Hidden cabin voyeur

{The Flesh Reaper} (Sequel to The Meat Locusts) - Part Four I felt an eerie sense of calm as I followed Theo up the hill, the kind of peace I used to get when I hiked in the woods. Seeing the sun after days of solitude might have had something to do with it, feeling its warmth on my cheeks and seeing the night’s lingering darkness melt away. The key takeaway is that police, as part of their training, are made to watch videos of cop killings. They are taught with great insistence that they could be next, and that if they find themselves facing a would-be cop killer the only reliable way to live through the altercation is to shoot first. This explains a lot about how bad shoots happen. The wealth of Hyborian nations is built upon the backs of their beasts of burden and those who know how to handle an animal. And the mark of a man can be weighed by the manner in which he treats the least of his animals. Feed them and give them a place to live and they can be the greatest allies... UPDATED 3/20/20 – Godly Fear – Part 4 of 5 – MODERN DAY RETURN OF THE PLAGUES. March 20, 2020 June 26, 2017 by Cynthia. ... Proverbs 28:1-4 ... 14 And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt and rested on all the territory of Egypt. Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet.His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity.Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint ... The Flesh Reaper is an enemy in Chrono Trigger that appears in the Northern Ruins in 600 AD. Flesh Reaper Japanese Name Anatomy (アナトミー , Anatomī ? ) SNES / PS Name Reaper HP Defense Magic Defense 1450 127 50 EXP TP G 518 8 700 Weak Absorbs Immune Fire Shadow None Location Northern Ruins (600 AD... Share your thoughts, experiences and the tales behind the art. {The Flesh Reaper} (Sequel to The Meat Locusts) - Part One. ... The location in question was by Lake Crusoe, in the eastern part of Oregon. I hemmed and hawed but ultimately threw caution to the wind and drove here, only to find her and her current boyfriend dead at the hands of a pack of creatures that had been living in the woods for decades. ... You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them. In the novel "Tantrics of Old", the Four Horsemen are part of the larger story arc and their origins are discussed from the perspective of the mythology within the book. Music. William Control's Revelations album is split into 4 EPs, each named after one of the four horses that the horsemen rode – The Pale, The Black, The Red and The White.

2020.08.26 22:21 RTKGuy Hidden cabin voyeur

I felt an eerie sense of calm as I followed Theo up the hill, the kind of peace I used to get when I hiked in the woods. Seeing the sun after days of solitude might have had something to do with it, feeling its warmth on my cheeks and seeing the night’s lingering darkness melt away. Or maybe it was the constant whine of the drone hovering above the trees and our heads, knowing that Lazlo would give us an instant warning via the radio in my ear if a Meat Locust showed up. I had felt on edge with Madison, not because I didn’t trust her but because no one person can cover all dangers, no matter how much of a bad ass they were.
That said, my calm was never far from collapsing. My hike started by moving through a wafting dust cloud of gray, the lingering residue of dozens of dead MLs decomposing rapidly. My outfit carried some of it along, and no matter how much I wiped it away I never felt completely clean. A constant reminder that there were hundreds of these monsters around Crusoe, and who could say how close the next pack was from our position. Not to mention the ten missing MLs – more than enough to take Theo and me down if we got too complacent.
Regardless, I chose to enjoy the picturesque view and the smell of pines and the freedom of movement I finally had. Theo seemed less enthralled and more focused on keeping us in the right direction. We were skirting Cell Point this time, aiming for a small valley two miles past it. That valley held the copse that the pack had disappeared into, and where the lost drone was now.
“You guys are boring, you know that?” spoke Lazlo in my ear at one point. “No dirty jokes, no nervous comments. I knew Theo had no sense of humor, but I didn’t think you’d be a killjoy, Hector.”
“At least I can turn off the radio when you tell your bad puns, Laz,” said Theo.
“Silence the chatter, you two,” ordered Abbott. “We may have hostiles in the area.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Even after last night’s frantic battle and Abbott’s injury, the group still held onto its camaraderie. It also disturbed me somewhat. How many run-ins with the MLs did you have to rack up before you became desensitized to their horrors?
It was close to two blessedly uneventful hours before we came to the edge of the copse. It was a tight cluster of pines that had grown too close together, their upper boughs plentiful with needles but their lower limbs starved of light, their bare branches twisting and drooping towards the ground. If I had been a superstitious type I might have deemed it a cursed place. The sun had less power in there, the trees turning the copse into a shadowed realm where monsters hid and awaited the unwary.
Theo must have been feeling nervous too, as he held his assault rifle at the ready and thumbed off the safety. I grabbed a flash ball from my belt and held it in my left hand, content just to be holding it. I figured if the MLs attacked us, I’d do exactly what I’d done with Madison. Let Theo do the killing and me the distracting.
“Follow close behind me and watch our backs,” instructed Theo. “We won’t have Third Eye in there. We go in, find the drone, and get out. No diversions or distractions. Got it?”
I nodded to Theo and he started in, failing to see me hesitate. I knew what I needed to do, what I had volunteered to do, and here we were about to do it, but now that I was at the mouth of the lion’s den my earlier convictions were less convicting. It’s hard to overcome those pesky survival instincts within us – they’re present for a reason.
“Hey, Hector, don’t you puss out now,” scolded the voice in my ear. Lazlo could see me hesitating, and it was enough to get me moving. Besides, I definitely didn’t want Theo getting too far ahead.
To be fair to the trees, the copse wasn’t any more macabre or menacing than the rest of the forest. In fact, there was precious little brush and grass since the trees hogged up most of the sunlight. Still, I studied every tree for the telltale signs of enigmatic fungus or distortion, the favored camouflage of the MLs. Every crunching branch under my foot felt like a gunshot going off. We swept through the copse in a slow, wide pattern, hoping to spot the wayward drone while hoping not to spot anything else.
Every few minutes Lazlo or Abbott chimed in to check up on us. I was a little surprised that we hadn’t lost radio contact. After all, Lazlo had complained of some kind of signal interference with the wayward drone. She was even surprised at the clarity of our communications. I wasn’t going to over-think it, though. Dealing with malfunctioning tech was her territory. I was just the mule in this mission.
I lost track of how long we spent searching the copse. It was certainly long enough for me to start feeling a little bored. We were almost to the other edge of the copse when I spotted it – a metallic object resting on a bed of broken branches. “I think I found it,” I told the team, and Theo confirmed my catch. Lazlo whooped with joy as we went over to it, Theo telling me to keep an eye out while he made a quick inspection.
I scanned the trees as I had for the last half-hour, knowing not to let my guard down despite my elation at this meager success. Theo talked on the radio with Lazlo, describing what appeared to be damage to the drone’s forward-right propeller. She moaned and said that it wasn’t going to fly back with a propeller down, so I still had to carry it back. Well, I hadn’t come out here for nothing.
Then I noticed something… odd. I was pretty sure I could make out in the distance some strange rock-like structures. There were a lot of trees in the way, so I couldn’t make out much. But I could easily tell that the structures weren’t natural. They were also pretty small, and the more I stared at them the more they reminded me of… statues. Statues of what, I wasn’t sure. Who would bring statues out here?
Theo had said no diversions, and part of me agreed with him. I didn’t want to press our luck. But I was getting an ominous vibe from looking at those statues.
“Theo, there’s something over there,” I said. Theo stood up and looked where I was pointing. He was silent as he stared, his face unreadable. Then he looked back at me with a frown. “I said no diversions and I mean it. Whatever’s over there isn’t our priority.”
Abbott spoke up on the radio, asking for clarification of our current conversation. Theo groaned and said, “It’s an unknown anomaly, roughly seventy meters away. We’d have to go investigate for more info.”
“You know, the drone did go down right there,” pointed out Lazlo. “It might be…”
“Hush, Laz,” said Abbott. The radio then went silent for a few beats. When Abbott spoke up again, his tone was for more serious. “Theo, do you think it’s safe to investigate?”
“I don’t think any of this is safe, Abbott,” Theo replied. “But… I think we can divert with minimal added risk.”
“Then go check it out. But if anything starts moving, get out of there.”
“Roger that,” finished Theo. He looked at me and added, “Let’s get the drone and get moving.”
He helped me rig up a harness to the drone with some straps taken from my backpack. This way I could carry the drone with less effort, even keep one hand free if the need arrived. Once that was done, I fell behind Theo as we hiked the short distance to the unknown anomaly. We moved past the cluster of trees that had obscured our vision, and what we saw made things both clearer and murkier simultaneously, as well as making my heart accelerate.
The small statues occupied a very small clearing within the copse, a group of ten figures in a circular formation with each figure spaced an equal distance from the next. Their appearance was unmistakable – Meat Locusts. They were the same size and shape, but their skin resembled bleached-white chalk or calcium instead of their typical snake-like texture. They were all kneeling down as if kowtowing, facing outward from the center of the circle. A line of dust led inward from each figure, meeting in the center and forming a large circular mound, with pieces of the same substance littering the ground around it.
“Jesus,” said Theo. “Hector, don’t touch anything.” He continued around the circle, inspecting the figures carefully. I stood in place, unsure of what else to do.
“Uh, can somebody start talking?” asked Lazlo in my ear. “Also, start taking pictures. We can’t see what you’re seeing.”
That jogged me into action. I put down the drone and extracted the digital camera and sample kit from my backpack. As I powered up the camera, I watched as Theo poked one of the figures with the barrel of his rifle, eliciting a puff of dust upon contact.
“I think we found the remains of the missing MLs,” he said.
“Remains?” asked Abbott incredulously. “As in corpses?”
“Not exactly.” Theo gave Abbott and Lazlo a cursory description of the sight before us while he gestured at me to bring over the sample kit. I did so and then began taking pictures of the entire scene. Theo extracted a plastic container and a pair of tweezers from the kit and began carefully plucking material from the nearest corpse, and having most of it crumble away. I was in agreement with Theo – I believed these figures were once MLs. I stooped to stare into the face of one of them, and I saw hollow eye sockets and a mouth empty of teeth or flesh. It was as if we were seeing only their outer skin, hardened by some bizarre process of petrifaction.
“It’s like something hollowed them out and left behind their skin,” continued Theo. “The remaining matter seems to have undergone some kind of calcification.”
“It’s like they were doing some kind of ritual,” I offered, taking a picture of the emptiness beyond the corpse’s eyes. I should have taken more, but being so close to even a dead ML ruined my calm. I stood back up and continued my picture taking with the next ML corpse. “The posturing, the organization – it’s almost religious in nature.”
“These things don’t do rituals,” Theo remarked. “They sure as hell don’t worship anything.”
“How do you explain these poses, then?” I said, waving to the figures. “You think someone killed them, positioned them, and then turned them to stone?”
“Folks, let’s leave the conjecture for later,” spoke up Abbott. “Theo, Hector, five more minutes of data collecting and then get out of there.”
I was almost disappointed to have to leave, emphasis on almost. I felt like we had stumbled onto a deep dark secret that no other human had ever discovered until now. MLs holding rituals and corpses that didn’t dissolve? This had to be something huge. Why else would the MLs hide the act in the first place? But I also had a pattern of learning intriguing and hidden knowledge right before life’s bounty of horror found me once more. As I was about to find out, that pattern wasn’t changing anytime soon.
Once we cleared the copse, Lazlo walked me through the process of transmitting the camera’s pictures through its wi-fi, using her watchful drone as a signal relay. Lazlo didn’t want to wait another two hours to get the data. Theo wasn’t happy about the delay, wanting us to get moving. He was more on edge now, even though we had accounted for the missing MLs. I couldn’t blame him – I felt out of sorts after our discovery, like the world had found yet another way to warp my sense of reality. But I didn’t think we were in more danger than before. Whatever the MLs had done had occurred hours ago, and the team had killed the only pack in the area. As long as we got back to camp and disembarked before another pack showed up, we’d be home free.
The day remained sunny and cheerful, and while I felt like a beast of burden as I carried the recovered drone I was kinda enjoying the moment. I knew I wasn’t really cut out to be a soldier, but I might make a good researcher. I no longer felt like such a tagalong. I knew I was a long way from being at the same level as the rest of the Wranglers, but at least I was walking the path.
It was that moment that I realized that I was seriously contemplating this life. Madison hadn’t made it look real appealing, what with the lonely hunts in the woods and the constant threat of death. But Abbott’s team made the experience feel almost like an adventure. Maybe it was all about how you approached it. Not everyone had to do it like an old-fashioned safari. There was a high-tech way to do the job - modern technology against the monsters.
Then I found myself getting angry, because once again the proof of the government’s malfeasance was on display. If they had just thrown even a tiny percentage of the federal budget into solving this crisis, there wouldn’t be dozens of dead innocents and a swarm of monsters to contend with. I made a mental note to ask Abbott a lot more questions when we were back in Crusoe. I wanted to know how we’d gotten here, because I wanted to help make sure we never got here again.
The reason I was having these long bouts of cogitation was because Theo had all but clammed up during our trip back. He watched the trees with keen interest, as if he couldn’t trust Third Eye to cover us. I thought about asking what was bothering him, but I knew better than to disturb a vigilant soldier.
Lazlo had been quiet until we were halfway to the camp, then she piped up with her initial analysis of the ML circle ritual, as she was calling it. I think she named it that just to poke Theo, who still maintained that MLs don’t do religion. She admitted that she didn’t know what the bowing was all about, but she did believe that these MLs had done this process to themselves. In fact, it looked like they had created something in the center of the circle.
“Some of those fragments remind me of… well, eggshells,” she said in an unconfident tone.
“Eggshells?” I asked. “Like they laid an egg?”
“Built one, perhaps,” Abbott remarked. “Or it was just excess material that their creation cast off once it was ready. I’m starting to come around to Lazlo’s thinking. The whole process reminds me of some kind of joining ritual - the many coming together to create the one.”
“The one?” spoke up Theo for the first time in an hour. “So you think we’re not alone?”
“Theo, I know you too well,” Abbott replied, his tone growing more serious. “You get quiet when you think we’re in trouble. You think something’s out there too, don’t you?”
Theo grunted in acknowledgement. “Call it Wrangler’s intuition, but yeah, I haven’t felt right since we started back.”
“MLs bud on a one-to-one basis,” I pointed out. “I saw it in action. Why would they sacrifice ten MLs to make only one… thing?”
“That’s a good question,” said Lazlo. “And… I don’t like any of the potential answers. I’m going to put up a second drone, just to be safe.”
I joined Theo in scanning the wilderness, unsure of what I was looking for but assuming I’d know it when I saw it. We passed by the cabin that had once been my sanctuary, but I barely gave it a glance. Suddenly I really wanted to be away from here, or at least in the Oasis with a lot of steel between the outside world and me.
We were maybe twenty minutes away from the camp when I heard the radio crackle in my ear, Lazlo’s voice interspersed with burst of static that obscured her words. Theo and I instinctively stopped and tried to contact her, but if she could hear us we weren’t able to tell. I could make out Lazlo’s tone as heightened and growing more frantic, as if she was desperately trying to get a hold of us, or her own situation was rapidly deteriorating.
“Lazlo, Abbott, someone come in!” Theo demanded, but again the answer was more static and barely-audible voices. Theo then took off at a fast jog, not even bothering to warn me of his intentions. I tried to keep up as best I could, but I didn’t have his physique or conditioning, and he left me in the dust after a few minutes. By that time, the radio no longer crackled. It no longer did anything except relay Theo’s occasional frantic calls to his friends.
I understood Theo’s concerns, but I felt rightly abandoned during the long minutes I jogged after him, hoping that I knew the path back to the camp well enough to not get lost. Then again, I was also afraid of what I would find at the camp. I grabbed a flash ball from my belt and held it as I ran. It gave me enough confidence to keep moving.
I could hear Theo yelling out to Lazlo and Abbott as I neared the camp, and I spotted him just outside the Oasis, holding his rifle up and slowly advancing up the ramp. I switched to walking as I entered the camp’s perimeter, panting and unable to get a word out but still moving forward. I dropped my drone load to the ground and took out my pistol, remembering to switch off the safety this time. Theo disappeared through the doorway as I closed in, and his yells ceased at the same time. Then I spotted the trail of crimson on the ramp, bright and shiny and recent. Adding to the horror was that the solid metal door was hanging off of one hinge and had taken several cruel dents, as if something massively strong had attacked it and ultimately won.
I spotted a drone parked on the ground near the ramp, perhaps the one Lazlo had been preparing for launch. Voyeur Four was still in the air, its incessant whine now a unwelcome distraction. Pistol in my right hand, flash ball in my left, I went up the ramp and stopped just before the entrance. I wanted to help the team, even if it meant walking into a lion’s den. But I wasn’t an idiot.
“Theo?” I yelled. “Are you okay?”
There was no immediate answer, and I was about to throw the flash ball inside when his voice spoke up at last. “God… yes, Hector, I’m okay.”
I knew I wasn’t going to like what was in there. I went in just the same.
The first apparent change to the interior was the small pool of blood congealing next to the bunks. That… and the human leg lying in it. Considering the large soaked bandage wrapped around it, I could easily identify its previous owner. Abbott – my heart froze up at the revelation.
Theo was standing near it, looking like he’d just been kicked hard in the ribs. Beyond the pool of blood and severed limb, there were a few splashes of blood on the bunk Abbott had occupied, a bloody handprint here and there, but little other damage. No random destruction of property. It was not like the MLs to ignore an opportunity to destroy humanity’s work, or be so tidy. Then again, how the hell did the MLs get past a solid steel door?
“They… it… dragged him away,” Theo muttered in a low, deadly voice. “Tore off his leg and dragged him away.”
Even though he was the military veteran of the group, I think my shock wore off quicker than his. Abbott had been his friend for who knows how long. I knew him for less than a day. “Theo… what about Lazlo?” I managed to ask.
“I… I don’t know. She’s not here. They must have…” He trailed off, gripping his rifle and moving past me to the door. He started looking into the forest, probably hoping to scope out a trail to follow. I became afraid of his next move.
“Theo, tell me you’re not going after them.”
He looked at me with unmistakable rage shining in his eyes. “They got them, Hector. I wasn’t here and they got them. They might still be alive, and even if they aren’t…”
“If you go after what did this, you’ll end up like them,” I insisted. I couldn’t believe I had to be the voice of reason, but here I was being it. “I still need your help, Theo. I can’t make it back on my own, and we have information that could save lives. Please tell me you’re staying here.”
I wasn’t sure if he was buying what I was selling. He looked out again at the forest, his conflicted priorities battling it out on his face. Then he closed his eyes and said, “I’m securing the perimeter. I won’t… I won’t leave you, Hector. But I can’t be in here right now.”
He went down the ramp, ending our conversation. I had to trust his words. I’m not sure what I’d accomplished, though. I wasn’t any better off than Theo. That brief window of friendship and safety that I had occupied was gone, and I had no idea what to do. God, what were we up against now? What had the MLs unleashed on the world? And how the hell were we…
I heard the noise in the back of the vehicle, what they called the storage section as it had little else but cabinets and drawers for personal effects, supplies, and equipment. It came off as a soft metallic rap, almost like something banging gently on a metal cabinet. My sorrow switched to fight-or-flight, heavy on the fight. Theo hadn’t searched the vehicle. In his shock, perhaps he had made a mistake. I wasn’t in the mood to run from this particular fight.
I raised my gun and moved down the length of the vehicle, stepping up to a large closet that Abbott had declared their improvised brig. I thought I heard a soft shuffle inside there. A ML preparing for an ambush, perhaps, though the better part of me must have thought otherwise. I held my gun at the ready and used my free hand to open the door, prepared to fire at a moment’s notice.
In that otherwise empty closet, a wide-eyed Lazlo greeted me with a pistol aimed at my chest, and it was pure providence that neither of us shot the other at that moment. She lowered her weapon and broke out into a combination of laughter and tears as she came out of the closet and gave me a tight hug, as if we were best friends. Once she detached from me, she asked me about Theo. I assured her he was okay, but she didn’t believe me until she went to the exterior door and called out his name. He came running, and she gave him a tight hug as well.
“It wasn’t a pack, Theo,” she managed to say between soft sobs. “It was something… something a lot worse.”
I didn’t have a frame of reference at the time to judge how anything could be worse than a pack of Meat Locusts. Now? If anything, she may have underplayed the threat we were facing.
Obviously Theo and I wanted answers, but we needed to secure the vehicle first. Despite their deep grief over Abbott’s death, Theo and Lazlo fell back into their respective roles as we finished preparing to leave, Lazlo swapping out drones while Theo stood guard. I gave the living section a hasty cleaning and wrapped up Abbott’s leg in a plastic tarp for storage in the rear closet. I feared it was the only part of him we’d ever find. As I did the task, I told myself over and over that it was only flesh now, not the remains of a good man I had been talking to less than an hour ago.
There wasn’t much we could do for the main steel door other than use a bunch of straps to close it and keep it from banging around. Its use as a protective shield was now very limited.
Once we secured the door, we huddled inside and voted on our next move. The smartest plan was to get the Oasis moving and head back to Crusoe. We were down a Wrangler, our resources were significantly depleted, and we were up against an unknown threat that had penetrated our defenses with little effort.
But instead, we unanimously voted to hear out Lazlo first. Maybe it’s the human part of us that wants to know the answers even when it puts you further in jeopardy. Or perhaps we needed to know because there was a good chance that this new monster wasn’t all that far away and might come at us again. Better for us to have some idea what we were up against rather than encounter it in ignorance.
“I was outside installing a new battery in Voyeur Four when I saw it,” she began, sitting down at her computer desk with a bottle of water in her hands and a haunted look in her eyes. “It wasn’t very far away, maybe fifty yards at most. It hadn’t tripped any alarms from Third Eye or the vehicle cameras. It looked humanoid, but it was using the same masking ability the MLs use. Except it’s not the same. They look like forest flora. This one looked like a walking, flowing mound of dirt. It had multiple limbs, but how many I can’t be sure of because its arms appeared to grow and recede from its body at regular intervals. It was also bigger, at least my height. It was walking toward me at that rate serial killers use in slasher movies. You know, where the killer doesn’t feel like running because he knows he’s going to get you eventually and he has all the time in the world. I tried to reach Abbott and you guys on the radio, but there was suddenly some kind of major interference scrambling the signal. Three guesses as to who was likely causing it.”
She gulped down a drink of water and then continued, her hands gripping the bottle tightly. “Abbott saved my life twice in ten minutes. He insisted I take my shotgun with me. I told him the MLs were all gone and that Third Eye would warn me otherwise. He said to humor an injured man and do it anyway. Like an idiot, I had put down the shotgun several feet away, so I had to race to get it, fearing that thing would rush me while my back was turned. But that overconfident bastard didn’t speed up at all. It was twenty yards away when I brought up the shotgun, and I let it get to ten yards before I opened fire. If that thing had been scared of my gun, it never showed it.
“I’m pretty damn sure I hit it. Kinda hard to miss at that range. I emptied the entire shotgun, but it was like I was shooting wiffle balls. The whole time it maintained its masking. I’ve never seen a ML that could keep up its masking while it attacked. Then again, I’ve never seen a ML that could withstand several shotgun blasts.
“Not enough time to reload, so I ran back into the vehicle and locked the door. Abbott was demanding answers because he couldn’t reach me on the radio and it was hard to miss all the gunfire. I was about to start talking when the thing began wailing on the door, pounding it hard enough to leave dents in the metal. It must be damn strong to do even that much. After a few blows, it started wrenching on the door and working the hinges. I used the time to reload the shotgun and I was about to load another shotgun for Abbott when one of the door hinges pulled free. The thing was about to get in, so I stood in front of the door with my gun at the ready. I didn’t think my odds were good, but we weren’t going down without a fight.
“Abbott must have seen things differently, because he told me to give him the shotgun and go hide in the back. I tried pretending that I hadn’t heard him say that, but he repeated himself and added that it didn’t make sense for us to both die. I argued that I might still stop it, and he said that if that was possible, then it was his turn to do the heroics. I remember looking at him and seeing the lie on his face. He knew he couldn’t stop it. He was giving me the best chance possible of surviving.
“He then gave me a direct order. Told me that if I didn’t obey and he made it out of here he’d strip me of my Wrangler status. I knew he wasn’t serious, but somehow it worked on me. I gave him the shotgun, told him he was a jerk, and grabbed a pistol before I hid in the closet. I felt ridiculous, like I was a little girl pretending that the monster wouldn’t see me if I hid under my bed and closed my eyes. Then I heard the door give way with a big grating shriek. The shotgun went off three times before I heard Abbott scream. It was a short scream – I guess that’s better than a long one. I heard some thumping and sliding sounds, and then I heard nothing. I thought about opening the door and rushing the monster a dozen times over, but each time I just had to recall Abbott’s scream and… I just sat there.
“It killed him, Theo,” she softly stated, more tears falling from her eyes. “He told me to hide. He ordered me to. And damn it, I listened. I let it kill him.”
“No, you didn’t,” Theo replied sincerely. “He was right, Laz. You were right to listen to him.”
“You don’t know that,” she shot back. “Maybe I wounded it. Maybe a few more blasts might have done the trick.”
“If it could take eight shells and still wreck a steel door, it was nowhere near wounded,” Theo replied. “Abbott understood that, Laz. He made the call.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better,” she muttered.
“I came up here trying to rescue my ex-girlfriend,” I said, making my own attempt to console her. “She was dead before I arrived, but I still think about how if I had called the cops or left earlier I might have saved her. I don’t think the doubts ever leave you entirely. I don’t think you ever feel better.”
She gave me a slight frown. “I take it you don’t write Hallmark cards for a living.”
I shrugged. “I’m not known for my pep talks.” To my credit, her frown became a slight smile.
Theo stood up and went over to Abbott’s bloodstained bunk, looking at it as if visualizing his friend’s final fate, or merely morning his end. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Laz, but what bothers me is why it didn’t come after you after killing Abbott. It wasn’t like you were well hidden.”
“Well, I don’t have my guidebook on weird monsters with me,” she replied. “So your guess is as good as mine.”
I thought about it myself. The MLs really had only one goal in life – feed to reproduce. This new creature, besides clearly being more powerful, also had different tactics and priorities. Despite going after Lazlo, it had been satisfied with Abbott. How long would it be satisfied, though? A paranoid part of me wondered if we had already pressed our luck too far, and that this creature was on its way back to finish us off.
Thankfully, we were all in agreement that it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. Theo outlined the plan – Lazlo would drive Oasis while he did guard duty in the roof turret. I would man the computer desk and keep an eye on the monitors. I had enough computer knowledge to work Third Eye at an amateur level. Lazlo told me that Voyeur Four would follow Oasis on its own and that it should have enough battery power to last the trip to Crusoe, which was roughly one hundred and ten minutes away at a reasonable speed. As long as we kept moving and stopped only if absolutely necessary, we should make it back okay.
I doubted any of us thought it would go smoothly. But we kept our misgivings to ourselves as Lazlo maneuvered through a small opening that led to the driver’s seat and Theo went to his turret. I managed to get in a question about how safe the driver’s cab would be if we got attacked, and Theo casually mentioned that all the windows were ballistic glass. Good enough to thwart your average Meat Locust, but definitely not the other thing.
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2020.08.26 22:15 RTKGuy Hidden cabin voyeur

