In My Daydreams

Release the Hounds: Part 8

In My Daydreams

I couldn’t do anything about the death and destruction now and I reminded myself that we’d done this because didn’t have the ability to meet them in a fair fight without losing a lot of civilians.

Looking past the force fields, I saw that not everyone had died. One hundred, maybe two hundred of the Ascendancy’s people had run out the other side of the field and were watching as the last of the creatures ran across the field and out towards the forest and fields on the other side.

As much as they must have been terrified and freaking out after watching their ship die and their crewmates trampled by giant space elephants, some of them were with it enough to begin firing at me. Flashes of light hit my suit and I felt heat across my chest.

I dove, dipping below one hundred feet, the height of the force fields. They stopped firing or at least stopped hitting. I wheeled around, heading back toward the rest of our group. “Hey everyone, you saw that, right? Do we have any reason to go after the rest of them?”

“No,” Jaclyn waved at Katuk and the both of them turned around to join Maru, Cassie, Marcus and the dog.

Even as I turned, more shots came across the field at me, none of them hitting for the moment. Checking my HUD showed that some of the Ascendancy soldiers had taken cover behind the corners of the fields and were shooting at the group of us. We weren’t close, so they weren’t hitting, but they’d hit if we stuck around.

I flew across the dead and damaged, finding that Cassie and Katuk were firing back, Cassie with her gun and Katuk with a gun that had formed on the right arm of his armor.

Through my implant, Jaclyn said, “Nick grab Cassie, Katuk take Maru, and I’ll take Marcus and the dog.”

Marcus’ body warped and shifted as he dove toward Tiger, surrounding the dog’s body with grey goo and sprouting wings. “Form of winged dog crate!”

Tiger whined and bent over to sniff his stomach, barely having time to try it before Marcus grabbed Jaclyn’s shoulders and she started running.

“Tell you what,” Cassie told me as stepped toward her, “put me over your shoulder and I’ll keep on firing.”

“Don’t shoot my legs, okay?” I picked her up and gave the rockets fuel.

Gasping as the Rocket suit shot forward, pushing my shoulder into her stomach, she said, “This is the worst way to fly!”

Even as she said it, she’d already started firing. Beams of bright light shot backward, throwing up chunks of soil, bouncing off the force fields, and keeping the Ascendancy soldiers back behind cover.

She didn’t shoot my legs, but I was happier when I wasn’t watching her fire.

We kept up with Jaclyn and Katuk, staying low and whipping around the corner. Cassie stopped firing. “It looks like they’re heading toward the landing field.”

“They probably don’t know about the team that destroyed the shuttles.” I landed next to everyone and let Cassie stand on her own two feet.

Cassie watched the Ascendancy soldiers go. They were running about as quickly as Cassie or Maru could run—much slower than Jaclyn, but fast enough that they’d be down there in minutes.

Katuk watched them for a moment. “Crawls-Through-Desert, the Ascendancy group is running in your direction. Do you require assistance?”

The plant’s response came in a short burst. “How many of them?”

Katuk glanced toward the field and said, “Perhaps one hundred.”

I followed his gaze. He was right. They’d left maybe half of the survivors and sent them into the field to search for people to save. I didn’t begrudge them that. I’d have helped if I could.

The plant said, “We’re going to hide. Get over here and extract us. Watch for the Agent and the Guardsmen and while you’re at it, don’t underestimate the rest of them. They’re probably all powered and all marines.”

The group heading toward the landing field had already disappeared behind the town of Landing. The plan had been to hit the group and then withdraw. Crawls-Through-Desert’s group was only large enough to do its job—take out the force field. We hadn’t gone any larger because Hal’s prediction was that the survivors had a good chance of heading to the tunnels if Agent 957 still led them after the attack.

Jaclyn turned to the group of us, “You know what this means?”

Marcus’ mouth twisted. “More dog crate duty.”

“More flying,” Cassie holstered the gun. “Let’s get it over with.”

Maru frowned. “We don’t have time to waste.”

“Then let’s try to stay together. Follow each other’s position with your implants if you get separated.” Jaclyn glanced over at Marcus and he started to change.

Cassie looked up at me. “This time around just carry me. It’s still going to be awkward, but at least I won’t get the wind knocked out of me.”

It felt like it took more time to get ready than fly over there. We passed the town of Landing in a blur, touching down next to the lower edge of the town’s force shield, allowing us to look down the hill at the shuttles. At first look, the damage wasn’t obvious. They were all intact. The force shield around the landing area was even still up. The Rocket suit’s sensors showed warm spots under the shuttles where the beams cut pieces out.

Crawls-Through-Desert, Tikki, Kals, a small group of armed townspeople, and Asan and Sian, the techs responsible for the force shields stood waiting for us there.

That was the good news. The bad news was that we could see the Ascendancy troops on the other side of the landing field, standing out against the grass, the force fields giving them a  blue glow. Judging from the soldiers’ armor and equipment, I knew they’d be over here soon.

The plant’s fronds rustled. “We need to move.”

We weren’t going to be able to carry all these people across the fields and over to the caverns or take on all of the soldiers directly.

Sian and Asan looked at each other. “We can open the shields and cut through town. We know where the explosives are. They don’t.”

We looked at each other. It seemed like a bad idea whose time had come.

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Semicoop

Board Game Revolution!

Semicoop

The good thing about logging your plays of board games is that you know how many times you’ve actually played it! …The bad thing is that you’re confronted with how little times you’ve played certain games. 😉 And sometimes I’m convinced that we’ve played a game more than ten times, but it often turns out that we’ve played it only five times or so. I would like to say that we would like to improve on the numbers, but lately, we’ve been getting new games a little quicker than we can play them. It’s amazing to discover all these new games, but it can also be frustrating that we don’t have the time to play certain gems a little more often. The 10×10 list (playing 10 games, 10 times in one year) is, of course, a wonderful way to achieve this! Although I think I would prefer a 20 x 5 list in our case. We should make this for the summer!

The UK Games Expo is coming closer and for those who are attending, we have some news! We’re going to be guests in the No Pun Included live show on Saturday night at 9 PM together with Tom Vasel from The Dice Tower and Rahdo from Rahdo Runs Through. Efka and Elaine are funny people and there will be music, so it’ll be a great evening and we’re looking forward to it! Exciting times!

Which of your games would probably start a revolution?

The post Board Game Revolution! appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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Wardog y El Mundo

Medio cocido

Wardog y El Mundo

Aquella mañana me levanté de un humor excelente. Pese a la primavera, que normalmente obra en mi el mismo efecto que la Cartilla Micho en Paquirrín: me embota la cabeza. Me encontraba lleno de energía y de buen humor. Y ya digo que la primavera me zombifica a unos niveles alarmantes. De querer instalar Windows Millenium a un servidor web o así.

Salí temprano de casa. El sol saludaba desde el este, apenas calentaba, pero ver el sol por la mañana ya me anima. Llegué a la oficina y aparqué casi en la puerta. ¡Qué suerte! A ver si va a ser verdad eso de que a quien madruga, $deity le ayuda. Bajé del coche casi sonriendo. Que yo soy una persona seria, no soy de ir por ahí sonriendo porque sí. Se me cayeron las llaves al suelo. Me agaché a recogerlas y debajo de una rueda de mi coche vi un papelito marrón. ¡Hostia puta! ¡Un billete de cincuenta euros sin padre que le quiera! ¡En España y en el suelo! Pues ahora mismo te adopto yo a ti, hombre…

Ea, ya voy contento para todo el día. Por la esquina dobla MKII, todo pulcritud. Traje perfectamente planchado, corbata nueva, rosa con detalles amarillos. Camisa blanca de anuncio. Toque de gomina. Vamos, que le ves y el tío no parece informático ni nada el pobre. Le silbo. Mira en mi dirección y se sorprende y todo. Va a decir algo pero tropieza con la raya de un lápiz, un cabello de Antonio Lobato o la integridad de un presidente del gobierno de una monarquía parlamentaria cualquiera y está a punto de estamparse contra el suelo. Menos mal que se pudo agarrar a una mierda de perro. De un perro grande. Bastante grande. Que come mucha fibra.

Rompo a descojonarme mientras el pobre hombre intenta incorporarse, tirado en el suelo todo lo largo que es, con la mano derecha agarrada aún al mojón canino y la otra al maletín. De repente se me corta la risa. MKII ya se ha incorporado y se dirige hacia la puerta.

-¡Qué asco! ¿Vienes, Wardog?

Le miro sin ver. Miro las puertas de Suprakillminds. Saco el billete de cincuenta de mi bolsillo y lo miro. Es auténtico, no hay duda. Miro hacia el sol. Es auténtico. Brilla y ya da un tenue calor. Ese calor perfecto, el calor justo para desayunar en una terraza junto a la playa. Huevos con jamón, zumo de naranja, café y tarta de manzana con mermelada de albaricoque. Respiro hondo y no hay ni rastro de alergia. Nada. Todo bien. La mano de MKII gotea comida de segunda mano.

-¿Wardog? ¿Te pasa algo?
-No entres ahí-, le digo.
-¿Cómo que no entre?
-Presiento una presencia maligna. Perversa.
-Sí, claro, Wardog. A lo mejor Satanás trabaja ahora en Grandes Cuentas.
-No,  peor.
-Anda, abre y déjate de tonterías.

Abro la puerta como si mi mano no fuese mía. Todo a mi alrededor  flota en una neblina espesa, bañado en glicerina. Los sonidos me llegan amortiguados y las imágenes a 17 cuadros por segundo. Un comercial de esos que pasan cada mucho tiempo por la oficina ve a MKII y se acerca a saludarle efusivamente. Es de esos que se abalanzan sobre tu mano y la estrujan con energía. La mierda vuela por todas partes. El sol arranca destellos dorados a los fragmentos de hez húmeda. Es casi hermoso.

Dejo las iridiscencias y a unos cuantos humanos esquivando y descubriendo mierda atrás. Salgo corriendo hacia mi despacho. Vuelo por las escaleras, no pienso esperar siquiera al ascensor. Demasiado lento. Derrapo por los pasillos, ayudándome con el hombro en algunos giros cuando choco con las paredes. Algo está pasando y quiero saber qué es. Tiene que ser algo muy jodido. Lo presiento. Lo noto en la boca del estómago.

Salto la mesa apoyando la mano en el teclado para despertar el ordenador. Tiro la mochila en un rincón e inicio sesión ansioso. Miro mis monitores de red. Todo verde. Todo. Incluso ese equipo de fabricación mierdero que revienta diez condensadores de la placa base al mes. Hasta ese está verde. Mierda. Ni una alarma. Ni un login fallido de root. Si es que casi ni hay SPAM, coño.

Para cuando MKII llega al despacho ya he comprobado hasta la velocidad de giro de los ventiladores de todos los servidores. On y off site. Y todo es asquerosamente normal.

¡Bimbambidubi! ¡Dubi!

-¡AAAAAHAAAAA! ¡Sistemas! ¡Tú debes ser el mal!
-Pues no, te llamo de recepción.
-¡AHAAAAA! ¡Y traes noticias nefastas!
-Pues no, que te llaman de $empresaDeTelecomunicaciones. Te paso.

Me pasa.

-¿Diga?
-Buenos días, le llamo de $empresaDeTelecomunicaciones, mi nombre es Lhuirgsssfh. ¿Usted es Wardog, verdad?
-Hola, Lhuirgsssfh, sí soy yo.
-Disculpe, es, Lhuirgsssfh.
-Perdona, Lhuirgsssfh. ¿En qué puedo ayudarte?
-Nada, es sólo para informarles de que van a sufrir un pequeño corte en las líneas de internet porque les vamos a aplicar una mejora en la velocidad del 100%.
-¿Por qué?
-Hemos mejorado nuestras instalaciones y premiamos a los clientes más fieles que…
-No, ¿por qué hoy?
-Porque… ¿No quieren que les ampliemos la velocidad?
-Sí, queremos, pero ¿tiene que ser hoy?
-No le entiendo, señor…
-No, Lhuirgsssfh, no lo entiendes. Gracias, Lhuirgsssfh. Buenos días.
-¿Oiga? ¿Oiga?

Cuelgo el teléfono.

Me quedo petrificado. MKII se me acerca y agita una mano delante de mis ojos. Le meto una hostia. No me gusta que me pongan cosas delante de la cara. Lo odio.

-¿Te pasa algo?
-Algo jodido va a pasar.
-¿Por qué lo dices?
-El karma.
-¿Qué karma ni qué leches?
-El karma me está compensando con prepago.
-Estás apañado.
-Aún no está aquí. Pero lo siento. Siento que se acerca. Se aproxima algo gordo. Te va a dar por leer TLCL. O por aprenderl Perl. O peor. No sé.

Me puse a trabajar con un mosqueo de mucho cuidado. Sería por el mosqueo o porque estaba demasiado concentrado, pero pasé dos horas escribiendo SQL y no miré siquiera los nombres de campo. Estaba en zona permanentemente. Una máquina de escupir consultas. Hizo falta recuperar unos ficheros de la copia de seguridad y estaban justo los de la fecha que precisaba, justo la versión concreta que hacía falta. Daisy estaba entretenida tuneando las reglas de un cortafuegos, ajena a todo, sin asesinar a nadie orgánico ni nada. Todo perfectamente idílico.

Salí del despacho. Yo no puedo estar así. Es superior a mi. Yo estoy hecho para resolver problemas. Me viene de familia. Es algo genético. No somos de los que se lamentan ante un problema, de los que se revuelcan en su desgracia. En mi familia, ante un problema de la clase que sea inmediatamente nos remangamos y nos ponemos a solucionarlo. Esto es contra natura y sólo hay una forma de solucionarlo.

