In My Daydreams

Retreat: Part 3

In My Daydreams

I looked around the room again, taking in the people unpacking, the streetlights and well-lit buildings going all the way to the ceiling of the cave.

It felt like a neighborhood in a big city more than it did a refugee camp, but it was still a refugee camp. All the people pulling their most valuable and portable possessions off the mobile platforms made that all too clear.

My implant sent me a notification and it wasn’t just to me. Kals sent it to everybody. “As soon as we’ve dropped off our luggage, we tell my mom about Maru.”

Jaclyn sent back, “That’s the plan.”

Crawls-Through-Desert had ridden on the platform along with the rest of our stuff. It’d been a bit of work to keep the dog from peeing on him during the trip. Apparently, he’d been included in the messages too because he asked, “You were working on making your motivator-mutes work better. How’s that going?”

“Mostly okay,” I told everyone. “It works better against Kals’ commands, but I’d have to test it with more people to know if I’m muting everything from everybody.”

The plant’s fronds rustled. “So I still have to watch you. Kids, do yourselves a favor. If you feel any hint of wanting to listen to him, run. I can handle him alone, but I can’t handle all of you at once.”

Marcus cocked his head to the side. “Maybe we should just let you do it.”

The plant rustled again. “Jadzen Akri would never listen to me. She’d listen to Xiniti. I’ll follow along.”

Soon after that, the platform slowed, stopping in front of one of the larger egg-shaped buildings. Kals looked it up and down. “Lucky you. It looks like you’re all staying with me and Mom.”

Cassie looked up at the egg-shaped bulge extending out of the room’s wall. “Do you think he’s in there?”

Kals touched what looked like a chest or maybe a locker on its side and the object floated upward and then floated next to Kals. She looked up at the building. “He almost has to be.”

Cassie nodded. “Then let’s go in there.”

“Before we do,” I tapped through a menu on my palm, “here’s the latest motivator-mute software,” and I released an update.

Jaclyn grabbed her suitcase. “I hope that doesn’t cause our costumes to seize up.”

“There’s a very low chance of that,” I said.

She gave me a look. “I was joking.”

“There is a small chance of it though, but it’s less than one percent, I think.” I grabbed my own suitcase off the platform.

We walked up the wide steps to the building’s front door, Jaclyn, Cassie, and Kals ahead of me, Katuk to my left, Marcus and Tikki behind me and Crawls-Through-Desert at the rear.

As we walked, I overheard Marcus tell Tikki, “If you don’t have a motivator-mute, you should stay out of range. I don’t want him to—“

With the 360 degree vision that my suit gave me, I saw Tikki lean in to kiss his cheek. “You’re so cute, but don’t worry about it. I’m prepared for him.”

Marcus stepped forward, “Are you sure? Because I don’t want to end up fighting you.”

“Trust me,” she said. “It’s not well known, but people from my gene line don’t become easily ensnared by a motivator’s voice.”

If Marcus argued with her after that, I didn’t hear it, and anyway, we were too busy getting settled. All the buildings and rooms had their own number and knowing that, it wasn’t hard to find my room or anyone else’s. We were all in the same hallway—in alphabetical order given the alphabet they were using.

They weren’t large rooms, but they were enough for one person and a bed. I barely put my suitcase down when I got the notification from Kals that, “Maru and my mom are on the second floor. You’ll find me there.”

No one talked as we walked up the stairs. The only sounds aside from our feet were the whimpering of the dog. Jaclyn had locked him in her room.

We walked up into a larger room. From the tables, I guessed it could be used as a dining room, but also a ballroom, council room or even a throne room had there been a throne. Maru and Jadzen sat across from each other at a table. Kals walked with us. She’d been waiting at the top of the stairs.

Whatever they were talking about, they either stopped or switched to implant assisted conversation as we walked upstairs.

Jadzen watched us come closer, showing no emotion. Maru’s eyes darted from one of us to another. As we stopped in front of the table, Jadzen rose, sizing us all up with a look.

“Kals,” she asked, “What’s going on here?”

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Semicoop

It’s… art!

Semicoop

The theme of Sakura is hilarious and it basically makes everybody we explain the game to laugh.  It’s a push-your-luck game in which you try to be closest to the Emperor pawn. Other players can influence the position of the emperor and of the first and last players. You might think you’re smart by ending up right behind the emperor, but you’ll be sorry when another player makes him move one step back. This will lose you prestige and move three spaces back. It’s a game we would play with any of our gaming groups as a short game to end a game evening lightly. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on when it hits the stores if you like these types of games.

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Feb 15, 2018 at 11:13am PST

We’ve also played London and we’re jokingly calling it Nations-light. Absolutely a game that we were missing in our collection. Heinze simply enjoys these tableau-building games and he’s also really good at it. I’ve already decided that my goal for our second game will be beating my own previous score and not to try and beat Heinze. 😉

This week is going to be a quiet week with hardly any gaming nights planned for a change, except Gloomhaven and we’re looking forward to that!

What is the game with the silliest theme in your collection?

The post It’s… art! appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Retreat: Part 2

In My Daydreams

I don’t think that the colonists had ever seen a puppy before—not a “tiger terrier” puppy anyway. Maybe the adults didn’t bring them along and maybe it didn’t occur to them that the twenty or thirty-pound dog following us could possibly be related to the twelve-foot tall predators that lurked outside their fence.

The upshot of all this is that when the floating platforms came to take us all away, the dog was no problem. Even shoved into the corner of a platform with us and our luggage, it was friendly to the two families riding with us.

One of the kids, a blond-haired five-year-old boy asked, “What’s his name?” as the dog sniffed his hand.

Jaclyn ran her hand through the curly fur on the puppy’s back. “I’ve been calling him ‘Tiger’ after an animal on my world that also has stripes.”

I hadn’t noticed it before, but there were subtle stripes in its grayish-brown fur. They were only slightly darker than the fur around them and the curly fur made them jagged. They might look more tiger-like if he was shaved.

The platform floated through the air in the dark. Only my glasses allowed me to see where we were going. We were going up the hill that the colony had been built on, but not in the direction that I’d gone while walking with Kals. We went parallel to the shore of the ocean instead of away from it. After a few minutes of riding, we reached a hole in the rocky cliff that we were riding on.

“Hey Kals, what’s that?” Leaning her back on a pile of luggage, Cassie twisted her hand to point at the hole with her thumb.

Kals leaned against her own luggage. “That’s where we’re going to hide.”

We knew she had to be right because all the floating platforms ahead of us were disappearing into the hole.

“No shit.” Cassie straightened her back. “Where’d it come from? Did you people dig it?”

Kals shook her head. “It was here before we were. These tunnels are all over the coast. We think an animal dug them, but we haven’t seen one.”

I turned back to look at her. “Wait, how long have you known about these tunnels? Are you sure they’re unoccupied?”

Kals stared at me. “We’re not stupid. We’ve known about them since the beginning of the colony. They’re up and down the coast for hundreds of miles, maybe thousands. We think it predates the Abominators terraforming the world. A lot of creatures use the tunnels now, but we haven’t seen anything that can dig them.”

Our platform followed the other platforms inside and deeper into the rock. The walls were ribbed, narrowing a little and then widening a little, staying roughly the same width. It was as if whatever had created them had bunched up and then expanded, bunching up and then expanding again and repeating it as many times as necessary.

I wasn’t sure what could make tunnels like that. The only thing that came to mind was the sandworms from the book Dune, but even those had trouble with solid rock from what I remembered.

Kals reached out to pet Tiger and scratch under his chin. The dog growled at her when she stopped. “We’ve used force fields to set apart a space where we can live. It’s not bad as giant caves go.”

“You know what this place needs?” Marcus told Tikki.

Sitting next to him, Tikki turned to meet his eyes. “What?”

“A railway and mining carts.” He stopped.

Katuk turned to look at Marcus. “Why would that be an improvement over these floating platforms?”

I leaned toward Katuk. “It wouldn’t be an improvement. He’s saying that because many pieces of popular entertainment included mining carts and a railway. He’s wondering what it would be like  to try it in real life as opposed to watching it.”

Katuk’s big, black eyes pointed both at Marcus and me. “That seems like an inefficient mode of transportation.”

Marcus nodded. “Yeah, but that’s not why I’d want to try it.”

We were saved from finding out how Katuk would respond to that by the platform floating into a new room. This one appeared to have been carved out of the rock just like the tunnels, but unlike the tunnels, it was shaped like a circle. It was big, big enough that I felt comfortable with the idea of thousands of people living inside it.

And it was good that I felt that way because thousands of people were there whether I wanted that to be true or not. The egg-shaped buildings I’d seen on the surface had been used here as well, some of them fatter, some thinner, all of them in clusters and all of them reaching from the floor to the top of the room’s ceiling. Artificial lights lit the streets and the windows.

The glow of force fields blocked the cave’s exits.

I turned to Kals. “I never imagined you’d have something this big and… developed.”

She shrugged. “We’ve been expecting to have to hide for years.”

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In My Daydreams

Retreat: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Agent 957 of the Human Ascendancy’s Genetic Management Office, Hideaway

Orbiting the only world in the system that showed signs of life, Agent 957 checked the sensors for humanity. Because the world had been seeded with lifeforms with genes the Abominators had gathered from humanity’s birthplace, this took longer than expected. The planet’s lifeforms were numerous and in many cases, massive. Agent 957 filtered for signs of technology. Ignoring the Abominator ruins (remnants of the planet’s terraforming), the agent found what he was looking for on the dark side of the planet.

The sensors showed three settlements, all within walking distance of each other. The computer estimated six thousand people between them. It was hard to say precisely.

Agent 957 checked the sensors for any signs of resistance, finding only two aged fighters in the field that passed for the colony’s starport. Neither of them took to the sky, meaning either that the colonists were unaware that their ships had arrived, or that they’d decided not to waste their lives in a pointless act of resistance.

He’d have seen that as a good sign except that he’d seen the Xiniti ship at K’Tepolu, but saw no evidence of it now. That was disquieting. He’d never heard of the Xiniti running away from a fight without a plan and Xiniti plans had brought down the Abominators. He passed on his information about the Xiniti ship over to the Annihilation, the warship accompanying him. They could use the help. Even if only one of the crew was Xiniti by birth, all he’d ever heard of the Xiniti suggested that those they adopted were just as deadly as the original.

He reached out to his implant and had it contact the mole. She might know the status of the Xiniti, adopted Xiniti, and the missing starship.

The implant had overlaid a light gray square over the spot on the planet where the villages were. Agent 957 stared at it, willing the mole to respond. She didn’t.

The implant reported no response.

Agent 957 knew that she might be occupied. If the colony were aware of the Ascendancy forces, they’d evacuate or fight. Either way, the mole might not have time to converse. On the other hand, the mole had been growing less cooperative lately.

He would have to consider appropriate punishments. It would have to be subtle. On the one hand, she’d given them the colony. On the other, this sort of half-hearted assistance could not be encouraged. He’d have to get creative. It sounded fun. It more than made up for the fact that he wouldn’t be able to do the same to Maru. The onetime Dominator would have to be given back to the other Dominators. He didn’t know what they’d do with him, but it would be interesting—probably.

It was possible to argue that he’d fulfilled his original mission, but with a significant detour.

Agent 957 shook his head and watched as the planet grew closer. He contacted the warship. “Annihilation, are the marines ready?”

“Ready,” the warship’s communications officer responded. “The dropships and fighter wing escort are fueled and ready for launch. Unless you have a reason they should launch earlier, we’re going to wait until we get closer.”

“We control the mines now. I don’t anticipate any need for an early launch.” Agent 957 wondered what Commander Hesses was doing—probably sitting on the bridge, jaw set, and trying to look important. Word had come down from both of their chains of command about who was leading this mission—Agent 957—and the commander had not taken it well. He didn’t think they’d talked directly since.

He shook his head. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they destroyed the colony and with it the resistance’s hidden leadership before the Alliance or the Xiniti sent more ships.

Checking his implant, he learned that he had thirty minutes before they entered the planet’s atmosphere. He walked back to his stateroom and pulled on the last layers of his armor, even grabbing his helmet in case something damaged the spaceship’s hull on the way down.

By the time he returned to the bridge, the spaceship had nearly reached the planet’s atmosphere. He strapped himself in, giving the Annihilation the word, and waiting as it released its dropships and fighters. Then he led them downward, aiming for the colony.

As they neared the “starport’s” landing field, he fired on the two fighters and the old colonization ship near them. It removed the chance that someone would get away and sent the colony a message at the same time. As they got closer, he checked the ship’s sensors for life signs.

There weren’t any. All three towns were empty of human life. Where had they gone?

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In My Daydreams

So… Uh… Valentines Day?

