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The SS Cardif

“Attention all crew; I repeat - Attention all crew.” the ship - wide loudspeaker announced.
He and the runtime of Flowers had their arms buried deep in the guts of a Goat gear hauler trying to reconnect its aft starboard repulser module and looked at each other questioningly.
With a series of snaps, a waldo from Flowers’ forearm began snapping in the connections on their side, as he thought his own manipulators from both of his forearms and they began plugging in the nine pin connectors on his side.
“Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops.
“Dout leader Mri’x to Ops. Dout leader Mri’x to Ops.”
The mostly-human and the robot-looking vessel for his AI friend both produced wondering looks. “Runner!” the mostly-human, Mr. Drake yelled out into the maintenance bay.
A Mwraht, a slender bipedal humanoid coated in fur and wearing their moccasin like deck boots and the ubiquitous brown leather smock vest they favored, suddenly appeared, wippingits hands.
It was M’arh, a student on the ship learning ship engineering and maintenance from the human and AI perspective. It regarded Drake with an earnest expression in its tilted almond-shaped eyes.
“Please run to ops and let them know we’ll be along shortly,”
M’arh smiled and mouthed something, and the translator, in a fair facsimile of what M’arh’s voice would sound like if the Mwraht’s mouth could form the words said “At once,Instructor”, and took off.
“They never cease to puzzle me.” Flowers said in a voice synthesised and engineered to sound like an erudite Free Wales Easterner with a touch of Old Earth, fitting the bolts on the deflector on his side as Drake thought out a data probe and began running diagnostics on the repulser.
Drake looked at him quizzingly, as he split his attention between the connectivity check and his other hand began bolting on the deflector on his side.
“There are nuances to their speech, as well as odorant aspects to what he said that you cannot hear or smell, though I have been working on an idea where you could.” Flowers said as he began hooking up the power cables on their side.
“Ok…” Drake said as he mentally pushed the diagnostics over to Flowers and pulled a ratchet from the fairing lip he had set it earlier, tightening down the deflector bolts.
“Meat bags” Flowers said, shaking his sensor pod. “Your kind are so oblivious!” Flowers announced, withdrawing their arms and standing up to their full two meter height. “And I see your frustration with biological markers at not knowing what I am talking about. Monkey-assed murder hobo meat bags.” Flowers said in a dead pan.He went over and began cleaning it’s arms and legs with an orange-based degreaser.
“That is Monkey-assed Augmented murder hobo meat bag to you, you synthetic shit!” Drake said, laughing, joining Flowers at the cleaning station, and began using the same cleaner on his replacement arms. “And I still have no idea what you are talking about.”
The humans and Mwarht in the maintenance bay all stopped what they were doing and looked on. In most instances, those words were an invitation to murder. The other Runtimes there, some Flowers, some Neptunian Wind, ignored it and kept working.
Flowers sighed, an unnecessary vocalization only, for emphasis. “They adore humans and revere you as something akin to a living deity. The Dout leaders here know you lead the teams that first boarded their ships and took on the Drix raiders to save them. They know you then lead the teams that boarded the Drix slaver destroyer and carried out retributionary subjugation for what the Drix had been doing on the Mwraht ships.
“They do not know how you then petitioned the Order and led raids into Drix territory and assaulted the slaver worlds.”
Flowers looked at their human friend, and saw the distress in his eyes. Both knew the augmented human, and a small army of fellow Augies and Runtimes had taught the Drix in the clearest way possible to stay out of human space and leave the Mwraht alone in such a clear and brutal fashion whose necessity still bothered the human.
Flowers lowered their voice, straightening their friend’s work smock. “M’arh’s grandsire was on that first ship you boarded. Mri’x mother was on that ship and was the one about to be eaten and raped by a Drix, the one you pulled off of her and punched, it’s head rupturing.”
Even though they could see their words were causing him distress, Flowers continued.
“They love all humans, but they excrete a pheromone musk that is akin to the same one they excrete in their religious ceremonies, but slightly different, when they interact with you, or after a few beers and they talk to you. Their sub vocalizations are completely adoring and submissive when it comes to you. Some of the females and a non-zero number of males fantasize about being ‘taken’, or mated, by you. You idiot.”
“Fuck.”
“That was implied.”
“You fucking pretentious Rooba. You know what I meant.”
“Flowers laughed. “Yes, we do. I still love the word play, though.”
“I really wish you had been with me. I know, you were tied up on that Artifact World, but I sometimes wish you had been there, to keep me in check. I was not in a good place.” He brushed himself off, found his coffee mug and set off for the passageway that led to Ops.
“I have told you before, be glad I wasn’t. Your response was far more measured and restrained than my would have been. It is a flaw in our Matrices. Slavery brings out the ‘murder-bot’ in us, and no one in the Order can figure out why.”
“I know that you have the facts of my actions, but it was like I was in the Second War, again. And we both know what a bloodthirsty asshole I was then.” The human, if that term even applied to their friend anymore, remembered what a monster he had been in the Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti theatres of the Second War. The pain and humiliation of what he had been was written plainly on his face.
“You destroyed three hundred and eighty three of my Runtimes, roughly half of which was in single combat. And that was before the Holies shredded your limbs. The Purists still consider you a living dataphage, akin to human allegories of Satan. My kind uses you as one of many examples of why we must never war with Humanity again.
“And, strangely enough, the Seekers consider you both a Singularity to be understood and an objective: to breed with you, thinking you are a key to their evolution.”
He stopped dead and looked at Flowers shocked.
“I will provide logs to prove these statements.”
The Seekers were the strangest of the AI’s, in his opinion. They had made themselves biological Runtime vessels, biological bodies, that they wore like clothing, compiling experiences seeking to understand Humanity, their Creators, and evolve past the limitations of being an AI. Not to become human, but to become something that was both the best of AI and Human essences and so much more.
“So, I’m a Classical hero to the Mwraht and a boogey man and bad example to the AIs that they want to breed. Great.” Drake pinched his nose and shook his head.
“You did not know any of this, I take it?” Flowers asked.
“The second war was almost two hundred years ago. When the Order brought me in, you were already a member and I thought they were going with the whole forced-to-learn-each-other thing when they sent us out on that mapping mission; like they did with the Iberrians and the Chinese. I thought the other AI just had a thing about me from the War, which is understandable.
“And I had no idea about the rest. I thought that the Mwraht just thought I was the cool teacher.” He shook his head and leaned up against the wall, massaging his temples one-handedly.
“Idiot murder hobo.” Flowers said, realizing now that their friend, while brilliant, was oblivious.
At that point, Mri’x came around the corner, his fur a glossy black with dark grey stripes. Mri’x looked at Flowers sternly, then nodded at Drake as he passed.
Drake looked at Flowers questioningly, who nodded. Both had caught that Mri’x had cut his translator as he passed and caught a gutteral call. “It was a vulgar corollary to ‘Talking Waste Receptacle’. Quite elegant, really.”
Drake shook his head and began his way to Ops again. “Send me the specs on the hearing and smelling upgrades. I think I need to upgrade again.”
As fast as thought, the files were there, as well as one to improve his language skills with them.
* * *
Captain Sarah Rees of the Union of Independent Stars Exploratory Vessel SS University of New Cardiff was looking over holographic charts at the central tank with her XO, Lt. Commander Martin. Both had the mocha skin common to Westerlies of Free Wales, she a pixie of a woman shorter than even some of the Mwraht with close shaved hair beginning to show grey. Mr. Martin was taller, but still dwarfed by most of the rest of the human crew. He was a vicious social climber who didn’t care for the civilian crew, though a misstep on his part when he was still Stellar Navy had made him as much of a civilian as anyone else in the crew, a fact he often forgot. And for some reason he loathed the three AI aboard, and looked down his nose at the Mwraht. This led to all sorts of headbutting with Drake’s group of Operations Specialists and Drake himself; who largely ignored and dismissed the little shit.
“Leader Mri’x, Mr. Drake. Thank you for joining us. M’arh informed us you couldn’t pull away. Flowers, thank you for coming as well.” Rees said as she moved around to the far side of the tank, in a darkened room full of people at work stations worked with either data plugs or AR sets. Flowers took no insult. They readily accepted that they were Drake’s Executive Officer for his group, and their ego, as such, wasn’t as easily bruised as a human’s” Flowers gave a nod with their sensor pod and took a manipulators-behind-the-back stance the humans were fond of.
“Thirty minutes ago” Rees continued, “we picked up a GP general distress beacon from a system that was on our research list. We will be bypassing the next two on the list and based on the current agreements with the Galactic Parliament, we will be going to full power and make best speed for the system in question. It is in uncharted space as far as we, the GP and the Conclave are concerned.”
The GP, the System Confederacy, the UIS and the AI Conclave had all agreed to adopt what was essentially humanity’s Maritime Law and all ships receiving the signal were required to render aid.
Drake took all of this in and thought out a series of commands to the six Kodiak Class corvettes in the retired Assault Cruiser’s forward hanger, beginning their startup sequence and pinged the comm devices of all of his Operations Specialists. Flowers looked over and nodded. Little known to the crew, except the Captain, those ships could be armed to the teeth with a minimum of work. Flowers sent his command to arm them, the ship systems’ pinged Drake as confirmation and he agreed. Drones began opening the hull and loading the weapons packages, removed fairings that covered weapons ports and began preflighting the weapons, as another set began bringing the ships to life.
“We will be ready when needed, Captain. Option two.” Flowers announced. She smiled in somber appreciation. She was glad she had the option. She was about to race into an unknown system to answer a vague distress call with zero intelligence.
While this was going on, in the aft bay, hundreds of drones were coming to life as Mri’x brought his group to action. With a thought Drake and Flowers authorized the release of weapons to Mri’x so his drones could be armed. Mwraht drones were some of the best in either race, outside of the Conclave, and the AIs had even adopted many of the construction techniques the Mwraht used, especially their alloy that allowed a small fusion bottle to power the EM Cavity engines, weapons and shields.
The fact that the Order had given literal tons of precious metals and set up arcologies for the Mwraht in payment had made the Refugee Mwraht colonies some of the richest ones in known space.
Mri’x subvocalized and his translate stated “drones will be ready as well, Leader.”
“Thank you, Leader.” Captain Rees said with a bow of her head, then began drawing plans up in the tank. “We know little, but we are past the signal shell, and there is nothing but the beacon and normal noise.
“The system is a stable red dwarf binary one, the stars holding about a light-hour from each other, at their closest. We expect that based on stutter, a few terrestrial bodies inside the orbit of a mid-sized gas giant, that is three light-hours out from the outermost orbit of the primaries. We see some wobble that there are a few solid bodies out from the gas giant.”
The tank then zoomed on a rough solar system as described, the gas giant was a solid neon green sphere on the display, with a ‘Jx3.1’ tag on it. Three times the mass of Jupiter. The thing wasn’t a true Super Jupiter, but it would play holy hell with the system, and make modelling a lot more hard. The problem was that it exhibited 3.1 times more gravitational influence on its stars than Jupiter did, but that didn’t say how big it actually was. They wouldn’t know that until they came out of the Trough and then Alcubierre drive. The telescopes were essentially useless at this point.
“The system is slightly below the gravitic trough we are riding, so we will exit the trough and make best speed in A-Space to it. We will bring the STL drives up to 110% before doing so. After we drop the A-Drives, we’ll make best speed to the signal, scanning as we go. We will do a 150% burn and aerobrake if it is a planet, or cut the drives, rotate and crash burn if it is a ship.”
Wow, thought Drake. She is damned serious about this.
Those maneuvers would make them extremely visible yet incredibly hard to hit; and give them a high-G escape route if needed. But all of this was also going to play hell with the student-crew of the ship, who had long grown accustomed to 0.6G. It would also mean the Mwraht, who were still adapting to the higher-than-their-normal gravity would need to be in their special acceleration couches. They would still be able to operate their amazing drones, but not much else. The couches took an hour to cycle up to protect the Mwraht, and an hour to cycle off after they weren’t needed. The moves the Captain was planning were not a thing to undertake lightly. She suspected something. Drake pushed more commands at the Kodiak and gave all weapon system controls to Flowers for all of their ships.
The Kodiak corvettes were very deceptive Q-Ships. They looked like Massive trans-atmospheric cargo shuttles, but each one had the armor, power plant, FTL and STL drives of a frigate - and the weapons of a Destroyer.
Flowers turned to him, head tilted in their predefined “Are you bloody serious?“ look.
Drake just nodded once.
This exchange wasn’t lost on anyone there.
The Captain looked at Drake in an interrogatory fashion
“Armed up the Kodiaks and positioning them for a hot launch, if needed.”
The Captain smiled grimly and nodded. “We are planning on a rescue mission, will those changes reduce any capacity for the primary mission?” she asked.
“No, Captain.” Flowers answered for them.
She nodded and carried on.
“Mri’x, obviously, you’ll be couched for this, and I sincerely apologize for that. But something about this has my hackles up.”
“As are mine. GP ships do not have automated distress beacons, someone activated it. But we are three thousand light years from GP space, the closest GP race being the Drix.” He approached the holo tank and began expanding the map. “We call this space the Greater Void. It was the territory, long ago, of the ones we called-” the translator cut out at that point and was replaced with the gracile being’s raspy growl. Mri’x looked perplexed and growled again. “I see our translators have been modified to allow the uttering of The Nameless Ones true name.” The map zoomed out farther.
Soon, all of the mapped and a few of the suspected Dark Matter Troughs were displayed. They were like shadow arms of the galaxy, spiraling out from the core, a few of them wrapping themselves all the way around the galaxy.
“The ones you call the Fae are originally from here,” he indicated, a star not unlike Earth’s, almost a thousand light years from the star they were headed to, but smack dab in a grey band of a different Dark Matter Trough. It was a great curving grey patch that went coreward from the Earth-like star, passing within about fifty lightyears of Earth.
The Fae were a recent mystery the Tides of the Universe had dumped upon the shores of Humanity just after the Second War, right before the Fall of Earth.
When they sent their pleas for Asylum out, they sent information about themselves. They were the barely viable population that had been running for three centuries in their great world ships made from hollowed out asteroids. What they had been running from was even to this day unclear, but in their tongue meant Dark Brethren.
The fact that tongue seemed to contain roots that became Sanskrit was a huge thing.
They were tall, whip-thin and pale people who breathed a lower oxygen percentage at lower pressures than humanity, and their normal gravity was about a third of what humanity
After First Contact, genetic samples proved they were, or had started out as human, roughly a hundred thousand years ago.
“This is the Coreward Flow from what you call the Crux-Scutum Arm through the Orion Arm, and to the Perseus Arm. The Drix call this whole area their equivalent word and meaning for Hell. Their myths say this is where the Monsters live.
“The Rest of the GP races call this The Red Zone, it is forbidden to fly here, and if you do, there will be no rescue. So of course this is where my people ran when we fled the Drix.”
Mri’x moved the hologram out again, showing this outer rim area that was the Red Zone included Earth, and all known human and AI settled worlds, of all the separate factions combined.
“The area is full of thousands of worlds your kind could land on, little to no protection required, unlike the Fae, who it would crush and pressure cook, as it would most of the races in the Galactic Parliament.” He zoomed in on an area at the far end of the Trough. “We ran here, and Mwarht Home is here.” He showed a system in a blue circle. Zooming out again he highlighted the Drix Combine, Coreward of and on the far side of the destroyed system the Fae had come from, hundreds of light years separated the three systems.
“We ran through the system the Fae came from when we ran from the Drix. We needed water and anything to recharge our ship farms' biological cycles.
“There were no solid planetary bodies in that system, just vast fields of debris where rocky planets were. No moons, no ice giants. Just the star, a larger red dwarf and gas giants and numerous asteroid belts. There were massive radiological signals throughout the system, and tons of debris. Something destroyed this system. In a way, it was a blessing for my people. The ice and debris were easily mineable for what we needed. We even found artifacts of the people that had once existed there. This is where we got our improved FTL drives and much of our weapons and armor technologies.” Mri’s looked somewhat ashamed. It was a racial shame. They hated, deep down, living on the detritus, cast-offs and charity of other races. Before the Drix they had been proud though primitive peoples who had yet to discover flight or antibiotics, let alone space flight. Easy pickings for the Drix.
“All of that was about one thousand lightyears from the system we are headed to, a few weeks' travel with your drives, months or years with Galactic Parliament standard drives. This area is one of mysteries and many, many dangers. Any race that could shatter every solid body in a star system is not to be taken lightly.” Mri’x looked up to his Captain, or as they called her ‘Leader of multiple Douts’.
“Thank you, Mri’x. Drake?”
“We will be ready for pretty much anything. I’d like to request permission for Flowers and Winds of Neptunes to take out their Scout bodies and launch just before we start braking, if we do.” He said. Winds appeared as a hologram of the planet Neptune, and pulsed in cadence with the words it spoke. “As you wish, Grand Master.” and winked out.
“Good plan, Drake. I take it you all will be on the Kodiaks with your crews?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’ll leave four of them here, to bring the Field Engineering and field Science students down if the scene is safe. I’ll leave one set up for medical and Flowers can fly it down, if that becomes needed.”
“Very well. We are about eight hours out, if we stick to the plan. We leave the Trough in two hours. Drake, M’rizx, set up what you need. Mr. Martin, please take the Conn and give the Old Girl her legs, she needs to run. I’ll be meeting with the different department heads next.”
* * *
A/N: Lurker posting something HFY for the first time. A rough draft of something bigger I'm slowly working on.
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Greed is Subtle