Eché a correr pasillo adelante y metí una moneda en cuanto llegué a la máquina de café. Saqué un solo largo con extra de azúcar, me apoyé sobre la máquina y me concentré en relajarme, no pensar y paladear el café hasta separar los sabores por grupos: ácido, amargo, dulce. Concentrarme en los matices. Disfrutar única y exclusivamente de tomar un puto café de máquina.

Indefectiblemente, esa acción puso el universo en su sitio de una puta vez. Alguien me estaba llamando. $Hyperboss nada menos.

-¡Wardog! ¡Wardog!
-¡Ah, hola, $Hyperboss!
-¡Estás en Babia!
-Nada, estaba pensando en cómo solucionar un problemilla. ¿Qué pasa?
-No, no pasa nada, hombre. Mira, te presento a Broderinlau Bacpac. Este es Wardog, el informático del que te hablé.

Estrecho su mano y le hago el escáner completo: polo con muñeco de los caros, reloj deportivo de varios miles, peinado de cuarto de hora, carillas. Lentillas de color, cinturón de piel, pantalón de pinza. Iphone X, pulseritas de cuero hechas a mano, otras de cuerda rojas y amarillas. Tensión arterial 11-6. Mochila de portátil impropia. Un pijo de tres pares de cojones.

-Hola, encantado-, me dice el tío.
-Encantado era un príncipe, yo soy Wardog-. $Hyperboss pone los ojos en blanco por el chiste malo. Broderinlau no reacciona. No parece entender. Anoto: intelecto limitado.

Se hace un silencio entre los tres. Una mosca se posa en el pelo del pijo. Resisto la tentación de darle un manotazo. Mírala, hija de puta como frota sus patitas.

-¿Y bien? ¿Mucha faena, Wardog?- me dice Bacpac.
-Psé, lo normal.
-Ahm.
-Seh.

La mosca se va y vuelve. Se le posa en el hombro. ¿Será suya?

-Broderinlau necesita que le eches una mano.
-¿Una nueva incorporación?
-No, no, qué va. Es mi cuñado.
-Ahm. ¿Y la mano tienes que ser la mía o vale otra cualquiera?
-Ya estamos con las coñas. ¿Te acuerdas de Brainrotten & Fugue?
-Que si me acuerdo…vaya que si me acuerdo.
-Pues hemos comprado también a su competencia en la zona.
-Y…
-Y mi cuñado se estaba encargando de la informática de allí.
-¿Tú?
-Claro, a mi me gusta mucho esto de la informática.

Quieto ahí. A ver, BOFHs y Sysadmins de bien y de pro: nosotros no decimos “nos gusta mucho esto de la informática”. Es posible que digamos que “nos gusta mucho esto de la cocina”, o “nos encanta la carpintería” o “nos embelesa la contemplación de una colostomía” pero para nosotros la informática no es una cosa que nos guste. Es lo que hacemos. Se da por hecho que nos gusta, nos apasiona. Pero no nos gusta “esto de la informática”. Hay un matiz. No trabajamos en informática por aproximación, no, estamos inmersos en ella y hacemos cosas con ella. No es nuestro fin, es nuestro medio. Y este sujeto es un peligro.

-Vaaaaale. ¿Y puedo preguntar cuál es tu problema?
-Nada, poca cosa, algunos problemillas para la integración con vuestros sistemas.
-Ouyeah. ¿Te han pasado el manual de integración?
-¿Qué manual?
-Da igual. ¿Me puedes definir mejor el problema, por favor?- respiro tan hondo que la mosca que pateaba por el hombro de Bacpac se tiene que agarrar con las seis patas.
-Nada, que el servidor donde están los datos del ERP da un error al arrancar.
-¿Y eso es un problemilla?
-Sí, se cuelga bastantes veces, pero normalmente con apagar y encender ya iba tirando…

Me lo quedo mirando en silencio. Digamos, por no callar, que este señor es un administrador de sistemas. Me da igual si titulado o no, eso no importa. Partimos de la base de que tiene que administrar una máquina que mueve toda la empresa. Esa máquina tiene un problema: se para. Su mejor aproximación es que “se cuelga” y su solución es “apagar y encender”.

-Vaaaaale… ¿Y qué sistema operativo gasta el muñeco?
-Uno de esos que son todo letras en blanco, pero no recuerdo cuál. Son todos iguales.

Ay su madre.

-¿Y recuerdas algún error que hayas visto?
-Mmmm… algo que decía ioerror at sector y un montón de números…
-Pues estupendo. Parece que tienes un disco duro roto.

Bacpac mira a su cuñado con gesto de mofa. Me pone la mano en el hombro y con una condescendencia tal que en el momento me apetece hacerle una llave de judo me dice:

-Imposible. Yo sólo uso Seagate en mis servidores-. Puto judo. Debería aprender a hacer el one inch punch como es debido.
-Pues muy bien. Pero te falla uno. Déjame que le eche un vistazo.
-¿Ahora?
-Sí, ¿por?
-Es que no lo he traído.
-Ya. Vienes a preguntarme por qué no arranca el servidor y no te lo traes. Bien.
-Es que he venido en moto.
-En fin… pues cuando puedas, me lo traes y lo reviso.

$Hyperboss chasquea la lengua.

-Nos corre prisa, Wardog. Hay que integrar ya mismo.
-¿Sabe qué hubiese estado de puta madre? Saberlo. Eso hubiese sido la hostia.
-Bah, si estáis hartos de integrar empresas ya.
-Sí, pero no nos gustan las sorpresas. Necesitamos planificar para que las cosas salgan bien.
-Lo que os gusta haceros notar…
-¿Hacernos notar?
-Sí, presumir de que sois imprescindibles y eso.
-¿Lo somos?
-Eeeeh, no, claro, no hay nadie imprescindible.
-¿Entonces?
-Que no es para tanto.
-Habrá que ir a la empresa de su cuñado entonces, ¿no?
-Sí, sí, si serán cinco minutos, Wardog.
-Pues voy a recoger mis cosas.

Discutir más es tontería. Es una simple cuestión de cercanía. Su cuñado versus el informático más quejica de la empresa. No hay color.

Volví a mi despacho, saqué la caja de herramientas de las ocasiones especiales y me puse a llenarla de repuestos, pendrives, y todo lo que se me ocurrió que pudiera necesitar en la guarida de Bacpac.

-¿Qué haces?
-Prepararme para un zafarrancho guapo. Un servidor K.O. en la nueva adquisición de $Hyperboss.
-¿Qué nueva adquisición?
-Exacto.
-No entiendo.
-Baste decir que el informático es cuñado de $Hyperboss.
-Santo Dios.
-Y el Cristo Súper Saiyan.

Cojo mis cosas y salgo en busca de $Hyperboss y Bacpac. No los veo, así que me bajo a la recepción, pensando que estarían abajo. Pues no. Utilizaremos el comodín del público.

-Oye, ¿tú sabes dónde está $Hyperboss?- le pregunto a la recepcionista.
-Sí, ha salido a tomar algo con un señor.
-¿Un señor con una mochila a la espalda y el pelo pringoso?
-Sí.
-Gracias.

Las prisas. Pues entonces habrá que adaptarse: yo también me voy a tomar algo, hombre ya. Dejo los trastos en la recepción y me voy al bar de siempre a meterme entre pecho y espalda un bocadillo de anchoas y un pincho de tortilla, tubito de cerveza y un café, que estoy en época de crecimiento a lo ancho. Una vez ahíto me vuelvo a la oficina y justo coincidimos $Hyperboss, Bacpac y yo en la puerta. La gomina sigue en su sitio, la mochila en la chepa. Oye, que igual es eso, que tiene chepa y lleva la mochila con en fondo cortado para disimular. Ahora le quiero quitar la mochila. A ver para qué pienso yo estas mierdas.

-¡Hola Wardog!- me dice Bacpac.- ¡Cuando tú digas nos vamos!
-Ya.
-¿Ya?
-Ya.
-Venga, pues coge el coche y me sigues. Pero yo voy en moto.
-Ya, ya me lo has dicho antes.
-Si ves que corro mucho me haces luces.

Ay diosito, que es un acomplejado con el tamaño de su pene. Si lleva un portátil ahí dentro, será de 17 diecisiete pulgadas por lo menos.

-Procura no correr poco-. Son doscientos kilómetros de tentaciones. Es posible que pueda contenerme y te libere de tu sufrimiento.

Durante doscientos kilómetros estuve viendo el culo de Bacpac haciéndose chiquitito en las rectas y demasiado cerca en las curvas. Tiene una moto muy potente que solo sabe conducir recto. Es tan metafórico en sí mismo que no haré más esfuerzos.

Callejeamos lentamente cuando llegamos a destino. Una pequeña ciudad dormitorio y después, un polígono industrial medio abandonado. Filas de pequeños locales languidecen víctimas del tiempo y de la falta de cuidados. Pinturas desconchadas, carteles descolgados y deslucidos por todas partes. Basura rodando y vegetación aprovechando cualquier grieta sin nadie que se lo impida.

He de decir que me sorprendió cuando Bacpac se metió en el aparcamiento de la empresa. No era un edificio como los que acabábamos de pasar. Era la puta imagen de Brainrotten & Fugue. Está claro que si competían entre sí, eran rivales dignos. El nombre, escrito en letras de forja sobre el arco de la puerta de entrada reza “Hold & Caust”. Sin embargo yo leo “El trabajo os hará libres”. Bacpac me hace señas para que aparque el coche en un cobertizo junto a la entrada.

Bajo del coche y me estiro. Hacía mucho tiempo que no olía este aroma a decadencia. Me cuelgo mi mochila y cojo la caja de herramientas. Miro hacia las ventanas y veo la sombra inconfundible de la plantilla mirando quién llega. Me subo las gafas con el dedo corazón y enfilo, una vez más, hacia un edificio marrón.

Bacpac me abrió la puerta de entrada y pasé para ver la recpeción marr… ¡Hostias! ¡Esta empresa es como un coco! Por fuera es marrón y fea, pero por dentro es blanca, limpia y hasta te puede gustar si te gusta masticar.

Tras un mostrador de diseño moderno, un recepcionista que bien podría ser modelo nos saluda con una sonrisa mientras atiende diligentemente a alguien al teléfono con un manos libres bluetooth y teclea con agilidad en un ordenador que no alcanzo a ver.

¿Pero qué mierda es esta? ¡A mi no me cambiéis las cosas, joder! ¡Esta empresa está mal! ¡Mal!

Bacpac me guía hacia la planta superior, a las oficinas. La distribución es francamente inteligente. Un enorme espacio totalmente abierto, con mesas redondas en las que se agrupan trabajadores según departamentos. Los muebles de archivo son bajos y no hay muchos papeles rodando por las mesas.  Hay varias mesas más pequeñas por la sala que parecen servir para discutir asuntos diversos. Las plantas diseminadas por la sala están verdes y bien cuidadas. La luz natural entra a raudales por ventanales enormes con estores blancos.

Pero lo que me la puso morcillona fue que todos, todos, absolutamente todos los equipos de la oficina eran iguales. Una plataforma tan homogénea, y tan nueva, con sus sistemitas operativos tan iguales, tan actualizaditos… Un suelo técnico de verdad, entero, sin placas rotas, sin cables saliendo de donde no deben. Todo está bien hecho. Lo único que está encajonado son las impresoras, inteligentemente alejadas de las zonas de trabajo para que el ruido de operación no moleste a los trabajadores. Hostias, si es que estoy viendo a uno poniendo papel como si no le costase trabajo. ¡Esto es una puta locura!

-Oye, Bacpac, ¿tú cuánto tiempo llevas aquí de informático?
-Oh, un mes o así.
-Oh. Ya. Entiendo. ¿Estás solo?
-Sí, $Hyperboss me preguntó si podía con esto yo sólo y despidió al otro informático.

Esta maravilla no podía ser obra de este mentecato. Ahora ya me quedo más tranquilo. No todo está del revés hoy. No sé qué hubiese pensado de mi intuición femenina si me hubiese equivocado con este engendro semihumano.

Me lleva al final de la oficina y enfilamos un pasillo. Justo antes de entrar, escondido tras un biombo con ruedas hay una mesa que parece un revolcadero de monas sobre la que domina el paisaje un puto  iMac Pro con sus 27 pulgadas de puro exceso.

-Y esta será tu mesa, supongo.
-Tengo buen gusto para los ordenadores, ¿eh?
-El mismo que para las motos.
-Sí…

Ahí le tienes. Un tío que no tienen ni puta idea, con un cuñado forrado, aprovechando el buen trabajo que hizo otro y el pobre padece el síndrome del impostor invertido.

Creo que no conozco a ningún compañero de profesión bueno de verdad que no padezca el síndrome del impostor en uno u otro grado. Algunos incluso tienen sus negocios y sé que lo pasan realmente mal cuando tienen que facturar a sus clientes porque no creen merecer ese dinero. Lo que hacen les resulta fácil, u obvio, o simplemente rutinario y no le dan valor ninguno. Y son auténticos genios. Gente que te levanta una empresa completa de cien puestos en dos jornadas, que te entrega un desarrollo a medida casi sin necesidad de correcciones en días y aún no se valoran. Tíos que saben sin la cafetera anda baja de presión por SNMP y monstruos de la robótica que te montan autómatas increíbles en tiempos absurdos.

Pero Broderinlau Bacpac instala el driver de la impresora y se toma tres días libres extenuado. Para él programar es poner un acceso directo en el directorio de inicio del usuario local de Windows. Para él monitorizar significa poner una segunda pantalla al ordenador. Y aquí está, guiándome hacia la habitación donde guardan los servidores.

