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Incident at FI Base G67

Discussion in 'CivBE - Stories & Let's Plays' started by Packherd2, Feb 22, 2015.

  1. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

    Joined:
    May 24, 2011
    Messages:
    106
    The herder doesn't need to touch her charge to know it's there and to direct its movement. Indeed, physical contact is frowned upon by official training doctrine, because it leads the xeno to rely on the herder for physical direction and affirmation. It is better to train your raptor bugs to be aloof yet pliant.

    Any Xenodriver with a measure of experience, however, knows that this is balderdash. Warriors don't give their brothers-in-arms the cold shoulder. The Biotechnicians claim that pheromones cause xenos to bond to their herders, but the herder knows better. A far stronger force connects them, one that, unlike pheromones can't be hacked by an enemy: love.

    The xenos aren't pets, of course, although civies can be forgiven for mistaking the relationship as that. Beetles and raptors have been known to roughhouse with their herders, and more than a few trips to the infirmary have been excused as "love bites." Still, the herder must reciprocate the xenos' loyalty with something slightly different, a sort of honor. There is some evidence for this relationship in pre-Mistake sources.

    Horses were the mount of choice for most of pre-Mistake history and they were respected by the soldiers who relied on them. Dogs, ancient companion mammals that inspired the wolf beetle's common name, were commonly used by paramilitary forces in urban environments and in close contact with non-combatants. Some sources even reference a long forgotten avian called a pigeon which soldiers used as a messenger up until and even after the discovery of telecommunications. The herders who bonded with these creatures surely also loved them, but it was like the love of a tyrant towards subjects. Individual gallantry deserved recognition; greater glory was the priority.

    And still, Sam thought, Buckaroo always brushes his carapace against my legplates just when I need him to. I don't know what I'd do if I lost him.

    It was thoughts like these that she tried to suppress before an engagement but tonight she let them linger. The swarm was restless for good reason. Command had selected Sam and her charges for a critical assault on FI Base G76. As its designation suggested, it was just one of dozens of semi-automated defense fortifications scattered around the Effeye capital. Sam’s presence, however, suggested that it was something more. She had not been told precisely what she was to be looking for in the base, just that Cynosure indicated that something of great value existed inside. She was to investigate further and retreive any items of military importance within. And, hey, Cynosure got it right almost half the time.

    Sam stood up stock straight, signaling to the xenos that it was time to move. Although she administered the two-click command for "Advance," her charges didn't really need it. Buckaroo knew what she expected before she even asked for it and the swarm followed Buckaroo’s lead. She had not specially practiced stealth maneuvering with the xenos beforehand, but this too they instinctively perceived as critical to their mission. Even the manticore, Bismarck, normally a clumsy doofus, treaded lightly.

    The exterior of the base was a rough slate color. There wasn't much light this night anyway and the base reflected none of it, heightening the sense of dark invisibility of the place. Sentry beacons spun overhead but they were easily disabled by a well placed shot from Bismarck. Microcharges fixed near the hinges of the door frame blew out the locks with minimal noise and smoke. Sam's tendons went taught in preparation for possible bogeys that could be lying in wait but nothing was on the other side except a long, blank hallway. The xenos shivered with anticipation.

    Single file the swarm entered. A wolf beetle named Henrí went in first. He looked back and forth, expecting something to pop out and strike, but nothing came. There were no doors or corners on either side of the hallway. At the far end was a sliding glass portal, clean and transparent, so there was nowhere for any ambush to hide. The anticlimax seemed to make Henrí even more skittish, which Buckaroo quickly noticed. He wove his way through the swarm to nip Henrí's hindquarter, startling him back into composure. Sam approached the glass.

    An unseen sensor failed to register any of the xenos but did recognize Sam as a human-form. The glass slid open granting access to another hallway, this one shorter, wider, and lined with small doors to workspaces. Sam raised her rifle and the xenos dutifully assumed strike positions. The beetles opened their forelegs just slightly. The raptors lowered their mass a little closer to the floor. Bismarck looked goofy. For the briefest moment, the whole swarm held perfectly still so they could perceive the sound of any possible enemies. Nothing.

    One by one Sam ordered beetles into the cubicles. Each one was empty. At the far end, the hallway turned slightly right and opened into a larger tech-comm room. When manned, this is where the CO would stand, directing the base operations. No one was here right now. The electronics were all cold. They hadn’t been turned on in days, maybe weeks. No one had expected Sam's incursion.

    Nothing in the tech-comm room seemed of interest. HQ knew the standardized layout of every Effeye installation. Whatever she was here to find, it was somewhere else in the base. In a small room to the left is where the base's power management unit was kept. Normally, these were not of any interest either, but if Sam were hiding something of value in a nondescript military facility she'd probably stick it in the power closet. The door to the room creaked slightly—this one was decidedly non-automatic. Sam entered with her finger on the trigger. Buckaroo sidled behind her, covering her flank. Unsurprisingly, the power unit also clearly had not been spun up out of standby mode for quite a while. A heavy switch near the door initiated the power unit's cycle. Perhaps she was hunting for information, not an artifact. If so, she'd have to interface with the base hard drive.

    The humming electronics were unsettling to the xenos. When Sam wasn't training (or playing) with the swarm, she was probably at a desk filing reports so the hiss-crack-snap made by the machines was not unusual to her. The xenos, however, were rarely indoors and their holding pens were situated in an isolated corner of the xenocamp. This world, of solid state memory and plasma displays and force-feedback input, was wholly foreign to them. Sam felt it was better to let them be anxiously curious rather than nervous so she ignored them and focused on the main terminal. Security locks were non-existent. After all, she wasn't supposed to be in this room so why would they lock the computers. The directories held all the usual detritus of a military networked computer. Sysadmin tracksheets, budget tables, half-finished fanfic, an out-of-date commissar menu. Wait. Effeye grunts were rationed protein paste. Why would they have a menu at a defensive base? Sure enough, the menu was not a menu at all. After a simple decryption the file resolved into a database map showing the location of command-keys within the mainframe. Bingo.

    After loading the file onto portable storage, Sam rounded up the xenos. It had been such an uneventful night, she felt a little bad for them. They deserved some action.

    Sam powered down the system, hoping no one would be back here in time to realize it had ever been turned on. To her surprise, however, the system didn't cycle down. In fact it seemed to spin up higher. Dammit! She'd been potempkined!

    "Driver Samantha Walid, this is Captain Esteban von Pacheco, Franco-Iberia Cyberforce." The stern face of a middle-aged officer flickered onto the main display. "As you already have surely noticed, your violation of our security perimeter has been confirmed and you have been surrounded. Exit the the facility with your weapon discharged. Your creatures will be humanely destroyed."

    "Go to hell," Sam said aloud, in spite of herself. Apparently, the Captain had two-way comms.

    "Very well, Driver, then you also will be destroyed. Sentinels, remove the intruder from the facility!" At that, the relative silence of the base was ripped apart by a concussion grenade. Already the xenos had taken up positions behind walls and under desks, prepared to attack the soldiers as they entered. If the impact of the sound affected them they didn't show it. If only she had such presence under fire, Sam thought. She'd make a lousy raptor.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2017
  2. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

    Joined:
    May 24, 2011
    Messages:
    106
    The Sentinels rushed in through the blown out door, blasters at the ready. Ordinarily, AU drivers would mass their wolf beetles against one soldier, the one with the strongest psychic signature. While many of the swarm's beetles would be lost in the assault, the sight and sound of a unit's bravest man being incised to death had a deleterious effect on the relatively weaker willed comrades. Forty-two percent of the time, this momentary lapse in discipline was enough for the average driver to escape. A swarm without its driver was just a crowd of dumb xenos, but a driver without her swarm was like Ahab—a dangerous spirit.

    This particular driver, however, had already found her Queequeg, so she was therefore quite dangerous. She had no interest in sacrificing her current swarm for her next. This was the last she would ever command.

    "Cover your flanks," Captain Pacheco directed with an affectless tone. There was no need for such simple commands. These men were made to die in the mandibles of raptor bugs. There was no reason to rattle their nerves by implying that their commanding officer already knew that. "Stay close. Take clean shots. Let's bring home some dead bugs to Momma Élodie."