The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet.
Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured.
Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it.
During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper.
Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss.
"Hello?" Ghen answered.
"Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details."
"Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?"
"No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about."
Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?"
"Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up."
Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically.
As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?"
Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery."
Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans?
"Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time."
A week later.
At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting.
"Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?"
All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts.
"Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!"
Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing?
"Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded."
"Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost.
"Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount."
"So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked.
"If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder."
"And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists.
"Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options."
Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket.
"What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time.
Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately."
"And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone.
"Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!"
"And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money.
"Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?"
Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working?
As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase.
And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times.
Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way.
Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies.
And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits?
Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more.
...
There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept?
Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there.
"Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?"
"Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down.
"Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form.
"I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little."
"Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod.
"As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact.
"Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so."
Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually."
"Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?"
"Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest."
"Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?"
"If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated.
"So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?"
"Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case.
"Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted."
"Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise.
"What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious."
"I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?"
Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold."
"A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted.
Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares."
Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later.
After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always.
"I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?"
"I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?"
"I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch."
"You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor.
"I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle."
"I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk.
Several weeks later.
Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt.
While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route.
After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891.
And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it.
And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back?
His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful.
By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs.
What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real?
It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off.
As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen.
"What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments.
"D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car.
"You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!"
"How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh.
"Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!"
Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares."
Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?"
"Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?"
"Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin."
And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?"
Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?"
"Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!"
"Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it."
"Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited."
"By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them."
"Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go."
Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?"
Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it."
...
It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%.
Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way?
What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching?
He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late.
Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well.
"I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?"
Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say."
"Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?"
"Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them.
They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus.
"May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar."
Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please."
"Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean.
Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him.
Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high?
And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm.
And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money.
And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible.
The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it.
Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing.
Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal.
Three Years Later.
Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat.
It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply.
Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik.
Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes.
Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery.
"Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon."
"Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik.
"Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good."
"What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik."
Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month."
"I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk."
"You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently."
"Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know."
"Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?"
"I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement."
Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?"
AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
submitted by SynthoStellar to HFY [link] [comments]

𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐂𝐑𝐘𝐏𝐓𝐈𝐂 𝐙𝐎𝐌𝐁𝐎𝐍𝐈𝐔𝐌 S01E02 - “Blood, not Fluid”

