
In the glowing shapes of the strategium suddenly there appeared a second shape. Using his connection Kraupt swiftly siphoned off the non-essential information being relayed across, and finally gained a clear view of the situation.
In the deep void near the barren shapes of rock and ice that surrounded UM-6556, the first ship that had cleared the Warp made a wide, yawing turn into the cover of the larger asteroid the Arbitrator had indicated. It was much smaller in size, showing the lean, predatory shape of an Imperial Frigate. There was something noticeably wrong however - it was venting atmosphere, and trailed burning wreckage from several points. One of the massive engine ports was dead, and the second was clearly running at low power. The wide turn bore none of the clean maneuvering that was a hall-mark of Imperial voidsmanship. The incoming sensor readings named it the Imperial Frigate Blade of Delphine, Captain Oranthus Nieve commanding.
The ship that followed still trailed slithering tails of warp energy from it’s dark, crenellated hull. Before the warp rift had even closed it had accelerated to flank speed, trailing the wounded Delphine like a shark smelling blood. Preliminary readings returned no useful information concerning the new ship’s origin. Twelve sensor-servitors aboard the Arbitrator were reduced to twitching mounds in the vox hail attempt. Acrid steam rose from their sparking cranial plugs, and the bridge tech adepts leapt forward to disconnect them. Their swinging censors mingled the sweet smell of incense with the acidic stench seeping from the servitor corpses.
Kraupt toyed momentarily with attempting another hail of the second ship. The thought dissipated.
“Fire the lance and forward batteries.”
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2020.05.10 17:04 subredditsummarybot This Week's /r/PopHeads [FRESH] recap

Sunday, May 03 - Saturday, May 09

Fresh Albums

score comments title & link mirrors
517 123 comments [FRESH ALBUM] Hayley Williams - Petals For Armor [Sp] [AM] [YTM] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
439 45 comments [FRESH ALBUM] Clay K Slider - KK Slider Covers 2 [Sp] [SC] [T] [Dzr]
198 62 comments [FRESH ALBUM] Kehlani - It Was Good Until It Wasn't [Sp] [AM] [YTM] [SC] [T] [Dzr]
97 29 comments [FRESH EP] Hailee Steinfeld - Half Written Story
27 7 comments [FRESH ALBUM] Cecile Believe - Made in Heaven [Sp] [AM] [YTM] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
 

Fresh Videos

score comments title & link mirrors
225 97 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Ariana Grande & Justin Bieber - Stuck with U (Official Video) [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr]
217 22 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Hayley Williams - Dead Horse [Official Music Video] [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
190 27 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Dua Lipa - Break My Heart (Animated Video) [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
175 30 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Charli XCX has released a green screen version of "claws" music video, available for download
160 17 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Little Mix - Break Up Song [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
155 11 comments [FRESH VIDEO] IU - eight(에잇) (Prod. & Feat. SUGA of BTS)
143 24 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Pokémon X Poppy
126 34 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Kim Petras - Malibu (Animated Video) [Sp] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
88 5 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Megan Thee Stallion - Savage Remix (feat. Beyoncé) [Official Lyric Video] [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
66 11 comments [FRESH VIDEO] JoJo -Comeback (feat. Tory Lanez & 30 Roc) [Official Music Video] [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
61 10 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Taeyeon - HAPPY [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC]
53 6 comments [FRESH VIDEO] Allie X - June Gloom (lyric video) [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
51 9 comments [FRESH VIDEO] The Weeknd - Blinding Lights (Chromatics Remix) [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [Dzr] [GPM]
 

Fresh

score comments title & link mirrors
904 184 comments [FRESH] Charli XCX - i finally understand [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr]
529 256 comments [FRESH] Ariana Grande & Justin Bieber – stuck with u
424 149 comments [FRESH] Kim Petras - Malibu
282 90 comments [FRESH] Aly & AJ - Joan of Arc on the Dance Floor [Sp] [AM] [SC] [T] [Dzr]
261 71 comments [FRESH] Doja Cat - Say So (feat. Nicki Minaj - Original Version) [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
121 16 comments [FRESH] The Weeknd - The Weeknd's Dark Secret (American Dad)
95 30 comments [FRESH] Jessie Ware - Save A Kiss - Single Edit [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [Dzr]
87 47 comments [FRESH] Demi Lovato - I Love Me (emo version) ft. Travis Barker [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T]
78 24 comments [FRESH] Megan Thee Stallion - Savage (Major Lazer Remix) [Sp] [AM] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
67 31 comments [GAME] Underrated [FRESH] Threads: April 2020 Edition
53 6 comments [FRESH] BROCKHAMPTON - things can't stay the same [YT] [SC]
53 13 comments [FRESH] Tei Shi - Die 4 Ur Love [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [GPM]
51 3 comments [FRESH] BROCKHAMPTON - N.S.T.
51 12 comments [FRESH] NOTD & Astrid S - I Don’t Know Why [Sp] [AM] [SC] [T] [Dzr]
 

Top Performances

score comments title & link mirrors
162 6 comments [PERFORMANCE] Rina Sawayama & Clarence Clarity - Love It If We Made It (orig. The 1975) (The 1975 Tribute Concert)
137 13 comments [PERFORMANCE] Doja Cat - Say So (Vevo LIFT Live Performance) [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
122 14 comments [PERFORMANCE] Florence + The Machine - You've Got The Love (Virtual Met Gala 2020) [Sp] [AM] [YT] [SC] [T] [Dzr] [GPM]
85 14 comments [PERFORMANCE] Katy Perry & Kacey Musgraves - Roar (CMT Crossroads)
63 10 comments [PERFORMANCE] Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Kitchen Disco #6
 

Top 5 Other Posts

score comments title & link mirrors
1,946 334 comments [NEWS] Lady Gaga - Chromatica (New Release Date: May 29)
1,220 48 comments [NEWS] Little Richard, Founding Father of Rock Who Broke Musical Barriers, Dead at 87
1,117 174 comments [NEWS] The Obamas to Headline YouTube Virtual Graduation Ceremony With BTS, Lady Gaga & More
1,057 368 comments [NEWS] Elon Musk announces birth of Grimes' baby
1,004 126 comments [DISCUSSION] Katy Perry's "California Gurls (feat. Snoop Dogg)" turns 10 years old today!
 
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2020.04.01 16:03 SabatonBabylon The HEL Jumper [Chapter 3.9]