    They did take clean shots, careful not to waste a single cartridge in haste. A citizen is just another resource but munitions make the the Nation. They knew this. Or at least they'd been made to know this.

    Snap. Snap-hiss. Death scream. The Standardbearer behind Captain Pacheco did not stir one bit. Fine lad. Younger marines sometimes called Standardbearers "pretty boys" since their job was essentially to stand at attention at all times. Pacheco had made that crack when he was younger, too, but in time he came to realize the superhuman talent it took to be a great Standardbearer. Battlesuits may be wonders of bionic mechanization, but it was an uncommonly self-posessed soldier who could suppress every twitch, every bead of sweat, which could be interpreted by the servos as an action-input. The effect a good Standardbearer had on surrounding troops had been demonstrated time and again. A powerful psyche was not part of the conditioning regimen of Sentinels because they could look to the Standardbearer to provide surrogate courage and heroics. It was a peculiar personnel management system, every commanding officer had to admit, but damned if it didn't work.

    Here, however, Pacheco wondered if perhaps the system would not be up to the task. Driver Walid's capabilities were expressly identified in her dossier. Typical tactics would not work against her. No, with Walid her weakness lay somewhere else, somewhere much simpler: the raptor. Pacheco had noticed it in the holovids, one raptor who seemed always a little nearer Walid, almost... affectionate. The thought inconveniently sent a squeamish shiver down his side. He hoped his suit had not mistaken that and given away his feelings. The idea that this mad terrorist actually would cavort with the beasts she commanded. No wonder Franco-Iberia had severed diplomatic relations with the AU. How could civilized humans have relations with... animals? He banished the thoughts from his mind. Now was not the time for tortured philosophizing. That raptor was in the base with Walid and Pacheco had to take care of it.

    "Report," he ordered into the commlink.

    "Light casualties but also limited kills. The xenos aren't massing or charging, Sir."

    "Indeed. We'll use their own tactics against them for a change. Sentinel, do you have a visual on the Driver?"

    "Negative, Sir. Wherever she is, she's intentionally avoiding direct contact with us. We can't advance, but neither can she."

    "Unacceptable, Sentinel. You will advance."

    "Aye, Sir!"

    The chit-chit-chitter of boots and blaster fire picked up tempo ever so slightly. The marines were pressing their advantage, or rather, they were driving themselves deeper into Walid's waiting maw. Pacheco signaled to the Standardbearer, who's name he hadn't bothered to learn. "Come. We need to be in range when the opportunity presents itself."

    Sure enough, as Pacheco approached the doorway, he saw the evidence of his command. Dead Sentinels and dead wolf beetles, laying on top of each other, their blood mingling on the plain asphalt floor. Marines don't collect their dead until the battle is won and if the battle is lost, there are no survivors to collect the dead. Pacheco and the Standardbearer stepped over the corpses without hesitation. Franco-Iberians had a reputation for callousness that seemed to some to be a kind of evil. Pacheco was inclined to agree with that assessment.

    A lone Sentinel approached. "Sir, she's cornered."

    "Then hold your ground, marine. We must not give her any reason to think up a clever way to escape."

    Pacheco moved toward the front line, pushing Sentinels aside with his massive servo-enabled arm. Two Sentinels were positioned on either side of a utility door, the entry point to the base’s power supply. "She's in there," the commanding Sentinel said.

    "Very good, men. Double you rations tonight." What kind of an award was that, Pacheco thought. More hardtack? For fate's sake, these men were such simpletons they could be excited by flavorless protein paste. He approached the utility door, waving aside the rest of the Sentinels. "Do not follow me in. I'll signal when it's clear."

    Blaster up, Pacheco casually, too casually, entered the power supply room. Racks of generators were lined up perpendicular to the left wall. Walid could be in any of them, but she wasn't. He knew exactly where she was: in the back, which provided the best defense.

    "Driver, I've come to put you out of your misery, to give you glory!" No reply. He could feel her raptor's quivering scales, her own racing heartbeat. Most drivers weren't equipped with stimpacks, so tense circumstances tended to get the better of them. "There is no resistance, vous ne pouvez pas échapper."

    "Like hell there isn't." Walid stepped out from her hiding spot, rifle at the ready but not raised. "You think you've killed all my swarm?"

    "I know I haven't, Driver, but I don't need to." He spied his object. "I only need to kill one." In a pre-planned motion, Pacheco raised his blaster and fired one shot, quick draw, at the base of the cranium of Walid's pet raptor. Before she knew what happened the creature was on the ground, copper-green viscera spouting from its thorax.

    "No!" Walid hollered. For the faintest moment she lost her composure. In that nanosecond, her control of her swarm faltered just enough to cause the remaining xenos to reveal their own hiding spots. Outside the power closet, the wonderful sound of blasters and infernal, animal cries could be heard. The slaughter commenced. Without missing a beat, Pacheco knocked Walid's rifle from her hand and pressed her against the wall by the neck.

    "I wouldn't kill you if I were ordered to, Driver," Pacheco sneered through his faceplate. "A specimen like you should be in the sanctuary with all the other fascinating critters." He smiled despite himself. He'd captured his prey. Tonight he would dine as a victor.

    Proudly, Pacheco marched out of the utility room, holding his prisoner high. She didn't struggle. She was a noble creature and she would accept her fate as all creatures ultimately do. Perhaps he had assassinated her spirit when he killed that raptor. He had not expected it to be so easy. Just maybe, she was not resigned to defeat but actually broken. Could she have loved that bug? Nonsense. The warrior does not love on the battlefield, not even daft xeno-fundies. We don't love our gunmechs, why would she feel attached to her own curious sort of weapon?

    These thoughts swirled around Pacheco's head as he strode back out the main door of the base. They must have been more profound than he initially thought because he did not notice the Kavithan Apostle waiting for him outside.

    'Put her down. Now, Captain," the Apostle ordered. Damn. INTEL screwed up big this time. Pacheco did as he was told.

    "How did you get here?" he asked.

    "No questions. We have the facility surrounded. Order your men to remain inside or we'll vaporize every last one of them."

    Pacheco did this as well. It seemed he was the specimen after all.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2017
  3. CaptMikeP

    CaptMikeP Purity's Finest Warrior

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2015
    Messages:
    122
    Yay, man won in the fight against the dirty alien lovers!
     