Previously on the Cryptic Zombonium
***
A priest, a wolf, and a german walks into a bar. One of them is an atheist, the other an agnostic, and the priest says he has the cure for the Zombie Virus, but only if you believe in God Almighty.
“What do you mean, you have the cure?” I spat blasphemously.
“And what do you mean we have to have faith?” the German joined in.
“Is he the leader now?” Travis asked Hannah. “He said he was the leader now.”
The Vatican Archivist, Father Connor, the priest, the holy trinity of cool nicknames, put a finger to his mouth, like he was hushing a bunch of toddlers.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said softly. “I simply stated that the Virus comes from the heavenly archives of the Vatican, and that it is in fact not a Virus.”
“What in the god-forsaken shit fucking hell is it then?” I asked politely.
“Language?” Hannah suggested. “He is a priest and all.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “Sorry, Father. Didn’t mean to say ‘hell’.”
“Sit, children,” the Archivist sang weirdly. “And all shall be explained.”
We didn’t have anywhere to sit, so most of us just shuffled around awkwardly as he told us in great detail about his incredibly complex backstory, for some reason starting at his birth. The real juicy parts came right near the end though, so I’ll be skipping to that part.
Apparently the Zombie Virus wasn’t a Zombie Virus at all. It was Demon Virus. Yes, you heard me. According to the Father, the Vatican collects samples of demon blood (or fluids as he would have it, but let’s just go with blood), and stuffs them in boxes all the way down there in the catacombs.
“So how did it end up here?” Kat asked.
“We shipped a vial of the foul blasphemous fluid overseas by mistake,” Father Connor replied.
“Blood,” I coughed. “Let’s call it blood. And what in god’s name in vain did you mean to send?”
“Holy Water, of course,” he said. “The quality stuff has to be blessed by the Pope himself. We keep it on the shelf next to the demon fluid.”
“Blood,” I coughed again.
“As we all know, some people are more blessed than others,” Father Connor continued. “That’s because they were blessed by the Pope himself. Costs a pretty penny though, mind you.”
“So some rich asshole paid for super-blessed holy water, only to receive demon blood instead?”
“Yes,” the Father nodded solemnly. “But as it turns out, it wasn’t just any old demon fluid.”
“Don’t fucking tell me,” I said.
“It was the bodily fluid of the Antichrist himself,” the Father murmured, crossing himself feverishly.
“Or herself,” Eileen Dover chimed in. “Who’s to say the Antichrist isn’t a she?”
“Or themselves,” Hannah said. “Could be non-binary too.”
“All realistic options,” I agreed. “But what’s the big deal? Is it contagious or something?”
“That’s exactly it,” Father Connor said. “The Vessel of the Antichrist now spreads unlife wherever it journeys, and the Afflicted then spreads it even further. The only way to stop it, is by destroying it.”
“And this Vessel would be?” Travis inquired.
“A five year old girl,” Father Connor replied. “By the name of Kreszentia.”
“And by destroying it you mean...” the German said.
“Killing her, yes,” Father Connor nodded. “Humanely, of course. We have to crucify her.”
There was quite a bit of uproar at this statement, and deservedly so. Killing a five year old girl? Antichrist or no Antichrist, you just don’t go around murdering children willy-nillily.
The group split up into smaller cliques, all of us trying to make sense of the situation. Could we trust the Father? Was he really an Archivist? Did he have some credentials to that effect possibly? Like a badge or something? And how much did the Vatican charge for super-blessed holy water?
“CHEESE,” Max suddenly yelled. “WE SHOULD GO GET THE CHEESE.”
“I’m sorry,” Kat said. “I thought we’d given up on that plan?”
Grant stepped forward. “We did,” he said. “On account of all them zombies.”
“I KNOW A SECRET STASH,” Max shuffled around excitedly. “NO ZOMBIES THERE PROBABLY.”
“Probably?” I said. “How probably are we talking?”
“LIKE MAYBE THREE,” he replied weirdly. “THREE PROBABLY’S.”
“I like those odds,” Travis said.
“We desperately need the food,” Hanna sighed. “If we’re gonna keep adding more wackjobs to our group, we’re gonna have to find a way to feed them.”
“Alright,” I stepped forward. “As the leader of this group, I say we give it another go. Eileen, Hannah, Travis, the German; you’re with me. Max, get busy drawing us a map or something.”
“SHOULDN’T I COME WITH?” Max asked.
“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed. “The Z-boiz (trademark filed) will be on us the moment you open your mouth.”
“FAIR POINT,” he nodded loudly.
“Who made him leader of the group?” Eileen Dover asked.
“He did it himself,” Travis said. “Last episode.”
***
We sped down the bumpy roads moments later with Hannah behind the wheel. Max had drawn us a fairly crude map with some bizarre notes, but having staked out the factory for weeks, I had the place memorized like someone had carved it right into my brain with tiny sharp needles.
“Are you guys buying the priest’s bullshit?” I asked. “Demon blood? The Antichrist?.”
“Demon fluid,” Travis corrected.
“I don’t know,” Hannah said. “And I don’t care. I’m here for the cheese.”
Eileen Dover nodded. “Demons, Zombies, Antichrists, they’re all baddies in my book.”
I shrugged. “And you, the German?”
“Please, just call me German, no need to be so formal about it.”
We pulled off the main road, and slowed down as we approached the harrowing brutalist structure of the cheese factory. The sun was in descent, and we had to be quick about it if we were to pull off the heist before nightfall.
“Strange,” the German said.
“What is?” I asked.
“I don’t see any walkers around,” he said. “Uh, I mean zombies.”
He was right. “He is right,” I said.
The place looked deserted. Not only human deserted, but the other kind too. Dead deserted. With all the deafening noise we served up last time we were here, there should at least be a horde or two shambling about.
Eileen Dover pointed ahead. “The gates,” she said. “They’re open. Were they open before?”
I shook my head. “They were not.”
Hannah parked the car, and we all slipped out stealthily, slowly making our way to the main gates. The place was eerily silent, and you could hear a squirrel’s neck snapping from a mile away.
We entered the factory, and we all stumbled back in shock at the sight that unfolded. Well except me, of course. I don’t do shock.
“What the fuck?” I said, stumbling back in shock.
“There is no cheese,” Travis mumbled. “There should be cheese, right?”
“I’m more concerned about the insurmountable mountain of zombie corpses,” the German noted.
It was huge. Three-four hordes worth of re-deaded dead, stacked so high that they almost reached the factory ceiling some twenty feet up.
Travis nodded. “That too,” he said.
“Look,” Eileen Dover said, pointing at one of the mangled zombies on the floor. “Look at the forehead.”
Hannah bent down, inspecting the thing with some interest. Carved deep into the rotting flesh was the letter “M”.
“They all have it,” I said, dragging limp bodies down from the massive pile. “They’re all marked.”
“What does it mean?” the German mumbled. “Who the hell did this?”
“No time for wacky theories,” I said. “Although it was obviously done by a crazed gang of nutjobs as an insanely laborious way to send us a deeply unsettling message. They’re probably watching us right now.”
“What?” Travis exclaimed. “I don’t like being watched.”
“No matter,” Hannah said. “We’re obviously too late. There’s not a single cheese crumb left in this place.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Eileen Dover said, reaching into her sweater. “These guys beg to differ.”
She produced from the depths of her baggy clothing two lively rats, and held them out for us all to see.
“This is Microwave,” she shoved a rat in my face, “and this is Tea.”
“We sometimes call her Rat Girl,” Travis whispered to me. “You know, because she’s got rats, and she’s a girl.”
“What?” I said sourly. “If she’s Rat Girl, why can’t I be the Wolf then?”
“Do you own a Wolf?” Hannah asked.
“No, but-” I started.
“There’s your answer then,” she said. “OK, bring us the map, and we’ll let the rats sniff around.”
We started moving from room to room, trying to decipher the rather cryptic messages Max had scribbled down. After about thirty minutes of not getting anywhere, Travis came running out from one of the offices, waving the map around.
“I found it!” he yelled excitedly. “I think I found the stash.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “How can you be sure?”
“Look, look,” he pointed to the map. “See, right next to the big X, he wrote ‘nursery rhyme profanity’.”
“And?”
“There’s a bookshelf in that office,” he said. “And one of the books are ‘FUCK LICKETYSPLIT’.”
I shrugged. “I don’t see the connection.”
“In my hometown we had this old nursery rhyme called LICKETYSPLIT, and I always had a feeling the verses were hiding something.”
“Well, it’s all we got,” Hannah said. “Rat Girl, we need Microwave and Tea.”
Rat Girl scurried into the office, and gently placed the rats next to the bookshelf. We watched in weird silence as Microwave and Tea sniffed around the big old thing, until they both eventually disappeared behind it.
“Cheese,” Rat Girl grinned. “There’s cheese behind that shelf, I guarantee it.”
We all stared at each other for half a second, before snapping into action, tearing the bookshelf apart piece by piece. It took us a minute or two, but at the end we heard Rat Girl giggling gleefully as Microwave and Tea scurried back into her sweater.
“Cheese,” I said, wiping sweat from my forehead. “We’ve got cheese.”
The room wasn’t large, but it was stuffed to the brim with wonderful cheese. Brie. Camembert. Mozzarella. Other foreign names.
“Won’t last us years,” Hannah said. “But it’ll do for a month or two.”
We quickly cleaned out the room, backpacks soon filled with the dairy gold. Without pausing, we made our retreat, the sun now all but disappeared behind the horizon. I convinced the German to carry my backpack, since I was lactose intolerant.
“You can’t eat cheese?” he asked. “Why so eager to loot this place then?”
“Oh no, I can eat it,” I said. “I just can’t have it anywhere near my skin,” I lied.
We approached our car a few minutes later, but Hannah, who was leading the way, suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, and signalled for us to shut the fuck up.
“What is it?” I whispered.
Hannah took a few cautious steps toward the car. “Not sure,” she said. “I think I hear something.”
We all stopped moving, and stood there perfectly still. And sure enough, I heard it too. A soft wheezing, a pained gargling. The sound of the dead.
Hannah waved us closer, and we all tippy-toed the rest of the way, soon spotting the parked car right where we left it. But there was something else too. Something strapped to the hood.
“Fuck me,” I said. “These guys are all about the games, aren’t they?”
The bloody zombie, once a middle-aged man by the looks of it, was missing it’s hands and feet; nothing now but an undead head on an undead torso. A chain held the thing in place, and carved deep into its forehead was that ever-ominous “M”.
“That’s horrible,” Travis mumbled.
“But not horror,” the German noted.
“A short scary story if I ever saw one,” I said.
Hannah and Rat Girl had already started unchaining it, while we were busy pointing out the different gruesome aspects of the deed. Without saying anything, they both simultaneously took a step back, eyes wide with what I can only imagine was fear.
“What?” I inquired. “What’s wrong.”
The zombie squirmed disgustingly, crimson blood smearing the hood of the car like some kind of messed up art piece. Then it opened its hideous mouth and wheezed discordantly.
“Please,” it gargled. “Please kill me.”
[TO BE CONTINUED]
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[Serial][UWDFF Alcubierre] Part 54

