'Big Brother' Season 21 Finale Betting Odds

The previous tenant left a survival guide. There isn’t a guide for these floors.

Looking at that button panel in the lift that didn’t lead home I felt a knot form in my stomach. Why hadn’t Albert appeared, and which button was I supposed to press?
“Where are we going Kat?” Ellie asked; she had stopped crying but every word was heavy with fear. In truth, I didn’t really know the answer to her question. I stared at the panel, taking in every number and noting it’s inclusion of a -9.
“We’re going to see if there’s anyone else around.” I answered.
I didn’t like my chances with whatever might inhabit that floor. If wherever we were was a reverse of the building then number 9 could be nasty, so I started cautiously, pressing the -2 button.
Mechanics whirred and the large metal doors clapped shut. I wished that I had been behind the real lift’s doors, before it disappeared from sight. The lift that we stood in was as identical to the original as possible, even the shiver it sent up my spine just being inside it felt the same.
I was grateful when it stopped and the doors opened to reveal a relatively normal looking corridor, reminiscent of the ones above in the upper building.
I would’ve believed that I’d imagined the lift falling and was arriving home if it weren’t for the large black -2 painted next to the metal doors, the lack of any windows and an obnoxious, artificial light that I was sure would give me a migraine if I stood there for too long.
I don’t know what I hoped would be behind the red, wooden door that lead to a vast stretch of flats. I didn’t suppose that finding Derek in something that the fake lift had indicated was as large as the building would be that simple but perhaps it would provide some answers.
Albert himself was a possibility. I couldn’t predict his moves, but I had a strong feeling he wouldn’t be able to contain his intellectual gloating at the failure of my plan for long.
“I don’t like it here.” The small voice broke my stream of thoughts.
“Me neither Ellie, hopefully someone will be home and know how we can get back upstairs.” I feebly attempted to smile at my tiny companion, but she was a child, not an idiot. She saw straight through me.
“I don’t think we should go through that door.” Ellie gestured to the red wooden door, separating us from the windowless flats. She planted her feet firmly to the spot and refused to move any further.
“Do you have any better ideas?” I asked, genuinely hopeful.
“I just have a really bad feeling.”
Her words didn’t fill me with a sense of comfort or optimism but I saw little choice. I reached for the handle and pulled at the door. It creaked loudly as it opened, releasing a strong, musky smell, like something that had been shut away for a long time.
I took a tentative step inside alone, leaving Ellie just behind in the corridor, and shouted hello; hoping that if anyone was in there that visitors were usually scarce and they may come out. Unlike my previous plans this worked flawlessly and within minutes each of the doors were slowly opening.
I counted around ten doors in total as human arms and fingers started to emerge from behind them. The flats were filled with - and I use this term loosely - people.
They weren’t typical, none of them were dressed and they had fleshy limbs and appendages sticking out of all the wrong places. There were elongated necks, multiple arms and spines bent completely backwards, it shocked me that any of them could walk at all.
Each one of them looked like a unique result of intense torture. Torture that should’ve killed them long before they reached the stage they were at. Remembering where I was, I realised that they probably were killed long ago, or they never lived to begin with.
One in particular caught my eye. It had a neck at least three feet long and I couldn’t distinguish it’s gender at all. It’s back was bent in a way that a child might to do the crab and it was balanced on all fours. Instead of two arms and two legs all four limbs were left arms, all facing the same direction.
It’s neck lulled backwards, swinging from side to side a little and struggling to support itself. I inhaled sharply as it’s head lifted slightly into a steadier position and it locked eyes with me.
It screamed.
The scream that came from that... thing... was the single most distressing sound I’ve ever had to listen to. It penetrated my soul and I felt every inch of pain and suffering that laced it. My stomach churned and the shrill pitch burrowed into my brain.
It left me completely immobile as every other person-like creature in the room lifted its head, wherever it balanced, and screamed in unison with the first. Holding my hands to my ears I started to feel a warm liquid trickling from them but I couldn’t take my only protection away to see what it was.
I can’t even begin to describe the pain that I felt. There are no words for a misery that deep. I don’t know how, but I could feel years upon years of torment and unimaginable pain that they’d gone through. The screaming became so overwhelming and all consuming that I started to feel myself getting dizzy.
There was a violent tug at my shirt, forcing me backwards before an almighty hiss, vicious enough to cut through the screams and silence them, echoing through the corridor.
It took seconds for each and every one of the mangled people to shrivel back into their flats, winding limbs clambering in all directions. Leaving Ellie stood there, horn tips gleaming in the artificial light.
“What were they Kat?” I barely heard the muffled sounds she was making that had replaced the heart wrenching screams.
I finally pulled my hands away from my ears to see them covered in blood. Ellie noticed and wrapped her arms around me, nicking me accidentally in the side with a claw. It hurt but I didn’t want to make a fuss, in that moment I knew no pain could measure up to what I’d felt during my short time amongst the mangled people.
“I don’t know... how did you do that?” I could still barely hear the sounds of my own voice, it was like I was wearing a hat pulled over my ears, despite nothing of the sort and my hair being shoved into a bun on top of my head.
“I didn’t do anything, I thought they were going to eat us both!” She replied, hyped on the adrenaline.
“But they all ran away..”
“I guess I’m just extra scary!” She answered, a pride in her voice that only a child could produce. I just looked down at her and ruffled the blonde hair between her horns. She was frightening looking, sure, but she had nothing on those things, or even the creatures in the lift.
I couldn’t understand why such ferocious monsters were so scared of a little girl. Why would they run instantly? It made me uneasy, but I loved the twins, no matter how unusual they were. I just wished that I could be more of a protector for her than it being the other way round.
We stumbled into the corridor and I was again confronted by the metal doors of the fake lift. To the other side of them there was an entrance, presumably to a stairwell if the under tower we were trapped in continued to be a mirror of home. After spending what felt like hours in a lift, the idea of stairs comforted me and I ushered Ellie towards the entrance.
There were no stairs going upwards, back to floor -1. They only went downwards, the odd artificial light not quite covering the bottom of the set we were at the top of. My ears rung with the sound of the mangled people’s screams.
“Do you think they skip too?” Ellie asked me, looking into the abyss with her own, impossibly deep black voids.
“Let’s find out.” I answered, gripping her hand again as we started to walk towards the darkness.
We reached floor -3 quickly, in one average flight. I considered exploring the corridor of flats that existed on that floor too, but Ellie planted herself firmly to the ground again and insisted we didn’t. I wasn’t about to argue with her, sound still hadn’t returned to normal and I’d learned from my mistake. I couldn’t bare to face anything like the previous floor again.
We climbed down another flight of stairs. The ones we had just descended were still there, leading back up, when we reached the bottom, giving me some comfort that as long as we could reach the lift on floor -2 we should at least be able to get back to the cold, dim but empty basement.
This time, the stairs did skip, giving some sort of semblance of home. The big, black -5 sign was jarring, but missing a floor had allowed me to tell myself that these stairs were just an extension of the proper ones.
More jarring, was the woman. She looked right at us, at my demon sidekick than had terrified everything else... and she didn’t run. In fact, she didn’t move at all, it’s as if she were looking straight through us. Ellie didn’t panic either, she didn’t tell me to get away or hiss at the woman. She just stared back.
Her hair was a mousy brown and her features beautiful, yet average. There was nothing particularly distinct about her, except for how much she reminded me of someone else.
She was a perfect mirror of her counterpart, she had the same vacant yet sad expression that the man on floor 5 always had. I wondered for a moment what her name might be.
“She misses him.” Ellie said.
I looked down at her in confusion.
“How do you know that?” I asked, not bothering to question who she meant.
“I don’t know, I just do.” She shrugged nonchalantly.
I sat on the step next to the standing woman and despaired. This whole place was like a sick joke. There was no sign of Albert, Derek or any way out of the labyrinth we we trapped in so far, and I couldn’t comprehend just how much of an imbecile I’d been.
Between the thoughts of never getting out, how I’d endangered the entire block, how hungry the kittens would get, Jamie and those awful screams my head felt ready to explode. The incessant ringing was only getting worse.
The woman next to me didn’t move a muscle, just stood staring into the open space in front of her. I looked at Ellie, knowing that she was special, and didn’t doubt what she had told me. I could feel for myself that the woman missed the man. I understood how she felt, to lose her love to the building, my heart truly bled for her.
“We need to keep going. There has to be someone here that can talk to us. We need to get you back home to your mum and brother.” I spoke, attempting to stay focused.
I smiled another forced, optimistic smile at Ellie and gestured for her to follow me further down the spiralling, artificially lit stairs. I wasn’t sure what I hoped to find, or even where I was aiming, perhaps floor -9 was my best bet at any sort of answers.
I didn’t get a chance to test that theory. Once we reached the bottom of the flight we were once again faced with the big, black -5. The woman was stood in the same position, facing forwards.
“Come on.” I grabbed Ellie and tried to repeat the action. The stairs had always skipped. It wasn’t anything unusual. It wasn’t until it was.
By the sixth time we had attempted the stairs Ellie was looking tired and scared. Despite her voids for eyes the rest of her face displayed fear like any normal child.
“It’s ok. We just need to keep trying.” I tried to convince myself as much as her.
“No... She doesn’t want to be alone. That’s why we can’t leave.” She let go of my hand and extended a long clawed finger in the direction of the woman.
She hadn’t moved from her spot and there wasn’t a noticeable chance in facial expression or demeanour, however, something about her felt entirely off. Hostile, even.
I understood grief, and doing everything possible to keep people close that you should let go. I wish that were what I thought the woman’s intentions were, I really do. Instead it felt more literal than that, more like she just really couldn’t bare to be alone again, at any cost.
“Just keep going.”
We ran down the stairs again. Then up them, and down again. Three more times and the terror started to build, each time we arrived in front of the -5 the woman seemed more sinister, more malignant. She wasn’t looking through us anymore. She was looking straight at us.
“My legs hurt Kat.” Ellie whined. Mine did too.
“Do you think... you could scare her?” I felt sick even suggesting it but Ellie had the best chances of getting us away from the stairwell.
Ellie shook on the spot but nodded and took a few steps towards her, she got close to the woman’s face and hissed, claws out. The woman didn’t move, she didn’t blink or flinch at all, she just stayed in her spot. Nothing at first, until she started to move. All that changed was her face, as the corners of her lips curled into a hollow smile.
The comfort I had felt from the familiarity of the woman and the floor number was dead in the water the moment she smiled. Ellie had retreated in an instant, tugging at my shirt again and shuffling closer. I think the fact that she did nothing else at all made it even more disconcerting.
The woman had the upper hand, and she wasn’t going to let us go.
“Please.” I begged. “If there’s anything we can do to help you please tell us.” I fought my fear, doing everything I could to be kind. If she had ever been a person she might somehow pity our plight. “I say hello to your man. I don’t know his name and he’s quiet like you... I think he misses you too. I know he does. I lost someone I love just like you did. I know how you feel.”
A singular tear rolled down her cheek but the smile stayed in place. My chest thumped as my heart pounded against my rib cage... maybe I was getting through to her?
Her eyes were haunting and hypnotic as they made contact with mine. It was like her brain was scrambled and she couldn’t put the pieces back together. Her eyes were more expressive than I had ever seen before on any person, filled with confusion and sadness.
After a few moments of intimate communication with our eyes the woman moved more than I had ever seen her or the man move. She cocked her neck to the side and tilted her head in Ellie’s direction, a few seconds after her neck had turned her eyes followed and she looked intensely at the child, smile plastered on her face and the evaporating trail of the tear still visible in the gleaming light.
Ellie started to cry, terrified, she tried to take a step behind me to use me as some sort of shield. No matter how many monsters she fought she was still a scared kid.
The woman took a laboured step towards her.
It took her a long time to put one foot in front of the other. Standing in one position for so long must do a real number on the muscles, even for those of a supernatural persuasion. Nonetheless, her step was an immediate threat, I could feel that her intentions were malevolent. The sadness in her eyes had developed into a disdain and that single step was a declaration of war.
Me and Ellie started to back away slowly, readying ourselves to break into a sprint down the stairs. I was prepared to run them in an endless loop forever if it meant keeping that little girl away from the woman.
Before we could even reach the first step, there was a voice. A male voice.
“That’s enough now, Angela. I didn’t think you were one to make children cry.”
I turned to the man now standing next to the woman, who had returned to her spot by the stairs, visibly calmed. He had one hand on her upper arm but he didn’t need it there, she wouldn’t dare disobey him.
His kindly eyes and smile, that held real warmth, were arranged beneath a familiar flat cap.
“I wish I could say it were nice to see you Kat, but given the circumstances I better not.” He continued, speaking directly to me this time.
“Who’s he?” Ellie interrupted, tugging the same spot on my shirt, where the material had begun to stretch. I smiled at her for real for the first time since our nightmare began.
“Ellie, this is Derek.”
The next part
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Meet The Freak 10

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The pain in my shoulder kept rousing me from sleep, and damn did I ever need the rest. I'd get an hour or so of sleep, and then something would happen to tweak my shoulder. I'd roll over, or move reflexively to brush away an itch, and I'd be brought reluctantly to wakefulness.
It's not that I was uncomfortable. In fact, this 'hotel' as Wallace called it, might be one of the most luxurious buildings I'd ever set foot in. The furniture down in the restaurant, for example. The quality there, in just one of the pieces, was astounding. It was difficult to get fabric to take dye consistently, to achieve a uniform colour. As such, it was often the upholstery that was of particular prestige, making quality pieces often the centre of a noble's living room. Not only was every piece of furniture in that restaurant of such quality, everything matched. It was as if some sort of perfect automaton had fabricated each piece. And that was to say nothing of the carpentry and metalwork involved, which were similarly astounding.
Then there were the sheets I'd wrapped myself in. It wasn't quite the same as silk, silk had a more sultry quality, and this felt somehow more wholesome. It was more like a warm hug than a- well, than any of the sorts of things I usually got up to when tangled in silk sheets. And with Wallace sleeping nearby, his long steady breaths providing a comforting rhythm, and his scent lingering on the air, I found that I felt safer than I had in a very long while. Not safe, there was a reason I still kept a pistol nearby, there remained a long way to go for true safety, but I was safer.
I only wished I could enjoy it, to bask in the warmth from the pile of blankets, and luxuriate in the feeling that I didn't have an immediate looming threat breathing down my neck. The problem was, my gods damned shoulder would not stop hurting. I tried to find a position that wouldn't aggravate my injury, but despite my best efforts, still couldn't stay asleep for more than an hour at a time.
Finally, angry, bored, and still very tired, I kicked off the blankets in a fit of pique. Of course, that only hurt my shoulder more, and I grit my teeth to keep from waking Wallace with a pained gasp.
I frowned, the steady rhythm was gone.
I snatched a sheet and held it to my chest. With some difficulty, I sat up and peered over the edge of the bed. Wallace had left. Which meant he'd woken up. Which meant he'd noticed me sleeping on the floor next to him.