In My Daydreams

I think I’m going to be updating on Friday this week. I wish I’d thought of this earlier, but you know how I write on Wednesday night so I can update on Thursday? Well, it occurred to me today that maybe, just maybe that Valentines Day would be a bad day to completely ignore my wife in favor of writing.

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Semicoop

Priorities of Dragonholt

Semicoop

It’s been a while since we finished Legacy of Dragonholt and we both agreed that it really deserved some attention. The game actually comes with an achievement list, which did result in us making some irrational choices here and there. I guess that’s our digital gamers background kicking in. 😀

Our characters were a wanderer gnome bard who needed to sing and perform when there was the option and a magic-savvy hyrrinx catfolk sage that couldn’t resist using magic, even if it was the less wise option. You could argue whether Legacy of Dragonholt really is a ‘game’, we consider it more like a gamified choose-your-own-adventure story. We certainly enjoyed the experience and we applaud the ‘unusual’  character choices that are made by the writers. Bravo!

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Feb 8, 2018 at 1:42pm PST


Last week we were surprised by Osprey Games who wanted to send us some of their games. All of these games have been on our ‘interesting games’-list, so we can’t wait to play them.

Do you prefer playing a character of your own gender in games or is it irrelevant to you?

The post Priorities of Dragonholt appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 10

In My Daydreams

Outside the council building, alarms went off. At the very same time, a message that the implant informed me was a “local emergency notification” appeared in my head.

A flat, artificial voice sounded. “A Human Ascendancy warship and heavy fighter have exited jump space. Assemble your evacuation kit and be ready to leave.”

Marcus and Katuk sat up in their beds, Katuk going further and making it to the floor in the same motion. Marcus turned toward the light taps as Katuk’s feet touched the floor.

Meanwhile, my implant supplied video from the ansible. Two ships shot out of a glowing flash in space—probably at the same Lagrange point we’d come out of. One of the ships was a long gray cylinder and the other a much smaller wedge that had been painted black but with red stripes and accented lines that reminded me of a sports car.

The cylinder had a round hole in the middle of its front end that I recognized as its main gun. Since that wasn’t enough, it had four, evenly placed lines of turrets running down its sides. Without getting closer, I didn’t see any way to find out exactly what each turret fired, but they had a lot of turrets so I didn’t feel like I was in any hurry to check.

I did wonder how they’d handle the mines though.

From outside our room I heard Cassie and Jaclyn talking to Kals and Tikki, both of whom had slept over the night before. At the same time, Hal’s “voice” overlaid the real world noises.

[I’ve done several simulations. The heavy fighter and a wing of fighters from the warship will land within an hour. Even assuming the colony gets their two fighters as well as myself into space, they’ll only slow the ships’ down by about ten minutes.]

Okay, I thought back, what would be a good plan since a direct attack on a warship is a bad idea?

[If I fly away from the colony with the shields on, they’ll be unable to detect me and since it’s night, they won’t be able to visually identify me. I’ll contact you after I’ve found a place to hide. I need your permission for my programming to allow me to do so.]

Do it, I told him. They’d probably destroy the ship on the ground otherwise.

It didn’t take long before I heard the roar of its engines as it flew away. With that taken care of, I checked the ansible’s view of the Human Ascendancy ships. They had no trouble with the mines at all. In fact, the mines opened a path for the ships to fly through and then closed behind them. It was almost as if someone had handed the Human Ascendancy all the relevant passwords.

Thanks, Maru.

That said, something bothered me about the idea that Maru had turned on the colony. It wasn’t that it was impossible that he’d want to do it. It’s just that he’d apparently been turned away from his loyalty to the Human Ascendancy originally by Jadzen earlier. When people make that kind of change, they didn’t casually change back. Of course, it could be that he’d always been loyal and he’d never really changed to become part of the Resistance.

That made sense too, but you’d think someone would notice. Sure, he was a spy with the ability to mess with your head, but not everybody around him was affected and it seems like one of those people (better known as the Resistance’s leadership with whom he worked) would have noticed.

But what did I know? All I really knew was that I’d recorded him ordering Geman and Dalat to forget that he’d been the one to mess with their heads. It was pretty damning. If this idea had more going for it than idle speculation, I’d have to find out how he’d come to betray the colony unwillingly.

In the meantime though, we had to escape the Human Ascendancy first and make sure that no one was in the position to betray whatever they were doing next. That meant giving Jadzen the recording we’d made and hoping the fact that we were spying on him wouldn’t make her reflexively distrust us.

I got out of bed and touched the block of ceramic next to my bed. My pajamas absorbed it, transforming from pajamas into jeans, a shirt and a jacket.

Jaclyn knocked on the door. “Are you guys decent?”

Marcus looked at me and then over to Katuk who was now covered head to toe in silver, Xiniti armor. “Yeah, we’re decent, and we’re also loaded for bear. Well, except for me. I’m just in my costume.”

He’d put on his costume at some point between getting off the bed and now.

“Good.” Jaclyn opened the door. “It looks like we’re getting out of here. I got a message from Jadzen because apparently she’s decided that the I’m in charge of the group. The colony has a bunker and we’re all going there. Grab all your stuff. I’m grabbing the dog.”

She looked at us, waiting for us to say something. No one did.

“There’s one more thing you should know,” I told her and had my implant send her everything I’d gotten from the bots.

She shook her head. “I’d been wondering if this could get worse. Congratulations.”

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 9

In My Daydreams

Jadzen frowned. “If one of the new colonists has something the Artificers made, we’re doomed—unless it’s the Xiniti somehow. They had ways of neutralizing Artificer technology when they fought the Abominators. The rumor I heard is that some Xiniti could connect to the artifacts like Abominators did.”

Maru nodded. “I heard that rumor.”

She took a breath. On the desk, her right hand clenched into a fist. “We’re going to have to trust that the Xiniti do know how to control Artificer equipment because the other rumor I heard is that they collect it.”

Unmoving except for his mouth, Maru said, “I heard that too. The leader of my cell claimed he’d seen them do it.”

Jadzen shook her head. “Then we’ll have to hope that they’re resistant to the corruption of the artifacts. When you feel confident that you can trust Geman and Dalat again, make sure they know to watch the sensors for more and report it.”

Maru bowed and the scene ended.

Even as I considered asking Hal if there were more, another scene appeared. This one showed him in what I now knew was his house, a white, egg-shaped building like any other in the colony. His particular house could only be described as “unfinished.” It had furniture , but no pictures on the walls or rugs—only eggshell white floor. From what I could see from the bots’ cameras, only his bedroom had any kind of decoration—a series of small sculptures. I was sure exactly what they were, but they were human shaped. If anything they reminded me of prehistoric “Earth mother” statues I’d seen in archaeology magazines.

It made me wonder if they came from a culture where those statues still had a meaning. It was too bad I wasn’t going to be in any position to ask about them. My Grandpa Klein (Dad’s father) taught archaeology and would probably love to know what they were all about.

The picture in my head didn’t take place in the bedroom though (and in retrospect, I was thankful for that). It took place in the living room during the early evening—hours ago.

Dalat and Teman sat on the couch, both of them sitting straight up, their eyes on Maru. Geman’s bulky, muscular body and bald head contrasted with Dalat’s smaller frame and thin, scruffy beard.

Maru stood in front of them. “Well, you made a mess of this. I suppose I should have told you specifically that you should be prepared for people whose senses were better than human, but I did tell you to take all appropriate precautions. That should have included using your implants for any conversations that relate to my orders. Is that clear?”

Dalat and Geman said a simultaneous, “Yes.”

Maru shook his head. “In the future, you will do exactly that. Unfortunately, in the future, you’re not going to be nearly as useful as you have been in the immediate past. You will remember all the orders I gave you. You will not remember that I gave them. As far as you’re concerned, the memory of who has been controlling you is hidden. It’s behind the wall and nothing can get through the wall without my approval. My voice, my appearance and habits, and the specific words I used to give you the order? They’re all behind the wall too. You will still respond to any order I give, but anytime I attempt to affect your old orders in public act as if it were someone else who created them.”

Dalat and Geman said yes again.

“Now,” Maru said, “I’m going to have to go more in detail about specific events and memories, but what I just told you applies to everything else.”

With that he began to go into detail regarding different times where he’d given them orders, many of them so outside my experience that they made no sense—for example, “During the Fruit Festival, you don’t remember anything specific about the apples.”

I did tell my implant to record both scenes. I felt sure something in them would make sense eventually.

I was right about that. Midway through the long list, I heard him say, “You don’t remember any specific time when you gave me access to the ansible or the name of the account I use to access it as an administrator. You don’t remember anything I said about the account or any other account.”

And there it was. I stopped myself from sitting up in bed. Maru had been the unknown admin. But what had he meant by “any other account?” Had he created another hidden admin account? More to the point, what were we going to do now that I had this? It seemed like more than enough to prove that Maru wasn’t a double agent, but instead a triple agent. Well, unless this was somehow approved by Jadzen, but that didn’t make any sense. Mind controlling Dalat and Geman would only work as an approved activity if there were some agent that they didn’t know about on the ground. If Maru had created another hidden admin account, it made more sense that he was working with someone that he did know.

I debated whether I should wake everyone up to break into Maru’s house and capture him. We might get something even better if we watched him longer. On the other hand, we might watch him take over the colony’s council if we left him too long.

I decided that this had to be a group decision and that I needed to start waking everyone up when Hal sent me another message.

[Two ships have exited jump space.]

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Semicoop

Wild Dice

Semicoop

Whooooooh, this week’s comic is the 150th comic that has been published! Crazy! I almost can’t believe our archives have grown that big already! And I can still say that we’ve published a new comic every week, we’ve never failed that statement on top of this website. Our next milestone is our 3 year anniversary! Which will be accompanied by one of the interesting things we have planned for this year.

So at the UK Games Expo, we’ve scheduled a session of Crystal Heart with Eran from UpToFourPlayers.com and the awesome people from BehindTheBox! Crystal Heart is set in the world of Savage Worlds RPG and it has different mechanics from traditional DnD. If you’d like to know more, you should definitely check out the Crystal Hearts comic by UT4P or look up Savage Worlds. We can’t wait for the UKGE and we really went to the store to get ourselves some awesome looking dice for this special upcoming occasion. 😉 I just love having a reason to get more dice, it’s a weakness! We might not have bought as many as in this comic though.

(And yes, those dice in the third panel are drawn, I wish there was a filter I could have applied to a picture to make it just look like that, but alas! It does look pretty though if I might say so myself.)

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Feb 4, 2018 at 10:11am PST

Do you prefer expressive, colorful dice or a matching set of simple solid dice?

The post Wild Dice appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 8

In My Daydreams

I sent them to his house, Jadzen Akri’s and all over the council building while I was at it. I shared the process with everybody via implant.

As I maneuvered the bots through Jadzen’s house, bugging the common spaces as well as her office, I asked Kals, “Are you okay with it? We are bugging your house.”

Kals sat at the table, eyes glazed over like everyone else’s. “It’s my mom’s house and you have to. Maru’s over there all the time. Even if I didn’t want my mom’s privacy invaded, there are so many meetings there. It’s practically the unofficial council building.”

Once every bot was in position, I left the monitoring to Hal. The AI could assign a process to monitor all the feeds for interesting events and notify us if something important was going on.

Over the next few days, we pretended we weren’t doing anything. Jaclyn paid attention to the dog. Everyone helped—even Katuk who seemed to find the whole idea of domesticating animals strange.

We were in the storage room feeding the animal.

Katuk watched as the dog devoured the contents of its bowl. “I know that other species do it. Humans, in particular, have a great number of domestic animals. The Xiniti do not domesticate animals. We set aside hunting preserves and while we have bred animals, it was to increase the challenge in hunting them—not for friendliness.”

The dog stopped eating long enough to tilt its head and look at the Xiniti while he talked but then got back to eating, licking the bowl once the meat was gone.

Kals and Tikki worked at their respective jobs. Alanna had made good on her promise make Tikki busier even if she couldn’t do the same to Kals who stopped by mid-afternoon as Katuk and I made it back to the suite, finding Marcus and Jaclyn gone and Kals talking with Cassie.

Kals took a sip from a mug. “Alanna’s a bitch. Did you know that she dated Iolan? Whatever happened with that, she hates him now. I think the last time I saw her agree with him was the meeting where they told you to stop looking for the mole. Otherwise, she argues with any position he holds, whether he’s right or wrong.”

Cassie laughed. “I heard about that. It’s so ridiculous. I’m here on another planet and what do I hear about? Stupid high school stuff. Two council members had an affair and now she hates him. I could have stayed home for that.”

Kals shrugged. “People don’t stop being people.”

She wasn’t wrong.