Book 1 of The HEL Jumper
Book 2 of The HEL Jumper
-----
Previous First Next Patreon
Thanks to Tulip, Big_Papa_Dakky, Mr_Polygon, txgunman65, Darth Android, Krystalin, Mamish, Vikairious, Sam Berry, ClarityAndVision, RedHawkdude, KillTech, LilLaussa, Daddy Talon, Gruecifer, Gaelan Darkwater, Konrahd_Verdammt, and 34 others supporting me on patreon.
-----
“Good morning everyone! Do you have a moment to chat before you head back down?” Natori wondered, entering hangar C-2 to find the ‘Mara gang’ hanging around Pilot Cromwell’s shuttle.
‘We are all waiting here on your orders, sir,’ Io replied in a tone that made it very clear she was holding her head in her hand somewhere in cyberspace. Natori nodded to himself as he landed softly following a short ‘glide’ to the shuttle.
“Ah yes, I suppose you are. Let’s get you all on your way, shall we? Alice, don’t take this the wrong way but you look like my daughter when I’d pick her up from sleepovers as a teenager.”
“That is...exactly what you say to a lady in the morning,” Alice replied sarcastically through a titanic yawn, one that Xan quickly mimicked. His actions had the scientist suddenly wide awake. “Did you see that? He caught my yawn! Admiral, the amount of not just biological but cultural and behavioral convergence on this planet is -oof! Xan!”
“Can’t you just...I don’t know, write him a note later or something? I miss Seil’s light and warmth. No offense but it feels cold on this ship,” the Cauthan scholar explained.
“You have fur!” Alice protested.
“Not that kind of cold. It’s unnatural,” Xan clarified before adopting the mannerisms of the more elder priests of the village. “Sorry, sir. But if it’s all the same to you we should be going. I was treated well, minus a scale being removed. Meylith bless you for your hospitality.”
“Well I’m glad to see you two aren’t ripping each others’ heads off. Just scales,” Russell interjected with a smirk, being in the unique position of knowing both Alice and Xan quite well.
“We had a nice night together but Fenrir may have chosen a favorite spot in the hallway as a bathroom,” Veera added. “Thank you for providing us with a home here.”
“I thank you, Xan. And you are most welcome,” Natori nodded respectfully to Veera. “I will allow you to depart shortly and then find a mop. I simply wanted to report that I received the analysis from Dr. Dupuis and a handful of other scientists aboard who had the opportunity to review samples of Cauthan food and tissue supplied to our labs. Io has kindly given me the honors.”
‘Only because I knew the answer ahead of time,’ she clarified.
“I hope you’ll forgive me for not having spent a year amongst the Cauthan,” Natori smiled. “Veera, Xan, I would like you to know that so long as you are willing to go through routine decontamination, a process I will ask Lieutenant Winters and his sister to explain to you in detail if necessary, you will be welcome to access any and all areas available to standard civilian crew members of the ship. For the time being I would appreciate it if you would do so with accompaniment. I would like to open our dining facilities to you, given the nutritional analysis of the food brought aboard, as well as request a meeting with one of your elders to discuss the potential acquisition of seeds or crops for our grow rooms. Alice, Private MacGregor, please take point in this effort.”
“Yes sir,” they replied, with the Marine rendering a sharp salute. Even he had faint bags under his eyes.
“Thank you both. Finally, Lieutenant, I would like to hear about the full results of your physical. We detected a couple of novel G antibodies in your blood sample and are documenting them for future use. You also have a slightly elevated D antibody count which…I’m not sure what that means,” Natori admitted.
“You didn’t just look at the rest?” Winters wondered before catching himself. “Sir?”
“No doubt I could have, but I intend to respect the confidentiality enjoyed between a physician and his patient,” Kaczynski explained.
“Nothing abnormal, sir. I didn’t experience any illness during the last year either, so I’m not sure what to say about the antibodies.”
“Your body is doing its job then,” Natori encouraged. “These results are an auspicious foundation for a broader human presence on Mara, which is the final item we must address. I do not know if you’ve introduced yourself, Lieutenant, but we have a full squad of Jumpers aboard this ship who have been cooped up for quite some time. It was my intention to send them to the surface today to recon the site you and Io located, and hopefully establish a research and military outpost from which we can base our efforts to determine the true nature of whatever technology you discovered. Io has provided me with your suit’s data regarding that expedition, but I wanted to inform you directly and assure you that no one is looking to steal anyone’s thunder.”
“Let them have it,” Winters waved it off, though not disrespectfully. “If it’s anything like what Io and I think it is, you’ll need us later. Well…you’ll need her.”
‘It’s a package deal, sir. You know that. I’ve already explained to the Admiral that wherever you go on Mara, I go as well,’ Io declared warmly. ‘Can we go sledding again?’
“Were you peeping?” Russell wondered lightly.
‘Aaaah…old habits die hard?’ Io explained sheepishly, her tone of voice inching higher with each word. Winters shook his head as Veera leaned against him.
“It’s fine, darling,” she insisted as the uninitiated tried to decide if Io and Russell meant what they thought they meant. “Admiral Kaczynski, I would be pleased if you allowed other soldiers to become involved in this matter and allow my husband and I a bit of peace.”
“Your pronunciation is better than about half of the humans I know,” the Admiral replied pleasantly, a certain amount of relief on his face. “In that case, I should depart and brief them on their next mission. I thank you all for your understanding and, to our Cauthan guests, I hope that we will see you again soon. Safe travels, Pilot.”
“Aye aye, sir. Hop on in, everyone. The Mara Express waits for no one!” Cromwell declared, clearly better rested than most of the other humans in attendance.
“What happened ta Brick?” Lachlan asked her.
"He'll always be Brick to me, but don't try to act like I'm not running a ferry service here, Private," Cromwell chuckled. As they all piled in she even reached out towards Fenrir, who fixed her with his yellowish eyes and followed her fingers closely. The pilot thought better of it, withdrawing to her cockpit before potentially losing a hand. Xan filled in, rubbing the hyrven lightly under the chin and then more strongly between his ears.
"It's alright, boy. She'll warm up to you once she gets past the claws and fangs."
"And the two tails!" Alice added, strapping herself and Xan in before extending a tentative hand to join him in petting the local alien wolf cat.
"Try here with your claws," Xan offered, showing Alice how Fenrir enjoyed a firmer scratch at the nape of his neck just above the harness that Russell had fashioned for him. "Hey wait…weren't they…your claws are green!"
"Good with animals and notices your nails? Sounds like a keeper!" Cromwell advised over the intercom. Lachlan burst into deep Scottish laughter, Alice blushed to her neck, and Russell kicked the cockpit door with his boot.
"Less talking more flying, pilot," he requested.
"Yes, Lieutenant," Cromwell agreed in a most unapologetic tone. "Fasten your seatbelts everyone, I'm engaging thrusters now."
-----
"Attention!" Sergeant Lipper shouted as Admiral Kaczynski walked into the ship's armory, an expansive room of corridors filled with explosives, armor, weapons, and ammunition, all under the watchful eye of the ship's Master of Arms. The four Jumpers promptly stood straight and saluted, a gesture that Natori returned in full before gesturing that they return to their previous state.
"At ease, Sergeant. I presume Darius knows you're playing poker in his armory?"
"He cleans them out regularly," Natalya offered from her position on one of the benches that sat between lockers and armor racks. A paper book could be found in her hands, The Tempest.
"Well who am I to keep an honest man from a not so honest living?" Natori asked playfully, though his keen eyes scanned the entire scene as if to find anything truly out of place. When they did not he returned to Lipper. "Sergeant, I have a mission for your squad."
"About damn time, sir! What'll it be today? Pacifying locals, escorting civvies?"
"None of the above, Sergeant. I see your long journey has left you a bit excitable. See to it that your head is level by the time you're in a shuttle," Kaczynski warned, immediately cooling the amicable vibe in the room.
"I will, sir. What's the mission?" The Sergeant tried again. The Admiral nodded.
"As I'm sure you all well know, part of our first contact with the locals of this planet included the retrieval of First Lieutenant Winters, Omega Division. He is the only survivor of the Lancer. The Lieutenant has apparently been busy over the last year, and while I am leaving relationship building with the Cauthan to the pedestrian crew of the ship…there is a matter of importance we must address. Follow me please."
A short time later the five of them were seated in one of the small military briefing rooms on the ship, a short jaunt from the armory and the express elevator to the drop pod bays. The nature of shipboard life was such that one never knew who was watching or listening, even if such observation was benign. While it was not the most elaborate of spaces, the Admiral couldn’t help but smile at the lighting which came not from a dingy overhead bulb or bright halogen fixture, but from softer LED’s that formed the ‘molding’ of the room, illuminating the place evenly from on high. He thought it to be an inspired design choice. Once the door closed, countermeasures engaged, and all were seated around a nondescript wooden table, Natori began. “I suppose by now you’ve all realized that what I’m about to tell you is classified. And no, I don’t mean ‘haha Natori likes old Japanese cartoons’ classified. Looking at you, Rex.”
“All due respect, sir, the newer mecha is way better,” the Private replied, his unreasonable bulk still somehow managing to strain his PT gear while at rest.
“Certainly a conversation for another time,” Kaczynski deferred. “Please understand how very serious I am when I say that what I am about to tell you is classified. The rest of the crew can talk all they like about the endless wonder of this new world, its ecosystems, and the fluffy raptor cats that call it home, but you and I must worry about whatever it is in this system that killed the Lancer and tried to kill us.”
Though none of the Jumpers had been making noise prior to Kaczynski’s statement, an even more smothering silence seemed to fall in his wake. After that pregnant pause he continued. “With the help of a select few individuals in core engineering and Cassia, we have fully analyzed the data gathered in the wake of our arrival in this system. You may remember the lights going a bit dim?” Mendes and Natalya nodded. “That was a result of our ship being forced out of warp early by an unknown force.”
“The fuck?” Lipper exclaimed. “How is that-”
“Possible? I hope you four will help us determine the answer to that most pressing of questions,” Natori continued. “Data from the Lancer’s comm buoy, which has since been rendered inoperable by solar radiation, indicates that they experienced the same fate. The unexpected exit combined with their proximity to the system’s star sealed their fate. It appears that our exceptional mass and larger capacitors saved our lives.”
“Bigger is better,” Rex declared, earning a roll of Mendes’ eyes.
“Given that we’re still breathing I have no reason to refute that,” Natori said. “While we can take a look at the warp point now and see subtle inconsistencies, we are unable to trace their origin or origins. Suffice to say they are not natural in occurrence. Envoy Qul’Roth was willing to share information gathered by his species with me, and neither of us were able to find warp points that churn like this one does, at least not in star systems with relatively stable bodies. I’m sure if you tried to warp in next to a black hole you’d have a difficult time but…getting off track?”
“A bit, sir,” Natalya confirmed. Kaczynski cleared his throat and leaned his elbows on the table.
“My apologies. The point is that while we know something is wrong in this system, we do not know why. Without Lieutenant Winters and a whole lot of luck we would be fumbling in the dark. I mentioned he married a local, right?”
“Off track again, sir,” Mendes offered, though this time Natori wagged a finger at him.
“Not so fast my dear Jumpers! I promise this is relevant. You see, the Lieutenant and his bride seem to have taken something of a honeymoon, so much as one is possible in a community operating at an iron age technology level. At the terminus of their journey, the Lieutenant reports that they found a vault of some sort. Or perhaps a bunker would be the best way to describe it? In any case, upon entry he gathered footage that I believe presents overwhelming evidence that a technologically advanced, potentially even superior race or races once called this planet home. It’s all right here,” he offered, passing a data disc across the table to Lipper. The Sergeant took it between his fingers and placed it into the breast pocket of his uniform.
“What’s on it, sir?”
“Coordinates and a written description of the site,” Natori replied. “And before you bite my head off, I’m not sending any of you in there just yet.”
“But the Omega boy just got to waltz on in?” Rex protested, earning a stern glare from the Admiral.
“That is Lieutenant or Lieutenant Winters to you, Private,” he reminded the Jumper harshly. “You all know my feelings on the history of Beta Division vis a vis Delta and Omega, but now is not the time! Lieutenant Winters had no choice in the matter. There was no backup; there was no orbital presence. He was the only human in this system and he took a colossal risk in entering this place, one you should thank him for should you meet him in person. We are not under that sort of duress and so we shall do this properly and in a manner that does not place any of you at undue risk. Is that clear Rex?”
“Yes sir.”
“Lipper?”
“Just give us the mission, sir. We’ll get it done,” the Sergeant promised. All of them were feeling a mixture of tension and eagerness by that point.
“Very well. The four of you will take two shuttles to the surface and approach the site on foot from a safe distance. The Lieutenant was able to waltz on in, as you said, but we don’t know if the facility has any anti-air capabilities. Nor do we know if he inadvertently activated any defenses in his wake. Your mission is to recon the site, confirm this structure is still there, and if so, establish a safe location to serve as a military and research outpost.”
“Scientists won’t be happy walking a couple hours each way,” Mendes mentioned.
“I have no doubt,” Natori agreed. “But I will not put anyone’s life at risk for the sake of convenience. If we are one day able to ascertain that this site does not present a danger to shuttles then we will re-evaluate at that time.”
“Yes sir, we’ll make it work,” the Private agreed.
“Fantastic. The data is all in there but be advised that the surrounding environs appear to be primarily grasslands. Additionally, we have been unable to detect any evidence of local settlements in the area. That does not mean you will not encounter Cauthan, as they call themselves, either nomadic or sedentary. I cannot stress this highly enough to all of you,” Natori said emphatically. “Your lives are your top priority. Even a primitive alien can slit your throat if you are caught unawares.”
“Charming image, Admiral,” Lipper chuckled.
“One I’m sure you’re more aware of than I. But after your lives are taken care of, the sanctity of this planet and its ecosystems are your top priority. I don’t think I need to impress upon any of you how unique an opportunity we have been presented with. Under normal circumstances this planet would be barred from human and Ghaelen exploration, likely for millennia. We have an extraordinary chance to observe and learn from this world, this new Earth. Many back home consider the pacification of Udanis IV to be our crowning achievement as a spacefaring species. What we do here, assuming we are able to return home, will be far more important than anything humanity has done so far in the galaxy. We have been placed in the role of demi-gods. All that remains to be seen is what sort of gods we will be. So when you’re down there strolling through Mara’s pristine fields in your impervious Aegis armor…try to avoid stepping on the flowers, if there are any.”
As Natori’s speech ended the four Jumpers looked at one another. Slowly smiles emerged, lines on the cheeks and at the corners of their eyes. Natalya chuckled, and soon Rex joined her in a moment of lighthearted appreciation of the stakes, large and small, that the Admiral had laid out. “You sure know how to get me to watch where I put my feet,” Mendes offered.
“Happy to be of service,” Natori replied, checking his watch. “Sergeant Lipper it’s currently…is it really? This twenty one hour cycle is throwing me for a loop. Please be advised that we are on such a cycle and that 2059 is now a minute prior to midnight. In any case, it is currently 0832. While we are not on the clock per se, I would like this mission conducted expeditiously. Sergeant, can your squad be locked and loaded by 0900 hours?”
“Not a problem, sir,” Lipper replied, standing and saluting Natori. The Admiral did the same.
“Perfect. I have already made the arrangements for your ride to the surface. Natalya, I know you’re qualified as a pilot but please give the others a chance to stretch their wings, so to speak.”
“If you insist, Admiral.”
“I must say that I do,” he told her apologetically before looking around at the whole squad. “Any further questions?” When none were forthcoming he rendered a final salute before sending them on their way. “Godspeed to you all. If it’s a slow day on the bridge I may ride shotgun with one of you. Enjoy your trip to Mara. Dismissed.”
-----
“What’s all this about now, hmm? Break it up you lot or you’ll all be sitting on benches until lunchtime,” Gentia warned, approaching a rambunctious group of her young charges who had congregated around Ursol. The boy was sheltering something against his chest and refusing to let anyone look at it. The warning of the matron of Meylith was enough to temporarily resolve the scrum, and most of the other cubs quickly found other distractions or imaginations to engage themselves. No matter how many sticks or shiny rocks or carved toys Gentia could acquire, it never seemed to be enough. But her cubs knew she expected them to share, and to give thanks that they were still alive to enjoy such frivolity. “Ursol dear, what have you got there?”
“Can’t give it or Laklen never come back!” He insisted, shutting his eyes tightly. Gentia’s face was an impassive mask, torn between comforting a child and explaining the realities of life.
“I won’t take it from you, I promise. Now why don’t you come sit here and we’ll work on your words,” Gentia offered, hoisting the cub up onto the bench next to her as his compatriots chased on another through the temple, much to the chagrin of the other acolytes. “You are talking about the other human male? The one with red fur?”