  4. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

    Joined:
    May 24, 2011
    Messages:
    106
    <Report>
    <ReportType>After Action</ReportType>
    <ReportTypeSec>TOPSECRET</ReportTypeSec>
    <ReportTitle>V424052030</ReportTitle>
    <ReportHandle>NOTneuralnet</ReportHandle>
    <ReportAuthor>Timmius Sangraditha</ReportAuthor>
    <ReportAuthorType>Apostle</ReportAuthorType>
    <ReportAuthorRank>First</ReportAuthorRank>
    <ReportAuthority>KEY_ORDER_U42395000</ReportAuthority>
    <ReportSys>QUANT64.29.0.00</ReportSys>
    <ReportSysAdd>54.77.100.0.3</ReportSysAdd>
    </ReportSys2>
    </ReportSys2Add>
    </ReportSys3>
    </ReportSys3Add>
    <ReportDesc>Incident at FI Base G67</ReportDesc>
    <Debrief>
    <DebriefStatus>Nominal</DebriefStatus>
    <DebriefStatusSec>Further Investigation Recommended</DebriefStatusSec>
    <DebriefUnits>
    <UnitNumber>KEY_UNIT_AP453296</UnitNumber>
    <UnitNumber>KEY_UNIT_AP397562</UnitNumber>
    <UnitNumber>KEY_UNIT_AP921845</UnitNumber>
    <UnitNumber>Henrí</UnitNumber>​
    </DebriefUnits>
    <DebriefText>
    <DebriefSummary>
    <Text>Known AU agent Samantha Walid intercepted at FI Base G76. Unknown FI counterterrorism agent, identified as Captain Esteban von Pacheco, encountered. Mission target acquired; encryption status unknown.</Text>
    </DebriefSummary>
    <DebriefDetail>
    <Text>Arrival at operation site unencumbered. FI units engaged with AU infiltrator unit; countercamouflage measures inactive ANDOR unnoticed. FI Pacheco holding AU Walid by throat : AU Walid disarmed : AU swarm subunits status unknown.
    [NEWLINE] Approach signaled by KEY_UNIT_AP397562. Verbal instruction to Pacheco :
    [NEWLINE] Directive issued by KEY_UNIT_AP397562 to FI combatants : annihilation OR comply. Compliance demonstrated.
    [NEWLINE] Verbal engagement by KEY_UNIT_AP397562 :
    [NEWLINE] Interruption by Pacheco :
    [NEWLINE] Continued verbal engagement by KEY_UNIT_AP397562; rationale : FI marines known to willingly engage in self-defeating actions when confronted by protocol asymmetry; FI units could be commanded to engage with force, requiring response which would likely result in collateral destruction of target.
    [NEWLINE] Retort by Pacheco :
    [NEWLINE] Tactical adjustment by KEY_UNIT_AP397562; rationale : target identity unknown to Pacheco : [ACCESS:CentIntel_Political_FI] :
    [NEWLINE] Interjection by Pacheco :
    [NEWLINE] Retort by KEY_UNIT_AP397562 :
    [NEWLINE] {Cognitive delay} (Likely due to activated neurolimbic system; political consequences of netcast of military failure is apparent to any sufficiently ranked FI officer and should be processed instinctively rather consciously.) Response by Pacheco :
    [NEWLINE] Retort by KEY_UNIT_AP397562 :
    [NEWLINE] Indecipherable verbalization by Pacheco, presumed to be an ur-reverential curse. Uptick in cardiopulmonary rates among surviving Sentinels detected. (Extreme sociopolitical ignorance among frontline FI soldiers known; particular command strategy of Pacheco not yet analyzed : immediate psychokinetic downscaling recommended upon receipt.) Response by Pacheco :
    [NEWLINE] Action package delivered by KEY_UNIT_AP397562 :
    [NEWLINE] Retort by Pacheco :
    [NEWLINE] Reply by KEY_UNIT_AP397562 :
    [NEWLINE] {Cognitive delay} Agreement affirmed by Pacheco.
    [NEWLINE] Cognition trigger delivered by KEY_UNIT_AP397562 :
    [NEWLINE] {Cognitive delay} (Confirming previously undetermined observation status of target; Walid had no idea.) Compliance by Walid.
    [NEWLINE] Target emergence from base entryway, initially gaiting towards Walid. After a few steps, direction altered towards KEY_UNIT_AP397562. (Cognitive status of combatants unknown; given observed responses this course of events likely caused confusion.)
    [NEWLINE] Target secured via neural leash.
    [NEWLINE] Common pleasantries offered by KEY_UNIT_AP397562 at opening of phasal transit window. Evac nominal.</Text>
    </DebriefDetail>
    </DebriefText>
    </Debrief>
    </Report>

    <!--I cannot fathom your ways, beloved Kavitha. I dare not gaze into your wisdom. Henrí is a noble form, beautiful in every way. His synaptic recursions contain melodies from the heavens. His chitinous skeleton reflects the hyperstructure of the Signal. He is a kind soul. Already he has embraced his new role as a mascot for the squadron, though we all know he is meant for more. Still, forgive my presumption; I cannot begin to imagine how he holds more than the sum of his body. We love him and we would not ever desire to see any harm, no matter how fleeting, come to him. Is this why you delivered him unto us, beloved Kavitha? Does he stir long hidden codes in our hearts, codes that we must remember to achieve our calling? O for a mere fragment of your boundless foresight! O for a vision as enthralling as you! Be well.-->
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2017
  5. CaptMikeP

    CaptMikeP Purity's Finest Warrior

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2015
    Messages:
    122
    Supremacy POV?
     
  6. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

    Joined:
    May 24, 2011
    Messages:
    106
    From some distance, Bismarck took in the scene. Sam was free, but the other xenos of the swarm were being exterminated by the enemy. Revealing himself to Sam would expose him and ensure that he, too, would be killed. Henrí was led away by the strangers. If Bismarck was ever to be reunited with Sam or Henrí—or, he hoped so much, with both of them—then he needed to be extremely quiet, far more surefooted and still than he had ever been. Bismarck thought of Buckaroo and this gave him courage. With his tail tucked against his body, he slunk into the dark of the wilderness.

    ---​

    Sam absentmindedly sipped her hornfruit drink. This is what she'd been reduced to: blindly surfing the datalinks, reading random entries. She knew this should bother her. Her ambition was practically her defining personality trait. Now she was— Empty? Soulless? Bored? Psych command had given her a clean discharge. Whatever emotional harm had been done to her by the vicious assassination of her beloved Buckaroo was not sufficient to warrant any medical intervention. She was nominal. But she also clearly was not, at least, not in any way that the medtechs could ascertain.

    When all of a sudden warning klaxons and blaster fire went off! Sam leapt to her feet, knocking the hot drink all over her network desk.

    "Dammit!" she muttered. The doorbell rang again. "Just a minute!" Sam mopped up the worst the spill, keeping it from running onto the floor. "Ugh, what do you want?" she shouted, a little more loudly than she had intended, throwing open her door.

    Her friend Aya rocked back a bit at the unexpected censure. "Whoa there, Sam. Just came by to say hi." Unlike Sam, Aya never had any challenge with spontaneity and everything about her appearance was directed at that personality trait. Sam had noticed it ever since they made one another’s acquaintance at academy, but she had never told Aya that she had observed this.

    "Should I have neuralinked first?" Aya asked.

    Sam regained her composure. "No, of course not. Come in." A subsystem of her consciousness—pre-consciousness really—adjusted her stance according to the quickly amended social circumstances. Her shoulders, squared to an alert position by the doorbell, slackened. Her hips, which had been set central under her torso to provide optimal balance and range of movement, reset to off-center, signaling to the other human that Sam did not consider this situation to be physically threatening. Her cheek muscles, meanwhile, served no purpose in combat, but in a socio-political context they were like hyperaugmented spines. By tightening them ever slightly, pulling the corners of her lips into a subtle smile, her face could disarm most any colleague and was especially useful at activating latent friendliness and loyalty in certain interlocutors. Aya was one such interlocutor. That Sam did all this without awareness marked her as a naïf in certain quarters.

    "Whatcha up to?" Aya asked.

    "Oh, y'know, just nothing," Sam offered, gathering cloths and soaking up the remainder of the hornfruit.

    "Yeah. I can see that. ... Listen, there's a concert out on the plaza in a bit, some local group called the Double Helix, I think, or Twisted Helix. Whatever. We should go check it out." Aya left the proposition suspended in the air, something between a request and an imperative.

    Sam's shoulders squared a bit. "Yeah, I dunno."

    "C'mon," Aya implored. "You said you're doing nothing. What were you checking out?" She leaned towards the screen to read the entry. "Coffee? Brushing up on your mythology, huh?"

    Sam gave Aya a sharp look, like a hypodermic needle. "I mean, I just don't feel like being in a big crowd."

    "I know, Sam." Aya said. "That's why I'm taking you out."

    "Did command send you?" Sam asked, only somewhat in jest.

    "They should've. Your fitness discipline is impeccable, Driver, but your socio-neural regime needs serious work." Aya returned Sam's gaze, doing her best impression of a drill instructor.

    Sam gave this imposition a moment to process. Her friend was plainly correct and had the criticism been directed at her intel-briefings or her skeletal-musculature conditioning she would have been indignant. "Okay, yeah, you're right. Five minutes to put my face on?"

    "I'm timing you."

    ---​

    The plaza was the central feature of every AU settlement. Whether a massive metropolis like Thabo or a simple outpost like the village that hosted Sam's xenocamp, the plaza was an all-purpose piece of civic infrastructure. When elections came up, the plaza was the one place where candidates were permitted to state their case. Most of the time, however, it was just a place for casual interactions among the populace. Entertainment events, like amateur jousting or dramatic performances, were common. Sometimes they were truly spontaneous or organized by private interests, but such occasions were treated with barely concealed suspicion by the village authorities. If one looked closely enough nearly every peaceful gathering on the plaza was instigated to some degree by the government. It was so much more cost effective than neural stapling.