A little after midnight on the second day, Hal notified me that he’d collected information that we’d find interesting during the day. I was lying in my bed by then. Marcus and Katuk lay in their beds, Marcus snoring quietly in the dark. Katuk was, as ever, silent. He may have been awake.

Ok, I thought at Hal. I’ve got nothing better to do right now. Show me what you’ve got.

I found myself in Jadzen’s office, a room with potted plants, a comfortable desk, small sculptures, books, a picture of a boat crossing a stormy lake, and not a single piece of stray paper. Jadzen sat behind the desk. Maru stood in front of it.

He shook his head. “I’m picking away at Geman and Dalat. I believe that I’ll be able to get around their conditioning by tomorrow.”

Jadzen eyed him and frowned. “You’ve been trained by the Dominators. Isn’t there a way to do it more quickly?”

He sat down. “No. Whoever modified them was at least as well trained as I am.”

Nodding as he talked, Jadzen asked, “Does that mean there are Dominators here?”

Maru swallowed, but then said, “I don’t know. My implant should be up to date on anybody who could be assigned to us—unless they realized that you turned me. Then they’re almost certainly feeding me bad information.”

She let out a breath, looking down at the desk as she did it, and seeming smaller. “In your message, you mentioned a disquieting discovery. Learning that there might be Dominators here is all of that, but is that what you were referring to?”

Maru sat down in a chair. “No. This is either worse or of no consequence at all. It’s impossible to know. You’ll remember that we stole an Abominator designed array—“

She interrupted, “Yes?”

“The Abominators got paranoid about the Artificer civilization near the end, avoiding archeological digs, sometimes destroying their artifacts from a distance—“

Jadzen gave a curt nod.

“Well,” Maru said, “Geman and Dalat have begun getting readings from a sensor that claims to detect ‘reality manipulation’. It’s supposed to detect remnants of the Artificer civilization. They’ve been getting flickers from it since we landed. Something might have come in with us or maybe with the Xiniti. Or maybe there’s nothing. They’re barely readings, but the problem with ignoring them is that the sensor has been reporting nothing since we bought it and only now started to report something.”

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 7

In My Daydreams

Hand moving an inch closer to the gun on her hip, Cassie said, “You’re a secret agent now? How do we know that?”

My implant created a translucent square above Crawls-Through-Desert. In appeared the words, “Sending ID. Accept and verify?”

I thought back, Yes.

More words appeared on the screen, “ID verified as special agent for Alliance Consolidated Defense Force. Species: Emperor’s Walking Blade (sapient subtype). Cooperation with Alliance agents is recommended where appropriate for the mission.”

We all looked at each other. From Cassie’s narrowed eyes and Jaclyn’s nod, it was obvious we’d all gotten it.

Katuk inlined his head toward the plant. “Our orders encourage us to render Alliance agents assistance when appropriate for the mission.”

Crawls-Through-Desert’s branches bent toward Katuk and then straightened. “Good. I’m glad you’re willing to assist. I think you’ll find that we have the same mission. I was ordered to step in at K’Tepolu when it became clear that the assigned agent would not be able to reach the system before the colonists left. I had a verifiable cover identity and was on site and was therefore reassigned. My mission is to keep the colonists safe and to discover if there is any kind of mole in the colony.”

I looked at the plant, trying to figure out if there was any spot that could double as a face. My implant assured me that there wasn’t. The plant sensed sound vibrations all across its body and limited light sensing by means of its leaves. Asking, “Do you think Maru’s the mole?”

The plant’s leaves rustled. “Eh. Don’t know. He’s in the running. Like you, I realized he was in the best position to be a mole of anybody, but I’m still not sure I believe it. Sure, he’s a motivator who’s the chief assistant to one of the leaders of the resistance. He’d have an excuse to meet with anybody and mess with their heads. On the other hand, I haven’t seen any sign that he hates his boss or the colony. He seems loyal to me, kids. So if you’re going to accuse him, run your evidence by me when you’ve got it.”

I thought about that. “Who do you think the mole is?”

A pause. Then Crawls-Through-Desert’s leaves rustled again. “Can’t say, but I have a suspect or two. I’ll tell you when I’ve got something. I don’t want it getting out.”

His pot began to float. “That reminds me. I’ve got a couple things to check on. I’ll be back later tonight. You can call me with my ID code. You’ve all got it now.”

I looked the plant up and down. Between his green leaves, branches, and pot, I wondered where his implant was. Overall, I felt like the pot was the best bet, but drilling a hole in the trunk or attaching a fake branch might also work. “We’ll keep you informed,” I told him as he floated toward the door.

It pulled the door open with a frond and floated down the street. I reflected that my threshold for normal was expanding during this trip. Floating plants with guns in their pots? Basically, Crawls-Through-Desert was James Bond as a fern. Well, why not? I supposed that plants needed heroes too.

Kals stood next to me and watched him go. “They’re immune to motivators. Their brains, their sense of hearing, their physiology… None of it maps to ours. They’re not the only aliens like that, but you can see why the Alliance sent it. On the other hand, they stand out a lot.”

Behind me, Marcus talked to Tikki. “No wonder it stepped in to protect you from the hrrrnna and waroo when we met. It all makes sense. It seemed a little weird for this sketchy plant to play hero without some kind of angle where he tried to blackmail you or something.”

Tikki said, “I never thought that was so strange. Even criminals aren’t all bad. When you’re in the resistance, you have plenty of opportunities to see monsters show kindness. And sometimes, you also see good people act in monstrous ways, but I’ve seen more good than bad. We live in a universe full of wonders.”

Crawls-Through-Desert disappeared and Jaclyn turned to Tikki. “If you can create a coating that hides his bots from super-advanced spy technology just from natural materials, I’ll believe this universe is full of wonders.”

Tikki shook her head, smiling. “It’s not all from here. We’ve got a coating to use as a base. We’re just going to collect a couple things and add them to the coating.”

That’s what we did for the next couple of hours. Tikki showed us some silvery leaves, and we gathered them. I can only guess what the other colonists thought. Marcus suggested that we tell them that it was for an art project, but no one did ask. We boiled them and mashed them and worked out a process that would mix them with the coating.

By the time we were finished, the room stank and my bots had a dull silver coat that the eye slid off. Even before supper came, I’d loosed the bots to find Maru.

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Semicoop

Farmer Talk

Semicoop

One of the beauties of board games is that they can give us insight into different worlds, whether it’s fictional or not. You have to think about things and situations you’d never have given any thought… like farming! 😉 It could also raise ethical questions and discussions on a more serious tone like in This War of Mine, a game that will make you think about what you would do in a certain situation?

Not much news in our board gaming lifes. We continued with Gloomhaven and lost the second scenario AND discovered that we were playing the game on ‘very hard’ in stead of normal. Whoops! We messed up with the enemy stats. We dialed it back to ‘hard’ for now, but we might just play on normal from now on. Since this game is so big, we don’t want to have to replay scenarios all the time because it was just a little too hard. It has to be enjoyable to play as well. 😉

This Saturday we helped two of our friends move in together and it turned out that their combined board game collection was a little bigger than they had anticipated. They might need to get rid of some games or arrange extra shelve space! Formula D and Descent are still missing in this picture.

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Jan 27, 2018 at 7:57am PST

What board game gave you interesting insight into something you would never have given any thought to?

The post Farmer Talk appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 6

In My Daydreams

“Easy,” Cassie said, “Bug him.”

I shook my head. “I was trying to avoid that. My tech is pretty low compared to what I’ve seen in the files in my implant. The Xiniti could detect my bots easily and while they’re ahead of the curve in terms of technology out here, they’re not that far ahead. So, bugging Maru with my stuff might accomplish nothing more than warning him that we’re watching and giving him ammunition to argue we should leave or never leave our ship.”

Tikki sat up, pulling away from Marcus. “I might be able to help. If you show me your design, I’ll be able to tell you if it’s so bad that there’s no chance it’ll work. I’m not an expert in spying technology, so I don’t know what will work, but I can tell you if it’s laughably bad.”

Katuk added. “I have some background in our technology. I may be able to assist as well.”

It was hard to gauge Katuk’s enthusiasm from his voice, but the help the implant gave me in judging Xiniti body language didn’t hint that anything was wrong.

I thought about it a little more but decided that we had very little to lose. “Okay, then, I guess we spy on Maru. There’s something that’s bugging me though. If Maru’s behind it all, he knows that we’re aware that Dalat and Geman have been influenced, so he’s not going to use them. If he guesses that we’ll be watching what he does, he might not do anything but use the ansible as an admin—which means we couldn’t watch him there since I’m thinking he’s got an implant. If he does then we might not see him do anything at all.”

Jaclyn looked over at Katuk and then at me. “Go for it. The worst that can happen if you don’t is that he’ll tell the Human Ascendancy where the colony is and you won’t know it. The worst that can happen if you do it is also that he’ll tell the Human Ascendancy, but this way we’ll have a chance of knowing beforehand.”

I glanced over at her. She was right. I shouldn’t overthink this. “Okay. I’ll tell you all how my spybots work. Tell me what you think.”

With that, Tikki and Katuk came forward to the table while Cassie, Jaclyn, Marcus, and Kals stepped back to talk to each other while we discussed how my bots worked. I got out a few of them, opening them up on the table and explaining how they were constructed and exactly what they did as well as my system for communications and major algorithms that determined their behavior.

Katuk sat still and listened quietly, occasionally asking a question for clarification. Tikki leaned over the table, sometimes interrupting to tell me, “Oh, that’s very clever,” and a couple times to say, “Did you consider…“

The crazy thing was that times that she complimented me were times that I had been clever and times when she asked, “Did you consider?” I hadn’t. They were good ideas. One was a tweak to my search algorithm that I was pretty sure would improve the area by at least five percent. The other idea was a change in the communication protocol that would allow me to decrease the number of signals involved in any given communication. As I said, it was a good idea. I didn’t have time to implement it then, but when I did, the overall effect ought to be making the protocol more secure because there simply wasn’t as much communication to observe.

A life support engineer in the Human Ascendancy got some decent training—that or Tikki was unusually gifted. Alternately, Tikki’s technology was so far ahead that commonplace suggestions made a huge difference.

By the time I finished Katuk did weigh in. “I used the techniques I was taught to detect nearby listening devices. Your devices are unusual enough that they might not register as bugs. If they knew to look for them, however, they might be able to be found by standard debugging techniques.”

Tikki nodded, “Their casing is a type of ceramic shell that isn’t unusual. I think I have an idea for a coating that would lower its chances of being detected. Even better, I think we can find the materials locally. I’ve made an outline of the process. I’ll send it to your implant!”

She all but bounced as she talked about it. On the couch, Marcus not only beamed but did a series quick sketches as she talked. They managed to capture the way she moved her arms, grinning, as we discussed the process.

As we finished, I looked around the room. “Anyone want to help gather materials?”

Before anyone could reply, the plant’s pot began to hum and Crawls-Through-Desert spoke, “As a special agent for the Alliance’s Consolidated Defense Force, I think we need to talk before you blow this open.”

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 5

In My Daydreams

“Uh huh.” Cassie gave Jadzen a small bow as the council members left the room, walking toward the exit via a different wing of the building.

I felt a stab of worry as they passed the doorway that led down to the dog, but they didn’t stop. Soon they were gone and we all went back to our suite. I sat down at the table along with Cassie and Kals. Marcus and Tikki sat next to each other on the couch while Jaclyn and Katuk each took one of the chairs across from the couch. Jaclyn found herself sitting next to Crawls-Through-Desert who had positioned himself in front of one of the windows, his leaves angled toward the sun. He still appeared to be dormant though. He hadn’t moved or said anything.

Marcus looked around the room. “I don’t want to start any trouble, but we’re not going to stop investigating, are we?”

Leaning into him, Tikki shook her head. “Of course not. You know what I think? It’s got to be someone on the Council. I don’t know who, but isn’t it funny how they did exactly what you’d want them to do if you were the person behind it all? They told the people who were getting somewhere to stop.”

Kals frowned. “I don’t know. We’ve got motivators who are capable of doing that to Geman, but except for my mom, they’re not on Council. Maru’s not that good. Iolan’s barely trained at all. Alanna’s all techie. She’s got her hands in everything, but before that, she worked on implants. The rest of them don’t have active powers.”

Cassie spoke the second Kals finished. “Is there anybody who might be hiding motivator powers? Or hey, could Alanna have done that with an implant tweak? I mean, those things go straight into everyone’s brains.”

I found myself nodding as she spoke. “I’ve been wondering about that. They’re basically just computers and computers get hacked all the time. With an implant, it seems like you could hack somebody’s brain.”

Katuk and Tikki both started talking at once, both of them starting with, “No—“ I didn’t hear the rest. Even as I tried, I experienced a massive data dump in my head. By the time it was over, I knew the architecture of the standard implant as well as the protections installed to prevent it from being used to take over a sentient being. From what I understood, it would need a sustained effort by a government or corporation to hack one. A single person on a backwater world wouldn’t be able to.