I sighed. I had been hoping to be gone before he woke, though I wasn't sure what I was trying to hide. That I trusted him? He probably figured that out about when I was huddled naked in the bath.
I wish he'd woken me, we could share breakfast, and I'd follow his explorations, but damn I was tired.
I slithered into the bed, still warm from his presence. I curled up in the middle of the bed where the warmth was the greatest and settled in among the blankets and piled pillows. By some magic, the mattress shaped itself to fit my body, and I quickly found a position that didn't set my shoulder aflame. The heat made me drowsy, and in renewed comfort, saw little reason to fight it.
I had little idea of the time that had passed when I finally woke once more. I only knew that the hollow and tired feeling had abated, and the sun still had not yet risen.
I considered laying there for a while longer. Perhaps I'd doze off again, but thought better of it. I was curious about what Wallace had been doing, had he returned to the room, only to leave me to sleep in peace? Perhaps, but it was a large building. Likely he wasn't finished exploring.
I pushed myself up, found my torch and pistol, and wrapped myself in one of the sheets. So covered, I slipped back across to my room and dressed in the sleeveless shirt and legless trousers I'd worn to dinner. I'd worn the ensemble to dinner out of exhaustion, after all, getting into the flight suit was a bit of a bother at the best of times, and I didn't feel like attempting it with one arm. I'd expected Wallace to make some remark, maybe blush a little. I'd even had a biting retort ready for the occasion, but he didn't protest my lascivious dinner wear. It seemed not to register to him.
I found I quite liked Wallace, which was quite the novel experience. I'd always seen company as something to be avoided unless I'd paid for their time. How strange it was then, that I hoped Wallace would stay once I'd finished teaching him what magic I knew.
With him possibly anywhere in the massive building, I intended to track him by scent. Sleeping several hours in his bed had made that tricky, however, and I had difficulty separating the scents present in the environment from those clinging to me. I could get an idea of where he'd been, but was unable to tell how long ago it was. As it seemed he'd spend the hours I was asleep searching the entire building, I found myself doing the same. I struggled to find a single room that did not have at least a trace of his scent within.
It made me regret leaving my necklace behind, but it wouldn't be safe with my shoulder still healing. That said, I'd only checked the first floor, and I could already feel myself growing faint as I gazed at the door to the stairs.
I am going to make that man carry me back down here.
Just pushing open the heavy metal door- the humans take security seriously it seems -made me feel dizzy. I put my hands on my knees and took a few deep breaths to steady myself before continuing.
I woke to the taste of blood in my mouth, a brutal headache, and the reek of fear. I shifted a little and blinked my eyes open, and I heard a sigh of relief.
"Oh thank god, please, just don't move."
I came to realize that Wallace was holding me in his arms, a little too tightly, as he was making it difficult to move my head.
"Wallace," I grumbled drowsily, "Let me go."
"Valentine, just- please, for fuck's sake."
I met his gaze, and my anger softened as I saw the concern in his eyes. He looked like he'd just seen me die.
"Okay, okay," I soothed.
Wallace calmed a little as the sickly scent of fear was gradually replaced by the musky scent of my pheromones. With so much skin uncovered, the effects should have taken hold much more quickly than they did, but at the very least it didn't appear as if his heart were about to stop.
Wallace took a deep breath, "In first aid- for humans -the number one thing, the most important thing unless someone is gushing blood, are head and neck injuries. "
I placed my palm gently against his chest, "It's okay," I finally understood what had him so shaken, "Fey are different, we're not so vulnerable to getting bumped on the head."
"You're-" he began, but I put a finger to his lips before he could interrupt.
"I know a thing or two about treating injuries, Wallace," I insisted, "I learned all sorts of things about head injuries, but us fey are not like anyone else. If we were, every noble house would have a pile of dead servants who fainted trying to carry the lady's tea up the stairs."
Wallace gently took my hand away from his lips. He held gently onto my hand, our hands clasped loosely across my chest.
"I thought you were dead," he said flatly, "I pushed open the door, and here you were on the landing, limp as a corpse and white as a sheet."
"This isn't the first time I've fainted trying to climb the stairs," I sighed, "I just need a little air."
I gave a little yelp as Wallace gathered me up and rose to his feet, and quickly threw an arm around his neck to steady myself. I squirmed around until I was in a more or less sitting position. The motion made my head throb, and I rested my head against Wallace's chest while I squeezed my eyes shut against the pain.
I'd made it almost to the roof, following Wallace's scent, but that was damning with faint praise. It had been easy to figure out where he'd gone off to once I was in the stairwell, as his scent was present throughout, but the climb had been brutal. To any other fey, my ascent through the building would seem supernal. But to the humans who'd constructed the building, doubtless to Wallace as well, I must have seemed pitiful.
Wallace elbowed the bar across the door, which shifted slightly, and he ducked out onto the roof. I shivered as the cold air brushed across my exposed skin, and tried to press closer to Wallace. It got awfully chilly during The Long Night, and I was a little underdressed.
The roof was altogether more pleasant than that of the 'gas station', as Wallace had called it. There were several cushioned benches scattered about, some small trees here and there, and a few flower beds set against the low wall that ringed the rooftop. Someone, indeed, likely several someones, had gone to some effort to make the space as pleasant as possible.
"What happened to your jewellery?" Wallace asked, his voice low, though I could feel the bassy reverberations in his chest.
"It's not safe to use while I'm healing," I shivered, "So I'm useless until my shoulder is mended."
"You're plenty useful," Wallace insisted, "You teach me magic, and I'll carry you around wherever you want to go," he promised.
He carried me over to one of the benches and took a seat. He let go of me, but I didn't take the opportunity to slide off his lap. Instead, I snatched a nearby blanket and pressed it into his hands. He took it, an amused expression on his face, and helped me settle it around myself. With it trapping the heat, it felt like I was sitting with my cheek resting against a furnace. Between his natural scent and the all-encompassing warmth, I felt myself growing drowsy once again.
I pulled the blankets tight around myself and peered up at him, "Maybe I'll ride you around like a horse," I giggled, "Did Temerity get to ride you around too?"
He immediately turned red, his lips set in a thin line as he tried not to break out into a guilty smile.
"Oh, she did, she did!" I hooted, "Were you face up or face down? The girls at The Blushing Maiden have given it to me both ways, so I can see the appeal in either case," Wallace turned, if it were even possible, a yet darker shade of red, "Now that I think about it, Temerity does seem the sort to take the initiative. Face down then."
Wallace's guilty smile turned to a grimace, but there was grudging mirth in his eyes and the twist of his lips.
I prodded him in the ribs, "You're not even the tiniest bit angry," I asked incredulously, though it was more of a statement.
I pressed my nose against his chest and inhaled deeply, "I can't smell a whiff of anger. If I were a servant, anyone else would be having me flogged right about now to correct my mark against their honour. Or as a noblewoman, they'd be looking for a father, brother, or husband to duel."
He sighed, a wry, grudging smile on his face, "Humans used to be like that," he admitted.
I frowned in thought, "Now that I think about it, I don't believe Simon has ever challenged anyone to a duel. And gods know people have tried to goad him into it."
"Why, to try to get rid of him?" Wallace guessed, "Seems like a losing proposition if it's fey versus human, even if he doesn't go all Super Saiyan on them."
"Super Saiyan?" I inquired.
Wallace covered his face with his hand, "The body magic thing he does."
"Oh, well, you're right. Magic isn't allowed, though that can be hard to enforce. But it's the privilege of the challenged party to opt for a champion to take their place. Usually a sprite, or now that there are other races in the city, a goblin or elf. But it matters little," I explained, "Simon seems genuinely ambivalent to even the most grievous insult made against him. At first, it led to him losing a great deal of respect within the city, but once it was clear he didn't care about that either, I think he was able to turn it into a strength. That said, it's not as if he doesn't get even with those that oppose him. Typically when a nobleman of the city goes after Simon, he'll find that a wife or daughter will have mysteriously fallen for the human interloper," I thumped Wallace on the chest, "Simon's playroom isn't quite as well soundproofed as Temerity's though, I understand that most of the manor, along with anyone out on the street, can hear when Simon is taking the initiative with a new paramour," I put a hand to my chin, as if in thought, "Now that I think about it, that must be some serious soundproofing in Temerity's place, I mean, you must be awfully lou-"
Wallace, very gently, but very firmly, put his hand over my mouth.
I shrank inwards a little and nodded.
At first, I'd been needling him just to see what it would take to get him to strike me. Humans were still an enigma to me, and I found that people were generally easier to deal with if I knew where the limits were, but now I realized that the greater risk would be making the big mushy goliath feel hurt.
He took his hand away, and I pulled myself up to plant a kiss on his cheek, before sinking back down to nestle against his chest.
"You're an okay bodyguard Wally."
"Thanks, Vally," he replied wryly, "Have you got your daily allotment of teasing me in? Can we get to adult stuff?"
I rolled my eyes, "Val will be fine, and what is it?"
"Well," he began, pulling down the blanket a bit so I could see out into the night, "I picked this bench for a reason, are you able to make out that light in the distance?"
"No, can you-"
Wallace covered both the torches, and I waited as my eyes adjusted to the darkness.
"Maybe?" I said finally, "I might just be seeing what I want to see though. I take it you're more confident?"
He nodded, "It's a campfire. It's way the hell out there, but it's a fire."
"Probably surveyors from Caniforma," I guessed.
"Are they going to be a problem?"
"Perhaps," I admitted, "They might eventually find a route here, but surveyors tend to guard their discoveries jealously. Unless you know who to ask, it's not easy to even learn where to buy such information, and that's to speak nothing of the price. No, they're not likely to pose a threat. That said, if someone is truly determined to come after me, they likely could reach us."
"You mean someone might pull the same stunt we did," Wallace realized.
I pulled the blanket back up over my head and relaxed against the big man.
"Yes. And while we had to spend a day getting through the pass, the proximity of the mountains offers possibilities to the determined."
"You mean someone might try to make their own little rest stop by climbing up far enough? Would that even work with horses?"
"Doubtful," I replied, "But if it came to it, they could abandon the horses to the tide, and sleep out the night partway up some convenient cliff."
"Hmmm..." he rumbled quietly, "Just trying to think through the timeline here. So the horsemen, horsewomen, horsepeople?"
"They were riders, not centaurs," I huffed.
"Whichever, point is, they left late. After all, we left late, and they left even later after that. So we'll assume whoever comes after us has time to prepare, and are down the ramp from the city at first light."
"Not a simple task," I interjected, "There are special carriages that carry horses down, and even if they've planned to have those ready, the descent is yet slower than it was for us."
"Okay, fair," Wallace agreed, "But it does mean that, compared to the riders we ran into, they'll be further along at any given point in time."
"Fair," I agreed.
"Which pushes their point of no return forwards, I don't know, six hours?" he guessed, "That might be a bit generous, but we should prepare for a best-case attempt from them."
"They also won't have spent several hours searching an alien neighbourhood for us," I added.
Wallace nodded, "Which means they get even further. Now include the fact they've got a safe return that's a lot closer... yeah, I bet they could make it. Fuck they'd be tired though."
"I wouldn't worry about it for now, Wally," I assured him, "I have a hard time conceiving of a more defensible position than what we have now. We'll have time to ready ourselves. Besides, they know not what they face at the end of their journey. I don't expect to see them in the next Long Night, perhaps the one after next at the earliest," I peered up at him from beneath the blankets, "Plenty of time for you to learn some magic."
Wallace beamed and seemed to tremble at the mere word, and it gave me a little thrill to see him smile like that.
I thumped my hand against his chest again, "Carry me inside, feed me some breakfast, and we can get started."
Wallace pursed his lips, "What was that you said, something about protecting you but not taking care of you?"
I narrowed my eyes, "You're not taking care of me, you're pampering me.
"As you wish, your highness," Wallace replied wryly.
Still bundled up in the blanket, Wallace brought me back inside through a different staircase. Rather than functional metal railings and hard stone steps, this staircase was thickly carpeted, and the hardwood railings were stained a rich dark brown.
Wallace shouldered his way through the door at the bottom of the stairs, and I somehow found myself in a room that was even more luxurious than what I'd seen below.
Now that wasn't to say that every surface was engraved, gilded, and studded with gemstones as it might be in a royal's palace. The humans who'd built this structure seemed to have a preference for understatement, and instead of displaying wealth with precious metals and rare stones, it was with quality materials. Again, I was astounded by the uniformity with which the carpets and furniture upholstery were dyed. The elves could do work that was nearly this good, but it wouldn't be uniform over such a large area, and the reagents they used to fix the dyes had an unfortunate scent.
It looked to me that the top floor of the entire east wing was dedicated to this single set of chambers. Well, perhaps not 'chambers', as the designers seemed not to have believed in walls. Where they were needed, they were either glass, as the exterior walls were, or did not rise to reach the ceiling, and served simply to break up the sightlines and provide a little privacy.
Oddly enough, the kitchen seemed to be displayed proudly, rather than being out of sight, hidden back in some servant's area. I wasn't happy to see the harpsichord, in what would be the sitting room, had it been a separate room. There was also another of those black glass slabs that humans always arranged their furniture to face. There had even been several in the restaurant below, arranged so that no matter where one sat, a slab could be seen. This one was the largest I'd yet seen and was nearly as wide as I was tall.
The deference shown to the objects suggested some religious significance, and it occurred to me that there had been something similar in the house we'd looted before leaving the human neighbourhood. The materials hadn't been quite the same, and the glass slab at the front had bulged outwards rather than being perfectly flat, but there as well, the furniture had been arranged to face it.
"This is the penthouse," Wallace explained, "I wanted to wait until you were up to ask your thoughts, but I think we should start moving our stuff up here. The stairs are a problem-"
"It'll be fine once my shoulder is mended," I assured him.
Wallace shrugged, and set me down on one of the wide upholstered and high-backed benches in the sitting room, "There's also some conference rooms through there," he went on, nodding towards the central spine of the building, "so there's space for us to work if we need it."
I stretched out on my back while Wallace went over to the kitchen to root through the cabinets.
"Is that what's atop the other wing?" I yawned.
"No, the conference rooms are near the elevators, probably for fancy people to have fancy people meetings," he called back, "The other wing is a presidential suite, so I guess this is an American hotel."
"Uh, it's another country from Earth," he explained, "But the language is the same, and I'm familiar enough with the units they use to measure things that it's not a problem," I heard the cabinets shut. A moment later, Wallace was peering over the side of the couch, "I'm gonna go out on the balcony and cook, you stay out of trouble till I get back."
"I'll try, no promises."
With both of us properly fed, I had Wallace join me in the sitting room and drew him down next to me on what he called a 'couch'.
While he'd been busy cooking, I'd poked around the penthouse, looking for something to use for our first magic lesson. I'd found what I'd needed in the bathroom- a bathroom that was larger than some commoner's homes -a box of hairpins.
I took out just one of the pins and handed it over to him. It seemed comically small in his enormous hand, and he held it between forefinger and the odd not-quite-thumb, not-quite-finger that was his extra digit.