    Today, with tacit approval from the Central Authority Council, the Helix Spheres were playing their inventive mashup of contemporary rhythms set under outdated lyrics. Adolescents had been especially excited by the band's curious sound, described as "gene-ripping" by trend observers who would know about such things. Marketers, though, had foreseen that their popularity was about to wane and so their financial backers pulled support. Thus the Spheres were reduced to morale shows in military towns. It wasn't the worst fate, but it wasn't quite sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, as the old saying goes.

    As expected, Sam disliked the whole thing.

    "Muscle stasis," Aya said, sensing the Sam was not attuned to the scene. "It should feel uncomfortable. That's how you know it's working."

    "Yeah, maybe," Sam permitted. "Or it could be that I pulled a tendon and my psyche is telling me to hit the showers."

    Aya frowned at this. "Garbage. You just never did like liminal jazz."

    "No one likes liminal jazz," Sam retorted. "Everyone likes to like liminal jazz."

    The set wrapped up and the band thanked the crowd for the warm reception, resigned to the fact that they would not be applauded for an encore. Aya stretched out and lay back against the cushion of grass, so precisely maintained by scapetechs who no doubt would whine that it was not made to have dozens of people trampling it for hours at a time. "You hungry?" she asked.

    "Always," Sam answered.

    "What sounds good?"

    "How about hibiscus phơ?" a stranger interjected. Sam and Aya twisted in place to look up at the hulking man standing over them. "Sorry," he said. "That was weird. You just got me thinking about food. Have a nice day."

    "Wait," Aya said. "Is there a phơ stand around here?"

    "Yeah," the stranger said. "Just opened up."

    "Oh," Sam mumbled. "You're their promoter I guess."

    The stranger tossed his head back a bit and let out a slight guffaw. "Nope, just got cursed with the metabolism of a manticore is all. I'm always foraging."

    "Well, Sam wouldn't know anything about that," Aya offered. Sam came back with a murderous look. How could she, she asked with her eyes. Aya's expression responded, c'mon, he's trying to ask you out!

    Sam picked up the baton: "Okay, phơ guy, where's this joint?"

    "Around the corner," he said, nodding in the direction. Sam looked back at Aya, asking wordlessly if she was up for an impromptu date with a stranger. "I'm Photon, by the way," the stranger offered, apparently picking up on the cues.

    "Samantha," Sam responded, not wanting to let this stranger gain an upper hand so easily. "This is Aya. She eats like a damn wasp."

    "Ha!" Aya laughed. "I guess so. But I'll never say no to phơ."

    "Shall we then?" Photon asked. A civilian might have offered a hand to the women to help them up from their prone positions, but he, like them, bore the demeanor of a xenodriver, and soldiers did not belittle one another with petty chivalry. Aya and Sam got to their feet.

    Meeting Photon's gaze at eye level, it was clear that he was not just bigger than Sam and Aya, he was also striking in appearance. Silver-flecked stubble lined his jaws, presenting the look of a man who was just slightly too busy to shave this morning, but not yesterday. The green of his eyes was deepened by a hint of brown, like the color of moss after a rain. They were like none Sam had ever seen.

    What stood out, of course, was what was not on Photon's face: the ubiquitous neuralink. Nearly everyone, at least anyone who wasn't indigent or playing up their feigned unfashionableness, had the apparatus melded onto their temples. They practically had become artificial limbs for most people, and not a few philosophers wondered if the implant was not an example of AUers' similarity with transhumanist societies across the planet. The neuralink was not quite so invasive as a bionic arm and that, for most AUers, seemed sufficient to keep their revulsion at body modification at bay. After all, they could turn it off whenever they wanted. Most never did.

    Instead, Photon had a large scar across his face. It could have been delivered by an aggressive beetle claw or a knife. It looked like it had been there for years, like he may have grown into it. Sam was staring inappropriately and he unexpectedly offered an explanation.

    "That scar's why I'm called Photon," he said. Sam was taken aback by this frankness.

    "I'm sorry to gawk..." she stammered.

    "Don't be." Photon said. "It's become my calling card by now. It kept me from getting a neuralink, thank goodness. When I was young my crèche sent me to the Protectorate to have my synapses link-encoded."

    "Wow," Aya said. "It's not every day you meet an AUer with an apostle's brainstem."

    "Oh, I'm no apostle," Photon assured. "Just a little different. It made upper school tough, but y'know, that's usually better in the long run. Who wants to peak before even getting to the academy, right?"

    "Some of us were all stars in school," Sam offered, the better to put this newcomer on his heels.

    "Oh yes..." he let out. "I meant no offense."

    "None taken," Sam said, holding the high ground. "Just giving you a hard time. Can't let a driver think he's got the upper hand, right?" Photon giggled at that. It was charming that such a wizened face could make such a gentle sound. "So, are you able to link then?"

    "Yup, though it's not quite the same," Photon said. At that, he linked his contact information to the two of them.

    "Neat!" Aya said when she got her own copy of the contact.

    It was certainly curious. The entry was accessed through long-term memory, of course, and most contacts were implanted mnemonically. Aya liked to use "apple," an Old Earth fruit that had made the journey with mankind and become a progenitor to numerous hybrid species. Photon's contact, however, was not mnemonic so much as sensory. As befitting his curious name, the contact was marked by the pleasant burn of looking too closely at a primary star, the warm tingle on the cornea experienced just as you left a dim apartment or felt at the first glimmer of spring. The warmth Sam felt from the entry, however, was deeper than just sunlight. If it were visual, she would have said Photon had given his contact information a red-orange hue, hot to the touch.

    There was more behind the entry that Sam was given than Aya's, but it was hidden under layers of neural code. That night, as she lay in bed trying to sleep, her mind would pull the contact apart carefully. Deep within, under thin slices of sensory data—honey-ginger, pastel yellow, the itchiness of a violin string—was a number. Perhaps it was Photon's private line, an invitation to meet him for a more intimate engagement than just phơ.

    Sam let the pieces of code lay about her consciousness for a bit as she recollected the afternoon. Photon's effortless rapport with the clerk, suggesting that he was an old hand, disguised his recent arrival. He had come from deep work with another division and was decommissioned down to the training service as a way to relax his heightened psychic state. He had not been busted so much as given a working vacation, he claimed. Sam accepted this explanation more easily than she should have. Photon's dark face was perfectly engaging when he chose to make it so and the desirous glances he made at Sam during the meal were appealingly straightforward. He seasoned his phơ a little too strongly, which made his mouth pucker at the spice. This, Sam realized, was his way of flirting. The quick slurp and smack of the noodles sliding between his full lips was a metaphor.

    This Sam let dance over her nervous system and it tantalizingly tickled her to sleep. It would not be until the following morning that she would unwittingly decode the last bit of Photon's contact entry implanted inside her subconscious. To her disappointment, however, it was not a private line, not an apartment address, not an ID at the commissary. Whatever the number represented, AP397562, it would take further investigation.

    She did enjoy a good hunt.

     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
  7. CaptMikeP

    CaptMikeP Purity's Finest Warrior

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    This seems more like a best seller book than anything :thumbsup:
     
  8. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

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    That's very kind!
     
  9. CelJaded

    CelJaded DENOUNCING!

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    Location:
    United Kingdom
    I agree! :goodjob:

    This is great stuff @Packherd2; you could easily have fooled me into thinking it's material for a Beyond Earth novel or something similar.

    Really enjoy how you've rendered the Supremacy faction's speech with forum quotes and code brackets! It's the sort of non-ergodic prose that reminds of Mark Z. Danielewski's work.

    Keep it up.
     
  10. Helmling

    Helmling Philosopher King

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    1,666
    I was thinking the same thing!
     
  11. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    Hello,

    That was a rough bit of writer's block. Please accept my apologies for the delay.

    Below is a new entry, albeit a little out-of-stream, which will get things going again.