When the rush of information ended, I became aware that everyone was looking at me. “Didn’t any of you get all the technical details on implants? I just got a crash course in the theory and practice of implant design.”

Marcus shook his head, “No—not in much detail. I got a general sense of how they work and that it would be hard to hack them.”

Glancing around the room, Jaclyn said, “I got some technical detail, but not like you did. Maybe they put more technical info into yours or give people more technical information if they can understand it.”

In his almost expressionless voice, Katuk added, “Both choices are common practice.”

To my eye, he seemed to be in a better mood than the night before. It might be that looking for him hard enough that we got in trouble had touched him somehow. That or he regarded participating in this conversation as part of his duty to the group.

In any case, it was better than last night.

Sitting straighter in her chair and speaking a little louder, Jaclyn said, “Hey everybody, we’re going to have to reel it in and get focused. I think we have to ask ourselves two questions, ‘Who are we going to investigate,’ and, ‘Are we okay with what happens if the Council finds out what we’re doing’?”

Kals shrugged. “They can’t do much. My mom won’t be happy with me. Maybe she’ll move me to a less responsible position in the colony for while, but if it saves the colony, I’m fine with it. She can’t do much of anything to you guys. The only person who stands to be hurt is Tikki. She’ll probably be handed over to Alanna to do menial tech jobs for a few years, but it could be worse. Mom’s exiled a few people from the colony. I don’t think she’d do it to Tikki, but it’s a death sentence. I don’t think anyone’s survived more than a few months.”

Tikki had been leaning against Marcus, each of them with an arm around the either. She smiled. “It doesn’t matter. If she comes down hard on me, I’ll leave with Marcus and the rest of you. I’m grateful that the colony took me in, but right now I feel like I want to see the universe. I trained for years to work on starships because I feel like the stars are calling me. I don’t want to be stuck here.”

Kals’ mouth twisted. “I want to go too, but I can’t go if we don’t fix this first.”

As they’d spoken, I’d come to a decision. “I think we should focus on Maru. He’s got Jadzen’s confidence and if he’s been working with Jadzen for years, he’s had every opportunity to learn from her. The reason we’re assuming he’s not as good is because he didn’t go to as good a school. After years of using a skill, it doesn’t matter as much where you went to school as what you learned in the next twenty years. I still don’t have a motive for why he’d do it, but that’s what we need to find out.”

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 4

In My Daydreams

With the volume of Alanna’s reply, Kals stepped backward. “What? No. I’ve never suspected you, but someone is.”

Geman sat in his chair, face blank of emotion, but his jaw muscles tightened. Speaking slowly as if were difficult, he rasped out, “I’m not… controlled. I’d remember… it.”

Everyone turned toward him—Jadzen, Maru, Alanna, the rest of them, and we, of course, were already looking toward the stage.

As the colony’s leadership had turned though, they’d all gone several shades paler. Geman stood up in his chair, saying, “I… I…”

Then he fell over onto the floor, beginning to choke on his tongue. Kals jumped up on to the stage, her voice taking on a queer tone. “Stop choking yourself! You misunderstood me. I said you weren’t controlled.”

He opened his mouth and started breathing in great gasps.

She watched him as he pulled himself up into a sitting position. “Do you have any orders that will be activated if I ask you questions about what you just did?”

He nodded.

In a quieter voice, she asked, “Will any of those orders have lethal consequences for you or others?”

Taking another breath, he said, “Yes.”

Kals took a look back at her mother and turned back to Geman. “Why don’t you go back to work? Or if you’re done for the day, go home. Don’t think about this meeting.”

Geman stood up and walked out of the auditorium. No one spoke until we heard him walk through an outside door.

Iolan spoke first. “I think we now have all the proof we need that there’s a mole. Thank you Kals for your quick thinking. You saved a life today.”

In her chair, Jadzen let out a sigh. “Iolan is right. Thank you Kals. We’re going to have to discuss the best way to handle Geman now that we know he’s controlled and that Dalat likely is as well.”

Walking to the door Geman had left through, Alanna opened it, looked through, and closed it again. Addressing Kals, she said, “Why didn’t you ask who did it?”

Kals gave a small bow in her direction. “I guessed that if whoever had done it forced people to choke themselves on their own tongues if someone suspected that they were controlled, the motivator would put triggers on asking for their name and it wouldn’t stop there.”

Alanna nodded, “I think I’ve seen that. Back before I left, our group had a mole. No one knew who, but after we made a few guesses, my second in command’s wife shot him and then killed herself. We didn’t know if it was a motivator or if she was just depressed. We didn’t have any motivators in my group who could have stopped her, so we never found out.”

Kals stepped off the stage to stand back with the rest of us. “We’ve developed techniques to protect against other motivators messing with our work, so you might not have ever found out even if you had one in your group. My school taught us how to set triggers based on sound, words, smells, pictures and more. You had to know what’s associated with what in someone’s mind before you could change a command. There are different systems for doing it.”

Alanna gave voice to almost the same thought I had. “It’s not the same, but it almost sounds like breaking into a computer program.”

Shrugging, Kals said, “I wouldn’t know, but it’s a challenge to work out how to unravel someone else’s commands.”

Iolan stood up from his chair. “My  motivator training was minimal compared to some here as was my computer training, but I’ve done enough of both to know the we have significant work ahead of us.”

Clearing his throat, he said, “Jadzen, we’ll need experienced motivators to go through their heads—yourself or Maru, perhaps. I know we have a number of others. Kals might assist. In any case, they’re all we need to find the mole now.”

Alanna smiled. “Then the investigation’s over. There’s no need for it if our motivators can get the mole’s identity out of their heads.”

Jadzen rose from her seat. “I don’t think that the investigation is completely over, but I do think it should be put on pause until our motivators have had a chance to examine Dalat and Geman. I’d prefer not to deal with any more controversy than we have to. Maru assemble a list of motivators that could be trusted with something like this and have it to me by this afternoon.”

Maru give her a short bow and Jadzen said, “Good. My thanks to all of you for your work. You’re dismissed.”

Jaclyn and I both looked at each other. I don’t know what she was thinking, but her eyes had narrowed and she was frowning—which led me to think that she was thinking that this all seemed a bit premature. Neither of us had time to figure out a way to broach the subject though.

Cassie crossed her hands over her chest. “Are you sure about that? It seems to me that if anything goes wrong with Dalat and Geman—like maybe they kill themselves—you’ve got nothing.”

Jadzen looked Cassie up and down. “If it comes to that, we’ll put you back on the case, but for now, we’ll leave it to our people.”

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 3

In My Daydreams

Geman frowned but didn’t argue at Kals’ suggestion that he and Dalat used the meeting as an excuse to drink.

Maru’s mouth tightened, reminding me of a growling dog. “Kals, you may be assisting, but you can’t speak on their behalf.”

I spoke even as Kals began to open her mouth to respond, “It’s okay. She’s gotten everything right. I didn’t know about the meeting being an excuse to hang out and drink but it’s definitely true that we weren’t randomly searching people’s farms or property. We were just looking for Katuk. Our implants weren’t detecting him and we were worried that something had happened to him. It turned out that he was safe.”

“That’s right,” Jaclyn stepped forward. “Speaking only on a practical level, we need the freedom to talk to people whenever it works best for them and for us. Some people will have time during the day and others in the evening. And if it looks like we’ve got a person missing, we’ll look for him. This isn’t the kind of planet where I’m comfortable assuming someone’s okay.”

Katuk cleared his throat. “I’m sorry that my disappearance made it necessary for the others to search for me. I felt it was necessary to disappear for a time and didn’t realize that the others would want to search for me. Had I understood that I would have coordinated it with them first.”

Maru swallowed and nodded, not taking his eyes off the Xiniti. “Thank you, Katuk. All of us here appreciate how far you must be from your people right now.”

“All those with me are members of my clan,” Katuk said.

“Not all of you,” Maru said, looking over at Kals and Tikki. “Kals. Don’t you have duties that would prevent you from assisting them? You’re involved in our greenhouses, livestock, and farming. Surely you have enough to keep you busy.”

Kals shook her head. “We’re in the slow season for me. We’re collecting data, but I won’t know how well this year’s crops went until the harvest. Once the harvest is in, then those of us in crop design get to work. Right now I can collect the data I need in a few hours. Besides, you know what my real duties are. As one of the few with fully active abilities, my first duty has to be defense. And that means I need to be with them. Otherwise, I won’t be able to help.”

Maru’s jaw dropped ever so slightly. “You shouldn’t have said that—“

Chin down and staring at him, Kals said, “Why not? They’re on our side. For the good of the colony, we need to be coordinating with them, not spying on them and if I were spying on them, I couldn’t do it from the greenhouse.”

Maru turned to look at Jadzen who shook her head. He turned to Tikki. “As a new member of the colony, I’m sure you have duties that you could be doing—“

Tikki shook her head. “I’m afraid that I don’t. Because I’m a life support specialist, they assigned me to help maintain the greenhouses, but the greenhouses are in good condition. We do maintenance, but there’s not much to do. They keep on telling me it will get busy later in the year, but it isn’t yet.”

Behind Maru, Alanna shifted forward in her chair, no longer looking like she was semi-comfortably nursing a hangover. She gritted her teeth as she stood up. “You both just dropped your duties to help the Xiniti? We know what’s really going on. These Xiniti are human and somehow they’re not triggering the rash…”

She shook her head. “You’re putting the colony behind men who will disappear when the job is done. You should be thinking of the colony first. Is it slow for your teams? Then you should be helping another if you’re done early. The earthworks team is working night and day on the barricades. Kals, you know you could be helpful there. And you, life support girl? I’m going to talk to your superiors. My team could use more help and I know you’re an engineer—“

“No,” Kals kept her eyes on Alanna. “You’ve known me on and off for most of my life, Alanna. I’m my mother and father’s daughter. There is nothing I won’t do for this colony and right now, we need the Xiniti, whether they’re biologically Xiniti or human. Iolan thinks there’s a mole. I think he’s right. I’m almost certain Geman and Dalat are controlled without their knowledge and I’ve seen hints ever since I’ve been here that someone knows that Mom is coming when she goes back. You’ve heard the stories. They shouldn’t have known she was coming. They shouldn’t have known her plans. You and I both know it.”

Alanna stood up straight, staring at Kals, face reddening. “Are you accusing me?”

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 2

In My Daydreams

When the colonists dropped off breakfast, Jaclyn took advantage of the fact that we were all together to tell everyone the story and then bring us all downstairs to show us the puppy. When we were all back up in the suite, Cassie shook her head and finished off the last bit of some kind of meat. Swallowing, she told Jaclyn, “That was so crazy and such a terrible idea that—“

“It’s like something you would do?” Jaclyn finished.

“Well, yeah,” Cassie said. “But I’d know better than to take in a dog. I tried once when I was kid and my dad gave me hell. He gave me a big speech about how a dog is a big responsibility, but nowhere nears as big as yours is going to get.”

Jaclyn gave a short laugh. “I know. Believe me I know. I want to leave him here because they’re so easy to train, but if they won’t let me, I guess I’ll bring him home.”

Kals looked down at her hand. The puppy had licked it. “We don’t have dogs as pets. I’ve never seen one of those things act friendly.”

Katuk furrowed his brow, “Why would you keep such a dangerous creature?”

Jaclyn shook her head. “I shouldn’t, but if they’re not going to train him, I’m not going to let them kill him. We already killed both of his parents and more. There’s got to be a point where you learn what you don’t have to kill.”

Katuk paused, but didn’t add anything to that.

Jadzen Akri and the others showed up about thirty minutes after we’d finished cleaning up. They didn’t knock and wait for us to open the door either. They went into the big council room and after a short period where we could hear them talking in there, Maru stepped into the suite, saying, “Excuse me, everyone. Jadzen and several members of the revolutionary board will see you now.”

We followed him back into the big council room. It felt larger as well as oddly less frightening than it had the night before. Still, the room felt very big and very official with the chairs around the table the front and people sitting in them.

As we entered, Kals looked up at the front of the room. “They’re playing this as if they were investigating some major violation of a Council editct. That’s annoying. Someone must dislike you.”

When we sat in the seats facing the group. Jadzen looked on calmly while Iolan fiddled with something he’d found in the pocket of his suit coat. Alanna slumped in her chair, possibly hungover, possibly remotely accessing something through the bracelet she wore. Three other people that I didn’t recognized at all were also up there in addition to Maru and Geman. Geman yawned and then nodded at us.

Jadzen looked over the group of us. Everyone but Crawls-Through-Desert had followed Maru through the door and into the auditorium. She frowned as she saw Kals and then Tikki. “Kals, you don’t have to be here. Take Tikki and go.”