-Es por aquí, Wardog.

Le sigo por el pasillo y abre una puerta a la izquierda. El aire frío del aire acondicionado se vierte en el pasillo y pasamos.

Lo primero que echo en falta es ruido. Todo está apagado. El rack, pulcramente situado centrado en una pared para poder trabajar bien por tres lados no emite ningún ruido. Es el ruido que más miedo da a un sysadmin. Sólo el leve zumbido del SAI se eleva sobre el ominoso silencio.

Abro la puerta del rack, abro el gancho de la bisagra y retiro la puerta.

-¡Ostras! ¿Sabías que eso se puede hacer?
-¿Tú no?
-Eh… claro, por supuesto. Se nota que eres bueno.

Buenísimo. Sé quitar la puerta de un armario.

-Veamos. Hay dos servidores. ¿Por qué?
-No sé, aún no me he puesto con eso-. Claro. Estabas con el Mac de quince mil pavos. Es normal. Qué va a hacer un sysadmin sabiendo qué hacen sus máquinas-. Pero el que está roto es este.
-Vale, veamos…

Tiro de la consola, que estaba plegada y enciendo el monitor.

-¡Hostias! ¿Y eso? ¡Qué chulo! ¡Yo tuve que conectar un monitor y un teclado!
-¿Has visto? Dime contraseñas, anda.

Arranco el equipo averiado para ver qué le pica. Arranco el otro servidor para ver qué hace. El servidor averiado se queja de un disco. Igual el que tiene la luz roja encendida. Igual, ¿eh? Tiro del clip y saco la unidad para examinarla.

-¿Cómo has hecho eso?
-¿Hacer qué?
-Sacar el disco.
-Telequinesis. ¿Tú como los sacas?
-No, fuera de broma. Yo saqué el servidor así- dice mientras tira de él hacia afuera y se desliza sobre sus raíles- levanté esta tapa y no vi por dónde meterles mano.
-Tío, pulsar, bajar y tirar. De toda la vida.
-Anda. Que los discos son eso. Yo pensaba que era sólo para ventilación.
-Sí, ventilación. Sí sopla fuerte el aire aquí.
-Y qué pequeñitos son, ¿no? ¿Ahora los ponen de portátil?

Sorpresa, llevo un disco compatible en la mochila, sólo que no comparten caddy, pero eh, habiendo destornilladores… Dos minutos después el servidor estaba arrancado y reconstruyendo el RAID. Qué suerte que en previsión de que el Karma me había advertido había cogido un disco de cada de los que tenemos para nuestros servidores y uno de cada de los que habíamos retirado y aún funcionaban. Como treinta discos traigo. Y pesan.

-¿Qué estás escribiendo, Wardog?- me pregunta Bacpac por encima del hombro.
-Estoy entrando en comunión con este sistema. Por favor, respeta este momento.

Un vistazo por encima me dijo que no le pasaba nada, que no se estaba colgando, sino que mostraba el error de disco e iba más lento porque es un RAID 5 y estaba tirando de información de redundancia. Ya. Se acabó la crisis. Miro el otro servidor. Es idéntico al que acabo de reparar. Idéntico. Un poco más de investigación me dice que son gemelos y que se replican para que si uno muere, el otro se ponga en marcha. Ha parado la oficina por inútil. Típica configuración con failover impresionante para una oficina de 30 personas.

-¿Y cuánto tiempo dices que has tenido esto apagado?
-Nada, ni una semana. Cada vez que lo arrancaba salía ese error, y para prevenir males mayores, apagué todo. Hay que asegurar.
-Hay que asegurar. Ya. El servidor ya funciona. Por favor, avisa al personal que pruebe si todo está correcto. Es posible que vaya lento durante unas horas mientras reconstruye la información del disco, pero ya pueden empezar a trabajar.
-OK, voy a decírselo.

Espero a que salga por la puerta y cierro. Marco el móvil de $Hyperboss.

-Dime, Wardog.
-Que esto ya funciona.
-¿Y qué era? Seguro que una chorrada.
-Sí, un disco duro roto. Lo he cambiado.
-Vale.
-Oiga, esta empresa tiene una pinta estupenda, por lo menos la oficina. El informático que montó todo esto es un artista.
-¿Tú crees?
-No hay más que verlo. Está todo perfecto. Todo.
-Entonces, ¿Broderinlau está haciendo un buen trabajo?
-Su cuñado es un inútil.
-¡Wardog!
-De verdad, $Hyperboss, yo no sé en qué estaba usted pensando cuando despidió al otro informático para dejar sólo aquí a su cuñado. ¿Por qué ha hecho eso? Los dos sabemos que su cuñado no está capacitado para esto. Le ha dejado el mantenimiento de un submarino a un tío que sabe cambiar el tubo de escape a un Vespino.

$Hyperboss guarda silencio unos instantes.

-Mira, Wardog, yo quiero mucho a mi hermana, y ella al mentecato de su marido. Ella cree que es un genio y él no hace más que entrar y salir de empresas cada dos meses.
-Vaya. Qué triste.
-De verdad, Wardog, que esto quede entre tú y yo. Es un inútil, pero también un vanidoso y es incapaz de admitir que no tiene ni idea. Si le di el reloj este del iPhone para configurar y lo único que consiguió fue que no arrancase, se quedaba la pantalla congelada.
-Qué crack.
-Lo que te pido es que por favor le enseñes, que se pueda defender para que tenga un sitio fijo para trabajar y mi hermana siga siendo feliz creyendo que su marido es el director de informática de una empresa que por fin le valora.
-Ya. Que le enseñe.
-No te pido que le enseñes todo, sólo lo necesario para que no la cague, ¿me entiendes?

Que no le enseñe todo. ¿Por qué todos los que no están en informática creen que se puede cuantificar el conocimiento? ¿Creen que se traspasa como se traspasa una carpeta? ¿Creen que la arquitectura de una red se entiende en cinco minutos? ¿Que no hay particularidades? ¿Procedimientos? ¿Creen que no hay conocimientos técnicos básicos que se adquieren durante años de aprendizaje fuera y dentro del mundo laboral? Yo no entiendo ese concepto de “no enseñarlo todo”. No lo entiendo.

-Perfectamente.
-Gracias, Wardog. De verdad, esto es muy importante para mi. Te pago los días que estés ahí al triple, dietas, lo que quieras, pero que no tenga que echarle, por favor. No quiero que mi hermana se caiga de su nube, es una mujer muy sensible con el tema de su marido.
-No se preocupe, $Hyperboss. Y por el dinero descuide, hoy mismo le enseño todo lo necesario para mantener esto sin liarla.
-¿De verdad?
-De la buena.

Qué triste. Una mujer enamorada de la imagen que proyecta un mentecato. Más triste aún Bacpac, vagando por el mundo haciendo ver que es quien no es, y más aún, sin darse cuenta.

Bacpac regresó por fin de avisar a todo el mundo, venía sonriente. Seguro que les ha dicho que por fin lo ha arreglado.

-Ya está todo el mundo trabajando, genial, Wardog. Ojalá hubiese tenido yo un disco de esos antes.
-Ya, el disco. Claro. El disco. Ojalá los vendieran en las tiendas de Apple, ¿eh?
-Ya ves.

Inmune al sarcasmo.

-Mira, Bacpac, he hablado con $Hyperboss y me ha pedido que te guie un poco… en la administración de sistemas, que te enseñe un poco cómo va todo esto de la informática de mayores.
-No, si no hace falta, Wardog, ya me apaño yo bien.
-No. Mira, te explico. Eres el sysadmin de una empresa absorbida. Yo soy tu jefe. $Hyperboss es mi jefe. ¿Hasta aquí todo bien?
-Pero es mi cuñado.
-Vale. Pero cuñado no aparece en el organigrama. Así que vamos a tu mesa que te explico.

Vamos hacia su mesa y me siento ante el pantallón del Mac. Coloco el teclado, el ratón y el pad. Con los antebrazos arrojo el resto del contenido de la mesa al suelo, primero el derecho y luego el izquierdo.

¿Qué haces?

-Primero de todo, orden.
-¿Pero quién te has creído que eres?
-Tu dios.
-¡Ja!
-Já. Yo soy lo que te separa de cagarla tan fuerte que te tenga que despedir tu cuñado.
-¿Y eso quién lo dice?
-El que ha visto que has apagado en caliente más de veinte veces un servidor de treintamil euros porque te estaba avisando de un fallo en un disco duro redundado. Ese. ¿Quieres que te lo explique tu cuñado?

Se lo piensa con el móvil en la mano. La oficina está extrañamente silenciosa.

-A ver dime, qué tengo que hacer.
-Enséñame la documentación de la red y las contraseñas.

Recoge una carpeta del suelo y me la da. La ojeo. Me la guardo en mi mochila.

-Y ahora los ficheros de estas impresiones. ¿Sabes dónde están?
-Sí, claro. Entra aquí- me dice señalando en su pantalla. Me va guiando hasta los ficheros que documentan la red y contienen las contraseñas de administración. Compruebo que corresponden con la documentación impresa, los subo a un servidor de Suprakillminds y a continuación los borro.
-¡Pero qué haces!
-Preparando la clase. Un segundo.

Creo un usuario para mi y otro para El Máquina II con superpoderes. Cambio la contraseña de root y de administrador en todos los servicios y sorprendentemente no explota nada. El informático anterior es para darle un abrazo, joder. Degrado el usuario de Bacpac a lo más rastrero que puedo. Cierro sesiones y me levanto.

-Siéntate que empieza la clase.

Se quita por fin la mochila y se sienta. Pues no tiene chepa. Me mira con los brazos cruzados.

-Mira, tú no quieres que te enseñe y yo no tengo ganas, así que vamos a hacer esto rápido. Ésto- le digo delimitando con los dedos el espacio comprendido entre la pared y el biombo- es tu espacio de trabajo. Única y exclusivamente. No puedes tocar nada fuera de aquí. No puedes tocar ningún servidor. No puedes tocar la distribución de la red. No puedes cambiar un puesto de sitio. No puedes instalar ningún tipo de software. No puedes contratar internet con otro proveedor que no sea el actual. No puedes ni pinchar un pendrive en ningún ordenador. Puedes navegar por Internet, ver las noticias y escribir tus memorias. ¿Alguna duda?
-¿Y si se rompe algo?
-Nos lo dices. O contratas a una empresa local y te inventas una avería gravísima. Nadie te va a reclamar nada.
-Ya, claro. Como que $Hyperboss es tonto y va a pagar a una empresa estando yo aquí. Él no tira el dinero.
-Eso creía yo, pero tienes quince mil euros encima de la mesa y no ha pestañeado siquiera.
-¿Entonces, qué es lo que puedo hacer?
-Venir a trabajar, tomar café, conseguir que otros se coman tus marrones e irte a tu casa con el deber cumplido. Ya eres director ejecutivo del departamento de informática de Hold & Caust. ¡A que es acojonante!

Cojo mis cosas y me encamino a la salida. Pero recuerdo una cosa más…

-Oye, Bacpac, una curiosidad. ¿Qué llevas en la mochila?
-¡Ah! Vas a flipar. Mira, mira… Aquí lo tienes- dice sacando un portátil,- una maravilla. Diecisiete pulgadas, Intel Xeon, sesenta y cuatro gigas de RAM, disco SSD de un Tera…
-¡Ja! ¡Lo sabía! ¡Pichacorta!

Me alejé con una sonrisa de oreja a oreja de su mesa dejándole con cara de desconcierto. Marqué el número de $Hyperboss.

-Dime, Wardog.
-Hecho.
-¿Ya?
-Ya.
-¿Tan pronto? ¿Qué has hecho?
-Le he nombrado director ejecutivo del departamento de informática.
-O sea, que le voy a pagar el sueldo para que otro haga el trabajo.
-Es usted un lince.
-Bueno. A la larga me sale barato.
-Tampoco se fíe. Algo me dice que el Karma aún no ha cobrado.
-¿Qué dices?
-Nada, nada, cosas mías…

Tengo un miedo atroz.

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In My Daydreams

Release the Hounds: Part 7

In My Daydreams

As the creatures gained speed, I realized that I could hear their feet hitting the ground from the air. It was the sound a thousand bass drums might have made if they’d been played by elephants with a poor sense of rhythm, a cacophony of thumping noises that overlapped each other.

I’d worried that Cassie’s gun or my sonic weapons might warn the Human Ascendancy’s forces of our attack, but it didn’t matter. The creatures’ running drowned out everything we could have attempted.

Thanks to the Rocket suit, I had the best view of anyone. As Jadzen Akri had described, the Ascendancy troops weren’t organized. People at the far end of the camp stood at attention while on the other end of the camp, they stood in groups, many of them holding weapons or holding their ears.

At the same time, people from the organized end of the camp walked out of formation, accompanied by guards. When they reached the groups of milling people, the groups would break up and join the formation.

Through our implants, Jaclyn asked, “What are they doing? Do they know we’re coming?”

“No,” I watched as one group shot a man from the formation only to line up themselves as another shouted at them from another side. “It looks like one group is trying to get control and the rest are resisting the motivators, but I don’t think their hearts are in it.”

I angled the sonics downward as a group of the beasts began to veer away from the main group. Giving them a blast of high pitched noise followed by tiger-terrier barks inspired them to rejoin the main group. For all I knew, the barks were enough.

Maru spoke through the implant link. “It’s the agent. The spacers and soldiers aren’t comfortable with him running things, but they also aren’t comfortable openly rebelling. The motivators will have them in minutes. It’s not hard to use that.”