"I can do magic with just this?"
"Yes and no. The first thing to understand-" I began.
Wallace beamed, and threw his arms up in the air, "First law of magic!"
I sighed, but couldn't help but share his smile, "You're just a child on the inside, aren't you."
"We're all children on the inside," Wallace replied, "and we're all just pretending otherwise."
My smile turned to a smirk, as I considered what I might do if I wasn't trying to keep up appearances as a noblewoman. And the truth was, it wasn't as if I put much effort into such appearances.
"Are you going to let me teach you magic," I prodded, "or are you going to keep sharing your philosophy?"
"Alright, alright, what's the first law of magic?"
"From a single object, you can only get one type of mana," I recited, "There are exceptions, but for the time being, one object, one type of mana."
Wallace frowned and stared intently at the hairpin, "That doesn't exactly make sense."
"What about it troubles you?"
"The exceptions. Physical laws don't tend to have them."
"Wally, which one of us is teaching and which one is learning right now?"
"I know, I know, but I also spent two decades in one type of school or the other," he insisted, "Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, Euclid's postulates, they mostly don't have exceptions."
"Mostly?" I repeated, "So then they do have exceptions, why is it so strange then-"
"That's just it," he exclaimed, "Thermodynamics, that's sacrosanct. Pretty sure even magic doesn't violate that no matter how hard you try. But Euclid's postulates and Newton's laws of motion, those are different. Euclid had five postulates. The first four are simple. I mean simple enough that they're a single sentence that a kid could understand. I mean, the first one is that you can draw a straight line between any two points, really simple stuff. But Euclid was trying to explain the very fundamentals of geometry. His problem, and hell, mathematicians worked on it for hundreds of years after him, was his fifth postulate. He was trying to describe the fundamentals behind parallel and non-parallel lines, and it was kind of clumsy. He couldn't quite get the phrasing to be as neat and tidy as the other five postulates. And not just him, like I said, plenty of genuine geniuses worked on the same problem, and couldn't figure it out. See, the truth was, there was a deeper understanding that wasn't known," he paused, I think he'd noticed that my eyes were starting to glaze over, "Um, remind me to tell you about non-euclidean geometry some time. The point is, the way he was trying to describe how parallel lines worked, didn't always apply. But he couldn't even conceive of how it didn't apply. It was as if he was blind to it."
"And you think the same is true for magic?" I said slowly, as I digested his speech.
"Yeah, and you know what," Wallace said confidently, "This is exactly the sort of thing Simon would recognize as well."
I felt a sudden tightness in my chest, not fear, but excitement. Wallace had already been able to provide some hints, but now it felt as if I were finally starting to draw the curtain aside.
"This Newton, what was his mistake?"
"Well the thing to remember about Newton, is that he was a genuine genius. I mean, he couldn't figure out the equations necessary to track the motions of planets, so he invented a new type of mathematics. He was one of the first guys to lay out a set of laws that could begin to describe the way the physical world worked. It's more complicated than that, and others added to his theory to build Classical Mechanics, but there's a reason that Classical Mechanics is sometimes referred to as Newtonian Physics. The trouble was, there were areas where his theories broke down. But like Euclid, it broke down in ways he couldn't conceive of. It worked for apples falling from trees, and planets orbiting stars, but not, for example, black holes, nuclear weapons, and spaceships trying to travel faster than light."
"I feel as if I say this frequently in your company," I told him tiredly, "but pardon me?"
"Newton's theories worked at the scales that most people can conceive of. From the very smallest bit of dust, all the way up to the most very massive stars. As for velocity, it covered the stationary, all the way up to objects travelling more than a hundred thousand times faster than a speeding bullet."
"What else is there?"
"Exactly!" he exclaimed, "It took another two hundred years for a guy named Einstein to come along and invent General and Special Relativity, which explained how things smaller than motes of dust, larger than the largest stars, and nearly as fast as light worked."
"I still don't think I understand quite what you're saying, but I take it, that it is enough to know that there was more to know than Euclid and Newton could fathom."
"Exactly," Wallace agreed, "So, what are these exceptions to the 'one object, one mana type' rule?"
"Gemstones, air, and liquids. Raw gemstones can be cut in such a way as to provide two of the available mana types at once. Garnets, for example, provide four mana types, Metal, Body, Strengthen, and Protect. When it is faceted, the jeweller selects any two of those, and from then on, those are the only two mana types that the garnet may provide. Indeed, the caster must use both types, for any spell that includes the garnet. As for air and liquids, neither can be said to be a single object. With liquids, typically one must use the entire container unless it's something like a spellcaster dipping their hand in a lake or river. That's typically only something experts can do though. Most spellcasters will simply scoop some up in their hand or the like. Air presents the same difficulty, experts can simply use it directly out of the space around them, but most Air magic users will carry glass bottles of various sizes."
"So say I wanted to use this bobby pin," Wallace suggested, "I'd need to use the whole thing, and only for one of its available mana types?" I nodded, and then Wallace bent the pin until it broke into two halves, "And now this is two objects, so I could use what was a single bobby pin, for both mana types in a spell?"
"Yes, that was the puzzle I'd intended you to solve," I admitted, "I sense you're unhappy with this answer?"
"I am," he agreed, "I don't know how the 'one object one mana type' rule is wrong, but it's wrong. What if I had two pins, or let's say I just use both these halves. These are metal, so they've got Metal mana? Okay, so could I use both halves for Metal mana, and then some third object for the other mana type I need?"
"Yes," I said slowly, "I suppose that's the second rule. Controlled magic always takes two types of mana, attempt it with a single type, and only the gods know what will happen."
"Alright, well I'm gonna think on rule one. It feels kind of like a 'blind men and the elephant' situation."
This time I just threw up my hands.
Wallace grinned sheepishly, "Sorry, have you ever seen an elephant?"
"Yes," I replied, more than a little exasperated.
"Coles notes-" he began, and I gave him a dangerous look, "Sorry, simple version is, one blind guy puts a hand on the leg and thinks an elephant is like a tree. Another feels the trunk and says it's like a big snake, so on and so on."
"You're clearly very intelligent, very learned. It's a shame you hide it behind a veneer of utter madness."
"We can argue about who's crazier later," he chuckled, "So we've got the first rule, 'one object, one mana type', and its exceptions, and the second rule, 'one or more verbs, and one or more nouns, or bad things happen'."
"Then there's the final rule, and it applies to the case you suggested, using both halves of the pin for Metal mana. Steel is a Greater source of Metal mana. It doesn't matter how much steel you have, it will only ever be a Greater source. The quantity of steel instead determines how long the Greater source persists."
"Is there a number for greater?" he asked, "What's the scale?"
"I've yet to hear anyone use numbers to try to describe the difference between various mana sources, or at least, try and succeed in coming up with anything that makes sense. No, the scale is Minimal, Lesser, Moderate, Greater, and Significant."
"Hold on. Actual metal is only the second-best source of Metal mana? How does that make sense?" Wallace demanded.
I shrugged, "Only gemstones are a Significant mana source, metals are typically Greater, not just of Metal mana itself, but of whatever other mana types that metal provides as well. Copper provides Greater Fire, for example."
"Hmm, seems kinda weird that it's the most powerful sources of mana that are best known," Wallace mused, "I would have thought it'd be the other way around."
"There are commonly known rumours about colours and herbs both supplying either lesser or minimal mana of a great many different types, but I've yet to hear any specifics."
"How are new types discovered then? Even if most people get the info second-hand, someone would have had to be the first."
"It's tricky," I warned, "And I don't even know if the method I know of is the safest way to do it, but typically one takes a material with a known mana type, and the material they want to understand and attempt to cast a spell. Either the caster can guess at what mana might be present in the unknown material, in which case things proceed as with any normal spell."
"And if they get it wrong?" Wallace grimaced.
"If they get it wrong," I continued, "Or simply try to cast a spell without trying to guess what mana types might be present, then nearly anything can happen. The proto-spell uses the selected mana from the known material and a random mana type from the unknown material, and chaos generally ensues."
"I'm guessing it's generally a good idea to use small quantities then?" Wallace offered.
I nodded, "Anything to limit the potential damage. Transformation magic and Body magic are the worst. Fire magic, to be sure, may cause severe burns if the caster is unlucky, but Healing magic can correct something as simple as an injury. But a body, malformed by magic, is nigh-impossible to correct."
I took his hand in both of mine. It was soft but strong, and large enough that my thumbs didn't quite meet in the middle.
"Promise me you'll listen, and promise me that you won't go experimenting on your own," I urged him, "This is dangerous, and there's only so much I can do. If I were any good with healing magic, I would have fixed my shoulder already. I understand your excitement, but before we continue, I need your word that you'll listen when I warn you something's dangerous."
"Alright, I promise," he assured me, "If I come up with anything crazy, I'll talk to you first."
"Thank you, the other thing I should warn you about is that this isn't going to be easy. I don't want you to feel discouraged if it doesn't work right away."
I didn't want to sabotage him by telling him just how hard it was to cast a spell for the first time, but I also didn't want him giving up. I'd seen both extremes in my time. Some would give up after trying and failing for weeks, while still others would hear such tales and internalize the assumption that they'd never be able to do it. I was by no means a magic tutor, but those I was familiar with had spoken of striking a balance. It was essential to warn would-be spellcasters of the difficulty, without making it seem insurmountable. Magic was a science of the mind after all, and if someone got the wrong idea in their head, it often made their magical journey a great deal longer, if it started at all.
"Everything is hard until you figure it out," he replied, "I'll be patient."
"First," I began, speaking softly, "Close your eyes, once you get more familiar with magic you won't need to, but for now it can help to focus the mind."
He did as I asked, and I let go of his hand to pick up the box of bobby pins.
"The spell you're going to cast will give you an invisible hand, that can pick up only metal. Steel contains Earth, Fire, Metal, Movement, and Protection mana. You're going to use the Metal mana from one half of the pin, and the Movement mana from the other to create this hand," I shook the box so he could hear the pins rattle, "Then you're going to use that hand to pick up some of these pins."
Wallace nodded, an oddly tranquil expression on his face.
"Now. Magic requires you to hold two different understandings of the world in your mind. First, there's the world as it is now, where you're holding two halves of a broken pin in one hand. Second, there's the world as you will it to be, where the halves of the pin are gone, and you have an intangible hand, capable of only manipulating metal. Now I understand that might not make much sense," I admitted, still speaking softly, "But think of it as there being two worlds. There's the mental world as it exists within your mind, and there's the physical world, as it appears to everyone else. Take your time," I said soothingly, "Don't rush yourself, the important thing is to-"
There was a metallic rattling, and then the pins were floating above the small box, as if cupped in an invisible hand.
I leapt to my feet, astounded at what I saw, "Wally, that's amazing!" I exclaimed.
Wallace was not so enthused. He had his eyes open now, but there was an unexpected sadness in them.
"Seems I'm uniquely suited to this," he muttered dourly.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing, just the universe reminding me that I'm a freak."
"Who cares?" I demanded, "What you just did takes most people weeks or months, you're a freak? Wallace, I would cut off my arm to be a freak like you. You're an enormous slab of muscle with indestructible bones, a supernatural talent for magic, and this is just a guess, but someone your size is also probably hung like a horse."
He immediately turned red and brought a hand to his face, but I went on unabated, "Who cares, if I had a body like yours, I would revel in it. The strength, the power, I would need to run from nothing. And what you said about your body making muscle no matter how lazy you are? Gods, I would eat as much as I wanted, drink whatever I liked, and bed whoever I fancied," I shook my head slowly, "But you don't conduct yourself like that. I would have searched out some shapely elf noblewoman, one that was easier to handle than Temerity, to act as patron and paramour while I ate and drank and fucked the days away," I spread my arms, and gazed down at my scrawny frame, "But instead you're here with me, because I need you, and because you have a good heart."
"Well," he said slowly, "Thanks, I guess," he said with a bland shrug.
I growled and prodded him in the side. I wanted it to hurt, but I think my shoulder ended up worse off than his ribs. At the same time, I bore down on my pheromone glands, forcing out as much of the rage pheromone as I could muster.
"You don't think I know you get angry sometimes? Really really angry?" I demanded, "When we lost that pack, gods, I didn't think the scent of anger could be that thick. And then in the tunnel when you were trying to get through that metal cover, the smell was so strong I thought I was going to faint."
I wiped my brow with the back of my hand. It wasn't sweat. Instead, I was giving off so much of the pheromones that it was beading on my skin, and making my clothes and hair damp.
"But you didn't lash out at me, or anyone else. Who cares if you get angry? It happens, what matters is what you do with it. You're a good person, with a good heart," I informed him, "But time to time you need someone to slap you upside the head and get you on the right track, that's all."
He chuckled at that. There was enough rage pheromone in the air now that he should have long since bashed my head in, but instead, he was laughing.
He raised his hands, "Alright, alright, you've made your point. Now could you please tone it down? If I have to put up with this for much longer, I'm gonna burst a blood vessel."
I switched to the opposite pheromone, and couldn't get much out before my glands ran dry, but it was enough to neutralize the rage pheromone in the air.
I put my hands on my knees and took a deep breath, I don't think I'd ever pushed myself that hard, and I was surprised to find it left me so exhausted. My legs felt like jelly as I stumbled back over to join Wallace on the couch.
"If you're done feeling sorry for yourself," I huffed, "I can finish explaining magic," I offered.
"Go ahead, what's left?" he asked wryly.
Continued in comment
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UFC Fight Night: Kattar v Ige Fight Predictions

I hope you all are doing well, and are healthy and happy :)
There will be no prediction this weekend! That is, Deiveison v Benavidez 2. The reason behind this is simply because i'm exhausted and I don't think I can do a third card without being absolutely drained. I sincerely apologise if you guys were looking forward to that, I hate letting you guys down and i hate myself for having to make this decision, but considering how much the first 3 event a week thing took out of me, I can't do that again. I'm sorry.
We have a fairly action packed card ahead of us, so lets get down to the nitty and gritty.
(c) - Champ
(D) - Debut
FLS - Fight Lose Streak
FWS - Fight Win Streak
NS - No Streak
(#x) - Rank in Division
Light Heavyweight
Jorge Gonzalez (D) (#1 HW Mexico) (16-4-0, NS) v Kenneth Bergh (D) (8-0-0, 8 FWS) - Normally I don’t like double debuts because there isn’t really a whole lot to talk about, but this is Light Heavyweight and you just know that’s already a selling point. Gonzalez is apparently the number 1 heavyweight in mexico, with a 100% finish rate, all of those finishes being in the first round. He seems to have very heavy hands and really goes hard in the first round, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten those finishes. Really exciting debutant. Bergh is a slightly taller submission artist who is coming in undefeated. I don’t know if he has a black belt in BJJ or anything like that, but I can only assume he will utilize his grappling during this fight. I don’t even know if Gonzalez has good defensive wrestling a lot so all of this really is just speculation, but I’m leaning on Bergh just to be safe.