Kals shook her head. “Mom, I was with them during almost everything they did yesterday. If they’re in trouble, I’m in trouble.”

Tikki glanced over at Marcus, smiled at him, and reached out to squeeze his hand. “That goes for me as well, but also it’s a fascinating opportunity to learn what my fellow colonists think is unacceptable behavior.”

Jadzen gave Tikki a disjointed expression that made it clear she found Tikki’s response odd, but when she looked at Kals, she wore a tired expression similar to the one I remembered seeing on my parents’ faces when they were told I’d taken apart a neighbor child’s toy or a grownup’s lawnmower.

Without saying anything else to us, Jadzen said, “Maru, please start.”

Maru stepped up to the podium. “Greetings everyone and especially to those of you who have come from so far away to protect us. We value your sacrifice. For everyone’s good, we have a few issues to bring up. We received a few reports that your attempts to look for the mole were disruptive to regular operations of the colony as well as colony morale. You interrupted a regular meeting by Geman and Dalat. You all searched throughout the colony, giving no explanation of why you needed to be there. Other individuals in addition to Geman and Dalat were also interrupted from their work to answer questions.

“These sort of practices make it more difficult for people to practice the trades that keep the colony secure and fed. We need you to stop interrupting people during work hours and to stay off people’s property without permission.”

Maru stopped, giving all of us a polite smile. “Do you have any questions?”

Kals responded before any of the rest of us. “I was there for all of that. You know as well as I do that Geman and Dalat usually use the meeting as an excuse to have a beer. The only reason they searched the colony was to find a teammate who they thought might have gotten lost. I can’t speak to interrupting the other people with questions, but I don’t know how else you conduct any kind of investigation.”

Iolan’s eyes widened as she began to speak. I had a feeling that when he’d sent us a message to remain calm and pleasant, he’d been trying to avoid exactly this sort of thing.

The problem was that Kals wasn’t wrong. Being restricted from talking to people during most of the day would slow things down a lot.

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Tieshaunn

Lifesigns

Tieshaunn

I’m still alive, even if I wish I wasn’t, at times. Sickness and all.

Will explain more soon.

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn

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In My Daydreams

Complaints: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Agent 957 of the Human Ascendancy’s Genetic Management Office, System 2411, Edge Sector

Two ships flew through space. One, a long cylinder bristling with laser turrets in addition to its main gun, led the way. The other, a wedge-shaped ship not even a tenth of its size, followed off to its side.

Knowledgeable observers would have recognized the larger ship as the Human Ascendancy Extinction class warship named Annihilation. The smaller ship would have been recognized as a Stinger class heavy fighter number 1123 of the Far Hunter Squadron. There were no knowledgeable observers or even sentient creatures in the system except for those on the ships themselves. The only other being that could have observed them was busy and while she would have recognized the technology and purpose of the ships, her interest in science was great and her interest in fighting only marginal unless it presented an interesting technical problem.

Human Ascendancy warships were conservative in design and offered no interesting technical problems. Therefore, her attention lay elsewhere.

Agent 957 flew the Stinger. It was moments like this one that he lived for. He’d taken his ship all the way back to K’Tepolu after he’d failed to capture the criminals and their Xiniti escort. K’Tepolu had been the sensible choice. It worked for whatever he wanted to do—investigate as his mission dictated or desert and try to escape the consequences of losing them. He might have tried if the Annihilation hadn’t been there.

Instead he’d given the pictures that the mole had passed along to a professional astrogator he’d hired, explaining his mission, the last heading of the criminals’ ship, and the fact that the Xiniti ship appeared to have access to jump and blink space despite its small size. The astrogator had access to a database showing the skies of hundreds of thousands of planets and ran a search on the mole’s pictures. With that started, he’d searched out anywhere the colonists or Xiniti could have gone on that strange collection of linked asteroids.

He’d learned that only one of the Xiniti was biologically a member of the Xiniti species. The rest were human. He couldn’t find out where they’d originated from, but members of other races who joined the Xiniti nation were no pushovers. He made sure to pass that information on to the warship. As the only allies he had, he’d have to bring them in on this no matter how little he wanted to.

Though he did find Kee Oataki’s shop and technology training facility, he found that no matter how much he threatened, no one would let him speak to her. “She’s presently unavailable,” a scruffy Zeeta crawler told him. Then, making a gesture that his implant identified as rude, the Zeeta had gone back to a discussion that involved equal parts jump drive theory and its favorite serialized vid.

The public, online records of a fight in the marketplace gave him a better picture of their fighting styles. Two of the human “Xiniti” had fought a few of the barbarian waroo there. The agent didn’t recognize their fighting styles, but it was clear they’d been well trained. It was also clear that “Tikki” could manipulate time, making her recapture a priority.

Though viewing the fight had been easy, getting the waroo to talk about it turned out to be impossible. Agent 957 didn’t at all expect to understand the creatures, but he was surprised that even though they were known mercenaries, they wouldn’t talk about the fight and wouldn’t draw up a contract to hunt down the people who’d nearly killed one of their own. They’d refused. “You have no understanding of our laws. We will handle this in our own way.” When the astrogator’s report came back with a positive identification of the planet and star system Hideaway, the waroo had been willing enough to take the information.

With any luck, they’d appear in time to destroy the Xiniti escort in their rage. If they didn’t show up, he had the firepower to do it himself.

That brought him back to the moment. Hideaway lay in the middle of a cluster of systems arranged such that their gravity wells made blink space practically useless. The Annihilation and his ship would spend a week in jump space before they reached the planet.

The mole had been surprised to find that Agent 957 had found Hideaway’s position on his own and unsuccessfully tried to hide fear. No matter. Agent 957 had made it clear that the mole’s service had been invaluable. Did the mole have anything left to report? The mole did. There were mines. Agent 957 had made a note of their positions and notified the warship.

It was time to make the jump. Agent 957 checked with the Annihilation to  make sure it had the coordinates correct. Then the agent aimed his ship toward the cluster of stars ahead and turned on his jump drive.

* * *   

The next day my implant woke me at eight in the morning—which was good. It meant that I’d be awake before any of the colony’s leadership came to complain. It was also bad in that I needed more sleep after waking up in the middle of the night to follow Jaclyn around and watch her dog poop.

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In My Daydreams

Updating Late Thursday

In My Daydreams

Hey folks,

I’m sorry to do this again so soon after the holidays, but I’m going to have to push the update back.  My car stopped being able to go into reverse last week (I hit a garbage can as a result) and then stopped working altogether.

Today I bought a new (to me) car after work. That meant that I also got to clean out my old car,  go to the Secretary of State ( alias the Department of Motor Vehicles), and experience the wonders of bureaucracy and paying money to the government.

I arrived home at 8pm and ate supper at 10pm and first got a chance to write at 11pm.  On the bright side, I am writing, but I’m not going going to be done on time.

Look for an update tomorrow (late in the evening).

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In My Daydreams

A Good Boy: Part 10

In My Daydreams

Wondering if I should check with the others before I did anything, I decided it was most likely Jaclyn, Cassie, Tikki, or Kals and if not, I could probably tell the rest via implant.

In fact, I was being too paranoid already. The most likely possibility was that one of them had opted to use one of the bathrooms outside our suite rather than risking walking everyone else up. The toilet was kind of noisy.

As I walked through the door that led into the main area of the council building, I reflected that if that were true, explaining what I was doing was going to be awkward. Well, if I did find that the footsteps led to one of the other bathrooms, I’d do my best to sneak away before they got out.

The main area of the council building was an open room large enough hold almost everyone in the colony. Even if that was only all of the colony’s adults, that might mean as many as 2000 people. I followed the footsteps across the front of the auditorium, noting the rows of seats to my left. Anything could be hiding there in theory, but my glasses’ thermal imaging didn’t show anything hot enough to be alive.

I reached a short hall on the other side of the auditorium. It continued into another suite like ours, but before that a stairway opened up downward to the right. I followed the steps downward, noting that they appeared to be made of the same white substance as the egg-shaped outside walls. Even before I reached the bottom, I noticed that the thermal footprint remains were more distinct. Halfway down, I heard the first noise. It was a series of high pitched barks—more yips than barks—and then Jaclyn’s voice.

“Shh.”

I jumped down the final flight of stairs, landing in front of a closed door, but one with a telltale glow at the bottom of the door. The light was on inside and since I knew who was there, I said, “Jaclyn?”

The door opened. Jaclyn stood in the doorway wearing the pajama version of her stealth suit—a red top with white pants. I remembered programming in the specifications.

She sighed. “I knew someone would notice eventually, but I thought it would be Cassie.”

Then she turned to look behind her. A dog with grayish-brown, curly fur bounded toward me, getting on its hind legs and placing its paws on my stomach. A closer look showed me that it was more fuzzy than furry and the clumsiness of its walk told me that it was more puppy than dog despite its size. More clues came together—the thickness of its limbs, the size of its paws, the resemblance to a terrier.

It sniffed my crotch and then dropped to all fours to consider the smell of my feet. It gave my left foot a lick.

“Wow. Is that what I think it is, and why did you take it in?” I looked around. “You’ve been keeping it in a closet?”

To be fair, it was more of a storage room. It was at least twenty feet wide, maybe larger, filled with boxes, a bowl of water, and bowl of last night’s leftovers.

Her head sunk for a moment, but then she looked me in the eye. “It’s not a closet. Look, I got up early the morning after we killed those things and went out running. It was there where we’d killed them, sniffing around. I know it was dumb, but I couldn’t leave it there. We’d killed its parents and I’ve always liked dogs…”

She shook her head. “This sounds even dumber out loud than when I was imagining explaining it.”

The puppy grabbed my pants leg and started pulling on it. It had a strong grip.

“No! Stop. Over here.” She pointed directly in front of her. It stopped, looked at her, and let go of my pants. Then it sat in front of her. She crouched, scratching it behind the ears, and saying, “Good boy. Who’s a good boy?”

She let the puppy lick her face a couple times, wiping off the spit with her hand. Then she stood up. “He really is a good dog. Dogs at home don’t learn commands that quickly. They should be training them instead of hiding from them. I’ve been hoping to show them, but for now, I just need to take him outside. You want to come along?”

I glanced down at the dog which had already wandered off to the food dish to scarf down a few gobbets of meat. “Sure.”

We brought the dog out to a courtyard off to the side of the auditorium. Since it was surrounded by the building, we didn’t have to worry about the dog running off—though we did have a scare when it darted toward one of the walls, disappearing behind a bush. When we caught up with it, we found it dismembering a creature that appeared to be a cross between a rat and a grasshopper. Rats don’t have six legs or wings, and grasshoppers don’t have fur, but this had both.

“What are you going to do with it?” I asked her as the puppy finished eating and then did its business behind another bush.

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I think the colonists could train them, but you know how big they get. The colonists aren’t going to like the idea. We could bring him home, but…”

I tried to imagine that. It wasn’t as if Jaclyn could keep it in her dorm at the University of Michigan. The best idea would be to keep it in HQ in Grand Lake. I imagined trying to take it for a walk. It wouldn’t be so bad when it was a puppy, but when it was fully grown…

“I hope we don’t bring him home,” I began, but I was interrupted by a message.

It was from Iolan. It was marked important, but if we’d been asleep, it wouldn’t have been urgent enough to wake us up. We’d have gotten the notification after waking. I opened it. It said, “I’m part of the group meeting at Jadzen Akri’s house tonight. Things have gotten… off topic. We’ll all be visiting tomorrow morning. Whatever happens, be cooperative and pleasant. Don’t give anyone an excuse to be angry. It’s not too big a thing. It’s just that there have been a few complaints about your investigations. I’m doing my best to calm people down over here.”

The message ended and I asked, “Did you—”

“Get the message? Yes.” Jaclyn’s mouth was a flat line. “It sounds like a bad time to bring up the dog.”

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In My Daydreams

A Good Boy: Part 9

In My Daydreams

In the end though, it wasn’t something that I could do anything about aside from passing on the speculation to everyone else—that and the fact that Kals’ could get around our current defenses. Everyone’s response could be summarized in Jaclyn’s, “Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you tell us that before?”

“I didn’t know until just before you told us you’d found Katuk. Everyone was worried about that and I kind of forgot. Anyway, we were going to work on it tonight. Well, I was assuming we would, if that’s okay.” I looked over at Kals.

She gave a quick nod. “Whoever controls all of you controls all of us. I’m not going to let that happen.”

Cassie looked around the table. “Sounds like the two of you are going to have fun. Now what are the rest of us going to do?”

I thought about it. “The Xiniti implant has an entertainment folder. Plus there’s the ansible.”