Beginning | Previous
Premier Valast felt a tingle. It began at the base of his spine and traveled moved upward, sending warm fuzzy feelings all throughout his body as it made its way to his brain and inserted itself in his conscious thoughts. After all of the misery. After all of the failures. For once, something had gone right.
How delightful. How extravagant. How deserved.
The Humans had made a mistake. Clearly, they had thought to expand upon their treachery, believing themselves to be invincible. Their monstrosity of a vessel had appeared just as their last one had, within Halcyon's inner perimeter. After their ruse of parlay, their beast had commenced belching out weapons of mass destruction, clearly in an attempt to retrieve the encryption key and the elite assassin-thief they had dispatched under the guise of a Witness.
They thought Halcyon weak. Defenseless.
Not true! Not true at all!
Kinetics. Valast laughed aloud, his rib cage heaving out great guffaws. Accelerated mass! More laughter. The savages thought to bring such inelegance against the might of the Combine? They mistook their prior fortune for competence. Their one-time success for future capability. Alas, poor Humans, the truth of your inadequacies is made manifest! The brief gap in the defenses brought on by the improbable chain of events that had resulted in their arrival had been filled. For all of their destructive potential, their weapons were useless.
Valast continued to cackle, his hindclaws scrunching up the soft material of his pillow, as he watched the Humans receive their punishment for their insolence. The Humans had made assumptions. Perhaps assumptions were fine in their backwater corner of the galaxy, but here, among civilization, assumptions could be quite dangerous indeed. It was quite unwise to assume Halcyon would leave the inner perimeter exposed. They must have thought their Evangi co-conspirators would leave the gates open for them, as the traitor Neeria had done when she had given them access to a Combine wormkey in the first place. Sadly for the Humans, their four-armed friends had been exposed for what they were. A great many of the Evangi now lay motionless on the floor of a Halcyon mainway, a fitting end to their perfidy.
Halcyon had stood since the beginning, and it would continue to stand long after the Human infestation had been expunged from the Combine Space. Perhaps the Humans should have spent more time pondering the nature of the place before they had meddled with forces they clearly did not understand. Halcyon existed in defiance of the chaotic nature of the neutron star it orbited. Its survival required an solution to the objects such a gravity well attracted. Halcyon had many such solutions, weaved together to maintain a delicate balance. Among them were the inertial dampeners.
The screen in Valast's paws bloomed with colors, indicating firings of Halcyon's inertial dampeners. Each blossom of color was an attempt by the Humans to deploy weapons in clear violation War Accords, cementing Humanity's position as a menace to decent civilization. Had Valast not commanded Bo'Bakka'Gah to take the necessary precautions, the devastation would have been significant.
Lines of crimson sailed through the blooms of color.
Valast's whiskers twitched, his eyes squinting as it tracked one of these lines.
The solution was not perfect. The intertial dampeners in close proximity to Halcyon were a final precaution, and their purpose was narrow. They were a fine net, meant to indiscriminately capture any residual high-speed astral particulate that had escaped the outer defenses. Their efficacy diminished at an exponential rate in proportion to the size and mass of the object they acted upon. Thus far, they had been quite successful at preventing the Humans from making use of their weapons, but dampeners had no effect on the Human vessels. Even if the dampeners could be used for such a purpose, their indiscriminate nature would have required the cessation of all space born travel within Halcyon, an unacceptable disruption to the workings of the Combine's capitol.
The Humans' small spherical vessels were thus capable of traveling unimpeded throughout Halcyon space, tracing their crimson lines behind them as they did so. Such a thing did not overly worry Valast. They could not fire their weapons, and they were susceptible to electromagnetic disruption, rendering them easy targets for the Peacekeepers. Were Valast not otherwise consumed with the affairs of state, he would perhaps take to the front line and dispatch a few himself. Sadly, his bravery would find no opportunity for direct expression beyond the valor found in the privilege of command competently exercised.
The whiskers ceased their twitching and some cheer returned. It would not be long before the meddlesome Human spheres were swatted from the sky and the encryption key recovered.
Then they would dispatch the Human warship.
Then Humanity.
He need only wait.
-----------
"Get spread. Get small." Sana called out. Had to buy time. Had to get a handle on the situation. Not her first rodeo, but it was the first time where she had no idea what the hell she was riding. Maybe the aliens were riding her. Maybe it wasn't a rodeo, maybe it was just a slaughter.
That was the problem. No one knew anything.
The callsigns in her local were dropping like flies. Squaddies getting wiped without so much as a peep. The eggs in Science were saying EMPs, but the balls were supposed to be fixed against that frakkery. Sensors said the balls were still there even after they went dead, so maybe they were right. Couldn't think about that now.
Couldn't think about anything but the mission.
Captain Sana Bushida had a shit-shuttle to bring to station.
She needed to get from A to B. Normally the quickest point-to-point was a line, but the baddies were coming in from all sides. Trying to corral her in. So be it. She could handle a long and squiggly with the juice she had in the four balls attached to the cockpit. Only question was how long they'd be up for. Whatever they were using on the balls wasn't touching her. She was good, but she wasn't that good.
Guess they wanted her kicking and screaming.
Predators, not scavengers then.
Frakk 'em. Right in their stupid alien faces.
Sana's brain shunted command signals as fast as her eyes to parse the readouts in her pilot pod. Dodging. Weaving. Diving. Dipping. Half those words didn't even apply to space, but they felt right. Float like a butterfly, run like cheetah on amphetos. She'd sting 'em later.
Run run run, fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the shit-shuttle can.
Swipe. Swipe.
Two smaller ships moved in a pincer formation, one cutting off her angle around the larger ship she was skimming around. Sana let out a giggle, as she shoved the shuttle in another direction. "You thought you had me, crapdonkey? You never had me. You're gonna be seeing my ass all day." The giggle somehow transformed into a roar halfway through as a third ship appeared in her view, coming out from its hiding place on the other side of the large ship. "SCREW YOU!" They weren't going to win. Losing wasn't an option.
Swipe.
Patterns emerged as the ballet played out. Certain ships were the herders. The small annoying frakks that always seemed to be moving around her flanks. Other ships were the receivers. They were the big boys. The ones who just floated there like giant shits in space. Lazy frakks just waiting to be fed some shit-shuttle. Fine then. New info. New tactics. New rule: Get around the herders, never get closer to the receivers.
Herders bad.
Receivers bad-der-er.
As long as she was a step ahead of the herders and two steps away from the receivers, she'd be fine. Problem was they were more agile than her. Problem was there was more of them. Problem was the friendly callsigns on her readouts kept disappearing. Problem was that she was stuck in here instead of out there where she belonged.
Ninety-nine problems...
Swipe. Swipe.
All she needed was a line of sight. A place where she could get a whiff of open space and just gun it. Navigate the maze. Get through it. Light at the end of the tunnel. Glass is half full.
Metaphor.
Analogy.
Idiom.
The stream of consciousness flowed out of her, expressing itself in her verbiage and in the desperately navigating shuttle some distance away. Step forward. No steps backward. Okay, maybe one step backward, but it'll be okay. She'd take the step forward soon enough.
Just...needed...a...line.
Alpha, Beta, Charlie, and Delta was gone.
It was just her.
Swipe. Swipe.
The fate of the world.
The shit-shuttle must survive.
Swipe. Swipe.
The gap opened.
She saw it.
They didn't.
"There it is bitches!"
All four balls slammed the thrusters on. It wasn't a direct bee line to the Oppenheimer but it was good enough. She just needed to get out of the hornet's nest and into open space so she could keep pouring on the acceleration. She didn't know how much juice the herders had, but it was all she had going for her at this point.
Bitter bile rose up in her throat as the shit-shuttle surged forward, leaving A through D behind. Her squaddies. Her friends.
Abandoned.
She should be out there.
She could be. She just needed to get the mission done. She was so close. She was putting distance between her and the baddies. Just a few more minutes...the link cut off.
Her thoughts were shunting into a wall.
She swiped, her eyes scanning the readouts.
Alcubierre - Shuttle - Cockpit (Ejection)(DISTRESS) no longer appeared.
For once, Sana was speechless.
---------------------
Kai retched air.
There was nothing else to throw up at this point. He'd given everything he had to give, and it was now floating about the cockpit in a viscous cloud. He was fairly certain Neeria was collateral damage in the matter. If she were ever to regain consciousness, she'd find she had been provided with a fresh coat of puke paint. At this point, being blind was something of a boon. Congratulations were owed to the sadist in the pilot's seat though, he hadn't emptied his stomach like this since flight sims.
He'd raise his hand in salute if it weren't for the incredible g-force shifts whipping him around like a rag doll as the pilot attempted to avoid whatever was out there. Some of the maneuvers seemed impossibly complex, as if the cockpit was navigating through an impassable morass of enemies. Or perhaps the pilot was just drunk. Either seemed possible.
The whipsawing continued. Back. Forth. Round and round. Acceleration never seemed to continue in a single direction for more than a few seconds. They were going in circles. They had to be.
Finally, it appeared the pilot had decided on a direction as Kai was slammed back into his chair as the cockpit rocketed forward under sustained acceleration. They must have broken through. Or the pilot had fallen asleep at the controls with the throttle down and they were all doomed. Either way. At this point, Kai was just eager for it to be over.
The acceleration continued. He felt like he was being crushed. Like an enormous hand was pressing against him, trying to squeeze all of his organs out through his eyes. Whatever was powering the cockpit now was beyond the parameters of the shuttle's acceleration compensators. His vision began to dim and his joints ached. Pain surged up in his right arm, which was still contorted within the goo. He was fairly certain a bone had just snapped.
"Oppenheimer..ETA," Kai managed to gasp out, drawing the breath back into his lungs with some effort.
"The shuttle is not currently on course to intercept with the UWDFF Oppenheimer."
"Joan." Kai wheezed. "Connect. Joan."
The acceleration cut off.
Kai took a huge gulp of air, the relief immediate. "Comm-link. Fleet Admiral Joan Orléans."
No response.
Kai tried again.
Silence greeted him.
Grumbling, he raised his left wrist toward his face. He stuck out his tongue and smeared it along the wrist console's interface. None of the expected beeps and chirps sounded out. It was dead, and, he suspected, so was the cockpit along with whatever had been propelling him. No life support. No way to call out for help. No way to do anything but sit there. For all intents and purposes, they were a hunk of space junk drifting off into the black oblivion.
Fair enough. It was a fitting end.
Helpless.
Hopeless.
Kai tried to muster some anger at the situation, if only to distract him from the pain coursing through his body, but found he was up to the task. It was easier to be motivated when there was something to do. Some way he could impact the situation. But there was nothing to do but wait. Maybe he'd live. Probably he'd die. He didn't mind it, that was the same binary he faced every other day. It was a bit more present in his mind than it normally was, but the truth was that he was overdue for demise. He'd given death the slip more times than anyone had a right to.