“Yes Gentia,” he replied politely, hands still held tight around Lachlan’s dog tags.
“His name is Lachlan, my dear,” Gentia said, drawing out the syllables so that Ursol could process them. “Now why don’t you try again.”
“Ah, I can’t give them because Lachlan needs to come back,” Ursol explained slowly, earning a motherly smile from Gentia.
“That’s very good, Ursol. Sentaura is teaching you well. I won’t take that charm from you, but I would like to look at it. Can I see it?” Gentia requested. Ursol looked up at her and slowly opened his hands, revealing the dull metal of the tags. “Thank you, dear. Do you think you can use your words next time to explain to your friends?”
“I try.”
“I will try,” Gentia repeated patiently. “That would make me very happy if you did.”
“He promised to come back,” Ursol whispered with a sniffle, wiping his nose. Gentia was on the precipice of explaining to the young cub that sometimes things can take longer than one would like when a pair of heavy footfalls entered the temple.
“There ye are, wee fluffy lad! I’ve been lookin’ all over for ye! Pretty sure you’ve got somethin’ that belongs to me?” Ursol leapt from the bench and scampered over to Lachlan, leaving Gentia well in the dust to catch up at her own, aged pace. By the time she arrived Ursol was already hugging Lachlan as best he could around his armor, the Marine having picked him up effortlessly. He acknowledged her with a nod and a smile. “Good mornin’ to ya, mum. How are ye, Gentia?”
“I am well, human. You seem to have found yourself a very loyal companion there. He was worried you would not return,” she informed him neutrally. Lachlan held Ursol a bit further from him so they could meet eyes.
“Now what’s this about, wee laddie? I gave ye my tags and told ya I’d be back for em, right? Well here I am,” Lachlan assured the cub. Ursol didn’t have any reply for him, instead looking down at the ground.
“He has to accept it,” Gentia remarked quietly.
“An’ he will, when he’s a bit older,” Lachlan replied confidently, though he certainly couldn’t admit to any sort of surety. “Now are these all your friends, little man?”
Perhaps inevitably, Lachlan’s arrival had caused most every cub and young Cauthan in the temple to drop what they were doing and approach him, eager to see another human up close. “Why do you have so much more fur than Russell?” One of them asked, taking note of Lachlan’s beard, moustache, and arm hair. The Marine had chosen to leave a bit of his armor back at Alice’s lodgings given the heat of the summer’s day.
“Still got a lot less than you!” He replied, waiting for the young Cauthan to laugh following the translation. “Now what are you lot learning today?”
“We will be learning about when and how to harvest various crops…assuming I can regain their attention,” Gentia cut in pointedly, making it very clear that Lachlan was the proximate reason she did not have the attention of her various charges.
“Then I’ll be gettin’ out of yer way, mum. Oh, and Alice might be stoppin’ by later to discuss some things about growing more food? She’s nappin’ for now.”
“Thank you. I will expect her,” Gentia said politely. “Now, if I might have my young student back?”
“I’m going ta go find yer mum and give her a hand,” Lachlan explained to Ursol. “You be good for Miss Gentia here now, ok?”
“Ok Lakkan!” Ursol exclaimed, causing Gentia to huff a sigh of amused frustration.
“The pronunciation of human names will perhaps be a supplementary lesson today. Thank you for your visit this morning, Lachlan.”
“Pleasure is mine, Gentia. I’ll see you later.”
“Selah, human.”
“Oh! Uh, Selah to you too,” Lachlan turned back and replied, not having expected the more formal goodbye. “See you for dinner, wee fluffy lad!”
A much happier Ursol waved goodbye as Lachlan exited the temple, making his way to the northern gate and the fields beyond.
-----
“So, you have returned,” Sentaura remarked, standing to her full height, setting a bucket on the ground, and walking through rows of well tended crops to where MacGregor waited patiently at the terminus of the northern path out of the village. The forest began a short distance away, quiet and subdued in the heat of midday. Lachlan bowed politely, a hand on his rifle to keep it from shifting.
“Selah to ye, Sentaura,” he offered politely. The Cauthan stood still for a moment, her feathers moving in a subtle and inscrutable pattern.
“And to you, human,” she eventually replied evenly.
“If ya don’t mind my sayin’, the little one was a bit more excited ta see me,” Lachlan smiled. Sentaura’s eyes seemed to soften slightly at the mention of her son.
“There is still much in this world for him to be excited about. Do you have need of something? If not, I would prefer we speak once I have tended to my plots. I can come find you before sundown.”
“I get that ya didn’t want my charity, Sentaura. But how about my labor? We’re interested in the food yer growin’ down here,” Lachlan stated.
“Who is we?” Sentaura demanded skeptically.
“Well all of us,” Lachlan replied, scratching his chin. “Well, specifically Alice and Natori, he’s the man who leads us, like Antoth, yeah? And I’m sure lots of people up on our ship would be curious about it. Look, I’m not askin’ to steal some food. Lord knows I’m doin’ that already by eating dinner with you. Just looking to help and understand a bit. Maybe I’ll pick something up that can help the others when they try to grow some of this stuff.” The Marine couldn’t help but look somewhere else when Sentaura had no reply for him. “If it’s more of a one woman job I can just do a bit of explorin’ and-”
“Your people intend to grow crops? Where?” She wondered.
“Up there,” he replied, pointing to the sky with a hint of pride. “How do ya think we all survive? Gotta grow our own stuff! Took us half a year to get here.”
“I do not see how such a thing could be possible,” Sentaura said doubtfully. “However, I suppose that if you will be staying with us you should earn your keep. You will be eating with us this evening?”
Lachlan stood a bit straighter at her pointed question as a couple of other Cauthan glanced their way, curious as to his presence. “Unless there’s an emergency I’ll be down here tonight, mum.”
“What is ‘mum’?”
“Ah, shorthand for mother,” Lachlan helped decode the peculiarities of his speech. Sentaura crossed her arms.
“If you insist on not using my name I suppose I prefer your other method of referring to me.”
“Ya mean fluffy lass?”
“Just call me Sentaura, please.”
“That sounds like a fine plan,” Lachlan agreed rapidly, feeling awkward sweat drip down the back of his neck. “Now what can I do ta help out a bit here?”
“I will show you,” Sentaura beckoned, turning from him with a wave of her bushy, charcoal tail. “And do be sure not to flatten anything with those oversized foot protectors of yours.”
“Boots.”
“What’s that?”
“They’re called boots,” Lachlan clarified, though his statement only earned him a glare from Sentaura. He looked down, not understanding what he’d done wrong.
“Did I not just say to not step on anything?” She huffed.
“I didn’t know ya meant the weird mushroom thing!” He yelped, kneeling in the dirt to see what could be done about the fragile, frilly fungus. “Ursol’s probably gonna have a right laugh about this one.”
Sentaura’s disappointment faded at his mention; and the fact that the broad-shouldered human had visited Ursol and then her in turn shortly after the loud arrival of their shuttle wasn’t lost. She knelt beside him and brushed his hands away, showing him how to harvest it. “This one can be yours tonight. And be sure to get all the roots, otherwise it will strangle the kina vines…”
Over the next couple hours, Lachlan found himself developing an appreciation for Cauthan industriousness, if not intelligence. The newly constructed aqueduct supplied ample river water for the farms around the village, and at most any time of day various farmers and their teenaged children could be seen congregating around the reservoir, taking a bit of time to socialize that would have otherwise been spent walking to the river and back. A few even introduced themselves to him, now more acquainted with the idea of a human or two scattered around the village at any given time. After several trips Lachlan could contain his curiosity no longer, and he inquired about the water situation.
“If ye don’t mind my askin’,” he began, scattering water over a portion of the field that contained tall stalks that looked ready to mature either into edible grains or fiber for cloth. “Why wouldn’t ye just set up shop down by the river? Wasn’t it a pain ta walk down there and back every day?”
“It was,” Sentaura agreed. “And I look back fondly on the few years when I did not have to. But even had the first human not granted us the boon of knowledge, do not think us stupid. We are where we are by design.”
“Ah…” Lachlan blinked a handful of times and handed her the empty bucket. Eventually Sentaura realized his intention.
“My apologies. I was presumptuous. You are curious?”
“That’s why I asked,” he affirmed politely.
“Indeed. Come, why don’t we take lunch?” Sentaura offered, leading him not back to the village, but to the nearby shade of the forest where the smell of earth, soft ground, and respite from Seil could all be found. From within a tree’s hollow she withdrew a waterskin and a small satchel of dried meat. Lachlan sat himself against a separate trunk, extending one leg fully and tearing open a ration bar to go with his half full canteen. “We chose to plant our food nearby for two reasons. The first is to make it easier to retreat inside the walls should we be attacked.”
“That’s a mighty fine reason,” Lachlan agreed, resting a hand over the knife strapped to his chest. He dropped his voice. “Does that happen often.”
“After Winters massacred those three tribes I doubt we will experience another raid for some time, but yes…there have been at least two in my life that I can remember vividly.” When Sentaura was not forthcoming with further details on the raids, instead chewing over a piece of dried ursae meat, Lachlan cleared his throat and moved the conversation forward.
“And the other reason ye don’t farm near the river?”
“To avoid the pests, of course!” Sentaura told him, the eyepiece on his helmet displaying that her word could either refer to generic pests or insects specifically. Before she could get too far into her explanation, Lachlan stopped her.
“Could I ask to record you? It’s not that I don’t find this interestin’, more that I know Alice and the others would really want to hear this as well,” he said around a mouthful of ‘shepherd's pie’.
“I’m sorry, but I am not literate,” Sentaura admitted freely, taking a swig from her waterskin. “I do not have anything on which to write.”
“Not a problem, fluffy lass. Just keep talkin’. Watch,” he encouraged, activating the proper functionality on the personal tablet he’d kept on his person throughout the day. It had served to translate and now a small red light had activated. “Hello, Sentaura,” he spoke as proof of concept, stopping the recording and then playing the sound back. Though its translation functionality had not been a point of remark, hearing his voice verbatim coming from the device was something new.
“It stole your words!” She gasped.
“Not so fast, still got em,” he chuckled assuringly. “It’s just a way to…save what we talk about so that I can share it with others later. It won’ steal anything from ye. It’s more like it makes a copy, transcribes.”
“You intend to share our conversations with the other humans?” Sentaura asked warily, moving past the initial shock.
“Only Alice, and only the stuff about yer plants,” he promised, waving the tablet about in his hand as he explained his reasoning. “I think she would know best what ta do with any information about farmin’ going forward, especially if we want to try growing some of yer own crops. She’s a scientist, I’m just a soldier.”
Sentaura pondered his words for a while. “Yes, I suppose a priestess could possibly be better suited to this task. So you will be a messenger, in effect?”
“That’s right,” Lachlan affirmed.
“And how will I know you do not…how shall I say it? Transcribe something I do not want you to? Or something my son says?” She demanded with that most typical, piercing gaze of hers. Far as Lachlan was concerned, most every Cauthan was capable of it on account of their feline traits. He activated the recording functionality and offered the tablet to her. She accepted it gingerly, turning it over in her hands and getting a feel for the weight.
“When that red light there is on, it’s active. Why don’t ye hold onto it for now while we talk?” He suggested.
“We should return to the fields soon, Lachlan,” she advised as a warning. “However…if you are to assist me perhaps it is better that you understand these things and have a record of them.”
The statement was a bit left-handed, but in MacGregor’s eyes it was progress. He still had the prior night to make up for. “That’s mighty kind of ye, Sentaura. So what were you sayin’ about these insects?”
“Awful little things. It’s why we keep our floors clean and dry.”
----
“Their insects are amphibious?!” Alice gasped excitedly, refreshed after a long nap and meal taken with Xan and Thantis. She and Lachlan were spending some time in the pre-supper hours walking about town, a quest to see and be seen. On the way Alice was making various notes alongside the transcript that Lachlan had prepared of his conversation with Sentaura on the subject of Cauthan agriculture.
“Look I don’t know if they’re amphibious, that’s just what she described. They can’t go too far from water it seems,” the Marine clarified, unsure if the Cauthan even had a word for amphibious.
“That could explain what Kaha mentioned,” Alice muttered, jotting down another note as they walked. Lachlan was forced to grab her by the shoulder and steer her around a Cauthan couple strolling the opposite way. “Thanks for that!”
“Shouldn’t ye maybe watch where yer goin?” He asked teasingly.
“That’s what I’ve got you for!” Alice responded with ease. “Now let’s see…did you get a chance to ask her about these fungi?”
“And what exactly should I have been askin’ the fluffy lass about her mushrooms?” Lachlan asked sarcastically. The young woman at his side snorted through her nose before making another note.
“It’s ok, I was just curious. I’m thinking about the ecosystems in this biome. If insects are confined to bodies of water or other constantly moist places then it stands to reason that other organisms would have to step in to fill those niches left behind. I haven’t seen anything like a flower on this planet, but even if there’s no pollination to be done that still leaves carbon and nitrogen cycles that have to operate somehow. I’ve seen all sorts of dried herbs and fungi in the temple of Kel; was thinking maybe that’s what’s going on?”
“Can’t say for sure,” Lachlan replied as they meandered through the square and towards the western gate. “But Sentaura had some very interestin’ things going on. Plenty of herbs and fungi growin’ between her crops. Somewhere on a fine line between weed and food?”
“Fascinating!” Alice gushed. “Oh, that reminds me. Soil samples! We should definitely get at least a couple from various fields and the forest. Maybe one per crop? Maybe two.”
“Sorry, forgot my entrenchment tool back at the ship. No more diggin’ for me today thank you very much,” the Marine insisted, looking at the Maran soil under his close cut fingernails.
“Oh no, what ever shall I do without a big strong man to operate my entrenchment tool for me,” Alice swooned dramatically. “Hey, isn’t this the temple of their forge god? Maybe they have a shovel.”
“Ye don’t even have any sterile containers,” Lachlan protested, only for Alice to reach into a sling bag that she was wearing and withdraw precisely that. His shoulders dropped. “How did you even-”
“This is what I asked Cromwell to get after Natori said he’s interested in potentially growing Cauthan food on the Event Horizon! Oh, hello there. It’s…Asha, right? Selah to you,” she called in greeting, silently thanking the fates that human gestational periods were only nine months. Asha’s belly was quite prominent, and according to Io she still had almost four full months left before giving birth. The grey-furred Cauthan looked up and waved at them with her feathers.
“Selah to you, humans,” she replied happily, resting a hand on her cub bump. “What brings you here today?”
“Looking for a shovel, actually! I would like to gather a little bit of the soil of this planet for study,” Alice explained. Asha chuckled, her feathers vibrating slightly.
“I’m not sure why you’d want to do that, but we have plenty of it. And you’ve certainly come to the right place. I’m just waiting for my mate. Every day there’s something new that needs building,” the Cauthan explained as Alice was suddenly struck by a new idea.
“If he’s busy, would you like to go visit Gentia with me?” She requested.
“Oh? Is there something the matter?” Asha wondered, a bit hesitant given her lack of familiarity with the older Winters sibling.
“No, not at all. Just, you’re really close to my brother right? I was hoping I could do something to thank you, for being his friend and all that.”
“Not sure ye answered her question, Alice,” Lachlan advised.
“Sorry,” Alice apologized, quickly tucking some stray hair behind her ear. “I was thinking you might like to meet a very good friend of mine. She’s older, like Gentia, and has cared for human mothers and infants her entire adult life. If there’s anything that my people can do to help improve the lives of your people’s mothers and cubs it would be her,” Alice replied tactfully, having quickly internalized how important reproduction was to the Cauthan race and culture. It was apparent everywhere she went in the way the village behaved towards its young and vulnerable. As they were speaking Zolta appeared in the doorway, stepping forward and hugging his mate from behind.
“It’s going to be a bit longer, I’m sorry,” he told her.
“It’s fine, dear,” Asha purred, wrapping her tail around his leg. “Come find me at the temple of Meylith when you’re done. I will be speaking with Alice and Lachlan there.”
“Sounds good. Don’t want you out in the direct light too long,” Zolta agreed.
“Zolta! I’m not so fragile,” she protested playfully, earning a nuzzle from him.
“To me you are. Take care of her, please,” Zolta entreated the humans. Russell’s sister nodded emphatically as Lachlan rested a hand on the butt of his rifle.
“She’ll come to no harm, young smith. Ye have my word as a Scotsman.”
“Your homeland?” Zolta clarified. Lachlan nodded in affirmation. “Then I accept. I’ll see you for dinner, Asha. Be well.”
“You too, Zolta. So Alice, who is this female you were speaking of?” The mother-to-be inquired as they turned back the way they’d come. Alice gave her a smile wide and genuine.
“Her name is Yvonne Dupuis. And I’m pretty sure the moment she sees a Cauthan cub her heart is going to melt.”
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Own The HEL Jumper: Survive in the format of your choice: hardcover paperback epub Amazon Kindle
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2020.03.23 03:27 Nik_2213 [OC] The Zerklin Pirates: A Convention tale...