Shaking her head, Cassie said, “I don’t even know what kind of entertainment you’d find through the ansible. And have you checked the Xiniti entertainment folder?”

“No.” As I said it, a long list of titles flowed through my mind.

“Don’t.” Cassie’s tone of voice mixed the sound of finality with utter disbelief. “I did, and they’re this weird mix of soap opera and war story. At any given moment anyone in the story might change gender or maybe everyone will change gender. Units will break up and reform for reasons that won’t make any sense. Also, some of them are musicals. And there are religious rituals. And there are sports where your gender can change mid-game… Plus, you know how the implant rushes to give you all the information you need every other time you use it? Well, it doesn’t with the entertainment because that would affect your interpretation of the creators’ artistic intent. Xiniti art is supposed to be enjoyed and interpreted by your whole unit or group marriage.”

She clenched her right hand as she leaned forward over the table. “If Katuk’s listening, I hope he understands I’m not hating on his culture, but I don’t get it at all.”

Marcus waved his hand in the air. “You know what we could do?”

Almost in unison, Jaclyn and Cassie said, “No Monopoly!”

“Okay…” Marcus leaned back, cocking his head and waiting for a moment before he added, “But I don’t know what we’d do then. Maybe Hal could list any games he thinks he could simulate and then we’d choose?”

I didn’t pay much attention after that. It wasn’t surprising if you thought about it, but Hal’s specialty was simulating battles. That meant that while games using military strategy and tactics might be a special interest, he had a general interest in all games, ranging from children’s games to drinking games and including sports, boardgames, war-games, and role playing games. As long as it had been uploaded on to the internet, he knew the rules.

By the end of the night everyone was playing some game (I didn’t pay attention to which one). I spent most of the night tweaking the algorithm that countered motivators’ voices—which meant that Kals divided her time between playing and testing my tweaks. That’s to say she alternated between playing and giving me orders.

This would have been fine if we were alone except that we weren’t, and as soon as Marcus realized how we were testing he began to offer suggestions. “Have him cluck like a chicken. No, wait… I can come up with something better than that—”

At which point Kals interrupted him to ask, “What’s a chicken?”

After Marcus explained, Cassie then suggested that they, “See if he knows the Periodic Table of the Elements from memory.”

I did—all the elements known on Earth plus a few Grandpa told me about. Tikki knew a few more—several, actually. At Marcus urging, Kals had her recite them too—which made her laugh once she was done.

That wasn’t the reaction I’d been expecting given that the whole colony seemed to exist to avoid control by motivators, but I was beyond trying to make sense of people. I was more concerned about the sounds that came out of Kals’ throat, using my suit and the implant to record and analyze them,  and sometimes offloading work to Hal.

Even with Jaclyn’s help in preventing Cassie and Marcus from making more suggestions (“Just stop it.”), we didn’t completely figure it out before I realized that I was too tired to think clearly. Chalking it up to the problem being hard and everyone being stir crazy, I went to bed, finding that it wasn’t easy to sleep.

I couldn’t quit thinking about alternate solutions and sonic tricks Grandpa had told me about. When I did finally fall asleep, I didn’t stay that way all night. Around four in the morning, I woke up, realizing both that I heard footsteps in the main room, and that I needed to pee.

While the possibility that it wasn’t one of us did occur to me, it was far more likely that one of the four people on the women’s side of the suite needed to go the bathroom too. Since my “pajamas” were simply a thin version of the stealth suit, I grabbed my glasses/HUD and walked out of the room.

The glasses’ thermal imaging left no doubt about what had happened. Glowing footsteps led from the women’s doorway toward the end of the room where two doors stood. One led to the bathroom. The other led deeper into the building.

The glowing footsteps went past the bathroom and out the other door.

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In My Daydreams

A Good Boy: Part 8

In My Daydreams

I couldn’t argue with him. I didn’t know what the vegetables or the meat were, but I liked them. I wasn’t sure that they were good enough that my life would be fulfilled if I got killed by an angry Xiniti after supper, but as Marcus implied, it was better than dying hungry.

“So what do you think?” Marcus asked, “You think they told him?”

Jaclyn paused with her fork in the air. “How would he not know something like that? It was a big enough deal to make us Xiniti citizens. That can’t happen every day. How would he not hear about it?”

“Easy,” Cassie raised her hand, waving it to get our attention. “They’re a military culture. If you don’t need to know, they don’t tell you.”

Marcus nodded. “Sounds about right. That’s what Grandpa hated about the army. The way he told it though, people had ways to find stuff out. Rumors got around. So even if you didn’t know the whole story, you knew something.”

I thought for a second. “I guess we probably shouldn’t say anything about that unless he does.”

Jaclyn frowned. “It still doesn’t seem right for them not to tell him and if that’s really the reason he’s angry and feeling ignored was just an excuse? Then we’re not going to get anywhere until we address it. By the way, I’m not arguing with you. I’m saying this because it needs to be said once before you go in.”

We all looked at each other across the table. Thinking back to Geman and Dalat this morning, I said, “We probably ought to switch back to a normal conversation so that he doesn’t think we’re talking about him.”

For the rest of dinner, we talked normally.  Kals talked about the day to day life in the colony and the Human Ascendancy. Tikki talked about adjusting to the colony. We answered questions about living on Earth without ever calling it Earth and continuing to pretend we were from somewhere else.

As we picked up the dishes and washed them in the sink, Marcus sent me a message via implant. “Ready?”

I nodded and we left the main area and walked into our room. It was dark, but not pitch black. Light came in through the doorway behind us and if that weren’t enough, my glasses brightened the room enough that it only felt dimly lit instead of dark.

Katuk lay in his bed, staring into the air with wide eyes and blank expression, an expression I recognized. It was the look of a person watching television, a computer screen or using an implant. Katuk never moved as Marcus and I stepped into the room, but the senses provided by standard Xiniti cyborg enhancements would have allowed him to notice us no matter what was going on in his head.

Marcus turned and walked directly up to Katuk’s wooden bed. “Hey Katuk, Nick and I stopped by to say we were sorry. I know we don’t pay as much attention to you as you need. Being human, we’re not wired the same and so we don’t naturally know what’s normal for you. I don’t know if you do this with other Xiniti, but you’re going to have tell us what you need. Otherwise we won’t know. Nick?”

Katuk remained motionless, but Marcus turned to me. “Your turn.”

I watched as Katuk took a long, slow breath. “I don’t have anything to add to that. Marcus said everything important. I should give you my personal apology though. No one intended to exclude you. I didn’t either. If I did, it was completely unintentional.”

Katuk didn’t say anything.

Marcus glanced at me. “Is it possible that he didn’t hear us?”

I looked down at Katuk. His eyes, wide and dark, aimed upward at the ceiling. “It’s pretty much impossible that he didn’t unless he really worked at it. Xiniti senses plus their cybernetics can take in more information at once than we can—at least most of us.”

Marcus sighed. “Okay. Then I guess he’s ignoring us.”

He began to turn toward the door, but as he took a step, Katuk spoke. “I will do my duty. Please leave me alone.”

“Thanks,” I said, watching to see if he’d say anything else.

He didn’t.

After a little while longer, Marcus and I walked back into the main room of the suite. When we sat down around the table with everyone else, Jaclyn asked, “How did it go?”

Marcus and I looked at each other.

Marcus shook his head. “I have no idea.”

“We both apologized and Katuk said he’d do his duty, but to leave him alone.” I shrugged. “That’s all we’ve got. Marcus did tell him that we were unfamiliar with what he needed out of us and that he have to tell us for us to know, but I’m not sure if that helped or hurt.”

Marcus rested his arms on the table. “It seemed like it needed to be said.”

Jaclyn looked toward the doorway as if expecting some reaction from Katuk. When nothing happened, she said, “I guess that’s something. As long as he’s willing to work, we might still get somewhere. That’s more than he said to us.”

Thinking about it, it seemed to me that she was right. On the other hand, a more paranoid part of my mind wondered if any motivators on the planet did know enough to affect a Xiniti. Kals said she might, but more experienced motivators would know more.

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Tieshaunn

B13.f The Man Who Knocked Out Lady Light

Tieshaunn

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“Can’t believe they’re letting one of you freaks out,” the young warden said, his tone going past deriding and straight into hateful. “Can’t believe you actually managed to get out on good behaviour, either.”

Philip just smiled, his metallic face betraying only a kind of calm serenity, as he nodded to the younger man in the uniform, holding the release papers he’d just been given. “All thanks to your exceptional guidance, Sir,” he replied, his voice sounding serene, but strange – even at the best of times, he was a ponderous talker, the transformation imposed upon his body making fast talking all but impossible. “I wish you well.”

The man snorted, throwing one last look at the figure in front of him, looking like someone had put a steel statue into a cheap suit and tie, then he turned away and walked back into the prison.

Philip put the documents into the cheap suitcase he’d bought just for this occasion, which also contained what few other possessions he had accumulated throughout his stay in prison. Though even after a few months past twenty years, it wasn’t that much. A few books. A hand-carved chess set from that nice banker fellow, who’d ended up breaking out. A few other odds and ends.

Turning around, he walked across the prison’s front yard, as he heard a few cheers from the prisoners in their cells, those who could look out onto the yard. He waved at a few, approaching the gate, and smiled at the guards there. They smiled back, congratulating him on his early release and his good conduct, and he thanked them quietly, though he was elsewhere with his thoughts.

Outside, a heavy van was waiting for him, to drive him back to civilisation. Feeling the gravel crunch underneath his heavy steps – even in a suit, he wore heavily reinforced boots, as normal shoes could not possibly have survived his prodigious weight – he approached the van whose door was already open, and got into the back.

The driver – an employee of the Corrections Office – nodded to him, and the door slid shut on its own, while Philip leaned back. The electric engine started up, so quietly he barely noticed it before they started moving.

When he’d gone into the slammer, electric cars had just started replacing the old gas engines. He could still remember the sound of them, the smell. He wondered how the big city smelled now, after almost twenty years of having no car exhausts to dirty the air.

Probably not all that much better, all things considered.

The ride was quiet, neither he nor the driver trying to have a conversation. The destination was set, and he’d honestly felt like he’d talked enough already, for one day. Nevermind that he still had to talk to his parole officer, before he got set up in whatever housing the government had arranged for him.

Not that he intended to stay there for long. No, he was going to find himself a job, and get himself a nice, quiet place of his own. He may have lacked much in the way of desirable job skills, but he had power and there were always job opportunities for people with powers.

Outside the car’s window, the landscape flew by, even though he couldn’t hear the rush of the wind or much of anything else, on the inside. It was all so quiet.

“May I open the window a bit?” he asked his driver. “I haven’t felt the air rush by in years.”

“Sure thing,” the younger man replied. “Just, do it on the right side of the car, please. I get a stiff neck if the air blows against it all the time.”

“Of course, of course,” Philip said, and carefully slid over to the right side of the car – one always had to be careful, when they were made of over a ton of metal – to press one of the buttons on the door, lowering the window.

The wind blew against his face – they were going really fast – and brought with it the early November cold.

He could’ve tried to describe the feeling, to describe what it meant to him to feel this again, after two decades of being stuck inside a prison, but he’d never been any good with words. It was nice. Proof that he was free again, or as free as a former supervillain with a dozen murders – even if all but one of them had been accidental – on his rap sheet could be.

Letting his arm hang out of the window, stretching, feeling the wind rush through his fingers, as the van took him towards New Lennston, the city built upon the grave of his childhood home.

***

“Building’s got wi-fi like every other place,” the tired-looking woman told him as she unlocked the door to his erstwhile home. “Free access, of course. Phone’s functional and so is the electric heater. You can come and go as you please, but no bringing trouble home. No parties, no drugs… well, no violating your parole in general. Don’t disturb the other tenants and you’ll have a nice, quiet time here, until you’re back on your feet.”

She stopped, looking him up and down. “Though I doubt there’s much that could knock you off your feet in the first place,” she observed with a surprisingly friendly smile.

Philip took the time to take a closer look at her, as well, having paid her little attention beyond basic politeness yet – his mind was still with his parole officer and the talk they’d had – and found himself surprised to realise that she was actually younger than him. A thin, short woman wearing a cheap brown-and-gold dress, shoes with heels trying to make up for her lack of height, with frizzy brown hair, she couldn’t be older than forty, at most.

“You’d be surprised, ma’am,” he replied, speaking as slowly as he ever did, taking extra care to clearly enunciate every word. It made him seem stupid and slow, he knew, but it was better than garbling everything he said and being completely incomprehensible. “I’m C-list at best, as they say. Lots of guys and gals out there who could make mincemeat outta me. Not that I intend to get into any brawls or anything.”

She put her fists onto her hips, glaring up at him – she was five foot nothing in heels and he stood at six-five, so she had to crane her neck to actually look him in the face. “I sure hope not, good man! You’re here to better your life, not get thrown back into prison!”