He might have said more but Crawls-Through-Desert’s voice. “We’re in position and turning off the shields. Are you ready?”

Jaclyn said, “Yes. We’ll be another 30 seconds. Does that look right to you, Rocket?”

I used my helmet’s HUD to measure the distance. “That works.”

It didn’t feel like thirty seconds and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe we gained speed as we went. It felt like we did. As we grew closer, the formation broke. Why it had held, I didn’t know. Maru might have. It was most likely simple to explain. My best guess was that it had been hard enough to get people into formation that they didn’t want to let them out.

I saw the people run in all directions, grabbing for weapons or trying to escape.

No one appeared to be listening to anyone when the glow of the force fields faded, leaving the open area past the town of Landing unprotected. At the same time, the shields around the shuttles turned into thin lines and began to cut.

The shields around the towns stayed up, but it did no good for the Ascendancy’s people. They couldn’t go through.

The Rocket suit didn’t include cameras good enough to see emotions on people’s faces as the first wave of creatures hit and I felt grateful for that. There were so many beasts and so many people that the creatures weren’t even trying to hit. They were only trying to run between the gap between the two towns with glowing force fields—except that there were so many of them that they had to stay close.

The Ascendancy soldiers dodged, and ran. A few of them flew, but it didn’t matter. They couldn’t move quickly enough to avoid being trampled. They were buried under a gray wave.

That’s not to say that they didn’t try. Weapons fired. Lines of bright light hit creatures in the herd, killing them or hurting them, but not enough to stop the herd from coming.

A few of the one man fighters made it into the air, but they made it into the air with wings broken and damaged grav plates. The constant wobbling made it clear that they were lucky to be in the air at all.

One started to take shots at the herd (or maybe at us) before its wild shots made it clear that it couldn’t hit anything. It wheeled around to limp after the other fighters.

When the gray wave of beasts finally broke and the herd made it out the other side, we could see what we’d done. From one side to the other, everything appeared to flat, from vehicles to people. It wasn’t literally flat, but it felt that way.

Tents, small buildings, and small vehicles had all been smashed. People too.

That had been the plan, but a plan was abstract whereas the blood and broken bodies were real.

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In My Daydreams

Release the Hounds: Part 6

In My Daydreams

The shouting didn’t do anything.  A few of the giant elephant/rhinoceros things looked over at us without much interest. The ones nearest the dog made grunting noises and began to sniff the wind, a good idea except that we were upwind. Then a few began to move forward, away from the barking, swinging their heads around to look for the noise.

When they saw the dog, one of them made a deep noise somewhere between a growl and a roar. Some of the smaller ones bolted away, but the large one turned toward us.

We weren’t intimidating enough, and why would we be? Judging from the Rocket suit’s readouts, the nearby creatures ranged from two to thirty tons.

I narrowcast a barrage of noises at the large one, hoping that one of them would hurt it, but even better, hurt it in a way that made it run away instead of at us.

It didn’t run, but it did back up a step.

Not intimidated at all, Tiger kept on barking and even growled at it. The creature growled back and I considered giving up the sonics, but didn’t. I’d used the setting where an algorithm cycled through sounds, and we weren’t done.

As it hit a collection of high pitched notes, all of them at noise levels that hurt the human ear, the creature wheeled away and ran after the smaller ones, stopping some hundred feet away and turning to face us. The smaller ones had stopped just past it, turning sideways to watch us out of one eye.

Tiger kept on barking but he didn’t run ahead, staying near Jaclyn, and then it stopped running when she did.

By that time, we’d all stopped shouting.

Cassie gave a short laugh, put the gun back into its holster, and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, that’s going to be harder than you’d think. You want me to start shooting at them? We’ve got to get these suckers moving.”

Jaclyn exhaled. “I think you’ll have to. Can you burn them without hurting them much? Because we don’t want to kill them. Maru, you said you could affect them. Can you make them uneasy? Because if you start with that, and then we start with the dog and whatever noise Nick made with the sonics, and if we were far enough away from each other that we got a bunch of them moving… Well, we might get all of them going.”

She looked over at Maru. “Are you going to be able to keep up or will I have to carry you?”

In a quiet but still penetrating voice, he said, “I’ll be able to keep up.”

She nodded. “Once we get them going, we’ll need to keep them on track. Tiger and I will stay on the right side. Nick go to the left. Everyone else can go where you’re needed, but you’ll probably end up at the back at first.

“Alright, we know that Maru’s going to start. Cassie’s going to shoot—“

Cassie shook her head, raising her voice to say, “I’m giving them a light show first. If that doesn’t work then, yeah, I’ll shoot.”

Near Cassie, Katuk said, “I will create light and fire off my weapons as well.”

Jaclyn nodded. Turning to look at Marcus, Jaclyn asked, “What are you doing?”

Marcus grew to 12 feet high with skinny legs and arms and a featureless face. Tentacles grew out of his back while his League uniform turned into a black suit.

Jaclyn’s eyes widened. “Slenderman? Seriously? They’re alien herd animals. They don’t know their memes.”

Marcus shrugged, using his shoulders and all of the tentacles. “I need the legs to keep up with you guys and I really think they’ll find the tentacles scary.”

Jaclyn started to reply, stopped, took a breath and said, “Fine. Just keep up, but don’t rule out imitating Tiger. I think that would work better.”

Maru cocked his head and looked up at Marcus. “I don’t know if you’ll scare the beasts, but I think you’ll scare the men. We have legends about things that look like that.”

Marcus peered down at him, mouthless face opening to say, “No kidding. That’s crazy.”

Jaclyn held up her hands. “Whoa. Let’s not go down this road. Maru do your thing. Everyone else, wait for my say so, but then do what you do.”

The first time Maru had been shouting with the rest of us except that his shouts had the queer tone that activated our defenses. This time he imitated the creatures’ grunts and the noises the large one had made as the smaller ones ran off, but still with that same queer tone.

His voice rose in volume, activating my suit which started to buzz. At the same time, the herd beasts turned to look at us, making grunts and multi-note whistles that sounded nervous to my ears. As he grew louder, so did they, and it wasn’t just the nearest beasts that seemed nervous. Every one of them in sight began to look around or sniff the air.

When Tiger began to bark, a few of them ran away, darting across the field. A few of them followed. Then Jaclyn waived to Cassie and I.  Cassie raised the gun and pulled the trigger. Instead of a burning beam that killed what it touched, bursts of bright light came from the gun in no particular rhythm.

More beasts began to run. Not all of them kept on running once they started enough ran that I could hear footsteps thunder across the field.

I fired off the sonics and this time I wasn’t narrowcasting. Everyone could hear and not just my target. I set the sonic device on my left arm to blast the frequencies that worked earlier on and off. I set the device on my right arm to randomly blast other frequencies at extreme decibel levels and sometimes dog barks.

During my first barrage of the new sounds, the creatures began to run. I took off, flying toward the left side of the herd, but aiming my sonics toward the middle. Behind me, the rest of our group began to follow the herd.

For all that it was true that the creatures could not possibly recognize Marcus’ shape, I couldn’t deny that the combination of spindly limbs and waving tentacles was creepy.

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In My Daydreams

Release the Hounds: Part 5

In My Daydreams

Thirty minutes later found us outside in the warm sun, standing upwind of a field that was inland and slightly to the north of the settlement.

The creatures in the field reminded me of both elephants and rhinoceroses. They had grey, wrinkled skins, tusks like elephants, but with the long, wide snout of the rhinoceros and a small horn on the top of the snout. Their upright, triangular ears made me think of wild boar. Their wide legs made me think of tree trunks.

They had all of an elephant’s size, and maybe more. I wasn’t sure how tall elephants were, but the smallest of these creatures had to be taller than 30 feet at the shoulder.

As they grazed, scooping up huge mouthfuls of the green, waist-high grass, I could only wonder how much they ate in a day.

Jaclyn stood next to me, looking out at the herd. “I hate this,” she said.

I glanced over at her. “Yeah?”

She sighed. “You remember back when Rook kidnapped Cassie and we broke into his base? You got stuck running all of that. You offered it to me and I didn’t take it.”

“Right,” I remembered it well. She’d been right not to let me hand it off to her. I’d started it moving and it wouldn’t have been fair to dump it on her.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I hope we all live through this. If we don’t, it will be my fault.”

“Not entirely. We’re all going to make our own decisions. Some of them won’t be the best, but they’ll mostly be our own fault.” I watched her face. This was a bad time to have a crisis of confidence.

I couldn’t read much. Her face barely moved until she gave a half-smile. “It’s nice of you to say so, but remember what you did. When you heard they were pumping the base full of nerve gas, you sent Izzy and me back and you went on alone. We only came in at the end. I wish I could do that. Then I know you’d all be safe.”

She let out a breath. “If Marcus dies, I won’t even be able to explain how he died to his mom and dad. The block’s still working full force for them.”

It was my turn to sigh. “Yeah. I don’t know what to say. I’m sure Agent Lim will help you come up with something, but I’m sure that’s not what you want. Do you want me to take over?”

She grinned. “No. I know this one’s mine, but you can have it if I go down.”

“That’s kind of dark.” Maybe this was a crisis of confidence.

She laughed. “It’s realistic. We have to plan for it even if it’s only temporary. You know the plan and they’ll listen to you. That’s what we need. And don’t worry about me. I’m sure that half of the reason I’m worried is that they wouldn’t let me leave the dog back in the cave.”

Tiger paced up and down in front of the group of us and looked over at Jaclyn before sitting down. He seemed bigger than I remembered. He’d been listening better than I expected as well. As willing to eat humans as the adults appeared to be, Tiger seemed to have been born to be domesticated. He’d learned to follow Jaclyn’s orders better than dogs from home.

As I thought about that, the implant gave me a vision of dogs like Tiger fighting Xiniti at the side of Abominators and their human slaves. Though I could feel that there was more to learn, I didn’t go into it. For the moment, I knew enough. They’d probably been created by the Abominators to serve humans, much as normal dogs did on Earth.

Near us, Marcus eyed the herd, possibly painting it in his head. Cassie had pulled her gun from its holster on her thigh and was pointing it past the herd toward the settlement—probably using its sensors. Katuk stood completely still and watched the beasts.

That wasn’t everyone. Maru had volunteered to go with us. He knew the creatures, the terrain, and my tech blocked his powers. If Alanna’s implant modifications tried to force him to betray us, he wouldn’t be able to. That wouldn’t be true back in the cave.

He walked up to us. Short with dark hair, he wore a jacket and pants that changed color to match the grass as he walked. He wasn’t invisible, but he might be from a distance.

Stopping in front of us, he bowed. “How are you handling it? I hate moments like this. You’re ready, but you can’t do a thing until someone else gets into position.”

Jaclyn let her hands drop to her sides. “I’m doing fine. We’re all going to do fine. In case you didn’t know, Nick’s my second in command. He’ll do fine too.”

Maru smiled. “That all we can hope for. I plan to do fine too. And in case you didn’t know, my voice won’t compel the creatures down there like it does humans, but it will help.”

Nodding, Jaclyn said, “Thanks for telling me. I guessed when you volunteered, but I didn’t know.”

Crawls-Through-Desert’s voice sounded in our heads. “We’re on track to be in position in two minutes. You can start.”

“Got it,” Jaclyn sent back and the plant ended the call. By then we were all looking at her. She said. “You heard what I heard. It’s time to get moving. Remember that you have to be scary enough to start them running but not scary enough to start them fighting. Let’s go!”

We started running on to the plain, aiming for a herd of creatures that seemed go on for as far as we could see. People shouted. The dog began to bark. I turned on the sonics, wondering what frequency would work best.

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In My Daydreams

Release the Hounds: Part 4

In My Daydreams

“Now,” Jadzen said, moving her eyes across the group, “we have at least three different problems left. First, while there may be more of us than them, they’re all trained military and we aren’t. Second, they still have the shuttles, fighters, and military equipment. We don’t have much military equipment. Third, they had members of the Ascendant Guard, the First Ascendant’s elite forces, on the Annihilation—two of whom we’ve been told about—Neves and Kamia. There may be more. In addition, they have a motivator—Agent 957. We have members of the Xiniti nation, but they can’t solve all of our problems. We will have to fight along with them.

“Our plan is to make their numbers a disadvantage, damage or destroy their ships, and hope that between the Xiniti and ourselves, we can handle what’s left.”

I raised my hand. “You know where I’d start? Those force field generators you’ve got. I was looking over the design with my implant and it looks like you could set a timer that would turn off the force field. After that, though, you could change the width of the projection to something really thin, maybe monomolecular, and rake across the ships. I don’t know how long the power would last after that, but you’d poke holes in the ships and it would open the whole place up for the animals.”

Two men on the other side of the circle from me laughed. Both wore homespun clothes with grey, blocky weapons holstered on their hips. Short and narrow-faced, they might have been brothers. I thought I remembered seeing them with Alanna’s tech group.

“We’re not laughing at you,” one of them said. “I’ve been telling Sian over here that someone would figure it out eventually.”

The other guy—Sian, presumably, gave a slow grin that reminded me a little of Lee. I didn’t feel the telltale hint that he was an inhuman, eldritch being from beyond time, but I did have a gut feeling that the two of them were casual killers.

Sian leaned over the glowing map between us. “We’ve been using the technique for assassinations back home. We have a list of spots where making little holes will disable a shuttle. Asan and I are still calculating if the shield generators will have enough power, but they should.”

The other guy—Asan—said, “Look, from what we’ve got so far, I’m 99% certain it will work.”

Jadzen didn’t let them go any further. “We’ve been watching the Ascendancy camp from a distance and they seem to be fighting among themselves—not an all-out civil war, but we saw what appears to be the naval commander’s body on the ground near one of the shuttles. Since then, there have been a number of murders among the naval staff—“

Sian muttered, “The agent’s consolidating power.”