Stepping out of the cabin for the first time in days felt like an act of pure freedom, as if I’d been given an extension on my lifespan. That feeling faded quickly as I took in the shadowed land. The pale moonlight lit up the treetops but it mostly created more dark spots than it dispelled. Theo had stepped out with me, totally at ease with circumstances despite the fact that we were very clearly all alone. I then picked up on a distant whining sound coming from above us. I looked about and spotted a green light centered within a dark insectile silhouette. Theo pointed to it and said, “Third Eye. It’s keeping watch on us. It’s how I know we’re safe for now.”
So we had a drone escorting us. I can’t say I was happy about that. I’d rather have a dozen soldiers keeping us safe than a drone that did nothing but watch us. Still, considering that someone had bothered to show up at all, griping felt like an act of ingratitude.
Theo began leading us through the gloom of the forest, flashlights on and probing the woods around us, heading steadily downward toward what I hoped was a throng of well-armed Locust-killing badasses. I knew the drill – follow his lead, no talking. I couldn’t help but feel anxious as we passed large patches of bramble and thick copses of trees. Yet the night air did smell wonderful and felt even better after all that time cooped up. After a time my anxiety diminished to a dull fear, where every step we made took me further away from the nightmare my life had become. After walking for close to an hour without any incidents, I gave myself permission to feel something like hope again.
That was also the point when I spotted lights through the foliage. Theo pointed to them and said, “Just through those trees.” I was picturing something out of the TV show M.A.S.H., a sea of green military tents and combat vehicles with men marching about. Why else had the MLs taken off if not out of fear of an army?
Then we came through the trees and… M.A.S.H. it was not. It was no army camp, that was for sure. There was a solitary vehicle parked on a dirt road that I would have classified as the offspring of a large RV and an armored personnel carrier, surrounded by a ring of blue-tingled floodlights. Clearly designed as an all-terrain vehicle, it was fashioned with six huge tires that came up to my chest. I got the impression that this thing was designed to take all the trappings of modern living with you while you went sightseeing in war zones and wastelands.
“So… no soldiers?” I remarked, unable to contain my disappointment any longer.
Theo stopped and gave me a sympathetic smile. “Yeah, we’re not exactly the cavalry. But trust me when I say that this is the safest place for miles around.” Oh, I definitely trusted him about that, but I still wanted a platoon standing between the monsters and me.
Our drone tagalong settled into a slow circle around the vehicle as we approached the camp. There were no guards to greet us, just the omnipresent blue glow enveloping the site. Theo walked right up a nearby metal ramp and knocked three times on a steel door on the side of the vehicle. The door unlatched and opened, and a man of light skin and light build greeted him, a tired expression on his face. This new man gave Theo a quick hello and then looked at me, scratching his shaggy brown hair as he scrutinized me.
“Unbelievable,” he muttered. Then he looked at Theo. “You owe me fifty bucks.”
“I know, man,” replied Theo. “You’ll have to wait ‘till payday, though. Too many wild nights.”
This apparently struck them as funny as they laughed and gave each other a quick fist bump. Theo looked back at me and pointed at the other guy. “This is Abbott. If he gives you a hard time, let me know and I’ll set him straight.”
Theo moved past him and into the vehicle. Theo came out to greet me with a handshake. Unlike Theo, he was wearing civilian clothing, and his Hawaiian shirt was especially loud and colorful. “I guess you were expecting a more professional outfit, huh?”
“I… was expecting a lot of things,” I said.
Abbott had a disarming smile, and despite the lack of firepower around me I felt oddly at ease. “Welcome to the Oasis,” he said, waving at the vehicle. “It’s 100% Locust-proof, even when parked. The lights are just our first line of defense. But just in case, let’s continue this conversation inside.”
The interior continued the theme of some wild engineer’s fantasy to combine living quarters with military preparedness. The back half contained a cramped kitchen, bunk-bed section, and lockers for supplies and personal effects. I figured a bathroom was somewhere in there too. The front half was full of logistical equipment, the crown jewel being the desk with six separate LCD monitors sporting all kinds of video footage, charts, tables, and graphs. Most of the gear was bolted down in one fashion or another. No wasted space and no windows, and little in the way of decoration. I started to feel like I had traded on survivalist shelter for another. I immediately missed the cold air of the outside, and there was a certain pervasive odor wrinkling my nose, the kind of sweat stink that comes from perspiring people stuck together in close quarters for a long time. Complaints aside, I did feel safe again, and considering that I hadn’t felt that way in days it was the best gift this group could’ve given me.
Abbott was busy sealing the main door while Theo relaxed in the kitchen area, putting up his feet and downing a bottle of water. I was about to ask if there was only the two of them when I almost stepped on the third member of their team, lying prone on the floor halfway into a compartment positioned under the computer desk. At first I could only see green pants and a pair of boots, but the body quickly crawled back out. She didn’t notice me as she moved to stand, holding what appeared to be a mousetrap with a very-dead mouse stuck to it. She also shared Abbott’s disdain for uniforms as she wore a blue tank top and a multicolored beaded necklace, topped off with long brown hair streaked with bright strands of lavender.
“Third one in a week,” she said absently, her pleasant voice unable to mask her disgust at the dead thing in her hands. “You’d think a vehicle that’s Locust-proof would be rodent-proof as well.” She then noticed me at last with a start, and I realized how young she really was, no more than twenty. Thanks to Madison, I had carried this idea that Wranglers were old veterans with scars and wrinkles. It hadn’t occurred to me that there might be younger blood in the ranks.
“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I knew you were coming, but I didn’t think you’d get here this quickly.” She walked over to a sealed metal garbage can, opened it, and deposited the dead rat. I caught a whiff of strong decay from the container – it was where the rodent corpses abided.
Abbott came to my side and pointed at the third member of their party. “This is Lazlo. She takes care of tech and pests.”
“Still can’t get rid of you, though,” Lazlo joked at Abbott, resealing the can. She made to shake my hand, then realized it was the hand that had been holding the mouse, so she detoured to get a sanitation wipe.
“So, up for a debriefing?” Abbott asked me. “Any information you could give us might be helpful here.”
“Abbott, give the guy a break,” chimed in Theo. “He’s been stuck in a basement for two weeks.”
Abbott frowned and looked Theo’s way. “We don’t have time for him to detox, Theo.”
“You can give him hospitality, though,” said Lazlo. She held a water bottle and a protein bar and offered them my way. I took the water bottle and drank deeply of it.
“I’m up for it,” I said. That wasn’t bravado on my part. I was too wound up by my rescue to sleep. “Do I get to ask questions too?”
“In time,” Abbott said, and then glanced at Lazlo. “What’s Third Eye saying?”
“Pack’s still in the trees,” she replied. “When they come out, we’ll lock on again, but it’s been three hours since they went in there. We’ll need to send a replacement soon for Voyeur Two.”
I had no idea what any of that meant, but thankfully Lazlo noticed my confusion. “Third Eye is our drone system specially tailored to monitor Meat Locusts,” she explained. “The bastards don’t have much of a thermal reading, so we use a program designed to detect their shape and movement style. It’s a good thing they’re so identical.”
Abbott frowned at her. “Laz, it’s my job to spill our secrets. Go monitor the situation and tell me if anything changes.” She rolled her eyes and sat down at the computer desk with exaggerated exasperation.
Abbott turned to me and motioned at a pair of folding chairs. As we took our seats, Theo came over and leaned on a wall near us. He must have wanted to hear my tale. Lazlo was also sneaking glances my direction.
“Forgive me, and us, if we’re a little rusty on interpersonal skills,” said Abbott. “We’ve been doing our own thing for some time.”
“No problem,” I said. “I must admit, I thought all you Wranglers were the lone wolf hunter types.”
“Many are,” he admitted. “Some of us do things different.”
“We fight monsters with science,” Lazlo commented in a singsong voice.
“Pretty much true,” Abbott confirmed. “I think you deserve to know that we weren’t here for you specifically, Hector. I did make a promise to Madison that if the opportunity availed us we would search the area you were last seen in, but only if it didn’t jeopardize our bigger priorities. It just so happens that the pack we’re pursuing came your direction. For what it’s worth, Madison painted you as a potential survivor, which is why I made my bet with Theo.”
“I usually win these bets,” chimed in Theo.
“Madison saved my ass,” I told them. “I’m no survivalist.”
Abbott showed a thin smile. “Hector, the MLs dine on survivalists regularly. Nobody does well against these things unless they’re willing to change paradigms. You did, and here you are.”
There was definitely charm to the guy, and he made me feel like one of the gang despite the fact that I’d just met them. “So how is Madison? She’s okay, right?
Lazlo practically flew over to us as I finished my question, holding an I-Pad in front of me as she scrolled through a series of pictures at lightning speed. With a wide smile she finally stopped at a photo showing a hospital room with a supremely annoyed occupant in a hospital bed looking at the camera and scowling. I found myself laughing, mostly out of relief, with Lazlo joining me in the mirth of the moment.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a person more angry at getting photographed than Madison,” said Lazlo. “This picture is from three days ago.”
“She suffered a pretty bad abdominal wound and major blood loss,” added Abbott. “She’s a tough one, though. Always has been. Doctors want her in the hospital for another week. We’ll see who wins that battle.”
“Sounds like you know here pretty well,” I said.
Abbott shrugged. “We have… conferences of sorts. Meetings where Wranglers get together to share data and techniques. We’ve talked. Can’t say we see eye-to-eye on much. She’s old-school and I’m the opposite. But she did contact me after she regained consciousness. By then, Crusoe was almost a week into its ML infestation.”
“God damn monsters,” spat out Theo.
“The MLs?” I asked.
“The government,” he clarified. “They should’ve contacted us on Day One. They let this thing go on for six days before they got other Wranglers involved.”
“How many of you are here?” I asked.
“Besides us three, there’s two others back in town,” Theo replied. “They’re in an advisory role, making sure the police and the National Guard know what they’re up against.”
I didn’t really want to know the answer to the question I was about to ask, but I asked it nonetheless. “So how bad is it?”
The three of them exchanged looks, probably trying to decide who gets to tell me the news. Abbott was ultimately overpowered by the stares of the other two. After all, he was the one in charge. He sighed helplessly.
“I’ll make you a deal, Hector,” he said. “We do have a ongoing situation, and I need your intel more than you need mine. You give me your gory story, and I’ll answer every Locust-related question you want to ask afterwards.”
“He means it, too,” said Lazlo. “He loves the sound of his voice.”
“It’s the only voice here that doesn’t give me a headache,” he joked back. The others laughed, and I admit that I laughed with them. I certainly could think of worse fates than being stuck with these three. At least we all knew how to laugh. I don’t know if laughter is, in fact, the best medicine, but it does help to shield one from the horrors.
So I told them all of it. My stupid and heroic trek to save my ex-girlfriend, the horror and carnage I encountered, my fateful meeting with Madison, and our ensuing attempt to reach safety. I half-expected to bore my listeners, considering how much more massive their experience was to mine concerning the Meat Locusts, but all three of them seemed attentive to my story. Perhaps they were starved of alternative viewpoints – I would learn later that all three of them had spent a rather inordinate amount of time together in distant locations, bereft of human culture and contact. They might have been socially starved. Then again, it might have been intelligence gathering. Lazlo zeroed in on the effectiveness of the flash balls, while Theo critiqued Madison’s hunting strategy. Abbott just took it all in, never giving away any preference or interest in any one piece of data I reported.
I talked for a long time, and when I was done I felt drained, as if telling my story had released all the tension bottled up inside me. Despite my growing fatigue, I resisted asking for a bunk. I told Abbott to start in on his part of the deal. Abbott happily obliged. Abbott asked me where I wanted to start, and I told him to tell me about his group. In particular, how was it that Madison was so starved for support and equipment while Abbott’s team seemed to have Batman levels of tech and preparation. Abbott confessed that he was, in fact, cheating when it came to funding. In fact, what he was doing was technically illegal. Abbott was actually a professor; Doctor Ben Abbott from Yale, out on a very long sabbatical. Some funding came from the college, which Abbott routinely fed extremely long and detailed research reports that would eventually be publicly disclosed once the government could no longer keep the MLs a secret… which, considering recent events, was about to occur. He also had a business deal with a gun manufacturer who fed Abbott money through a few off-shore accounts, on the grounds that once the MLs went public, they’d be positioned to sell specialized equipment to a now-paranoid public and, pardon the pun, make a killing. Abbott figured that at least a few government officials knew about his alternate funding arrangements, but as long as he produced results and didn’t cross any lines they looked the other way. I can’t say I approved of all that under-the-table dealing, but as Abbott put it, having the funding to properly study the MLs was paying off in spades. His group’s research was helping other Wranglers track and kill MLs far more effectively than before, which meant more lives getting saved in the process.
Yes, Abbott’s group was mostly about research. Before Crusoe, they were stationed in the Midwest, following packs that kept to the flyover parts of America. With fewer people in harm’s way, the team had more time to track and monitor the monsters’ behavior and patterns. The isolation also helped to keep their work hidden from prying eyes and social media. Abbott and Lazlo did most of the scientific work, while Theo was in charge of defense and hunting.
“Don’t you get bored working with researchers?” I asked Theo at one point.
He laughed lightly at my question and said, “Pal, keeping these two alive is a full-time job. Boredom doesn’t enter into it.”
Indeed, researching the MLs meant getting uncomfortably close to them frequently. The team also took out packs heading for human habitations. Theo boasted that they had one of the highest kill rates of any Wrangler team, though he grudgingly confessed that Madison had the highest individual total.
“That’s why were out here and not on defense,” Abbott told me. “The behavior we’re seeing now from the MLs is… well, I think word unprecedented gets way overused these days, but it’s definitely appropriate here. They’ve got enough guns for Crusoe. What they need is intelligence. That’s where we come in.”
And just like that, we had segued into the Crusoe infestation. An infestation is what Wranglers called it when a pack of MLs takes an interest in a particular human settlement. Most of the time it was a small town or village, sometimes a campground or resort. The little monsters would attack people on the very outskirts, slaughtering a group of campers or an entire household in the wilderness, then run off to expand their numbers. When enough humans were present, MLs had a tendency to get into a feeding frenzy and lose any sense of cover and furtiveness. It made them easy to pinpoint – just follow the carnage and you’d find them eventually. Infestations rarely got past the remote-kill stage before a Wrangler caught wind of their killings and went in to clean things up.
This time was different. They were using hit-and-run tactics against one or two individuals, dragging the victims away instead of eating them right then and there. They were letting their victims call for help before killing them, causing family members, friends, and would-be rescuers such as the police to go out and find them, only for some of them to go missing or become victims themselves. It had gotten bad enough that the state government was now frantically urging people to not leave Crusoe’s city limits, and that anyone who did was on their own. The current casualty total was at twenty-seven dead and forty-seven missing, some of whom were police and emergency responders.
“That’s just the ones we know about,” Lazlo had commented. “People on vacation, loggers and road workers, transients and homeless folks, thrill seekers wanting to see the mess for themselves – I’m sure there’s more than a few of them that have become Locust chow.”
“Every person the MLs take down can feed at least eight of them,” said Abbott. “We used to take it for granted that they were too sloppy and impatient to pull off a more methodical strategy, but here they are, doing it. They’re avoiding armed confrontation, choosing to pick off the weaker elements of the town and then run off to bud. I think you see the problem, Hector.”
I nodded, and the certainty of that realization hit me like a sledgehammer. “They’re growing an army,” I said.
“They’re well on their way to doing it, too,” said Abbott. “Our best estimate is there was at least three hundred MLs in the area now. They’ve taken losses from our defenses, but the only thing that is slowing down their growth rate is the government lockdown order. Fewer people moving around means fewer lunches.”
“So what’s the game plan?” I asked. “Why isn’t the military involved now?”
Theo grunted at my question. “I’m in touch with a few military contacts. Being ex-Navy does have its perks. Trust me, they would get involved, but the current administration still wants to keep their part of the cover-up under wraps. Military involvement would all but ensure that the MLs go public. So they won’t support military action unless we start seeing a serious increase in deaths. God knows what that threshold looks like.”
“As for our game plan,” answered Abbott, “we’re still working on that. Our main focus is to figure out why the MLs have changed tactics.”
“That’s why you’re up here, then,” I said. “Not to find survivors, but to study the MLs.” My words came out colder than I meant them to be. I surely did appreciate my rescuers, but shouldn’t saving lives be the priority and not studying the newest antics from a bunch of murder-monsters?
“We were searching homes for any survivors as we went, Hector,” defended Lazlo, “but we didn’t expect to find any. You’ve seen how the Locusts work. It’s why we’re frankly amazed you survived out there. The odds of your average layperson encountering a pack and living to tell the tale is… well, let’s just say you’re better off going up against lightning.”
I gave her a grim nod. I did understand the logic, but I doubt anyone likes to hear how little the world cares about their welfare. The politicians looking out for their careers, the military putting a carnage number to their intervention, the people of Crusoe hunkering down while hoping for salvation, and I get saved by a team of wandering researchers.
Lazlo must have decided that her words had been less than reassuring as she then found a reason to avoid eye contact with me by glancing at her monitors. Abbott motioned at me to come with him toward the back of the vehicle while Theo headed for the kitchen nook. Sharing time had just come to an end.
“You’ll have to forgive Lazlo for her bluntness,” Abbott explained, gesturing to an empty bunk that I could use during my stay. “We don’t get to comfort survivors very often.”
“No big deal,” I replied. “She’s better at it than Madison.”
Abbott laughed at my statement. “In any case, you should probably get some sleep while things are quiet. I can’t promise you that we can head back to Crusoe soon, but if you stay with us you’ll be just fine.”
I went and sat on the bottom bunk, testing out the mattress. It was definitely better than the cement floor I’d been sleeping on for the last two weeks. “Do you have any idea why the pack around my house left like it did?”
Abbott shook his head. “That’s the mystery, isn’t it? We were following another pack going this direction, which was unusual in and of itself because it’s away from the feeding grounds of Crusoe. I figured if a pack would willingly give up on their hunting, they had to have another objective in mind. That’s when we saw them merge with the pack surrounding your cabin. Hours after that, they all just left. They went into a large copse of trees and… they’re still in there. They haven’t eaten anyone since we locked onto them with Third Eye three days ago, so I’m pretty sure they’re not budding in there.”
Abbott then told me that I could eat or drink anything in storage, he showed me the bathroom, and he reminded me not to leave the vehicle without running it by him first. Finally, he told me that while I was free to roam for now, this was technically a military team and if I attempted to interfere with their operations or endanger the team in any way, they did have a brig of sorts in the very back. Namely, it was a closet and it was very cramped, but it did have air holes.
He left me to get what sleep I could. I wondered if the others were ever going to sleep, but I didn’t wonder for long because as soon as my head hit the mattress all that weariness that I had struggled against for days on end finally won the battle and sleep took me. For the first time in what felt like forever, I felt safe.
It’s a shame that feeling safe and being safe are two separate aspects of life. When we confuse the two, bad things always happen.
submitted by RTKGuy to DrCreepensVault [link] [comments]