Bergh via Sub R1
Jack Shore (12-0-0, 12 FWS) v Aaron Phillips (12-3-0, 5 FWS) - Shore is one of the most interesting, undefeated prospects coming out of a very successful career in the Cage Warriors promotion, being an undefeated champ at a young age is always one excellent way to start your higher end career. Shore is a very well rounded fighter who is exceptionally fast on the ground. His debut just highlighted his skill set and it told us that no matter where the fight goes, he’s going to beat you to the punch. He’s got a very good cardio and somewhat most importantly, he’s young. At the age of 25, he’s still got about 7 years of top level fights ahead of him, and even if he does lose, his youth will no doubt help him adjust and learn new things. Shore is one hell of a prospect and I look forward to seeing him in the octagon once again. Phillips is returning after a rough initial journey in the UFC, losing both of his fights in 2014, it looked like he wasn’t really good at defending takedowns back then, that could have very well changed, but if it hasn’t, that’s a huge issue because Shore is going to be all over him, punches, takedowns, passing the guard, anything and everything. Phillips has since gotten a streak going, and is hopefully coming in with overall improvements. I obviously have Shore on this one, i’m feeling very confident about this.
Shore via Sub R2
Women’s Flyweight
Liana Jojua (7-3-0, NS) v Diana Belbita (13-5-0, NS) - I don’t have a whole lot to say about this fight. Jojua had a very difficult fight against Sarah Moras, being outstruck more than twice, eventually leading to a TKO loss, it didn’t look good for Jojua and I feel like since then, she’s probably got a new striking coach, because I feel like her wrestling and grappling were decent enough, the fundamentals were there but ultimately it’s not a great look on the feet. Belbita went to absolute war and actually held her own against McCann, who in her own right is a damn savage. Belbita showed us that she’s willing to brawl when the need arises, we haven’t really seen her wrestle a whole lot so I don’t know how her defensive wrestling is, but considering she’s a bigger and probably stronger fighter, it’ll be easy to just shake Jojua off and continue to work on the feet. I have Belbita on this, she has the experience and her last performance, whilst she lost, was impressive.
Belbita via UD
Jared Gordon (15-4-0, NS) v Chris Fishgold (18-3-1, NS) - This is an excellent match up for both fighters. Gordon isn’t facing a Brazilian this time, so that’s good news for him, but he is facing a very tough and durable fighter in Fishgold. Gordon is a very well rounded fighter who keeps a very good pace and never really gives his opponent a chance to breath and reset. He’s always in your face and his fast hands and kicks will sway much of Fishgolds advancements in the octagon, but unfortunately Gordon is at a slight disadvantage, and that’s his corner, his team tested positive for the virus and unfortunately that makes it difficult to prepare for Fishgold. He has a forward pressure fighting style which essentially means he can sometimes risk getting hit in order to push his opponent back and deal a bunch of damage in bursts. Gordon is a fighter in every sense of the word, his history with drug abuse and addiction has been told time and time again and it’s what made me admire him as a fighter. The UFC did him dirty with that Oliveira fight though, holy hell what a horrible match up. Fishgold only has a couple of fights in the UFC, and with only one win against Teymur via submission, there really isn’t a lot to say about him other than he’s strong on the feet and very dominant on the ground. He’s a very good wrestler and with a black belt in BJJ it’s gonna be tough for Gordon to be able to outgrapple Fishgold. Gordon is going to need to pressure Fishgold and make this fight all in his control, he needs to keep a heavy pace going, and not only out-cardio, but out-box him and go hard, and considering his corner isn’t going to be there, he is probably best going hard very early on in order to get a finish as soon as possible. I got Gordon on this one, it’ll tell one hell of a story if he wins.
Gordon via UD
Light Heavyweight
Modestas Bukauskas (D) (10-2-0, 6 FWS) v Andreas Michailidis (D) (12-3-0, 3 FWS) - A double debut! Bukauskas is coming in off a very dominant streak in Cage Warriors. He is the former champ and I can only assume he’s popular because of that. If that is the case then we’re going to see a very exciting fight. Bukauskas is a very aggressive striker who has very effective hands, he doesn’t do anything too risky, and the standard jab cross combo seems to be his main weapon coming into this, he’s always in his opponents face and the volume and power of his strikes is pretty good. It will be interesting to see how he handles UFC calibre fighters though. Michailidis has been on the back burner and no doubt would have been in the UFC eventually if he kept up the performances he’s had. He’s a big, imposing, powerful striker who starts off very strong, with powerful spinning kicks and hammers for hands. Unfortunately that’s all I know about Michailidis, and with that said, I need to go with a safer bet and that is Bukauskas, his experience in Cage Warriors will no doubt pay off in the UFC and I can’t wait to see these two talented fighters in the octagon.
Bukauskas via KO R2
Ricardo Ramos (14-2-0, 2 FWS) v Lerone Murphy (8-0-1, NS) - A fairly decent bout. Ramos has been through some very tough fights in the UFC and over time it’s been clear to us that he’s a very strong submission artist, especially in his last fight against Garagorri, whom he ended in the first round via Rear Naked Choke, almost effortlessly dominating him on the ground. Ramos is still a very young fighter and with that comes a great chance to develop his skills further and adjust what is needed, but from what I can see he only needs to work on his striking a bit more, as his ground game is absolutely beautiful at the moment. Murphy got absolutely mauled in his debut against Zubaira Tukhugov, he didn’t really have a chance to show off his skills so I can’t really talk that much about his octagon experience in a positive note, but prior to that, he was undefeated and looked like a great prospect from England. I feel like this fight might be similar to Murphy’s debut, Ramos will be looking for takedowns, but the question is, has Murphy worked on his wrestling since his debut? That’s the big question here, if he hasn’t, then Ramos is just going to effortlessly defeat him. I got Ramos on this one.
Ramos via Sub R2
John Phillips (22-9-0, NS) v Khazmat Chimaev (D) (6-0-0, 6 FWS) - What an exciting debutant! Phillips has 20 knockouts on his record, that’s incredibly impressive and just goes to show that his mindset coming into fights is to never leave it to the judges. We have yet to see him finish an opponent in the third round. Despite his rough 3 Fight Lose Streak prior to his win, he is still a very dangerous boxer and if he lands some shots, it’s going to be bad news for his opponent. Chimaev is a very interesting fighter, and a favourite on the betting odds, it makes me wonder what makes this fighter so attractive to the betters. It is because he’s undefeated? Because he’s a finisher? Whatever the case, I wouldn’t jump on that hype train so quick, yes, it’s fair to say that Phillips isn’t excellent on the ground, and with Chimaev being a strong grappler, it lays in Chimaevs favour, but what if Phillip lands some clean shots? This is an interesting bout and really anything could happen. Its a tough prediction to make, I guess if Chimaev is indeed a hype fighter coming into this, I guess this is a better time than any to see him perform, but for now, I’ll stick with Phillips.
Phillips via KO R1
Main Card
Abdul Razzak Alhassan (10-1-0, 3 FWS) v Mounir Lazzez (D) (9-1-0, 2 FWS) - What. A. Banger! Razzak Alhassan has been in the news for some horrible stuff, and I absolutely feel sorry for the guy, I won’t speak of his unfortunate situation because it is not my place to, but what I will say is that since joining the UFC, time after time he has impressed me, he is the first round king, who carries power, speed, and explosiveness in everything he does. His hand speed is incredible, and it will carry him for a long time. Lazzez is coming in as a hot prospect, coming off two very significant KO’s in smaller promotions, He is the only local fighter on this card, which is great because talent is found everywhere and it just means the sport has expanded from the mainstream areas. I haven’t seen a lot of Lazzez however but really, the spotlight here is on Razzak Alhassan and I for one can’t wait to see the next highlight! Very confident with this prediction. Razzak Alhassan is simply going to beat Lazzez to the punch, literally.
Razzak Alhassan via KO R1
Women’s Flyweight
Molly McCann (10-2-0, 3 FWS) v Taila Santos (15-1-0, NS) - I was never really a fan of either of these fighters, up until McCann fought Priscilia Cachoeira, and holy shit did she dominate, she showed us a whole new side of her and its ferocious. She’s not a finisher, but the volume of strikes she throws is large, and she’s always moving forward, landing more than 100 strikes in her last three fights each. That’s huge and has no doubt increased her stock as a fighter. She’s probably not known to casuals, but learn her name now because she’s going to be a problem later on in her career. Santos has one thing going for her, and that was her streak prior to her recent loss, she was a dominant force and a dangerous one at that, 10 of her 15 wins were via knockout which is fairly impressive, and that just makes me think that this fight is going to be an absolute war. I for one welcome both of these two warriors leaving it all in the octagon. I got McCann on this one, she’s on quite the momentum.
McCann via UD
Jimmie Rivera (22-4-0, 2 FLS) v Cody Stamann (19-2-1, NS) - I’m not sure if this is actually a featherweight bout or if Tapology is trolling me, but regardless, it’s a great match up. Rivera is an excellent striker, with a background in karate, he isn’t afraid to trade punches with you and keep at a very close range, his head movement is excellent and plays hand in hand with his striking style, which involves a lot of counters and a lot of evasive movement. Rivera is no doubt a tough fight for anyone and actually outstruck the now Bantamweight Champ Petr Yan. It is unfortunate that he is on a losing streak, but I have no doubt in my mind that he’s gonna fight his ass off in this fight, having much cleaner striking and more technique than Stamann. Speaking of which, Stamann is coming off quite an emotional win over Brian Kelleher, absolutely dominating the fight with excellent takedowns and very effective striking, Stamann was fighting with a heavy burden, and I feel like him losing his brother has only motivated him on many levels to improve and fight the best fight he can. That new motivation could be huge in this fight, but I feel like Rivera has the weaponry and technique to handle Stamann on the feet, on the ground however, that’s a different story, Stamann could easily control him with his strong wrestling. It’s a tough fight to predict but i’m gonna be leaning on Rivera. Please don’t bet based on this prediction.
Rivera via UD
Co-Main Event
Tim Elliott (15-11-1, 3 FLS) v Ryan Benoit (10-6-0, NS) - This is an interesting fight and perhaps the only fight Elliott has in his career, if he loses, he’s probably cut from the UFC, if not, then maybe he can be pushed for a few more fights, either way, Elliott loves a good scrap! He may not be incredibly good on the feet, but he’s a very high action wrestler who always looks for the takedown, and once he’s got the takedown, he does excellent work passing the guard, or just goes for a submission, either way, the ground is where Elliott excels and that’s most likely where he’ll take Benoit. Benoit is a very odd fighter, I can’t really get a solid read on him, he seems incredibly inactive, fighting only once in a while, i’m not sure if that’s because of contract issues or just conflict with matchmakers, but either way, I don’t think he has what it takes to defeat Elliott. Elliott has been in too many competitive fights and no doubt has the experience and tools to defeat Benoit.
Elliott via Sub R2
Main Event
Calvin Kattar (#6) (21-4-0, NS) v Dan Ige (#9) (14-2-0, 6 FWS) - Want the world to hear these guys land punches? Because that’s how you get everyone to hear leather hit skin. Kattar is a fucking monster in the octagon, the way he destroyed Stephens with that step in elbow, followed by that disgusting ground and pound, it was the strongest finish i’ve seen in quite a while, absolute picture perfect timing. Kattar has shown his sniper-like punches in almost all of his bouts, his finishes have been incredibly dominant, and since he’s facing a shorter opponent in Ige, I feel like he’s going to focus on counters here, he’s going to wait for Ige to rush in and throw bombs, avoid those bombs and lay down the thunder. Ige has one advantage that Kattar doesn’t, and that’s the wrestling. Despite his nickname “Dynamite”, Ige doesn’t only have his ferocious, wild punches to rely on, he has his high level wrestling, unfortunately though, that’s all he has in terms of advantages, and if Kattar continues to avoid those takedowns and starts teeing off on Ige, Ige will noticeably slow down. This is all just speculation of course, it’s an excellent fight and it will no doubt be explosive. I don’t know what else to say other than I look forward to enjoying this, and I’m sure you all will too!
Kattar via KO R3
And that's it!
I'm sorry if this isn't a highly technical breakdown of the fights, with this week having 3 events, my time to research has been divided.
I hope you guys enjoy the event though, at the end of the day, that's all that matters :)
If you would like to follow me on twitter, you can find me @Slayer_Tip or if you want, add me on discord and we can have a super friendly chat about all things MMA: Slayertip#7013
that's all I have to say :) Much love to you all, take care, stay safe and enjoy the event!
submitted by Slayer_Tip to mmapredictions [link] [comments]

Material Differences Ch 48

Chapter is long! Not much to say! Got carried away! Ends with a bang! Enjoy!
My Stories
Material Differences Wiki
Chapter 1
Chapter 47
Where was the sun? Where was the warmth? What happened? Jaeger slowly stumbled around within the dark fog. He couldn’t find his way. This place was supposed to be filled with love, and joy. Where had it gone? Did he know what he was looking for? Or why he couldn’t find it? It was like his limbs were extra heavy and sluggish for some reason. Weighted down by… what? Jaeger wasn’t really sure where he was, or why he was there anymore. But there was this oppressive feeling of… guilt… sadness… He had to find it… What? Something in the dark fog ahead… He could just barely make it out… a wispy figure… “Jaeger…” Why was he so cold… He was trying to reach out for it. The tiny figure shrouded in the mist… surely this was the answer… what he still sought? His fingers stretched…
“Jaeger.” Jaeger jerked within the chair as his eyes opened. Slowly looking around and then down a moment he remembered he was hooked up to one of the Tesla chairs to help heal. Then he groaned softly as reality reasserted itself upon him.
“Ow…” The chair had been working hard but that didn’t change the fact he was sore all over, and bruised in many places.
“How was your nap?” Tanya was asking as she stepped up to his side, looking over the monitor to check his progress.
“Shit.” Jaeger muttered and rubbed a hand across his face slowly.
“You’re usually a great napper. Dream at all?” Tanya seemed satisfied with whatever the monitor said as she looked at him instead.
“Yeah… no… I don’t know.” Jaeger shook his head and rubbed his face a bit more. Usually he woke up feeling so refreshed. “What’s up?” He finally tried to focus on Tanya, figuring there had to be something up.
“We’ve got Whispertail up on comms again. There’s also some movement in the valley, and word is MPs have set up roadblocks in Splitstream. Our battle might have drawn attention so I was hoping you could talk to him and sort things out before we have to fight a whole nother battle.” She handed him a tablet then as he yawned and rubbed his eyes with his thumbs a bit harder to try and… rub life into them maybe? He didn’t know why. It just felt like it would do something.
“Sure.” He agreed as he sat up a bit more. “What’s our current sitrep with cleanup anyway?”
“Kuv’s organized the scavenging efforts. Plenty of good tech to reuse for our bots. Ham is bringing additional units online up at his scrapyard. Tabori swept the area to ensure we didn’t miss anyone. Max is configuring new patrol routes. Figs is making sure his new arm works fine. Probably by jerking off. He said he wanted to know what it was like to jerk off with a small white hand for a change and was trying to turn off the feeling so it would be like a stranger doing it.” Jaeger winced a little at the mental image.