The Zerklin Pirates
The insectoid Llan clan's two battered star-lifters, 'Spirit of Adventure' and 'Rich Prizes', hauling three and five assault landers respectively, zig-zagged from those pirates' asteroid base within the murky Zerklin nebula. Reaching sufficiently 'flat' space, they engaged their Alcubiere Over-Drives, shakily set course out along the Orion Arm towards the isolated colony they'd agreed to raid.
Choosing their first target for this season had prompted few brawls, only one fatal duel. An up-dated star-chart had made their limited options clear.
As ever, looming from inwards, one cluster of systems within the Arm remained strictly, strictly off-limits. Early star-farers, the Anwyce pillaged and transplanted genetic material far and wide until a terrible, zoonotic epidemic broke their 'Outward Urge'. Anwyc inter-stellar traffic was now limited to courier runs by small, fast, well-armed 'Needle Ships'. Many centuries of refinement had progressively 'compactified' their 'In System' and 'Over-Drive' engines to near-monolithic, 'Crystal-Fu' mega-modules, nano-crafted beyond practicable reverse engineering or ready adaptation.
While Anwyc in-system ferries, freighters and liners were large, lumbering, oft-luxurious craft and easy prey, such nimble 'Needle-Ships' easily out-ran raiders fleeing up a system's g-well. And, given their self-imposed quarantine, showed no mercy.
Worse, that rampant star-faring had left lingering foot-prints across the region. Whether as demi-gods, slavers or gene-tinkers, most sophont cultures the Anwyce visited still remembered them unkindly. Opinions of 'aliens' duly ranged from 'Stranger Danger' across the spectrum of xenophobia. This made later 'First Encounters' rather fraught, was thought to account for The Others' implacable reflex to 'Kill Them With Fire'.
Out along the Orion Arm, a deep, wide zone had seen many colonies abandoned or destroyed during a bitter, multi-generational struggle between the peaceable, semi-arboreal Sylvans and the xenocidal Others. Convoy scrap left by the latter's ruthless raiders offered easy pickings, given a few half-lives to cool. Smugglers and blockade-runners were fresher fare, their loss attributed to the 'Fog of War'.
Then, suddenly, even nigh-invulnerable Other battle-groups lost their dominance. The Others were forced onto the defensive, their 'hot war' collapsing to a dozen besieged core systems. No argument here-- Whatever super-weapon the Sylvans had developed to take down The Others' scary Taggli 'cruisers' and scarier BMF 'battleships' was best avoided.
Given an armistice of sorts, settlers of several species from neighbouring systems and cultures had ventured back to those abandoned fringe worlds. Some were mostly intact, prior colonists having fled or died from limited Other strikes. Now, after a decade to rebuild farm-steads, sow & harvest crops, breed food-beasts, they were primed for pillaging.
Battling engine problems, the two star-lifters took a circuitous route. Over the years, the pirates had left caches on the fringes of a dozen barren systems. They took what parts they needed, added all they could spare, went on.
Many weary weeks of Over-Drive flight later, the two ships came down the g-well of a very ordinary 'Orange Dwarf' star, a 'K-type' with four obvious planets. There was a baked, face-locked inner with no easy pickings. A couple of blue-green 'neptunians' beyond the 'snow line' offered no orbital industry to raid. But, nestling at the cooler end of 'habitable', green and blue between its polar caps, their target loomed.
Any city, town or industry had been callously glazed by Other attacks, along with most ports and villages. Although nature had begun to reclaim war's ravages, many such areas were still 'Hot Zones'. Perforce, home-steaders based themselves up-wind and up-stream of such, in small communities...
The two star-lifters swung into geo-stand orbit to provide over-watch, the eight assault landers un-docked. Each stooped, grounded in a field near their chosen farmstead. A few blaster-turret shots silenced any lightly armed objection. The raiders sallied forth with their usual beam-pistols and carbines for trouble, plasma cutters for locks, grav-sleds for loot.
Threaten locals, shoot a few to instill caution, rustle animals, breach store-sheds, grab bling...
Then it began to go wrong.
Senior Captain Wiz-Llan, Assault Lander #6, 'The Pride', reported taking powerful blaster fire from a hillside above his target. Worse, the first, unexpected shot had wrecked the lateral turret on that flank, "Like scooping a Zinkle from its shell !"
The second shot slagged the dorsal turret as it swung from the farm. While grounded, The Pride's bow, stern and ventral turrets were un-sighted. The shooter began ablating that flank's armour, one plate at a time. An Assault Lander is a hard target, well armoured, well sub-divided, but this shooter was pecking away, pecking away. Hull damage mounted. Lateral sensor arrays failed, too many for the few spares aboard.
When crew ranged out to return fire with beam-carbines, that blaster's pulsed lightning lashed them. Now, those nearing the farm were taking accurate small-arms fire from the buildings ahead, plus withering blaster fire from the hill-side shooter. Would you rather die crisped, or your skull blown apart ? Those pirates' advance faltered. They went to ground in scant cover. Between picking off stray pirates, the hill-side gunner continued to ablate the grounded lander's flank armour, plate by plate...
Assault Lander #7, Captain Lan-Llan's old 'Imperator', was nearest. He found a crew-member to translate, grabbed one of the terrified farmers reluctantly herding food-beasts up the tail-ramp. Lan-Llan pointed beyond the range of hills, asked, "Who is over there ?"
They did not expect cackling, which his translator claimed was delight. "You've attacked the Hoomins ? Run away now, fast as you can !!"
Lan-Llan waved off his deputy's brutal carbine-butt swing, asked, "What are Hoomins ?"
"Pink-brown bipeds," came reply. "From beyond Sylvan space, now allies. Good neighbours. Good beer. Good cake. Good music. Good younglings. Good Drive tech. Good weapons tech--"
"Weapons ?"
"Yes, yes ! They say when three Other Tagglis attacked a small Hoomin colony, their 'Rock Tugs' carved those raiders like a food-beast roast--"
"Huh ? Are there any of those 'Tugs' in-system ?"
"Yes, yes ! Metal mine in Hot Rock shadow-lands ! Comet mine beyond Outer Giants !" Another cackle. "Run away now, fast as you can !!"
If a bluff, it was a thin one. And yet, 'Pride' had lost two turrets, most of its ground party plus half its flight crew to a single shooter. Lan-Llan gulped. He could not command the other captains, nor would he dare. But, he could send, "Captain Lan-Llan to Senior Captain Wiz-Llan: They may be Hoomins, the Sylvans' new allies. Their 'Rock Tugs' kill Tagglis. Recommend abort."
"Hoomins ? What rudeness are they ?" Wiz-Llan growled reply.
"The Sylvans' new allies. Their 'Rock Tugs' kill Tagglis. Repeat, recommend abort."
Wiz-Llan muttered something unprintable at yet another hull-plate's hurt, grumbled, "Okay, Lan-Llan, but you'll owe me a share of your loot..."
In the background, the Pride's recall siren began to wail. The thinned ground party were understandably reluctant to stir from their scant cover, but some message must have passed among the defenders. No fire followed those now-few raiders' retreat.
They scuttled up the ramp, fortunately not line-of-sight from the hill-side. Moments later, as the ramp began to rise, Captain Wiz-Llan sounded the lift warning, cranked the Pride's in-system Drive towards take-off. He may have reckoned he could pivot his ship, bring the other lateral turret, the ventral turret and the big bow guns to bear on that shooter, salvage some kudos...
Half a ship-length up, still in ground effect, the Assault Lander had begun to swing when Wiz-Llan's sensor tech yelled, "Missile lock ! Incoming--"
The bridge team barely glimpsed its wriggling contrail before the shoulder-launched missile struck. Its shaped charge blew a small hole in that damaged hull-plate, jetted metallic plasma deep inside. Systems failed left and right. The remaining 'redundants' were still switching when a second missile arrived. Crippled, the 'Pride' just rolled sideways. Still-extended landing struts grounded hard, punched into the hull. Keel-frames buckled, failed.
Lan-Llan heard that shout and twin explosions before the Pride's comms cut off. His spiracles trembled. He turned to the translator, said, "Tell these farmers to take their food-beasts home. Sound the recall. We're out of here."
After a moment, he keyed the inter-ship comms, reported, "This is Captain Lan-Llan. Senior Captain Wiz-Llan's 'Pride' is down. Down hard. Recommend abort. Repeat, recommend abort."
There was, of course, outrage from the other captains. Lan-Lan waited for the yelling to subside, repeated, "Senior Captain Wiz-Llan's 'Pride' is down hard. Recommend abort. Repeat, recommend abort."
There followed more yelling, to which Lan-Llan replied, "Suit yourselves. I'll not stay to duel ships that carve Tagglis..."
"Ramp clear, Captain," Imperator's load-master reported as the farmers and their food-beasts fled.
"Retract and rig for take-off, then secure the stores. We may have to run far and fast..."
The 'Imperator' lifted, swung away from the farm, headed down valley. Captain Lan-Llan kept his ship below the ridge line for as long as he could, then lifted the bow towards space. Across the planet, the other six ships followed suit. This expedition was a expensive failure, would cost them in fuel, parts, 'wear and tear'. Senior Captain Wiz-Llan had been popular, lucky. Now, even without his large crew's formidable appetite, even with a cut in rations, they'd have to double-tithe their local subjects. Which would cost them time and trouble, not to mention a few crew way-laid in dark alleys...
Usually, after a raid on an undefended colony, the star-lifters would briefly rendezvous in orbit, let the raiders trade bling. This time, as soon as their landers grappled, they broke orbit, climbing high above the ecliptic. Their sensors, hand-tweaked to concert pitch, soon spotted a blip departing the inner planet, the 'Hot Rock'. 'Rock Tug' or not, it accelerated alarmingly, accelerated to intercept.
Simple calculation warned, as things stood, that craft would easily arrive before the star-lifters could reach flat enough space to deploy their Over-Drive. More calculation warned that, even straining their In-System Drives to the limit, even diverting power from inertial compensators and life-support, it could be too close to call.
Across the inter-ship comms, arguments raged. Was their pursuer bluffing ? Two armed star-lifters and seven armed assault landers versus one civilian ? Surely they could take it ? Surely, if the pursuer was fool enough to get close, it would be out-gunned ? The pirates had long-agreed tactics for mobbing small escort and picket ships, overwhelming such with slashing attacks from multiple vectors. This, though, could be a Humin 'Rock Tug', a Taggli-killer...
So, a compromise. The two star-lifters would run far and fast. When their pursuer approached, they'd un-dock their landers, web cross-fire....
Day-cycle after day-cycle, as those star-lifters clawed up the g-well, un-accustomed, un-compensated acceleration dragged at the pirates' limbs. Hulls and their frames creaked and groaned. Leaks and vapour locks plagued usually benign systems. Ship air became stale. The simplest maintenance or repair needed thrice the usual effort. At least few of the thwarted pirates had the energy to quarrel, never mind fight.
Astern, that single craft was still accelerating, rapidly gaining on them. Now, the numbers were clear. There was no doubt it would catch them in about two day-cycles. The star-lifters would be much too deep in the g-well to risk even the shortest use of Over-Drive. They had a fight on their hands.
Well, fair enough. The pirates had attacked enough big ships and their paltry escorts. They'd a ritual of sorts to prepare. Throw a good party, sleep it off, have a hearty breakfast, secure their ships, tackle hard--
Sensors screamed. That ship wasn't two day-cycles behind them. It swept past them, firing. It vanished ahead. Glimpsed, it had two rings of five spheres linked by chubby tubes, a central 'transit' can. It looked a big toy. But its two twin-laser turrets had lashed their smaller star-lifter.
Powerless, dorsal Drive-pod demolished, broken spine now folding from mere moments of offset thrust, Captain Glack's proud 'Spirit of Adventure' tumbled helplessly. Senior Captain Or-Llakk's docked Assault Lander #4, 'Reaper', had taken a 'through and through', been rent, gutted, opened to space. Captain Ny-Llan's docked Assault Lander #3, 'Treasure Chest', was caught by the hinging spine, crushed like a ripe Velkin pod.
Senior Captain An-Llin's Assault Lander #1, 'Bounty', had survived after a fashion. A third of its crew were dead, another third badly injured by the violent change of thrust vector. Though docking clamps and keel-frames had held, the hull was visibly skewed, venting from a dozen major leaks.
With two day-cycles yet before combat, few of the pirates' turrets had been crewed. Even wary Captain Lan-Llan's gunners had been taken by surprise, their hasty shots all wide of that passing craft.
Aboard 'Rich Prizes', Captain Golkin cut power and braked briefly to stay with the stricken 'Spirit'. Inter-ship comms slowly calmed from chaos. Captain Glack was dead, flung against an over-head. His deputy requested pick-up on injured survivors as soon as their ship's terrible tumble could be halted with Bounty's aid. Caught off-guard, completely decompressed, landers 'Reaper' and 'Treasure Chest' were both lifeless wrecks.
Yet, much could be salvaged. Reaper could be patched, repaired. And, 'Spirit' was too valuable to be abandoned. Cutting debris away, shortening the spine, re-mounting Drive-pods would make the lifter space-worthy again. Though they'd need several day-cycles' work to restore some In-System Drive, then the same again to balance for Over-Drive, they'd built a lot of speed. Even coasting, every half-eighth day-cycle carried them closer and closer to their Over-Drive limit...
There were more pressing concerns. None of the pirates had any warning before their proximity sensors screamed. From being two day-cycles behind, that strange ship simply appeared beside them, firing. One swift, laser-slashing pass and gone. Unless it used naval-grade stealth and counter-measures, it must have made an Over-Drive hop. To do so with such precision, so deep in-system, meant the pirates were out-classed. Their pursuer could literally give them the run-around.
Beyond that truth, the pirates' sensors had gleaned some images, some Drive data. First, the craft's in-system Drive was tuned to perfection. It was an unfamiliar, multi-Pole configuration, but there were no sour harmonics to betray approach. None. That a hard-working craft in a small colony at the back-end of beyond should be maintained thus lay beyond unsettling.
Two rings of five spheres linked by chubby tubes, a central 'transit' can ? The design was strange, but logical. Based on the visible 'hard points', this Hoomin 'Rock Tug' was a dedicated 'module hauler', toting up to five the size of that large central can. And, perhaps, without that, six. Each about the size and heft of a combat lander...
In-system, un-laden, given its demonstrated acceleration, a 'Rock Tug' could certainly out-run the landers. In-system, laden, this one, small-ish craft could out-haul and out-run either pirate star-lifter, even before their losses. It could probably out-haul and out-run many of the big, lumbering craft they'd raided in other systems...
Ominously, those two twin-laser turrets were continuous-beam, not pulse. Their offset configuration suggested they were meant for asteroid and comet mining rather than combat. In 'fire then aim' mode, they could track across a target before any pulse-turret's predictor got weapon-lock. Yes, any glancing strike on ablative armour might do less damage than one clean hit from a pulse-turret. Against that, no comparable pulse weapon could have crippled the 'Spirit' or gutted the 'Reaper' thus. Did such Hoomin lasers carve those marauding Tagglis ? Perhaps so...
While the Spirit's crew slowly stabilised their stricken ship with the Bounty's wary aid, the other captains held a very nervous discussion. They reluctantly agreed Captain Lan-Llan's concerns had been well-founded, voted their thanks. So, were these Hoomins mining those 'Hot Rock' shadow lands ? Perhaps the 'comet mining' claim was true, too ? What industry could possibly exist to make use of such bounty ?
Was this system being stocked as a 'truck stop', ready to supply 'passing trade' ? With half a dozen different types of farming produce, bulk 'Nickel-Iron' metals from the 'Hot Rock' plus anything that could be sieved, distilled or brewed from a comet, business would be good.
And, from what they'd seen, defended--
The alarms screamed again. Those lasers reached, then the 'Rock Tug' was away before any pulse-turret could respond. Aboard 'Rich Prizes', Captain Okk-Llan's docked 'Hot Ice', Assault Lander #5, vented air from four long slashes that had pierced both its ablative armour and layered hull plating. The lander was still space-worthy, barely, but the crew would be very busy patching, welding and re-wiring. Also, its sensor array was badly degraded. Also, those four slashes had crossed its big dorsal turret and the starboard flank turret, slagging both. Was such targetting luck ? None dared suggest it...
The next half-day-cycle was very, very busy. Those lightly injured who could not work on rescue or salvage crewed a lander or lifter turret. The interval between the first two attacks came, passed without incident. Some of the sensor techs claimed brief glimpses, but the 'Rock Tug' kept its distance...
The frantic salvage teams had just connected the intact portions of Spirit's spine, were welding new mounts for two of the three remaining Drive Pods when their alert sounded. This time, it wasn't a strafing pass, but a long, slow approach. The teams were able to 'lock through' in good order, secure their tools.
Gradually, the sensor blip strengthened. Then it divided, to a large and two small. They became 'telescopic' objects. Two were 'Rock Tugs'. The third was larger. With four much bigger rings of five spheres joined by chubby tubes, plus a central can that could swallow those smaller kin, the third was pumping out enough MilSpec scans to braise a Zinkle.
Pausing beyond the pirates' pulse-turret range, they called on the 'Hydrogen Line', using a familiar Sylvan viscreen protocol. The image stabilised to a close-up of an opaque helmet. Its layered armoured visors lifted to show two forward facing eyes and three respiratory openings. The lowest moved. The speech was unintelligible, but a side-bar carried text in a familiar trading format.
"I am Captain/Commander Sandon (?), of/with Convention/Multi-Star Alliance 'Paladin' (Warrior ?) Composite Light Cruiser 'Omaha' and escorts 'Trojan' (Warrior ?) Rock Tugs. Captain Bushenko of/with 'Ice Hunter'. Captain Jones (?) of/with 'Grindavik', who you have met." The signal paused for just long enough for the pirates' dread to grow. "You are under our guns. Surrender on terms (attached) or die here. You have a half-eighth day-cycle to decide."