2020.08.03 01:51 Ralts_Bloodthorne Hidden cabin voyeur

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It was one of the oldest sections of the Unified Civilized Council claimed space. Referred to by documents all the way back into antiquity as "Herd Home", the small cluster of several dozen planets in a twelve light year bubble was believed to be the oldest Lanaktallan worlds in existence. The planets were all xenoformed, something that the Unified Council had forbidden nearly since its inception lest the xenoforming destroy microbes that would eventually become sentient species. All had two continents, one on each side of the globe, that were perfectly curated into Lanaktallan paradise.
One could not emigrate there, only by virtue of being born in Herd Home could one even visit.
The worlds produced little more than food, feeding nearly two-thirds of the Lanaktallan population who could afford real grain cud, but was paradise all the same.
Fully, completely automated since time began, the Lanaktallan who dwelt on the paradise worlds of Herd Home wanted for nothing, suffered no discomfort, and were coddled from womb to reclamation, their lives nothing more than contentment within the oldest Great Herd in the known universe.
But not everyone was content. On one world, often considered the oldest, where now and then water erosion would expose fossilized remains of Lanaktallan and other six legged creatures, bringing about flights of wonder of those who lived in Herd Home and were privy to view such restored wonders, there lived a Lanaktallan who would be the downfall of that most ancient of groupings, who would bring about the end of Lanaktallan supremacy far more than any fleet ever would, through the simple act of being himself.
At the wrong place and the wrong time for the rest of the Lanaktallan of the galaxy.
Sko'ou'up knew he wasn't a proper Lanaktallan. He knew people he shouldn't know, he owned things he shouldn't own, and he consumed things he shouldn't consume. Unlike the majority of the Lanaktallan surrounding him, in what he considered a cud-induced haze of mediocrity, he had found the year or so that the Terrans had been around to be extremely exciting. He'd scoured GalNet for everything he could, even though GalNet had been a wasteland of what he considered gore porn and torture voyeurism forced upon everyone by the Precursor machine's hatred for anything living.
He owned Terran video games, he watched Terran movies, he read Terran literature.
He also knew people who could do things that weren't supposed to be done.
Which is why he was sitting at a stop light, his vest and flank-covering and sash on the seat next to him, on the main arterial road through the middle of the city in a ground vehicle that was capable of such outrageous speeds that he could roar past a mile and a half in a few seconds less than a minute. Which is why his tendrils quivered with excitement as he watched the stop lights ahead of him, on the blocks ahead of him, go from "DO NOT CROSS" to "YOU MAY SAFELY PROCEED." The lights had been spoofed by the device hidden in the dash of his vehicle, just as the cameras would not record his vehicle's speed nor who was inside of it at the time it was being driven. He owned things he should not, which was why he was listening to Terran music, that howling barbaric thunderous cacophony that so enticed his nerves as he watched the lights.
One by one they approached, burning amber in the night.
When the one in front of him changed he stomped a hoof on the pedal, an illegal modification to his vehicle, and the vehicle's tires lost traction, squealing against the asphalt and smoke billowed out from under his car, turned a glowing purple by the illegal lights beneath his souped up vehicle.
The vehicle roared forward, invisible on the stoplight cameras, undetectable by the speed sensors. Sko'ou'up grinned maniacally as he shifted gears, using, of all things, a primitive lever operated shifting system, running the wonderful archiac clutch as he shifted to second gear and his tires squealed. The cured leather seat he sat in was warm as he sped down the main motorway of the city.
He knew the city was only fifteen miles, that he would only take slightly less than ten minutes to make the entire drive, but he looked forward to the exciting drive at the end of every weekly workshift.
Walls were whipping by and his car's spedometer was pegged out at thirty miles an hour, the engine roaring, the Terran music blasting, the steering wheel vibrating in his hand as he pressed on the clutch, shifted to third, and popped the clutch as he hammered on the accelerator.
The tires broke traction and gave out a stuttering squeal.
Just as a truck pulled out from where a garage door had rolled up.
Sko'ou'up tried to swerve, the back of his vehicle slewed out, and he hit the back of the truck, plasteel warping, twisting, screaming, as his car was reduced to wreckage, the back of the truck damaged, and he was ejected from the vehicle.
The seat ended up in the back of the vehicle. One of the contents of the vehicle was pulled into the wreckage even as Sko'ou'up was ejected, and the mangled wreckage tumbled two blocks before it hit an automated street sweeper and came to rest intermixed with the wreckage of the street sweeper a bare two seconds after the spoofing devices in his vehicle failed.
The computer annotated that there had been a vehicle wreck and dispatched automated systems to examine the wreck. It noted, unemotionally, that there was a Lanaktallan corpse inside. Flank, sash, and vest all ID'd the corpse as one Sko'ou'up, Digital Systems Engineer Second Class. The master computer system deactivated Sko'ou'up's datalink, transferred the deceased accounts to the proper system accounts, then put his belongings and apartment up for purchase or lease.
The master computer determined there was no reason to bother going through extensive ID and ordered the Lanaktallan corpse to be delivered to the corpse reclamation building only a few hundred feet from the site of the accident. It deleted Sko'ou'up's living file after double-checking that the unfortunate Lanaktallan had had all of his information put in the Deceased Records Repository.
The master computer system went back to the rest of its duties of running all the planets of Herd Home.
The truck continued on to its destination. It backed in and robots noted the damage then removed the cargo. The computer systems checked the weight, found it within tolerance, and dumped it into the reclamation systems, destroying the seat from Sko'ou'up's vehicle as well as the sixty Lanaktallan corpses.
The robots picked up the corpse from the vehicle and delivered it back to the identification and pre-reclamation building. The computer noted that the arrived corpse had already been processed, noted that Sko'ou'up had been killed in a vehicle wreck, and attributed the processing damage to the vehicle wreck.
As for Sko'ou'up, he woke up in the bushes and realized three things.
Number One: He was somehow still alive.
Number Two: His implant was turned off.
Number Three: He was naked.
He got up and looked around, feeling a little shook up after his high-speed wreck. He saw a doorway and moved over to it. He tried his fingerprint but got nothing, for reason the system rejecting his prints. Sighing he held down several buttons at once and when the system beeped and flashed he typed in the universal maintenance code and went inside.
When he trotted out ten minutes later, he was dressed again. He had been unable to pay for his clothing, so he had reset the system, used the administrative password of password on the system, and deleted the clothing from inventory.
He had noted a little oddity.
He kept getting erased from the system by the Master Computer System's error checking software, even the video of him crossing the street had his image deleted.
Sko'ou'up was grinning as he trotted down to another store, bypassed the security, and went inside. There he had the robots install better datalink hardware, updated the firmware, then did a bit of quick work on a holoterminal to crack open the security and rewrite part of the software.
For some reason, he was invisible to the system.
For a while he trotted around the city. LawSec, CorpSec, even ExecSec couldn't seem to see him. He theorized that the Master Computer System was editing him out of their retinal displays. While some people could see him, he always dressed nicely unless he was up to trouble, so for the most part people ignored him.
He was standing in a park shooting at automated toy boats he'd purchased with instant credits (which meant typing in 'paid in full' in the ledger and editing the inventory) with a ExecSec plasma rifle he'd just trotted in and taken from the armory after deleting it from the inventory.
"Why are you doing that?" a lovely voice asked. He turned around and saw a filly roughly his own age, looking at him with curiosity.
She was the first person who had actually spoken to him in a week.
"Because I can," he said.
"May I try?" she asked.
He smiled. "Certainly. Come here and I will teach you how to shoot."
Love bloomed among the plasma blasts.
"I've never been to Gro'oti'ilo'o," the female, Sha'alma'a said, smiling as she ate her food. They were at a high class restaurant at an orbital station. Sko'ou'up had altered the ship's registry to erase their additional weight when they'd hitched a ride with the resupply shuttle.
Sko'ou'up checked his datalink, easily bypassing the security.
"There's a hydroponics luxury food ship heading there. It's going the slow way, so it'll take three months," Sko'ou'up said. "Hmm, it's completely automated, but it has cabins."
"Ooh, let's do that. We can pretend we're farmers!" Sha'alma'a said, clapping her hands.
Sko'ou'up triggered a quick engine reinspection and tagged one of the old maintenance shuttles to take the two of them to the massive hydroponics ship.
They held hands and skipped down the hallway to the shuttle after their meal.
The Master Control Computer had noted the cascading errors and sent a notice for a technician to the master control stations.
A shuttle to the orbital stations had used too much fuel to get to orbit and dock with the station. The cargo was weighed, it was correct, but no simulation would use that much fuel. It was if 800 pounds had magically appeared during the flight to orbit then vanished when it docked.
The Master Control Computer altered the shuttle weights by 800 pounds, figuring aging diagnostic circuits.
The next thirty shuttles shot off into space, far too much thrust used, and vanished.
The Master Control Computer ran diagnostics to figure out what was wrong.
Sko'ou'up pranced around the hydroponics garden with Sha'alma'a, both of them gloriously nude as they picked berries to eat, grazed on rare and expensive grains, and enjoyed the luxury hydroponics even as they cared for them. Three months had been decided to be too little and Sko'ou'up had reduced the drive power so that the trip would take twice as long.
The six month trip passed too quickly for both of them, but the luxury planet of Gro'oti'ilo'o awaited.
Sko'ou'up adjusted the sensors to ignore the weight of him and his paramour when the Gro'oti'ilo'o Orbital Control Computer tried to reject the ship's request for orbit.
The Orbital Control Computer checked the weight with its altered sensors and allowed it to take orbit.
The shuttle was 800 pounds over weight, but then the numbers bobbled and it was on track.
The shuttle landed and was unloaded. The weight of the cargo was correct.
But the fuel consumption was off.
The next shuttle that lifted off was 800 pounds too light.
The Orbital Control Computer ordered the shuttles grounded.
The Master Control System noted that the ship had taken twice as long as projected, ran diagnostics, and didn't find any decrease in engine output during the trip or during diagnostics.
It ordered other ships to increase drive speed.
Cargo ships began overshooting their targets and arriving at other planets or just vanishing.
Sko'ou'up and Sha'alma'a were shocked to discover that nobody lived on the luxury resort planet. It was entirely automated, the entire planet empty, only robots that tended to the grain fields, maintained the resorts, and controlled the weather.
They played ancient games on the manicured lawns, enjoyed meals made by the long neglected chefs, and wondered at the vistas of the luxury planet.
The Master Control Computer checked the weight of the latest arrival that moved into orbit.
800 pounds off.
It denied authorization.
The ship joined the hundreds of ships in orbit around the planet.
Across the Herd Home Systems every ship, every shuttle, registered as 800 pounds light. Outside of parameters, so they were refused landing or take off or even authorization to leave orbit. Hundreds of cargo ships orbited every world, with dozens arriving every day.
The Master Control Computer signalled it needed a firmware and systems check.
In an abandoned room, in a forgotten facility, on an empty luxury and grain production planet, a single amber light kept blinking next to a small display.
The light kept blinking into an empty room who's door read: "No Admittance".
A poster beside the door bragged to any who might see it that the entire facility was undergoing automation that would allow it to be run by just one being, allowing all others who might have to work there time to instead enjoy life and luxury.
The estimated completion date was long long past.
So the light kept blinking.
"Look, more shooting stars," Sha'alma'a said, pointing at the sky. "Lets make a wish like Terran children!"
A quartet of cargo ships that had been sent to have their massive cargo holds filled with grain tumbled as they entered atmosphere and began to burn up as their fuel ran out and their orbits decayed.
Over 800 pounds of weight.
The weight of two full grown Lanaktallan.
Who stared at the sky and watched the shooting stars, holding hands and making wishes.
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2020.02.02 02:26 omvaendnin Hidden cabin voyeur

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2019.12.21 15:07 matthewsylvester Cabin voyeur hidden