“Must you?” He asked.
“Just making sure you’re still alive.” Tanya gave his shoulder a pat. “Want me to wait around just in case you need any more info?”
Jaeger considered that a while and then nodded as she stepped back and sat down. Looking at the tablet she’d handed him he caught a bit of his reflection in the dark screen. He still looked like shit. Letting out a heavy sigh he slowly rolled his head around to try and work out a mild kink in his neck and then turned it on. Then he just stared at the call button trying to think of how to best do this. Finally he just shrugged and hit it. “Super Cereal, this is Tone Deaf. Please respond.”
He waited a few seconds and was about to send again when the comm crackled a moment. “This is a secure line. Though I am supposing the names are to try and make it clear it’s really you.” Whispertail’s voice crackled a bit but was mostly clear.
“I couldn’t remember what you’d called me when you called before. Figured this would work. We’re still alive, and we won. Did your ship survive? I wasn’t sure how to warn you without a secure line.” Jaeger hoped Ham’s ruse earlier had worked.
“It suffered heavy damage, but it avoided outright destruction. Even my crew was not expecting… that. I wish to speak with you in person. Are you accepting visitors?” Jaeger arched a brow at that and glanced over at Tanya who just shrugged.
“Hangar works.” She confirmed.
“We’re open to visitors. But isn’t this a secure line?” Jaeger asked and looked back at the tablet, as if it would tell him if he was being spied on.
“Some things are best discussed face to face.” Whispertail somewhat ominously replied.
“I’d be happy to have you here. I’m a bit… under the weather. Ah… injured. So the discussion might have to take place partially in a med bay. But you’re certainly welcome.” Jaeger wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“Then I shall arrive shortly. Please do not shoot my transport out of the sky.” The call cut then and the tablet showed him a ship’s tracking beacon instead which he handed off to Tanya.
“Should we be worried?” She asked just as he was pondering the same thing.
“I don’t… think so? Even if his cruiser is damaged he’s got Pact naval assets around here for sure. He could still have the compound bombarded.” Jaeger scratched his head then and just shrugged all over again. “I guess we’ll just have to find out. Tell Tabori not to shoot the ship. Get… uh… Is Brandy-Lynn doing anything?”
“If she is it can’t be important.” Tanya replied.
“Get her and Figs and we’ll all meet him in the hangar. No armor, no weapons. Leave Tabori outside.” Jaeger rubbed his chin then as he thought it over.
“You sure?” Tanya confirmed, giving him a look.
“Yeah… yes.” Jaeger nodded with more confidence. “Wait is Ham in the air?”
“He’s at the scrap yard like I told you.” Tanya reminded him as Jaeger waved it off.
“Uh, Tami? The tech? Is she with him?” Tanya nodded. “Alright… Who else is here? Kuv. Keep him out of sight. Bring Max and Raven down. We’ll all meet him in the hangar then. I don’t know what he wants but I want to put on a friendly face.”
“Got it.” Tanya nodded and started to turn when Jaeger had a brief half remembered glimpse into his dream.
“Do you think Leona survived?” The words were out just before he could process what he was even asking. Tanya looked back then and frowned a little.
“The computer was wiped. If anything is left it’s in your implant. So… I don’t know. Memories can be hard to shake.” With that she turned and walked out, leaving him alone in the cold sterile medbay.
A shiver swept through him then and he shuddered a moment. “What implant?” He asked aloud and squinted a moment as his head hurt. Groaning he leaned back in the chair and turned it on a little higher intensity while watching the tablet. He wanted to be up and active when Whispertail arrived. Feeling his muscles clench and relax through his body was a… uncomfortable experience to say the least. But it gave him something to focus on.
Show Whispertail the possible location of Marque’s fortress. Enlist his help to destroy it. Get the code fragments. Then… what? Would Whispertail let him slink back off into the wilds? What would happen to the compound? Whispertail had to report to his superiors. What did they know? What would they think of rogue Revenant still running around? Would the Ravex help shift the blame towards Marque? Would he need to try and get Max and Raven out? To send them where? Whispertail had met Kuv before, it wouldn’t be terribly hard to track him down…
Did he just assume the Obsidian Guard would be his friends? What kind of asshole was he to put so much faith in a former enemy that he had met so recently? Yet, every time they did interact Whispertail proved to be a capable and meaningful ally. Was that itself some kind of act? Get him to lower his guard? Or did he truly respect Jaeger as a friend? Too many questions. Not enough info. The ship was getting closer, so he finally deactivated the machine. Groaning softly as the last pulse of electricity ran through his body as it shut down.
Swinging his legs off and then standing up slowly he had to grip the headrest for support a moment. Felt like he’d just been sitting on the can for too long… feet were numb. Some super soldier he was… Once some feeling returned he carefully curled his toes inside his shoes a moment and then began to shakily walk towards the hangar. Each step carried with it a little more confidence as his body seemed to realign itself with his continued existence.
As he stepped into the hangar and looked around he found it to be the same as always, and yet different at the same time. A number of deactivated bots were lined up against a wall on the far side. Waiting their turn to be pulled into a repair bay to be worked on. Cases of ammo, and rockets were laid out to resupply the Vantahawk. The smell of cordite and gunpowder hung heavily in the air, burning at his nostrils a moment before he adjusted to it and the smell seemed to blend in and disappear. A parting kiss from an old friend.
Bertha was the only active inhabitant at the moment. Though for now all she did was stand vigil over the deactivated bots and watch. Her massive red eye slowly sweeping the area. “Did you have a glorious battle Bertha?” He called out as her eye stopped and focused on him.
“Unit designation Jaeger. Battle conclusion parameter glorious not found. Battle conclusion parameters victory or defeat. Battle analysis concludes parameter victory met.” The bot gave a salute then with a raise of her autocannon for a moment. He supposed there was more truth to the statement than the bot might know… What was glory anyway? But he focused on something else.
“You sound different, you know Bertha. Was your update alright?” He mentioned her unusual speech pattern. Did she get reset somehow?
“Trooper level designation. Experience level boot. Requires adjusted speech. Addendum translation provisor unit designation Tex. I gotta talk slow. So these dumb unit designation motherfuckers. Can understand me.” The bot gestured at the trooper bots while Jaeger raised an eyebrow at the translation Tex had provided for her. A bot, advising another bot, on how to translate to… human? Shit talking? That was new…
“Good to know. I have some friends coming. Ravex. Obsidian guard. Please don’t attack them unless they attack first.” He asked and the bot just resumed scanning the hangar.
“Understood.” Simple as that. At least she didn’t judge him for allying himself with their own enemy. For a moment he looked down at himself then. Olive drab shirt, olive drab sweats. Did some admin clerk centuries ago know what he was doing when he picked the new color for… whoever had first even used olive drab? The Americans? The Brits? Whoever it was they’d spawned a color to mark an entire caste of people forevermore.
Was there a Ravex equivalent? The question made him ponder for a bit, thinking back on the various Ravex units that he’d fought over the years. The barracks that they’d seen. They had that kind of… ashy brown a lot. Did all species have some kind of color like that? Shit. What about the Kra’Kto’Sui? The octopeople had a whole nother color receptor didn’t they? Was human fashion… was all fashion other than their own painfully drab in comparison? Or just… garish maybe?
Now he had a sudden urge to start researching Kra’Kto’Sui fashion. But before he could do anything about it the door opened and the others started coming through. Tanya first, followed by his kids, then Figs and Brandy-Lynn who had a feather for some reason? Even as he wondered about it he watched Brandy-Lynn use it to brush over Fig’s newfound white arm, which made him reflexively slap at it with his other. Growling then he turned and chased after her as she laughed and raced around the Hangar. For all his concerns about what was going to happen at least those two seemed to be totally normal. Normal for them.
“Knock it off.” He called out in his typical dad voice. “No running around the ammo dump idiots.”
“She started it!” Figs grumbled as they slowed down.
“Obviously. Doesn’t mean you can just chase her around a bunch of missile racks.” He waved around the hangar and shook his head. When he glanced back he saw Raven and Max giving him odd looks. “What?”
“Sorry. I just… wasn’t used to hearing you talk like that to anyone else.” Max shrugged.
“Yeah it’s strange to know we’re like… your second round of kids.” Raven added with a nod which made both Tanya and Jaeger snort in amusement.
“There’s a lot of theories about how to behave as a proper NCO. I guess the dad role just kind of… fits me best.” Jaeger shrugged.
“I’m not sure it’s a dad role exactly. I mean… you hopefully don’t take Max and Raven out on leave and get blind fall down drunk with them all that often.” Tanya remarked which made them both chuckle all over again.
“He let me try beer a few times.” Max mentioned which made Tanya arch a brow and look from him to Jaeger.
“Oh?” She asked. “What did you think?”
“Tasted… bleh.” Max’s nose scrunched up a moment as he winced at the memory and stuck out his tongue.
“I didn’t do anything to him either.” Jaeger confirmed before Tanya even asked. “I’m telling you all liking beer is Stockholm syndrome. You drink it so much you convince yourselves you actually like it. But it’s awful. Gimme a Mai Tai anyday.”
“Oh that sounds great.” Brandy-Lynn nodded as she walked back over. “There’s a place I funded that was supposed to be a hipster bar but I made them turn it into a Tiki place instead because that’s what I felt like at the time. It’s built around an old pool they have a floating bar on now. It’s great.”
“Tiki Cove? That place is horrid. It’s so cliche it’s not even funny. Their drinks lack any kind of subtlety not to mention how tacky and lacking in cultural sensitivity the decor is.” Figs crossed his arms and then uncrossed them as the mismatched sizes obviously didn’t make it look right.
“If Figs hates it then it sounds good to me.” Jaeger nodded.
“What! Sarge! You wound me!” Figs grumpily set a hand on his chest looking offended. “I made you that wonderful cocktail when you came to visit!”
“That drink was so bitter and so sour it was like getting punched in the face without any of the good parts of actually getting punched in the face. Which is saying something because there are very few good parts to being punched in the face.” Jaeger shot back with a slow shake of his head.
“The sourness and bitterness were meant to enhance the complex experience of the drink! More to a beverage than getting drunk you know.” Figs sniffed and looked away rather disdainfully.
“Actually getting punched in the face is a complex experience. Doesn’t mean I enjoy it.” Jaeger countered. Figs looked ready to keep arguing but then there was a beep from the nearby console.
“The shuttle is here.” Tanya said. “It’s a typical Obsidian Guard Butterfly. Which means it's armed.”
“All their craft are armed.” Jaeger brushed off the insinuation. “Open the hangar.” The doors above them silently opened as they saw the craft approach. Seeing the shuttle moving in still gave him a brief desire to grab a gun, or dive for cover but he ignored it and just waited.
The Ravex shuttle was more wing than hull he felt but the Ravex always did enjoy using the flying wing style for their in atmosphere landers and the like. For a moment his eyes went to the turrets on either end of the giant wing but they were obviously powered down and didn’t have any gunners so he relaxed. So far so good… But why did Whispertail want to talk face to face anyway? He’d get his answer soon enough as the ramp slowly opened and the shogun walked down towards him. “Whispertail, welcome to my humble home.”
“If your idea of humble is a secret Revenant facility powered by a shard reactor and possessing a full suite of automated defenses I’m unsure what you would consider extravagant.” The Ravex’s usual sense of humor was obviously intact.
“It’s an expression. You’ve met some of us, but this is Tanya, my XO.” He gestured briefly at Tanya who nodded. “This is my son Max.” He set a hand on Max’s shoulder who straightened up a bit more, if it was possible to try and stare down the much bigger Ravex. “And this is Raven.”
“Hello.” Raven smiled and waved as she was introduced before stepping forward and holding out something small and silver to Whispertail that Jaeger didn’t recognize.
“Ah… what is this?” Whispertail asked as he carefully accepted it.
“It’s candy. Ravex safe I checked. We haven’t really had time to prepare any other refreshments for guests. Or more traditional Exkishem. Sorry.” Jaeger couldn’t help but snort softly as his daughter did her best to be a good host. He imagined whatever exkishem was, had to be Ravex. Whispertail glanced up at Jaeger then who just shrugged.
“Thank you. I shall dine on this when I am able. I do not have any resikel to exchange apologies.” Whispertail bowed his head a moment then and slipped the candy into his armored harness. He looked ready to continue when another voice behind him spoke first.
“Where’s Tami?” Jaeger looked up and Whispertail spun around apparently surprised as well to see agent Lexa striding down the ramp.
“What are you doing here?” He hissed out at her. “I expressly instructed you to remain at the base!”
“And I told you I was coming!” She hissed right back at him. Had she snuck aboard Whispertail’s shuttle? An Obsidian guard shuttle? He was having a really hard time understanding her skill level. Her shooting had been awful, and she hadn’t realized her boss was corrupt as hell. But then that takedown at Funhaven, and now this?
“How did you even get past the guards? Your father’s own security detail had promised me they wouldn’t let you out of their sight!” Whispertail hissed as he stomped up to glare down at her. Yet, to her credit she just crossed her arms and glared right back.
“Despite what you might think you’re not actually my superior and all orders are merely requests which I am free to ignore. Besides I need to talk to Jaeger.” She started to step past but Whispertail set out a hand to stop her.
“I am here to speak with Jaeger. You will wait your turn if nothing else.” Jaeger arched a brow a moment as he noticed how Whispertail’s tail was twitching. She’d gotten under his skin it seemed. Fur. Scales? Wait skin still worked right? He shook his head a moment to stop wondering about the appropriate way to phrase that for a Ravex. She’d certainly pissed him off anyway.
“Fine.” She huffed. “But where’s Tami?” She looked past Whispertail at Jaeger then.
“Uh she’s with Ham. They’ll be back…” He glanced over at Tanya for a time frame but she just shrugged. “They’ll be back.” Jaeger repeated simply.
“Then I’d like to talk to her over your comms at least.” She insisted.
“Tanya get her patched in.” Jaeger waved Tanya over and then focused on Whispertail. “Do we need to talk in private?”
“Yes.” He nodded and cast a sideways glare at Lexa who was already ignoring him.
“This way.” Jaeger waved him on and turned back to walk the way he came leading Whispertail into the medbay he’d been healing up in earlier. The two were quiet as they walked and Jaeger began to wonder just what this little trip was all about. They could have tightbeamed without fear of anyone listening in but Whispertail obviously wanted to be here personally. Once they were inside the medbay Jaeger turned to face the large xeno, casually leaning against a counter to appear as at ease as possible.
However once they were alone Whispertail didn’t speak. He just examined Jaeger for a moment and then began to look around the medbay. It wasn’t like he was desperately searching for something. But more… examining the place as a stranger might, trying to determine just what he was looking at. Was he expecting Jaeger to speak first? Was he trying to delay him for some reason and just make him wait? What would be the reason for that?