He nodded with a smile. “Of course, ma’am. I’ve learned my lesson, even if took way too long for it to happen. And don’t worry about no drugs, they don’t work on me anyways.”

“Oh, that’s good, then,” she said, calming down. “Alright. Well, go in. Get yourself comfortable. If you want anything new for the place, you’ll have to pay for it yourself, but I figure you ought to save that up for when you get a place of your own.”

He nodded his head. “Will do, ma’am. Thanks. I’ll say goodbye for now, then.” Then he remembered an earlier thought of his. “Ah, and if there’s any heavy liftin’ or stuff that needs lots of muscle to do ’round here, don’t hesitate to ask. Child’s play for me.”

“Hm, that’s actually quite useful. I’ll keep it in mind, Mister Dudkins,” she said with a smile. “Have a nice evening.”

After a moment of watching her go, he entered the tiny basement apartment. There’d been no way he could have gotten one above the ground. Modern buildings were pretty heavily reinforced these days and New Lennston was nothing but modern buildings, but even so this apartment building was rather cheap and even if there was no threat of him breaking through the floor, he’d still cause a ruckus by walking around, tormenting anyone who lived below him. A ground floor apartment would have solved that, but the ground floor had only the housekeeper’s apartment and a communal area, so that was out, too.

Still, this was clearly not just something thrown together for him at the last minute. The apartment he found himself in was clearly meant to be here, and nicely (luxuriously, by prison standards) furnished. It had a tiny kitchenette in a corner, a door leading, presumably, to the bathroom and a heavily reinforced bed in the corner opposite of the kitchen, on the side of the room opposite of the door leading in. A counter split the room in two, with a gap in the middle to step through. There was a tiny table in the front area with several seats around it, including one that was clearly added for him – a heavily reinforced monstrosity of a chair, made of steel pipes and the kind of heavy, thick cloth-like stuff they used for military equipment.

Philip couldn’t help but smile, letting the door fall closed, taking his boots off and walking around barefoot (socks were just useless to him, nevermind that his nails always tore them up anyway). His own room. Sure, it was temporary, a place provided by the correctional office, but still.

After twenty years in prison, he finally had some privacy again.

He stopped briefly at the chair, and at the bed. Seeing them was both amusing and touching to him.

Amusing, because he didn’t really need either – a side effect of his transformation made it so he couldn’t really feel uncomfortable easily. He could sit anywhere, or stand still for hours, like a statue. He could sleep anywhere, in pretty much any position, with no real discomfort and he only had to sleep a little, anyway. And he knew that those facts were in his file.

Touching, because it meant his parole officer – who’d been responsible for arranging this – or someone else involved, had gone out of their way to get him some creature comforts, for no other reason than to make him feel more comfortable. They didn’t have to, there was no need to supply him with anything but the standard stuff. No law that said he had a right to appropriate furniture.

He remembered something, something his dear mum had said, long ago. Scratch off the glitter of them people, my boy. Don’t let it blind you. Scratch off the glitter and the grime, and you’ll see that most people are pretty decent underneath.

His jacket came off, hung up on the coat stand next to the door. Meanwhile, his mind was occupied reminiscing about his mother, as he sometimes did – though not nearly as much as he had over the first few years in prison.

She’d been wrong, of course, but not in the way he’d thought. After everything had fallen apart, he’d thought that she’d been completely wrong, that there was nothing but more grime underneath, and grime underneath the glitter, too. He’d thought, if most people were decent, why had his life become such a nightmare?

It had taken him many, many years of therapy and introspection to realise that it wasn’t people as a whole who sucked. That just misery sought its like, and so he’d grown up amongst mostly just miserable people, because they’d gathered together to wallow in their misery rather than try to improve their lives.

His mother, too, had been like that. Admitting so had taken him years to do, and it had hurt worse than almost anything else he’d ever experienced. He’d only made peace with it a few years ago, really.

She’d talked about such a nice, good world, about how people were decent, but she hadn’t really believed it herself. Or if she had, she’d let it blind her to all the grime around her.

Glitter and grime, they both blinded in their own way.

Looking past the door to the bathroom, he found a small shower cabin with enough buttons to fly a jetplane, it felt like, a sink and a toilet. Hot water came quickly, upon testing. Another luxury which meant little to him, yet was still much appreciated.

The kitchen was also functional. He had everything, a microwave, an oven, a herd, a sink, a fridge and even a freezer on top of it. Small, but good enough to put some beers in.

Drugs – alcohol included – couldn’t affect him at all, but that didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy the taste, now and then. Good food was also appreciated, especially after two decades of prison goop.

Behind the counter, facing his bed, was a small desk without a chair – he was likely meant to move the reinforced one there, to use the computer atop it.

Said computer was one of the new ones, as different from the ones he remembered (but hadn’t really bothered with) back in his youth as a space ship was from a row boat. There was no… what was the term… tower. No tower. The whole thing was just the screen, and it was as thin as his middle finger. A keyboard that looked thin enough to roll up lay in front of it, with no visible connection to it, as well as a mouse, also cordless.

Fortunately, he’d taken a computer course a few months back, so he knew that the screen was also touch-enabled, and he knew his way around all this modern tech these days, though he had to take great care with the delicate keyboard, mouse and touchscreen.

He tapped the screen, and it booted up, taking barely a second to show the desktop. The indicator showed that it was already connected to the internet. That was going to be useful.

Internet everywhere. Not something he’d ever have imagined, back in the day. And free, at that. They’d declared it to be a necessity, like access to water and such, about ten years ago.

He still remembered the ruckus it’d caused in the prison, because it’d meant that everyone would get more Internet privileges. Or so they’d thought.

In the end, it’d just provided some distraction, for him, before things had settled down once more. He hadn’t really cared, having never really found much use for the web himself, while in prison.

Now though, he figured he could take some time to get to know it. The Internet had just started getting wide-spread, in the early eighties he’d (mostly) grown up in. It wasn’t until after he’d gone to prison that it’d really picked up.

Having completed the exploration of his apartment, he unpacked his suitcase – he’d have to go buy some clothes, soon, though at least he had less problems with that, too, as he didn’t sweat or have any real body odor – which contained just his chess set, his books (they were put into a small shelf next to the bed) and a few figurines he’d carved throughout his time at the prison. None of them was even remotely good-looking (he’d never developed any real skill at it) but they were dear to him, anyway, so arrayed them on a higher shelf, basically just a wooden board lying on two large nails driven into the wall.

He’d spend years working on these, though they’d ended up barely resembling their inspirations. Probably no one but him would recognise any of them except for the last one.

The first, his mother, who’d brought him into this world.

The second, his brother, who’d raised him.

The third, his father, who’d broken him.

The fifth, his friend, who’d guided him.

The fourth, Lady Light, who’d changed him. She was the only truly recognisable figurine, but only because he’d carved her crest onto it. The circle and moon, radiating light.

“You’ll see. I’m not going to screw it up this time,” he spoke to the figurines. “This time, I’ll do it right.”

***

Part of his parole was that he needed to have a job. For paroled metahumans, that often meant joining the army or a government-sponsored super-team.

However, he’d decided against that, and gotten support on it from his therapist. The whole point of his rehabilitation was to get away from fighting and violence. To find a more constructive application of his power.

In his case, that turned out to be construction work, for now. It wasn’t what he intended to stick to, for the long term – he wanted to do something else, something more exciting. He may have been in his late forties, but he wasn’t willing to settle down with a boring, if stable job just yet.

Still, it was kind of nice, having a light workout and making money the honest way. Right now, he was only getting very basic pay, but his parole officer had said that, with his powers, he’d likely earn a ridiculous amount of money once he was fully employed. He could even freelance, let construction companies lease him for his power.

Wearing a pair of heavy jeans pants and his custom boots, his steel-grey hair slicked back, he looked like a statue of the quintessential worker, the kind they tended to put up everywhere in the Sovjet Union, wiry muscle under metallic, unyielding skin. He’d never been too hard on the eyes, though he wasn’t exactly an adonis. Still, his transformation had made his body at least flawless, and cleared up all the marks and scars on his face.

Some people might have resented turning into a being of living steel, permanently, but Philip had never found issue with it. So he didn’t quite fit in anymore. He’d never fit in as a normal human, either, so no loss there.

Besides, it made construction work really easy when you could just pick up a nail and push it into whatever material it was supposed to go into.

So there he was, sitting on his heels as he pushed nails into the junction of steel beams, fifty feet above the ground. He was secured by a safety line that wrapped around his waist, though it wasn’t for his own safety. A fall from this height wouldn’t even inconvenience him, but it would be lethal for anyone he fall onto. And then there was the property damage that a solid ton of metal could cause, falling from such a height.

And so he worked there, doing in minutes the work it took a whole team to do over an hour.

“Hey, Dudkins!” the foreman shouted from below, making him stop and lean over the edge to look down.

“Yes Sir?” he shouted down, looking at the short, stocky man with the moustache (he’d tried growing one himself, once, but having to use a steel grinder to shave and trimm had been a chore, so he just stuck to a smooth finish).

“Just how much can ya lift? One of our machines got stuck in the mud!”

“Shouldn’t be a problem, Sir! I’ll be right down!” he replied, and took the safety line off, before he aimed carefully and jumped.

For the briefest moment, he felt weightless again, but it was over all too soon and he slammed into the ground, throwing up dust as he absorbed the impact with his knees. “Where’s it at, boss?” he asked the foreman.

Said man was staring at him, startled. Maybe he shouldn’t have jumped, but taken the slow way down.

“Um, yes, right. Fucking rain’s made the ground too soft – wish we didn’t have to continue work at this time of the year – and our excavator’s gotten stuck after some earth slide out from under its tracks. We could probably get it out with some effort, but I figured, maybe you can fix this faster for us.”

”Gladly, Sir. Lead the way.”

***

They walked across the construction site – some kinda new mall at the outskirts of New Lennston. The city was growing fast, even after what he’d been told were some pretty horrific S-Class events that’d come one after the other, but they had delayed construction, which was why they were still working at it rather than take a winter break.

Of course, construction work could get quite tricky when you had to deal with the kind of heavy rainfall – soon to turn into snow, certainly – that New Lennston had to deal with every year.

They walked across the muddy site, which was actually harder for him to do than driving nails into steel beams, because his feet kept sinking into the mud. Weight-to-surface-area-ratio and all that.

The excavator stood in the mud, tilted to the side. It’d been driving by a square hole dug to be filled in with concrete later, when the weather got more dry, but part of the side had collapsed, sliding in and almost causing the excavator to get stuck.

Several of the guys were standing around it, looking quite curious as they saw him approach. Even the driver of the excavator, sitting in the driver’s cabin, was looking at him with more curiosity than annoyance.

Of course. A prime opportunity to see what the new metahuman on site could do.

Philip couldn’t help but smile. It’d been a long time since he’d been able to put on a bit of a show. It didn’t exactly excite him as much as it had used to, but still.

No reason not to give them something to talk about later.

”I’ll get that out of there in no time, Sir,” he assured the foreman, walking forward, ignoring the light rain that fell on his bare torso. With his power, it was just smarter to be topless when he thought it likely he was going to use it.

That, or have something which could stretch, which he did not, currently.

He reached the excavator and stopped. He didn’t need to prepare to use his power, didn’t need to focus on it or reach for some kind of inner reservoir. He’d heard of such things, from others with powers, but it had never been an issue for him.

No, for him, his power was a part of him. It was him. To use it, he had to think no more than to breathe. The only reason he was stopping to do this was to put on a show.

Lifting his arms, he flexed them, casually – and each time he did, his muscles grew a bit, all over.

Metal groaned as it expanded, but it wasn’t true growth, like some he’d seen who actually grew bigger – his skeleton, his organs, none of it grew. Just his muscles.

Another flex, another increase. He’d gone from tightly muscled to the kind of build which other men used steroids to reach, his muscles bulging, almost overflowing.

Some of the men laughed, some rolled their eyes, others looked impressed or envious as he flexed a bit more, without growing his muscles any more, posing a little for effect with a broad grin.

Then he reached down and grabbed the track that’d been submerged in mud and, using his knees more than his arms, lifted it up.

Really, he could’ve done it one-handed, but he did want to put on a show.

Glitter glitter.

Taking a few careful steps, making sure he didn’t sink into the mud himself, he moved the machine back onto safe ground, and carefully put it down before he stepped back.

The man gaped, then started to applaud, some of them laughing as he flexed again, shrinking his muscles back to their normal size, and bowed theatrically.

”Alright, alright!” the foreman shouted. “Put a sock in it, people! I know he’s all shiny – literally – and new, but we are already way behind schedule, so get back to work!”