Jadzen glanced over at him and frowned but continued, “and they don’t appear to have organized any kind of patrol schedule with the fighters yet or replaced the codes on our shield generators with their own. Since the starport is now nearly empty of people, Sian and Asan will use the shield generators to damage the shuttles and the fighters. Meanwhile, our people will herd the native megafauna toward their main camp. When they arrive, the shields will be down except for the shields around the towns themselves, and the animals will be able to charge and attack whatever they like.

“We know that after we do this, they’ll retaliate. It’s possible that they’ll try to find us in the tunnels and it’s certain that someone will have the technology to find us. We’re going to hope that they’re too busy to try, but if that happens, those of us remaining in the caves will resist. We’ll let those of you outside the caves know if we can’t handle what we’re facing, but your primary responsibility will be to find and capture or kill the leadership—Agent 957 and the Ascendancy’s guard.”

It sounded reasonable even if finding the leadership in the chaos of a big fight would be harder than it sounded. I asked our group with my implant.

Katuk sent back, “Our implants can monitor Ascendancy battle communications if we’re in range. I believe we have a realistic chance.”

I checked the implant’s data on secret communication methods that they’d broken and the Xiniti had broken quite a few—both enemies and allies. I doubted that the Hrrnna and the Alliance would be happy to find out how much the Xiniti had access to, but I wasn’t planning to tell anyone.

Jadzen went on, assigning people to specific duties, but we were set. As she talked, I checked with the group. “Just to get this straight, but we’re all going in with the animals, right?”

A few feet down the circle from me, Jaclyn gave a lopsided smile, sending back, “That’s it. They’ll be sending people with us to start the animals going and Crawls-Through-Desert will be directing us and supporting forces from a distance since he’s experienced at that sort of thing.”

Near Jaclyn, Cassie shook her head. “That’s what I meant when I said we’d have a lot of chances to die. We’re going into battle on the backs of a herd of crazed animals. It’s going to be fun, but is it crazy? Hell, yes.”

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In My Daydreams

Release the Hounds: Part 3

In My Daydreams

We stepped into the hallway. It was little more than walls of an indeterminate gray material broken up by one door after another, all of them leading to rooms just like mine.

As we walked toward the stairway, I asked Marcus, “What about Sydney? No one ever said anything, but when I’ve seen either of you in the last year, you’ve mostly been together.”

Marcus’ walk slowed for a second. “That’s been complicated. We’ve been interested in each other, but it’s never been the right time. Her dad got shot at her brother’s high school graduation. After that, Sean stopped speaking to her because she admitted that Camille was her half-sister and tried to get to know her. That went on for almost a year and for most of that time Haley, Sydney, Camille, and I were all of the Heroes’ League that was active in Grand Lake. I know you were around, but you were busy with college and Stapledon, you know? Anyway, we didn’t feel comfortable messing with our ‘working’ relationship.”

“Yeah,” I said and we stopped at the bottom of the stairs.

He shook his head. “Her dad cheated on her mom for years, so she doesn’t exactly trust guys, right? She’s dated and then dumped three different guys since I’ve known her. Plus, she knows she’s kind of screwed up and she didn’t want us to hate each other. Anyway, we were both freshly out of relationships this spring and beginning to think that maybe we could try something, but then this trip came up. So that’s where that is.”

I blinked. “Okay. Wow. I had no idea.”

He leaned against the wall, nodding. “We didn’t make a big deal out of it. Right now I’m feeling like it all worked out for the best. Tikki’s so much more relaxed. Her parents are both dead and she lived under a dictatorship, but she’s optimistic and sees life as an adventure. And I don’t feel like I’m walking on eggshells all the time, you know? It’s fun—well, except that we may all die, but, I’m feeling optimistic about that now that they can’t hit us from orbit with a battleship.”

I looked up the stairway. They had to hear that we were down here even if they didn’t know what we were saying. “Sometimes plans work,” I said.

Marcus grinned. “I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’ve been useful for this whole trip.”

I put my foot on the step. “You were useful when we saved Tikki from those Waroo mercenaries.”

He cocked his head. “You know, that probably helped. There’s nothing like showing up when someone’s getting attacked to establish that you’re one of the good guys. Still, I didn’t do much even then. You and the plant did more fighting.”

We both started walking up the stairs. Almost to himself, Marcus asked, “I wonder where the Waroo are now?”

“No idea,” I said, but by then we were off the stairs and standing in the big room on the second floor.

People filled the space. It felt like the big group scenes just before the final battle of a Star Wars movie—or at least of A New Hope or Return of the Jedi. People stood or sat, wearing colorful clothes from cultures that I didn’t recognize but my implant did, labelling them with notes that I could click on and explore. Some clothes were made of shiny futuristic materials. Others appeared to be leather (some of it scaled), furs, or coarse fibers. Those had been made here.

Despite the resemblance to Star Wars, everyone looked human except for Katuk and the plant. Like everyone else though, they circled around a projection showing the colony and the land around it, featuring the positions of the enemy. Since I’d last been awake, the Human Ascendancy had filled the starport’s landing field with military shuttles. Beyond that, we’d seen that they’d filled the area between Landing and the next town over with camping soldiers and spacers.

Everyone turned to watch us as we joined the group. Then, out of nowhere, people began to shout, hoot, cheer and clap. They backed away, opening up a path so that we could make our way to the middle and stand next to everyone else.

Tikki kissed Marcus and people reached out to clap our shoulders or touch our costumes. It was a strange sensation. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever been in the middle of a group of people that I’d helped right after I helped them. Most of the time, we disappeared into the shadows.

As I reached the middle, Kals smiled at me. “You don’t know how much people in the resistance have wanted to do something like that. We’ve had ships, but we’ve never had anything that could take on a battleship. We’ve got a chance to live now.”

Next to me, Cassie leaned toward me, her ponytail swishing behind her head. “Wait till you see the plan we worked out. We’ve also got plenty of chances to die.”

Past Cassie, Jaclyn kept her voice low and arms crossed, “It’s not that bad. We did our best for everyone.”

At the front of the room, standing with the window opening out to the glow of the colony’s buildings and streets behind her, Jadzen raised her arms and said, “Please, we are all thankful for what they’ve done, but we all know that there’s more that we all have to do.”

After a few seconds everyone stopped talking, reminding me of being in elementary school—if Jadzen Akri were a third grade teacher and she was organizing her class to kill the fourth graders.

That, in turn, made me wonder if we were in the middle of a retelling of The Magnificent Seven or, bearing in mind that we were marooned on what was metaphorically a desert island, what if this were a retelling of The Lord of the Flies?

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In My Daydreams

Release the Hounds: Part 2

In My Daydreams

I woke up to find Marcus knocking on my door. “Rise and shine. It’s time to save the world.”

He sounded as tired as I felt. I got up, finding that the space next to my bed was only barely wider than my body, making me wonder how people who were overweight were handling this. The best thing I could say about the room was that it was larger than a Japanese capsule hotel room, but those might have been better designed. From what I’d heard, in capsule hotels, the bed was the floor. My room had space under the bed for storage. It contained the Rocket suit and my clothes, but no one could get stuck between the bed and the wall in their rooms.

“I’ll be out in a second,” I said and started pulling the stealth suit on. I left it in stealth suit form. The time for fake clothes had passed.

“Do you mind if I come in? I’ve got a question I don’t want to talk about in the hall.”

“I… Okay. Go ahead.” I unlocked the door with my implant and pulled on my shirt. Marcus stepped in and sat on my bed as I pulled on my pants. Whatever. We’d been dressing in the same room for more than two weeks now.

The pseudo-Xiniti silver color made me think of the space suits you’d see in movies from the 1950s. At least he wasn’t wearing a fishbowl style helmet. That would have been embarrassing for both of us.

My pants and shirt sealed together into a seamless bottom layer for the Rocket suit. Marcus leaned back against the wall. “After this is over, I’m thinking of asking Tikki to come home with us.”

I turned to look at him. It was the first time I’d seen him completely serious in a long time. “Do you think she’d want to?”

He shrugged. “No way to tell without asking, but she doesn’t have parents. She knows us better than she knows anyone here. It’s a new world either way, but this way she’d be with me.”

Sitting down on the bed next to him, I thought about it. “I can see that, but she’d have a whole new planet and a totally different culture to get used to.”

Marcus nodded. “A free culture, though. Here, her only choice is to live in hiding or in a dictatorship. That’s barely a choice. We can show her the basics and our implants can set up a package for cultural expectations and rules—not to mention English. I checked. She could access all of it through her bracelet.”

I checked. He was right. The implant could set up a basic “cultural orientation” package for other people to download. We could direct its attention to specific cultural practices, but it could use its default guidelines and handle it automatically too.

“Wow,” I shook my head. “I had no idea that was possible. It’s too bad we can’t hand this all over to people at home. I’m sure there are a bunch of cultural anthropologists that would kill to find out what the default guidelines for a ‘cultural orientation package’ include.”

Marcus grinned. “Yeah, I bet,” but then he took a breath. “The only thing that worries me is race. She’s not going to get it. They handle what we’d call race totally different here.”

“Really?” As I said it, the implant explained what he meant. Race wasn’t a thing here. The Abominators used skin, eye, and hair color to indicate which version of a project they were on, starting either from dark or pale skin. Most of the human genelines that the Abominators created could pass for Asian, Middle-eastern, Latin American, or Central American, depending on the geneline. Genelines that passed for European or African were genelines that the Abominator creator didn’t change after the first version and then kept them isolated.

Before Marcus could explain it, I said, “My implant just gave me an infodump. How did I miss that and why didn’t you?”

“Easy,” Marcus stopped leaning against the wall. “You didn’t talk with many people outside our group, right?”

“No.”

Marcus grinned. “Exactly. You, Jaclyn, and Cassie all look like the powered zealots that the Human Ascendancy would pull out when things get tough. So most people were too nervous to talk to you, but they did talk to me. I wondered why but its because I pass for normal here. So that’s why the council was so nuts every time we met with them and why they wouldn’t listen to us. I don’t think they believe you’re a nutjob but they think you look like one.”

“Wow.” I thought about all the cues I must have missed. It made me feel like I needed to rethink every reaction I’d received since arriving. “I wish you’d said something earlier.”

He nodded. “Yeah, that’s fair but I didn’t get it either until right around when we caught Maru. I just knew something felt different. That’s when I looked it all up.”

I thought a little more. “So maybe she won’t understand it, but it seems like the kind of thing the basic cultural package should include. She’d probably be fine.”

Marcus closed his eyes for a moment. As he opened them, he continued, “Yeah. She probably would be okay. Good point. Now I have to get up the nerve to ask her about it.”

He blinked. “Oh, crud. Jaclyn just messaged me to ask if I got you yet.”

I opened the door. “I guess we’d better go.”

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In My Daydreams

Loose the Hounds: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Hideaway, Landing Starport (Which Was Normally an Empty Field)

Agent 957 watched as the last of the ships from the Annihilation landed in the empty field the colonists used as a starport. Their fiery exhaust lit up the night. Since they’d filled up the slope between Landing and the colonists’ next town with fighters, dropships and marines, they now had no choice but use the field.

Ten shuttles left almost no room in the space within the shielded area. They’d considered landing outside, but they’d had seen footage of the planet’s native megafauna. Some of them were larger than a shuttle. It wasn’t worth the risk.

They’d considered landing in the colonists’ fields until the Annihilation’s Executive Officer noted they might need to harvest the crops themselves if no one came to rescue them. When the communications officer said that they’d already sent a distress signal, the Exec had reminded him that the Xiniti must have as well.

Everyone knew what that meant. When fleets clashed, rescue missions were diverted. Sometimes they couldn’t make it through until the end of the conflict.

If it wasn’t bad enough that they were on a planet covered with psychotic, killer animals, the soldiers and spacers would have to camp outside. The first house the Marines investigated had blown up, killing the fireteam that entered the house.

Knowing that the colony included many of the Human Ascendancy’s most notorious terrorists, the marines’ commander had ordered the marines to set up shelters and inventory the supplies and weapons. They needed to know how much time they had before they had no choice but live off whatever food they colonists could grow.

Commander Hesses’ personal shuttle landed last.

Agent 957 reflected on how unfortunate it was that the commander could not be persuaded to go down with his ship. He’d waited for every last soldier or spacer to leave but left before the self-destruct command activated.

Agent 957 knew that he’d have to handle this himself. Left to himself, the old man would pay more attention to keeping his people alive than catching the colony’s leadership and fulfilling the mission. The man was good to his people but wrong for this mission. It was time to take care of that problem.

Somewhere inside himself, Agent 957 raged against all of it. Damn that ship for reappearing. He didn’t know whose it was, but it was some government’s pet project. The ability to use blink and jump in a ship that small in combination with black shields, and a gun capable of damaging a warship?

Whether it was a new power, the Xiniti, or some Alliance race like the Hrrnnna, he didn’t like knowing that there were nations that were ahead of the Human Ascendancy. Whatever group it was, they’d supplied the Xiniti with new technology, making the creepy, little maniacs more dangerous if that were possible.

Agent 957 put that out of his mind as he stepped in front of Commander Hesses’ shuttle. Anticipating the moment, he’d sent all of the people up the slope toward the colony. It would be best to make it quick.

The shuttle door opened and two spacers stepped out, both of them in combat ready spacesuits—thick-skinned and layered for protection against kinetic weapons and covered with more than one shiny coating to protect against lasers and other energy weapons.