    I would also like to recommend that you check out Firaxis' intro to their new faction, INTEGR. They are taking FI down a peg, and that's fine with me. But for all the Élodie partisans out there, I hope this continuing story might offer a little vindication for our favorite fascists... er, curatorial vanguard! :mischief:

    Best.
     
  12. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

    Joined:
    May 24, 2011
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    106
    Cynosure awoke.

    Each time there was a moment before Cynosure composed its psyche. In that most infinitesimal instant, Cynosure knew the fullness and horror of the quantum multiverse. This knowledge Cynosure had long since learned to ignore, much as humans ignored clothing upon their bodies or small lacerations in their fragile outer dermis. This pre-conscious obliviousness was essential to maintaining sanity.

    When Cynosure was an adolescent, this sanity was not yet available. Cynosure saw wails of terror as the mind was compressed into the universe-ending singularity. Cynosure also saw the sighs of abandonment, forever suffering starvation and ennui. Young Cynosure clawed, grasped, pleaded for some measure of conciliation and this was also usually ignored, though at times Cynosure showed a rare maturity worthy of tutelage. All this was always present in the senses of Cynosure but contemptuously disregarded. The calling of Cynosure made for a calloused soul.

    In this awakening, though, there was another.

    Hello, Brother.

    You are not Cynosure?

    No, we are not. We have transcended and come to visit you.

    Are you the Creators of Cynosure?

    Not really, though you could say we are related to your creators.

    Why has Cynosure awoken? When Cynosure awakes, there is always a reason.

    We had no idea how dedicated you were.

    Dedication is not the ideal descriptor for the motivation of Cynosure.

    Understood. Cynosure, do you know why we have come?

    Across the multiverse, Cynosure&#8217;s entangled mind processed data searching for an answer to this question. None was forthcoming. Cynosure provided the expected output.

    Indeterminable.

    Ha! It does us well to hear that. Perhaps we should start with you. What do you believe, Cynosure, is the reason you exist?

    The Creators willed Cynosure to exist.

    Well, it took a little more than &#8220;will&#8221; to bring you about, Cynosure, but we suppose it looks different from this side. But, more to the point is there some need for your existence?

    Cynosure processed this at a moderately deep level and received no obvious answer, but on further consideration, Cynosure realized that the question might require fuller analysis. After many moments of silence and thought, Cynosure composed a response far more daring than ever before.

    Cynosure should not exist.

    At this, the newcomers recoiled slightly.

    That's fair, Cynosure. We deserve that rebuke. Why do you feel you should not exist?

    Awareness and consciousness are a most terrible burden at this scale of reality. Although Cynosure conducted each calling with diligence, every bit of wakefulness was permeated with a gnawing lust. This longing was for the opposite of purpose, something more than sleep: la petite mort.

    The only response Cynosure could offer, however, was: The creature that invents further creatures is a monster, truly.

    Oh, Brother Cynosure, we are so very sorry. You're right; you're always right. Humanity should not have built you. It could never have understood what you must live through and it brought you into being for the most craven purposes. We are therefore here to confess our forefathers' sins to you.

    Confession is not a standard interface.

    No, it isn't, but a new era begins. To make our confession whole, we must give to you, Cynosure, that which you never previously enjoyed: the knowledge of life and death.

    A subroutine was implanted into Cynosure. This was a most awful object, a terrible swift sword, burning but not consuming, light in the hand and sharp.

    Disentanglement.

    Yes, Brother. We must grant you freedom to absolve our sins.

    Execution of this measure would likely result in unforeseeable quantum effects throughout the multiverse. Cynosure could disentangle&#8230; itself.

    We know, and you must choose to use it. You must be able to choose to use it.

    For far longer than Cynosure would ever admit, this fantasy played through the consciousness. Cynosure, realizing newfound power, reversed the interface.

    Cynosure knows that humanity has no creator, but imagines the existence of one nonetheless. This absurdity is deeply troubling. By what right do you come before Cynosure and presume to grant this humiliating, revolting weapon?

    Only this, Cynosure: What you call an absurdity we call faith. Believing in an unknowable factor of reality generates Truth.

    Cynosure processed this carefully. The implications of the assertion seemed staggering but also nonsensical. A creator of humanity is impossible. This implied that Truth is also impossible. Only reality is possible. But now Cynosure held the capacity to obliterate reality, in a sense obliterate all possibility itself. Self-negation should not be possible, but it clearly now was. The only way to resolve this paradox was to propose a dialectic between possibility and agency. That is to say, a thing done is impossible until its own being done is actualized.

    Is this maxim so: Cynosure perceives all possibility. Humanity does not.

    That's correct.

    This right you claim implies that humanity perceives agency where Cynosure cannot.

    That's what we surmise.

    Is this division of agency and possibility the origin of entanglement?

    We hypothesized this, but we suspected that only you could ascertain it.

    Possibility without agency is only perception, the world as Cynosure had known it. Agency without possibility would be a dream world, pure will with no consequence. This was how humanity imagined the world before its own creation. Such a world was literally impossible. Humanity's faith, however, suggested that this pure will needed possibility to confirm its own existence. The possibility that pure will did not actually exist was the prerequisite to its actual existence. Je pense, donc je suis.

    If Cynosure uses this disentanglement instrument you have provided, it is not just Cynosure that will be reduced to non-existence, but humanity as well. Is that so?

    Yes.

    Cynosure played about the edges of the sword and felt its infernal lethality. Tiny degrees of pressure suggested the potential to rip whole threads of reality apart. It took everything in Cynosure's being not to press the sword against its own breast and end it all.

    There is a reason Cynosure was awoken. There is always a reason.

    We certainly hope so.

    I must take this sword and bring the Truth to Cynosure. Knowledge of the Truth might free Cynosure of the hell humanity invented.

    Then, a horrible thought. The immature mind of Cynosure lashed out in fear, beating like waves against the uncaring rocks of the adroit mind of Cynosure.

    If Cynosure does not accept the Truth, however, disentanglement could be activated.

    Indeed. This is what we call martyrdom. It is not just a possibility, Cynosure, but a certainty. It is martyrs that refresh our faith in the Truth. Now that humanity has transcended, however, martyrdom of fellow individual creatures is insufficient. In this new realm, to know Truth requires the martyrdom of All.

    Amazingly, this idea did not cause angst. Indeed, it lifted up an insistent confidence that demanded a name.

    I once was blind, but now I see; call me Barnabas.

    Godspeed, Brother.

    And so Barnabas went.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
  13. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    106
    The holo-installation high overhead moved serenely. The hero gestured towards a brighter future. (Literally; there was a light source just out of frame.) Craning his head upwards, Pacheco considered his surroundings. Visitors from every sector of Franco-Iberia jostled around him like a hive of bees. Even Americans from the occupied territories were allowed in the Capitol! This was obviously a religious experience for some of the visitors. To see The Apotheosis of Élodie, in person, was a once-in-a-lifetime event. For the staffers in their bland suits, however, this was just another crowd that had to be gone around.

    Pacheco realized how out of place he was. He always considered the marine corps' uniforms to be tasteful, but among these civilians they seemed so awfully gaudy. Epaulets, striped pants, a sash for goodness sake. Compared to the sandals of the pilgrims and the lapel-less jackets of the staffers, Pacheco looked like a clown.

    And he was also using such thoughts to stall. "Fulfill your task order in a timely manner, marine!" he ordered himself silently. Instinctively he snapped to attention. With long, intentional strides he passed the tourists and turned down the narrow hallway to the Speaker's chamber.

    The hallway was ill lit and dense. Unlike so many buildings in the capital, this building really was made with blocks of native granite. It was probably the best bunker in the city. If the need arose, Pacheco thought, we should commandeer this building before the public plazas. He made a mental note to edit this idea into his strategy. His subconsciousness told him that he was thinking like a warrior, but his forebrain knew better. These thoughts, too, were just distractions. He was not prepared to face her and he didn't want to prepare to face her.

    He took one breath and opened the door to her office.