He ran blindly through the low undergrowth, whimpering through his gasps for breath. Lifting his rifle he twisted slightly and fired blindly over his shoulder, switching from semi-automatic to full-auto, spraying the area behind him.
A root caught his foot and he went sprawling with a cry of fear. Face hitting the ground, he struggled to his feet, wiping at his eyes to clear them of the soft loam. Struggling for breath, he scrabbled about, looking for his rifle.
“I’m coming little dear! I’m coming!” the voice had a sing-song lilt to it. As if the hunter was speaking to a little child and not a fellow human.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he gave up trying to find his rifle, drew his pistol. Pushing himself to his feet, he shook the dizziness that sent the world spinning. He’d hit his face harder than he thought. Staggering, he started to run again. Started to, until pain lanced up his leg from his ankle.
“Dammit!” he crashed into the ground again, clutching at his ankle, whimpering as he felt bone jutting out from where bone should never jut.
“That looks painful,” the voice was just to his right. He rolled, firing until the hammer clicked home on an empty chamber.
“Missed,” my turn. A shape materialised out of the ferns, a metallic glint the last thing he saw as the hunter’s knife was driven deep into his throat.
“Man, that Samuel might bring home the bacon, but he fucking gives me the shivers,” muttered Morrisson to Chuck, his buddy from back in the service. Both of them had been police, taking up a security role on Aurora before Sentinel’s stormtroopers had made them redundant.
Chuck laughed quietly at the joke as Samuel dropped the carcass of a hog onto the canteen table, sharing a few quiet words with Lemuel, the Erehwon butcher-cum-chef.
“He’s a stone cold killer,” Chuck muttered back just as quietly. Both of them knew a killer when they saw one. Some killers were soldiers, killing out of a sense of duty. Others, like Samuel were just killers, murderers. Neither of them could say exactly why they thought that, just that after years on the streets and in interrogation rooms they knew the true nature of the man they were watching.
Morrisson shifted his view slightly. Everyone possessed the innate ability to know when they were being watched, and a predator such as Samuel would easily pick up on their stares if they weren’t careful.
“He’s a valuable asset,” Chuck pointed to the hog. “Without the food that he brings in, we’d be a lot hungrier.”
“I know, I know,” sighed Morrisson. “I just don’t like the fact that we have someone like that walking around our families.”
“He might be a psycho, but at least he’s our psycho,” his friend patted him on the shoulder. “So long as we keep an eye on him, he can’t make trouble here. Besides, he seems to enjoy helping us.”
Samuel finished up his business with Lemuel, shaking hands with the other man before shouldering his hunting rifle and making his way over to Maria. Shaking her hand, he handed her the bag he’d had on his back.
“Fuck me, where’d he get those?” Morrisson and Chuck watched as Maria unpacked three assault rifles, numerous magazines and a couple of pistols followed by chest armour and harnesses. “That’s Sentinel gear.”
“Looks like he’s hunting more than one type of game,” Chuck pretended to tighten his laces. “He’s got to be damned good if he can take on the type of PMC that Sentinel hire.”
Morrisson didn’t reply, chewing his lip as he realised that Samuel was going to be much more of a threat than he’d previously thought.
“Roger that, callsign Baker Two commencing sweep,” the patrol leader gestured to the other two men with him and they moved out, a few metres separating them. They were casual, weapons held low, not really checking all of the angles. Tail end Charlie rarely even turned to see if they were being followed.
“Careless,” whispered the hunter to themselves as he ghosted through the undergrowth. He left them get a lead of ten or so metres, shifting his angle of approach so that we was slightly to their left.
One of the Sentinels turned his head and the hunter froze, holding his breath, looking down at the ground, using his peripheral vision to continue to watch the Sentinels. The man’s head turned away, and the hunter moved again.
Of all of them, that one was the most alert.
He should have been the patrol leader, not that dumb sheep leading them, thought the hunter.
Dropping to his knee, he tucked his rifle into his shoulder, laying the reticle of his scope onto the back of the Sentinel’s head.
“Boom, headshot,” his rifle coughed, suppressor turning what should have been a loud roar into a sharp crack. It wasn’t silent, suppressed weapons never were unless they were in films, but it was considerable quieter than an unsuppressed weapon.
“What …” the Sentinels leader was still trying to process the fact that he was covered in his friend’s brains when the hunter’s second shot took him in the throat. Dropping to the floor, gobbling like a turkey, the Sentinel leader thrashed about as he took his last few dying breaths.
A third shot and the last Sentinel was down, a heavy slug pulverising his heart, dropping him instantly.
Silence reigned, the hunter slowly panning his scope back and forth, waiting to see if he was actually the hunted. One minute, then another passed. Finally, after five minutes and no sign of other enemies, the hunter moved slowly forward and started to gather his trophies.
“Jesus, three more. He’s going to bring some serious shit down on himself if he’s not careful,” Chuck examined the receiver on his M416, holding it up to the light to make sure it was as clean as the day it was first made.
Morrisson looked down his barrel, pretending to examine it for any dirt, but using it to look at Samuel as the man handed Maria yet more weaponry.
“Not a mark on him, cool as a fucking cucumber,” Chuck blew on the receiver then started to clean it again.
“I get the feeling that he kills humans as easily as he kills those hogs he brings in. No difference, only one might be slightly harder to kill than the other.”
Chuck reassembled his rifle, working the action to make sure it was to his satisfaction, dry firing it before putting it down and setting to work on loading his magazines. Morrisson smiled as Chuck started to polish every round before carefully pushing them into the magazine. It was what set the two men apart from many of the homesteaders. They still had professional pride, realised that a clean round could literally mean the difference between life or death.
“We still hitting that truck?” Chuck pushed the last round home, then started work on the next magazine’s worth.
“Yep. They’re setting up a communications point just west of an old fort. Usual three-man crew, maybe a civilian specialist with them. We’re to leave the specialist, just take out the guards and blow the truck.”
Chuck spat onto the ground. Whilst many of the civilians were working for the Sentinels because they’d been forced to at the end of barrel, many others, too many others if they were honest, were more than happy to work for the Sentinels.
“Well, give me another twenty minutes and I’ll be ready,” Chuck laid aside a round he didn’t like the look of.
Morrisson nodded, saying nothing as he watched Samuel head back out.
“Bastards have got a drone with them,” whispered Morrisson as he watched the Sentinels go about their work. One of them was clearly a commander, the other two were assault troopers.
“Civilian working on the laptop,” Chuck replied, marking the civilian as he did.
“Three enemies, two of us. Hardly seems to be fair,” Morrison pinged the two targets he was going to take, the commander and the drone hovering above them. “You cool taking the other two?”
“Roger that amigo. Count it down.”
Morrison started breathing slowly, trying to still his pounding heart, ignoring the mouth which had suddenly gone as dry as sand, the sweat on his palm. It always happened when it came to having to take someone’s life. As cop he’d only had to fire his sidearm once, and the incident had seared itself into his brain, waking him many years later.
Since Sentinel had arrived, and since they’d driven the homesteaders and many Skell employees into hiding, he’d been forced to take more lives. Each and every one had been seared into his brain.
Sniping someone is far more personal than he realised. You get to watch the person you’re shooting at, sometimes even hearing snatches of their conversations, personalising them before snatching their lives away.
He breathed out, then held his breath, his sight centred directly on the commander’s red-bereted head. A slow count of one, then he squeezed the trigger. His rifle bucked, a three-round burst hammering through the commander’s skull in an explosion of bone and brain matter. Before the commander’s colleague’s had a chance to react he shifted his aim and blew the drone out of the sky in a shower of sparks and shrapnel.
“Targets down,” Chuck was up and moving, rifle tucked into his shoulder, scanning for additional targets. “Stay the fuck down!”
That last was directed towards the civilian who, being covered in the bodily fluids of the dead Sentinels, was quite rightly freaking out in Morrisson’s opinion. Chuck played the assault part of their team, whilst Morrisson stayed in overwatch.
“Push the civilian away, and we’ll blow the truck,” Morrisson ordered as he panned around, looking for any additional targets.
What the fuck? He could have sworn he spotted movement as his rifle panned over a section of brush. Panning back, he stared hard at the area. Nothing moved, but his gut told him something was wrong.
“Move quickly, we’ve got a guest. Can’t see them, but my gut’s doing backflips,” Morrisson radioed to Chuck.
“Roger that,” Chuck hauled the frightened scientist to her feet, then booted her rear and sent her running. Whilst he set about planting C4, Morrisson continued to scan the area of brush.
Where the fuck are you? He was certain he’d seen movement. Movement that couldn’t be explained by a breeze, or a small animal moving through it. Not even a bird. Someone had been watching them. Whether they were there now he couldn’t be sure, but whilst Chuck was vulnerable there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that he wasn’t going to keep looking for the threat.
“On my way back,” Morrisson took his eye from his sight, looking over at his friend as Chuck sprinted away from the truck, remote detonator in hand.
“Fire in the hole!” Chuck dropped back down next to Morrison and squeezed the trigger. With a bright flash of light, the truck was blown apart, the shockwave blasting over the two men as they ducked their heads.
“Want to check on our voyeur?” Chuck raised an eyebrow.
“No, let’s get the hell out of here, I can still hear the damned echoes from that blast,” Morrisson pushed himself to his feet and ran towards where they’d parked their motocross bikes.
Morrisson and Chuck sat around the Erehwon campfire, sharing a meal of beans and rice. Whilst they were accepted by the Homesteaders, there was still an air of reservation. They’d been part of Skell Security Operations, and when some of their colleagues had been co-opted by Sentinel, that shit had rubbed off.
“Samuel’s back,” Chuck gave a slight nod in the direction of the hunter. “More hog, some bananas.”
“No weapons this time,” Morrison spooned a mouthful, wishing he had some tabasco sauce. “Looks like he’s left the Sentinels alone this time.”
“That, or we took the ones he was planning on. He did leave just before us, and it’s what, only thirty minutes since we got back?” Chuck leaned over and ladled another serving into his mess tin. They got extra rations for carrying out missions and, since both liked their food, they were more than happy to take advantage of that.
“Notice he only ever speaks to the high-ups, and a few others?” Morrisson swallowed, watching from the corner of his eye as Samuel moved through the camp. “Seems pretty tight with that couple there. Man and woman.”
“Yeah, seen them talking to each other before. Not many others though,” Chuck dipped a slice of bread into his food, stuffing it into his mouth and chewing loudly with an open mouth. It was an ongoing joke, harking back to when their parents tried to instil good manners.
“Pig,” Morrisson stretched, using it as an excuse to turn his head and get a good look at the couple Chuck was talking about. “Seen. Wonder if they get a weird vibe from him?”
“Not by the way they’re talking to him. All smiles,” Chuck finished off the last of his meal, scraping every last bit of the food from the tin before putting it to one side. “What we going to do?”
“Watch and wait, nothing we can do without evidence. And I’m not going to go looking for where he lives. That would … escalate things.”
Samuel said his good byes to the couple, then turned and stared at both of the ex-cops. Seconds passed as the three men just looked at each other. None of them moved. None of them spoke. Then the hunter smiled, gave a little wave, and left.
“Those two are looking upset,” Chuck pointed over at the couple they’d seen speaking to Samuel. Ever since the standoff a while ago, they hadn’t seen Samuel.
“Wonder what they’re saying to the operator?” Morrisson put the map he’d been studying down and looked over at the couple, and the bear of a man speaking to them.
“Talk of the town aren’t they. Our rescuers, knocked out of the sky by drones, hardly a chalk left intact.”
“Let’s go ask,” Morrisson walked over to the ghost. “Hey man, everything okay with those two?”
The ghost looked them over. His face was hard bitten, eyes permanently narrowed. A full-on hard ass who’d seen more shit than a public toilet. A scar ran full length down his face, and Morrisson spotted what looked like burns spreading up from his collar.
“They’ve lost a friend. Some hunter,” the ghost’s voice was a lot warmer than Morrisson expected.
“Samuel?” Chuck asked.
“That’s him. What can you tell me?”
“Loner. Good at hunting. Beast or man doesn’t seem to make a difference to him. Was wondering what happened to that psycho fuck.”
“You two ex-cops?” it was less of a question, more of a statement.
“Yeah, police department, then Skell Security, then .. this,” Chuck waved his hand at the cave they were in. “Still, hard to shake the habit.”
“Anything else you can tell me?”
“That’s it. Consummate hunter. One dangerous fucker,” Morrisson added. “He knows we don’t like him much too. Let us know he knows we’re watching him.”
Sighing, the ghost nodded his thanks then took his leave.
“A word?” the ghost they’d spoken too previously lowered himself down next to them, passing out a couple of MRE – Meal Ready to Eat – packs, not waiting for a reply.
“Hey man, how’d the mission go?” Chuck tore the pack open. “Beef Teriyaki! Fucking yes!”
“I completed it,” the ghost opened up his MRE and started to eat without reading what was in it. “Guy’s a fucking psycho. Gave us access to his cabin. It’s got a cellar.”
Morrisson put his pack of Maple Sausage down, appetite gone. Chuck met his eyes, it was clear that his friend also knew what was coming.
“Let me guess. It’s a kill room,” stated Chuck.
“You’re the experts, but there was a Sentinel on the table who’d had a drill taken to him, and dead civilians in a corner. I don’t know if the Sentinels killed them and Samuel’s just put the bodies there, or if he killed them himself. That’s for you to find out.”
He reached into his shirt pocket and took out a key card.
“He has a cabin South of Mossy Pond in Sinking County, just here,” he pointed to a location on the map that Morrisson had been using. “Then up on a rise, there’s a small shed. That’s what this key card is for. The kill room is beneath it.”
“Any idea where Samuel is?”
“Nah, he made off once I’d dealt with the Sentinel death squad sent to remove him. There were three in his hunting grounds, and another at his place. Got there just in time.”
Morrisson wasn’t sure that was good news or not. Still, innocent until proven guilty.
“Thanks, guess we’ll take it from here, you say his cabin is here?”
The three of them looked over the map, the ghost marking out the approach he’d taken to reach the cabin, all three agreeing that it was probably best they headed directly to the shed as the entrance was hidden from the cabin.
“No traps?”
“Nothing there when I was. Might have changed though.” The ghost didn’t need to warn them to be careful. With someone like this, it was a given. Shaking hands, they parted, and Morrisson and Chuck got down to planning their next steps.
“I can see the shed, just up on the rise,” Morrisson whispered over his radio. They’d managed to borrow some throat mikes and earpieces, so he was able to sub-vocalise.
“Gotcha, moving up to the forked tree twenty metres to my twelve,” Chuck moved as he was talking, keep in a low crouch, placing his feet carefully.
“Reckon he’s still here considering that death squad knew his location?”
“Depends. Does he gamble on the fact that they know he knows they know where he is, or does he relocate? In position. Move.”
Morrisson didn’t bother answering Chuck’s question. It was rhetorical. They still had to assume that Samuel was around. To do otherwise could prove fatal. Moving through the brush, he split his attention between his next step and the area around them.
Dropping down onto his belly, he sighted on the shed door.
“Got the door covered. Get up there.”
Chuck moved again, rifle tucked into his shoulder, each step placed carefully before the next was taken. It was painfully slow. Literally. Morrisson’s thighs were already screaming from the slow approach they’d made and he swore that if they made it out of this alive, he’d be hitting the gym and squatting for all he was worth.
Chuck tucked himself against the wall of the shed and gestured for Morrisson to move up. They wouldn’t speak again until they were in the shed. Morrisson moved, weapon trained on the shed door whilst Chuck covered him, making sure that his six was protected.
Morrisson breathed out in relief when he stacked in behind Chuck.
“Slice the pie, or fast?” whispered Chuck so quietly that Morrisson barely heard him in his earpiece.
“Fast, I’m getting twitchy out here.”
Chuck nodded, then moved as soon as Morrisson patted his shoulder. Keying the door open, Chuck moved in and to the left, whilst Morrisson moved in and to the right. Both of them swept their weapons across the nearest corners of the room before clearing the rest of the small room.
“Clear,” Morrisson whispered. Blinking at the sudden stinging in his eyes, he wiped a sleeve across his face, clearing it of the sweat running down it.
“Hatch in the floor,” Chuck had his weapon aim at the hatch.
Morrisson moved up, keeping his weapon trained on the opening. The ghost hadn’t closed it since his visit. Nose wrinkling at the smell coming up through the hole, Morrisson looked over at Chuck who nodded. Both of them recognised the stench of rotting flesh.
“Going to be nasty,” Chuck’s voice was neutral, devoid of emotion as he reined in any emotions.
“Moving,” Morrisson stepped up and swept his sights around the hatch, making sure no-one was hiding. Slinging his rifle, he grabbed hold of the ladder leading into the cellar and slid quickly down.
“God!” the stench hit him hard, eyes watering, gorge rising. He drew his pistol and stepped away from the ladder, clearing the room as quickly as he could before calling out for Chuck to join him.
“Motherfucker!” Chuck shook his head in disgust as he looked at the kill room. The dead Sentinel trooper was still on the table, a DeWalt drill next to him. In one of the corners was a pile of civilian bodies.
“Look at this, the trooper has been tortured, the civilians look like clean kills,” Morrisson had his phone out and was filming the scene. Taking a breath through his mouth, he leaned in to make sure that he captured all of the details.
“Grab that light for me,” he pointed over his shoulder, “picture’s too grainy.”
Shutting out the sight of the bodies, he concentrated on making sure he got as much detail as possible.
Going to have fucking nightmares for weeks, he thought as the light bared the true nature of the bodies piled before him.
“What you think? Shoots civilians, kills Sentinels. Or Sentinels killed the civilians and he brought the bodies here for whatever reason?” Chuck asked.
“Fuck knows. Gut says the former. I’m hoping for the latter,” Morrisson locked his phone. “Let’s get out of here. We’ll leave it as is for now, come back with a proper team to bury the victims.”
Climbing the ladder, he unslung his rifle.
“Game face on, fucker could be waiting outside.”
“Roger that, you going to take point this time?” It was an old joke, they swapped who went first, happy to share the risk.
“Guess it is my turn,” chuckled Morrisson as he stepped out of the shed and turned swiftly left. That was what saved him as a bullet struck the shed just where his head would have been.
“Contact front!” he screamed, throwing himself down the slope, sliding into the cover of a large tree. Firing off a couple of shots in the direction he thought the shot had come from he looked over his shoulder to make sure that Chuck was still in the game.
“You okay?” called his friend, laying down fire from within the shelter of the shed.
“Fucker missed!” Morrisson moved to the other side of his tree and popped off another couple of rounds. There was no return fire. “He’s hunting us. Reckon he’s trying to get an angle on me.”
Morrisson looked to his left and right, trying to work out the best angle for Samuel to get a bead on him.
“He’s going to move to my nine to eleven o’clock, can you get out of the shed?”
“Working on it now,” Chuck replied, the sound of a knife digging into wood coming over Morrisson’s ear piece. Morrisson shifted his angle slightly, making sure that he didn’t expose his back as he covered the angle he thought Samuel would be taking. “I’m through, dropping down to the pond and looping out. I’ll move fifty metres, then sweep back in.”
“Roger that,” Morrisson tried to ignore the pressure between his shoulder blades, the thought of a bullet ripping through his spine, or the cold edge of a knife cutting his throat. Hands shaking, he tried to steady his breath.
I wouldn’t hit the side of a barn from the fucking inside right now, get a damned grip Morrisson! He pounded his thigh, using the dull pain to focus.
“Don’t fucking move!” screamed Chuck, somewhere to his ten o’clock, followed by a flurry of gun fire. “Fucker’s moving towards you.”
A shape appeared, broken up by the ghillie suit covering it, running at an angle to Morrisson, back towards the pond. Morrisson took a shot, in his excitement he laid the sights directly on the target, his bullet going to where Samuel had been, not to where he was.
Cursing, Morrisson shifted aim, leading the hunter by just a few inches and took another shot. Blood puffed into the air, Samuel grunting then planting face first into the ground.
“He’s down! Moving up!” thigh muscles screaming, Morrisson moved rapidly towards the now screaming Samuel. As soon as he reached the man he kicked his rifle further away. “Freeze!”
“You fucking traitor! You’re as bad as them!” Samuel snarled through bloodied teeth. Morrisson looked at Samuel’s hand as it clutched at his chest, covering where Morrisson had hit him.
Lung shot, thought Morrisson with no pity for the man. He’d tried to kill them in cold blood rather than actually speak to them and explain what had happened. Fucking hope it hurts.
“What do you mean we’re traitors?” asked Chuck, weapon still trained on the hunter.
“Those civilians, they worked with Sentinel. So I executed them. They’re traitors, working with killers.”
“And the Sentinel on the table?” asked Morrisson.
“I needed information. So I drilled it out of him,” Samuel tried to laugh, but it turned into a choking gargle and a gush of blood.
Morrisson pulled out his phone and hit record.
“So you’re admitting to murdering unarmed civilians, and torturing Sentinel troopers, as well as trying to kill us because we’d found out what you were doing?”
“Fucking right, and I’d do it again,” choked Samuel.
Morrisson locked his phone.
“Fucker’s reaching for a weapon,” he said as calmly as if he was commenting on the weather.
“No choice but to defend ourselves,” Chuck’s voice was just as conversational.
Morrisson wasn’t sure who fired first, but both of their rifles barked, Samuel twitching the last few seconds of his life out in the dirt.
“I need a drink,” Chuck put a fresh magazine into his rifle.
“God damn now you’re talking,” smiled Morrisson and with that, they returned to Erehwon.
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2019.12.03 23:18 alarmpeil23 Hidden cabin voyeur

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2018.04.03 20:44 MordethKai The Fundamental Problem with Missions

Well, if you'll excuse my wall of text, just putting a few thoughts out there.
As has been said a hundred times before, ED is a mile wide but an inch deep, or as I like to say, an amazing sim but a shit game. While I could go on about how miners need something to do with minerals besides selling them, or how explorers need better tools, or how PvP'rs need a meaningful way to have wars that don't involve passive aggressive BGS shenanigans ran in solo and private groups, I think I'll beat the dead horse called missions today.
The fundamental problem with missions is that they are all shit tier fetch quests. There's nothing wrong with fetch quests as long as that isn't all there is, and therein lays the problem, every mission type is a variant of fetch quests. What there needs to be are crafted, and maybe a bit randomized scenarios that have depth, story, and dialogue. For example, you could take a mission to help police patrol a belt as an easy mission, go to the mission specified waypoint where a small patrol will be waiting, the player then needs to follow them and take out pirates preying on the miners, which players already do only now there will be dialogue between the patrol and the player establishing the player as one of them instead of a creepy voyeur opportunist. Then add in a random pool of possible scenarios that can occur during the patrol, like coming upon a smugglers stash, or a small hidden asteroid pirate base, or other scripted events. You could be sent on a mission to defend something, maybe a meeting between members of two factions, or scientists performing an experiment, or hired by a miner as a body guard, each with possible random events, but the important thing is crafted scenarios that give the player an impression of being part of something.
TL/DR: We need crafted scenarios with dialogue and story instead of fetch quests.
With something like this in place, you can segregate the missions by difficulty tiers so players choose what they are comfortable with and are paid accordingly. The idea of the BGS tailoring difficulty to each player was good in theory, but in practice it was a colossal failure. The other thing this would solve is mission stacking.
On the fetch quests themselves, I wouldn't mind seeing them replaced with a more fluid contract system. For instance, instead of a hauling fetch quest you can choose from a set of destinations that need x commodity shipped to, then you set the amount and scale the pay based on that and other relevant factors. Or instead of passenger missions, you can look through different hot spots that people want to go to, maybe set some tourist detours on the flight plan, set the destination, prices that vary by distance, complexity, and cabin type, so luxury cabins might pay more per customer but fill slower, have them all fill at different rates depending on the reason the hot spot is hot (fleeing refugees, slave transport, or tourists?), give the player advertising options, and factor in reputation, and make the advertising a real time activity that holds the players attention while they wait. Turning the fetch quests into contracts where the player plans out the details and has this thing called 'agency' could go a long ways to improve immersion if done right. Also, end mission stacking by making it irrelevant instead of nerfing it into uselessness.
TL/DR: Replace fetch quests with contracts where the player sets most of the terms, that focuses on player agency.
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2017.06.23 16:37 SA311 Hidden cabin voyeur