Still. It bothered him.
Not the death part. The not doing what he set out to do part.
He had run through walls, both literal and figurative, to make it this far. He didn't know what making it back to the Oppenheimer would mean for Humanity, but it had to be better than not making it. The encryption key -- what did it do? What could it do? Would it be doable? Neeria -- could she guide them? Could she help them navigate the treacherous galaxy Humanity was just beginning to play a part in?
There were so many questions. The answers could matter.
Kai tried to remember how much time they had. Without life support, the supply of oxygen would rapidly begin to deplete. He supposed it didn't matter, since he had no idea whether Neeria breathed, what Neeria she breathed, or the rate she consumed it. His space suit had a few hours of stored supply, but it was designed to work in conjunction with his helmet. Without the wrist console, he'd need to find some way to manually vent it.
That was something to do. Small, but perhaps meaningful. Anything to tilt the scales just a little bit more in their direction. Just a few more minutes of air could make a difference.
"Seconds matter," Kai wheezed out. His breath was wet and tasted of iron. He'd worry about that later. Air first. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than nothing.
He hoped Joan's plans were faring better.
-------------------
The Admiral's Bridge was awash in a sea of red. Multiple views vied for primacy as the situation continued to deteriorate. So far, the Oppenheimer itself had withstood the sustained EMP assault directed its way, but the same could not be said for the battle balls. Callsigns continued to blink out of existence with every passing second. The Oppenheimer had immediately attempted to provide supporting fire, but its kinetic weaponry was similarly disabled. Whatever the circumstances had been that had allowed the Alcubierre to destroy an alien vessel, they were clearly no longer relevant to the situation at hand. Without kinetics, the vast majority of Humanity's space-born projective power was effectively nullified. Science was looking into explanations and alternatives, but it would take time.
The Oppenheimer's EMP arrays had succeeded in firing, but the alien vessels appeared to be impervious to that form of assault. It was unclear whether they possessed EMP hardening around core processes similar to the Oppenheimer or they had other means of deflecting attacks of that nature. In the absence of an alternative, the Oppenheimer was continuously discharging the EMP arrays as they became available, attempting to test for weaknesses. The energy drain from the sustained fire was easily accommodated by the altered physics of local space, but it was unclear whether alien defenses could be worn down by continuous assault.
Other oddities were appearing as the situation unfolded. The aliens did not field any tactical fighters that their sensors could identify. There were ships of different sizes, but, thus far, no vessels had moved to directly engage the balls. Kai's cockpit was being corralled by a series of smaller ships working in conjunction with the larger ones, but that was it.
Joan considered it, trying to parse out deeper meanings from the absence. Human conflict, both Earthside and in space, had always heavily relied on tactical fighters. They had numerous advantages in terms of firepower projection and significantly increased tactical dynamism in a battle zone. Either the aliens had never considered the approach, or it was considered suboptimal within this environment.
Joan squinted, watching as the battle ball's callsigns dropped from the battle status view. She tilted her head. "This environment," she muttered to herself, her eyes drawn to the EMP array firing status. The recharge bars filled and expended. Filled and expended. Each cycle representing an incredibly powerful pulse of electromagnetic energy at the speed of light.
Speed of light.
Speed.
The answer struck her. The ramifications of the answer were displeasing. Plans must be altered. Contingencies reconsidered. The Black Fork was too optimistic. Their position was considerably worse than hoped for, but not entirely beyond anticipated outcomes, which had included their immediate destruction upon arrival in the system. They simply had fewer tools than she desired.
Tactical fighters had low utility when combat operated at the speed of light. There was no yield on agility, because no thruster could move faster than light could travel. There was no evading a lightspeed weapon at these distances. Unless a tactical fighter could retain functionality under fire, which the death balls so far could not, they were a pointless extravagance. At best, they could serve as a momentary distraction, particularly when their weapons were inoperable.
The unique characteristics of Humanity's birthplace were a hindrance here. Kinetics were the logical path for weaponry to take in an environment where destructive output was a matter of maximizing scarce energy resources. They were also the easiest, most natural extension from their Earthside forebears. Humanity had begun development of lightspeed weapons, the EMP and the Griggs pulse among them, but they placed tremendous strain on ship systems. The Oppenheimer, as a dreadcarrier, was among the few Earth spaceships that contained a full battery of EMP arrays. Due to the extremely demanding specifications, only a Pulser class ship could make use of a Griggs pulse. Had Humanity known what it faced just beyond its doorstep, it would have invested its research and development resources differently.
Too late now.
The game was not lost yet, they simply must play the hand they were dealt to its greatest effect.
A display flashed from green to red and moved toward the center of the wall, increasing in size. Simultaneously, three other displays shifted in color, position and size, in a chain reaction. Joan frowned. Or perhaps the game was lost, and she was only just realizing it. The shuttle cockpit's callsign, along with the four balls that had attached to it, had disappeared. Her hands darted up and began a series of gestures, swiping North to South as she removed some filters from the local space scan and South to North as she applied others.
She exhaled.
The shuttle had not been destroyed, only incapacitated. It was careening through space away from the cluster of alien ships closest to Halcyon, though a few were in rapid pursuit. The pursuers had acceleration in their favor, but the shuttle's current course brought them toward the Oppenheimer.
Joan flicked a few fingers, pulling the course data from the local scan and pushing it into the timer view.
Before Joan could issue the order, the nearest balls peeled off and immediately began an intercept course with the shuttle. Joan pulled up the command-chain, it appeared that Captain Bushida had decided to be proactive. Very well, but it would not be enough. The balls were more likely than not to be incapacitated before they could be used in any rescue effort. This required a more substantial intervention if the outcome were to be changed.
Joan pushed a new course heading into her comm-link with Ragnar. "Captain, I am moving us off of the Black Fork standing orders."
Ragnar glanced at the course heading. "That's even further in."
Joan nodded, "It's the only way we'll recover the cockpit. The balls can't get the job done."
"There's a risk the Oppenheimer won't get it done either. They're holding back," Ragnar replied, his eyes scanned off screen, bouncing between the various readouts and inbound requests. "Doesn't make any sense they'd only have EMPs. They've got more."
"Likely. My current belief is that they will refrain from further escalation until they have either secured the cockpit or believe they can no longer retrieve it. Each moment of escalation from them has been in response to an action on our part directed at the cockpit."
Ragnar wiped the back of his sleeve against his brow, mopping up the sweat. "Must be something important."
"Must be. The prize is likely worth the pain here, Ragnar. Retrieving the cockpit is the top priority. Preservation of ourselves is an ancillary concern."
"G4 is only a few out. We can hold that long," Ragnar said.
"Get the job done, Captain," Joan ordered and then cut the comm. Ragnar was a sophisticated battlefield tactician. The overlap between them was significant, and the differences between them were accretive to both. They both knew there was another card to be played, it was just a matter of whether Humanity could adapt to it.
Joan opened another comm-link. "Chief Adeyemi."
The Chief blinked a few times as the interjection, as if being pulled from a daze.
"Idara!" Joan exclaimed. "Where's Science at?"
Idara wet her lips, "We've gathered the data and mapped it to a few different explanations...but we need more--"
"You don't have it. Best guess, go."
"Some sort of inertial dampening field. Effects smaller objects. Weakens as the objects get larger. Only affects objects moving a certain speed. Only affects objects in space. Our kinetics are getting caught. Bigger objects, like the fighters, like the Oppenheimer, are fine. Bullets fired inside of the Oppenheimer are fine.
"Any sense on source?"
Idara shook her head.
"But it doesn't effect the fighters. Doesn't effect energy based weapons."
"From what we can see, that's right."
Joan's eyes drifted toward the tracker on Kai's cockpit. Hurtling through space.
"Idara, when the Alcubierre was heading for Proxima Barrier, your modeling said the ship would survive the impact, correct?"
"Yes, Admiral. There isn't an equal an opposite reaction. Actor has primacy in these physics."
Joan stared at Idara, lost in thought. The Chief shifted uncomfortably, "Is there something else--"
"I have what I need," Joan replied, cutting the comm.
She pulled up the status tracker on the balls. Over eight-five percent of launched fighters had already been incapacitated. The Oppenheimer still retained a final wing in its hangers, numbering approximately a hundred and twenty additional balls.
Joan watched the timers ticking down. They needed to go on the offensive. To find a way to tilt the situation in their favor. Even if they retrieved the cockpit, it was a long way back to the wormhole, and a long time to survive before G4 appeared. If the aliens had an ace up their sleeve, that would be the time to play it, when they had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
She re-opened the comm with Ragnar. "Captain, I think we can even the odds a bit."
"I'm all ears, Admiral."
Joan pushed a series of orders to Ragnar. He glanced at them and then glared at her, "You want--
"Yes, Captain, that's what I want."
"But they'll be destroyed," Ragnar responded.
"Not if they're moving fast enough. Get whoever we can get back into the hangers, launch the rest without the pilots. Target the ships. Target Halcyon."
Ragnar stared at her, "Halcyon? That's a civilian--"
"Captain, I want those balls dumped and under full steam at the designated targets. That's an order."
Ragnar opened his mouth and then shut it. A hand came off screen and formed a salute. The comm was dropped shortly after. Almost immediately, the tactical fighters shifted flight plans and began their retreat toward the Oppenheimer. Simultaneously, the wing residing within the *Oppenheimer'*s hangers shifted from stand-by to active. Soon they would be launched, pushing top acceleration toward Halcyon. No EMP would be able to stop them. If the aliens had another card to play, Joan hoped this would force it out and maybe, just maybe, buy enough time for G4 to make an appearance.
She just needed a little time.
Just needed to survive long enough for the Pulsers to arrive.
Seconds mattered.
Next.
Be sure to leave a comment or an upvote if you're enjoying Alcubierre. If you want a sense of how much it matters to me, here's a very emo journal entry documenting it.
Click this link or reply with SubscribeMe! to get notified of updates to THE PLATYPUS NEST.
I have been conducting a strange experiment on my Twitter which people seem to be enjoying. I found an AI bot that randomly posts impactful images every few minutes. I've decided to craft a narrative on top of these random images called "The Human Archives."
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Forex Signals Reddit: top providers review (part 1)