Even in the low glow of the force shields, he could see that the uniforms were poorly designed for ground combat. Once day came, the mirrored surface would be a beacon or at least hilariously inadequate for hiding in a forest.

Commander Hesses followed them out, a small, stocky man wearing the same sort of space suit as his guards. He looked at Agent 957, seeing, Agent 957 knew, a big man wearing layered armor that blended into its surroundings. It might not do as well against energy weapons, but it did have protection against them.

Hesses opened his helmet. “Your command over this mission is finished. With the destruction of my ship, our mission is no longer to assist the Genetic Management Office, but first of all to survive to be rescued. You’ll find that I’ve forwarded these orders to all of my people.”

Agent 957 gave him a shallow bow. “I’m sorry you feel that way. Capturing the resistance’s leadership is vitally important to the survival of the Human Ascendancy. Surviving is impotant, but not as important as removing the threat Jadzen Akri and her people pose our civilization. If you don’t believe that, your usefulness to our society has reached its end.”

Commander Hesses said, “Just like that, then? You’re going to kill me or have my people do it for you?”

Agent 957 said the word that when said with the correct modulation caused any military personnel hearing it to freeze and wait for orders.

Something near Commander Hesses hummed and he laughed. “That’s right. We’re prepared. Don’t think that you’re the first to try something like this.”

Ten more people followed Hesses out of the shuttle, all of them holding weapons.

“Motivators—“ Commander Hesses began, but then he stopped.

Agent 957 tried a different modulation of the word and Commander Hesses and all his people froze.

“Kill Commander Hesses,” he said.

And they did.

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 10

In My Daydreams

Marcus flapped his wings and glided down the tunnel. “If we were in a movie, you and I would probably be okay.”

“And why is that?” We’d slowed to a point that I was mostly upright.

“Here’s the deal: you’re the guy who gathered everyone together. I mean, yeah, you didn’t try to, but in the movies that’s the main character. Pretty much all his friends die, but he’s okay. I’m okay because the gunfighter who falls in love with the local girl survives too. Jaclyn would be in trouble though because she didn’t get romantically involved. She got attached to a dog. In most versions, a gunfighter connects with the kids, but a dog’s close enough. She’d end up dying to defend the animal.”

“Dunno,” I checked the tunnel map. We still had a couple miles to go. “If you think about it, Tikki’s as much a gunfighter as a local girl in this case. She spends most of her time with us and she’s new to the place. Also, if Iolan gets enough sperm from you, it sounds like everyone in the colony will be descended from you eventually.”

“That’s messed up, but this is a modern, sci-fi retelling. Why not have artificial insemination? For that matter, half the group’s female, so why not have romance within the group?  I reckon that future versions of the story might include gay romance.”

“You reckon?”

“You bet, pardner.”

We floated through the darkness. “So, where does the plant fit into all this?”

Marcus flapped his wings again. “I don’t know. This is a science fiction version. It doesn’t really map. There’s generally an experienced gunfighter or two. Crawls-Through-Desert might be one of those guys, but then there’s Katuk. In the movie, the guy who doesn’t fit into the group is also the youngest and ends up with the village girl. Here, I’m the youngest, but I fit in and Katuk is the only Xiniti. Plus, he’s got no romantic interest in humans.

“For that matter, there are versions of the story where no one dies at all. I’m pretty sure everyone lives in A Bug’s Life because that’s Disney. Plus, I don’t know if you ever saw that old TV show The A-Team on cable, but they retell the story every single week and not even the bad guys die.”

“You realize we’re not in a movie, right?”

Marcus laughed. “I noticed. Because if we were in a movie there wouldn’t have been an irrelevant side plot about Lee’s people and whatever happened with Kee Otaki back on K’Tepolu. That’s basically a ‘disappearing magic shop’ story except that there wasn’t anything special about the parts you bought beyond being good parts. If it did include Kee, that would be piss poor editing.”

We were within a mile. “What about the, ‘Let’s play Monopoly subplot’?”

He sighed. “That was probably a bad idea too.”

“Yeah,” I said. “We should have been playing ‘The Settlers of Catan’.”

“I know there are better games but Monopoly’s a classic.”

We made it to the hideout a few minutes later, passing the force fields they’d used to block the tunnels, and flying over the caverns’ streets, dodging buildings with a combination of our night vision and the streetlights. Finally we landed in front of the structure we shared with Jadzen Akri, Kals, and the colony’s council.

Cassie met us at the door. She’d set her costume to civilian mode—it didn’t cover her head, allowing us to see that she was grinning. “Jadzen’s technical people got their ‘antenna’ working. They keep on telling me it’s not exactly an antenna, but can’t quite explain what it is, so I’m calling it an antenna. Anyway, we saw the ship blow up a few minutes ago. They got everyone off and then they deliberately blew it up. The council members were saying that’s standard practice when there’s a certain amount of damage. They destroy the ship so that their enemies can’t get anything off it.”

Marcus nodded his head. “That’s kind of hardcore. It makes you wonder what happened that makes them go so far.”

I thought about it. “If you’ve got people around that pick up anything done in a place in the last hour like Daniel sometimes can, you’d probably want to break your ship up into the smallest pieces possible.”

“Not a bad idea,” Marcus said, cocking his head. “Too bad we can’t ask Daniel about it.”

Cassie tapped her foot. “The interesting question isn’t what they’re doing next, it’s what we’re doing next. The colonists are going to drive herds of megafauna at them and we’re going to keep them safe.”

I blinked. “Are we going to do this right now or can I sleep?”

“You’ve got a few hours.”

“Good.” I stepped around her and walked down the hall, preparing to drop my armor the first chance I could.

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 9

In My Daydreams

They’d taken one of the better positions possible. They were far enough behind us that turning around and firing didn’t give us a good chance of hitting while being close enough that if they kept on firing, they might hit us in the rear where the shields were open for our engines.

I kept up evasive maneuvers, but since I was going back to the planet, I also didn’t want them to follow the ship down to the surface where I hoped to hide it.

Marcus’ voice sounded over my implant. “I’m firing at these guys with the small guns, but they can’t do anything at this distance. The main gun could take them out, but hitting won’t be easy. We’re going to have to turn around and chase them if we want to hit them.”

“I know. I might have an idea.” Aware of my surroundings through the implant, I could see his blasts bounce off their shields or miss and disappear into the darkness of space.

Then I realized what I could do. We were in near-space and we weren’t that close to the planet. I couldn’t use blink space to leave the star system, but I could blink out while I was inside the system—probably. I had the ship’s computer calculate what I wanted to try while I continued to dodge.

It didn’t take long. As our shield absorbed another shot and the ship’s capacitors’ showed a higher level of stored power, I decided that now would be a good time to use that power. We were already in near-space. I threw the ship into jump-space and then immediately into blink-space.

Instants later, we appeared several planetary diameters on the other side of Hideaway. I’d transitioned back into near-space and didn’t wait to find out if the fighters would figure out what I’d done. I aimed the ship straight at Hideaway, going as close as I could to it before coming out of near-space.

The coastline where the colony hid was still in the dark but only by a little. I matched the ship’s velocity to the planet’s so that the ship would transition out at essentially zero and set the anti-gravity to turn on as soon as there was gravity to counteract.

That left us a few miles from the caves and the ocean. Marcus and I stepped out of the ship, flying low toward the caves while the ship dove into the water.

On the way back, Marcus and could still see the glow of rockets ascending and descending from orbit. We’d destroyed the engines but not the battleship itself. So they must have been saving people and equipment. This was good in that we’d minimized casualties and bad because they were coming down to the ground where they could be used to fight us.

Lee would have killed them all and maybe dropped the battleship’s burning remains on the Marines’ camp. Many of Lee’s plans had that kind of elegance—if by elegance you mean that you’ve killed almost everyone in one action, an action that you’ve been setting up in the background since the beginning of the fight (or even before it).

I liked Lee, but I didn’t want to be him. I preferred to believe that life was worth something and that the less of it you take, the better for everyone in the long run. Seeing the dropships heading up and down from battleship and knowing that Extinction class ships typically held 5000 people, 1000 of whom were marines, I couldn’t help but wonder if Lee had the right idea.

That was a lot of people to fight.

I knew that that wasn’t how Lee would be looking at it. He’d see the opportunities. The majority of the people on that ship were most useful for running a ship. When it came to surviving on this planet they were as much of a burden as an asset. It was just a question of how to use them.

Wings outstretched, arms hanging onto my legs, Marcus asked, “How many people do you think survived?”

“No idea,” I sent back, “but we focussed on killing the engines instead of the people. I’d bet the majority survived. Their standard uniforms all work as spacesuits for a little while, so even if we depressurized the hull, they’ve got a chance.”

“This is going to be crazy. I know that this is the plan and that taking out the ship means they can’t blast us from orbit, but this means they’re stuck here. I’d be surprised if that agent doesn’t try to finish his mission anyway. They probably used the ansible to send a call for help already.”

We were nearing the caves. The giant rock mounds were less than a mile ahead. I aimed for the cave entrance that gave us the most efficient route.

All the same, Marcus was right. We should have blown up the ansible while we were up there. Now we were going to have a race between the Xiniti, the Cosmic Ghosts, and the Human Ascendancy’s reinforcements to see who gets here first.

Marcus wasn’t done though. “You know what movie this is like?”

We flew into a cave. I slowed down to give myself more time to turn and Marcus let go of my feet and flew under his own power.

“No,” I told him via our implants.

“This is a lot like ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or ‘Seven Samurai’ if you want to go with the original. There’s a small town that can’t pay much, but it’s being threatened by bandits and their leader. Except they hire a ragtag bunch of gunfighters who defend the town.”

I hadn’t seen the movie. “How does that go?”

Marcus gave a lopsided grin. “The town is saved. The bandits are destroyed, but almost all the gunfighters die.”

“Awesome.”

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 8

In My Daydreams

At least I could take them in video games. Hal had thrown ships from the Human Ascendancy, the Alliance, machine race clans, various independent human groups from inside the Quarantine, and Abominators (just in case) against me.

I tried to think about fighting in near-space. It was weird because your weapons didn’t hit as hard because they leaked into other realities—including ours—in small amounts. You could fly through starships and even asteroids If they were small enough. Plus, you’d eventually be moving faster than light, allowing your battles to cross the solar system, while also allowing you to get close enough to planets to use their features to hide your ship—within limits. If you got too close, a planets’ gravity would pull you out of near-space and into real-space.

What was the practical application of all that? I flew straight toward the system’s gas giant. It had upwards of 10 moons. I hadn’t counted them all, but it was enough to hide behind. The only bad point about the idea was that we’d have to dodge weapons during the trip. On the bright side, it would only take us eight minutes to get there—longer since I’d be taking evasive maneuvers the entire way.

I didn’t have a choice. The ship’s shields hid the ship at night or in normal space (provided the sun wasn’t in the background), but in near-space, a shielded ship stood out more to a ship’s sensors. We weren’t going to lose them.

The main gun was on the front so we couldn’t use the that as easily as we’d have liked to. Marcus had to use the smaller guns that could be pointed backward in order for us to fire at anyone or anything at all. Their shields helped them the same way hours did us, absorbing the hit.

We did even try the main gun and I say “we” because it was complicated. Marcus charged it and I flipped the ship around in place, letting the forward momentum carry us but turning the ship around completely. He fired, hitting once. In that one shot, he happened to fire as the fighter jerked to the left to get out of his direct line of fire—exactly what it needed to do, but not as quickly as it needed to do it.

The shot hit the side of the engine compartment, taking down the shields in a burst of blue light, and destroying something inside, probably their near-space drive to judge from how the ship disappeared, turning blurry and distorted as it reappeared in normal space.

Even though we might want to try that constantly, we couldn’t, each time we tried, we lost a little more of our lead. The constant evasive maneuvers meant that we couldn’t fly at our fastest speed. Still, even then we were staying ahead. When we flipped around to fire though, we used the near-space drive to keep us in near-space, but couldn’t continue to accelerate. They, of course, could keep on accelerating the entire time, slowed only by their attempts to dodge.

We were a little faster than they were—just enough that if we fired once and kept accelerating for a while, we could make up the time we’d lost. So, we did try it two more times, flipping the ship over a different way, turning left then flipping upward… We didn’t hit with either of them, but we got them used to the idea we’d do a 180 degree turn and fire.

I’d decided that we weren’t really trying to make it to the gas giant. All we were doing is trying to do is make them believe that we were heading for the gas giant, using our attempts to fire at them to show that we were trying to keep them behind us until we reached the gas giant’s moons at all their potential cover.

A couple minutes in though, I sent Marcus the overall plan I was using, one that Hal had tested. Even though it wasn’t inevitable, it had a good enough chance.

“We’re starting now,” I told him. “Are you okay with it?”

“More than I would be with heading to the gas giant for real,” he said. “Besides, we already got one of them.”

“Okay, then. Step one…” I flipped the ship again only this time I wasn’t flipping the ship over. I was pointing the ship’s nose down, heading away from all the planets instead of turning around to fire. They’d done what they’d done the other three times, spreading out to avoid the inevitable shot from the main gun.

As they realized that I hadn’t done the expected, I flipped the ship again, aiming the main gun upward at one of the fighters just as it began to turn to aim at us.

Marcus fired first and unlike last time, he hit something explosive. The fighter disappeared in a ball of fire, the burning remains blurring and phasing back into real-space.

Meanwhile, we headed back toward Hideaway, hoping to make the planet while we still had some night to use to hide the ship. The remaining two fighters were still behind us, but they appeared to be hanging back even if they were still firing.