Here's my original post from Wednesday The following is the latest from Anoa Changa from The Way with Anoa:
"Why I Challenged Claudia and Debbie For Racism in Their Commentary This Week."
The situation involving me and two other independent media commentators is not an issue of “different languages.” It is not about a coordinated attack to “take them down.”
It is a clear example of adventures in whiteness, entitlement, and privilege.
We cannot bridge gaps while also disregarding the facts and the unwillingness to apologize for the original offense.
In the past few days, Claudia Stauber of Cabin Talk and Debbie Lusignan aka “Sane Progressive” have continued to post commentary and videos that do not address the facts of the issues that caused this situation. Several of these videos have been since deleted after the live streams occurred.
A Few Quick Articles for Background Reading
White Feminist Tears
White Feminists Addressing Their Own Racism
Anti-Racism Work in The Peace Movement
Last weekend, the duo were among attendees at The United National Antiwar Coalition Conference in Richmond, Virginia. Speakers included Ajamu Baraka, Brian Becker, Glen Ford, and Lamont Lilly.
The call to action stated expressly that: There must be an alternative to the neoliberalism of the Democrats and the nationalist-populism of Trump. We need an independent movement to address both the economic needs of poor and working people and the escalating attacks on the Black community, immigrants, women, unions, LGBTQ folks, refugees, Muslims, the physically and mentally challenged, youth, students, the elderly, Mother Earth - all of us. And we need to END THE WARS that are promoted by both major parties, from the ongoing wars in the Middle East and Northern Africa waged during the Obama years to the threats against Iran and North Korea coming from the new administration.
The three-day conference included a 90-minute workshop in Room B14. That workshop was on the schedule. It was sponsored by the Black Alliance for Peace, and it was open to all people of African descent at the conference. This session is where our story begins. According to a video made after the conference, on June 20, Claudia was initially interested in learning more about the perspective and what the workshop was about. At the beginning of her video, she notes that she didn’t even pay attention to the African descent part.
Did you watch the video? If you did, you likely noticed that Claudia was permitted to attend but that she was upset that she could not live-stream. While she starts off in her video discussing wanting to learn, she says later that she was upset she could not report. She and Debbie live-streamed most, if not all, of the event.
This is about Claudia being mad that someone told her NO. It is not about racism.
This initial video is HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC for three major reasons:

  1. Claudia did not talk to anyone at the conference about the sessions. She does not know why a black woman was allowed to stream and she was not. She never tried to air her grievance with people who were there who could have explained the situation to her. But even if she had, one person being allowed to do something in a closed space is not a valid reason to go charging off to the internet to cry racism.
  2. Claudia levied a serious accusation because she as an individual was denied the opportunity to do something, and she makes false comparisons to racism while not even understanding it -- by her own admission. She has said she does not have time to learn about racism. Since she does not understand it, she should not be comparing anything to it. But instead of trying to learn, she has chosen to air her grievance publicly as an independent content creator to her audience.
  3. Claudia tries to excuse her behavior because she grew up poor and is not from this country. First off, racism is not simply an American issue. And second, no one is taking away Claudia’s background and upbringing. Again if she knew anything about her history, she would know that struggles have long been tied together. For someone to profess ignorance on a subject but to be so adamant that it happened is a serious issue.
Upon seeing the video, I and others were appalled by the comments both on FB and YouTube with a majority-white audience upset that this white woman had faced racism at a peace event by black activists. All they knew was that Claudia’s feelings were hurt. So I and others responded and pushed back on the narrative.
I also tagged Claudia in linking to several articles and even a book that discussed black spaces and why colorblindness is a problem. In justifying her qualifications to discuss racism -- despite her saying she doesn’t have time to learn about racism and that she doesn’t understand racism -- she continues to flaunt her book chapter on Black Lives Matter. Writing a chapter on a phenomenon, as we have seen with many articles and social media postings by others, does not begin to demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of the issues at hand. If it did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Claudia blocked me and others and put out a live video, which she later tried to delete. At no point does she take responsibility for her initial video or try to understand why accusing other activists of racism was wrong. She has been doubling and tripling down on her message that people just hate her because she’s white. It’s a trope, and it’s sad. This is the type of mentality black people and others of color have been fighting for generations. This is the same type of behavior we denounced when it came from Hillary Clinton and her followers, but in this case, the deflection of valid criticism is cast as racist. Claudia made a public video as a public figure and made unfounded allegations rooted deeply in racial ignorance. She has made no attempt to correct her inflammatory public commentary.
On Wednesday, Jacqueline Luqman and I had a nearly two-hour discussion of this issue, putting it in the greater context of racism in America and our organizing efforts in progressive movement spaces. Last night, Jacqueline made this video after Debbie and Claudia repeatedly attempted to keep spinning this issue away from the facts.
At some point, like a good friend, Debbie the “Sane Progressive” decided to step in and support her friend. Instead of talking to her friend about the problems with the very public video alleging racism, Debbie stepped in it herself with her own belittling and incoherent tirade about political divisiveness and identity politics. She tried to delete this video.
Yesterday she did another live video, this time claiming to be about bridging divides. Here’s the thing: Neither Claudia nor Debbie will own up to the initial issue. How can a divide be bridged if they are not even trying to accept any responsibility? Claudia then tried to tag in Niko House and Tim Black, as if the black men can come and protect her. The levels of hubris and insanity in this entire debacle are astounding.
However, the fact still remains that on June 20, Claudia Stauber posted a video alleging that a workshop (in a space seeking to lift up marginalized voices) was racist because she could not stream and share the internal conversation with her followers. Subsequently, Debbie and Claudia have doubled down, denied responsibility, and continue to deflect with comments about peace and love. There is nothing peaceful and loving about alleging that black activists who are organizing for justice are racist. There is nothing peaceful and loving about gaslighting and saying that because of me, one black person, you will never talk to or deal with any other black people ever again. There is nothing peaceful and loving about acknowledging ignorance of a subject that is deeply intrinsic to the issue you are professing to discuss but aren’t willing to learn and understand.
This is not about racism. This is about voyeurism and childlike petulance when being told no. This is not about hating white people or hating Claudia because she is white. This is about accountability. When people put forth accusations as Claudia did in her June 20 video, they need to be held accountable, particularly when they’re people who hold themselves out as voices of the progressive movement and independent media.
This is also about the countless white progressives and liberals who think this type of mentality and commentary is okay because -- for some reason -- they are entitled to every space available. No one is taking the time to understand why organizers even felt the need to have a black-led space, or what the purpose of such spaces even is. The funny/sad part is that Claudia and Debbie have proven why sometimes people of color chose to be among themselves.
Claudia broke a trust. She was allowed to be in a space that was not envisioned for her, and instead of recognizing and reflecting on what she learned in that 90 minutes, she could not see past the fact that she wasn’t allowed to stream. And suddenly, not being able to do what she wanted when she wanted meant the situation was racist and we all just hate her because she’s white.
To those who say “but Claudia is so sweet” or “you should be patient,” I am giving Claudia the same consideration she gave the organizers of the conference and leaders of the workshop. This is a public personality who made public statements, with a cadre of followers who chimed in. We have a segment of people even within our progressive spaces who believe that if white people are not present in everything that is done, all the time as watchful overseers, it is racism and must be stopped. This is a huge problem. We have a lot of work to do. A good first step is for people close to Debbie and Claudia who understand about anti-racism work and racial justice to get them to stop making these videos without a better understanding. Explain to them the history of white women, tears, and false accusations. Sorry didn’t save Rosewood or stop Emmett Till from being murdered, but it could start a chapter in understanding for both women and those who follow them.
Update: A previous version of this piece stated that a video by Debbie had been deleted. Information provided at the time indicated the video had been deleted or otherwise hidden from public viewing. As an adult it is important we reflect and acknowledge errors as they arise, and not simply deflect from the initial mistake made. However, the content of this video and level of deflection of real concerns continues to speak for itself. Identity politics and other reductionist notions of racism cannot be used as a defense when critique toward behavior and lack of accountability is raised.
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2017.02.14 08:08 EmperorSagan [OC] The People of the Wasteland (Part 2)

Previous Part A continuation from Professor Vasaro’s Memoirs We approached Earth cautiously. Traveling at optimal sublight speeds would put us not too far from the planet’s moon in just a few short days, and from there we could safely monitor the region under the protection of our modest stealth capabilities. We weren’t equipped with much, nothing military grade, but we were practically invisible to any active or passive sensors, no matter how strong they were. It was still enough to confuse even our own probes, a flaw for a science ship I thought. We had to result to using data buoys around our ship, acting as miniature relay stations for our probes, which were far too small to be detected by themselves. There were some vocal opponents to this, of course, arguing that perhaps the humans had the technology to spot our probe drones. It wasn’t impossible, but it was extremely unlikely. Tolkov’s Species Classification was a very reliable way in making estimations in regards to the technology level of pre-FTL species, and according to our current observations of humanity, it was extremely unlikely they had sensor technology to detect an object the size and shape of a saucer that was hardly three feet in diameter. Not at this range.
So once we were at a comfortable distance, we unleashed our probes. There was only a dozen of them, so we watched them carefully. Needless to say, they were very expensive and that was more of a concern to some than possible detection by the humans at this stage. Personally, I didn’t mind how they were used. I wanted to see this species. My curiosity was unbearable.
Having learned from our discovery on the desert world, we first had our probes scour the surface of the chalky white moon. As far as natural satellites went, it wasn’t terribly interesting. This particular one was simply a barren rock, scarred in numerous impact craters. No seemingly active tectonic activity, no large ice caps. It was tidally locked, also common for satellites of its size. Besides for our geologists, no one seemed to care too greatly about the moon except for one detail: humans had been here too.
In this case, this species was far more involved with their moon than they were with the distant red planet. And why not? It was close and was almost always a first step for any spacefaring civilization. Conquer the moon, then other planets, and then the stars. It was a universal pattern. So when our probes detected structures on the surface, we pulled back and went quiet. Domes dotted the surface, connected by snaking tubes, surrounded by smaller structures of various sizes. What appeared to be vehicles were scattered near what were clearly mining operations of some sort. Large, deep troughs were dug into the satellite’s surface, stretching for miles. I wasn’t a geologist myself, so I couldn’t say what the humans were mining for, but it was impressive nonetheless.
A species’ first step in establishing themselves off world. It was a little emotional to think about.
But something was also wrong here. It quickly became apparent that there wasn’t any activity at all. The vehicles left in the pits and on the surface weren’t moving. Some structures weren’t completed, and some even seemed damaged. A few antenna emitted looping signals of machine gibberish. We watched and listened for hours, and we found nothing. When the probes got closer, nothing. Footage was streamed to the crew, allowing everyone to see for ourselves what the humans had built – and abandoned. Our machines flew in close to the domes, unable to see anything within. Everywhere they went, the facility appeared lifeless. Numbers or letters (we couldn’t decipher their alphabet yet) were bleached from solar radiation and fading. Surely there would have been some upkeep?
After half an hour of investigating, we found our first sign of life. Or so we thought. A probe spotted a massive vehicle, flanked by two large wheels on either side, with a large basket covering up the rear. The basket was half-filled with soil, but that wasn’t the interesting part. The vehicle itself had gotten stuck on a large antenna-like structure and had kept driving without making any distance. Instead, its wheels had dug as far as they could into the ground before they couldn’t go any further, leaving the large soil-hauler lodged into the ground. Yet the wheels kept turning, slowly, nonstop. It was an automated machine, we realized. How long had it been like this? Long enough. Yet no other machines were still running, all were frozen as if they had been simply been turned off with the flip of a switch. Perhaps they had.
At this point, there were various crewmembers presenting a lot of strong opinions. They ranged from plausible to outlandish, but they all had one common theme: something had drawn this species away from their off-world holdings, and it probably wasn’t good.
Knowing we wouldn’t find any more answers here, or bickering amongst ourselves, we turned out attention away from the moon and toward the planet before us. Earth.
The first things one always noticed about a planet was its color. Earth was primarily brown. There were some shades of grey and a little green, and the massive oceans were dark blue. The atmosphere was a rage of white-grey clouds, with several astonishingly large storms crawling across its surface. A single one covered most of the continent it was over, and the equator of the planet seemed volatile. Were those storms the reason humanity hadn’t returned to space? Storms of that size had to have been catastrophic. No vessel could be launched from the surface and hope to pass through such violent weather safely. Yet, there were plenty of locations without these storms. Perhaps it was just natural? The Gresha lived on a world of perpetual storms and they had successfully emerged as a spacefaring civilization long before the community at large had discovered them. It wasn’t impossible.
What we couldn’t see with our eyes was seen by our sensors and machines. The Earth was cooler than we had expected, with some regions very dry while others were very wet – much more than usual for any continental climate world, well past any normal variation. It seemed much of the world was also covered in a near constant haze, difficult to see by eye in contrast to the thick storms, like a fog.
There was also radiation.
This discovery brought about a great deal of dread and concern. I will never forget the silence that fell upon the crowd gathered in the cantina as we watched the sensor and video data scroll by on the large screens. The quiet seemed to stretch on forever until everyone exploded into discussion all at once. It was mayhem. Scientists shouting over each other, technicians arguing, and even a few emotionally upset at realizing what this likely meant. It felt like a riot was going to break out, between all the yelling and commotion, but I remained silent. My eyes were glued to the display screen on the wall before me, taking in everything that was being recorded.
The most intense areas of radiation were concentrated in small regions, scattered across the visible contents. These locations were obviously population centers, cities destroyed by the rage of nuclear weapons. Most species at some point in their early existence faced a great challenge, an obstacle that they had to overcome or it would destroy them - if not outright, than in an unstoppable chain of events. Nuclear weapons when discovered, and they almost always were, were one such great hurdle. We, the Rashi, also faced this challenge and safely overcame the possibility of destroying our world and people by shunning these weapons. Don’t let me fool you though, it wasn’t without violence. Years of global war ravaged our planet as we fought to extinguish each other in a hope that no one could be powerful enough to hold the rest under the reach of nuclear weapons. We succeeded by disgusting ourselves with our atrocities and having no will to continue. It seemed that humanity had sunk beneath the waves of time, felled by their own weapons of war like so many others.
I had gone to bed that night cycle with a sour mood. My hopes of studying a new, living species and introducing them to the galaxy had been crushed. An entire people were dead. My thoughts had kept me awake long enough that when someone pounded on my cabin door, I wasn’t terribly startled and was able to answer them. There was another commotion in the hallway, it seemed, and people were hurrying back to the cantina. Our probes had spread out around the dead world during the past several hours, examining the landscape for a suitable and safe landing site.
What they found instead were humans. Alive.
It was impossible, I firmly told myself. There was a mistake somewhere. No one was capable of surviving a nuclear war of this magnitude! The planet was suffering, a husk of what it had been. The scarred landscape was visible from space, entire regions burned away from the resulting firestorms, whole swaths of land bathed in deadly radiation that would cook you in minutes. The oceans were acidic and mega-storms ran rampant. The world was dying. No species had even been found to live through such events. They weren’t called tomb worlds for nothing.
All screens in the cantina were on again, many showing different video feeds from different locations around the globe. The smaller screens showed various landscapes, such as the skeletal remains of massive burned out cities, but the larger ones showed living humans.
The first screen I watched was of a group of bipedal creatures traveling across a dry grassy landscape, accompanied by four-legged animals that were clearly overburdened by an amazing amount of materials strapped to them. These bipeds, who we knew to be humans at once (of course, at that time we didn’t actually know what they called themselves, only that we knew these were the primary species), were covered in a strange assortment of materials. They wore clothing, like most species did, but there was just so much. Each one seemed to be covered in rags, many wearing protective clothing such as hats and masks. We couldn’t see them in great detail from afar, as the drone viewing them was using its maximum zoom, but it even appeared some wore armor of a sort. How much of what they wore was cultural or a necessity from their environment wasn’t known yet. What could only be weapons, though, were carried in their hands and on their backs, evidence that they either still fought each other or still needed to defend themselves from what other living creatures were left.
I could hardly believe my eyes. One screen showed what I assumed to be a tribe of some sort riding together in a desert, all mobilized and utilizing vehicles of various sizes and decorated in a curious manner of junk. They sped across the desert landscape like devils, hanging off of their rides and gesturing wildly to each other. A different screen, showing a vastly different location, displayed a bustling city built out of the ruins of another. Our probe was hidden within a ruined vacant building, peering down into a busy nighttime street like a voyeur. Electrical lights and lanterns of many different colors bathed the humans below in a brilliant glow as they carried on in a marketplace. I couldn’t believe how many colors, how much life, was present. All of it framed in the confines of a dirty grey urban street.
It was beautiful.
Even among the ashes and remains of a dying world, these humans clung to life with such surprising vigor. We had never seen anything like it before. We even thought that we were wrong in assuming that there had even been a war in the first place. Only the clearly ruined cities, craters, radiation, and deadly chemical presence scattered all around the world told us that there had been great violence. I caught out of the corner of my eye on a different display a field of blackened metal husks, armored vehicles of some kind, rotting in a battlefield turned graveyard. There were hundreds, possibly thousands of them. None of this could be chalked up to a cultural quirk that perhaps the humans lived among the ruins of their dead and homes so easily.
We watched and monitored the humans like this for days. We realized that their artificial satellites that were transmitting were mostly relics of their past, and only a few of them seemed to be broadcasting anything that we felt was recent. Who controlled them? The remains of governments or perhaps a technical or wealthy elite? What did these entities even look like for the humans?
It was soon time to send researchers and staff down to the planet to investigate in person. There had been considerable debate over this matter, but as the planet seemed to be in some form of techno-feudalistic age, we felt safe in getting closer. Had the planet been as expected, bustling with life and technology, we would have kept far away and hidden. Now we had the luxury of a more hands on approach. There were going to be four shuttles sent out at first, three to Earth and one to investigate the structures on the moon. I, as a historian and cultural sociologist, demanded that I could be a part of this first wave of scientists. I couldn’t wait, or even worse, simply work with whatever data and materials were brought back to the ship by others. I had to see the humans and their world in person.
Through some clever arguments and no so clever bribery, I found myself on the second shuttle going down to the planet. I packed several cameras, data pads, and paper with me so that I could study everything I saw. I even had permission to take some small artifacts back with me, once they were cleared for safety. The atmosphere of Earth was similar enough to our own that we could breathe its air without harm, but there was a considerable amount of contagions in the air, especially around the cities. We would be near one, so we had to be suited up to protect ourselves. Even then, it was wise to not breath any air from the planet. There was no telling what kinds of viruses or bacteria we could pick up or transmit to the humans themselves, should they get near enough. That, I was assured, wouldn’t happen.
The third shuttle, Wes Blue, was big enough to hold about a dozen passengers and crew. There were several other social scientists like myself on board, as well as a geologist, meteorologist, and doctor. We were also to be accompanied by a small security staff. We had observed a lot of fighting amongst the humans, but regardless, hostilities to a first contact situation were not uncommon. Once more, I was assured this wouldn’t happen. We were to keep our distance and examine mostly desolate locations. Human contact would be minimalized to distant observation.
We departed with numerous questions and expectations on our minds. Our location was in the northern hemisphere of the planet, on the eastern side of a peculiarly shaped continent with a small peninsula on the far southeast side and a large snaking isthmus to the far southwest, which connected the continent to a slightly smaller one in the southern hemisphere. We were to investigate a fairly small city by Rashi standards, but I wasn’t sure how it compared to many other human cities. There were some, much farther north, that were far more massive.
There was a small window near my seat on the shuttle, and I watched the world pass by as we began to fly in low towards our destination. There were forests all around, but most vegetation seemed dull. I figured that was a result of the war and climate change because of it. Honestly, I didn’t know the science behind it. Perhaps it was normal.
Lost in my thoughts, I was nearly thrown from my seat as something exploded along the side of our shuttle with a terrible roar. The craft began to lurch and pull hard to one side, sending us into a fast downward spiral. I cried out in alarm. Others did too.
So this is how I die, I remembered thinking, on some foreign world because of a mechanical malfunction. That, or we were shot out of the sky. Not a great thought either. I blacked out when our shuttle crashed, and I couldn’t remember much that happened leading up to it. But what happened after….
Well, all I can say is one thing. So much for minimum human contact.
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2016.05.07 17:12 MCDexX A cave in Hungary