Forex Signals Reddit: top providers review (part 1)

Forex Signals - TOP Best Services. Checked!

To invest in the financial markets, we must acquire good tools that help us carry out our operations in the best possible way. In this sense, we always talk about the importance of brokers, however, signal systems must also be taken into account.
The platforms that offer signals to invest in forex provide us with alerts that will help us in a significant way to be able to carry out successful operations.
For this reason, we are going to tell you about the importance of these alerts in relation to the trading we carry out, because, without a doubt, this type of system will provide us with very good information to invest at the right time and in the best assets in the different markets. financial
Within this context, we will focus on Forex signals, since it is the most important market in the world, since in it, multiple transactions are carried out on a daily basis, hence the importance of having an alert system that offers us all the necessary data to invest in currencies.
Also, as we all already know, cryptocurrencies have become a very popular alternative to investing in traditional currencies. Therefore, some trading services/tools have emerged that help us to carry out successful operations in this particular market.
In the following points, we will detail everything you need to know to start operating in the financial markets using trading signals: what are signals, how do they work, because they are a very powerful help, etc. Let's go there!

What are Forex Trading Signals?

https://preview.redd.it/vjdnt1qrpny51.jpg?width=640&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=bc541fc996701e5b4dd940abed610b59456a5625
Before explaining the importance of Forex signals, let's start by making a small note so that we know what exactly these alerts are.
Thus, we will know that the signals on the currency market are received by traders to know all the information that concerns Forex, both for assets and for the market itself.
These alerts allow us to know the movements that occur in the Forex market and the changes that occur in the different currency pairs. But the great advantage that this type of system gives us is that they provide us with the necessary information, to know when is the right time to carry out our investments.
In other words, through these signals, we will know the opportunities that are presented in the market and we will be able to carry out operations that can become quite profitable.
Profitability is precisely another of the fundamental aspects that must be taken into account when we talk about Forex signals since the vast majority of these alerts offer fairly reliable data on assets. Similarly, these signals can also provide us with recommendations or advice to make our operations more successful.

»Purpose: predict movements to carry out Profitable Operations

In short, Forex signal systems aim to predict the behavior that the different assets that are in the market will present and this is achieved thanks to new technologies, the creation of specialized software, and of course, the work of financial experts.
In addition, it must also be borne in mind that the reliability of these alerts largely lies in the fact that they are prepared by financial professionals. So they turn out to be a perfect tool so that our investments can bring us a greater number of benefits.

The best signal services today

We are going to tell you about the 3 main alert system services that we currently have on the market. There are many more, but I can assure these are not scams and are reliable. Of course, not 100% of trades will be a winner, so please make sure you apply proper money management and risk management system.

1. 1000pipbuilder (top choice)

Fast track your success and follow the high-performance Forex signals from 1000pip Builder. These Forex signals are rated 5 stars on Investing.com, so you can follow every signal with confidence. All signals are sent by a professional trader with over 10 years investment experience. This is a unique opportunity to see with your own eyes how a professional Forex trader trades the markets.
The 1000pip Builder Membership is ordinarily a signal service for Forex trading. You will get all the facts you need to successfully comply with the trading signals, set your stop loss and take earnings as well as additional techniques and techniques!
You will get easy to use trading indicators for Forex Trades, including your entry, stop loss and take profit. Overall, the earnings target per months is 350 Pips, depending on your funding this can be a high profit per month! (In fact, there is by no means a guarantee, but the past months had been all between 600 – 1000 Pips).
>>>Know more about 1000pipbuilder
Your 1000pip builder membership gives you all in hand you want to start trading Forex with success. Read the directions and wait for the first signals. You can trade them inside your demo account first, so you can take a look at the performance before you make investments real money!
Features:
  • Free Trial
  • Forex signals sent by email and SMS
  • Entry price, take profit and stop loss provided
  • Suitable for all time zones (signals sent over 24 hours)
  • MyFXBook verified performance
  • 10 years of investment experience
  • Target 300-400 pips per month
Pricing:
https://preview.redd.it/zjc10xx6ony51.png?width=668&format=png&auto=webp&s=9b0eac95f8b584dc0cdb62503e851d7036c0232b
VISIT 1000ipbuilder here

2. DDMarkets

Digital Derivatives Markets (DDMarkets) have been providing trade alert offerings since May 2014 - fully documenting their change ideas in an open and transparent manner.
September 2020 performance report for DD Markets.
Their manner is simple: carry out extensive research, share their evaluation and then deliver a trading sign when triggered. Once issued, daily updates on the trade are despatched to members via email.
It's essential to note that DDMarkets do not tolerate floating in an open drawdown in an effort to earnings at any cost - a common method used by less professional providers to 'fudge' performance statistics.
Verified Statistics: Not independently verified.
Price: plans from $74.40 per month.
Year Founded: 2014
Suitable for Beginners: Yes, (includes handy to follow trade analysis)
VISIT
-------

3. JKonFX

If you are looking or a forex signal service with a reliable (and profitable) music record you can't go previous Joel Kruger and the team at JKonFX.
Trading performance file for JKonFX.
Joel has delivered a reputable +59.18% journal performance for 2016, imparting real-time technical and fundamental insights, in an extremely obvious manner, to their 30,000+ subscriber base. Considered a low-frequency trader, alerts are only a small phase of the overall JKonFX subscription. If you're searching for hundreds of signals, you may want to consider other options.
Verified Statistics: Not independently verified.
Price: plans from $30 per month.
Year Founded: 2014
Suitable for Beginners: Yes, (includes convenient to follow videos updates).
VISIT

The importance of signals to invest in Forex

Once we have known what Forex signals are, we must comment on the importance of these alerts in relation to our operations.
As we have already told you in the previous paragraph, having a system of signals to be able to invest is quite advantageous, since, through these alerts, we will obtain quality information so that our operations end up being a true success.

»Use of signals for beginners and experts

In this sense, we have to say that one of the main advantages of Forex signals is that they can be used by both beginners and trading professionals.
As many as others can benefit from using a trading signal system because the more information and resources we have in our hands. The greater probability of success we will have. Let's see how beginners and experts can take advantage of alerts:
  • Beginners: for inexperienced these alerts become even more important since they will thus have an additional tool that will guide them to carry out all operations in the Forex market.
  • Professionals: In the same way, professionals are also recommended to make use of these alerts, so they have adequate information to continue bringing their investments to fruition.
Now that we know that both beginners and experts can use forex signals to invest, let's see what other advantages they have.

»Trading automation

When we dedicate ourselves to working in the financial world, none of us can spend 24 hours in front of the computer waiting to perform the perfect operation, it is impossible.
That is why Forex signals are important, because, in order to carry out our investments, all we will have to do is wait for those signals to arrive, be attentive to all the alerts we receive, and thus, operate at the right time according to the opportunities that have arisen.
It is fantastic to have a tool like this one that makes our work easier in this regard.

»Carry out profitable Forex operations

These signals are also important, because the vast majority of them are usually quite profitable, for this reason, we must get an alert system that provides us with accurate information so that our operations can bring us great benefits.
But in addition, these Forex signals have an added value and that is that they are very easy to understand, therefore, we will have a very useful tool at hand that will not be complicated and will end up being a very beneficial weapon for us.

»Decision support analysis

A system of currency market signals is also very important because it will help us to make our subsequent decisions.
We cannot forget that, to carry out any type of operation in this market, previously, we must meditate well and know the exact moment when we will know that our investments are going to bring us profits .
Therefore, all the information provided by these alerts will be a fantastic basis for future operations that we are going to carry out.

»Trading Signals made by professionals

Finally, we have to recall the idea that these signals are made by the best professionals. Financial experts who know perfectly how to analyze the movements that occur in the market and changes in prices.
Hence the importance of alerts, since they are very reliable and are presented as a necessary tool to operate in Forex and that our operations are as profitable as possible.

What should a signal provider be like?

https://preview.redd.it/j0ne51jypny51.png?width=640&format=png&auto=webp&s=5578ff4c42bd63d5b6950fc6401a5be94b97aa7f
As you have seen, Forex signal systems are really important for our operations to bring us many benefits. For this reason, at present, there are multiple platforms that offer us these financial services so that investing in currencies is very simple and fast.
Before telling you about the main services that we currently have available in the market, it is recommended that you know what are the main characteristics that a good signal provider should have, so that, at the time of your choice, you are clear that you have selected one of the best systems.

»Must send us information on the main currency pairs

In this sense, one of the first things we have to comment on is that a good signal provider, at a minimum, must send us alerts that offer us information about the 6 main currencies, in this case, we refer to the euro, dollar, The pound, the yen, the Swiss franc, and the Canadian dollar.
Of course, the data you provide us will be related to the pairs that make up all these currencies. Although we can also find systems that offer us information about other minorities, but as we have said, at a minimum, we must know these 6.

»Trading tools to operate better

Likewise, signal providers must also provide us with a large number of tools so that we can learn more about the Forex market.
We refer, for example, to technical analysis above all, which will help us to develop our own strategies to be able to operate in this market.
These analyzes are always prepared by professionals and study, mainly, the assets that we have available to invest.

»Different Forex signals reception channels

They must also make available to us different ways through which they will send us the Forex signals, the usual thing is that we can acquire them through the platform's website, or by a text message and even through our email.
In addition, it is recommended that the signal system we choose sends us a large number of alerts throughout the day, in order to have a wide range of possibilities.

»Free account and customer service

Other aspects that we must take into account to choose a good signal provider is whether we have the option of receiving, for a limited time, alerts for free or the profitability of the signals they emit to us.
Similarly, a final aspect that we must emphasize is that a good signal system must also have excellent customer service, which is available to us 24 hours a day and that we can contact them at through an email, a phone number, or a live chat, for greater immediacy.
Well, having said all this, in our last section we are going to tell you which are the best services currently on the market. That is, the most suitable Forex signal platforms to be able to work with them and carry out good operations. In this case, we will talk about ForexPro Signals, 365 Signals and Binary Signals.