Zerklin star-lifters:
'Spirit of Adventure' =Captain Glack, killed first pass
ferries...
Assault Lander #4, 'Reaper' =Senior Captain Or-Llakk, lost first pass
Assault Lander #3, 'Treasure Chest' =Captain Ny-Llan, lost first pass
Assault Lander #1, 'Bounty' =Senior Captain An-Llin, damaged first pass

'Rich Prizes' = Captain Golkin
ferries...
Assault Lander #6, 'The Pride' =Senior Captain Wiz-Llan, lost on surface
Assault Lander #7, 'Imperator' =Captain Lan-Llan
Assault Lander #5, 'Hot Ice' =Captain Okk-Llan, damaged second pass
Assault Lander #2, 'Corsair' = Senior Captain tba
Assault Lander #8, tba =Captain tba

Rock-tug #1, 'Grindavik' = Captain Jones
Rock-tug #2, 'Ice Hunter' = Captain Bushenko

Composite Light Cruiser 'Omaha' = Captain / Commander Sandon
Paladin super-tug derived, four rings of five spheres, central hull, 4x turrets, 10x axial weapons etc etc etc.
submitted by Nik_2213 to HFY [link] [comments]


2020.02.29 09:42 archaeolinuxgeek Analyzing how changing viewing habits have forced the two new Trek series into new narrative techniques at the expense of background characters.

Reposting after altering the title on the (good) advice of a mod. Usually when I make it a point to contribute here, I have something pretty focused in mind. I've been lurking more than I should and I wanted to add my contribution to the hive mind.
Heads up. This is a long one. No crazy but plausible theories or hypermath here. Though I do have some of those that I've been contemplating.
I've been going through some re-watching and trying to put my finger on what's different about ST-P, Disco, and their siblings.
I felt like it had to be from a storytelling perspective. The acting is good to great in the new series. The Easter eggs are ingenious and greatly appreciated.
My belief is that Trek has been trying to straddle its new series between old television and modern streaming, and is failing at both.
Traditional television series were required to fill a season. Looking back now, watching around 26 episodes per season for 7 seasons feels downright daunting. And the average streamer would be correct in that. It feels like most modern, streamed series hover between 8 and 12 episodes. That's a good middle ground for binge watchers. Say, two 3-4 hour sessions, not including any of the "chill" that comes with a good binge
Our problem comes from trying to shoehorn traditional Trek storytelling into this new format. Most of the previous series could outrun the problem from the previous week. The ships were (mostly) undamaged from any prior engagements and the status-quo was maintained, sacrificing any long-term ramifications and stifling character growth (in my opinion). There are some pretty obvious exceptions to this, but I believe that these exceptions are, well, exceptional.
This brings us to serialization. The bedrock of modern television. Actions matter and decisions have repercussions that last for the remainder of the series, or the character's life, whichever comes first. A lot of series seem to be trying to emulate Game of Thrones by killing off characters but missing the required fact that viewers have to have had an emotional attachment for it to matter.
I believe that the writers (likely through executive meddling) have taken this and instead of adapting the show's format have instead created epic 8 hour movies split into logical chunks that can be broadcast piecemeal.
Most of the episodes of the other series were fairly formulaic. You had an A plot with three parts. You had a B plot that either added a little bit of context to the main plot, or provided a little bit of levity to a fairly heavy topic. Either way, it allowed a nice break of pace and gave the viewer some insight into the characters that may otherwise only get a single focused episode per season. Although I will be the first to admit that allowing writers/directors the freedom to vary the length of an episode at need is far, far better than padding it out with unnecessary scenes. The crux of this point is that, without that B plot character development within an ensemble cast suffers.
Think of the recent greats:
Or even the less culturally impactful ones (but still dear to my heart):
Every one of these takes advantage, to some extent, of multiple plot lines to add dimension to the story.
What's happening here is that like every movie, every season has to one-up the previous one. The planet, system, sector, quadrant, galaxy, local cluster, universe, studio executive bonuses, multiverse is now at stake!
We've gone from every week visiting a new planet with an entire culture based on a single trait and nothing ever changing onboard the ship, to sneezing in a turbolift causing the downfall of multicellular life on every planet with more than one syllable in its name.
Was there ever a comfortable middle ground? In my opinion, absolutely! The later seasons of DS9 were closing in on the elusive formula. The later seasons had an overarching theme, but there was enough freedom for some less serious episodes, development of hitherto minor characters (I'm a straight guy, but I'd cross that neutral zone for Morn), and a slow, steady burn to the end of the season. Again, with DS9 the stakes were absurdly high (something I complained about earlier) but the resolution was vastly different than other Treks. The protagonists were cogs (admittedly hugely important ones) in a far larger conflict. It wasn't one ship on one critical mission defying the odds while, for all we knew, everybody else at Starfleet HQ were being treated for carpal tunnel syndrome caused by repeated back patting. We knew that hundreds of thousands of other beings were fighting and dying. We didn't get to see it, but we did get to see how the crew reacted to it. And you can tell that the actors relished the chance to act outside of their normal range.
Season 3 of Enterprise also executed this reasonably well. I really, really think that they would have been much better served with the surprise attack having been done by Romulans and precipitating the off-screen war. Having the NX-01 quickly modded into a cruiser with a full weapons compliment, a garrison of troops, and a secondary hull could have been a stepping stone into the TOS era. I would love to have had a throwaway line implying that the frame itself was still in use and formed the core of the NCC-1701. We could have seen the characters react and grow to the new circumstances. They signed on for exploration, not destruction. Our species spent decades purposefully trying to become more pacifist, or at a minimum less aggressive. Now we have to throw that progress away and become something antithetical to everything we worked so hard to become? And if we don't we face a species-wide annihilation?
I could go on for hours on DS9. I think there was a little shark jumping and deus ex machina. And having the Sisko, the most human of all Trek protagonists, end up being a demi-godthing felt cheap. Going from a barely coping, newly single parent and mourning the loss of his wife to a centered leader and hardened battlefield tactician should have been the most epic character development in Trek. Instead, I believe that honor goes to Nog. But no matter how you see it, there was enough airtime for the writers to be able to do both of these (and more!) The Doctor, Seven, Data, Bashir, Kira, T'pol, etc. All of these characters went through drastic changes from their season one selves.
Enterprise's final season was another study in how this can be done. Instead of an overarching theme, we have groupings of episodes tied together with trivial (at least compared to genocide), but heart-wrenchingly personal and emotional threads. The multi-part allowed the writers and showrunners to treat each story with the gravitas that it deserved. Allowing for better character development, the ability to flesh out of mundane details that really help to establish a feeling of authenticity in that universe, and to have an appropriate payoff. A payoff that may not have much historical importance, but one that changed the characters and added interesting aspects to the lore.
Disco was tantalizingly close to nailing this. There were the obvious faults, a few lines in Klingon would be great to set the stage but 20 minutes just reminds me that I need to talk to my neighbors about their dog barking well past midnight. The stage was set. We had our central character. We had the makings of an interesting ensemble. A beloved, well-received captain, a second officer from an otherwise uncontacted world, a loving couple established from the onset (sorry, shippers).
In hindsight I would have:











Other than those issues, the overall ideas were right. A season with a theme, not a plot. Standalone episodes (I rewatch Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad once every few months) interspersed with multi-part, connected episodes that allow for deeper storytelling. Ironically, the second seasons flips this entirely. Better fleshing out of characters, but it becomes beholden to a single plot.
And that brings me to Picard. In my opinion, the best first season of any of the series. It's doing for the Romulans what DS9 did for the Ferengi. I love the cultural subtleties, phenotypes, and squabbling. It makes them feel like a people and not a collection of stereotypes. Ironically, despite his name being in the title, Picard has far less of a spotlight role than Burnham does. And this is a strength. Quick! How many supporting characters from ST-P can you name off the top of you head? Now (without looking up a few paragraphs) how many can you name from Disco?
The biggest concern I have is what I was alluding to with Disco season two. The entire season is predicated on what, for all intents and purposes, is a single plot. With these much smaller seasons, every episode has to drive the viewer a little further towards that plot payoff. There simply isn't any room for a Far Beyond the Stars or a Treachery, Faith and the Great River.
This also puts the writers in a severe bind. You build up a plot. You drop hints (along with Easter eggs, again, thank you!). You have characters do unexpected things that will, upon a subsequent rewatch, make far more sense. You add emotional depth, high personal stakes, character flaws, and well-executed humor. But that single plot is what the season will be known for. It had better be good. A poorly received season means that you might be back to generic Ramen rather then the name brand stuff that employed writers normally get.
And this is the core problem. The payoff for a single season plot can never be enough to justify the 8+ hours of screen time that the viewer has invested. No matter what it is it's still going to feel somewhat hollow. After nine episodes of building up a compelling secret the final reveal is either going to be mundane, so bizarre that terabytes of retcon fanfic will spontaneously appear online, or it's going to require the next season to up the stakes even more.
By the time Star Trek: Garak begins its second season (I would mortgage my house and sell my wife to the Orions for this), every crew in the history of Starfleet will have saved the galaxy at least once.
If you've made it this far, congratulations! Your office internet went down too and you had quite a bit of time to kill.
submitted by archaeolinuxgeek to DaystromInstitute [link] [comments]


2020.02.29 01:26 Vespa99 Thirteen Heroes Fanfic

So I decided to make a fanfic about these guys we know so little of. I'll be updating in my free time so please enjoy. Reviews are also greatly appreciated.
Ps. Kudos to whoever finds the High School DxD reference
TALES OF THE THIRTEEN HEROES
CHAPTER ONE
It was the year 2138 A.D., and the term DMMO-RPG was not only in existence, but also becoming more common. Being the acronym for , it described an interactive game where one was able to play in a virtual world like it was real life, by connecting a dedicated console to the neuron nano-interface, an intra-cerebral nano-computer network composed from the quintessence of cyber- and nanotechnology. It was as though you entered the game for real. Amidst a myriad of DMMO-RPGs that were developed, there was one title that shined brilliantly.
Yggdrasil.
It was a game that a highly-regarded Japanese developer released twelve years ago in the year 2126. No matter which DMMO-RPG it was compared to, Yggdrasil was a game that offered an immensely high level of freedom to the players. The number of classes that formed the basis of the game easily topped 2000 when you added up the normal and high-rank classes. All classes had a maximum level of 15, meaning a player had to have at least 7 classes or more to reach the overall level cap of 100. Furthermore, you were able to just have a taste of various classes as long as you satisfied this overall condition. Although it was inefficient, it was possible to have 100 level one professions if you wanted. In other words, it was a system where it was impossible to have completely identical characters unless you intentionally made them so. This level of freedom also applied to the visuals. If you used creator tools that were sold separately, you were able to alter appearances of weapons and armour, interior data, character visuals, and detailed settings of a player’s home. What awaited the players who set off for adventures in such a world was a colossal map. Nine home worlds consisting of; Asgard, Alfheim, Vanaheim, Nidavellir, Midgard, Jotunheim, Niflheim, Helheim, and Muspelheim. A vast world consisting of innumerable classes and fully customizable visuals. It had ignited e artisan spirits of the Japanese players and caused a phenomenon that would later be called ‘visual popularity’. With such explosive popularity behind it, it had reached a level of acclaim where Yggdrasil and DMMO-RPG were considered as one and the same in Japan.
—Alas, that was a story of a generation past.
..........................................................................................................................................................
Inside a dimly lit cave, two individuals were battling a monster called Rainbow Slime which stood at over 3 feet.
One was a human wearing a pitch red coat with gold lines along the helm and he was carrying a two handed Greatsword that seemed to gleam from the sunlight.
Across him was a knight covered in black armor with two swords in both hands, one gleaming red and the other sword so dark it seemed to repel all light from it.
With a final battle cry, the knight stabbed both his swords into the Rainbow Slime. It let out an ear piercing cry as it turned into gold particles showing it was already defeated and a red orb was dropped at the place the Rainbow Slime was just moments earlier.
‘I don’t know why I agreed to do this with you. I’m so dumb.’
The speaker was a man.
He had a face that most people would think was cute. His black hair was well trimmed along the edges which only served to accentuate his beautiful face. But his most astounding features were his blue artificial looking pupils and the jade pendant hanging from his neck.
‘We already beat the boss monster in this hidden slime dungeon, no need to get all gloomy on me.’
The other speaker was a High Kaylinth, a race that was praised for having the highest magic resistance making them one of the highly played races among demon types.
They were both player characters.
The selectable races in Yggdrasil were divided into three diverse categories: classic humanoid races such as humans, dwarves and elves; demi-human races with hideous appearances such as goblins, orcs, and ogres, favoured for their physical prowess; and the heteromorphic races who possessed monster abilities and higher stats than any other races, but were given restrictions in various aspects. If you include the high-tier races for these three, the number of all the races reached a total of 700.
Of course the High Kaylinth was one of the high-tier heteromorphic races that players were able to pick.
Between those two people, the Human talked without its mouth moving. Despite being the previous generation’s top DMMO-RPG, it was technologically impossible to change expressions to go with the conversation. So emoticons were used instead to signify facial expressions.
‘Just bear with it for a little while longer, Ray-san.’
He panted, and took a breath.
‘Can’t believe I’m stuck doing this with you today of all days’
The Human replied with a voice of an adult male, but in comparison to the High Kaylinth, there was no trace of what could be called vigor or liveliness.
‘Come on it’s not that bad’
‘Kuu, I could be with the other players and GM’s shooting fireworks and celebrating but I’m here stuck with you’
‘Hey you weren’t complaining when you got that super rare sword from the chest we encountered before entering the boss chamber.’
Ray glanced at the Greatsword in his hand before turning back to the Knight and replying.
‘Hey, you aren’t the one who had to delete their character and make a new character because someone said ...“Oh I found this super duper secret dungeon that is only accessible to a party of two and one of them has to be a level 5 or lower character”. I still don’t know why it wasn’t you that had to make a new character, Takashima-san’
In Yggdrassil, it was impossible to create a second character in the game, so players had to make the most out of their one avatar. This meant picking the right racial levels and class levels of their choice to power up. The average player would develop their character through trial and error. It was a part of a player’s goal to create a dream build for their avatar character b either min-maxing or role playing.
‘Cheh, I already explained to you that it would be easier for me to lead compared to you because my class is one which uses special attacks derived from monster lore thereby making my DPS far higher than yours.’
DPS was an acronym for Damage per Second.
It measured how much damage one could do in a second, and to attackers, it was the most important thing in the game. Theoretically speaking, one could create the ultimate weapon by embedding damage-increasing data crystals into a big weapon with high data capacity. However, weapons like that were unwieldy, and would result in fewer attacks due to the difficulty of using them. As a result, the wielder’s overall DPS would go down. No right-thinking attacker would even think of using a weapon like that.
‘Anyway, let’s just find out what we get for conquering this dungeon so we can get back to your stupid little party.’
“Then, Takashima-san. Put that in there.”
Takashima looked in the direction Ray was pointing, and saw a stone plaque. There were four orbs like the one Takashima was holding, and one empty slot. There were no clear directions, but he knew exactly what he had to do.
He headed straight for the plaque, and slotted his orb into the final depression. The orb fit into the indentation as though it had been sucked in, and then all the orbs glowed gently.
They both gulped.
The plaque vanished, a single gigantic crystal appeared.
‘Then, is this an artifact?’
Takashima stared at the throne.
‘How nice of them to provide an artifact for us.
Ray said continuing in a sarcastic tone of speech
‘Come on take that thing and let us get out of here quick.’
As Takashima reached out for the crystal and grabbed it, in that moment, a voice which only Takashima could hear spoke to him:
‘Congratulations! For completing a dungeon of recommended level 70+ in one attempt, you have received the World-Class Item, Drop of Etherum!
World Items were the most powerful and legendary items in Yggdrasil. They possessed massive and unrivalled power that could potentially threaten the game balance, thus earning them the term “Balance Breakers”. In fact most players thought the game-devs had to be crazy to implement these items in the game.
As the notification slowly sank into his mind, Takashima felt his heart clench tightly and shrink.
It was a shock that took his breath away.
One of the greatest treasures in Yggdrasil now rested in his palm.
Suspecting that he might have misheard things, he touched his console with trembling hands. As he looked at his status display, Takashima realised that the voice he heard was not some blissful hallucination that was the product of his own mind.
He saw a buff on his status screen. It was the same as that time when he had once obtained a
World-Class Item, but then lost it.
That was — WORLD. It implied an entire world, and the ultimate protection it bestowed.
“What’s wrong, Takashima-san?”
Even in a world without facial expressions, anyone would find it strange if someone suddenly froze and did not move.
“Is it a nano-machine depletion message?”
“No… This… this is a World-Class Item.”
Ray immediately fell silent after hearing Takashima’s words. He could not understand what Takashima was saying.
“Hey, it’s true. It seems to be a reward for clearing the dungeon on the first try.”
It was a calm voice that startled the listener himself. Nor could Takashima properly express himself due to the magnitude of the shock he had just received.
At first, it was only the phrase “World-Class Item” that fell from both their lips — and then it was thunderous cheering.
Then great shouts of “shitty-devs!” rang out from the two of them.
‘I knew it from the start. Clearing this dungeon in one shot would give us a World-Class Item.’
‘As if you really knew that. Weren’t you the one that wanted to leave early to go to the party?’
‘Ummm........ Oh yeah, the party....’
Ray glanced at the time on his left hand as he said that—
[23:56:03]
—There wasn’t much time left.
After 12 years of service, Yggdrasil had arrived at the last day of the game before all servers finally got shutdown.
‘If only we found this some years earlier, we would be nigh unstoppable’
‘I really doubt that. We’d probably be hunted if word ever got out that we had this.’
‘Haha, finding this is not a bad way to end the game, you know?’
‘Yeah, not bad at all.’
‘Hey you remember when we banded up with the dudes that wanted to invade that den of monsters “The Great tomb of Nazarick”. ‘
‘Haha we got wrecked on the first floor. I wonder how that place is holding up now. There’ll be some fools who try to invade thinking it’s the last day.’
‘Ya, I imagine they won’t get very far.’
‘Yoshaaaa! Damn we’re good, beating an unknown dungeon in one try! How about that, you shitty-devs?!’
‘We’ve had a lot of good and bad experiences in this game, it’s too bad it has to end’
‘I second that.’
[23:59:11]
‘Hey the servers will shut down soon, so after we are forcibly logged out, I’ll go to sleep and make sure to bring you some apples when I come visit at the hospital tomorrow, kay.’
Takashima grimaced as he said those words. Ray was actually playing from the hospital in which he was admitted. He was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had not long to live left. So as best friends since childhood, he made sure to never make Ray feel alone and always made sure to pay him a visit at the clinic before going to his workplace. By chance, he and Ray had developed a liking for Yggdrasil and spent most of their time in-game having fun. But now, all that was about to end.
‘Yaya, I hear you bro.’
Time is running out. This virtual world will end and I will return to my everyday life.
This is obvious. People cannot live in a virtual world, so everyone will have to leave sooner or later.
Such were Ray’s thoughts as the timer slowly reached its limit. Since he was admitted in the hospital, he had been playing games in order to escape from his reality which was he was going to die soon. He was so overjoyed that he and Takashima enjoyed playing Yggdrasil together despite his incessant complains. To him, Yggdrasil was the culmination of his and Takashima’s life-long friendship and he was sad to see it go.
I wish it never ends.
That was the last thing on both their minds as the timer slowly counted down.
23:59:35,
36,
37…
The both of them slowly counted the seconds.
23:59:48,
49,
50...
They both shut their eyes.
23:59:58,
59—
With the clock counting the remaining seconds, they waited for the end of this fantasy world—
And the eventual forced logout—
0:00:00....
1,
2,
3…
‘Huh?’
‘What’s this?’
He had no idea what was going on.
END
submitted by Vespa99 to overlord [link] [comments]