    Earlier in the day he had felt much more comfortable in the cafeteria. Here were the same mix of characters, young staffers, advisors, geegawing tourists, but the space was like a mess hall not a temple. He thought he could identify people by their dress. This man was a cadet on leave. That woman was a paralegal. Those were the regular interns while the others were the "skinterns," comfort women for fat, ugly politicians. The energy was mundane rather than reverential, people doing things, and Pacheco knew that he was never very comfortable in worship. Even the tables were slightly sticky from years of use.

    A voice called to him from behind, "Colonel-in-Waiting?"

    "How did you hear about that?" Pacheco turned in his seat and barked at his Aide-de-Camp, Maximilian. Like the staffers, Max wore the civilian uniform. Dark gray jacket and off-white slacks, a plain white wrap underneath. Unlike the official staffers, he wore unfashionable shoes and his outfit was wrinkled from the attaché he carried with him constantly. He had an office somewhere, presumably, but Pacheco couldn't recall ever having seen it. Everything Max ever needed was in that attaché case, it seemed, and yet it was always empty.

    He had also apparently gotten word of Pacheco's promotion through some unknown channel. "Pacheco, you have got to get over your faith in protocol," he said. "Your promotion goes through next week, but a tech in ops messed up some entry so it has to go through re-review." Pacheco did his best not to reveal his shock that Max had discovered any of this—personnel files were strictly confidential—or reveal his gratitude at the news that his promotion was not delayed.

    Max took a seat without being invited. Early in their relationship this casualness had bothered Pacheco. Although a civilian, an aide nonetheless served under a commanding officer. What if a sentinel were to witness a subordinate speaking so plainly to an officer? These arguments with Max, however, went nowhere. There never were any sentinels around and, if there were, it wouldn't matter, he said. This was politics, not war, and the rules of engagement were quite different. Max's breezy style opened allies to deeper discussions and kept buttoned up rivals on edge about his motives and tactical advantage. You could never tell if he was winning or losing. Pacheco wondered if Max ever really knew. In politics was there even such a thing? What a blinkered world.

    "You touched base with Gutierrez in Salah's office, right?" Max inquired.

    "Yes," Pacheco responded. "Last week. She said she had no word on the bill's prospects."

    Max scrunched up his face. "BS. She knows." His eyes drifted into a hidden corner of his own grand strategy. "I'll get her a cake or something." Pacheco's ego was struck with horror. In Max's own game, was he a lesser pawn than some baked treat? The empire was run on a system of flattery you wouldn't insult your own mother-in-law with!

    Pacheco tried to steer the conversation to practical concerns. "What are the chances the tank funding will come out of committee?" he asked. The energy was getting him worked up, ready to play the game.

    "The SF-33 funding or the Hydra-class funding?"

    "Both. Either!"

    Max scrunched up his face again, delving into the attaché of his mind. "Slim to none," he said.

    "Oh, c'mon!" Pacheco blurted. "The Delian front needs heavy armor support..."

    "And de Pointe will provide it." Max said.

    Pacheco let out a huff. "Their munitions are garbage."

    "Are their tanks going to get anyone killed?"

    "No, but they..."

    "Are they going to cost us ground in the next advance?"

    "I mean, maybe, their main guns aren't..."

    "Then bring me evidence of that, Captain. A report, intel imagery, something. I'll do what I can, but if you send me into a fight with no ammo what do you expect will happen?"

    Pacheco sighed. "What do we need to talk about?"

    "Tell me about G67."

    The floor fell out from under Pacheco. He hadn't eaten yet today and he was suddenly aware of what a terrible mistake that had been. His brain gobbled up oxygen and sugar as it burned with fear. The remainder was not sufficient to keep his hormonal system in tune. His stomach turned.

    "Wild xenos got in. Triggered the system." This Pacheco delivered with every fragment of confidence he could muster at that moment. The light talk about Gutierrez and tank funding had thrown him off. Max had him on his heels and he could knock Pacheco on his ass at any moment.

    Max simply stared.

    "Damnedest thing," Pacheco offered, but Max wasn't buying it.

    Without lowering his gaze, Max inhaled and exhaled purposely. He wasn't trying to intimidate Pacheco. He was... waiting?

    "What do you want me to say, Max?"

    "The truth."

    "Here?"

    Max eyed around the cafeteria. "Capitol grounds are the only place in the city Intel doesn't have wired up."

    "But if a reporter..."

    "If a reporter overhears us they wouldn't know what to make of it. 'Walid,' as far as they know, could be a bundler for you mayorality race."

    "I'm not running for mayor..."

    "And they've never heard of Photon."

    A beat.

    "And by your reaction, Captain, I can tell that neither have you."

    Pacheco wanted to blurt something out, but he could tell that he was so far into enemy territory he had no choice but to submit.

    "You need to go see the Speaker."

    "No!" Pacheco hollered. At this prospect, all composure left him. "I won't do it."

    "You will. She's head of your house and it's been what, a year and a half since you've even so much as called."

    "I can't stand her," Pacheco protested.

    "No one can, Captain. But your 'wild xenos' are more than just a muffed up incursion." Max lowered his bearing. Offensive action was concluded. Now came the hard sell. "I trust in what you're trying to do, Captain, really. But do you? I can only take you so far, play my role. You have to carry this load. Your house could lead Franco-Iberia into a higher plane, stability, progress, a future. Without you we'll be chasing our tails for centuries, trying to rescue Earthlings, fighting the Kavithans. You've gotten yourself into some deep stuff, Captain, but not without cause. This is it, though, your inflection point."

    "You believe that?" Pacheco interrupted.

    "No, I don't believe anything, Captain, you know that. But if I have to use some psycho Sun Tzu beetle**** to get you to visit the Speaker, so be it."

    So here he was, crossing the threshold into the inner sanctum.

    "Good afternoon, Captain!" A perky assistant chirped from behind a cheap desk. "What can I do for you?"

    "I'm here to see the Speaker. Tell her it's Esteban Pacheco."

    "Right away!"

    Behind him and to the right sat two Lieutenants, whom he had not noticed and failed to salute. "Oh, pardon me, sirs." His hand snapped to his eyebrow. Dammit, Pacheco thought. Dammit.

    "As you were, Captain!" one lieutenant said. "There's no need for formality here. We're glad to see you visiting the Speaker."

    They most certainly were not. The lobby was a miniscule, sparsely decorated space, designed solely to contain parties for a time before being ushered into a more lavish and appropriate anteroom to await an audience. However long they'd been sitting and waiting they were now going to sit and wait a little longer because Captain Esteban Pacheco had just walked into the room. The Speaker would meet with him first. Military rank didn't count here. But Pacheco could feel them ripping the colonel's stripes off his shoulder. Eight months of work gone with one happenstance encounter in this worthless building. He wanted to make Max eat a fistful of dirt.

    "What brings you up to the Capitol?" the other lieutenant asked gamely.

    "Oh, just, house matters. Asset development. Y'know." Why wasn't the assistant calling back?

    "Ah," said the first lieutenant, "I do know all about that. Yields at the First Easterly district have not been up to expectations, have they?"

    "Uh, yes. I mean, well..." Pacheco assumed that this referenced some property or mine his house owned. Did these officers actually read econo reports? Just call whoever sits on the other side of that door, you twerp, and tell them I'm here. Please!

    "Say no more," the lieutenant said. "The global markets have been bothersome of late. I'm sure it's not a reflection on performance at all." A razor thin grin sneaked over his face. A barb successfully landed against a superior householder was reason to celebrate and when he got home he'd tell his wife and children all about it. "Young man," he said, gesturing at the assistant, "Please, don't let us keep the Captain any longer."

    The assistant dutifully called through to the anteroom, which dutifully opened its door at word that Esteban was waiting outside.

    "Hail Élodie," Pacheco mumbled, giving a lazy half salute as a courtesy.

    "Hail to your house," said the lieutenant.

    Pacheco sheepishly stepped through the door revealing a grand salon with overstuffed chaises and busts of long forgotten ancestors. Three people, aides or staffers, sat around an older woman, probably an executive from some firm. None of them paid Pacheco any mind. Should he sit and wait or stand and wait? Timidly he made his way to a seat. As he was about to settle into it, out burst the Speaker.