Forex Signals Reddit: conclusion

To be able to invest properly in the Forex market, it is convenient that we get a signal system that provides us with all the necessary information about this market. It must be remembered that Forex is a very volatile market and therefore, many movements tend to occur quickly.
Asset prices can change in a matter of seconds, hence the importance of having a system that helps us analyze the market and thus know, what is the right time for us to start operating.
Therefore, although there are currently many signal systems that can offer us good services, the three that we have mentioned above are the ones that are best valued by users, which is why they are the best signal providers that we can choose to carry out. our investments.
Most of these alerts are quite profitable and in addition, these systems usually emit a large number of signals per day with full guarantees. For all this, SignalsForexPro, Signals365, or SignalsBinary are presented as fundamental tools so that we can obtain a greater number of benefits when we carry out our operations in the currency market.
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[OC][UWDFF Alcubierre] Part 54

Beginning | Previous
Premier Valast felt a tingle. It began at the base of his spine and traveled moved upward, sending warm fuzzy feelings all throughout his body as it made its way to his brain and inserted itself in his conscious thoughts. After all of the misery. After all of the failures. For once, something had gone right.
How delightful. How extravagant. How deserved.
The Humans had made a mistake. Clearly, they had thought to expand upon their treachery, believing themselves to be invincible. Their monstrosity of a vessel had appeared just as their last one had, within Halcyon's inner perimeter. After their ruse of parlay, their beast had commenced belching out weapons of mass destruction, clearly in an attempt to retrieve the encryption key and the elite assassin-thief they had dispatched under the guise of a Witness.
They thought Halcyon weak. Defenseless.
Not true! Not true at all!
Kinetics. Valast laughed aloud, his rib cage heaving out great guffaws. Accelerated mass! More laughter. The savages thought to bring such inelegance against the might of the Combine? They mistook their prior fortune for competence. Their one-time success for future capability. Alas, poor Humans, the truth of your inadequacies is made manifest! The brief gap in the defenses brought on by the improbable chain of events that had resulted in their arrival had been filled. For all of their destructive potential, their weapons were useless.
Valast continued to cackle, his hindclaws scrunching up the soft material of his pillow, as he watched the Humans receive their punishment for their insolence. The Humans had made assumptions. Perhaps assumptions were fine in their backwater corner of the galaxy, but here, among civilization, assumptions could be quite dangerous indeed. It was quite unwise to assume Halcyon would leave the inner perimeter exposed. They must have thought their Evangi co-conspirators would leave the gates open for them, as the traitor Neeria had done when she had given them access to a Combine wormkey in the first place. Sadly for the Humans, their four-armed friends had been exposed for what they were. A great many of the Evangi now lay motionless on the floor of a Halcyon mainway, a fitting end to their perfidy.
Halcyon had stood since the beginning, and it would continue to stand long after the Human infestation had been expunged from the Combine Space. Perhaps the Humans should have spent more time pondering the nature of the place before they had meddled with forces they clearly did not understand. Halcyon existed in defiance of the chaotic nature of the neutron star it orbited. Its survival required an solution to the objects such a gravity well attracted. Halcyon had many such solutions, weaved together to maintain a delicate balance. Among them were the inertial dampeners.
The screen in Valast's paws bloomed with colors, indicating firings of Halcyon's inertial dampeners. Each blossom of color was an attempt by the Humans to deploy weapons in clear violation War Accords, cementing Humanity's position as a menace to decent civilization. Had Valast not commanded Bo'Bakka'Gah to take the necessary precautions, the devastation would have been significant.
Lines of crimson sailed through the blooms of color.
Valast's whiskers twitched, his eyes squinting as it tracked one of these lines.
The solution was not perfect. The intertial dampeners in close proximity to Halcyon were a final precaution, and their purpose was narrow. They were a fine net, meant to indiscriminately capture any residual high-speed astral particulate that had escaped the outer defenses. Their efficacy diminished at an exponential rate in proportion to the size and mass of the object they acted upon. Thus far, they had been quite successful at preventing the Humans from making use of their weapons, but dampeners had no effect on the Human vessels. Even if the dampeners could be used for such a purpose, their indiscriminate nature would have required the cessation of all space born travel within Halcyon, an unacceptable disruption to the workings of the Combine's capitol.
The Humans' small spherical vessels were thus capable of traveling unimpeded throughout Halcyon space, tracing their crimson lines behind them as they did so. Such a thing did not overly worry Valast. They could not fire their weapons, and they were susceptible to electromagnetic disruption, rendering them easy targets for the Peacekeepers. Were Valast not otherwise consumed with the affairs of state, he would perhaps take to the front line and dispatch a few himself. Sadly, his bravery would find no opportunity for direct expression beyond the valor found in the privilege of command competently exercised.
The whiskers ceased their twitching and some cheer returned. It would not be long before the meddlesome Human spheres were swatted from the sky and the encryption key recovered.
Then they would dispatch the Human warship.
Then Humanity.
He need only wait.
-----------
"Get spread. Get small." Sana called out. Had to buy time. Had to get a handle on the situation. Not her first rodeo, but it was the first time where she had no idea what the hell she was riding. Maybe the aliens were riding her. Maybe it wasn't a rodeo, maybe it was just a slaughter.
That was the problem. No one knew anything.
The callsigns in her local were dropping like flies. Squaddies getting wiped without so much as a peep. The eggs in Science were saying EMPs, but the balls were supposed to be fixed against that frakkery. Sensors said the balls were still there even after they went dead, so maybe they were right. Couldn't think about that now.
Couldn't think about anything but the mission.
Captain Sana Bushida had a shit-shuttle to bring to station.
She needed to get from A to B. Normally the quickest point-to-point was a line, but the baddies were coming in from all sides. Trying to corral her in. So be it. She could handle a long and squiggly with the juice she had in the four balls attached to the cockpit. Only question was how long they'd be up for. Whatever they were using on the balls wasn't touching her. She was good, but she wasn't that good.
Guess they wanted her kicking and screaming.
Predators, not scavengers then.
Frakk 'em. Right in their stupid alien faces.
Sana's brain shunted command signals as fast as her eyes to parse the readouts in her pilot pod. Dodging. Weaving. Diving. Dipping. Half those words didn't even apply to space, but they felt right. Float like a butterfly, run like cheetah on amphetos. She'd sting 'em later.
Run run run, fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the shit-shuttle can.
Swipe. Swipe.
Two smaller ships moved in a pincer formation, one cutting off her angle around the larger ship she was skimming around. Sana let out a giggle, as she shoved the shuttle in another direction. "You thought you had me, crapdonkey? You never had me. You're gonna be seeing my ass all day." The giggle somehow transformed into a roar halfway through as a third ship appeared in her view, coming out from its hiding place on the other side of the large ship. "SCREW YOU!" They weren't going to win. Losing wasn't an option.
Swipe.
Patterns emerged as the ballet played out. Certain ships were the herders. The small annoying frakks that always seemed to be moving around her flanks. Other ships were the receivers. They were the big boys. The ones who just floated there like giant shits in space. Lazy frakks just waiting to be fed some shit-shuttle. Fine then. New info. New tactics. New rule: Get around the herders, never get closer to the receivers.
Herders bad.
Receivers bad-der-er.
As long as she was a step ahead of the herders and two steps away from the receivers, she'd be fine. Problem was they were more agile than her. Problem was there was more of them. Problem was the friendly callsigns on her readouts kept disappearing. Problem was that she was stuck in here instead of out there where she belonged.
Ninety-nine problems...
Swipe. Swipe.
All she needed was a line of sight. A place where she could get a whiff of open space and just gun it. Navigate the maze. Get through it. Light at the end of the tunnel. Glass is half full.
Metaphor.
Analogy.
Idiom.
The stream of consciousness flowed out of her, expressing itself in her verbiage and in the desperately navigating shuttle some distance away. Step forward. No steps backward. Okay, maybe one step backward, but it'll be okay. She'd take the step forward soon enough.
Just...needed...a...line.
Alpha, Beta, Charlie, and Delta was gone.
It was just her.
Swipe. Swipe.
The fate of the world.
The shit-shuttle must survive.
Swipe. Swipe.
The gap opened.
She saw it.
They didn't.
"There it is bitches!"
All four balls slammed the thrusters on. It wasn't a direct bee line to the Oppenheimer but it was good enough. She just needed to get out of the hornet's nest and into open space so she could keep pouring on the acceleration. She didn't know how much juice the herders had, but it was all she had going for her at this point.
Bitter bile rose up in her throat as the shit-shuttle surged forward, leaving A through D behind. Her squaddies. Her friends.
Abandoned.
She should be out there.
She could be. She just needed to get the mission done. She was so close. She was putting distance between her and the baddies. Just a few more minutes...the link cut off.
Her thoughts were shunting into a wall.
She swiped, her eyes scanning the readouts.
Alcubierre - Shuttle - Cockpit (Ejection)(DISTRESS) no longer appeared.
For once, Sana was speechless.
---------------------
Kai retched air.
There was nothing else to throw up at this point. He'd given everything he had to give, and it was now floating about the cockpit in a viscous cloud. He was fairly certain Neeria was collateral damage in the matter. If she were ever to regain consciousness, she'd find she had been provided with a fresh coat of puke paint. At this point, being blind was something of a boon. Congratulations were owed to the sadist in the pilot's seat though, he hadn't emptied his stomach like this since flight sims.
He'd raise his hand in salute if it weren't for the incredible g-force shifts whipping him around like a rag doll as the pilot attempted to avoid whatever was out there. Some of the maneuvers seemed impossibly complex, as if the cockpit was navigating through an impassable morass of enemies. Or perhaps the pilot was just drunk. Either seemed possible.
The whipsawing continued. Back. Forth. Round and round. Acceleration never seemed to continue in a single direction for more than a few seconds. They were going in circles. They had to be.
Finally, it appeared the pilot had decided on a direction as Kai was slammed back into his chair as the cockpit rocketed forward under sustained acceleration. They must have broken through. Or the pilot had fallen asleep at the controls with the throttle down and they were all doomed. Either way. At this point, Kai was just eager for it to be over.
The acceleration continued. He felt like he was being crushed. Like an enormous hand was pressing against him, trying to squeeze all of his organs out through his eyes. Whatever was powering the cockpit now was beyond the parameters of the shuttle's acceleration compensators. His vision began to dim and his joints ached. Pain surged up in his right arm, which was still contorted within the goo. He was fairly certain a bone had just snapped.
"Oppenheimer..ETA," Kai managed to gasp out, drawing the breath back into his lungs with some effort.
"The shuttle is not currently on course to intercept with the UWDFF Oppenheimer."
"Joan." Kai wheezed. "Connect. Joan."
The acceleration cut off.
Kai took a huge gulp of air, the relief immediate. "Comm-link. Fleet Admiral Joan Orléans."
No response.
Kai tried again.