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submitted by canberlin99 to u/canberlin99 [link] [comments]


2020.02.03 09:17 mrjoefoley [Raiders of the bASyn_Q] The Interview: Part 1: Morgue Rendezvous (The First Half)

Prologue: Password Please
The Interview: Part 1: Morgue Rendezvous
The subject in question is female. She is a black woman, wearing gray slacks and a matching blazer jacket. She is on the subway, heading west from Queens to Manhattan, sandwiched between dedicated commuters. Every body is attached to a device of some kind, busy scrolling or typing. One man is talking to his mistress while his wife holds his hand. His wife is talking with a different woman, who may also be a victim of infidelity, as they play high-stakes blackjack. Their child is by their feet, playing a game that teaches him how to be a responsible citizen.
The subject in question is no different. She fiddles with her white, button-down undershirt with one hand while holding her cell phone in the other, keeping her eyes down on it. The material on the screen is insignificant, a detailed summary of her student loans, but she keeps her sights on it, listening to a female voice in her earbuds.
And when I got there, the voice buzzed, He told me to take my shoes off. How disgusting is that?
The female subject doesn't respond, doesn't let out a sound. She's still looking down at her phone.
And mind you. This was an office! I was beside myself. I don't even take my shoes off at home. Except when I bang.
The female subject stifles back a laugh, bringing her knuckles to her lips. The unfaithful man, his wife, and his child, all lift their eyes, directing them at Jenna, but then let them fall back to their screens with indifference.
And when I sleep! says the voice. But I do keep my socks on.
The female subject breathes through the laughter.
I almost got you on that one, Jenna. Didn't I? Are you still on the subway?
Jenna looks up from her phone. She has caught the attention of another passenger. The subject is male, in his mid-50s, older than the cheating man. He gives Jenna a sly grin, allowing her to view a profile of gnarled bone. He seems to have forgotten about the wonders of modern dentistry, though he wears a small amount of dried toothpaste on his dark green flannel. Jenna brings her attention back to the screen.
I don't understand why you need to stay on the phone with me when you can't respond, says the voice. I hope someone realizes you aren't listening to music. HEY! STRANGER! THIS IS JENNA CARRIER! SHE HAS A BEAKER COLLECTION! AND A STAR WARS FETISH!
The subway stops. Jenna is shaking as she exits the train, pushing through stoic bodies, past the family and the creepy man, occasionally letting her laughter take hold. She squirms by more commuters, all of which are plugged in, a couple of whom are so withdrawn that they stumble into the crowd like drunkards. But Jenna gets through, walking up the underground steps, heading toward the surface. She pulls the earphones out of her ears as she steps onto the city sidewalk.
"Caroline!" says Jenna, bring her phone to her ear.
Jenna! You can speak!
"You keep your socks on?"
My toes get cold, Jen. I have poor circulation.
"I'll be holding that against you." Jenna heads south down Lexington Avenue, blending in with the stream of New Yorkers. She stays in her bubble, focusing only on the voice of her friend, the sounds of the city falling to the background.
About time, says Caroline. God knows I have a buttload on you.
"Yeah. Thanks for trying to announce that to the creepy man on the subway."
Just pretend you're on your phone. That's what I do. There's always an excuse to be distracted.
"I can't afford that. I have to stay sharp. I'm on my way to that interview." Jenna checks her location to make sure she's heading the right way. She needs to get to East 236th Street on time.
Which one? I feel like you've had a million this week. Is it with Scooter Laboratories? Or is it the one with DemiData Analytics?
"No. Those were earlier this week." Jenna looks up at the street signs, making sure she is going the right way. "That interview. The one with the guy with the funny name?"
Right! Keith Jenkins! God. What an ugly name. It's like that man's parents wanted him to grow up ridiculed.
"I have to admit. I'm more nervous about this one than any of the others." A jogger in a hooded sweatshirt rushes past her, bumping her shoulder. Jenna drifts toward the buildings, away from the street to avoid anymore collisions.
Why? asks Caroline. You are Jenna Carrier. You graduated top of our class at Northwestern. You just finished your postdoc at Columbia. And if the deal couldn't be sweeter, you worked directly under Dr. Mishubi, who is optioned for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
"Stop, Caroline. You're making me blush."
I wouldn't mind being under Dr. Mishubi.
"And you ruined it." Jenna plugs her other ear to muffle the sounds of a screaming woman.
I don't get how you of all people could be nervous.
"Because . . . this is the guy that my mom worked for."
There is brief static as Jenna continues down Lexington. Oh. Keith is that guy?
"He reached out to me a month ago, saying he was sorry about what happened and that I had employment if I wanted it. And then I wrote him back." Jenna runs to cross East 37th Street on a red pedestrian light. A frustrated driver honks at her.
What's the job?
"Is it bad that I don't really know? Mom was gone for that part of my life. We didn't get close until she got sick."
I remember.
"And I didn't ask Keith what the job entailed. He said that my experience in physical chemistry makes me a desirable candidate. And that if I'm just as smart as my Mom . . ."
You're a shoe in! Duh!
Jenna turns left on East 36th Street. "Apparently, it pays well. And considering the amount of student debt I am currently swimming through, I'll take something that pays well." She looks up for the building number that Keith emailed her.
Your Mom would be so proud of you. You know that?
Jenna stops at the listed address. It's a standard block of bricks, an old apartment building amongst recently renovated residences. "Yeah, I know. Hey, I'm here, but it's just a sketchy apartment building."
There's no company sign or anything?
Jenna looks all around, turns to view the other side of the street, and then stops in defeat. "No, there's nothing. I guess I just buzz?"
Buzz in for your interview in Keith Jenkins's apartment?
Jenna presses the door phone button. "I guess so."
Hey, just go with it. Run if he tells you to take your shoes off.
"Bye. I'll call you later."
As Jenna hangs up the phone, a male voice speaks through the intercom. Go away, Marcia! I'm not interested in your pyramid scheme!
"Hi," says Jenna. "This is Jenna Carrier. I have an interview with Mr. Jenkins?"
Oh, yeah. That was today. Come on up! It's Number 42. The door unlocks with a different sound.
Jenna walks up a winding and cramped staircase to the fourth floor, knocking on the door of the second apartment. The sound of footsteps is accompanied by the opening of the door. It's a man who answers. He is young, like Jenna, but unlike her, has a hint of a shadow and well-defined cheekbones. His messy blonde hair suggests that he just got out of bed.
"Hello there!" exclaims the man. He thrusts his hand forward.
Jenna backs away, her forehead wrinkled. "Do I have the right address?"
"I believe so," says the man. "Science chick, right?"
"Jenna, actually. Jenna Carrier." Jenna hesitantly grabs his hand and shakes it.
The man turns on his heels and heads back inside. "Why don't you come on in?"
Jenna follows the man into the space. "I'm sorry, Mr. Jenkins," she says. "I didn't expect you to be so . . . young." The apartment is bare bones, with a simple table sitting in the middle of a hardwood floored room. Dim, white light bathed the area, crawling through cheap window blinds. Cardboard boxes cover the bottom of most of the walls. It looks like it's newly occupied. And poorly furnished.
"Oh," says the man. "I'm not Keith. I'm Cooper, the brains of this operation." Cooper pulls a chair from the lone table.
"Really?" ask Jenna. "Keith never mentioned you. I was under the impression that I would be meeting with him at this time."
"He must be out on an errand," says Cooper, taking a seat. "I can't remember what he's doing, but he shouldn't be too long. We can start the interview." Cooper assembles a stack of plain paper, smacking it on the table surface. He clicks the timer on his stopwatch.
"Oh! Ok," says Jenna. She stalls at the doorway. "Should I take my shoes off?"
Cooper furrows his brow. "Did you want to take your shoes off?"
Jenna shakes her head and makes her way to the chair opposite of Cooper. "And you are Keith's business partner?" She takes her seat.
Cooper laughs loudly. "No! How presumptuous. I'm his employer."
"Oh! I just assumed that since Keith was the one who contacted me . . ."
"Are we ready to start?"
Jenna takes a breath. "Ready when you are."
Cooper writes on his stack, squinting as he etches something of importance onto the page. Jenna waits with her fingers crossed. She doesn't fiddle with her white undershirt. She doesn't dare move. "Now," begins Cooper. "First question. What kind of science-y things do you do?"
Jenna seems taken aback by Cooper's wording, but then goes on to review her qualifications, her work in gene splicing, and her thesis on the effect of inorganic chemicals on the human digestive system. She lists the different skills that she has acquired as a result of her work and divulges her interests going forward after her completion from the program at Columbia.
"Very nice," says Cooper. "Very nice. Next question. Can you make a bomb out of sugar?"
This time, Jenna reacts to Cooper's abnormal line of questioning. "Excuse me?"
"Like in that movie The Martian. Have you ever seen The Martian? The chemist in the movie makes a bomb with sugar and household cleaner on a spaceship and I thought, 'Wow. That's badass.' Question is, if I gave you some sugar, could you make a bomb?"
Jenna doesn't know what to say. Like her friend Caroline, she's experiencing a job interview that is out of the norm. However, the interviewer isn't asking her to take off her shoes. "I'm sorry," she says, "I thought that it was my qualifications that made me a suitable candidate for this position. There is nothing in my resume that speaks to proficiency in 'bomb science.'"
"You're right," says Cooper. He speaks as he writes, "Doesn't. Know. Bomb. Science." He marks off a box on the paper in front of him and writes next to it. "That's strike one."
"Strike one?"
"Yes," says Cooper, flipping the page. "You get three."
Jenna shifts in her chair. "Should we wait until Keith gets here? Since he's the one who contacted me initially?"
"I don't see how that is necessary." Cooper keeps his eyes down, writing erratically on the page.
"He is the one who said that he worked with my mom," says Jenna. "Was she an employee of yours?"
Cooper looks up and taps his pen. "You think that because your mom worked for me that I'm going to hire you?" He starts writing again. "Reliance. On. Nepotism." Cooper shakes his head. "Geez, science chick. That's strike two. I don't know if you really want this job."
Jenna's jaw drops. Her eyes twitch as she searches for words, but once she's found them, her tone drops. "And what exactly is the position I am being optioned for?"
"So many questions," Cooper says. "Now who is interviewing who?" A K-pop ringtone comes from Cooper's pants pocket. "Excuse me while I take this." Cooper walks into the next room with phone in hand, his gait cocky as he disappears into the dark bedroom.
Jenna is beside herself. Never has she been so disrespected. Sure. She has met some smug scientists in her training. She has met people who have looked down on her and thought less of her. There have been those who have looked down on her as she scrubbed equipment or cleaned benches. But Cooper has done something that no one has ever done. He has made a game of qualifications and has poked fun at her competency. She gets up from her seat and is nearly at the front door when she hears Cooper behind her. "Where are you going?" he asks.
She turns to confront him. He now wears a dark bomber jacket and has combed his hair. "You know what?" says Jenna. "I don't think this is going to work out. Tell Keith I said thank you for the offer, but . . ."
"Keith is dead," says Cooper. "That was the coroner's office."
"Oh my god," says Jenna, covering her mouth with her hands. "I'm so sorry."
"They want me to go down and confirm the identity of the body."
"Well, my condolences. I'll give you the space you need." She makes for the entrance.
"I thought we could continue the interview on the way," says Cooper, abruptly.
"You want me to go to the morgue with you?"
"I think it's what Keith would've wanted."
Jenna wears a face of astonishment. "You know, that's OK. I'm very sorry for your loss but I don't think we should continue with the interview."
"Why not? You have one strike left."
"Really. It's fine."
Jenna goes for the door in a final attempt to leave, is almost free of Cooper's vision when he says, "The starting salary is half a million. Plus, twenty percent of the profit from every job we do."
Cooper and Jenna are on East 36th Street, heading west. They walk amongst New Yorkers, the same ones Jenna had walked with earlier, their time traveling shared with staring at a screen. "Next question," says Cooper. "If sheep could take Prozac, would they?"
Jenna pauses as she follows Cooper through the sea of bodies. "Why would sheep take antidepressants?"
"If you do the right research, you will find that the diagnosis of depression has increased tenfold in the past couple of decades," says Cooper. "Selling SSRIs has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world. Now why would that be?"
Jena chews on it for a second, stepping out of the way of an enraged business man who has spilled his morning coffee. She has her answer. "The criteria for diagnosis and the way mental illness is treated has evolved over time and the stigma surrounding mental illness is waning," says Jenna. The pair stop at a crossing light.
"Wow," says Cooper. "What a liberal answer. No, science chick. Actually, it's proof that most people are realizing how hopeless their situation is." The light turns green and the two pass. Jenna swallows the science chick comment as Cooper carries on. "Think about it. You go through school, get a mediocre job, have ambition, only to meet a nice person who turns out to be just a mediocre person. That person then squashes your ambition with taxes and a mortgage and the price of Pampers. You spend the majority of your life arguing, bargaining, and trying to get by. Every day, you are reminded that the supposed American dream has trapped you in a nightmare. When you were younger, you wanted to travel the world, tasting exotic foods. You wanted to jump from heights that could kill you, from cliffs, from planes. You wanted to get a politically motivated tattoo on your butt. You get what I'm saying?"
Jenna nods. "I guess so." As she speaks, she notices the people passing by. They are like trained animals, traveling from Point A to Point B with their eyes glazed over. Most of them are on their devices, like Jenna was on the subway, trying to escape boredom, from being with themselves. Jenna herself has felt that pull to get away from her situation when she was measuring a substance or preparing an assay for one of the research fellows or taking meticulous notes in her lab notebook. She confesses that she has felt the urge to flee, to drop everything and run. But she has never known where to run to. "Yes," she says, changing her mind. "I do get what you're saying."
"And once people realize it, once they realize that they have trapped themselves in this one-track life, they become desperate. Some people deal with that desperation by drinking, or gambling, or cheating on their spouse with a younger and hotter person. They feel this need to get away for a while. But most people need more than a couple of moments of detachment. They separate completely. They get unlimited data on their phones. They get a Netflix account. They get a prescription for antidepressants."
"So, you're saying that people are like sheep," says Jenna, now noticing more and more people distracted, their heads down, partaking in their daily routine, moving like the dead.
"And that's a kind comparison. At least sheep don't know any better." Cooper and Jenna cross 5th Avenue. "The thing is, people are aware of how absurd the American dream is, but they still do it, still wait until they are in their fifties to pay off their debt and then work part-time at some low-class restaurant or hotel after they retire. And once they have enough savings, what do they do? They move to a shitty, Floridian suburb where they try to enjoy their days by eating discount steak and competing in bridge tournaments. They read corny bestselling romance novels because they forgot how to feel passion until they eventually forget everything and live out the rest of their time on this rock never seeing the sunshine they hoped for, having complete strangers wipe their ass for them because they are unable to do it themselves. The end."
"Is this still a job interview?"
"I'm telling you this because I came to this realization five years ago. I was pinching pennies, heading to the same rabbit hole that these poor bastards are sliding down, when I came across an organization that promised me something different. It's called the bASyn_Q."
"The bay-sin-cue?" asks Jenna. "I've never heard of it." As they cross to the next block, some heads turn as Jenna says the acronym. They go back to their usual business, and Jenna is mostly convinced that they just turned because they heard a funny word, but there is this small amount of uncertainty that plagues her. Is Cooper letting her in on a well-kept secret?
"That's good," says Cooper. "Mister Q will be glad to hear that. He's a good friend of mine."
"And he's the head of this bASyn_Q thing? What even is the bASyn_Q?"
Jenna and Cooper turn left onto 7th Avenue. "I think the answer that you care about the most is that it was what your mother gave everything away for," says Cooper. There is a silence between the two as they walk. Jenna isn't used to people talking about her mother's disappearance. "Florence was ingenious, and my hope is that she passed that on to you. She was held to high esteem in the bASyn_Q. She started the same way as you, freshly discharged from the corporate brainwashing trap that is college education. She knew exactly where she was headed and once she heard a whisper that there was something better, she was gone. Did she tell you that?"
"Is this still a job interview?" Jenna asks again. She distances herself from Cooper, physically, slightly.
"Oh, come on!" exclaims Cooper. "That's why you're here, isn't it? That's why you became a scientist. You want to know about her life and the bASyn_Q was her life for many years, even before Keith and me joined. You know, I don't meet family of bASYn_Q-ers often. Usually people in this profession don't have a family."
Turning right on East 35th Avenue, Jenna asks, "And what is your profession, anyway? What is it exactly that you do?"
Cooper pauses before he answers. "Object acquisition," he says finally. "Sometimes re-acquisition."
"You mean, like for museums?"
"Something like that," replies Cooper.
"I'm sorry, but a lot of things just aren't adding up," says Jenna. "I hold a PhD in genetic chemistry. I have no experience in acquisition protocols and I don't know why my mother would leave for twenty years to track down valuable historical items."
"You know what?" asks Cooper, as the pair come to a halt in front of their destination. "You're right. You don't know anything about what I do. So why did you come here?"
Jenna opens her mouth, but then closes it just as quickly. When she was talking to Caroline, when she was heading to meet with Keith, she had been so sure of her movement. Half an hour ago, she moved through the streets of New York with comfort. She was determined and confident in where she was heading. But now, she doesn't know what to say to Cooper. For the first time in a long time, she's questioning her own intentions. Why did she reply to Keith's email?
"It could be the money," says Cooper. "That would be my first guess, since you weren't so eager to come with before I told you the salary, but I don't think that's it. My next guess would be to get closer to your mom, to know more about her life when she M.I.A., but that's not it either. At least, not entirely." Cooper throws he hands into the air. "You don't have to come in with me, you know. We can end the interview right now, if you want to. You can leave and lead a successful life somewhere else. You can have a successful family, a successful credit score, a successful knickknack collection. All of that. But I have a feeling you came today because that's not how you define success.
"See, most people join the bASyn_Q because of this feeling they get, this feeling that if they lead the life society has told them to, then they will have wasted their potential. You're told that if you are a smart enough, maybe, just maybe, you might be able to get into a preppy university that takes more away than it gives. If you study hard enough, you might be able to work a boring nine-to-five job for the rest of your life. You might have a decent 401K. You might get a Christmas bonus. And the tragedy is, most smart people do that. They think that because they are told they are smart, they have done the best with what life has offered them. But the smartest ones, they spit in that proposition's face. They ask, 'Why buy fish when you can go fishing?' They follow their gut to the bASyn_Q and live up to their potential. And that's how I define success.
"What's it going to be, science chick? You can come with me into the morgue and continue the interview, or you can leave, live a boring life, and die in Florida. Up to you." And with that, Cooper enters the building. And there it is again. Jenna feels the same tug she had felt earlier. Her mind is telling her to make a run for it, seemingly away from Copper and the morgue. She's free to put this behind her, get hired at a legitimate laboratory, and begin her life. She can contribute to research that matters, win alcaldes for her efforts, and make her father proud. It's not too late to do what's right. And User, you can too. You can move on from this document. You can leave here, with Jenna, without delving into the mysteries of the bASyn_Q. It's not too late to go and live a good, American, life.
Jenna's mind is telling her to run, but as was before, she isn't sure where to run to. The indecision lingers for a few moments until Jenna comes to a reasonable conclusion. Cooper is wrong. She came here because of her mother. She is sure of it, and so she should do as her mother did. She should give into good, scientific curiosity. She should test the method that is engrained in her soul, try her hypothesis, and see if it is correct. Because the way Jenna sees it, whether she leaves or stays, she will most definitely be working for a prophetic asshole.
The Second Half of Part 1
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2020.01.27 03:53 NightcoreGene Something came with the frost (Part 1)