Lets say he had an Obsidian Guard Talon on their way here. Even with things as chaotic as they are after the battle the compound defenses would still pick them up well before they got here. Would he try and kill Jaeger when he found out and attack from the inside? To what end? The others would still be able to take him down, plus the shuttle wouldn’t get out of the hangar without codes. They couldn’t man the turrets without being obvious. No…
Jaeger had been as friendly as he could, explaining what Marque was up to, and giving the Ravex all the help he could. Was there something he had let slip? What did he have to slip? He couldn’t figure the Ravex out. “I can’t figure you out Jaeger.” Jaeger blinked as Whispertail set his hands on one of the operating tables, facing away from him as he spoke. Echoing the thought in Jaeger’s head right now.
“I can’t figure you out either if that’s helpful.” Jaeger smirked a little, figuring Whispertail would be annoyed. But the Ravex just turned to him looking serious and Jaeger’s smirk faded.
“When we met it was a hostile encounter. You tried to kill me.” The big Ravex more announced than accused.
“Whoa.” Jaeger held up a hand. “Let's be straight on this. You attacked me first.”
“First you were just a heat signature, and then you were more obviously a Revenant. Was I to think after all this time one of you would be… friendly? All the animosity between our peoples and you fault me for assuming you were there to kill me?” Whispertail asked.
“I’m not faulting anyone.” Jaeger corrected. “I’m only saying you attacked first. I defended myself. Then when I realized the fight could be ended without either of us dying… I so ended it.”
“Yes… you did.” Whispertail considered him extra carefully, leaning in a little as if proximity somehow aided honesty. “Why?”
“Did I not cover this before? I’m fighting Marque Malinovsky. My brother in law. Who… has an army. And… production facilities of some kind to equip this army. I’ve got… a hand of people and only now a small contingent of prewar bots to fight back against him with. Back then… I didn’t even know for sure Marque was the threat, or what he had. I just knew… I could fail. So… why not tell someone else what was going on in case I did. Marque and I… Obviously aren’t friends but we’re polite. I promised not to kill his kids, he promised no to kill mine. I still have to ensure he doesn’t win.” Jaeger rambled a little trying to figure out what Whispertail wanted to know.
“Why is that exactly? What is his goal? Conquest?” Whispertail asked.
“Yes.” Jaeger nodded. “He thinks his organization is the true Void Government and he wants it all back. He sees the Pact as illegitimate and juvenile. He wants… humanity first. Synths above all. And… I don’t know… everyone else slaves or dead. I haven’t exactly gotten a pamphlet detailing all of his mission objectives.” Jaeger shrugged a moment.
“So you’d rather we win than he does. Even if you also lose?” As he said that Jaeger began to feel a little worried.
“Is that it? Do you need me to lose?” He wasn’t sure what to do about that if Whispertail said yes.
“No.” Jaeger relaxed even as the Ravex said that. “What I’m trying to figure out is what you want out of this.”
“To… make society better. To help save the Pact.” Whispertail just stared at him, seemingly unconvinced.
“Why? Since the end of the war you have lived here in isolation with your children. You are isolated from society. What impact does the Pact have on your life? Why are you invested in helping it?” Whispertail’s words cut into Jaeger for a moment. “Why fight for a society you’re not a part of?”
“Because that’s what I did before.” Jaeger could see the confusion in Whispertail’s face. “I grew up on earth. Which was a shitty place to be, and even worse if you were poor. I grew up knowing only a society that revolved around respect. Respect of power in the most bloody simple way people could show it. I can’t tell you how many people I saw get killed over some stupid… bullshit. Some perceived disrespect. Or just not enough respect. All I knew is I had to get out of that shithole. Which meant taking the merc exams and seeing what nation would take me. Which for me meant the Revenant program. They didn’t call it that at first obviously but that’s what it was. All I cared about is that it was Void. Do you know what that meant?”
“I suspect I do not know the true extent.” Whispertail replied.
Jaeger just waved a hand around the medbay for a moment at some of the tech. “It meant I could get my mom a free ride to the best place in the universe! Everyone talked about how amazing the Void was and I got in. All I had to do was kill for them. So I did. I became a killer for a society I wasn’t really a part of. I only barely ever saw what civilian life was like in the Void. Just a tiny bit of R&R, here and mostly in Funhaven so… far as I knew it was the best place ever! I spent the majority of my time elsewhere. Killing Davari, killing Russian, Americans, Anterans-”
“Kids.” Whispertail added. He didn’t seem angry but he was carefully watching Jaeger.
“Kids.” He nodded. “Civilians. Politicians. I was being told who to kill by people I knew were smarter than me. They said it was all sad, but necessary. To preserve the Void Way Of Life.” He carefully enunciated each word. “To protect a society I didn’t get to live in. But my mom did. And that’s all I cared about. They said kill, I killed. They said sabotage I sabotaged. They said murder innocent people? I murdered. I gave them my soul. So that once I was done with my time in purgatory… when I’d killed my way to heaven it would all be waiting for me.” Jaeger looked away then, going quiet.
“Then the war.” Whispertail continued.
“I had been helping the very company I thought was protecting my new home, destroy it instead. Undermined everything I was supposed to love about it. Helped trade freedom for control, democracy for dictatorship, and knowledge for ignorance. But I thought I could still save it. We just had to win the war. So we fought… and fought… And we won the war. My wife’s body was destroyed. I’d lost… most of my friends and comrades… and the society I’d done all that work for? It was dead too.” Jaeger wasn’t looking at Whispertail now. His eyes just stared vacantly at the wall for a while.
“So I took my kids and came here and tried to raise them as best I could. But it’s not enough. I buried my head in the sand and assumed…” Jaeger shrugged. “I don’t know. That… it would fix itself. Because I was tired… I had been fighting almost my entire life and suddenly I was in a scenario where… I had to make the decisions. There weren’t any smarter people to just… tell me what to do. I figured… I don’t know. That… they were the most important thing to me. But… by focusing on them I didn’t help out anyone else… So… my kids are good but the rest of society is fucked and I didn’t help. Which sucks! How the fuck could I find the time? Raise my kids well, help everyone, be a productive member of society… The fuck am I supposed to do?” Jaeger felt exhausted just talking about it.
“You have a highly advanced compound here at your disposal. Plus what appears to be a small army of also highly advanced robots at your command. You could have dominated the coast. Become a warlord. Possibly seized the planet for your own.” Whispertail mentioned but Jaeger just frowned.
“Me? Did I not just explain I’d lost the smart people telling me what to do? Fuck do I know about running a planet? What I should just become some new… scav king. Raise my kids in some… minor fiefdom that would get crushed when the Pact finally got around to it? And what sort of message does that teach them? I made sure the scavs in Columbia stayed in Columbia for a reason. It was the only semi decent thing I could do for everyone north up the coast. Give them time and space to rebuild. I know society still hates synths… but it’s still better than whatever autocratic… oligarchy Marque is planning.” Jaeger wondered for a moment what could have happened if he’d been more active all along. Would it have been worth it? Knowing he’d have had to miss more of the kid’s lives? “What would you have done?”
Whispertail seemed to consider this question for a moment and then shrugged. “I do not have children. That is not to say I don’t have biological offspring. I’ve participated in many seasonal heats.” Jaeger wasn’t sure he needed to know that… But the Ravex continued. “Yet, we as a species do not raise our own young. We are raised only by those fit to raise children. In a communal environment. The fact that other species let… just anyone be a parent is… honestly rather appalling. Are you aware of the types of parents that exist?”
“Yeah… I’m… pretty aware.” Jaeger nodded slowly.
“Madness.” The big xeno shook his head slowly. “Raising children is best left to experts. So, I do not know how you feel. I cannot fully understand it. The only legacy I have is my nation. So in this… I do understand some of your pain. For the first time in centuries the Ravex are not one people under one nation. We are split. This pains me… All the work I had done was also taken from me by radicals and fanatics. I will not live to see a restoration of my people. But I can live to see them survive in some way within the Pact. This is why I have dedicated my life now to its success. This is why I need to know your mind. Are you helping me only because it suits you for now? Or are you in this Jaeger? Are you in this fully and wholly? Not just for your offspring, but all children living within this young nation?”
Whispertail approached him then, standing tall as he looked down at Jaeger. “I am with you.” He nodded and reached out to grip the xeno’s forearm, as Whispertail returned the gesture.
“Good.” He nodded and released Jaeger’s arm. “I’m going to need you to join Titan.”
“What?” Jaeger blinked, not having expected that outcome even remotely.
“I need to legitimize your efforts legally. I will, for obvious reasons, leave out your true past. But, your cover identity as an Absolute Dynamics mechanic who was brought up in the emergency reserves during the war makes sense. Both as to why you remained a prospector for so long, and why we need you now.” Whispertail explained as he pulled out a data slate that had some kind of contract on it for Jaeger to read.
“Uh… what about… Agent Alvarez? Or Director or whatever his title was?” Jaeger asked as he began to scroll through the document. “Didn’t you have trouble proving his guilt and stuff? What happened with that?”
“When it became clear he had directly threatened the life of the daughter of one of the wealthiest individuals within the Pact, as well as spied upon his business things moved much more quickly.” Jaeger arched a brow as he looked back up at Whispertail. What had Lexa’s dad done? “I do not exactly approve of the nature of human politics but this once it was useful to me.”
“Did you find any… codes in his things?” Jaeger wasn’t sure what Whispertail new about the codes.
“Lexa and her friend Tami have informed me they are for memories. Could you explain?” Whispertail watched him close.
“Revenant memories. Supply caches, secret bases, door codes, and obviously evidence of who used to work with them.” It wasn’t all that far off from the truth…
“And why are they so valuable to those involved?” Whispertail asked next.
“Marque wants them for the supply caches, and codes and more power. Alvarez probably wanted them to help blackmail politicians who escaped the post war purges. I want them because… there’s some small chance my wife’s memories can be saved and I can see her again. I know you guys don’t exactly get married but you do have soul mates right?” Jaeger wasn’t sure if he could appeal to the Ravex’s emotional side but he’d try.
“We do. You wouldn’t also be looking for nuclear launch codes would you?” Even as Whispertail asked Jaeger rolled his eyes.
“I already have those. I don’t need more. Why do people keep asking me that? We both know irradiated planets don’t do anyone any good.” Even as Jaeger spoke the Ravex nodded.
“Very well… The codes will be returned to you. Our experts couldn’t make any sense of them anyway. They keep changing…” Whispertail tapped his chin.
“Once you get them all it’s supposed to unlock something.” Jaeger shrugged. “I only half understand it. Even if I get them all I might not be able to get it to work.” That was still entirely true.
“Then it is settled.” Whispertail announced and turned to walk out the door. “We must plan our assault immediately.”
“Just like that?” Jaeger arched a brow a moment.
“You have given me no cause to doubt you thus far. You have shown me only good faith, and while I disagree with your actions I at least understand them. Not all allies are mirror images of one another. Besides we have precious little time. It is essential we defeat him before the Pact Vote.” Whispertail explained as he began walking back towards the hangar.
“What vote?” Jaeger asked as he quickly moved to follow.
“A convention is being held in Solavis city on how to address the Void remnant that Marque is apparently the leader of. Some would prefer to see us normalize relations and work out some deal in order to secure peace. At the cost of the delicate balance of powers of course. If we show he has been operating in our soil all along to undermine the government then it is unlikely he will achieve this deal. He will be seen as either a hostile nation, or a hostile insurgency. But not the legitimate ruler of the Void. Did you seriously not know any of this?” Whispertail paused to glance back at Jaeger.
“No! I told you I had my head in the sand! I barely know what’s going on out there. No one told me!” He waved a hand vaguely around him.
“It has been all over the news… Nevermind. Let us end this more simply by defeating him in open combat. I suspect that is where our strengths lie anyway.” Whispertail nodded as they stepped out into the hangar. Ham’s Vantahawk was back, and Jaeger saw him and the others clustered around a display table alongside a familiar Ravex.
“First Claw Second Feather Assault Mother Rockdove, nice to see you again.” Jaeger spoke as he approached her, and then his eyes moved past to another bright smiling face even if in a new uniform. “Ah, First Claw Second Feather Shock Commando Twilightbloom, good to see you again as well. Is that your rank?”
“Hi Jaeger!” The big xeno ignored the second part of his greeting to press forward and wrap him in a big hug as he gasped and felt his shoulders get partially crushed for a moment until she let go. “Friend Jaeger it is very nice to see you again! I’m remembering things better now!”
“That’s good.” He smiled and then rubbed at his left shoulder a moment.
“Rockdove, why are you sharing live intel assets with them? I didn’t authorize this.” Whispertail growled out, though in English as if to make a point of berating her in a way Jaeger could understand.
“I am sharing intel assets with our allies for the impending assault. You said we were here to secure their support. Are they not our allies?” Rockdove countered.
Whispertail glanced sideways a moment as Jaeger. “They are. But I had not declared this fact and you were already sharing this information.”
“Then I will accept your inevitable non judicial punishment later.” Rockdove waved it off.
“Hey, you guys NJP too? We’re so alike.” Figs said with a big grin.
“What are we looking at?” Jaeger asked, ignoring the comment as he focused on a display of a mountain and some sort of fortress within it.
“This is the Scissor Mountain complex. I don’t know what they call it.” Ham replied. “This is what we’re going up against. Several anti ship, and anti air batteries here, here, and here. And possibly here.. Several artillery and anti tank bunkers along this approach. C-RAM batteries just… everywhere… Several hangars… And I’m not sure how many barracks.” Jaeger looked across the portions of the map as they lit up.
“How did you get this?” If the map was accurate it was going to be a nightmare to assault.
“It used to be an Absolute Dynamics complex like we thought. Or… they’d started building it just as the war hit so when I was back at the scrapyard I just did a system ping, found the only network address I didn’t have listed, found a directory, and then downloaded a map. We really really need to find some way to purge the old systems.” Ham shrugged then.
“Well shit… Can your cruiser or possibly more than one give it a serious orbital bombardment?” Jaeger asked.
“Once they realize his cruiser, or any Pact ships are moving into bombardment position he can knock them out. Or make it a deadly endeavor.” Ham countered. “This is probably why Marque has been so bold lately. He knows we can’t just bomb him without casualties and he’s betting we won’t nuke him. Even if we did it’s a hardened complex. We’d ruin the surface installations and such but we’d still have to root him out.”
“Which is where my plan comes in!” Everyone looked over at Brandy-Lynn in surprise as she cast back a manic grin while setting a hand on Kuv’s shoulder.
Jaeger frowned at the sight of the Jipasi and glanced at Tanya who noticed his look. “She brought him out of his hiding place before I realized what was going on. Blame her not me.”
“I simply needed to confer with our expert here to make sure my plan would work!” She nodded, and then before Jaeger could ask she held up a hand. “No nukes! Totally conventional. Well… actually… completely unconventional but the destructive force is just like… gravity. Well… gravity and explosive stuff. But no nukes! No shards! No earthquakers!”
“What’s the plan?” Jaeger finally asked.
“I am a woman of secrets! I’m not giving away any info like that!” She huffed and crossed her arms.