Silence greeted him.
Grumbling, he raised his left wrist toward his face. He stuck out his tongue and smeared it along the wrist console's interface. None of the expected beeps and chirps sounded out. It was dead, and, he suspected, so was the cockpit along with whatever had been propelling him. No life support. No way to call out for help. No way to do anything but sit there. For all intents and purposes, they were a hunk of space junk drifting off into the black oblivion.
Fair enough. It was a fitting end.
Helpless.
Hopeless.
Kai tried to muster some anger at the situation, if only to distract him from the pain coursing through his body, but found he was up to the task. It was easier to be motivated when there was something to do. Some way he could impact the situation. But there was nothing to do but wait. Maybe he'd live. Probably he'd die. He didn't mind it, that was the same binary he faced every other day. It was a bit more present in his mind than it normally was, but the truth was that he was overdue for demise. He'd given death the slip more times than anyone had a right to.
Still. It bothered him.
Not the death part. The not doing what he set out to do part.
He had run through walls, both literal and figurative, to make it this far. He didn't know what making it back to the Oppenheimer would mean for Humanity, but it had to be better than not making it. The encryption key -- what did it do? What could it do? Would it be doable? Neeria -- could she guide them? Could she help them navigate the treacherous galaxy Humanity was just beginning to play a part in?
There were so many questions. The answers could matter.
Kai tried to remember how much time they had. Without life support, the supply of oxygen would rapidly begin to deplete. He supposed it didn't matter, since he had no idea whether Neeria breathed, what Neeria she breathed, or the rate she consumed it. His space suit had a few hours of stored supply, but it was designed to work in conjunction with his helmet. Without the wrist console, he'd need to find some way to manually vent it.
That was something to do. Small, but perhaps meaningful. Anything to tilt the scales just a little bit more in their direction. Just a few more minutes of air could make a difference.
"Seconds matter," Kai wheezed out. His breath was wet and tasted of iron. He'd worry about that later. Air first. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than nothing.
He hoped Joan's plans were faring better.
-------------------
The Admiral's Bridge was awash in a sea of red. Multiple views vied for primacy as the situation continued to deteriorate. So far, the Oppenheimer itself had withstood the sustained EMP assault directed its way, but the same could not be said for the battle balls. Callsigns continued to blink out of existence with every passing second. The Oppenheimer had immediately attempted to provide supporting fire, but its kinetic weaponry was similarly disabled. Whatever the circumstances had been that had allowed the Alcubierre to destroy an alien vessel, they were clearly no longer relevant to the situation at hand. Without kinetics, the vast majority of Humanity's space-born projective power was effectively nullified. Science was looking into explanations and alternatives, but it would take time.
The Oppenheimer's EMP arrays had succeeded in firing, but the alien vessels appeared to be impervious to that form of assault. It was unclear whether they possessed EMP hardening around core processes similar to the Oppenheimer or they had other means of deflecting attacks of that nature. In the absence of an alternative, the Oppenheimer was continuously discharging the EMP arrays as they became available, attempting to test for weaknesses. The energy drain from the sustained fire was easily accommodated by the altered physics of local space, but it was unclear whether alien defenses could be worn down by continuous assault.
Other oddities were appearing as the situation unfolded. The aliens did not field any tactical fighters that their sensors could identify. There were ships of different sizes, but, thus far, no vessels had moved to directly engage the balls. Kai's cockpit was being corralled by a series of smaller ships working in conjunction with the larger ones, but that was it.
Joan considered it, trying to parse out deeper meanings from the absence. Human conflict, both Earthside and in space, had always heavily relied on tactical fighters. They had numerous advantages in terms of firepower projection and significantly increased tactical dynamism in a battle zone. Either the aliens had never considered the approach, or it was considered suboptimal within this environment.
Joan squinted, watching as the battle ball's callsigns dropped from the battle status view. She tilted her head. "This environment," she muttered to herself, her eyes drawn to the EMP array firing status. The recharge bars filled and expended. Filled and expended. Each cycle representing an incredibly powerful pulse of electromagnetic energy at the speed of light.
Speed of light.
Speed.
The answer struck her. The ramifications of the answer were displeasing. Plans must be altered. Contingencies reconsidered. The Black Fork was too optimistic. Their position was considerably worse than hoped for, but not entirely beyond anticipated outcomes, which had included their immediate destruction upon arrival in the system. They simply had fewer tools than she desired.
Tactical fighters had low utility when combat operated at the speed of light. There was no yield on agility, because no thruster could move faster than light could travel. There was no evading a lightspeed weapon at these distances. Unless a tactical fighter could retain functionality under fire, which the death balls so far could not, they were a pointless extravagance. At best, they could serve as a momentary distraction, particularly when their weapons were inoperable.
The unique characteristics of Humanity's birthplace were a hindrance here. Kinetics were the logical path for weaponry to take in an environment where destructive output was a matter of maximizing scarce energy resources. They were also the easiest, most natural extension from their Earthside forebears. Humanity had begun development of lightspeed weapons, the EMP and the Griggs pulse among them, but they placed tremendous strain on ship systems. The Oppenheimer, as a dreadcarrier, was among the few Earth spaceships that contained a full battery of EMP arrays. Due to the extremely demanding specifications, only a Pulser class ship could make use of a Griggs pulse. Had Humanity known what it faced just beyond its doorstep, it would have invested its research and development resources differently.
Too late now.
The game was not lost yet, they simply must play the hand they were dealt to its greatest effect.
A display flashed from green to red and moved toward the center of the wall, increasing in size. Simultaneously, three other displays shifted in color, position and size, in a chain reaction. Joan frowned. Or perhaps the game was lost, and she was only just realizing it. The shuttle cockpit's callsign, along with the four balls that had attached to it, had disappeared. Her hands darted up and began a series of gestures, swiping North to South as she removed some filters from the local space scan and South to North as she applied others.
She exhaled.
The shuttle had not been destroyed, only incapacitated. It was careening through space away from the cluster of alien ships closest to Halcyon, though a few were in rapid pursuit. The pursuers had acceleration in their favor, but the shuttle's current course brought them toward the Oppenheimer.
Joan flicked a few fingers, pulling the course data from the local scan and pushing it into the timer view.
Before Joan could issue the order, the nearest balls peeled off and immediately began an intercept course with the shuttle. Joan pulled up the command-chain, it appeared that Captain Bushida had decided to be proactive. Very well, but it would not be enough. The balls were more likely than not to be incapacitated before they could be used in any rescue effort. This required a more substantial intervention if the outcome were to be changed.
Joan pushed a new course heading into her comm-link with Ragnar. "Captain, I am moving us off of the Black Fork standing orders."
Ragnar glanced at the course heading. "That's even further in."
Joan nodded, "It's the only way we'll recover the cockpit. The balls can't get the job done."
"There's a risk the Oppenheimer won't get it done either. They're holding back," Ragnar replied, his eyes scanned off screen, bouncing between the various readouts and inbound requests. "Doesn't make any sense they'd only have EMPs. They've got more."
"Likely. My current belief is that they will refrain from further escalation until they have either secured the cockpit or believe they can no longer retrieve it. Each moment of escalation from them has been in response to an action on our part directed at the cockpit."
Ragnar wiped the back of his sleeve against his brow, mopping up the sweat. "Must be something important."
"Must be. The prize is likely worth the pain here, Ragnar. Retrieving the cockpit is the top priority. Preservation of ourselves is an ancillary concern."
"G4 is only a few out. We can hold that long," Ragnar said.
"Get the job done, Captain," Joan ordered and then cut the comm. Ragnar was a sophisticated battlefield tactician. The overlap between them was significant, and the differences between them were accretive to both. They both knew there was another card to be played, it was just a matter of whether Humanity could adapt to it.
Joan opened another comm-link. "Chief Adeyemi."
The Chief blinked a few times as the interjection, as if being pulled from a daze.
"Idara!" Joan exclaimed. "Where's Science at?"
Idara wet her lips, "We've gathered the data and mapped it to a few different explanations...but we need more--"
"You don't have it. Best guess, go."
"Some sort of inertial dampening field. Effects smaller objects. Weakens as the objects get larger. Only affects objects moving a certain speed. Only affects objects in space. Our kinetics are getting caught. Bigger objects, like the fighters, like the Oppenheimer, are fine. Bullets fired inside of the Oppenheimer are fine.
"Any sense on source?"
Idara shook her head.
"But it doesn't effect the fighters. Doesn't effect energy based weapons."
"From what we can see, that's right."
Joan's eyes drifted toward the tracker on Kai's cockpit. Hurtling through space.
"Idara, when the Alcubierre was heading for Proxima Barrier, your modeling said the ship would survive the impact, correct?"
"Yes, Admiral. There isn't an equal an opposite reaction. Actor has primacy in these physics."
Joan stared at Idara, lost in thought. The Chief shifted uncomfortably, "Is there something else--"
"I have what I need," Joan replied, cutting the comm.
She pulled up the status tracker on the balls. Over eight-five percent of launched fighters had already been incapacitated. The Oppenheimer still retained a final wing in its hangers, numbering approximately a hundred and twenty additional balls.
Joan watched the timers ticking down. They needed to go on the offensive. To find a way to tilt the situation in their favor. Even if they retrieved the cockpit, it was a long way back to the wormhole, and a long time to survive before G4 appeared. If the aliens had an ace up their sleeve, that would be the time to play it, when they had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
She re-opened the comm with Ragnar. "Captain, I think we can even the odds a bit."
"I'm all ears, Admiral."
Joan pushed a series of orders to Ragnar. He glanced at them and then glared at her, "You want--
"Yes, Captain, that's what I want."
"But they'll be destroyed," Ragnar responded.
"Not if they're moving fast enough. Get whoever we can get back into the hangers, launch the rest without the pilots. Target the ships. Target Halcyon."
Ragnar stared at her, "Halcyon? That's a civilian--"
"Captain, I want those balls dumped and under full steam at the designated targets. That's an order."
Ragnar opened his mouth and then shut it. A hand came off screen and formed a salute. The comm was dropped shortly after. Almost immediately, the tactical fighters shifted flight plans and began their retreat toward the Oppenheimer. Simultaneously, the wing residing within the *Oppenheimer'*s hangers shifted from stand-by to active. Soon they would be launched, pushing top acceleration toward Halcyon. No EMP would be able to stop them. If the aliens had another card to play, Joan hoped this would force it out and maybe, just maybe, buy enough time for G4 to make an appearance.
She just needed a little time.
Just needed to survive long enough for the Pulsers to arrive.
Seconds mattered.
PerilousPlatypus
submitted by PerilousPlatypus to HFY [link] [comments]

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