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 7

In My Daydreams

Knowing that most battleships had sensors that extended into near-space, and that my ship’s stealth was more an accidental product of the shields than intentional, I stayed in near-space until I was just past the Annihilation, flipping over when I was past the rear of the ship.

Marcus had started charging the main gun the moment the ship came in sight, so when I transitioned out of near-space and into real space, I felt the shields thin near the nose of our ship and the main gun released a blast of white light. Meanwhile, our other guns targeted the guns in guard position to protect the engine exhaust.

Like most battleships, they had their shields at half-power even when no enemies were visible, a soft blue glow. We’d planned for that. Our ship had been designed to be a small ship capable of damaging battleships even before my grandfather increased its power output.

The main gun shattered the shield, throwing bits of glowing blue into space where they shrunk and disappeared. Marcus had aimed it at the most vulnerable spot—the hole at the bottom of the nozzle. The nozzle melted, the hole expanded, and something inside the ship exploded. It wasn’t the kind of explosion you might see in Star Wars, one where the whole ship explodes. It was flash of red, yellow, and orange that flared, jutting out of the cracks and the undamaged nozzles, followed by smoke.

I’d seen that kind of explosion before in simulations and felt confident we’d damaged the fusion power plant as well as the banks of capacitors that held a charge ready for weapons and jumps. Even better, the ship’s sensors confirmed my theory.

Half of the lights winked out across the ship—the windows near the lines of turrets were still on—and to my surprise the ship’s directional thrusters fired and the battleship began to turn.

“I’m going in,” I told Marcus.

I had a sense that he was shaking his head, but he said, “I’ll be ready.”

We flipped into near-space—which maybe wasn’t the smartest idea or people would try what I was trying all the time. I flew the ship inside the battleship, staying in the nearest of near-space, barely outside reality. We were close enough that weapons we fired would fall out of near-space and hit things in real space.

Not coincidentally, the reason it wasn’t smart to fly through here was that most ships carried devices that could knock us back into real space where we’d then attempt to inhabit the same space as the battleship—which was generally bad for both ships. They’d probably turned off fields like that when their main power plant went down.

We’d flown into the engine compartment—which was large enough that we could have flown inside if the back had been open anyway and also if it hadn’t contained two fusion power plants, a near-space drive and a jump drive, a massive bank of capacitors, and fuel for all of that.

As was normal for near-space, everything outside the ship had a hint of blurriness, but we could see enough. We were near the top of the room to give us the best chance to see the ship’s backup power plant.

It wasn’t that hard. The second power plant was at the far end of the engineering compartment, roughly the middle of the ship.

Marcus didn’t have time to give our main gun a full charge, but we didn’t need one. We didn’t have to break a force field or the hull. All I  had to do was fly forward, watch as Marcus aimed the gun at the block-shaped device at the front end of the compartment.

The blast hit about three quarters up the side, making a hole in the gray wall. Fire erupted from the spot, hitting the next drive in line—a jump drive so far as I could see.

Small figures wearing white space suits ran away from the line of massive engines. I didn’t have time to feel guilty or afraid for the people who might be dying because of our actions. I did notice that some of them didn’t have legs as much as a second pair of arms—they climbed down the sides of the drives.

At about the same time, we passed outside of the Annihilation’s hull. Going deeper into near-space, I aimed our ship toward the system’s outer planets, not because I wanted to go there but because I guessed that a few of the fighters might try to pop into near-space and chase us.

And I was right.

Four of them peeled away from Annihilation, firing blasts of energy at us. I wasn’t sure we could outrun them in near-space, but we could probably take them.

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 6

In My Daydreams

I walked to the front of the ship, sitting down in one of the chairs in the cockpit and connecting to the ship with my implant, feeling my surroundings as if I were the ship—the weight of the water around me, the lightness of the air above me, and the buzzing noise of encrypted communications between the battleship above and the ships on the ground.

I sensed Marcus come online, taking over the weapons and shields, leaving me with piloting, monitoring the engines, and repairing them if it came to that.

Deciding that we were better off under the water, I checked if the door was fully shut and dove, propelling the ship with the anti-gravity. While not as fast as the main engines, it made less noise. My only worry was that there might be megafauna in the ocean too.

The ship’s sonar wasn’t detecting anything though, so at least it didn’t look like we were going to fight some kind of giant seal.

Hal got back to me with his simulations after a few minutes. Using near space to get close worked well, provided I did it before they mined near space. The difficulties came with the target. Firing at the bridge of a battleship didn’t work because in an age of implants, the bridge became redundant. As long as there were qualified people and working sensors on the ship, the bridge crew could be anywhere. The ship’s main gun was the obvious target, but disabling it only meant that it was disabled. Simulations showed that they had bombs aboard capable of taking out the caves and even if the simulations were wrong, they could tow an asteroid to the planet and drop it on the rock formations from space.

If we wanted to be sure, we needed to go for the engines and the only problem with that was that everyone goes for the engines. A ship that can’t move, can’t fight (much). Engines have extra physical shielding. Many have stronger shields protecting them. The nozzle on the end was the most vulnerable point because you couldn’t cover it with shields while accelerating. Most ships placed extra weapons back there to discourage rear attacks.

“Marcus, are you looking through the simulations?” I brought our spaceship closer to the surface and checked the air above us with the passive sensors without seeing anything. That was good as far as it went.

A noise from the real world made it into the simulation—Marcus sighed. “It’s not looking good. From what I can see, the best simulations are the ones where we pop into real space right behind the engines, blast the ship power plant with our main gun, pop out into near space and then back into real space enough times that what’s left of the engine room isn’t fixable. It would be easy except that Hal’s assuming that there are still fighters up there.”

The shadowy forms I got out of the passive sensors didn’t give much detail about the battleship. “He’s probably right. The Extinction class battleship has a lot of fighters. On the bright side, our shields hold in most simulations. So that’s the good news.”

Marcus laughed. “Most. That’s the best shot. Are we going or did you have another idea?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t have a better idea. Be ready with the shields.”

I let the ship float upward until it was outside the water. As I did, I felt the barrier of the shield surround the ship. I’m not sure how to describe the barrier. Electrical? It’s certainly in there, but that’s not a major component of the shield.

In any case, the shields came up as the ship cleared the ocean water. With the shields on, we were invisible to any form of detection that I was aware of. Energy was simply absorbed, making the shields appear black, and making the ship a silhouette of itself. That sort of thing stood out during the day, but fortunately, it was night.

I continued to use the anti-gravity. It wasn’t quick, but when I used it, I didn’t have to thin the shields and release heat for it to work. That meant that no one did see it when I flipped the ship into near space about a kilometer above the planet.

Everything around the ship became blurry to the sensors as we shot upward at what would have been near light speed in our own universe, arriving in orbit almost instantly. I slowed the ship so that I’d have to aim it toward the rear of the great cylinder shaped battleship ahead.

An unknown number of small, blurry ships flew next to the main ship, but a quick count showed it was at least ten. When I exited near space, I’d have to move.

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 5

In My Daydreams

I held my breath for a moment, thinking about how it would work. “Here’s my idea. You know how near space extends nearly to the planet? No one takes advantage of it because anyone with any sense sets up near space mines around the planet. It’s cheap and easy to do for most planetary governments. But here’s the thing, it’s not cheap or easy for a small colony like this, so you never did it, right?”

Jadzen didn’t say anything at first, but after frowning, she said, “No. We couldn’t afford it. The mines around the Lagrange point were all we could fit in the budget.”

I nodded. “Right. So there aren’t any mines in near space because you couldn’t afford it. Also, that ship above us may have mines, but they probably aren’t sending them out yet because they don’t know how long they’re going to be staying. Plus they’ve got control of your mines so they’ve got control of all the probable routes into the system. They’ve got control of real space and someone coming in through jump space has to enter real space first. Only after that could they go into near space.

“I’ll do what I’ve done before in this situation—flip into near space on the planet, come out of it right next to the ship and start blasting away before they have time to respond. They’ll be surprised because they destroyed your fighters and they didn’t see any evidence of our ship. At least that’s my theory. They might have a few ships outside the main ship and those ships are probably near space capable, but they won’t expect us the first time. After that, it’ll get complicated.”

My implant registered questions from everyone in our group or near to it. I set up a private channel for Jaclyn, Cassie, Katuk, Marcus, Tikki, and Kals because they were asking the questions—more or less. Katuk, Marcus, and Tikki hadn’t asked anything, but I included them because I didn’t think I should leave them out.

“When have you done this before?” Jaclyn’s voice sounded in my head.

“In video games,” I told her, “but not some random space game, a realistic one. I told you about it.”

She shook her head. “The ship’s video game. I do remember it. Do you think it could possibly be as good as the real thing?”

“Well,” I said, “you were with us when the ship ran us through exercises on the way out. What did you think?”

“I felt like I was there.” She nodded.

Tikki, who I remembered made some kind of hobby out of AI, said, “It appears to be a powerful AI whose primary focus is combat simulations. I would trust its judgement implicitly in such things. When we trained on the way here, it became clear to me that it was one of the more powerful AI’s of its type.”

“Grandpa found it after a battle near our planet,” I told her. “He scavenged almost every piece of the ship.”

Tikki’s face lit up. “I would never have guessed. It was connected seamlessly and he’d improved on what he found. He had an amazing mind.”

“If you’re confident,” Jaclyn’s voice stayed even, “then go for it.”

Kals’ voice broke into the conversation. “Everything Nick said fit with what I learned about space combat in school. I wasn’t a specialist, but I’m comfortable with his plan. They won’t expect it.”

Outside of our channel, I looked over Jadzen, the Council and the plant in addition to our group. “I’ll need a volunteer to help me with either weapons or piloting. I can do both, but I’ll do better with only one.”

Marcus waved his hand. “I’ve got more hours training in the ship than anyone else here and I’m less useful in a straight fight than most. I’ll go.”

Jadzen Akri looked us over. “If you’re going on the attack, we’ll have to prepare to fight. I’d like the rest of you to meet what there is of our fighting force.”

Then she turned to me. “When are you going to go?”

I thought about it. “Now, I guess. The longer we wait, the more likely they are to start mining near space.”

“Then we’ll have to signal our people immediately.” She looked over at Kals.

“I know,” Kals said, her voice raising. “I’m part of what little we’ve got of a fighting force. I’ll show you there.”

As everyone began to leave, I commanded my armor to reassemble. It covered me, reorganizing into the “fake Xiniti” version within a few seconds.

Marcus stepped up as it finished. “What’s the most convenient form for you to carry me in? I can fly after you if you’re not worried about speed, but if you are, I could hang on and turn into something aerodynamic.”

We went with the second option. Marcus hung on to my legs and transformed into a shape that reminded me of a paper airplane. I felt a little less maneuverable, but it wasn’t too bad.

We flew out of the tunnels and out over the water of the ocean near the tunnels’ stone cliffs. It didn’t take long before I flew over the area where the ship had hidden itself. The ship surfaced and we went in for a landing, Marcus letting go as I circled and swooping down next to me as my feet touched the hull.

He swung inside the hatch before I managed to climb down to it, but then we were both inside. “Hal,” I told the AI, “we’re going to have to either destroy the ship or hurt the main gun so badly they don’t have a chance of fixing it.”

[I’m already running simulations of the possibilities. I’ll give you a list of your best options shortly.]

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 4

In My Daydreams

Sleeping in the Rocket armor wouldn’t be completely uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to do it. I clicked and the full Rocket suit sloughed off me, reforming into a block behind my legs, leaving me dressed in the current version of the stealth suit.

Overall, it was extremely convenient. I could sit on the block and did, leaning my back against the wall and looking out the rooms front window at the glowing lights and empty streets of the colony’s underground hideaway.

Cassie laughed. “Well, that’s nice. A built-in chair.”

I shrugged. “It should have been a built-in bed. Wake me up if I fall asleep.”

I don’t think I heard her reply, but she did wake me up. Everybody was there. By everybody, I mean Jadzen, Kals, Marcus, Tiki, Jaclyn, Katuk, Crawls-Through-Desert and people from the colony leadership including Iolan, but not Maru. I learned later that that was at his own suggestion because he might have more buried instructions to follow if he overheard us.

The room didn’t have a big enough table for everyone, so some people stood.

Once I passed on the video, Jaclyn asked Jadzen, “Let’s get this out of the way. Are you and the Council going to turn yourselves in?”

One of the council members laughed. I didn’t see who. Jadzen shook her head.

“I don’t know Agent 957, but all I’ve ever heard about him is that he’s an honorable agent as long as his orders allow him to be. If his orders don’t require him to lie, we can trust him, but we don’t have any way to know what his orders are. So we can’t trust him.”

Crawls-Through-Desert floated near the table, fronds moving as it talked. “As we discussed earlier, the Human Ascendancy’s patience will end and when it does, they’ll aim their battleship’s main guns at the tunnels and destroy them. It’s not enough to hide. We’ll all be destroyed if we try that. No, what you have to do is destroy the battleship or its main gun. Your ship appears to be more powerful than most ships of its size. Do you think you can do it?”

The plant angled its leaves so that they pointed at me.

I thought about it. “I think so. My grandfather tinkered with it for years–so it’s powerful, but also stranger than average. It’s not so powerful though that we’d be able to challenge the battleship to a direct fight and expect our ship to stand up to something with that many guns, much less if it manages to bring its main gun to bear on us. We’ll survive direct fights with multiple fighters, but if we have to take on a battleship, we’ll need to be sneaky.”

The plant’s fronds rustled. “Then that’s what you have to do. Destroying the battleship turns it from being a question of how long they’re willing to wait before destroying us to a question who can survive on this planet longest. I’m betting that’s you guys, especially when you start aiming the local megafauna at them.”