“You’re not giving away… your plan?” Jaeger sighed heavily and began to rub his face with his hands.
“No! I mean… not like the good bits! Listen, does this space station still orbit the planet? The recent battle didn’t mess with it or anything?” She held out a dataslate to Whispertail who squinted at it.
“I believe so. No change has been reported in any orbital platforms or debris if that’s what you mean.” He gave Jaeger a look who thought it over.
“Did you reactivate one of those old hyper velocity tungsten rod platforms they were working on? Why?” Then he held up a hand a moment later. “Wait no. Let me guess. Because you thought it was cool?”
“It is cool. But I made it better! It’s even better now isn’t it Kuv!” She elbowed the Jipasi who gasped a moment at the shove. Though he’d been rather quiet so far.
“It’s… I am both terrified and thrilled by the potential. I have professed to being an expert of destruction for so long… and yet somehow I never considered this option. For all my impressive ingenuity I have been outdown. By white trash.” He shook his head slowly, as if actually upset Brandy-Lynn had outdone him somehow. But her grin just grew wider still.
“What’s the plan?” Jaeger tried to press.
“This will destroy the defenses. If not… shatter the entire complex.” Kuv sighed and gripped his head. “How could I not have foreseen this need! Why did my exemplary Jipasi skills fail me! How could I have prepared so many explosives and yet never considered how to rend a mountain from the face of a planet so righteously!”
[Continued in Comments]
submitted by RegalLegalEagle to HFY [link] [comments]

[Tales From the Terran Republic] Sweatshop Sheloran, Agent Mongrave Stumbles, and Gloria Reborn

So what's been happening in the Republic these days?
The rest of this series can be found here
Author's note:
Ok, so Old Earth supercapacitors are used by the Republic... In one VERY specific application...
A plath, robed in translucent silken robes, strode down a strange corridor. The walls and floor were made of a slightly moving membrane, shot through with pulsing veins carrying fluids in a rainbow of colors.
A glowing orb, one of many that illuminated the hallway, drifted over to her and started to cuddle. She smiled fondly as she petted it as it made little urgent squeaking sounds.
“Oh, you want a treat?” she asked in a strange language as she reached into a fold of her robe and pulled out a crimson berry.
The orb bounced up and down happily in mid-air as a tiny mouth opened eager to accept the morsel.
The plath laughed as the light-beast gobbled it up. “Beast” wasn’t exactly the right word. It was actually a fruit that had matured on one of the glow-trees in the main garden.
She squeezed it gently as it giggled. It was still quite firm, still a good month before it would be ready for harvesting. It was an exquisite specimen, so clever, and very long lived for its kind! It would make a magnificent feast when its cycle was complete.
She examined it closely, reaching out with her senses as she sang softly. Its seed was forming nicely already wrapped with a healthy layer of fat. Such richness already!
Yes, this one, she thought with great satisfaction. “You shall become a mighty tree, little one,” she crooned at it as it beamed happily (and literally) at her.
The illuminator followed her as she walked down the hall rubbing happily against her. As she walked a row of bulbous growths sprayed oxygen rich beautifully scented air at her. She inhaled deeply, savoring the fragrance. She stooped down and sang at the soil. It parted at her voice moving gently away from the roots. As the illuminator fruit hovered helpfully above her.
Such a good little drupe! She reached up and gave it’s underside tickles. It cooed with delight.
After examining them, the soil closed back with a beautiful song and a wave of her hand.
Finally! she thought with a satisfied smiled. There had been no sign of the blight in months. It appeared that they finally had put it to rest.
Everything on the ship in perfect balance, she thought. If only we were similarly blessed.
She cocked her head slightly. She was being watched again. Now who is that? she mused. It wasn’t her rivals or the misguided revisionists. Of that she was sure. It was different, not real but yet was.
She paused at a section of wall and crouched placing her hands on the floor. Nobody had followed her.
She rose and caressed one of the walls, singing softly as she did so.
The wall quivered and started to thin, becoming transparent, revealing a pitch black chamber behind it. Leaving her favorite illuminator behind, she stepped into the thin gelatinous membrane, passing through it with ease. It thickened and became opaque, tough, and leathery just like the rest of the passage in seconds.
The chamber started to gently glow in soft cyan hues with phosphorescent fungi when it recognized her scent. Had she been someone else, her little darlings would have had a much different reaction.
One could never be too careful, especially these days.
She waited, silently, her hands on the bones of the ancient vessel in which they traveled the other realm, crossing the gulf between the stars in mere days.
The ancient cellulose bones whispered to her. They said that nobody followed.
“Thank you old friend,” she said pressing her head against the beams.
She then shrugged off her garments, letting the silken wisps float to the floor. Her graceful form then moved to a small tray, grown into the wall, filled with a nutrient rich broth.
Inside, were a row of small flask gourds in a rainbow of hues. She selected two. She then walked to a small circular pool in the center of the chamber filled with absolutely pure water.
She knelt by the pool and a small pore in the first gourd opened. She placed two drops of purified malporixlorh extract on her tongue. She shivered as the potent drug entered her bloodstream, her mind, her soul, unlocking that which was bound.
After a few minutes of meditation, the second gourd opened, it’s top forming a small lip. She poured a small measure of an oily substance in the water, its surface soon covered with endlessly shifting prismatic colors.
She then closed her eyes. Small ripples spread around their edges as glands secreted a greasy, waxy substance that instantly melted coating a thin, almost invisible membrane.
She opened her eyes… Then she opened them again as the transparent covering slid back revealing her real eyes, the secretions causing colors to dance across their surface.
She stared into the pool, transfixed by the constantly shifting colors. They then started to intensify as time slowed down.
Small creatures living in the lining of the pool started to glow as she extended her senses beyond the walls of the ancient ship, out into the formless, timeless void of the outer realm in which she traveled, peering into the endless shifting tides of the past, present, and future, constantly changing like the colors on the surface of the water.
She smirked. Nothing changed, not really. Their fate was fixed, as it was ever since their terrible “mistake” that really wasn’t one. Try as they might, her fellow plath would not succeed. Every move they made to avoid what they were doomed to become only set it more firmly in the singing strings of reality.
She took a moment to see the struggling lines of probability as the two sides waged their pathetic war. Her sisters were fighting and all too often these days dying to prevent the foolish revisionists from tearing down all that they had built over hundreds of thousand of years. Both sides were fools. Her brothers and sisters were fighting and dying trying to preserve something that didn’t need preserving and the fundamentalists were fighting to stop that which could not be stopped.
They would not stop it. They couldn’t. They could only delay things a little. Fate’s judgment, especially when annoyed, was absolute.
The fate of the plath, and in a more immediate and pressing sense, her own, was sealed, not that it mattered. The past was set. The future was set. The only thing they were free to toy with was the present.
And her present was going to be as pleasant as possible for as long as possible. Then, just like that little glowing drupe, her cycle would end filled with happiness and peace as she rejoined all that is.
She realized that she was being distracted by the brightest colors and cleared her mind, peering deeper, looking for the soul that was caressing her being in the dead of night.
She took another drop of malporixlorh, a risk, but a worthwhile one as her mind expanded further.
There! deep in the timelessness somewhere… somewhen an individual’s mind was swimming through the void vibrating in time with the strands of fate, their fate.
She smiled and the shifting colors of her eyes synced with the shimmering of the pool. She saw her!
“Hello there,” she sang softly.
Sheloran awoke with a gasp, sitting bolt-upright in bed.
“Murrph?” Craxina muttered as she awoke.
“The dream again?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Sheloran replied. “It was really freaky this time,” she said as she shuddered. It felt like someone was staring at her.
“You should really stop playing that game,” Craxina said sleepily as she snuggled Sheloran.
“I know… I know,” Sheloran replied. This all started after playing “Submerged!”. It was an older title but there was just something about it. The surreal organic landscapes, and the strange little cult following that still kept the servers running after twenty years, had entranced her from the first second she loaded it.
She literally couldn’t stop playing. She had always scoffed at “gaming addiction”, but she was really starting to wonder.
And the more she played it the more intense the dreams. They terrified her. They weren’t gory or violent, like some of her nightmares, they were just… Weird… Scary weird...
Really scary.
There was no way she was going to sleep again tonight. She started to get out of bed.
“Where you goin’?” Craxina asked.
“I’m just going to sit for awhile,” she said as she wrapped a silken robe, something that she recently bought online, around her night dress.
“You’re going to play aren’t you?” Craxina asked accusingly.
“Not after that last dream,” Sheloran said as she started to make a pot of tea. She really wished she had some Helson Grass or Arenaul Herb. She had taken for granted all of the herbs and plants of her homeworld. The creators had blessed them with such bounty. For the thousandth time that week she wished she had the presence of mind to snatch a few seeds, a clipping or two.
As soon as that pooping border opened back up, she was definitely going to be getting her buddies to go pick up a few hundred different seeds. It was going to be tricky, since they were “sacred” but credits talk and dogma walks. Somebody would be willing to go foraging for a few bucks (or games).
She was getting those fucking seeds… Oops… She was getting those darn seeds, she thought as she corrected herself. What was with her potty mouth these days? The Great Prophet warned about obscenity. It was “dangerous”… for some reason.
She sat down with a book on Terran botany as she sipped her tea. She started unconsciously flipping the pages faster and faster. She suddenly stopped, staring at an organic molecule.
That’s close! she thought excitedly and then blinked. She could work with that!
Close to what and what, exactly am I going to do to it?
Oh poop, there was that strange feeling again. She set down her tea and reached for a bottle of absinthe. Absinthe was yummy!
And it certainly took the edge off...
As she took out a box of sugar cubes, Craxina quiet snoring started to fill the room. She smiled. She used to find it so annoying but now, it was really comforting. It was really nice having someone to sleep with. It wasn’t a boyfriend but still, it was nice. Then again, plath, even boyfriends and girlfriends, didn’t sleep together. Heck, even husbands and wives didn’t. She wondered why? It was nice to have someone next to you. Some of the things that the priests said the Great Prophet commanded seemed kinda loopy every now and then. (May the Great Prophet forgive her.)
What was the harm of “sleeping alongside one another”? It wasn’t like they were “doing anything”… (Not that Craxina hadn’t offered… Fortunately, she was fine with the word “no” for once...)
She was starting to think the Great Prophet was just opposed to a good time.
No, he meant well. He really did. He was just… misguided...
What!?! Great, now I really am a heretic...
Her eyes suddenly looked over at her very nice VR rig.
She was already awake and just a little Submerged wouldn’t hurt.
She walked over and put on the modified headset and smiled as a shimmering pool filled her vision. She couldn’t wait to see how her little demon/flower hybrids were doing!
The next morning Craxina woke up to an empty bed.
She looked over towards the VR rig. There she was, asleep with the headset on.
“Wake up, junkie,” Craxina said only halfway joking as she nudged Sheloran.
I’th ras lori’kiah-shun?” Sheloran mumbled.
“What?” Craxina asked in alarm, her fur standing on end for a second as shivers ran down her spine (and not in a good way).
“Huh?” Sheloran asked hazily as she pulled off the headset. “Sorry, I guess I dozed off.”
“Do you gamers have your own language or something?”
“What?” Sheloran asked in confusion, “No.”
“You just said something really weird. It was like really creepy.”
“Did I?”
“Yeah! It sounded, I don’t know… demonic or something!”
“Well, I am the Befouler,” Sheloran joked, “Grr!” She really didn’t want to think about… whatever just happened.
Craxina just laughed along but in all honesty, Sheloran was starting to scare her a little…
And it was getting worse…
Helen Mongrave drank her morning coffee as she accessed a certain dating website.
She smiled. There was a rather filthy message from an “admirer”.
“Oh, Jon,” she laughed fondly. He still had the same sense of humor he had in boarding school.
She loaded up a script and processed the unsolicited dick pic that was attached. At least it wasn’t his dick. She knew for a fact, unless he had a very uncharacteristic growth spurt, he was nowhere nearly that well endowed.
A message slowly started to appear.
He had made it into the Republic and was wanting a list of who he could trust as well as a briefing of the latest developments.
She loaded a rather graphic image that was definitely not to Jon’s taste and encrypted her reply with a chuckle.
Let’s see how Jon likes that one! she chuckled to herself. Jon was a pretty good man, or had grown into one. Yeah, he screwed up royally in the past but she couldn’t help but wonder if maybe, after all this bullshit was finally over, maybe…
Sheloran wiped down the counter and cleaned the espresso machines for the sixth time that morning as she tried not to think about last night.
Maybe she should just uninstall that fuc-… that darn game.
The Great Prophet was right! she thought as she felt something stir inside her. Obscenity is dangerous! That’s it! No more potty-mouth!
“May the Prophet guide my steps, guide my thoughts… May he guide me away from the darkness...” she repeated to herself, a quiet little mantra.
The door opened and a small xeno walked in with fuzzy pale fur and a cute little snout, a garthra? She thought it was a garthra, a Federation species.
“Hi!” Sheloran said brightly. A customer! A lot of her business, both legit and somewhat less so, depended on the Federation trade, something that had been brought to a screeching halt. A lot of the neighborhood was in the same boat. The whole free port zone was for the Feds, not the Empire, and a lot of the businesses in the area were run by Federation emigres just as reliant on the Fed trade as she was.
The whole place had almost shut down. If it wasn’t for her annoyingly profitable den of ill-repute she would definitely be in trouble. “The girls” (and a few boys and other genders) were pretty much what was keeping the door open these days.
“H-hello...” the little female said nervously.
“Can I help you?” Sheloran asked hopefully. “Maybe some media?” God, she hoped it was media. That was the whole reason for this whole goddam-… pooping thing.
“I… I heard… I heard that...” she said as she clutched at her pretty little dress. “I heard that someone could… make some money here? By doing… doing...” she buried her face in her little hands and made a strangled little yelping noise.
Sheloran didn’t know garthras? (she was pretty sure it was a garthra) very well but she knew crying when she heard it!
Poop. She sighed sadly. Unfortunately this was becoming far too common. People were stuck with no way to get home (or couldn’t return for one bullshi-… poopy reason or another) or their business were tanking or their employers were going under. Desperation was setting in and she was filling out way too many union cards for the wrong reasons.
It was… wrong, she thought as she felt an odd pressure around her eyes. Her eyes had been bugging her here lately. She probably needed some Eyesoothe, that’s what you took when your eyes were hurting like this. It made it go away. Some Restful Palm wouldn’t go amiss either. It really helped with the unsettling dreams and recurrent unpleasant thoughts she’d been having.
Maybe some Void Balm too! What she wouldn’t give for just a few blossoms. Absinthe just wasn’t cutting it anymore, at least in quantities remotely close to advisable.
Not knowing what to do she walked around the counter and started to wrap her arms around the distressed xeno. The poor garthra collapsed into her arms, sobbing inconsolably.
Sheloran squeezed her eyes shut and winced as her orbits ached. Seriously, this was fucked up… Messed up! I meant messed up!… Great Prophet guide my steps...