I live in a quiet little town in Korea called Yangpyeong and lately, it's become somewhat of a living hell. It all started with a strange frost. It was the beginning of December and the weather had just started becoming chilly and snow hadn't fallen yet. Then came the frost it was early December and it was unusual to have frost on the windows so early in the winter. The community said it was just the cold night weather. Over the next few days, the frost slowly spread and it soon covered almost every single window in the town. Soon the civilians couldn't see outside their windows and they had to blast hot air at it for it to melt away but the next day it would be back. I hoped nobody else cleared their windows when it came. After the windows were covered completely with frost it stopped. Just like that, it left their windows a transparent sheet of ice. The day after that all of their doors were encased with the frost, they could barely budge the doors. They eventually called the emergency line but even I didn't know-how but the frost must have frozen the Wifi lines and transmitting lines. I'm only able to post this on Reddit because the mobile data is still working probably because only our town is being affected. I checked Google maps and our entire town is just gone the maps just show that we are a mountain valley with no roads.
I think the government or some other organization possibly the Foundation is doing this. The frost seems like a version of SCP-009 that follows our dimensional laws unlike what the Foundation has which possibly is from an alternate universe with different laws of science. I'm not saying the Foundation is involved but the frost is so eerily similar and I work for an organization that also deals with the supernatural and we're an NGO and we have had to contact the Foundation before. We maintain a healthy relationship with many such organizations but they aren't always cheery. I live alone in a safe house on the edge of town and it's my job to maintain it in case of any 호랑이 or Tiger level scenarios. I would consider the frost a Tiger scenario as it isn't harming anyone that touches it or anything so maybe it isn't Skip-Nine.About the thing that came with the snow well, I haven't seen it much but I've heard screaming from downtown and the crash of a building and once I've seen it from one of the roof cameras and It's about the size of a two-story building. I'd reckon it's bout 7 to 9 meters tall and ironically it looks like something from the Monster Legends loading screen. Yes, I am playing video games in the middle of a supernatural disaster that might destroy this entire town and kill everyone. The creature seems to prefer being in the middle of town where it can go all King Kong so I think I'm safe with everyone who is on the outskirts of town.
I decided to take a sample of the frost and just like Skip-Nine, it's composed of H2O and unidentifiable liquid that is very similarly constructed like nitrogen but has some abnormalities. The nucleus's of the unidentifiable liquid which I'll call just "Frost" because it seems to be the main component of this weird frost. I'll research that in a later update maybe and I'll tell you a little about the frost monster. It prefers targeting living things especially humans rather than destroying property and killing animals. It isn't a mindless monster as I thought and it respects what we built and is being careful not to destroy it but will if it sees a human. Strangely, it's only ever targeting humans and the fact that it destroys all the frost. I concluded that this beast which I'll call "Frosty Boi" because that's what I have him named in Monster Legends and I'm not the creative type either so I'll probably keep that name. But back to the task, well I think the frost is protecting us from the monster occasionally rapidly spreading to stop Frosty Boi from attacking humans by trapping it but Frosty Boi is like Shy Guy he never stops until he's killed whoever he's targeting.
Well, it's about time for me to go fix the sensors so I can give a detailed report back to HQ. I'm going to get hell for leaking this to the public but ayy, I've never been the obedient type. Well, I'll be back with an update on the situation and If any of you work for the Foundation or another Organization maybe help me if this is one of your experiments or containment breaches so I can get the hell outta here for God's sake! In the time being until it's warm enough for me to go out to fix the sensors without freezing to death I'll tell you a little about me and my organization.
My name is Lee, Lee Doge. I have a higher than average IQ of 138 and a Degree in computer science, Masters and Bachelors. I was hired due to my... previous encounters with the supernatural. The organization I work for calls themselves the "Creed of Inu" we work for our boss who's a demi-god who works for the Big Boi, Mr.Inu. Mr.Inu is a really big god who got displaced in his reality by someone he never says but when we do ask he just mutters one name "Cateus" in a menacing way. We hunt down the supernatural and transfer them to Mr.Inu so he can do some kind of ritual with his powers and destroy them but if he can't which has only happened with who the Foundation refer to as never mind I'll just call him dots and dashes you probably know what he does and what he is so you know why I'm not going to even say his number. Basically, our organization destroys the supernatural which is in a way similar to the Foundation but we still destroy the supernatural even if it isn't dangerous unless Mr.Inu lets it live. Welp the temperature just raised to -10 Celsius so I guess ima head out and fix those sensors now.
submitted by NightcoreGene to stories [link] [comments]