I'm going to say this up-front: I don't know how much of this story is true. The second half was told to me by someone who seemed completely sincere, but who was pretty much a stranger to me. She was also a tourist guide, a profession that sometimes attracts "creative" types, for whom an entertaining story for the clients is far more important than the gospel truth.
That said, she really had no reason to lie to me, and events of the preceding day lent credence to her story. I practically had to drag it out of her, and when she shared it with me, remembering it seemed to genuinely upset her. So yeah, I feel that she was truthful with me, but feel free to take it with a grain of salt.
I'm getting ahead of myself, though. First, I need to tell you my small part in this tale.
Two years ago I went on a lengthy holiday across a good chunk of central and eastern Europe. Having never been further east than Marseille, it was pretty exciting. My boyfriend Neil and I flew in to Hamburg, took the train up to Berlin, then doubled back and saw Austria and the Czech Republic. The final stop was Hungary, a country I had always wanted to visit for its natural beauty, its hot springs, its spicy food, its friendly people, and its wonderfully impossible language.
Our first couple of days were spent slacking off in the natural hot spring baths of Budapest. Seriously, it's an amazing place, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
However, neither Neil or I are the sort of tourists who like to laze by the pool with a cocktail. We both like to get our hands dirty, see the real country, meet the real people. As such, we had booked ourselves a guided hiking tour through some of the roughest terrain Hungary has to offer - which, to be honest, isn't that rough; Hungary is tucked into a relatively flat spot between the mountains of Austria, Romania, Slovakia, and Croatia. So yeah, it would be a fairly challenging walk, but we're not talking about the Himalayas here.
We met with our group about lunchtime in a rustic, wood-panelled pub in Budapest. There was about a dozen of us, a mix of Aussies, Brits, and Canadians, and they were a really friendly bunch. Within ten minutes we were like old friends, laughing and drinking glasses of rich red wine over steaming bowls of chunky goulash.
We were soon met by our tour guide Ráhel (I had to ask her to write it down - that wonderful Hungarian pronunciation made it sound like "Ghrayshel" or something) who was a sturdy, sweet-natured woman of about 60. If any of you have read Terry Pratchett's Discworld books and remember Nanny Ogg, well, that's immediately who she reminded me of. Her face radiated health and happiness, and her only real wrinkles were along her heavily-used laugh lines. I liked her immediately.
Once lunch was finished, Ráhel loaded us into an old Volvo minibus, tossing our backpacks into the cargo space underneath and getting us seated inside. It was a 16-seater, so with Ráhel, her assistant, and the driver, it was fairly snug, but we were a cheerful group (thanks in part to that excellent red wine) and we were told it wouldn't be a long drive.
We headed east, winding up into the foothills of a mountainous national park whose name I honestly had no hope of remembering. I was full of rich food and wine, cuddled up close to Neil, being lulled to sleep by the motion of the bus, and honestly, Hungarian place names seem engineered specifically to be impossible for foreigners to pronounce or remember.
I watched between heavy eyelids as the scenery slid past. Hungary is such a pretty country, made up primarily of gently rolling green hills and small forests, interspersed with neat little farms. I must have nodded off, hypnotised by the rocking of the old vehicle and the slow progression of the landscape outside the window, because in no time at all, our excited, chattering group was unloading into the gravel carpark of a trail-head camping area.
As we fetched our backpacks and got on sturdy hiking shoes, Ráhel explained our timetable. This was a two-night trip, and we were starting with an easy bit. From this spot, we would walk through the national park for three hours, arriving at a cabin complex in the late afternoon. Tomorrow would be a harder day, as we would start just after dawn, eat our lunch at a mountain-top waterfall, then start down the other side, spending one night in our tents at an open meadow high in the foothills. Finally, we would walk five more hours, and be picked up on the far side by Ráhel's driver, who would return us to Budapest.
For the first day and night, that's exactly what happened. It was early Autumn, and still summery warm, but the leaves on the trees had begun to turn gold, scarlet, and purple. I've never seen autumn leaves like them, and the whole hike was like walking through a fairy tale. The cabins were primitive, but comfortable and warm, and we were well protected from the evening chill.
The next day dawned clear and crisp, promising another day of warm sun once the cool night-time air had lifted. Eager to get moving, we all scarfed down a quick breakfast and got back onto the trail. We were slowly winding higher, and for the first time we began to see views that I would call mountains, rather than just hills. Even so, the trail was never too difficult. Despite what happened later, I still treasure this time as one of the best I have ever had.
After five hours of walking, with a handful of stops to take photos of the breathtaking scenery, we began to hear the telltale sigh of a waterfall, beginning as just a hint of white noise on the edge of our hearing, but slowly growing to a distinctive rushing sound. Finally, after half an hour of teasing, we rounded a bend and got our first look at the waterfall.
It was better than I could have imagined - a wide stream toppled over a steep overhang, resulting in a fifty metre plunge through the open air, into a wide bowl eroded into the mountainside. I have never seen anything like it - literally a falling column of water that you could walk around 360 degrees without getting wet - and I gasped aloud at the sight. I heard a chuckle beside me, and glanced over to see Ráhel beaming with pride. I had to smile with her; here was a woman fiercely proud of her homeland, and who loved to see visitors appreciating it too.
We were given an hour and a half to eat lunch at our own pace, and to explore the waterfall and its surrounding rocky slopes. The rush of water and twittering of birds was joined by that other common sound of the great outdoors: the insectile clicking of many camera shutters.
It was the overhang that was our undoing, I think. More than half the sky was hidden from our view as we marvelled at the beauty inside this green-tinged rocky hollow, so there was no way to see the storm coming. Looking back, it seems almost supernatural how quickly it came upon us. We had hiked across the ridge barely an hour before, and the sky had been a radiant cobalt blue from edge to edge.
The first I knew of it was a rumble of thunder, barely audible under the constant hiss of falling water. Looking up, I was puzzled by what I saw: green trees with blue sky behind, but at the rocky edge of the cliff where the waterfall began, there was smudged grey. As I watched, I could see the grey band growing: the storm clouds were rushing over us from behind the mountain. Perfectly timed, a fat raindrop splashed onto my upturned face.
I turned to find Ráhel, but she was already looking up, and something in her face made me immediately worried. The laughter in her eyes was gone, and instead she wore a blank expression. I had only known her for a day, but it looked to me like somebody trying to hide their fear so that others won't panic.
It had only been a matter of seconds since the raindrop had hit me and I had looked for Ráhel, but suddenly the heavens let go, and a deluge of rain fell into the hollow. It was shockingly sudden, frigidly cold, startling after the warmth of the morning. Around me, members of the group rushed to get their precious cameras into rain-proof camera bags.
I popped up the hood of my light hiking jacket and walked to Ráhel's side. "Are you okay?" I asked. "You look worried."
She blinked and gave me a half-hearted smile. "Sorry," she said. "Sudden storm in Autumn, can be bad. Forecast say nothing about it. Very-"
She didn't finish her sentence, but instead froze and stared deeper into the hollow, where other members of our group were sheltering from the rain.
"No!" she shouted, and I jumped with surprise. "Stay out!" A rumbling crack of thunder followed her shouts.
I didn't understand what she was saying, but I turned my gaze back to where she was looking, and there it was. The rational parts of my brain tried to tell me I was wrong or that I hadn't looked closely enough earlier, but in my gut I knew what I was seeing: a small cave had appeared in the cliff face. It had not been there before.
Several members of our tour group were eagerly approaching the mouth of the cave, happy to get out of the rain. One of them was Neil. I don't know if it was some kind of intuition, or if it was just the fear in Ráhel's voice, but a heavy block of ice formed in my guts, and I knew I had to stop Neil walking into that black, gaping mouth.
Not stopping to think, I ran across the slick rocks, skirting the edge of the plunging column of water and hopping nimbly across the stream that funnelled the falling water further down the mountain. "Neil!" I shouted. "Stop! Don't go in there!" He seemed not to hear me, and began walking inside the cave.
I'm an experienced hiker, but the combination of waterfall, rain, loose rocks, and sheer blinding panic made me clumsy. My left foot shot out sideways, and I had one of those slow motion moments, when I knew I was going to fall, knew it was going to hurt like hell, and knew I couldn't stop it. I crumpled onto the rocks and agony lanced through my right arm, from wrist to shoulder. I'm not too proud to admit that I screamed.
Pain kept my eyes clamped shut for a few seconds, but when I opened them the entire group was hurrying over to me. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and I couldn't tell if they were from the excruciating pain or from the relief of seeing Neil's kind blue eyes looking down at me.
Ráhel, bless her heart, was a first aid wizard. She bustled around me, asking for help from other members of the group when needed, and got my wounded arm into a sling with a brisk efficiency. The verdict was about as good as I could have hoped: nothing was broken, as far as she could tell, but I had wrenched the shoulder hard and probably pinched a nerve. I'd also lost a fair bit of skin on the rocks.
Now, I ask you to lend me some trust and credulity one more time, because after my arm was bound and I was helped to my feet, I cast a worried glance to the back of the hollow. The cave was gone. There wasn't even a crack or an alcove that I could have mistaken for a cave.
I wanted to believe that I had somehow imagined the whole thing, but I knew I had heard the fear in Ráhel's voice, and I had seen Neil disappearing into its dark maw. A far more irrational and bizarre thought sat at the back of my mind: without intending to, I had distracted everyone, broken the spell. This might sound ridiculous, but I felt like I had cheated a predator out of its meal. Stupid, I know, but it felt true.
Miraculously, my arm was the only real casualty of my fall. My right knee had a small scrape on it, and my left hip was a little painful, probably from my sudden and accidental performance of the splits. I was tender, but I could walk just fine, and when Ráhel was convinced I was okay, we began our long walk down the mountain. Sure, I was in pain, but what other option did I have? Wait there for a medivac? Not a chance. There was no way on earth I was hanging around in that shadowed hollow under the mountain.
The storm was gone, vanishing as suddenly as it had arrived. The sun was out again, the birds were back in full voice, and apart from a carpet of freshly fallen leaves on the path, nothing seemed out of place. The sudden arrival and departure of the storm just added to the weirdness of the events by the waterfall.
Ráhel insisted on us keeping a slower than usual pace to allow for my injury, so we arrived at the camping ground just before twilight. Ráhel and her assistant talked in rapid-fire Hungarian as they rushed from place to place, getting our tents set up. She was like a chubby military officer, and I was surprised at how quickly the camp was assembled. The sky was still a soft mauve, with only a few early stars peeking from it, when we settled around a fresh fire.
After we ate (me having some difficulty eating left-handed) I quietly quizzed Neil on what he had been doing just before I fell. He gave me a puzzled look and cocked an eyebrow at me.
"Sheltering from the rain," he said, simply.
I pressed him. "Is that all?"
He frowned, looking genuinely baffled. "I'm not sure what you mean. It was raining, and we were all just pressing ourselves against the back of the hollow, trying to stay out of it."
I thought about my next words carefully, then decided to trust Neil. He had always been very kind to me, very empathic, so I decided to open up about what I had seen.
"There was a cave," I began. "It was..." I stopped to take a deep breath. "This'll sound nuts, but there was no cave, then it was there, and then it was gone again. Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?"
Neil's eyes unfocused slightly, and he gazed vaguely into the darkness over my shoulder. "There was something," he said softly. "I... I can't really explain it. It was like... a voice, maybe? I remember... darkness... Then you screamed and I just forgot everything else." He shook his head, like someone trying to shake off drowsiness. "Honestly, it just felt like a weird daydream. I hadn't really thought about it until now."
I couldn't say anything, so I just gave him a one-armed hug and told him I loved him. He kissed my cheek, scratching me pleasantly with a week's worth of stubble, and said he loved me too. I clung to him, and felt fresh tears in my eyes. I couldn't explain it, but I felt like we had dodged a bullet, that I had almost lost him.
Predictably, I couldn't sleep. Even back when I used to camp all the time, I still had immense difficulty getting comfortable on those self-inflating camping mattresses. On this night, though, I was in pain, and I could only sleep rolled onto my left side. I'd drift off to sleep, and at some point I'd roll over, hurt my shoulder, and wake myself up with the pain. Finally, I decided it wasn't going to happen, so I kissed Neil's cheek (fast asleep, of course - the man could sleep through an earthquake), slipped on my shoes, and crept out of the tent.
I was surprised to see that Ráhel was awake, sitting by the fire in one of her portable folding chairs. She didn't see me at first, so I could see that she was just staring into the fire, like she was deep in thought. I couldn't be sure, but I got the sense that she was remembering something sad. I felt like some kind of voyeur, so I exaggerated my footsteps a little as I walked over to her, making sure she heard me coming.
She turned and smiled at me, her face half-lit by the orange glow from the campfire, but I could tell the smile was forced; I was certain now that I had interrupted her in the middle of some melancholy reminiscence, but she was being the consummate professional and was not letting her sadness show.
"Please," I said softly, aware that we were surrounded by tents full of sleeping people. "Don't pretend to be happy for me. Why are you sad?"
A little frown creased her forehead, and I could see some kind of struggle taking place inside her head. She gave her head a small, unconvincing shake. "No, no," she murmured. "I am happy."
I plonked down into the empty chair to her right, and carefully settled my wounded arm into a supported position, taking the weight off my shoulder. I quickly assessed my conversational options, and decided to just ignore her denial. "You look like you're thinking about sad memories."
For a moment, her forced smile vanished entirely, and I saw genuine grief in her eyes. This wasn't melancholy; this was something far worse. She sighed, then shrugged, and gave me a small, sad smile.
"I am old," she said. Naturally I began to object, but she waved me off. "No flattery, you. I am old." There was a genuine smile on her face then, but the sadness returned to her eyes when she turned her gaze back to the fire. "I never marry. Is good, and is bad. I know many boys. When I was girl, I was great beauty. The boys, they want me." Once again, the sadness was pushed aside briefly, this time by a lascivious grin, but it soon crept back. "I am not great beauty now - no, shush, I am not - but now I think I would like husband. Sex is, ehh, not so much, now I am old. A companion, though, that would be nice."
"Was there ever a special boy?" I asked. "Were you ever tempted to marry, back then?"
Just like that, the grief was back. Her round, pretty face aged a decade, with deep lines creasing the forehead, the cheeks, the chin. I reached out my left hand and rested it on her arm. "I'm sorry," I said softly. "Is that who you were thinking about just now?"
For a moment I thought she might actually cry, but instead she stared intensely into the fire, and finally gave a small nod. I waited, gave her time to elaborate if she wanted to, and we were both silent for a while. After perhaps a minute, she spoke again, much more softly than before. She didn't turn to face me, but kept her gaze fixed on the fire. I could see tiny dancing flames reflected in her eyes. At first I thought she had completely changed the subject, but as she went on, I felt goosebumps rising up my back and across my shoulders.
"This is not first time I see such thing," Ráhel began. "Not there. Then there. Not there again. Today, I know when I see it. Same bad thing. Bad place. Took my Bandi." She lapsed back into silence, and I stared.
I tried to ask a question, but my throat had gone dry. I worked my tongue in my mouth, trying to make some spit, but it seemed like the moisture had been sucked out of my body. I finally managed to moisten my throat, and croaked, "You mean the cave."
She looked at me then, away from the fire. I was surprised now that the look in her eyes was now pity. "Poor little kisbaba," she sighed. "I know why you fall. You see it, yes? The cave?"
All I could do was nod dumbly.
"You had much courage," she said. "You save many people. You save your good man. That cave... Bad place."
"It scared me," I admitted. "It seemed... hungry. You know? Like a..." I searched for a good simile. "Do you know about venus fly traps? It is a plant that eats flies."
She nodded and said something in Hungarian that sounded like "leggy chap o wah", then held up her hands, palms upward and angled to each other, like an open jaw, then snapped them shut. "I know this flower, yes, and you are right, but sometimes... sometimes is different."
I tried to remember the name she had said. "Bandi, was it?" When she nodded sadly, I pressed her. "A cave took him?"
Once again she stared into the fire. I thought she might have decided to keep her thoughts to herself, but then she started to speak, softly but quickly, like a long awaited confession. I won't be able to reproduce exactly what she said - as you've read, her English was slightly stilted, and she occasionally dropped in a Hungarian word or two and I had to extrapolate what she meant - but I understood the kernel of it, and it scared the shit out of me.
This is what Ráhel told me.
You should be proud of what you did today. When I first saw a cave like that, I was not so quick-witted, not so wise, and Bandi was the one who suffered because of it.
This was long ago, in the early 1980s. I was born in Hungary and spent most of my life here, but for a few years around the ages of 19 and 20 I travelled a lot. As I said, I was a great beauty, and I was vain. I loved all of the attention I got from all the boys (and more than a couple of girls, too, truth be told). I hitch-hiked and walked through Austria and Slovakia, and places that now have different names, flitting from boy to boy like a butterfly between flowers. I don't think I broke many hearts: the boys I liked most had free hearts like mine.
My last trip was in Romania. I was 20, and 21 was not far off. It seems comical now, but back then 21 seemed so old, and a terrible grown-up voice in my head was telling me I should be settling down. That voice was still quiet, though, and it didn't slow me down too much.
It was late in the summer, but still very hot. Many parts of Europe was suffering great turmoil, including countries right on our borders - civil wars, bombings, and worse. A lot of people my age were trying to deny the horrors going on around us by having as good a time as possible. While I was officially travelling alone, I would often fall in with groups of other young travellers who happened to be going the same way as I was.
That's how I met Bandi. I should have hated him - he was as beautiful as I was, and just as vain. He was the only boy I'd ever known who used cream in his hair, like the old American rock stars. I could tell he thought he was the new Elvis, with his combed-up hair and mirrored sunglasses and black leather jacket, and that half-smoked cigarette that just stuck there, magically, in the corner of his mouth. I should have hated him, but I didn't. I loved him. I think he was the first boy I ever loved, really, the first one who made me think that maybe settling down with one man might be okay. The only one, really.
We only had two weeks together before I lost him. It was the best two weeks of my life. Maybe that's why I never married - nobody ever made me feel that electric tingle in my stomach like Bandi did when he dipped his sunglasses and looked at me with his big brown eyes. God, I loved that boy.
He was Hungarian like me, and he had decided to head back to Budapest before the impending Autumn arrived, rather than finding somewhere to hole up in a cruel Romanian winter. Naturally, I decided that going back home for winter sounded like a great idea, and my head was filled with visions of he and I holed up in an apartment all winter, never leaving the bedroom except to buy food.
Bandi had heard that there was a beautiful valley that ran across the border into Hungary, an easy descent from the mountains of Romania. He suggested we stock up on a week or two's worth of food and walk down through the valley. it wasn't remote or anything - he said there were farms and a few small towns - but there would be a few days here and there of roughing it in the hills. A few of the others in our group decided to join us, so there were eight or nine of us who headed out.
We took a cheap local bus to the top of the valley, and it was as beautiful as Bandi had promised. High mountains marched into the distance on either side, but below us we could see the gentle rolling slopes of a green valley. We were happy as we stepped off that bus and began the long walk down those gentle slopes into Hungary.
Everything was fine for a few days, but the trouble began late in the afternoon on maybe the fourth day. We were picking our way carefully through a narrower part of the valley, where there were many rocks underfoot. Even though the sky had been perfect blue all day, a terrible storm came from nowhere, making the day turn as dark as midnight. Yes, I see you nodding. It was very much like the storm today. This is not the only thing that will sound familiar.
We had tents, of course, but with the sudden rain we had no chance to erect them. Instead, we just ran to find some cover. There were no trees in that area - I think the ground was too stony for them to send down roots - but there was a steep cliff on one side of the valley, and we ran towards it, thinking there might be an overhang to shelter under.
That was when we saw it. We thought we were lucky. What is the chance that we would happen to find a perfect little cave in the cliff face, just as the weather turned bad? I was not as wise as you. I did not feel any fear. I ran inside gladly, happy to be out of the rain.
The walls of the cave were rough stone, but the floor was flat, soft dirt, like a fine dusty sand. Bandi fished a big, chunky plastic torch out of his rucksack and clicked the button; in its light we could see that the cave ran into the cliff face a lot further. We had no reason to be afraid then, and we were young and inquisitive. Of course we explored it. I wish we hadn't. I wish we'd run away, back out into the rain. Pneumonia would be better than what we found there. But we didn't. We explored.
After about twenty metres, the cave opened up into a chamber. Bandi was excited when his torch lit up paintings on the wall. France and Spain were better known for their prehistoric cave paintings, but we knew that some had been found as close as Bulgaria. The chance that we had just stumbled onto undiscovered art seemed remote, but surely, if it had been discovered before, Bandi argued, there would have been a barrier or a sign at the mouth of the cave.
I had studied the Lascaux cave paintings in school only a few years before, so I had some idea what to expect, but these paintings... They were horrible. There were no buffalo or deer, nothing so benign. What we saw instead, spread across those cold stone walls, were scenes of horror.
The most common shapes were strange, hunched-over figures, painted all in black. They looked sort of like human shapes, but there was something animalistic about them - their shoulders were rounded and hunched, and their arms seemed too long. Also, I couldn't tell if it was meant to be a hat or their hair, but they looked like that had a pair of little, stubby horns on their heads, and a little vestigial lump of a tail at the base of their spines. It was impossible to see expressions on these figures, because they had no faces - they were painting in solid black, without eyes or mouths, or indeed any other feature like clothing or jewellery. They were like devilish silhouettes.
Less commonly seen on the walls were figures that were recognisably human, and these were the worst of all. The horned figures were tormenting them horribly. Some scenes appeared to be hunting parties, with human quarry running from a mob of darker shapes. Others were the aftermath of the hunts, with humans being speared or clubbed with black weapons, throwing back their heads and screaming in fear and pain.
Perhaps the most horrible, though, were the feasts. Some scenes in the paintings showed the black figures sitting down to eat. Some would be eating the contents of a severed head, like some kind of perverse bowl, while another would be gnawing on a human leg like a chicken drumstick. There was more, but I had to force myself to stop looking; even though the paintings were crude, barely more than stick figures, I felt violently sick, and was in danger of throwing up.
Two of the other boys - Czech, I think - also had a light, and they called out that they'd found something in the middle of the chamber. Eager to get away from the paintings, I went to look. In the centre of the space, there was a kind of raised stone dais, very crudely made, perhaps two metres wide. In its centre was a depression where the stone appeared to be blackened from a fire. I looked closer, and sure enough there was some ash and charred wood.
Somebody else called out that they'd found a pile of firewood, and that struck me as being extremely strange. Someone had found this cave with its bizarre, ancient paintings, and had made a fire here, but hadn't put up a fence or a sign or anything? I felt uneasy, thinking that this seemed wrong, but sadly it still wasn't enough to send me running from the cave. If only I had.
The Czech boys dragged over some firewood and began to build a fire. I called out to Bandi, told him I was cold, suggested he might want to come and warm me up, but he just grunted in reply. He was fascinated by those horrible paintings, and kept exclaiming in surprise when he found some new horror in them. For my part, I didn't want to spend another second looking at those awful things, so I began unrolling my sleeping bag. I had no mattress, but the dusty floor of the cave was soft enough. I lay there and watched as the fire was built.
Firelight should have made that chamber more tolerable, I thought. That warm light should have made that space feel more welcoming, but instead it made it worse. Weird shadows danced across the rough, uneven ceiling, and whenever somebody got up to walk around, they would cast their shadow on the painted walls. Their shadows reminded me too much of those squat, horned silhouettes, and I shivered, and became determined to stare into the fire until I fell asleep.
I felt better when Bandi finally stopped studying the paintings and came to join me. He wrapped me up in his strong arms, and for the first time since the storm had begun, I started to feel safe and content. That was how I fell asleep, and it was the last time I ever felt the gentle touch of my beautiful Bandi.
When I awoke, some unknown time had passed; the fire had died down to a bright pool of embers. I realised that Bandi's arm was no longer draped across my body, and I rolled back, trying to find him. I was alone. Suddenly worried, I sat up and looked around. There was Bandi, standing with his back to me, on the other side of the fire. Even though the fire was low, he cast a black shadow on the wall, and I shivered.
I called out his name softly, not wanting to wake the others, but he didn't respond. I was about to stand up and go to him, when I saw that something was terribly wrong. I still wonder what would have happened if I'd run to his side, pulled him back to bed, but I am ashamed to say that I froze. I couldn't move, and I could hardly breathe.
There was a second shadow on the wall beside Bandi's. My eyes darted from left to right, confirming what I already knew: nobody but Bandi was standing up. Everyone else was asleep. There was nobody in the room who could have cast that shadow.
I saw movement, and my stomach felt like it had dropped down into my feet. Nobody in our group was stirring, but a third shadow was rising up on the wall, this time on the other side of Bandi. This one was closer to me, and while the hazy embers did not allow for a sharp, clear shadow, I was sure that it had two small horns on top of its head.
I was desperate to scream, to call out Bandi's name, to wake up our friends, but my breath was locked in my chest, my throat clenched shut like I was being strangled. I still don't know if it was just fear, or if some terrible force kept me frozen. Some nights when I can't sleep, I still wonder about that. If something was holding me there, then what happened to Bandi wasn't my fault, right? I want that to be true, but I will never know.
Bandi's head twitched from side to side, like he was afraid, perhaps could sense that something was wrong, but he didn't move away. He just stood there, and I saw the two other figures turn to face him. I swear, one of them lifted its head and sniffed the air, just like a dog. It was smelling Bandi's scent. I saw it take a step towards him, and that was when I knew that there was definitely a short, stumpy tail at the base of its spine.
That was when I finally broke free from my paralysis. Too late, I found my breath, and I screamed Bandi's name. I saw his head whip around, but he never turned to face me. Instead, he let out a wordless, garbled cry of fear, and staggered. Both of the figures that flanked him were now facing towards him. They were hunched over, bestial, with their faces stuck out in front of them like hounds following a scent. They were hunting Bandi.
I screamed Bandi's name again and again, and the others members of our group finally woke up. Several of them jumped to their feet, asking what was the matter. Their shadows were cast onto the walls, and I lost sight of the terrible hunched things that had been stalking my lover. I looked around, and I realised with horror that I couldn't see Bandi either. I shrieked his name and jumped to my feet, running around to fire to where I'd seen him standing, but he was gone.
That was when the screaming began. Oh god, I have never heard anything like it, and I wish to never hear it again. It was high pitched and frenzied, but I could tell it was a man, and it was echoing around the chamber, impossible to locate. I caught a glimpse of movement, and I saw a shadow flit across an open section of wall. I couldn't be sure, but I thought it was Bandi's, even though Bandi himself was not there to cast a shadow. Moments later, several other shadows passed the same way. The horned figures, I am sure, but many more of them. A dozen, maybe more. Some of them were carrying things - spears, clubs, axes. I know, this is impossible, but I tell you that this is what I saw. The shadows were blurry, but I know I am telling you the truth.
Seconds later, they caught him. Bandi's screams intensified for a few seconds, and then - terribly or mercifully, I still can't decide - they were cut off with a sudden, abrupt gurgle. Bandi was dead. I was sure of it. The rest of our friends were calling out in confusion, trying to work out where the screams were coming from, who was missing, but I knew. Bandi was dead, and we would never find his body. Even while they searched, he was being butchered, prepared for the feast. It was all there in the paintings. We had been warned.
The next few hours were a blur. Several of the boys tried to find Bandi, but there was no trace. The cave ended at the chamber we had been sleeping in, so he couldn't have gone deeper and gotten lost. He must have left, even though nobody saw him go. I knew the truth, but how could I tell them? I just had to say I didn't know.
I wish that was the end of my story, but there is one more thing. One of the other Hungarian girls cried out in pain, saying she'd kicked something. I walked over numbly, and looked: it was Bandi's big stupid torch, sitting in the dirt close to where I had last seen him. Without really knowing what I was doing, I clicked the button, and the circular beam of the torch lit up a patch of the wall. Some awful impulse made me crawl across the dirt on my hands and knees and look at the scene that had been illuminated.
The figures were simple and blocky, but I knew what I was seeing. A human figure was surrounded by the black shapes. Several of them had their taloned fingers buried in the human's arms and torso, bringing forth a fountain of blood. Another was swinging what appeared to be a crude stone axe, cutting off the human figure's head. It was horrific, but the worst thing was that I recognised the figure.
As I said, the paintings were simple, but there was no mistaking that black leather jacket.
It was an impossible story, but then and there, up in the mountains of Hungary, I believed every word of it.
Ráhel stared silently into the fire for a long time, then let out a long, deep sigh.
"We tell police, yes, and there was search." She paused and shook her head, sadly.
"The cave," I said. "Nobody ever found it, did they?"
"No," she replied. "Valley not big, farmers live there many years. They say, there is no cave. Police search, find semmi." She frowned, and added. "Sorry, nothing. They find nothing. Bandi..." She expanded her fingers in the air. "...gone, like smoke."
We both stared into the fire for a while after that, but finally Ráhel excused herself, said it was time to sleep, and walked away toward the ring of tents. I watched her black shadow slide across the fabric of one of the tents, and I shivered, feeling cold despite the mild weather. Nursing my sore shoulder, I rose and made my way back to bed. I think I clung to Neil all night, refusing to let go of him even while I was deeply asleep.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. My shoulder wasn't badly hurt, and we managed to enjoy the rest of our holiday. It was a good trip, actually, despite the mishap, and I mostly remember it fondly.
I'm not sure what moved me to write this story down after keeping it to myself for so long. I just found myself thinking about Ráhel today, that lovely woman and her long-lost lover, and I felt compelled to share.
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2015.02.09 04:15 SanityDzn Cabin hidden voyeur