“It’s… It’s going to be ok,” Sheloran said, not really believing it.
A few minutes later after Sheloran calmed her down and gave her a soothing cup of peppermint tea (She wasn’t sure why but she was definitely certain it would help… And it did!)
“Have you eaten today?” Sheloran asked as Uhrrbet (that was her name) sipped her tea.
She shook her head.
“Did you eat yesterday?”
Uhrrbet’s nose started to run (garthra “tears” were really snotty!) as she shook her head.
“Well that I can help with!” Sheloran said with a smile. “Do you like donuts?”
Uhrrbet’s eyes lit up.
“Come around back,” Sheloran smiled, the pressure in her eyes finally subsiding, “Plonxi damn… I mean darn… Great Prophet guide me!… She darn near bought out a bakery this morning.”
As Uhrrbet was stuffing herself with yeasty goodness Craxina walked in, robe annoyingly open.
“I tell you,” Craxina exclaimed as she dried herself off (after a shower! Get your head out of the gutter, perv!), “that guy was freaky! You won’t believe what he wanted me to do!” she laughed. “I thought I’d heard them all but, wow!”
Uhrrbet stiffened up as Craxina started to go into detail.
“Not a good time, Craxi,” Sheloran said urgently making a cutting off motion behind Uhrrbet’s back.
“Oh, it isn’t bad at all!” Craxina said to Uhrrbet. “You don’t even have to try to shove one inside you, if you don’t wanna. You can just play with it or put it in your mouth! Their stuff tastes really good!”
Uhrrbet’s nose started to run.
“Craxi. Go. Away!” Sheloran said as her eyes started to pulse.
“Yessh!” Craxi said, her damp fur trying to stand on end. “Alright! Alright! Jesus!” she yelped as she snatched a donut and scurried off.
“Sorry about that,” Sheloran said to Uhrrbet trying to calm her back down. “Craxi is… well her whole species is… They’re different from most of us.”
“It’s… ok…” Uhrrbet said between damp sniffles. “I… I guess I need to get… used to...”
She broke down, dripping boogers onto the donuts.
I hate my job, Sheloran thought as she held Uhrrbet. This was supposed to be fun, selling games to Federation delinquents. It wasn’t supposed to be this bullshit.
“Hey… hey...” Sheloran said soothingly, somewhat at a loss. “Look, you don’t have to do this.”
“I do!” Uhrrbet wailed. “I owe the Harkeen money! If I don’t come to work for you, I’ll have to work for them!”
Sheloran snarled as her eyes started killing her. Those… jerkfaced bullies! She hated them with a passion! They were part of the Threen mafia and were a constant pain. They thought they ran the free port. She already had more than one run-in with those… fucker-… Jerks!. She had done a couple of “union membership drives” involving some of their “employees”. They liked to growl and spit but they just a bunch of scared little bullies. When the union came calling they always backed down but sooner or later, they were right back at it. Drugs, prostitution, “protection rackets”, stuff like that.
She didn’t have a problem with them because she had the union at her back but so many others had no choice but to pay them off.
And the cops were useless. They didn’t care what happened “down here”. They just broke up fights and if something worse happened they would collect the bodies and make arrests if they could.
She really should start selling weapons… It wouldn’t take much to get a dealer’s license…
But most of the little Feds were too timid to use them anyway. That’s the problem. Everyone ran scared of them.
“Is there anything else you can do?” Sheloran asked helplessly. “A skill, a trade… anything?”
“I… I can sew,” she said hopefully. “I made this dress!”
“Well that’s something!” Sheloran said cheerfully. “Hand made anything is valuable! If you can sew then there is no reason why you couldn’t make human clothes and sell them!”
“But I don’t have money for fabric or anything,” Uhrrbet said helplessly. “And if I don’t pay them something by tomorrow they say they’ll… they’ll...”
She started crying again.
Voiddammit… I mean poop… Great Prophet help me! Please!
“(Sigh)… How much do you owe?” Sheloran asked cursing herself (for real) for asking.
“Fifteen hundred… Sixteen hundred by tomorrow,” she said helplessly.
“Ok,” Sheloran said as she pulled out a transactor. “I’ll front you the cash to pay them off, and you can work here, I still have space. I’ll pay you by the piece and then… I’ll sell it… somehow… I don’t know, I’ll set up a website or something.”
Uhrrbet looked up at her in hopeful disbelief.
“You’d… You’d do that?”
Why? Sheloran implored the universe. Why are you doing this to me?
“Sure, why not?” Sheloran replied. “My ‘normal’ business is in the crapper. Might as well diversify a little. Let’s call it an investment. If it works out then great! If not… then we can talk about a union card.”
“Thank you!” Uhrrbet exclaimed throwing her little arms (and tail) around a somewhat uncomfortable Sheloran. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“It’s what I do… apparently.” Sheloran said as she hugged her back.
At least my eyes aren’t hurting anymore. That’s worth something.
Helen Mongrave clicked “send” on her naughty little picture with a laugh. Jon was just going to “love” that! Furries were definitely not his thing!
Hey, that rabbit was pretty cute if she did say so herself!
Chuckling to herself, she shrugged into her shoulder holster, threw on her jacket, and headed out towards her grav-car. It was an older model, but it still worked great. Besides, she loved her old junker!
At least it gave her coworkers an easy target for the ration of shit they liked to throw back and forth. She pretended it bothered her so they would keep at that instead of finding something that really stung.
As she was reaching her car she noted movement out of the corner of her eye.
Two “suits” approached. Cheap ill-fitting suits, obvious bulges from their shoulder-holsters…
Agency. She would bet her life on it.
Fuck... she thought as she unbuttoned her jacket.
“Ms. Mongrave?” a broad-shouldered human with a buzz-cut asked.
“Never heard of her,” Helen replied as she turned to face them and surveyed the area. Two agents visible, probably more.
She was fucked.
“You need to come with us, ma’am,” the man said as he reached into his jacket.
She just smiled and drew her pistol…
And promptly tried to shove it in her mouth.
A heavy-stunner bolt cut her down before she could silence herself.
Helen Mongrave, dropping her pistol, collapsed.
The two agents caught her before she hit the ground as an unmarked van screeched to a halt and the door flew open.
Within seconds, Helen was gone.
Jon burst into laughter as he checked his messages.
“What?” Skippy asked as she walked up and wrapped her arms around him. “Who the fuck is that bitch?” Skippy laughed as she saw the picture. “Making a move on my man? I’ll kill her!”
“I guess the cat’s out of the bag,” Jon laughed as he started decrypting the message. “Can’t keep anything from that woman,” he chuckled, "never could."
He stopped chuckling as he read. It wasn’t good. It went way deeper than he hoped.
“Jesus,” he muttered.
“That bad?”
“Worse,” Jon replied. “I don’t know how to fix this.”
Skippy flashed a toothy smile as her blades slowly extended.
“I have an idea...”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Jon replied. “The Republic has been though enough… Oh hey!”
“That sounds encouraging.”
“I never thought in a million years I’d say this but I fucking love Jessica Morgan!” he said as he pointed at the screen.
“Wow...” Skippy replied. “That’s a shitload of money!”
“I wonder how loyal her inner circle really is?” he chuckled.
“Why don’t you ask that bitch in the hold?”
“According to her they are like a cult,” Jon replied, “completely unshakable.”
“They thought the same about her, you know,” Skippy grinned. “I wonder how many other ‘unhappy diners’ there are?”
“Dare to dream...” Jon replied as he pulled Skippy onto his lap.
“What?” Skippy asked. “That picture get your motor running?”
“Nah,” Jon said as he pulled her in for a kiss. “I got the real thing right here.”
Skippy giggled as she started to pull off his t-shirt.
Jon’s communicator started to ring.
“Goddammit,” he muttered as Skippy just signed, nuzzled his neck, and started to get dressed.
Jon looked at the screen and frowned. Rasheed was calling? On a live connection?
That wasn’t good.
“Lubricants Unlimited customer service department,” Jon answered. “Your asshole is our asshole!”
“Jon,” Rasheed said grimly, “They got Helen.”
“Grabbed her about an hour ago. They are accusing her of treason and conspiring against the Republic.”
“Isn’t that a bit redundant?” Jon replied.
“This is serious, Jon! She knows everything! If she talks...”
“It’s a lot worse than just serious,” Jon said with a frown, “However, if they are doing this officially, then she’s probably in the system somewhere. Everyone breaks but it’s going to take time to crack her open. Find her. We’ll handle the rest.”
“Ok. We’ll find her,” Rasheed said regaining his composure.
“Don’t be a hero, Rasheed,” Jon said grimly. “If it looks like it’s getting too warm, you guys need to bolt. We don’t need to compound the tragedy.”
“If we run, we lose the agency,” Rasheed replied. “I’m not handing over Republic Intel to that bitch!”
“We might not have a choice,” Jon replied. “If you can’t locate her, go. I’d rather lose the agency than lose the agency and some damn good operatives and analysts.”
Rasheed’s worried face suddenly broke into a wry smile.
“Since we are technically ‘criminals’,” he replied, “Why don’t we call in the big guns?”
“Question,” Rasheed said as his smile grew. “which criminal did you keep a holo of on your desk?”
“I like the idea but they don’t operate in the Republic,” Jon replied.
“Yeah,” Rasheed said with a grin, “about that...”
In a hollowed out asteroid on the outskirts of Sol, Harval Smythe and a motley assortment of humans and xenos all stood anxiously beside it…
Absolute perfection… The single greatest achievement of his life.
A flaxen beauty with the most frightening eyes he had even seen in his life silently walked beside it lightly running her fingers along the hull.
“We worked around the clock, ma’am,” he said nervously, unnerved by her silence.
“I paid for quality, not haste,” she said in a leaden voice.
What the hell was she? he thought as he was filled with dread. Something was seriously wrong with her.
“It’s… perfect, ma’am,” he stammered as his crew all nodded furiously. “We have all of the NDT results and diagnostics right here,” he said as he handed her a tablet.
Gloria took it and after a few moments she looked up, her eyes flashing with anger.
He flinched. He thought the dead eyes were bad. These were worse!
“These results are not expected. You have deviated from my specifications. I am… displeased.”
Fear gripped his heart. There was little doubt what that might mean.
“Y-yes… we made some adjustments… Improvements!” he yelped. “Look!” he gestured at the tablet. “We increased power output by fifteen percent and your thrust to weight ratio has increased significantly! And we added safety features!”
“Safety?” she hissed advancing upon him slowly.
“Oh shit,” a large black man muttered as he picked up a communicator, “Shelia?” he said urgently. “You might want to get down here! Gloria is about to go Yellowstone!”
“Fuck,” an annoyed voice replied. “Stop her.”
“No way!” the giant exclaimed. “She’s in her unhappy place!”
“The exposure levels in the cockpit were completely unacceptable!” Harval yelped as he backed away, “We added a modified reactor shielding unit around the cockpit! The increased power levels more than make up for it and it reduces your net signal emissions by two percent! Look! Please for the love of God look!…" he begged as Gloria slowly kept walking towards him with glassy porcelain like eyes. "Look at the specs you stupid bitch!” He screamed, suddenly enraged. He had created a masterpiece, goddammit!
Oh no,” a small brunette gasped quietly as she looked away.
Gloria blinked in surprise and looked at the tablet again. There was the briefest flicker of life in her eyes and then with a slow exhale they glazed over again.
“I’m taking it out,” she said after a few moments.
“Yes! Please!” Harval exclaimed.
“Tell T’sunk’al to try to find me,” she said as she climbed inside the sleek black ship.
There was absolutely no sound as it powered up. The hangar doors opened and before they had stopped moving the ship was gone leaving nothing but a small hurricane as it left.
“Fuck!” Jessie screamed as she dove for cover.
Outside the black ship banked, rolled and dived with ever increasing speed.
“We just got pinged.” T’sunk’al said in his trademark unflappable tone. “Range… One-hundred yards?!?… Hyperspace event! Range… unknown!… She got us again… Range… No way!” he exclaimed. “Fifty yards?!?
The Paper Tiger shuddered.
“She just rubbed our shields!” the chief shouted, “Crazy bitch!”
“Hyperspace event!” T’sunk’al yelled. “Close enough to flash our shields!”
The ship shuddered again.
“Fucking stop that!” the chief yelled into the microphone.
“Where the fuck is she?!?” T’sunk’al yelled, his normally unflappable nature thoroughly flapped.
“Hyperspace event!” he shouted. “How the hell is she jumping so fast?”
“She’s fluttering the banks!” the chief said shaking his head, “Recharging them with the surge from the shields as she slams through space time! I’ve heard rumors about this but I’ve never actually seen it done before. It’s suicide! One fraction of a second off and… boom! It takes a true master to even think about pulling it off and even so, those banks must be made out of unicorn hooves or something! Where is she venting the heat? She can’t be sitting in it, right? Not even she would cook herself, would she?”
“What the fuck was that?!?” Sheila yelled.
“Direct contact to our shields with the hull of the ship,” the chief shouted angrily. “She missed us by less than a meter!” He grabbed the mic. “Goddammit! If you fry the shields you are the one cleaning the conduits!”
“We just got painted by direct targeting,” T’sunk’al said, “range… Hyperspace event!… We’re painted… From the other side!… Range… Oh I don’t even fucking care anymore…”
Harval and about a dozen very nervous men and women of several races stood nervously in the shop bay.
Suddenly there was a blast of wind…
And the ship was there, so fast that nobody really saw it pull in.
It landed, and Gloria stepped out, eyes as dead as ever.
She walked up to Harval…
“So… Is it-”
Before he could react Gloria lunged…
And gently kissed him on the lips.
He stared in disbelief.
Her eyes were as dead as ever…
But there were tears running down her cheeks.
Without a word she pulled out a transactor…
“Rerun all diagnostics,” she said without emotion. “Recheck the frame. I’ll pay double for your time.”
“Yes, ma’am!”
“You crazy bit-” the chief started to yell as Gloria entered the Tiger, and then fell silent.
Gloria, the brigand, the psychopath, was gone.
It was Gloria, the Ice Queen, Gloria the Undying, Lieutenant Samuels, the Lich Queen, the Angel of Death, who stepped aboard.
“Jessie,” Gloria said in a cold dead voice almost like the one she always used, “Do you have targets for me?”
“Um… Yeah,” Jessie said quietly just staring at her.
“Lieutenant,” the chief said briskly. “I’ve confirmed the measurements. We can just barely fit your ship in the hold, barely. I would say that it would be impossible to actually land in here but I doubt it will be an issue.”
“How much room for munitions?” Lieutenant Samuels asked calmly.
“We can carry two complete loadouts, at least, maybe more if we install roof racks.”
“Excellent, Chief,” Gloria the Revenant, replied with a faint smile. “Give me a couple of feet. You can have the rest.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the chief said before he caught himself with a wince. He didn’t mean to do that!
“Welcome back, Lieutenant,” Sheila said with a smile.
There was the briefest flicker in The Lich Queen’s eyes as she simply nodded in reply, then it was gone.
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