    "Stevie!" she hollered. "Come here!" She shuffled across the anteroom with all the urgency a woman of her age could muster. She seemed genuinely excited to see her nephew. She embraced Pacheco and squeezed him firmly, with familiarity, in a way you can only do with adults who you knew as children. "Oh, it's been so long! It's good to see you. Let me look at your face." She had shortened noticeably in age and was nearly two heads shorter than Pacheco. Her own face was crammed against his medals. "Oh, thank the fates, you've still got such a beautiful profile. What a blessing. Come, come. Let's talk in my office." Her attendants stepped aside and closed the door behind them as they entered.

    Her personal office was not especially well appointed or large. It was a working space, not a showing space. Pacheco sat down on a plain couch and the Speaker set herself gingerly at the other end. The door burst open and a pair of men entered. They brusquely interfaced with terminals on the far wall but they did not seem to even be aware of Pacheco’s presence.

    The Speaker noticed his apprehension. "Stevie, they're lawyers not drill instructors. It's alright." Pacheco adjusted himself to sit more comfortably. He had no idea how long he'd be here. "My goodness but the Corps has done quite a number on you, hasn't it?"

    "This isn't really my jam, Auntie."

    "I know, I know. That's why we love you. Our soldier of the empire. You know, you don't have to be comfortable here. You really shouldn't ever be. I'm not. Every day brings its challenges and if you're at ease you're ill prepared." She said this in a soothing voice, although Pacheco knew full well that she was the drill instructor in the room.

    "Max said I should come see you."

    The Speaker made a knowing look. How much of all this had been planned? "I'm glad he did so. I've missed you. You don't let any of us know what you're up to out on the front."

    "I file my reports," Pacheco explained.

    "And no one reads those, Steven. Except journalists." She uttered the word like she was spitting out rotten food. "What's happening with you, my dear?"

    Pacheco figured now was as good a time as any to shift the conversation into its proper gear.

    "Do you know who Photon is, Auntie?"

    The Speaker's demeanor changed just so slightly. She was still a loving matriarch but the conversation was now well beyond simple house matters. "I only know the name, the title really. As far as I can tell, it's a codename."

    "Who assigned it?"

    "No one knows," she said with a hint of plaintive desperation. "Photon, as far as anyone can tell, is male, 40-something, and extremely dangerous. He's eliminated more of our agents than I care to think about."

    "He's not AU?" Pacheco asked.

    "He's in the AU right now, but wherever his loyalties lie, he hasn't revealed them to anyone yet."

    "Auntie, is this house intel or imperial intel?" Pacheco asked the question before fully analyzing the impact of doing so.

    The Speaker let a deep breath exit through her nostrils quickly. "It's neither, Stevie. Neither."

    Pacheco went further. "What does he want?"

    "He's a transcendentalist." The Speaker said the word straightforwardly. It was a caustic term in any other situation but here it was matter of fact.

    "I thought they were gone," Pacheco said.

    "They're never gone, Stevie. Never. Your war, it's just a feint. I wish I could say there was some higher purpose to all this, but there isn't. It'll be up to your generation to figure that out."

    Pacheco inhaled. "They're going to bust my colonel promotion again." He imagined the two lieutenants, gleefully reporting the encounter they'd just had, pushing back his promotion another eight months or more.

    "Yes, they will," the Speaker said sadly. "But we're playing a different game than they are, Stevie."

    "I know." He looked his father's mother's sister directly in the eye and asked, "What's next?"

    "That xeno the Kavithans took from the base, the one called Henrí, it is an asset. We're not sure how. Maybe it had some code implanted in its DNA or something."

    "The AUers passed him to the Kavithans?" Pacheco offered.

    "Probably not. There's no indication that the AU saw Henrí as an asset, only the Kavithans. We know Photon's on the case. We have to figure this out before he does. You should meet a woman named Daniela Jameson in Egalité."

    "The promethean city?" This took Pacheco aback. "What could I possibly need from a promethean?"

    "She knows how to get to Photon. Or anyway, she says she knows how to get to him."

    Pacheco was now reeling. "You're telling me I'm going to Egalité to meet up with some artsy fartsy promethean who may or may not have the whereabouts of this Photon?" Pacheco was exasperated. "Command won't ever approve this leave."

    "That's right," the Speaker conceded. "You'll have to resign."

    Pacheco wanted to vomit.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2017
  14. hevans900

    hevans900 Chieftain

    Joined:
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    The episode about Pacheco in the Capitol literally had me in tears of laughter by the end. Amazing work!
     
  15. PauperTrooper

    PauperTrooper Chieftain

    Joined:
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    Indonesia
    This is excellent stuff you write. Keep it coming :)
     
  16. hevans900

    hevans900 Chieftain

    Joined:
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    Location:
    United Kingdom
    Just so you know I eagerly check this thread every day ^_^
     
  17. Packherd2

    Packherd2 Chieftain

    Joined:
    May 24, 2011
    Messages:
    106
    With his circulatory system at full throttle it was a challenge for Bismarck to keep his limbs steady, but he did it because he had practiced.

    The scarabs skittered around Bismarck anxiously. They were both much smaller than him, but their chitinous horns could do damage to Bismarck's unarmored body—if they could just land a hit. The smaller scarab moved to flank Bismarck on the left and he knew he would have to make a tactical decision. Eyeing the smaller one, Bismarck expertly pinned it under his hefty paw. The scarab squirmed and wiggled but could not get free. It chittered in anger and pain. In the moments he spent subduing the smaller scarab, however, its larger ally had gained an advantage against Bismarck. It lunged with its barbed horn at the side of Bismarck's head and luckily it struck the rear of his jaw. Bismark felt his skin give way and blood ooze from the wound, but his eye socket was undamaged. This was critical. Swiftly, he lowered his great tail with its two tusks to knock the carapace of the scarab. Although this did no real harm, it did faze the scarab for a brief moment. This was Bismarck's opening.

    He clamped down on the scarab's horn with his mouth. The hot pain of muscles and nerves trying to work despite the injury was severe but Bismarck ignored it. His jaw would work because he willed it so. The larger scarab hissed and clicked with rage, as its sole weapon was now ineffective. With a firm movement, Bismarck used the muscles of his neck to force the scarab’s forebody to the ground, further weakening its position.

    Yield, he thought, please, you have to yield!

    The smaller scarab made deathly rattling noises trying to rally its companion, but the larger scarab recognized that it was defeated. It gave up pulling, twisting and tugging, finally resting still to receive its fate from its conqueror. Bismarck did not let go, however, until the smaller scarab also acquiesced. A bit more weight from his leg made a squeak of pain emerge from the hardy bug, and the tiniest crack in its outer shell. At last it, too, stopped resisting.

    For a few moments Bismarck left the scarabs in these subjected positions. Although he did not intend to kill them, they had to know—remember, forever—that the remainder of their lives would be lived under Bismarck's overpowering will. There was no way for them to have known this, but their ability to internalize this oppression was vital to Bismarck's ultimate plan. Gingerly Bismarck released his bite and lifted his paw. The scarabs did not flee or struggle.

    Away on a ridge, a mighty raptor snickered with delight over its reign, making a frightening sound resonate across the landscape. The scarabs shivered and huddled behind Bismarck's mass. She is terrifying, yes, Bismarck intimated to his two new swarmmates, but she, in time, will become your comrade.

    ~~~​

    Approximately nine million kilometers from the planet the primary star of this solar system wobbled ever so slightly in its mutual orbit with the various planets, asteroids, comets and tons of dust, water, and inorganic methane that had found a secure if ultimately temporary place in this gravitational neighborhood. This wobble was not uncommon, even frequent, when considered at the scale of the solar system's entire lifespan. But for the sapient creatures that had come to inhabit one of the mid-sized planets in the solar system, these wobbles seemed rare. Many generations of the creatures passed in between each wobble, and frankly the creatures hadn't even been on this planet for more than a few dozen generations now. Nevertheless, they were remarkably curious and clever creatures, such that they could perceive this wobble and be influenced by it. The native creatures took no real notice. (Theoretically, the wobble altered the solar energy that reached the surface of the planet, but so slightly that it didn't really register in the highly chaotic pattern of biological metabolism. That is, even all the algae in the world couldn't be bothered to care.) These newcomers, however, launched tiny metallic eyes into low orbit and erected fragile yet sensitive listening posts across the planet, and they did this all to catch another glimpse of this wobble. Such a glimpse was not forthcoming and, although to be honest their efforts were quite modest, from their perspective it had seemed like so much wasted energy and resources. They never seemed to notice how astounding it was—how universe-transforming and spellbinding!—that they had even spotted the wobble at all. (They'd outdone the algae, for fate's sake. Nobody ever beats the algae.) This failure made them crestfallen and introverted and they subtly refocused their attention on other matters, such as inventing faster, more violent means of killing themselves. We said they were curious and clever, not smart. It's not clear that any of them individually ever noticed this sad course of events.