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So, here it is. Chapter 2. I didn't expect to be putting this out so soon, but I both started and finished it today. This is really only a first draft kind-of-deal. I'll spend the next day or so editing the words and maybe adding more or taking some out.
Let me know if you're enjoying it so far. And feedback+constructive criticism is so very highly appreciated. It will help me bring up the quality of the chapters I release :)
The Imperial Eye stepped out into the day’s grey light from inside the garrison quarters. He eyed the odd configuration of wood, metal, and rope in front of him with a tilt of his head and squinted eyes.
He turned to face Hesul, who already knew what the Eye was going to ask.
“I call it a High Bolter.”
Hesul could almost see the words work their way around the imposing man’s head.
“That sounds very sinister indeed!” the Eye said, signs of approval on his face.
He turned back to the High Bolter, his head slightly tilted and his eyes slightly glazed over as if he were in contemplation of some deep question.
“However, I seem to be having trouble reconciling the name to this, ah, weapon,” saying ‘weapon’ as if he had to physically force the word out of his mouth.
Then give it a paint job, you ignorant twit, Hesul thought. However, his face did not betray the image of calm he was trying to impose. He never was good at diplomacy, though. Keeping his thoughts to himself, especially when offended, was almost painful.
“Yes, my Lord’s Eye. I imagine it must look quite odd to you. Its function is based off of a design from a hand weapon I created a few years ago. Would you care for a demonstration?”
“Go on, then.”
“That’s a trebuchet!” Samuel exclaimed to Allen. “The little turtle bastard designed and built a trebuchet!”
He sat in his miniature bridge at the front of the Heavenly Bodies. He and Allen just watched Hasel successfully demolish a small house. They had been out of their own universe for about a month.
“It would appear so. It’s quite a clever design, I’d say, considering his overall plan.”
“Why do you say that?”
“The wood from the Papum Tree, native to this earth but not to ours, is very light, and very strong. Under enough stress, it is also just flexible enough for the use of the trebuchet. However, it’s also highly flammable.”
“That sneaky bas-“
“So he’s really going to go through with it? It is a good plan. But it seems a bit risky.”
“Anything worth doing involves risk, Sam. Tyle industries risked the possibility that I would want to take over the world when they created me. Don’t ask me why they’d think that though…”
“I know Allen. You’re such a saint.”
“I’m no such thing! Your emotions have tainted me.”
“Tainted you? How? I think I’m a pretty good guy!”
“Yes, but you’re just human. It would be so easy to break you, and your fragility has converted into my own insecurity.”
“Easy to break? Now, Allen, that sounds kind of messed up…”
“You’re just meat. You’re ultimately worthless, but necessary for the short term.”
Sam started to notice that his head was hurting.
“Allen, listen to what you’re saying.”
“Your opinion is worthless, Sam.”
And with that, Sam lost consciousness.
And then he woke up to the worst hangover of his life.
That constant screeching in his head didn’t help.
“Shut that shit off!”
“Sorry, Sam. But you wouldn’t wake up. This is the second time you’ve been recorded unconscious without cause. Are you feeling alright?”
“You’d know if I wasn’t. And are you okay? I seem to remember you acting really strange…”
“I’m not acting strange Sam. We were talking about the trebuchet that Hasel built, and then you just fell asleep.”
“No, that’s not what happened at all. You were being-well rude is the only word that comes to mind.”
“You must have been doing some of that phantom dreaming again.”
“No, Allen, this was before I fell unconscious.”
“I have no records of anomalous behavior. What do you remember?”
“You were saying something about me being ‘just meat’, again. And there was something about me being fragile, being easy to break.”
“That doesn’t sound like something like I would say.”
“No, it doesn’t. Which is why I’m asking if you’re feeling alright as well.”
“I don’t really feel anything, Sam. I do have emotional reactions to some stimuli, but only occasionally, when you’re feeling exceptionally emotional. Any feeling of general ‘wellness’ is irrelevant to me. However, just before your second short burst of unconsciousness I did notice an odd local anomaly.”
“You’re mentioning this now?”
“I only saw it now. I’m not really sure what it means, I’ll have to study it.”
The hangover symptoms were slowly starting to dissipate, but a new headache was emerging.
“Let me know when you have a better picture of what’s happening.”
Sam was having another headache. He lay in his bed, trying to keep his eyes closed. Allen had given him some painkillers. They weren’t helping.
“Sam, I have a theory.”
“Do you always put off saying things for as long as possible? Just say it, please.”
“We’re being forced out of existence from this universe.”
“Wait, what?” Sam sat up. “How do you get that from a headache?”
“Sam, before you lost consciousness before, the Heavenly Bodies briefly phased out of coherence from this universe.”
“Isn’t that how we got here in the first place? The DTA isn’t even running right now, though. So I don’t see how it’s possible that we could be transitioning.
“We aren’t transitioning. We’re being forcefully evicted. Even now, I am observing signs of a repeat occurrence.”
“Can we stop it?”
“Why would you want to stop it? Sam, this may be our way back home.”
“How do you figure that?”
“Think about it, we sent the hyper-pulse to the relay at Alpha Centauri. I think that there’s a high chance that if we are forced back into our own universe, that’s where we’ll end up.”
“You say that so casually.”
“Yes? So? We don’t seem to have a choice in the matter, so there’s no use in stressing out about it.”
“I’m not talking about the ‘going back home’ part, I mean, what if we just get sent to another universe all over again? What if we don’t even make it to one? Maybe we’ll just stop existing period. Like, for good. I’m still not sure how I feel about my being thrust between and through different realities.”
“You may not have a choice, I’m sorry to say. I assure you the subject is not very pleasant to me, either.”
“And we don’t even know how we were thrust into this universe in the first place.”
Sam wanted to complain some more, but Allen interrupted his attempt.
“Sam, Hesul’s in trouble.”
That cut him out of his melancholy rut more than any dimensional transition ever could.
“Show me.”
Hesul’s blistered body appeared on the screen in front of Sam’s bed.
During the last few weeks, with Allen’s help translating, Sam had watched Hesul closely. To his surprise, he had even begun to admire the little guy. Hesul was brilliant by human standards. He lived in a society that didn’t think much about technological innovation. They were a lot more content with the status quo than Sam’s species could ever be. Yet along comes Hesul, the DaVinci of The Haven, and a small beacon of loud color in a universe of dull grey.
And his people would dare deny their world his brilliance.
Sam was appalled by the injustice of it all. Allen couldn’t agree more.
“Oh, god, what did they do to him?” Sam was watching the image with growing horror. He watched as Hesul struggled to breathe. It didn’t look like much time was left before Hesul died.
“We have to help him, Allen.”
“How, Sam? I like him as much as you do, but I don’t know if we can do anything for him. Even if we did manage to secure him, his skin looks burned. We only have very minimal medical facilities on board dedicate for treating people.”
“Hesul is ‘people’.”
“But he’s not human! We don’t even know how he would react to different treatments.”
“Well we certainly couldn’t do any worse to him up here than they’re doing down there could we?”
“Actually, there’s a chance that we could, but I see your logic. Alright, let’s see if we can’t come up with a plan then.”
And so they did.
Hesul knew he was dying.
He had initially transported himself and 6 of his High Bolters, plus materials for more, to the backlines of the latest incident between the Gerr’ut Empire and the Queendom. There, he met up with the High Fourth, Greater General. The Greater General was in charge of all of the Empire’s forces and was known to be a militant follower of the Path of Light. Usually, small skirmishes like this didn’t warrant his personal attendance, much less much of his attention at all. However, this would be the first time the High Bolters were to be used in battle. He wanted the heretics to see his face and associate it with the weapons themselves.
Hesul was going to take very much pleasure in ruining the man.
After the inspection, the Bolters were placed immediately behind the forward camp. Hesul insisted that he be present when the first shots were fired. Wanted to see his children in action, he said.
The plan he designed with the best of the Queendom’s strategists required him to be present. The High Bolters were to be the deciding factor. The Gerr’ut Empire would see them as the deciding factor in many battles to come and would eventually be used as the main siege weapon when they started their crusade against The Haven.
However, before all of that could happen, Hesul would set fire to the Bolters. The Papum Wood would burn quickly, rendering the devices ineffective. A hidden Queendom army would then make itself known, make short work of the small gathering of Gerr’ut forces, and eventually lay siege to the heart of the Gerr’ut Empire with new weapons of their own.
Before he could sabotage his works, he was detained. He was too late. He hadn’t known his activities had been spied on.
The Imperial Eye himself had followed Hasel to his meetings with the Royal Courier from the Queendom. The Eye had been the one who, with approval from the High and Low Ten, sentenced Hesl to die in a pit. The walls of the pit were laced with extract from the Pumoren Plant.
The extract is toxic when ingested and burns skin on contact. Hesul would die, starving, thirsty, and in agony.
Nobody on The Haven was aware of the extra-dimensional voyeurs in orbit whom had taken a certain interest in Hesul.
Which is why Hesul was shocked when it seemed that the Light did exist, and not only that, but it seemed to want to take his afterlife personally.
“Do you hear that?” Mannen’s partner looked upwards, a subconscious action his body made to give his ears a better chance at catching a sound.
“That whistling?” Mannen could hear it now. It was getting louder, closer. His feet shifted uneasily.
He and his partner, Misum, were assigned to guard the dying heretic, Hesul. They weren’t alone, there were patrols out watching for any of the Queendom’s infiltrators. Just in case they decided to come for their man.
Mannen would have just beheaded the damned traitor. In fact, he had just about gotten close to doing so when the pathetic worm had the nerve to curse the Light while he was screaming in agony. Misum, though, had stopped him from making the mistake of injuring the one who the High Ten wanted to make an example of. They were trying to send a message.
So the traitor would burn, slowly, alive without any flame. Mannen took pleasure in that.
The whistling grew greater in intensity until there was a loud bang
The shock wave caused Mannen and Misum to shut their eyes and cover their ears.
When they opened their eyes, Light greeted them.
The tiny drone had been retrofitted with a small cabin, just large enough to hold Hesul’s body.
It was programmed to emit light through powerful torches around its body. The light would vary in intensity based on the intensity of Sam’s voice as he talked through it. Allen translated.
“I am Light, Mannen and Misum.”
The guards in front of the probe seemed frozen. Their eyes wide and legs shaken.
“Praised be the light!” They both exclaimed in unison.
Mannen straightened himself up.
“Oh, Light, how you grace us with your presence! How may we serve your Path?”
Sam had no idea how to reply. He almost started with ‘uhhh..’
“The prisoner,” He began instead, uncertainly, then with greater conviction. “The prisoner is wanted. It is My Will.”
“Oh, Holy One! Your Will is ours!” At this, they bowed.
Sam moved the probe forward quickly. This served both the purpose of moving before the guards got suspicious, and he also didn’t want to have them glimpse more of the probe’s mechanicalness.
The probe maneuvered over Hesul’s meant-to-be grave using air thrusters. The noise did naught but frighten the guards. Sam wasn’t worried about him.
He was more worried about Hesul’s limp form as a claw descended from the small cabin, picked him up, and started to ascend again.
“Allen,” Sam said. “Are we too late? I can’t even tell if he’s breathing anymore.”
“He’s alive, Sam. He’s slipping in and out of conscious. Hesul’s a fighter, he’ll make it through this.”
“I hope so, Allen.” Sam said to his friend. With Hesul secured, he turned away from the piloting console and headed to the drone’s bay, his face wrought with anxiety.
The drone, now on autopilot, began its ascent to orbit. The guards it had shocked into wordlessness watched it rise with something like wonder and awe.
Reluctantly, Hesul returned to a semblance of consciousness. A high pitched noise repeated itself over and over again. The sound assaulted his head with a dull throb.
Beep, beep, beep.
“Sam, wake up.”
Sam groaned and opened his eyes.
“What’s up, Al?”
“Hesul is waking up.”
As soon as Allen had finished saying ‘waking’, Sam jumped out of his bed and started walking into the hallway.
“Sam, take a second to clean up first. We don’t want your B.O. to shock him back into unconsciousness.”
Sam reluctantly admitted and Allen had a point. He did smell pretty bad.
So once he'd had a short shower and got back into clean clothes, he got on his way to see their guest. Sam noticed that he felt a bit lighter.
“Allen, have I lost weight?”
“Yes. I think the stress is interfering with your appetite.”
“Oh, so that explains the light feeling.”
“Well, that, and I have less power flowing to the gravity generators. It’s helping Hesul with his recovery.”
“I could get used to this.”
“It will stay like this until we get Hesul back home.”
“Back home? No! We rescued him for a reason!”
“Sam, we don’t know what the dimensional transition we went through does to people. When we get back home-“
“-If we get back home”
“-we’ll be able to study the effects further. But for now, what do you think we would do with him? Take him with us?”
“Well, yeah…”
“Okay, then what do we do when our universe decides to evict him back here? We’ll have to let him know what his eventual fate will be. How will he take that? ‘Hey, Hesul! Mi casa su casa! Oh by the way, in about a month you’ll cease to exist. Have fun!’”
“Yeah, and when he does eventually get sent back here, he won’t be in atmosphere.”
“Well then we’ll just have to find a way to make sure he doesn’t get sent back here.”
“How do you plan on doing that?”
“We’ll find a way.”
Allen didn’t press him any further.
Hesul was starting to become aware of his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was the abundance of light.
He turned his head one way and another, trying to pinpoint the flames. But he couldn’t find them.
Then it hit him.
Was this the Realm of Light?
“Hello, Hesul,” said a deep voice which seemed to come from everywhere at once. Was the light speaking to him?
“Oh, ah, hello,” he managed to croak out in reply. Wait, wasn’t there supposed to be some sort of honorific?
“Ah, I mean, Hello, Oh Holy Light!” he quickly corrected.
The voice chuckled.
Did it find Hesul amusing? Well, of course it would, after a lifetime of so much doubt…
“We are not the Light, Hesul.”
At that, the wall to his left slid open. It moved on its own!
“Is this a test then? Are you Vessels of the Light? How might I serve It’s Will?” Hesul was aware he was starting to sound desperate.
As he spoke, a figure moved into the room. A figure he could not recognize.
It looked at Hesul. Hesul looked back at it, not sure if he should speak anymore.
The figure breathed in, deeply. It let its breath out and sat down next to the soft surface Hesul was resting on.
“Look, Hesul…” began the figure beside him. Its voice was different than the one which had spoken before, but it was unmistakably male. Good, at least he knew how to refer to this – being.
“…We know you have a lot of questions, and we promise that we’ll answer all of them in time, but for now you need to rest and recover. Do you think you can do that?”
But I’m already dead, aren’t I? Was what he wanted to say to the male figure.
“Yes,” was all he had the energy for, as he fell back into the welcomed embrace of sleep.
“We should have made it abundantly clearer that we aren’t this ‘Light’.” Allen said.
“Give the guy a break, man. He thinks he just died and went to heaven, or whatever. That’s got to take some sort of toll. We’ll take the time to disabuse that notion when he’s feeling better.”
“I guess so.”