And that put an end to it, the group breaking up so everyone could get back to their tasks, a few taking a detour to thank him and invite him to drinks later.

Philip accepted, gladly, setting a date for tonight, and got back to work.

***

It was only many hours later – two hours past the usual closing time – that they were let off work. The others were all quite thoroughly worn out, and even Philip had started to feel a little strained towards the end.

Superhuman stamina was not the same as endless stamina, and construction work was exhausting at the best of times.

Still, he couldn’t complain too much. He’d put in a honest day’s work and he’d won, if not the affection, then at least their curiosity and some camaraderie.

And so it came that they left the construction site in a group of twelve men – the others had begged off to get back to families or prior commitments – walking towards a nearby bar which the guys swore was the best around.

Philip stayed quiet, mostly, watching and listening to the others, occasionally answering a question or laughing at a joke – most of them dirty – but mostly just observing as the younger men around him – there was only one other guy his age with them – joked and walked to their goal, sweaty and worn out after a long day’s work.

He was neither sweaty (he couldn’t sweat anymore) nor worn out and this was one of those rare times where he wished he could at least be the former, to relate better to these yougn men.

Still, he wouldn’t trade his powers for nothin’, except perhaps a chance to redo his life from the beginning.

Probably not even for that.

Finally, they approached the bar, and he froze, his jaw dropping as he saw the name spelled in dimly glowing letters above the wooden entrance.

Drunk Donkeys Don’t Die.

”Holy… the Deedeedeedee is still there?” he exclaimed, staring at it as countless memories came up.

He actually felt some tears in his eyes.

“Huh? Yeah. It got rebuild barely a year after Old Lennston croaked it,” one of the younger guys, Daniel-something, explained. “Why, you know it, Oldtimer?”

“Know it? Son, I basically lived in there, back in the day,” he croaked, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hands, creating a piercing noise of metal grinding on metal, making everyone flinch. “Or at least, I left a liver or two behind.”

The men laughed, some reaching out to pat him on the back. Punch him, really, so it’d get through.

”C’mon, let’s go in. Maybe you’ll even recognise some people!” another one said, and they all but dragged him into a memory.

***

Drunk Donkeys Don’t Die looked exactly like how he remembered it, except for the pictures on the walls that’d changed, photographs of famous customers – both good and bad – often with rap sheets or wanted posters added, and new screens to show sports games on, or shows from the arena fights.

He was looking around, drawing no small amount of stares as he did, until a cry split the silence inside the smoke-filled pub.

”Ferrolit!” a man in his thirties, standing behind the counter, shouted, leaning forward onto it. “God fucking damn it, is that really you!?”

Philip gave a start, surprised to hear his old cowl, and looked back at him.

Young – in his thirties, really, but young-looking – thin as a stick with messy, curly brown hair…

”I’ll be darned,” he breathed, his voice carrying through the room even though he was whispering. “Jonas? Jonas Winfield?”

The boy – now a man – grinned from ear to ear and leapt over the counter, running over to him.

”Fucking Ferrolit! I never thought I’d see you again, you crazy badass!” he shouted, grabbing his extended arm and slapping the other on his shoulder.

”Likewise,” Philip replied, still stunned to be seeing him again.

”Who’s that, Winfield!?” some of the patrons shouted, watching the scene with bemusement on their faces. The guys he’d come in with were staring as well, quite obviously surprised by the reception he was getting.

”Seriously?” Jonas asked them, turning around as he leaned against Philip’s side. “You’re seriously asking that? Does none of you look at the Wall of Fame?” He gestured at a part of the wall that was separated from the rest, showing several wanted posters and photographs. The men looked, quickly finding his image – a shot of him sitting in a booth of the old bar, leaning back, arms spread like the world belonged to him and grinning, a scantily clad girl on each arm.

”This is the Ferrolit! The Man who knocked out Lady Light herself, with one punch, and got away with it!”

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Ferrolit
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In My Daydreams

A Good Boy: Part 7

In My Daydreams

My connection to Hal froze for long enough to make me wonder if it had been dropped, but then he said, [The encryption is complex. It will take some time to decrypt it.]

“How long?”

[Unknown.]

“Okay. Let me know when you’ve figured it out.”

[I will.]

With that I dropped out of contact with Hal and become more aware of the digital conversation I’d left—the one with Jaclyn, Cassie, Marcus, Tikki and Kals. “Your voice blinked out,” Jaclyn told me. “What did you do?”

“I gave Hal the encrypted file and asked him to decrypt it.”

Tikki grinned at me, a flash of white teeth. “Of course you did. He’s made for it.”

I shrugged, “More or less. He’s more for simulating battles than encryption, but you need to know a lot to make a good simulation.”

Still grinning, she said, “I know. I’m familiar with battle simulation AIs. One of my friends loved fighting and got me interested in the technology. I still keep up a little. Yours ought to be on a flagship. It’s one of the big ones, the kind you’d use to simulate multiple fleet actions, ground invasions and espionage, complete with the personalities of the commanding officers.”

I’d momentarily forgotten that she was an engineer. Life support didn’t include AIs or combat technology, but the better starship engineers had secondary specialties.

She reached for another piece of meat from her plate and ate it. As she opened her mouth to eat, her mouth seemed a little too wide or had too many teeth? I couldn’t be sure. You never knew what the Abominators put into their gene lines. The Xiniti implant didn’t either.

I didn’t have time to go down that rabbit hole though. I had another question. “Kals was wondering if she could stay here for the night.”

Jaclyn looked at her and then me. “I assume you’re meaning in our room and not yours. Because squeezing into Nick’s bed won’t help with Katuk.”

Kals rolled her eyes. “You people worry about sex all the time. Trust me. I’m not here for that. I’m here to get away from my mom for a night.”

Jaclyn took a breath. “Fine, but you’re not the only one. Tikki’s staying here too.”

Cassie stopped eating only long enough to add, “She’s staying on our side too. Sorry, Marcus.”

Pouring a green sauce over the vegetables on his plate, Marcus said, “Yeah, yeah. I knew that. Besides, I do want to help with Katuk. I’m thinking that Nick and I ought to apologize on behalf of everybody and see if that works.”

Jaclyn frowned, shook her head and then took another helping of vegetables. “Cassie and I already tried to apologize, but he didn’t accept it, but maybe the two of you will have better luck.”

“I’m hoping,” Cassie said, continuing to eat. “All the stories I ever heard about how the Xiniti destroyed whole worlds didn’t include anything about how mopey they were. You’ve got to get this guy out of his funk.”

Grateful that all our talk was taking place through our implants, I thought, “We’ll see what we can do.”

That’s when Hal reported back. With no warning, I knew the contents of the encrypted data file. Katuk’s father had been a criminal, a Xiniti outcast who had killed his unit in a dispute and then slowly gone mad, only recovering his reason after being captured by a crew of mercenaries. That crew of mercenaries had eventually been hired to attack Earth—which was where Cassie, Jaclyn, and I had killed his father.

Of course, we had.

The implant informed me that in cases like this, the Xiniti had a much greater chance of going violently insane as a direct result of the stress from years of distrust during the process of growing up. The Xiniti were far more affected by the distrust of beings in their marriage group. Exposing them to other species and alien ways of thought helped them reduce and resist it.

Making a split second decision, I passed it to the group—all of us including Tikki and Kals.

Everyone stopped eating. Jaclyn blinked. “That’s much worse than I was expecting.”

Kals stared at me. “You’re all Xiniti because you killed one of his parents and you didn’t know that you had that connection until now. That’s… scary. He’s got every reason to hate you.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But on the other hand, his father had been gone for years before we killed him. His father’s death might have lifted the social stigma from him, making it all better.”

Kals glanced over toward the room Marcus and I shared with Katuk.”Do you think he agrees with that?”

I followed her gaze. “No idea, but Marcus and I should find out as soon as we’re done eating.”

Marcus looked up from the table. “At least I’ll get to die on a full stomach.”

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EPU - What's New

UF/FI: Our Witches at War Episode 20

EPU - What's New
Our Fighting Fleet returns as a two-part Our Witches at War episode! You've seen some of Part 1 before, but now it's been integrated into the main narrative of Season 2. As the Operation Hammer team make their way home from Neukarlsland, Gryphon arrives in Britannia, where the Imperial Fuso Navy has an interesting problem for him in Our Fighting Fleet, Part 1: "H Ltd., Shipwrights"! 2017/12/27
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In My Daydreams

A Good Boy: Part 6

In My Daydreams

I leaned back against the shed’s cool, smooth surface. “Wouldn’t your mom notice that you’re gone?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. She notices everything, but if we were home, I’d be living on my own, so she’s got no right to stop me. Besides, we do it all the time after parties. Sure, we’ve got the force fields, but some of the small animals that sneak in are as bad as the big ones. Walking home in the dark isn’t safe, so no one complains.”

I thought about it. “I don’t see a problem then. I know we’ve got more beds than we’re using, but you’ll have to talk to Jaclyn and Cassie to know for sure if they’re okay with it. The thing is, it’s not going to be a party. You know about Katuk. So that’s going to be going on in the background. Also, if you want to help me make our suits mute commands, well, that’s not going to be fun, but we could work on it tonight.”

Her eyes flicked between the shed, the cluster of egg shapes that was the farmhouse, and field around us. “We should start back. The underweasels live out here around the edges. They’re not very big, but they come out after dark.”

“Then we’d better go.” I’d let my stealth suit absorb my helmet while we talked, but I reformed my glasses out of the helmet mass around my collar. When I put them on, I didn’t see anything like a pack of weasels hiding in the soil around us, but I did see a number of warm bodies hanging in the trees off to the side of the field. None of them were larger than a small dog, but there were too many to count.

We started walking back toward the main road. I set my glasses to give me a 360 degree view of my surroundings, noting that Kals continued to check around herself in a way that gave her 360 degree awareness as well. She did it subtly too, not turning completely around to look, but instead turning to talk to me and then glancing behind her.

I didn’t see it as ominous. I’d been taught to do the same thing by Lee. It just meant that the Human Ascendancy taught their motivators basic martial art skills. Given that the Human Ascendancy appeared to use them as leaders, soldiers, and secret agents, I’d have been more surprised if they hadn’t.

We managed to avoid getting attacked before reaching the main street. As we walked, she said, “I might be able to help you with Katuk.”

I turned my head toward her. “Does your voice work on Xiniti too?”

Her eyes darted from one side of the street to another before she said anything. “I’m not sure. We learned techniques for different aliens, but I never got to try it on any of them.”

I searched my implant. The Xiniti didn’t have any recorded incidents where the Ascendancy’s motivators had been controlled, but they also recorded mysterious incidents where units of Xiniti had disappeared. So maybe it did work. Paying attention to Kals again, I nodded. “Okay. They’re not saying he’s gone crazy, but if that does happen, do what you can.”

When we did walk through the door at the Council’s building, we found Cassie, Jaclyn, Marcus, and Tikki eating some kind of meat and vegetables. The meat had the redness of a steak, but a texture that looked a lot like sushi. Crawls-Through-Desert sat next to a window, unmoving, leaves pointing toward where the sun would rise in the morning.

I glanced toward our room. The air on Katuk’s side of the room was warmer than the other side. Alright, Katuk was there. Maybe I’d be able to talk to him when I went to bed? Then the smell of the food hit me, a mixture of cooked meat, spices, and vegetables. I decided that Katuk ranked lower than supper and sat down at the table along with everyone else. Kals sat down along with me. It didn’t matter. The heaping bowls meant that there was more than enough.

Eating meant that I didn’t say anything for a couple minutes. Kals recovered sooner than I did, stopping to ask, “Did he say anything more before disappearing into his room?”

Cassie shook her head. “Nope. It’s all still the same as ever.”

Marcus stopped eating long enough to add, “But I learned something interesting. If you go through the Xiniti files in your head, you’ll find out that the mission groups that the Xiniti form every fighting force around? They use the same word for them as they do marriages.”

I blinked. “That makes a lot of sense. If the Xiniti spend most of their lives in an asexual state, marriages wouldn’t quite mean the same thing. I could see how they might be the same thing as a military unit in that situation.”

Cassie used her implant and I could feel Jaclyn, Marcus, and even the more distant presences of Kals and Tikki. “What I don’t get is why he’s freaking out now. He’s been with us for a week now. And sure we ignored him a little today, but was that more clueless than the rest of the stuff we’ve said? We’ve got a Xiniti implant sure, but we know almost nothing about Xiniti really.”

Jaclyn thought at us, “I know. I’ve been looking through his personnel files, trying to find out if there’s anything there we need to know. There’s something encrypted in them and the implant won’t decrypt it.”

“No kidding?” I opened the files myself, ignoring everything until I found the encrypted information.

Then I passed it over to Hal.

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