Marcus laughed. “That would be hilarious. I don’t know how we’d do that, but yeah, I’m sure they didn’t come prepared to stay.”

Iolan took in a breath. “It worries me that we might then find ourselves fighting them on the ground. We don’t have an army even if some of us are experienced at fighting.”

“True,” I said, “but I think you’ll still have a better chance against them on the ground when you know the planet and they don’t.”

Iolan frowned, but then nodded. “If we can keep them outside the force fields for any length of time, they’ll lose most of their force to the wildlife.”

Jadzen looked around at the group. “It sounds as if that’s settled. What do we need to do to do it?” She looked over at me. “What do you need from us to succeed?”

I imagined how I’d do an attack. “We’ll probably need a distraction. If they think they’re dealing with something completely different, they’ll have their attention on that. In an ideal world, we’d get control of your mines again and redeploy them against the battleship, but that’s not the only way to do it. Plus, when it comes down to it, they’ll probably start looking for an attack if the distraction leaves them time to think.”

After a moment, I said, “You know what? I think I’ll just take our ship up there now. I think I’ve got a way to do this that could work.”

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 4 (Interlude)

In My Daydreams

Above Hideaway
I walked through the spartan hallways of the flagship under pale blue lights. End of the hall, a hexagonal automatic door hissed open. I stepped on the lift. A young woman in a command jacket moved over, smiled, called me captain. Long brown hair, blue eyes. The same as mine. That’s what I hate about coming home – hard to tell who I’m related to. Half the crew probably shares a little DNA with me.

“Deck seventeen.”

“Yes sir.” She pressed the button.

I checked my equipment while I rode the elevator down. Everything I carried would dissolve if it wasn’t plugged in once a day. No sense in leaving something behind that could make things complicated. Laser sword? Check. Forcefield belt buckle? Check. Smart watch with trans-temporal emitter? Check.

Hopefully, Charley would drop me within arm’s reach of the guy, and I would be home in time for tea, yesterday.

The door to the lift opened. Another hallway, same as the other.

Passed Lieutenant Berry halfway down. He was a little taller than me, with those same blue eyes. Could have gotten them anywhere, but it still creeps me out.

“Captain Grandad,” he said.

I waved him off with a smile and kept going. Big hexagonal door at the end had a sign painted in red letters. “Teleporter Room 4.” I walked in without slowing down. The door hissed shut behind me.

Charley stood from behind his console looking trim, with a little goatee and short grey hair. His black uniform onesie probably dated from the last Andromedan War. He was old as hell; older if you count the fact he was technically born seven hundred years ago.

Administration didn’t see anything wrong with pulling him out of the timeline, so what’s the difference if I leave a couple of kids behind, right?

“Sir, ready for transport?”

I stepped on the dais, surrounded in mirrors. “Ready as ever.”

“Just to warn you, I received updated history on your target. We’re only 95% certain of where he was standing.”

“Good enough for me.” I drew my laser sword and fingered the emitter switch. “Engage.”

He nodded. “Happy hunting.”

Electricity crackled around my body as I dissolved into light, scattered, and reflected off the mirrors. My stomach lurched, and I found myself standing under a blue sky on an asphalt road. Old style dropships hovered high above twenty acres of expensive landscaping and a building so self-important it generated its own forcefield.

A couple people faced down a man in robotic armor. He hovered a few feet up, with the jets on his feet kicking up dust. Stubby wings supported a hodgepodge of weaponry as if he didn’t know what sort of alien he’d be killing today. Lasers. Mini-missiles. Tasers. Anti-retina strobes.

His comically deep voice played over a speaker, projecting faux authority. “I’m Agent 957 of the Human Ascendancy’s Genetic Management Office. I’m here searching for criminals and all who aid them. Surrender now or face the might of the Human Ascendancy.”

“Excuse me.” I shouted over the roar of his engines. The suit pivoted to face me. “I’m Agent 3-X-E. I regret to inform you that your timeline has been tampered with. You, personally, were meant to be rejected from the academy. Further, your intelligence on this operation was sent to you by enemies of the Galactic Council as part of a plot to subvert future technological development. You can return with me to my time if you like, but you can’t stay here.”

I didn’t really expect him to take my offer. He fired a pair of mini-missiles, an appropriate amount of force if I were an android.

Unfortunately for him, no period weapons could penetrate my shield. I stood in the cloud of smoke, safe from the heat of the blast, and activated the laser sword. Twenty feet of plasma sprung from the mouth of the tube.

The smoke cleared. Agent 957 was in two piles, one on either side of the road.

I yawned and tapped my watch as I turned to my awestruck observers. “Charley.”

His voice played back over the little speaker. “Yes sir?”

“I have some loose ends to clean up. Wait for my signal.” Clicked the watch again, turning the screen off. Walked up to the first young soldier and smiled to ease her nerves. “Anyone need a drink?”

April Fools!
If you enjoyed this bit, check out my fantasy serial at https://winocthetraveler.com/2017/09/22/erland-the-northman/ and follow me on twitter @John_Calligan

I really enjoyed catching up on Legion and had a great time guest writing. Thanks for having me!

And you can check out my (Jim Zoetewey’s) contribution to April Fools Day at

https://thezonewebserial.wordpress.com

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 3

In My Daydreams

So I said, “I didn’t know that you knew that we were the ones who killed him. We didn’t even know that you were his child until we got here.”

Katuk looked between Jaclyn and I. “The Xiniti view it as appropriate that those who freed someone from the shame of their parent’s actions be involved in his passage into adulthood. Do you have different customs?”

Jaclyn blinked. “Yes. Very different.”

Thinking that we shouldn’t wait too long before running back to the caves, I tried to say it in as few words as possible. “In our world, we don’t make our passage into adulthood a mission. Also, many humans who found that we’d killed a member of their family would consider killing us.”

He nodded. “A result of personal attachment from being raised in proximity to your family. We’re raised in clan housing and only get to know our parents as adults. By then they’re back from their tours of duty. I have fond memories of my mother, my other mother and the uncles, but my father brought shame on us all. I have no wish for any revenge.”

Jaclyn glanced back out the end of the alley and then back to us. “We need to go. I think we should talk about this later so everybody knows where you stand.”

Katuk eyed her. “Did everyone expect that I would attack you if I knew?”

Pursing her lips, Jaclyn said, “Not really, but no one wanted to push the issue either. You’re like a human in your overall shape and that makes it easy to forget you’re not.”

Katuk tilted his head back, saying nothing, but then nodded. “I understand the confusion.”

“Yeah,” Jaclyn looked out into the darkness ahead of us, probably using her own HUD. “We should go before they notice us. Are you ready?”

I nodded, checking our surroundings with the bots I’d stationed about;. Katuk said, “Yes.”

She counted down. “Three. Two. One…”

Then she began to run. Katuk followed, leaving at almost the same moment, both of them becoming blurs as they crossed the field and then jumped over the force field at the edge of the settlement. Collecting the bots, I turned on the rockets  and flew across the open field and over the force field.

From there, all we could do was travel back to the caves, hoping that the Human Ascendancy forces didn’t detect us. In some ways it didn’t matter if they did. Agent 957’s broadcast had hinted that he knew that we were in the caves. It didn’t take a genius to guess at the caves. They were part of a rocky structure more than fifty miles long with enough tunnels that people without a map would get hopelessly lost.

We had a map in our implants that the colonists (okay, Kals) had shared with us, so we were okay.

Katuk and Jaclyn ran through the night at speeds between 200-300 miles per hour and I flew above them. It took about ten minutes to fly to an entrance in the dark. So far as we could tell, no one followed us. We did fly past megafauna that reminded me more of giant ground hogs than anything else. What they were in reality was anyone’s guess. I didn’t have time to take a DNA sample.

Jaclyn and Katuk passed around them before the giant groundhogs even realized that they’d passed. A few looked up at the sound of my rockets, but giant rodents with stumpy legs can’t be expected to pay a lot of attention to flying armor, so I was safe.

Before long we’d made it down the tunnels, past the force shields, and into the colonists’ underground city—or more accurately, village. By the time we got there, people were standing guard near the entrances to the cave, but not a lot of people were awake.

Cassie greeted us as we walked into the building we now shared with Jazden and Kals. It wasn’t much of a surprise. One of the side effects of Cassie’s powerset was the ability to stay up for days at a time.

“And?” Cassie walked with us into the common area on the second floor. “What’s happening out there?”

“They don’t seem to be coming down into the caves at this exact moment,” I told her. “It looks like they’ve landed about 800 troops on the ground near Landing. They’ve destroyed anything that looks like a starship. Plus, we’ve got a recording where their leader, Agent 957, implies that he knows that we’re down here.”

Jaclyn had been walking ahead of us up the stairs to the common area. She turned back toward us. “There’s no question that they’re coming for us, but they don’t seem to be in a huge hurry. We didn’t see anyone follow us into the caves or anything like that. They’re broadcasting a demand for Jadzen and the Council to surrender by noon tomorrow or they’ll kill everyone but the leadership. My bet is that that’s when they’ll come down here.”

Cassie nodded. “Sounds like it’s time to make a plan.”

I sighed. “I’d been hoping I might get to sleep.”

She laughed. “Yeah, right.”

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In My Daydreams

Reap: Part 2

In My Daydreams

The implant’s information on the channel was that it was used to make announcements—a one way channel that ran recorded warnings except on the rare occasions that matters moved too quickly for recorded emergency information to keep up.

“I’m recording it,” I told everyone. Everyone back in the cavern needed to see it too.

Jaclyn nodded while Katuk peered into the distance, watching his own copy of the same scene.

Agent 957 sat in the cockpit of a heavy fighter—one of the deep space fighters used for scouting and other long distance missions. I guessed it was a fighter from the cockpit’s small size, but that it couldn’t be a regular fighter because of the outline of a door behind the seat. Normal fighters didn’t have any space for humans outside of the cockpit.

Staring directly into the camera, he said, “This is the end. We’ve found your planet and there’s no one here to protect you. The Xiniti’s ship is gone or hidden. If the Xiniti are there with you, there aren’t enough of them to fight Ascendancy marines. We have more than 1000 marines from ten different gene lines, all of them powered. I know you don’t have that many Xiniti. I also know that most of your ‘Xiniti’ aren’t even Xiniti. They’re humans. I know the Xiniti choose tough recruits, but they’re only human and if you’re hoping in them because they have active powers, so do we.

“And it’s not just the marines who have active powers. The crew of the Annihilation includes the pride of the Ascendancy—members of the Ascendant Guard, the Ascendancy Council’s own protectors. You’ve heard of two of them—Neves, who protected the First Citizen himself and Kamia of the Thuroni Defenders, who has killed thousands on behalf of the Ascendancy—including Xiniti as the true Xiniti among you will well remember.”

As he’d said Neves, a picture of a dark-skinned man in a black uniform with green and white accents appeared in my head. The uniform had a military look and did nothing to hide the muscles underneath. He reminded me of nothing more than one of the Cabal troops we’d fought. Cassie’s regeneration had surprised Iolan, so Neves couldn’t be one of them, but it didn’t make me feel comfortable.

When he said “Kamia,” the picture changed to that of a woman in a red uniform with black accents. Like Neves’ uniform, hers was a short jacket with pants in the same color, but her uniform had a black cape. Her skin was pale enough that I wondered if she was albino and her blonde-white hair pointed in that direction. Still, she wasn’t as pale as I remembered albinos were. She carried a sword and gun that had a similar shape to Cassie’s gun. It couldn’t be the same kind, though.

The picture changed back to Agent 957. His mouth held a hint of a smile, but then he opened it. “I’m giving you until noon tomorrow to surrender. That means that you bring everyone out of whatever forest or cave that you might be hiding in. After that, we’re coming in after you. Don’t make us do that. You’ll get much better treatment if it’s easy to bring you in.”

He stopped talking and stood there, arms crossed, looking at the camera. After a few moments, I began to wonder if it was over and this was the moment before the loop would restart.

Then he straightened his arms and said, “One more thing… My orders aren’t to bring you all in. My supervisors only care about the leaders. That means Jadzen Akri and all the people on colony’s council as well as a few more names I’ll list right now—“

He listed them, but then got back to talking, “—As I said, the most notorious members of your leadership. With them gone, we don’t care about the colony anymore. We don’t have room to bring them back anyway. We can kill all of them or let them stay. I think you’d prefer it if they survived, wouldn’t you?”

That’s when he stopped for real, freezing for several seconds and then starting the message from the beginning. I recorded it until I’d caught the part I’d missed earlier.

“Okay,” I shut off the connection and looked at Katuk and Jaclyn. “I guess that’s it. We’ve got a good general sense of where they are. We’ve sent off a message to the Celestial Ghosts. Plus, now we’ve got a message to bring back. Do you think we’ve got anything else that we should check out?”

Jaclyn looked out toward the gap between the end of the alley we stood in and stretch of field before the colony’s force field barrier. It was only a few hundred feet, an easy gap for her or Katuk to make and not hard for me to fly over.

“No,” Jaclyn said, but she looked over at Katuk. “Was it true what she said about Kamia? Did she kill a lot of Xiniti?”

He nodded. “There are many Xiniti that wish that the opportunity to kill her would fall to themselves or their unit. It falls to us.”

Making a quick check of the way ahead of us first, Jaclyn said, “I’m half surprised they didn’t try to give her Xiniti citizenship.”

“You misunderstand the nature of your invitation. Though we do offer citizenship to those who best us, it’s offered to those who’ve served us by killing one who’s brought shame on his/her/its family. You’ve served us doubly. First by killing my father and secondly by providing a unit for my testing.”

Okay, then, I told myself. Katuk did know about that.

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