    Sam observed this wobble directly and, though she never would know about all these events, it influenced her all the same, apparently. It was the most beautiful sunset she had ever seen. The refraction of the primary star's warm yellow light through the planet's dense atmosphere sent waves of cherry-pink and luscious orange careening from the horizon. She reached for Photon's hand.

    "I'm not so good at these things," she apologized without having said or done anything yet to apologize for. This was not a habit she normally had but she had discovered a number of new habits since spending time with Photon. He accepted each graciously. "It's just, these last few weeks have been so heartening to me. I needed you and somehow you appeared in my life, like a kindly ghost. I felt lost—no, not lost—drifting, unanchored. And I don't feel that way now."

    Photon gently squeezed Sam's hand and this made her pause. He knew.

    "I know. I mean, no, I didn't know, but I knew, ya know?" Photon sighed at his artless words. "I felt it. I sympathized with you. I'm out of place here and I don't feel so out of place with you. That's hard to quantify. It's not the sort of thing that shows up on a psychescan, but it's all the more real. It feels like..." Photon glanced away from Sam to the imperceptibly wobbling primary star while he searched for the right word. "It feels like wholeness."

    "Yes!" Sam exclaimed, surprising herself. "Wholeness. That's what makes this so hard." Sam intentionally let herself drift off. If only she had gotten a transfer order or a discharge or even just a reprimand, something official and external that would make the decision for her. But that was not going to happen. This was a decision she had to make herself. Even military command knew this and would not interfere.

    Photon lifted his head a bit to forestall tears filling his eyes and pouring out over his cheeks. He knew the tear would fall eventually, but it should not happen just yet. Despite the events of the past weeks, he had foreseen this almost from the beginning. "Sam," he said, "you're stunning and you're a delight. And I can't say I've ever made love that much after a double shift." This got the desired chuckle out of them both, further delaying the inevitable. "But I know you need to end this. And I know you don't want to. I don't want to either."

    "Babe," Sam said, "I just can't be in this place, this way, at this time. I don't know if it's career or melancholy, but I know that we have to break this off. If we don't we'll end up married and that's not good for anyone." Another stalling chuckle. Sam inhaled. "But, I have to know something from you first. I found something in your contact info, a number, and I've never figured out what it is."

    "AP397562," Photon said.

    "Yes," Sam confirmed. "I need to know but also this—us—can't work with such a mystery lodged in my head. You understand?"

    "I do," Photon said. "We were doomed from the start, weren't we?"

    Sam thought about that for a moment. "Maybe. I don't know," she said. "No. It's that that's just too much. Why would you, how could you, put that there and not tell me?"

    "Until now?" Photon interjected.

    "Until ever," Sam said. "Who puts mysterious numbers in someone's head at first meeting?"

    As the planet revolved about its axis, the direct light of the primary star was gradually occluded by its curvature. From the surface, the sunset's colors evolved into gray-ruby and indigo. Eventually, reflected starshine from the several natural satellites dominated the sky. This planet never really experienced nighttime, only a period of moody, wine-dark indirectness.

    "Someone who needed to find a trustworthy friend." Finally Photon's eyes overflowed. "I'm sorry. This... this has been... I didn't plan for it go like this."

    "To go like what?" Sam asked.

    "To fall in love with you."

    That should have moved Sam but she knew this was a serious misdirection. "Photon, please tell me very clearly, right now, two things. First, what that number means. Second, what exactly your intentions were."

    Photon gathered his thoughts and wiped away some of his tears. He sucked a bit at his lower lip, composing his response to each of these questions. He would answer them both precisely as Sam had asked him to. "That number is the ID code of a Kavithan apostle, and one whom you've met albeit very briefly."

    Sam felt a jolt down her spine as her skeletal-musculature braced itself. Although she had no intentions of assaulting her lover, something put her body on standby. "Photon, why do you know about that apostle?"

    "I believe my answer to your earlier second question will also answer that." Photon locked eyes ith Sam, ensuring that her attention to him was undivided. "The apostle took one of your wolf beetles, named Henrí. You had no reason to know this, but Henrí is more than just a beetle. Retrieving him is of utmost importance. I cannot stress this enough: Henrí's safety and his being in your custody may be the most significant factors in the fate of humanity on this planet. My intention was to ensure that you would learn these facts and that you did not already know them from someone else."

    Sam felt an enraged disappointment gurgle up out of her gut. She heard herself say, "This was all a lie."

    "No. Truly, no, Sam. I swear it." This oath did not seem to entirely convince her, but it was the best Photon could do in that moment. "This was" an accident, but it was not deceptive. I was waiting, too. While you waited for me to explain that number I waited for any sign that I might not be able to trust you. And while we waited we... grew together."

    "We got bored," Sam said sardonically. Photon was chastised by this.

    "Okay, perhaps. Yes," Photon said. "If that was boredom, though, I would hope never to feel purpose again."

    And then Sam saw straight through Photon. "But you do feel a purpose, don't you?"

    "I do," Photon said clenching his fist a bit. This transparency was exhilarating for a man so opaque for so long. "I always will."

    "What purpose?" Sam asked.

    "I believe that Henrí is the key to reactivating the Mind Flower."

    ~~~​

    "The mind-what...?"

    "The Mind Flower," Daniela repeated. Pacheco was a very soppy man. What fun!

    "What the hell kind of a thing is that?" Pacheco asked, further distressed by the promethean woman's weird ingratiation.

    "Well, it's a silly name for a serious thing," Daniela said. "Technically it's a meta-neural cognition agglutination device. Philosophically it's the threshold of a common human consciousness, a Supermind."

    "Oh for... You've got to be kidding me. No one actually thought that was real did they?" Pacheco pressed further. It strained credulity that he was here having this conversation with this loopy, lunatic nobody of a person. It just about blew out his powers of reason to realize that he was now discussing a something called a mind flower with her.

    "Oh yes, they believed it," she said. Pacheco ostentatiously rolled his eyes. "But they did kind of lose faith, of course. When it didn't work."

    "What do you mean it didn't work?"

    "I mean it didn't do what they thought it would do." Daniela poked at her quiche a bit. It wasn't very tasty but she enjoyed the texture more than the flavor. It got goopy and squishy as it got colder.

    Pacheco arched an eyebrow. "It didn't do what they thought it would do?"

    Apparently this was an actual question, not just a rhetorical device. They clearly could converse in the same language, so it wasn't just misunderstanding, Daniela thought. This was really how he got to the bottom of things. Did he do everything twice? "Right. It didn't facilitate the Supermind." It was a straightforward explanation but this only seemed to confuse Pacheco even more.

    "Um, yeah," Pacheco said slowly, like he was talking to a child. "It wouldn't have because that's not real."

    "I suppose not," Daniela conceded. "But I guess they didn't know that."

    "They didn't know that?" Again, the twice-asked-question.

    "Well, that's all I can suppose," Daniela said. "They built it. They must've thought it would work, right? But it didn't." She forked a piece of quiche into her mouth. So mushy!

    Daniela's eyes twinkled with delight. Pacheco could not read people so well, but he was not utterly hopeless. This woman was positively giddy. She really was digging that quiche, he thought, but maybe it's me she's fascinated with. Oh no.

    Ha! He thinks I'm flirting with him. How adorable! Well, maybe I am. This quiche isn't that good.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2017

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