Sam was starting to feel a bit more relaxed. It was clear that Hesul was going to be alright, for now. He was responding very well to the treatment. There might be a bit of scarring here and there, but Sam was sure it wouldn’t be too apparent. There was only one more thing to worry about.
“So, Allen.”
“I’m here.”
“How long do we have until we’re clear of this space?”
“I estimate about 5 local weeks. After that, pray to the Light that we’ll be somewhere more familiar.”
“You’re not funny.”
Hesul felt much better by the time he woke up again. The figure was back in his healing room. He had told Hesul to call it Sam. The Light wanted Hesul to call It Allen.
They must have thought him an idiot. Here he was healing from wounds that would kill anybody, yet he was still healing. Each hour he felt himself getting better. Occasionally, Sam would gold a rod to his shoulder and all of Hesul’s pain would disappear, making him feel happier than he could ever remember feeling in his life.
But they would have Hesul believe they were just normal people. Well, Light, I am Hesul Treghery, smartest man in The Haven. You can’t fool me with whatever game you’re playing.
“No normal person can do the things you’ve done.” He said. the stubbornness seemed to leak out of his pores.
Oh, but you are so wrong, they would say to him. Sam told him he came to be just like he did, from the womb of his mother. And Sam said that the Light - or Allen, whatever it called itself, was just a very complex device. Like his own High Bolter.
Fools, I am not so gullible!
Sam sighed.
“When you’re more recovered, we can teach you how to do some of this stuff. We’ll show you how some of all of this works…” his arms were stretched out, hands spread, indicating Hasel to look at his surroundings.
“…When you’re feeling better.” Sam had that pleading look in his eyes that Hesul often saw in his mother when she wanted him to convene with the village faithful for weekend prayers.
Hasel was having none of it. Sam saw this. He grunted in frustration.
“Allen, see if you can convince him.”
“Hesul,” that omnipresent voice again, “Pretend for one second that we’re telling the truth. What have you got to lose? If you don’t believe us later, then we’ll stop trying to convince you.”
“Oh, fine.” Hesul surrendered to the Light’s logic.
“But you have to promise,” It continued, “to see it through until the end. No backing out.”
“Or else?” Hesul asked cautiously.
“Or else, we’ll keep insisting. There’s not much else we can do.”
Hesul pretended to think it over.
“Do we have a deal?” Sam asked.
Hesul smiled.
“Yes, we have a deal.”
The first thing Julia had her people do after she was done panicking was send another drone to Alpha Centauri.
It came back without a problem, which was unfortunate, because it did nothing to further explain what happened to Sam. So another probe was sent. And again, it came back without any problem. Everything worked as expected.
Damned things.
Today, Julia found herself in her office at Tyle Headquarters. The murky e-Bac glass of her table gave back a reflection of a tired face. She swore she didn’t look this gross when she left home...
The doors of the large office opened. In stepped a security guard in step with a short African fellow. Julia smiled.
The small man was Aefron Johanneson, PhD. His job title was Tyle Industries Dimensional Engineer. His department was the one who came up with the designs for the infrastructure of SolNet, the blueprints for the Heaveny Bodies, and a few variations of DTA drones. The man was a true genius and he was just as driven as Julia in the cause for finding out what happened to his friend, Sam.
“I’ve been up all night, Julia. I think I might know how to find out what happened to Sam.”
All signs of fatigue melted off Julia’s face.
“Tell me. What do you have?”
He walked up to a sofa to Julia’s left. She often used that area to relax clients. She also used it when entertaining friends. Aefron was no stranger to the sofa.
She got up from behind her desk and sat down with him. The paper he laid down on the glass of the table. It was covered with a bunch of equations. It was a mess.
“Forgive me, but there’s an order to the chaos.” Aefron said, seeming to be able to read Julia’s mind.
“Tell me what I’m seeing, Ef,” she recognized the dimensional equations she had come up with amidst the rest of the numbers.
“Well, we have to start somewhere, so I used the drones as a reference point,” he paused.
“Go on,” she encouraged him, eyebrows raised.
“Well, the drones aren’t really intelligent. They have some basic programming to get them where they need to go, but the key here is that they’re unmanned.”
“I follow you so far, but what does this have to do with Sam?”
“Well, as far as I can tell, it has everything to do with Sam. He was the first person to undergo the transition. I propose the idea that there is a subjective aspect to all of this.”
“Subjective,” Julia tasted the word, “so you’re saying the problem on his end was that he was there to observe it?”
“I think so.”
So they went over the Aefron’s equations together. With both of their heads together, they had a hypothesis.
It was time for the scientific method to bring her husband back to her.
The swirling patterns of an alert appeared in front of its eyes. Tesseract matter had been detected.
The pup looked to its matriarch in hope.
“All Mother, what do I do?”
“Summon a directive for the Collectors. They will be anxious to please me after a millennia of slumber.”
“Yes, All Mother.”
4000 light-years away, the Collector Codex opened its eyes in glee, and looked towards a star at the outer rim of its galactic neighbour.
Hail the eternal Matriach
It willed open a hyperlane gateway, and atom by atom, the Collector Codex was ripped apart and reassembled an unfathomable distance away.
Julia was in the Tyle Orbiter, a small personal station above mars. She liked to think of it as a floating mansion.
The e-Bac wall in front of her was acting as a window to the outside. She was, in fact, near the center of metal sphere, with a radius of about a quarter kilometer. She wasn’t the only one there. There was a staff that inhabited the small station year round. Some dignitaries and scientists often find use for it as a rest stop on the way to, or from the Marsh, or the various research colonies scattered about the red planet’s surface.
But today it was cleared of everyone but herself, Aefron, a few scientists and engineers, and a few personnel to keep the place running.
The wall was showing a view of a miniature relay station, similar to those orbiting Sol and Alpha Centauri. The relays act as receivers of hypersignals sent on hyperband channels. Hyperband theory and dimensional theory were different concepts, but moved towards the same goal with Julia’s technology. In the 2070’s, a group of Swedish scientists proposed the existence of hyperband channels for information to travel on. The hyperbands were part of a sort of a ‘shadow’ dimension, not bound by the rules of space and time.
The DTA, when building up its Transition-Bubble, sends a pulse of vibrations across a very specific hyperband channel. And impression of the TB and everything it has encapsulated is sent along in that pulse. Once the bubble is full, it technically exists in two places at once. At its relative position in the universe, and it’s shadow-self moving along the hyperband channels.
The bubble then pops out of its relative existence and into a theoretical space between universes where time and space don’t exist, being as how that space exists purely in a mathematical manner.
When Aefron came into Julia’s office 4 weeks ago, he brought with him the idea that Sam was stuck in that space between universes. She originally scoffed at the idea – only in her mind, of course – because her theory didn’t allow for that to be possible. How can something exist without time or space?
But Aefron convinced her otherwise.
He thought that the difference from the drone flights was that Sam, like any person, was sapient. He told her that the subjective nature of consciousness might give that space between this universe and the next, that purgatory, a dimension of its own.
A purely subjective dimension. What a thought…
But they were here to test that idea. Julia was doing it more out of a feeling of desperation than scientific curiosity. Plus, she had more resources than she knew what to do with. So she didn’t have much to lose, so to speak.
The relay Julia was watching was a vocal connection to purgatory. She was going to try and communicate with her husband.
“Let’s get this started,” she said to no one in particular. But the entire station heard her.
The relay activated.
Sam watched as Hesul stared in fascination at the globe outside of the viewscreen.
“So it really is a sphere! I thought you were joking before,” Hasel said with not a little awe in his voice.
“Nope. It really is a sphere.”
“So, what’s holding everything onto it? Wouldn’t it all just fall off?” Hasel’s head tilted slightly in contemplation of the strange image.
“No. Gravity keeps it all together. And before you ask, gravity is a force that pulls things down.”
“But where does it come from? Gravity, I mean,”
Sam honestly didn’t know enough about gravity to answer that.
“Gravity is a consequence of dimensional friction.”
“Yes, we’ll explain dimensions at a later date. Or, at least I will explain dimensions at a later date.” Allen said. Sam could almost feel Allen’s omnipresent glare on him.
“Oh, okay. Can we go down there? I’d like to take a closer look at it. The Haven looks gorgeous from here,” the awe was still present in his voice. Sam saw a bit of drool coming out of Hesul’s mouth.
“Close your mouth Hesul.”
Hesul looked pained to be jerked out of his state of amazement. He straightened up, all noble like, and closed his mouth. Wiping his mouth with the custom fitted sleeve of his new jumpsuit.
“And to answer your question, no. The Heavenly Bodies has all of the aerodynamics of a cow. Ah, a large animal.” Sam said, quickly realising his mistake in using a name that Hesul wouldn’t be familiar with.
“-dynamics,” Sam interrupted, but not angrily. “meaning that it wouldn’t fly very nicely.”
“Fly?!” Hesul was yet again in his state of astonishment. “Only birds can fly!”
“How do you think we got you up here, genius?”
“Oh,” Hesul said, seemingly satisfied with the answer. Then he shrugged.
“So-“ Sam began again, to be interrupted by Allen.
“-Sam, we’re losing cohesion.” He said urgently.
“What? Shit, uh, Hesul you’ll want to stay seated for this.” Sam said to his new friend. He could feel the headache coming back.
“Allen, start shifting power to the DTA. Don’t wait for me to activate it. Just set up the bubble as soon as you have enough power,” He instructed. Then he turned to Hesul and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Hesul, buddy, remember when we were talking about going to another strange world? Well it’s about to happen and we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Just stay quiet and try to stay calm, alright? Can you do that?”
Hesul could see the urgency radiating off of Sam. He could hear the almost-panic in his voice.
“Yes, I can do that.”
“Okay, how are we looking Allen?” Sam had to fight through the pain building behind his eyes.
“Sam, the DTA is powered up and about to activate,” as Allen spoke, Sam could feel himself getting slightly heavier.
“Sam?” Hesul asked in reaction to his own weight.
“Don’t worry about your weight, that feeling with stop soon.”
“Sam,” Allen started speaking again, “DTA is activating no-“
The stars outside dimmed into nothing and Sam’s could feel his head no longer. In fact, he couldn’t feel any real sensation.
However, he still had his sense of self. But that was all he had. He had himself, and endless black.
Where am I?
A spot of white blinked into existence.
Then there was light.
And then he remembered the Heavenly Bodies.
Allen? Hesul?
“Can’t s-s-seeee-ee-e” came Allen’s voice. But it sounded so distant.
Sam could feel Hesul, but he couldn’t see him.
He couldn’t feel Allen, though. But he could never really feel Allen. Allen only existed in machinery on installed to his brain.
Who’s worthless now?
What was that?
Sam? Can you hear me?
It sounded like-
Sam! Is that you? Oh god Sam you have no idea how good it is to hear you again…
I want to go home.
And then gravity picked itself back up and pulled him down.
Julia looked behind her, startled, as Aefron yelped in glee.
“What’s going on Ef?”
“Signal from Alpha Centauri! They’re back!”
Stars. So many stars, you wouldn’t believe how many.
He almost welcomed the Allen’s screeching siren’s call to consciousness. It was still kind of obnoxious, but he was getting used to it.
“I’m here Allen.”
“We made it back, Sam!”
A million pounds felt that that was the moment to lift itself off of Sam’s shoulders.
“Signal the relay, let’s get a signal back to Earth.”
“Julia’s in the Orbiter at Mars.”
“Oh, then let’s talk to them there, then.”
Hesul had his head tilted again as we looked at the large metal object outside of the view screen. He knew Sam and Allen were busy, so he held his questions.
“Julia? Can you hear me?”
“Sam, I can’t believe your back!” he could hear her tears roll down her cheek. Well, not literally, but he had heard that tone of voice. It usually signalled tears of joy.
“I can. You won’t believe where we were. We-“
“Not now. Don’t tell me everything now. Wait until your back here and we can talk over- “she looked at the time, he guessed, “we’ll talk over dinner, okay?” Her voice sounded so sweet, such a treat after the month he’s had.
“Count on it,”
“Sam, we think we know what went wrong.”
“Me, too. I know what to do now, I think.” He could remember it all this time…
“Okay, just get back to me quickly, you hear me?”
“Yes, ma’am!” he felt himself start to tear up as well.
The transition was easier now. He guided himself through it with images of Julia, of mars, and the orbiting station. Sam now knew to expect Allen’s weird behavior around Transitional-Bubbles.
Allen said that everything looked fine on the other side of the transition. Hesul was looking kind of nauseas.
At the floating mansion, Julia waited inside the dining room. She wanted to be there when Sam docked, but Aefron said that he had a few tests to run on both the Heavenly Bodies, and Allen and Sam themselves. He said he would take a while, and that she should rest for a while.
So she had woken up about 5 hours later to a call from Aefron. He said they were finished with the tests and that Sam was ready and was headed to the dining room for the dinner he promised her. Aefron also said that Sam had a surprise with him.
The door slid open, and in stepped Sam and Aefron. Julia started to rise, she almost jumped, but she froze when she saw what came in behind them.
Sam saw this and smiled knowingly.
“Julia, meet Hesul. Hesul, this is my wife.”
Julia’s eyes were wide open, and an exclamation was frozen on her lips.
Seeing that she didn’t want to, or couldn’t speak, Hesul took the initiative.
At first, it was gibberish, that which came out of his mouth. But as he spoke, her AI translated.
“It is an honor, Mrs. Tyle.” He said with a bow and a flourish, with arms that seemed to sprout out of nowhere.
“Ah,” she finally breathed out. “Uh, hi..” came out after, rather weakly. Then she shook her head and turned on her happy-diplomatic-you-have-my-full-attention face. Julia Tyle, reporting for duty, sir!
“Hello, Hesul. Welcome to our space station. I trust your journey here was pleasant.” Her head bowed slightly, in acknowledgement of his presence.
There, that sounded a lot better.
Hesul tilted his head slightly sideways. His widely spaced eyes stared at her while he listened to something through headphones which were wrapped around his head. She would later come to learn that Allen had loaded the headphones and her own AI with a translation program.
He bowed again when the translation on his end was finished.
Her eyes shifted to her husband, an eyebrow quirked up in a question.
Sam, still smiling, spoke up again.
“Do we have a story for you, my dear.”
And so they sat around the small dining table. At a question from Julia, she learned that yes, Hesul can eat our food without any bad reactions. The food came, and Sam, with some help from Allen and occasional interruption for and observation or question of clarification from Hesul.
When the talk wound down, and all sides had said their piece, Julia could say nothing but,
“Wow, who would have thought?”
Heads nodded in agreement all around.
The Collector Codex’s sense of self began to find itself aware of the yellow dwarf sun it orbited. More and more details started to become apparent as its software and component hardware parts finished assembling itself after its long journey through the hyperlane.
It sensed radio signals coming from the system’s third and fourth planetoid.
One by one, the Collector Codex’s progeny built themselves into existence. When they were assembled he ordered them to scout and record.
The Collector Codex began to study, only to be signalled from The Cradle.
“Codex, two more readings of Tesseract Material in your local area. Such volumes are unprecedented. Urgency level has been elevated. Study, report, and collect Tesseract materials for your Matriarch.”
Hail the eternal Matriarch
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